In the Flow

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.

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One in Four – A Walk through Shadow and Flame

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.

It is a process of riding the waves day by day, and a transformation through fire. At the other side awaits a stronger person with more compassion and so much more love for self and others.0c136b5c56fd13046766ee65c4826572-d6ha2cv

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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Dressing Up Your Practice: What Not to Wear to a Yoga Class

Yes, true yoga doesn’t care about what you wear to class.  In fact, it is not uncommon to see photos of Gurus sitting around in loincloth type things, but sometimes I do think about clothes and fashion.  It’s difficult not to when you’re trying to balance in dancer’s pose and right there, in your line of vision is someone’s bits hanging out of their tiny yoga pants.  Sure it’s not supposed to matter and it’s all about focusing on the self, but we’re all (well I am) only human, and even though you’re comfortable with your bits hanging out, other people in the class might not be.  And let’s be honest, sometimes, it can get intimate enough without throwing nudity in there too.

K.Pattabhi Jois - yes he's wearing a loincloth, but there is decent coverage

K.Pattabhi Jois – yes he’s wearing a loincloth, but there is decent coverage

So here are some tips because believe me, I’ve seen a lot in a yoga class, and I mean a lot!

Ladies

Check your crotch…  Those leggings you wear under your dress might not work in a yoga situation as they get rather thin around the crotch when you stretch. Believe me, when you go into happy baby, or standing forward fold, people can tell the colour of your undies, the style and even if you’re not wearing any.  Tip – patterned pants are actually better at hiding unnecessary sights.

No!!!!

No!!!!

Loose is not always best…  Sure, it’s healthy to let things down there breathe once in a while, but perhaps try sitting in baddhakonasana in front of a mirror and you’ll see what others can see when you’re lying there in supta baddhakonasana.

A sports bra is a good idea… This is personal experience which is embarrassing but I’m willing to sacrifice my dignity so it doesn’t happen to anyone else. In my early days practicing, I would do so in a tank top and a bra. I mean, this is yoga right? And I’m not dangerously massive in the boobage department so what could go wrong right? Well, wrong.  I went into a downward facing dog, and peekaboo, a whole boob had decided to breathe itself out.  Needless to say, I always, always make sure things are properly tucked in now.

Size matters… Even in yoga there we do tend to compare ourselves with the tiny person in the class, but there is no point getting a top which is a size smaller if you end up not being able to breathe.  It is actually stressful enough with the heat and trying to keep up with the poses, and not being able to breathe properly actually will affect your practice. Nobody knows what size your top is apart from you and the sales person. And that hot yogadude?  Well, he’s into acceptance.  If he can calmly sit in a class where girls are regularly breaking down in tears, the size of your clothes won’t matter.

No!!!!

No!!!!

Guys

Save ‘hanging out’ for other times…  Please, stay clear of the loose floaty shorts.  You can wear them to basketball if you enjoy a bit of bounce, but not to yoga.  And for the love of God, please don’t ever wear them to class without underwear.  When people stand behind you in airplane, they see the entire lay of the land, and don’t even think of supta baddhakonasana! Sometimes the heat and general lethargy makes it really hard to concentrate as it is, and seeing things we shouldn’t really doesn’t help.

People know you want to keep things in place but… sometimes your pants are too tight.  Yes, you are God’s miracle and we know it, we just don’t need to be reminded of it in every bridge, wheel, camel and reclining hero.

Those tiny Bikram pants or budgie smugglers… Might be great in 40 degree heat, but they don’t exactly stay in place when you’re in poses like Natarajasana.  Nuff said.

Hell no!!!!!

Hell no!!!!!

If you still love your tiny pants and don’t want to give them up, then maybe a G-string or a thong?  Just something to hold the bits in place, for the sake of the person who is having a hard enough time as it is trying to centre and balance.

Taking your tops off is fine in most cases but maybe might be overkill in a yin or meditation class. Again, we know you are God’s beautiful miracle, but perhaps allow for the opportunity to connect with God (or any higher power) instead of your gorgeous chaturanga pecs in the slower classes? Most of the people who come in are just starting to work into this area and believe me, starting a meditation practice is hard enough without the distraction of your beauty.

Guys and girls

The colour of what you wear says a lot… especially if it’s a heated class where you’re sweating.  Believe me, it tells people almost everything.  As a friend of mine said, “are you trying to say white and sweat don’t mix- or in actual fact they do a little too well and transparency follows- so it might be a shade to avoid?”

