My Yoga, Your Yoga

Thirteen years ago I stumbled into my very first yoga practice. It was at my local gym in Malaysia where the room was air-conditioned to be almost freezing and the teacher was jumping from one pose to another. In my second class with her, she got us to do drop-backs with a wall. The next day, my lower back felt really tweaky and uncomfortable. Needless to say, I never went back to her and resigned myself to the gym.

I am of the hyper mobile, super flexible variety of human being, whose primary physical activity in my youth started with dancing and cheerleading. I have sprained my left ankle about four times, my right one three times and have a dodgy right knee. Anyone who performs or does competitive sports would know that the nature is, if it’s in season and you get injured, you keep going. As a result my left leg is still prone to injury and my right knee has days of protest. It didn’t get easier as I got older. By my late twenties, I had a pretty back lower back and my right shoulder was pretty mangled.

Then someone suggested I try yoga. Due to my fear of chiropractors, physiotherapists and doctors in general, I gave it a go. It was a bit of a shop around to find something I could stick with. I tried Bikram, and although I loved the heat, hyper-extending legs did not work with my ankles and knee. Not only that, my fiery personality seemed to get even more so, which really doesn’t bode well when work requires you to interact with people a lot.

It was only by chance that I looked on Google and found a different studio near where I worked. It started with an Introductory Pass, which at the time was $25 for two weeks. It blew my mind! There was still the element of heat but being told not to hyper-extend anything made everything about a hundred times harder. I would go into this place with carpet that smelled horrible and big classes, and by the end of the classes I wouldn’t know which way was up and which was down. Shavasana came as a relief. By the end of two weeks, I was hooked.

This was Vinyasa.

It was in no way easy and every time I got one move down there was something else to learn. Then there were these teachers who would give me the shits by asking me to get out of ‘my spot,’ and on occasion move me to the front. Sometimes I would even cry in class. For the first time in ages though, my body felt good. I loved that no two classes and no two teachers were the same. There was personality in the practice. There was heart.

At first I practiced like a mad woman. The harder and hotter the class, the more chaturangas, the more I would push myself through it. What happens however, is when you get tired you lose form. I was tired in every way possible and one of the teachers sat me down and told me to take a break.

So I did, and went to do a week of Iyengar.

It was hellish! Sitting still was not my forte and I got really impatient with all the props involved. I would get into a pose and fidget like someone coming off hard drugs, but the precision of Iyengar is amazing! After a week my back felt fabulous and I went back to Vinyasa with all the new alignment points I’d learned.

Then three years ago something called me to do my first 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training. All I wanted to do was know more about this practice but the seven months of training were priceless and surprisingly, I came out wanting to teach. In December 2012 I finished Teacher Training, in January 2013 my father passed away and by February I had boxed my high heels and left the corporate world.

On the 12th of April 2013 (my 33rd birthday), I taught my first Community Class in BodyMindLife.  Two years later, I am still there.

It was in no way the ending of a journey, but a beginning. In a world of blond, 6’ handstanding vegan yoginis who like kale smoothies I am most definitely different. Being more mobile than strong means that arm balances come very slow and one moment of not being aware means an injury. Flexibility is a great thing, but needs to be balanced with strength. My continuous work is in not going all the way into bendy poses just because I can and not to practice injured as it brings about other injuries. It is a lesson I seem to have to keep learning again and again. As I type this, I am recovering from two displaced ribs, and a hamstring and a wrist injury. Note, trying to lift a scooter is probably a bad idea on any day.  After all my resistance, I am working a physio and have magically found the most amazing CrossFit coaches at CrossFit Black to help my strength conditioning.

Yet yoga continues to be my first love and as I teach and learn, I’ve discovered that yoga is not just asana. My practice has changed through the years. I still love those hot sweaty classes with 50 students breathing together, but I also love waking up in the morning and losing myself in an hour of ground based, deep Yin. Just about a year ago, I started meditating and even within that it keeps changing.

