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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Stepping Through the Fire – My Story

When people ask me if anything changed in my life when I decided to do my Yoga Teacher Training, I answer by saying, “my whole life fell apart.”

And it did.

I had my first taste of Teacher Training in August 2011.  Little did I know that it would be the catalyst to tremendous change in my life.  It was when I finally decided that I wanted to do the first 200 Hour Teacher Training, and although I thought I could go on with life as it was through this process, the universe had other plans.  Three weeks after that, the relationship I was in fell apart.  There was a bit of toing and froing, but in the grand scheme of things, it dissolved rather quickly.

A few months after that, I gave up smoking, which truth be told was even more difficult as my relationship with cigarettes had spanned about 14 years by then.  However, I thought that since I was grieving a relationship, why not go through withdrawals at the same time.  Needless to say, the last part of 2011 was pretty much time spent rolling around in the muck.

As the sun rose on New Year’s Day 2012, in Byron Bay however, I realised that that part of life was behind me and there was nowhere I could go but forward.

That was not the end of it.

The week before I went for the first Teacher Training retreat, I packed up everything I owned to move to a new place.  Then off we went on retreat, beginning the most intense journey of self-discovery that I had gone on my entire life.  There was a lot of laughter, but also a lot of tears as we slowly went through those months of exploration.  Never had I stopped to look inside and question myself so deeply, and never had I written down in detail the life that I wanted.

Through all of this I had also decided that if I really wanted to know myself, I needed to just be by myself and therefore had decided to adopt the yogic yama of brahmacharya (celibacy).  It was a difficult choice as when going through a breakup, sometimes you want to stick a band aid on the pain by jumping into a new relationship.  However, as I was going through big changes in my life, I was just not in the right space for it.

Time came, time went and in December my first teacher training was completed. 2012 had been a crazy year and I thought I could spend some time just finding my ground.  Again, I was wrong.  On the 29th of January 2013, my father passed away.  Two weeks later, my full time corporate stint ended, and soon after that, my life got suspended between two worlds.

Something had to give.  The world of yoga beckoned me more and more, and by the second half of 2013, I had completely transitioned into this life.

Things were happening, and layers were being unpeeled.

After seven years of being in Australia, I finally received my Permanent Resident status, and it was during these times of challenge that I found out who my true friends are.  It was during this time also that I adopted beautiful Portia, a rescue cat who has become the queen of my house. In a land where I am in essence alone, I found community, and I found family.

I’ve had glimpses of what my life could have been like had I stayed where I was.  Perhaps I would have started a family.  Perhaps I would have climbed the corporate ladder.  It seems a pretty picture and yet, I have no regrets at not being there.  I know now that that frame was never mine to fit into.

And so here I am, far far away from where my life was two years ago, or rather, seven years ago, when this journey truly began.

I am altered, and yet I sit more comfortably in my skin than I have ever sat before.

Now I know that everything had to fall apart.

I had to fall apart.

Transformation begins when you take that first step into the fire and when it is right the universe helps you.  Sometimes the help comes in a scary way where the doors you could have walked through to return to where you were close with a force that you can’t fight – a breakup, a death, the loss of a job, the loss of a dream that you once held so dear, an idea that had to change, a perspective that needed to be altered, a love that needed to be severed.  You crawl through the mud, and sometimes you just want to say, “fuck it all to hell! I want to go back to where I was,” but something won’t let you, and so, you just keep going.

It is not always without pain.  In fact, most of the time, it is with a lot of pain and the journey forward might not be smooth either, but you go on, one step at a time, towards the place you were meant to be.

The world breaks down to be rebuilt.

As we stand here, at the horizon of a new year, know, without a doubt, that this is exactly where you were meant to be.

Happy 2014.

New-Moon