I love yoga a lot more than I love fashion but the thing about yoga becoming more and more popular is that there are more and more things available for various yoga practices.  Although it’s not about brands, the availability of them does make it easier for us modern day yogis and yoginis.  Brands like Lululemon Athletica (apart from that one see thru fiasco), Onzie, Lorna Jane, Liquido Active and so many more make clothes to keep the important bits covered so that you can practice comfortably.  Even your trusty trackies will work as long as you’re comfortable and things are held in place.  The important thing is to choose what you’re wearing based on what you’re practicing be it a strong flowing practice in a heated room or a more static practice.

If you have anything to add to this list, please do so in the comments box. 

And check out some of these amazing teachers, they’re dressed 🙂

Bryan Kest

Bryan Kest

Baron Baptiste - yes!

Baron Baptiste – yes!

Shiva Rea - Yes

Shiva Rea – Yes

Edits by the Shunti Sisters

The Power of the Symbolic Act

As I reach my 33rd year, and with this new moon in Aries, I am thinking a lot about new beginnings.

Something shifted this year. An old life ended, and a new one is just beginning. Bhairava https://azphoenix.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/the-terror-of-my-own-universe/ has been my companion for a while. What I feel is akin to falling in love – my heart is ready to float out of my chest into the unknown, but I am terrified. What was before was familiar, but what is coming is unchartered territory. I can’t go back. I’ve been pushed out of a door that shut and bolted itself right behind me, and strangely all I can think of is my hair.

Why do you wear your hair the way you do? It is part of your identity, the person you want to show the world. A good hair day makes you feel good and a bad one can sometimes stop you from stepping out of the house. Women through history have perfumed their hair on special occasions. Even Muslim women who wear the head cover pays attention to her hair, brushing it until it shines. A successful courtesan tends to her hair painstakingly. When a Hasidic Jewish woman gets married she either shaves off all her hair or wears it very short under a wig. When a person completes the Islamic Haj, he or she is required to cut off a bit of hair to signify a new beginning. The power of symbolism is that one simple act can signify a million different things to different people.

Sometimes it’s not about the hair at all. It is an act that signifies something greater.

And there is something romantic, beautiful and strong about this kind of symbolic act.

Symbolism through history has had a strong impact. It is the ring on a finger, the burning of old love letters, the tombstone for a person whose body was lost at sea, the solidarity of standing silently in protest. After intentions are made, a symbolic act gives something just that much more strength. Like Abraham’s sacrifice of a ram instead of his son, a symbolic act can be an act of devotion, of surrender.

The practice of yoga, is amazing for the physical body but it also feeds our souls with posture that signify more than the obvious. There is mountain pose symbolizing the balance of Ardhanaishvara even without perfect symmetry. There is Hanuman Asana, signifying the devotion of the Monkey God as he leaped to Sri Lanka to rescue the beautiful Sita. In Natarajasana, there the peace and balance of Lord Shiva in the face of destruction. Then there is Shavasana, corpse pose, signifying that all things must end. And of course there are the mudras, each a symbol of the intention.

So based on all this, this year, I feel like something symbolic is needed, so I did something terrifying.

I chopped off all my hair.

The process :-)

The process 🙂

The last time I did this I was 19 and fearless. At that age, I fell hard and fast, mourned deeply and then would do it all over again the next week. I didn’t worry if any man would find my short hair attractive and if I didn’t have dates, then I would find something else to do (getting caught smoking by the campus guard and running because we thought it was a ghost perhaps?). We did stupid things, and then we laughed about them. Life was simpler, and so was I.

Without my mane, I feel a bit exposed, vulnerable. A lot more visible are the wrinkles, the dark circles, the freckles that I’ve just recently stopped trying to cover with makeup. More than that, every emotion I feel seen through eyes that can’t be hidden with a flip of the hair. In cutting it all off, I am allowing myself to be vulnerable.

So this is my act of surrender along with an intention to let go of the past and a prayer for the future. This is my goodbye, hello, sacrifice, gratitude, asking for blessing, forgiving and asking for forgiveness, letting go of love and inviting love in, shedding old skin so that a new one can take shape. This is me allowing myself to stop waiting for my father to come home.  This is one book closing so that a new chapter can begin.

