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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When My Femininity Came Knocking

For over two years now, I have been single and celibate, not so much as kissing a man in that time.  Somehow, it is the celibate part that gets attention more than the single part.  Somehow, it has become ‘unhealthy,’ and I am denying myself ‘the expression of my femininity,’ like sex can somehow make one feel more like a woman than any other thing in the world.  Sometimes I believe these ideas that have been cast upon me by other people.   And sometimes, when I have spent four days in spandex (not the same pieces for all four days of course), and I’m covered sweat yet again, both my own, and other people’s, I do have moments when I feel a bit less than feminine.

So it was nice to put on a dress and heels, and catch a random man cast an appreciative glance, smile or even greeting my way.  To this stranger, I am not the yoga teacher, the person who fixes his posture or the person he shares his aches an pains with.  I am not the person who cashes the till or locks the studio up at the end of the day.  I am not the asexual best friend who he jokes around with.  He doesn’t know the decisions I’ve made and the thoughts in my head.  To this man, I was just a woman walking down the street who might give him my number or go home with him.

Perhaps, given the chance, the encounter could have progressed. When I was younger, believing that every avenue needed to be explored, it probably would have.  Perhaps numbers would have been exchanged.  A call here.  A text there.  Trying too hard to make something happen when it could have been left as a nice random exchange.  Perhaps I would have tried to make him like me because the more men wanted me, the more of a woman it made me feel like.  I was never a flirt, but that didn’t mean I that I didn’t sometimes wonder if the amount of attention received meant that one was a better woman than another.  Those thoughts always flew away as quickly as they came however.

There were always more interesting things I wanted to do and learn.

There were people I wanted to meet and know; their stories, their lives.

And in these explorations, and doing things, I am too learning that the expression of femininity might not be limited to the late night trysts you have with a man in darkness.  If it is, I want more than that.  Perhaps I am old fashioned, but I am learning that femininity is more than looking like a stereotype of what the average male wants you to look like.  It is not the long hair, or the diets, or the oh so flirty way you say his name as you saunter towards him.  It is less than that, and it is more than that.

It is about how you feel.

I am in my feminine when I am bathed in sweat, dancing between the postures.  When I have spent a day in spandex, or elbow deep in numbers trying to find that missing link in the counting.  I am there as I sit here in my towel, exploring these thoughts.  When I am the shoulder to cry on, the teacher, the best friend, the sister, the daughter and even when I am cracking the whip.  I am in it as I sink in the bath at the end of the day, and I am in it as I haul a box across the way.  I am in it in my anger, frustration, sadness, disappointment, happiness, joy.  It is there when in my interactions, when I speak, touch, listen, and love.  It is in, and a part of me and no person has a right to say that I am not honouring it by not feeding my base desires.

And perhaps, my deeper desires are stronger than my base desires.  That desire to be seen as a whole, a person, a friend.  Perhaps my femininity is in wanting to turn things inside out, to stand there emotionally and mentally vulnerable, to allow him to see me from within and move from there.  Perhaps, in my 33rd year, I am starting to believe that romance is not a roll between the sheets, but conversation and deep friendships instead, and that as a woman, I owe myself this right to hold any part of myself back until I feel completely ready to share it.

Perhaps, I am learning that instead of jumping into the arms of a random person who is attracted to me on sight, I would rather be with the person who knows me.  Perhaps, right now, my femininity is expressing itself in the ability to let go of instant gratification, slow it down, appreciate the journey and just allow space for things to happen.

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