You have rekindled this fire inside me
And now I am burning, BURNING!So much so
That if I stepped into a stream,
The waters would carry this fire.
And all the oceans in the world
Would be set
With this mad passion.
You have rekindled this fire inside me
And now I am burning, BURNING!So much so
That if I stepped into a stream,
The waters would carry this fire.
And all the oceans in the world
Would be set
With this mad passion.
The slow passage of time
as I wait for you to appear to me. Deeper into the night I go
For your face o my Beloved.
Then slowly, too slowly for time
Your shadow emerges.
First, a glimpse,
Then clearer and clearer in the darkness.
Oh all this waiting was worth it,
For your flawed perfection.
For the knowledge,
That you were with me all along.
Though it took complete darkness
To know that you were there
This morning I walked through my City of Sydney, drinking in the sights with these eyes for the last time before heading off for a month long adventure. In nine years, this will be the longest I have left this city and I am sitting here somewhere between being nervous and excited. It is a bit like going on a first date with someone who you’ve had your eye on for a while and you know it’s going to be a game changer. I am leaving my home, my cat, my students and my community but this is the next chapter of a story that started a long time ago. Finally, after three years of dreaming of it, I am hopping on a plane to undertake a 200 Hour Prana Flow Teacher Training with Shiva Rea in Greece.
It feels like I am standing here on the edge of change – ready to let go of what was, honouring what is and completely open to what will happen.
My first 200 Hour Teacher Training was done locally, with BodyMindLife in 2012. It was no doubt a life altering experience. So much changed for me during this time including a shedding of a long-term relationship and a huge change in career. I’m glad I had opted to do it part time to allow me the chance for slow integration into all aspects of my life. This time however, I am taking the plunge. I am immersing myself completely in the experience, limiting my contact to the outer world to a minimum.
Every time I go deeper into this path something of what I was, is stripped away so that I can become more of what I was meant to be both as a person and as a teacher. These events are magical even though they might not always be easy. They have a way of releasing an old way of being, a way of thinking that no longer serves us and sometimes even old relationships. Leading into this, I have been very careful not to make big commitments as I know that these are very personal journeys and it would not be fair to make a promise that I am not sure I will be able to keep.
There is so much to experience and so much to learn within yoga and we are lucky to be in Australia at this time as the tribe is continuously growing. We have had an influx of great international teachers including Ana Forrest, Maty Ezraty and Bryan Kest, each bringing with them a wealth of knowledge that has fed my own practice and my teaching.
Prana Flow however, has always been close to my heart.
This was a style that was introduced to me more than two years ago by Chanel Luck and Simon Park. Being an ex traditional dancer, something about the ritual and ceremony in combination with discipline, intelligent sequencing and the freedom of flow spoke to me. It was like the practice was telling a story and my body opened to participating in this tale that was being spun.
I am in love with how elements including the weather, the cycle of the moon and the energy of the students in the class are all welcomed into the space to create a complete experience. I am fascinated by how the more Tantric philosophies that honour the feminine are involved. The way the flow is taught has given my body and soul a freedom that can only be found when my mind can get out of the way. There is an intuitive intelligence to it that can only be felt. There is a fullness and wholeness to it that feeds the soul.
And so we unfold.
When I decided to become a yoga teacher, it also meant that I had committed to a lifetime of learning. It meant a dedication to self-enquiry. Yoga is a lifelong process, a loop that keeps looping. We learn and we practice so that we can keep teaching. Sometimes we have to go back to our own lessons in life and in practice to be able to give. If the day ever comes when I don’t want to practice and feel that I have nothing more to learn, then it is probably a sign that I should stop teaching.
For now, the path is taking me deeper into knowledge of myself as a person. This is the knowledge that informs me as a teacher to be able to offer more to my students on their own paths and I am so grateful to the teachers and life lessons, hard as they may have been, that have brought me here.
So here I head into the next leg of this journey. It’s hard to be away from loved ones and the support that I’ve come to cherish from my community but we are in continuous flow and sometimes, the river has to take us in a solitary direction before we can come back to the sea. I look forward to returning to my city and my community with a new way of seeing things, more to share and so much more compassion.