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A symbolic act need not be great. It doesn’t have to mean anything to anyone but you. It can be as simple as a new journal or as complicated as a move to a different country. It can be laying your forehead down on the mat in surrender, or holding your hands in a mudra. What matters most is the intention behind it. It is your journey, your choice, your story. Doing something symbolic is, in itself, a form of therapy.

What symbolic acts would you like to bring in to your life, your practice, and perhaps to seal your intentions?

Surrender. Always Surrender.

In about a week, I will be doing this assessment.  I’m one of these people who although I have taken so many assessments in my life always gets freaked out when I have to do another one.  This time, it’s not just the prospect of teaching a class.  It’s the prospect of being watched while I do this.  I imagine my mentors sitting there, scrutinizing everything I say and how I say it, and watching me move and sputter through a class.  Being someone who often gets panic attacks from having to speak in public, this is enough to make me question why I am doing this in the first place.

For the past three months, every class I have gone to, I have been sitting in my head scrutinizing my own alignment, trying to remember where every body part should be and trying to coax my mind into the right direction.  Worse than that, when I am in class, I am listening to how my teachers give instructions, comparing them to how I should be giving instructions. As a result most days have been taken over by the chitta vritti of my mind, just the thing that yoga is meant to silence.

Then there are the other practices I am trying to turn into habits – the netti pot (which is on and off for me), meditation, magnesium, the yamas and niyamas, and journaling everything down, and it seems like there are endless things to do.  Add to those the ongoing projects in my day job and the joys of living in the city where our senses are constantly being assaulted in every way, shape and form.  Instead of being more relaxed, the effect is that I have been working myself into more stress, and possibly adrenal fatigue in the process.

Somewhere along the way, I had forgotten my own practice.

So during a time when I should be practice teaching, I just had to step back and return to the beginning.  The only thing I wanted to do was to be in my corner of the class and just practice.  In a world of doing, amidst all the chaos of thoughts sometimes, it helps to just come back to the the point of origin, to my mat that has known not just sweat but tears as well, and to the silence that is somewhere under all the chaos.

Have you ever felt like you were just stuck in a cycle of doing? It’s often what happens when we are learning.  Every day someone is throwing a new idea at us and we just want to embody that idea as best we can.  It’s not bad. It’s just part of the process in finding what works for us. However, before long, we might find ourselves caught in clutter and living somewhere in our heads.  There is a destination, and all efforts suddenly lead to it.

It’s not just in studies or work.

Sometimes we can get like that in life.  Have you ever been in a relationship where you suddenly felt like time was running out and you had to move on, to get engaged, to get married, and these so called ‘milestones’ take over the whole story. Before long, it becomes more about reaching these milestones than about who we do it with.  Before long it becomes more about the wedding ceremony than being with the loves of our lives.  Then one day we wake up, and wonder how the hell we got here?  If we’re lucky, we have the loves of our lives. Sometimes we’re not and we’ve lost them in our race to a finish line.  Sometimes we get to the finish line and realise that it’s with someone we don’t really want to be with.  In a way, yes, I think things turn out the way they are meant to turn out, but on the other hand, there is merit to being conscious of our actions. Believe me, I was almost at the point of complicated return once.  Turned around just in time.

Yes, sometimes, in that rush to get to a destination, it helps to stop and check in.  What I discovered was that while I was in my head I had stopped embodying my yoga.  My body, tense with stress and anxiety was not very cooperative. It had lost flexibility.  So these past few days, just before I leave for camp, I needed to find my yoga again.  I needed to step back and remember why I was doing this, to stand in the corner of my classes, stop trying so hard and just let the wisdom of my teachers guide me.  And surrender. Always surrender.  Surrender to what is. Surrender to the moment.  For it is in surrender that we find our way.

We live so much in a society of achieving and doing that we forget the magic of surrender.  When we are in one place, our minds are often a few seconds, minutes, hours, days or even centuries in the future.  Yes, I know the brain is important, and so are thoughts, but so is love. And unlike thoughts, ideas and dreams, love is not a destination. It is right here.