This practice has taught me compassion and love, and being peaceful in joy and sorrow.  It has taught me acceptance and that it is OK to not be strong all the time.  It has taught me that drama is just a distraction and a good life can be lead without the fluff.  It has taught me that the tendencies I have on the mat are often the same ones I have in my daily life.  It has taught me that things end but that doesn’t mean you discount what happened, and that new beginnings happen.  We are ever changing beings and more than learning poses or how to sit still, we are constantly learning about ourselves.  Within this practice I have found family, community and connection, and the realisation that between the blacks and whites of wrong and right, there are they greys of the in between.

I’ve realised now that it doesn’t need to be any one way. Some days you need that practice that challenges you physically and other days you just need to do the simple stuff and reconnect with your breath. Some days practice is easy and without resistance, and other days you go in with all this stuff and practice is a nightmare. Some days you go into practice and you’re laughing all the way and other days, you are a ball of sweat and tears at the end of the practice.  But you don’t have to be any one way to practice, not a certain body type, or weight or age.  You come as yourself on that day, in that moment and whatever you do is perfect.

More than the teacher, my practice is based on how I am on that given day.

And this in itself has been a journey. It is discovering that yoga is not one thing. I’ve had the privilege of learning and practicing with some of the best teachers in Australia and Internationally, and at the end of it, yoga is a journey of self-discovery. You learn from the different teachers but the magic is in finding your yoga. As a teacher I have learned that what I do and what I offer might vary. It is not my place to tell students about their practices, bodies or beliefs but to share what I know so they can explore. All we can do is try as much as we can to meet students where they are and move with them to wherever we can go together.

I still believe that there is magic in the practice and it is still my first love, but the journey continues and is ever evolving. As I teach, I am also learning and as students are learning in my classes, they are also teaching me. I am ever grateful to my teachers and to the students who light up my classes, and most of all my community for being there. I’m hoping that my learning never ends.

Next stop, Prana Flow in Greece, June 2015.

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How Do You Know?

Last week, a friend and I were chatting and we got into the topic of ‘just knowing’ that the person you were with was the one you were going to significantly be with. Both of us wondered how people ‘just knew.’  Also, how do you know the other person got the memo?  There are, after all, two people in a relationship.

 

And once you both know, can your past or the stuff that happened with your parents influence you into not knowing?

 

Almost fifteen years ago (was it that long ago?), I thought I knew. I, we, were both so confident in the fact that we would be together that we spoke of marriage, children, where we would live etc. I was so sure that I failed to see how his dreams and mine just didn’t align. In fact, I was so sure that I didn’t even make my own dreams.

 

We were so young that we didn’t even know ourselves, so how could we possibly know we wanted to be with each other? When I started to explore my dreams, I realised that trying to be the person who fit into his dreams would be the end of me.

 

Then about seven years ago, it happened again.

 

This time though, it was more that I really wanted to know. Perhaps we both did in a way. We worked the social scene well, but he never really met any of my friends. Because I was the nomad and wasn’t fully rooted here, I was just sort of absorbed into his social life. There was a lot about the friends and family that I loved, but in a way, I wonder if I distracted myself into this elusive ‘knowing’. At some point, you have to wonder about not being able to have a meal together without the television on or just being able to do simple things together, like go for a walk in the sun, or go to the beach, things that require you to actually be together.

 

Maybe it is a personality thing.

 

I’m such a sucker for love stories it’s quite worrying.  In my travels I have friends who met their current partners when they were 19 or even younger than that. Somehow, they knew then and they know now. Something about their knowing allowed them the space to explore their dreams with the comfort of having a place to land in the end. Then I’ve met people who know within the first few meetings.  Then I’ve also met people who don’t worry about knowing for sure and just go with it.  And yet I also know people who might know but will analyse and second-guess themselves into not knowing.

 

Is it the curse of the thinker to never find this kind of knowing? – The kind that comes from deep wisdom and intuition instead of the head.

 

Or is it such that when the time comes, your heart will just know and your head will shut the fuck up?

 

Perhaps you can’t know until you truly know yourself and embrace the parts that you keep hidden from the world. Until then perhaps you will date the job title, the big car, the physically attractive person who will look good together walking hand in hand and at social events. It is perhaps not until you know the loneliness of that of relationship that you understand that perfection might not be perfect.