According to statistics, one in four children in the US have been sexually molested. I don’t know what the statistics are in other parts of the country, but that is a big number. It means that every fourth person you meet has been in some way or other, sexually taken advantage of. I don’t know what the statistics are in Malaysia or in the UK where it happened to me but it could be similar. And yes, it did happen to me.
This was 29 years ago, when parents thought that the world was a safe place and that you could allow children to play securely and innocently. He was an acquaintance of my mother’s, someone she was taking a course with in Manchester, UK. It was already a rough time, as my father had sent me to my mother along with a letter that he was leaving her for a younger woman. She was devastated and I was confused.
How does a six year old even begin to describe the situation? It was a public place, and there was no pain involved but something about the situation didn’t feel right. I couldn’t even find the words to say what had happened and my mother was already upset, so I kept it quiet. Keeping it quiet however, did not mean that nothing manifested of it.
I’ve lived my life panicking every time a man stands too close behind me, and when a man assists me in child’s pose, my initial reaction is to stop breathing and freeze up until the message gets to my brain that I know the person and that it is OK to relax. It took me years to get used to the assist in downward facing dog where someone grabs you from the hips and pulls you back. Even now, there are only a few men I can relax into the assist with and I am extremely sensitive to the intention behind the touch.
It was never spoken of, but it has always been somewhere in the shadows.
And it wasn’t until two years ago that I had a vivid memory of the experience. My abuser had come from behind and he wasn’t rough, but he did touch me in an inappropriate way. A child might not know it in their mind, but children are sensitive receptors of touch. It was a lucky thing that there were other people around on the other side of the room or it could have been worse. I wanted to look out the window and he carried me until I could see. It was subtle but I did feel violated.
The event has been playing in the back of my mind for all this time.
‘When the student is ready, the teacher appears,’ old Buddhist proverb.
And so I must have been ready as the right teacher appeared. She had been through a worse experience than I had, relived the memory and come out the other side. I remember being in her class over a year ago, and the feelings surrounding the situation for me came up. Even from the first class, she noticed that I had trouble connecting to my sacrum and was coaxing me to bring breath into the area. It has been a slow process and part of the thing that made is so was my fear to face the assault.
It takes a lot to face these things but last Wednesday, something clicked. Ana Forrest, my beautiful teacher coaxed us to go on a quest towards identifying the blockages that keep us from being whole. In case of a traumatic event, a part of you remains in that time until you go back and free them. Ana said the magic words, telling us that the worst was over. We had survived and we were alive.
That, I think was what did it for me. I decided at the beginning of class that I would chase this fucker down so he could have less power over me. That intention must have been potent because even from the beginning as I was bringing breath down to my sacrum and pelvic area, the tremors began. They continued through core work and most of the class. Finally, when we got into Shavasana, they took over, wrecking my entire body and causing me to panic to the point of not being able to breathe. Luckily Claire, Ana’s assistant, lovingly stayed with me, gently touching my head and cueing me to keep breathing. As soon as we were out of Shavasana, I was a sobbing wreck.
It did not finish there.
Through the day, when I got home, I would sit down, start breathing into my sacrum and the shaking would start followed by sobs. Emotionally, I had to revisit that time of being confused, scared and betrayed. That feeling of being left alone overtook me, and most of all were the very strong feelings that as this was happening to me, my father, the one who was meant to flex his muscles (he was an ex footie player) and protect me was busy starting a new romance. He had let me down, and that’s where my belief that men leave you when you’re weak started.
There were some positives to it though. I was finally able to speak to my mother about it and gave the six year old a voice. She has been a rock through these times. She continues to be amazing, caring, calling me and supportive in my determination to get through this. She’s stuck through me in my crazy quest and called every day since.
We women are so much stronger in our compassion than we give ourselves credit for.
On Thursday I went back. The tremors started early, and towards the end, we were in a compromising Frog pose with a big roll under our bellies. That’s when they fully took over my body. A big part of me wanted to leave the pose and run out of the room. Another part of me was absolutely adamant to chase this fucker out of my body. Ana stayed with me through almost all five minutes of the tormenting ordeal where there were moments when I truly believed that I might die.