So yes, I stopped looking for my yoga in the future or what my brain wanted my poses to look like.  I stopped looking for it in how the instructions were said, and guess what?  It was right there, and I fell in love all over again.  It didn’t matter that I can’t do a handstand on my own, and my crow has days when it won’t fly. It ceased to be about what I could do, and more about what it felt like.  Just like everyone else I have my ups and downs but yoga has been with me through it all. Yoga makes me feel good. The why’s came back to me and it wasn’t complicated.  I didn’t want to be famous, or to have people embody what I said they should.  All I wanted was to offer to others what had been offered to me.  Like my teachers before me, I wanted to provide a safe place where people could come and find themselves under all the clutter.  I would like to hold a mirror up so that my students can someday see the beauty and strength that exists within them.

As Sri K. Patthabi Jois said, “do your yoga, all is coming.”  And it is true.  All is coming.  The future is coming no matter how much you stress about it, and what will come will come in the way it is meant to come.  All we have is now.  And as I practiced, I hoped that I could someday provide this place for others – a safe place for people to slow down their minds enough to reconnect with their bodies and their hearts.  A spot of silence where the past was honoured and the future was right there in that instance.

Love.

Comfort.

Security.

And surrender… Always surrender.

The Death of Religion

Is religion dying?

No, say some. Yes, say others.  As controversial as it is, it is a valid question.  I’m not talking here about the people who believe that there is absolutely no higher power (although there is a growing number of individuals who follow that path).  I am taking here about the growing number of individuals who have noted their belief system as being “spiritual but not religious.”

Why this change though? One of the reasons, I’m pretty sure is because of all the restrictions, but restrictions are everywhere. Without rules, we would be a bunch of rampant animals just pissing and spitting wherever we liked.  So more than the restrictions, I think it’s the delivery of the restrictions that put people off.  When I was growing up, there was so much negative reinforcement coming from my religious teachers and even my family.  It was almost like a threat, “if you don’t do so and so, then you’ll find yourself in hell where you will be swallowing thorns and bathing in flames,” or “if you do so and so, you’ll be boiled alive,” and so on and so forth. You get the picture.  I’m told it’s the general tone across a few religions.

Earlier on, with all the restrictions and threats of burning in hell, my practice was out of fear, pure and simple. Nobody was particularly present to start me on a practice, so religion was issued as a threat. There was no love, and I was not taught to look up to the prophets and/or saints. My introduction to religion was all the “have to” – have to be good, have to do this, have to avoid that.  There was no practice or evolution. To avoid hell, you just do this and that.  You even have to love and respect your parents to avoid hell.  There’s that “have to,” again.

Unfortunately kids don’t stay kids. They grow up and realise that there is some grey woven in between the black and white of the world.  They question, and sometimes, they realise that a place without love is no longer worth staying in.  Religion in a way creates a separation between communities, and even between one person and another.  People who do such and such could have the darkest hearts and yet because they have followed all the rules, they are going to heaven. While people who have so much love, because they did not follow rules, are meant to go to hell.  And of course at some point, certain people actually really believe that they are going to heaven.  That’s where all the problems start.  At what point do the fundamentals steps of being a good Muslim/Christian/Hindu overcame the fundamental aspects of being a human being?

The thing is, “spiritual but not religious,” denotes that people believe in a higher power.  It’s just that religions, with all the hate, bias, wars, power struggles and discrimination, are making it hard for people to believe in them nowadays.  There is nothing wrong with religion itself, I don’t think, but they have somehow managed to give themselves incredibly bad PR in the here and now.

In my personal life, a few years ago, I had given up on religion. Why? Because I had chosen a life that was far from what my religion taught, and I thought that religion had given up on me.  Now, my spiritual practice is yoga, but I supplement that with some religious practices, like prayer and fasting. I’ve cut away the politics of religion, and choose not to take a religious stance on things concerning the choices that other people make.  My religious practice and my yoga practice travel next to each other, but I choose to let neither elevate me above anyone else.  Why? Because we don’t know what is coming.

Perhaps in a time when choice is aplenty, and where people know that they have a choice, a gentler approach is needed.  Religion should not be a club where some are better than others, but more so a practice where every day is a step in the right direction.  Perhaps it’s not exclusion that’s needed but inclusion. And perhaps, it’s not hell that should be promoted as much as love and acceptance.  Why? Because perhaps even though there is a high degree of independence, perhaps what people really want is to be part of something that is safe. And perhaps it’s just time that the world’s religions embark on a whole new PR campaign which is not so much about how other people are going to hell, but more about how “different paths can lead to the same heaven.”