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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Pause

There’s a moment in time when you need to pause.

You’ve said “yes,” to that which has moved you (https://azphoenix.wordpress.com/2013/05/23/yes/) and said “no,” to the things that serve you no more.

You know where you are going, but there is something saying, “no need to rush, what is inevitable will happen.”

And some things are just that.

Inevitable. 

Like the light that comes after the night, and the warmth that comes after the cold.

Inevitable.

That word has been sitting with me for a month now.

In a way it is completely liberating but in another way, it scares the heck out of me because it means giving in to something I don’t know.  I find myself resisting.  Why? Well because nobody knows what the inevitable is until it happens.  It is that thing which either is or isn’t yours no matter how hard you try.  For someone who needs to always steer the direction of this ship called life, giving in to the inevitable is about as easy as brushing your hair with your toes. There is a slight tensing of the shoulders and a more than slight tightening of the hips.  If trusting the known is not easy, trusting the unknown is the test of ultimate surrender.

In the last two weeks, I have sat in yoga class after yoga class fighting the resistance in my hips.  I have been angry at my body for not doing what it usually should.  Instead of the relaxed effort I am used to, there has been this tense, unrelenting strife.  Every posture from standing, to balancing, to even melting has been a trial.  Sleep has been a nightly battle.

And in reply, my anger awakens, like the boiler of an old steamer ship, rumbling. Instead of the steady flame that sits inside me, there is a roaring fire in the depths, ready to speed ahead and crash into anything in its path.

As things kept getting busier and busier for me, I just kept going. Plowing through one thing, then the next and the next, and then I crashed.  In a heap of sweat and tears on my trusty yoga mat, and realized that although I thought I could not afford to stop, I needed to stop.

What’s coming could be exactly what I want, or it could not.

But what I needed was this moment between then and the future.

I needed the now. 

I needed a pause.

Just like the first time someone takes your hand where you tense up before letting your palms melt into each other, softening but strengthening the bond.  Just like that breath you take before you dive into the ocean, that tensing before your whole body melts into half pigeon, that holding of the breath in for just a second before releasing into shavasana.  It is just like that slight pause, pulling away and looking at each other between the first brush of lips and the second, deeper kiss.

The pause allows you to collect yourself, to know that no matter how things come out the other side, you are whole.

It is what brings all of you into this one place – Knowing that it was the past that brought you here to the doorway of the future.

One moment in time between what was and what will be.

One moment to melt the resistance.

One moment to know that however it turns out things will be as they should be.

One moment to embrace the unknown inevitable. 

Pause.

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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.