But I didn’t and here I am.
I’ve been a gaping wound all week. The memories, and the feelings surrounding them rise and fall like waves. They take over me and I am a shaking mess all over again. Sleep has been sometimes easy but most of the time not. I’ve had nightmares and gone to some really dark places in my mind, but as much as it scares me, I don’t want to put a temporary salve on this.
This will be a tough ride but I want to live my life fully so I am choosing to go through this. The other option is to live my life behind a safe wall where ‘fine’ and ‘comfortable’ are good enough. They are really not so I am living the days occasionally getting thrown into my past knowing that only by facing the nightmares will I be able to shine light on them.
The first 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training I did, I was recovering from a breakup. This time, I will be so much more vulnerable as I head into another time of big change. Sometimes though, it is in times of darkness like these that you learn to find your own light. I could bury it and stick a positive affirmation on it, but that’s not where the work is done. There is greatness and magic in the world however, as what you need always gets provided to you. In my case, I have a strong and loving bond with my family even though they are far away, a generous and solid community that holds me in their arms, wonderful friends and a nuturing yoga practice.
I am also taking steps to protect myself now. Where I would spread my love without fear of backlash before, right now, I am a bit more cautious. Where I see threat of unnecessary hurt, I step back. Some friends will taper away. This is when you know the ones who are leeching on your life force, the ones who only want you when you are light and easy. If you have a partner, this is when you know a weak person from a strong one.
In 2012, a few months before I went into my first 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training, I made a radical decision. I decided that for a year, I would observe Brahmacharya. Named for the state of searching for the ‘Great One, Supreme Reality, or Self,’ Brahmacharya is one of the five Yamas according to Yogic texts. In Vedic traditions in refers to the state of celibacy one chooses during the life stage of being an unmarried student and fidelity when married. In modern times, it is better known as a state of being sexually responsible. In Hindu and Buddhist traditions, Monks practice Brahmacharya their whole lives as it is considered necessary for their spiritual practice.
It wasn’t a decision that required a lot of consideration on my end. I loved the sound of the word, ‘Bharmacharya,’ and something about doing it felt completely right. I chose the more strict sense of the word, not only refraining from the sexual act, but also anything that could lead to it including kissing, extreme alcohol consumption and situations where I am alone with a man I am attracted to in a private setting.
As soon as I had decided on it, it was like I had donned a veil that made me sexually invisible. There was a sense of liberation in being able to let it go and practice my Yoga, learn my texts and most of all, learn more about myself. Once I had taken the whole dynamic out of the picture, I found a lot of freedom. I learned to walk in my own skin without trying to gather the attention or to please a dominant male figure.
A lot came up in that time but once the year was up, and as I was ready to lift the veil, my beloved father passed away. Now that opened up a whole other can of worms and Brahmacharya was extended. The relationship between a daughter and a father is always something pretty amazing. My father, no matter what he did was my hero. Whenever he was in a room, his was the only presence that mattered to me. We had our ups and downs of course. When we disagreed there were so many strong emotions running around that the charge was palpable. It was the love that was also the double-edged sword. When he hurt me, I would lash out as strongly but the love was so deep that when I hurt him, it was akin to taking a knife to my own heart.
My father was a bit of a narcissist in that he never saw how his actions hurt the people who loved him. Growing up I was used to him getting distracted either with a new relationship, a new love interest or a new work venture and he would disappear during those times. Those were the days when he didn’t return my calls, or was simply not available. Then when the thing that had his interest for the moment went to shits or he got bored of it, he would be back and I would welcome him. It hurt like hell but I was young not to see the cruelty and selfishness in it so it became the norm.