 

It is all an exploration isn’t it?

 

This knowing is such a mystery.

 

I don’t know how to know but I know that I can’t start to know until we can see each other without the glitz and the glamour (in my world, it includes being sweaty, smelly and occasionally teary and snotty as well). We can’t know until we can laugh with (and at) each other, fall over, make really bad jokes, go through conflict and recover, be in silence together, know how to tease each other, have conversations and walk, just walk without having to do.

 

We can’t know until we can just be together – you and me.  No candles or flowers, no sweeping off feet (definitely no sweeping off the feet), no social spotlight, just us being apart of each others’ unglamourous and sometimes even mundane and uninteresting lives.

 

Will I ever ‘just know’?

 

Perhaps I did.

 

But perhaps really knowing is over rated.

 

Perhaps it is just knowing enough, letting go of perfection and expectation, and then taking a leap of faith with the rest.  Perhaps it is a degree of surrender and a lot of trust.  What is life after all without taking some leaps and what value is love if there is no risk involved? And what can we know until we know?

ImageSoul Mates and Twin Souls by Dr. Tan Kheng Koo

This City

Almost 8 years ago I did something crazy.

 

I quit my job, broke up my engagement and moved to Sydney, Australia. To this day, I maintain that it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. You see the first time I came over was in 2000. I absolutely did not like most of the people I had come with. But there were days and moments when I was either wandering alone or could pretend they didn’t exist that something about this place took root. It was the city, it was the beach, it was being surrounded by water.

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It could have been anything.

 

It was falling in love and not being able to pinpoint exactly what made it happen.

 

I would have stayed but I had a story to go through in Malaysia. There was University, which I was half way through, and I the conversations that had started with my ex fiancé still had to be completed. So I saw that through.

 

Three months after my engagement ended, heart in shreds I left.

 

Moving to a new city is never easy but people do it all the time. Some people do it with family, some with friends and others following their partners. I could have gone to the UK or where I have family or went to Melbourne or Perth, where there is a larger community of Malaysians, but for some reason, none of those options occurred to me at the time.

 

It made it tougher, but it was the right choice.

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Being on your own after always having family and being surrounded by friends who had known you for years is never easy. It is a whole new way of being, a whole new way of living and a way of learning who you are independent of all these things. My father was one of those people who didn’t really exist without an audience. He always needed someone to be on show for and I was cautious of becoming that so of course, I did this. Don’t even get me started on how the actions of one’s parents can affect the course of one’s life. It’s great as long as you can stop and take note of it.

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2006 through to 2008 were fully experimental. At a young age, I was in a committed relationship so most of my partying was done within the context of that. We didn’t drink much due to my health issues but there was the pot (which my ex loved) and the E (which was more my thing). Can’t drink but drugs are ok?  Only in your early twenties can you operate with such logic.  Side note, this is all in the past. I teach yoga and do not condone the use of drugs.

 

As a Masters’ student, you only have classes three days a week, spend some time in the library, write a lot and socialise even more. I was so lucky in my group of friends. I think I always have been. They were truly good people. Together we learned this city, not just the touristy bits, although we did wear out the floors at Bungalow 8, Cargo and the Argyle quite a bit. We also learned the little nooks, the quiet corners and the beautiful graffiti on the backstreets.

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Then we finished school, my friends left, I got a job and relearned this city again.

 

My friends in University were made up of people who could afford to study here and pay rent. The people I met at work mostly came as backpackers. With them another part of the city opened up to me, the part of people who came without attachment and were ready to fully embrace the decadent and crazy. Somewhere in that craziness I fell in love for the second time in my life and he showed me the city through his eyes. It was the places where he had gone since he was young, the family and the new and foreign culture. For three years I was totally involved.

 

Then that ended. Funnily enough, in a way, that relationship closed a circle of rebounds that started after I ended my engagement. It was awful and it was amazing and then I had to relearn life again.