When he passed, the patterns that I had carried on from my relationship with him to my relationship with other men came to light. Of course, I never loved anyone quite as strongly. How could you love an employer, friend or lover as much as you love your own father? Not even close. But I did notice that in my relationships with men, I had been willing to accept a degree of cruelty. I’m not saying that the men in my life have been cruel, not all of them anyway, but there have been acts of cruelty that I had previously quickly forgiven and even sometimes apologised for. In doing so, I had been cruel to myself and reaffirming the belief that I was not worthy and therefore it was my responsibility to hold things together. That was a pretty big one to see and a bigger one to disprove. Thanks goodness for the friends who see your light even when you can’t.
There is something to be said for not being in a romantic relationship and seeing these patterns. I haven’t been a monk where emotions are concerned. Of course, I’ve had crushes and emotional interests but the commitment to my practice has held me from getting into going forward with a relationship. I had nothing to lose. I’d spent my entire twenties almost continuously in long-term relationships. The thing is, when you are in one, you’re so caught up in the highs and lows of it that you can’t step back and say, ‘wait a minute, here’s that behaviour that I am repeating.’ I’m not saying the change is immediate but like with everything else, you have to notice the pattern to change how you act to it. That has been my greatest lesson.
I have many lessons to learn, I’m sure, but it has been three years and eight months since I committed to a state of learning these lessons on my own. This has in a way become a crutch to save myself from complications and the possibility of pain, but what is life without some complication. It might be time to opening myself to lessons that involve another dynamic now.
In about two weeks, I enter into my second 200 Yoga Teacher Training. The main teacher, the amazing Shiva Rea is a true Tantrist. This time instead of slow assimilation to practice, it will be a month away in an insulated situation, but once the month is done, I think it is time I consciously lift the veil of Brahmacharya that I’ve been wearing all this time.
To victory in facing fears, taking risks and standing in the discomfort of the fire until change is ready to happen. Jai!
There is always a time of year when it is a bit introspective, when you pull back a little bit and spend some time inside yourself. Yes, those who know me might argue that that’s how I spend most of my time out of work, teaching and the occasional socialising but this month for me it takes on a different level altogether. It is currently day 18 of the Muslim fasting month, Ramadan and although it might come as a surprise to a lot of people, I do observe it. In fact, there is something about this act of abstaining that fills me up.
I wouldn’t usually write about this as I think my personal beliefs are my own, but I do realise that I belong to a community and within this community, for a lot of people, I might be the only Muslim person they get to connect with like this. Of course, some people might question how good a Muslim I really am, but that is not for a human to judge. I am just sharing an experience that a lot of people find completely foreign and unknown.
Ramadan for those who don’t know, is a month according to the Hijra or Islamic calendar when Muslims all around the world take to abstaining from food, water, sex or anything that includes putting things into the body, from the crack of dawn until the sun sets for a duration of 30 days. It is not a cleanse or a diet, and in fact, because no water is allowed during the day, some might argue that it isn’t really healthy for the physical body. One can also argue that constantly being on one cleanse or another through the year isn’t really a sign of a sound mind, so to each their own. Ramadan is more a mental, emotional and spiritual practice.
During the evenings, there is a strong focus on community where people often gather for Iftar (breaking of fast) and big prayer gatherings, either at home or at the mosque. A lot of people have the view that once the sun goes down we gorge ourselves until we can’t move anymore and although this isn’t necessarily true, I do believe that we perpetuate this belief.
There is so much more to this month.
Different cultures around the world ‘teach’ Ramadan in different ways. It is only compulsory to Muslims once they have reached puberty, and only then if they are sound of mind and healthy. In my culture, the Malay culture (my name is Azra and it’s not because I had some hippy parents who decided to give me a unique name), we start ‘playing’ with fasting at about the age of 9. We might go a few hours from 9:00am – 12:00noon and then with time extend it. By the age of 12, most of us are comfortable doing it all day.
My own understanding of this month has taken on it’s own form of yoga and has changed with the years. When I was a child, I fasted out of the fear that if I didn’t fast, then I wouldn’t get to celebrate Eid, the celebration at the end of Ramadan. After my grandmother passed, I didn’t care about Eid anymore but I fasted out of the fear of getting roasted in hell if I didn’t and I pretended that Eid mattered because it was supposed to. While I was in Malaysia, it was the family thing to do, then my first couple of years here, I had friends from Pakistan and Indonesia who did it with me. Then there were a couple of years when I didn’t participate at all.