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So most of my friends had left and then I got so absorbed into his family and friends, and once it ended, it was like I had started life here all over again. It was the only time I thought I might leave for good. My visa at the time was in the air. In my stubbornness, I didn’t even consider being sponsored by an employer as I’d never met one I wanted to stay with that long and I didn’t want a partner visa. At that point, I had to know that if I was staying it was because I was meant to be here. If I was the job would come and if I was meant to fall in love, it too would happen after that.

 

Turns out I was meant to stay. After seven years, my residency was granted.

 

This place in a strange way has my heart. I love the different pockets of society and how people are so different from one place to another. Good coffee is so easy to find and even in the rush, there is always someone taking it slow at a coffee shop, watching the world go by. There are parts that are dark and angry, and then you take the train across the bridge and the sight of it takes your breath away. You look out from Waverley Cemetery and see this beautiful vast ocean.

 

Two nights ago, I walked through the city from Circular Quey to Darling Harbour. It’s crazy how you can be completely invisible and yet still feel like you are a part of something. Occasionally someone will walk with you for a bit and strike up a conversation, but mostly it is solitary. I love it. Sometimes I stop and just look, how the Opera House is really not pretty from close up but if you go across to The Rocks it is amazing, how the old buildings and the new ones somehow just cohabitate next to each other, and how different people just move around in the crowds. There is a breathing energy to this place.

 

This walk is one of my ‘things’, something I’ve never really done with anyone else, but maybe someday I will with a friend, or a lover if I can ever bring myself to brave Sydney’s treacherous dating scene (that’s a whole story on it’s own).

 

Sydney is a play of shadow and light. Occasionally they merge in a kaleidoscope of rainbow colours. It is mine but not really mine. In both the night and day, there is something beautiful about it.

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Dive In

It’s been a while since I last wrote something for you.  Two weeks of movement – dynamic energy, fire, flight. When the world moves quickly like that, it’s easy to lose track of where the heart is and what it needs.  But as the world usually does, it allows time to land, a time to negotiate with the discomfort of slowing things down.  The discomfort of not knowing what comes next once you have cast your intentions out to the ether.

Another full moon comes.  Another phase of life ends.  Perhaps it is just time, but no ending should go un-mourned, no part of life let go without being honoured.    There was a certain emptiness before, but it was an emptiness that invited an exploration.  It was, in essence, a space to allow the lotus to bloom into its full glory, to marvel at the majesty of a beauty that grew from the mud.

And now, the lotus has bloomed so it is time to move into a new realm.

There is a sense of unfamiliar familiarity with this realm.  You’ve been here before, but not in the same way.  I have been here too, but not with you.  Yet, I have, you have, and we have – from lifetimes before, in different manifestations.  I was the person who smiled at you as a child, only to then run away.  You were the person I knew in my youth when I was lost, and you were as lost as I was.  Yet, you were not, I was not, and we were not.  Nothing has changed between then and now, and yet, everything has changed.  We have changed.  Many lifetimes have passed within this one incarnation.

Your heart, as it beats, is new to me, yet it is not.

My body and its movements are familiar to you, but it is still a strange new animal.

We have spoken of the same things before in different ways, with different people.  Here we come, sharing that same past with each other, but with different eyes than we had before.

Maybe it is because we have grown.

Or maybe it is because we have still some growing to do, with each other this time.

Empires have crumbled so that new ones can rise.  What different are we, the people who have had lives before this?

We have had lives where we have grown and crumbled, lives where we have each danced in the ecstasy of love and mourned within the despair of loss.  In these lives we have known the highest high and the lowest low.  In these lives we have known anger and loss, loneliness and desire. We have each learned our lessons of who we are up to this point and here we come together because something bigger than we are said that we should.

And now, what do we do?

You can run. I can hide.  We can bury it all deep under the surface and never look at it.  We can distance ourselves from this discomfort and nothing will change.

Or we can take a bit of silence to honour that journey which has brought us to this place.

And then perhaps it is time…

Time to believe in a bit of magic.

Time to have a bit of faith.

Time to find a bit of courage.

Time to just take a deep breath, and as gently as possible, soften, surrender…

Dive in.

Picture from Costa Rica Arts

Picture from Costa Rica Arts