In the last couple of years however as my yoga practice deepened, it has taken on a different meaning to me. Ramadan for me is a part of my life, a part of practice. It is this month in the year that I pull myself back and spend more time than usual in quiet contemplation. As it is winter, the crack of dawn here is at around 5:30am, so I am awake at around 4:00am. In this silence, I have my morning meal, write in my journal, meditate and at around 5:30am, start a slow yoga practice.
My practice in this month changes. It is more sensitive and compassionate, and I go into poses in degrees instead of just jumping in. I modify where I wouldn’t usually and take rests when I feel they are needed. It is true that when you have less fuel, you have less energy, but I’ve also learned, that the less you move, the ‘heavier’ you will feel and in winter, it is this movement that keeps you warm. I remember when I was in university in Malaysia and most of the boys would disappear during the daytime in Ramadan (sleeping) only to emerge when the sun was about to come down. It’s great on paper, but really it makes you more lethargic than just going about your business.
And you are meant to go on like you are not fasting anyway.
The whole purpose of this month is to understand suffering. In places where people are without, they don’t get to sleep all day or sit in air-conditioned rooms or take a break. Without food or water, life goes on, as it should for people observing Ramadan. It is a time when you get to see how you react to things when your blood sugar levels are low and what you reach for first when the prayer calls sound time to break fast. It is also a time when you consider what you put into your body. Honestly, since I don’t eat meat, this has become way easier for me. Plant based proteins are way easier for my resting digestive system to process and I don’t have to do a whole lot of planning. A good stew, soup or broth often does enough.
Ramadan, done consciously and it is a whole lesson in getting to know yourself.
It is also an act of community.
I don’t participate in the evening prayers because I like my solitude at the end of the day, but if I didn’t work most nights, and if I had more space, this would most definitely be the month when I would invite friends over to break bread with me. The act of sharing is very much part of this ritual, no matter how little you have. In my way, I suppose I am sharing by bringing little bits of things to people at work and deriving great satisfaction when they enjoy the treats.
Like in yoga, the essence of Ramadan is in self exploration but wrapped around it is this whole idea of building community.
It is so much more that just starving for the sake of gorging when the sun goes down.
This year, Ramadan decided to teach me another lesson. Right after the halfway mark, a massage kicked my body into a whole other level of detox. As I write this, I am recovering from a cold, but am still suffering from a painful chesty cough. The heaviness in my chest reminds me of how it felt when I had childhood asthma right after my parents split up. If you believe in the correlation of the body and the emotions like I do, illness to the respiratory system or chest area is a sign of the body releasing some trauma to the heart. It could be some unexpressed grief, or hurt or heartbreak. This is my body letting go of something that it has probably held on to for a while in a way that only she knows how.
Why now? Why not now? The body does things when it is ready. Letting my digestion rest and allowing myself to step back probably allowed my body to go into this exhale, this release of what it didn’t need anymore. It is by no means easy, but the body has it’s own wisdom in coping with things and for me this is the perfect month for it.
Last week, a friend paid me one of the highest compliments a woman could pay another. We were talking about women and she said to me, “Babe, you to me seem really comfortable in your sexuality. You don’t play it, but you sit in it really well.”
Sexuality is a funny thing.
In my teens, I remember being really uncomfortable about it, trying to hide it behind baggy t-shirts and changing the way I moved. The teenage years are awkward anyway. Suddenly no matter how you try to keep it that way, the way you walk becomes less angular, there are hips to maneuver and don’t even start with the breasts. It is like you are relearning to live in the same skin.
Arguably, some people go through life that way, but ideally you’ll grow out of it.
Dancing helped me as it made me more comfortable in the shape of a woman. I say shape because I was shaped like one but really hadn’t settled into it.
Then I turned 19 and dated an older guy (he was only present in my circle of friends because he was repeating his final year for the 2nd time or something). We didn’t last very long. Ironically one of the reasons was because I didn’t want to sleep with him, but it was around there that my sexuality took centre stage. It was not so much sexuality, more sexiness – the kind that was in your face. I had discovered the control dial, and it was turned up all the way. It was that insecure, rather dirty knowledge of having the power to put it out there but not follow through.
The leap from the awkward teenage years to being insecure in your twenties can be a pretty fluid, and organic one.
Looking back at my life from my 30s, it’s damn well comical.
I’d like to say that some days I can’t believe that girl was me, but that would be a lie. I know for a fact that it was. Mind you, I was in long term relationships for about 8 of the 10 years of my twenties, so I wasn’t out there all that much. When I was, it was funny.
Even now sometimes, I see myself in the younger girls sexually try to get the attention of men. There is that very pronounced sexiness, pushing it forward, radiating it from the skin. In a world like ours where everything is loud, bright and quick, that’s what a lot of men will notice first. Apparently competition is tough in the nightclubs of Sydney and the pages of Tinder so I suppose the more you lather on sexiness, the better your chances are.
But really, are they?
It all comes down to what you want. I’ve always been more a relationship girl than a sleep around girl, but if I am honest, almost all my relationships in my twenties started with sexual intent. The invitation was put out there pretty early in the game, and then the rest of the time was spent trying to build a relationship from that. It was how I comforted, resolved arguments and settled discussions. I would do anything to keep a man from walking away back then even when he treated me awfully.
A testament to how uncomfortable I was in my own skin.
The transformative powers of yoga and meditation brought that fact up in my face.
To deal with it I chose celibacy and donned this energetic burka through resolve and intention. Suddenly I was invisible in the sexual sense.
It was only meant to be a year.
The first of which went by quickly. It was when I was about to lift it that the biggest test happened. My dad passed away in January 2013. With something like that you want someone to lean on, the comfort of touch, the distraction of a kiss, just to know that someone is there and that you are wanted.
I must be a sucker for punishment. I extended the period instead.
It has been 15 months since my dad passed away. How I wanted to have someone distract me from the nightmares that came almost every night those first three months. In that state though, it would have been a need instead of a connection. It’s hard to connect when you can’t even find the ground beneath your feet.
You might think I’m just going on about whatever and losing the thread of the sexuality conversation. I’m not. I’ve found that being comfortable with sexuality comes hand in hand with being comfortable on your own, in your own skin on this ground. The last two and a half years, I’ve played with it a bit, first shutting it down completely, then letting it buzz and then organically just growing into my skin as a woman.
The effect on me is that I am fully here with no corners left dimmed. I feel myself filling out this skin and nobody else needs to be in here. You don’t need to be having sex to sit fully in your sexuality. Some have said to me that I am not honouring my woman-ness by not having sex. I believe that I am doing just that by wanting to wait for someone who can see me as a complete woman with a brain, a heart and a soul.
My ban has been lifted but I am in no rush. Well meaning friends try to push it but really, it is not needed.
Sometimes you have bad days and you need someone else to make you feel sexy, but really sexuality is not directly related to the sexual act. It is the skin you wear without shame whatever your preference. It wraps itself around you from the inside out. It walks with you when your feet stand comfortably on the ground. It expands and contracts with your breath, part of your life force. It isn’t related to your height, your weight or the colour of your hair, it is how you stay in it all.
It scares me sometimes, but it is a part of me. It is this woman-ness, the ability and strength to put the heart out there and the courage to allow it to break, then to rebuild over and over again. It is beautiful, soft, vulnerable and magical but solid and real at the same time. It is the soft shawl that can wrap itself around a blade without getting torn to shreds. As much as it scares me however, I love it. I love the freedom that comes with being a woman, the fluidity, passion and flame and ability to be strong in surrender. Not here to be conquered or saved but able to step into a space like donning a second skin – daughter, sister, friend, lover, team-mate, partner, the one who stands behind you or by your side depending on the day and occasion, warrior, nurse, teacher, student and everything in between.
Finally gaining the recognition that I am all of it and yet none of it… And getting here, oh what an adventure it has been.