the beginning

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I’ve had the concept of this blog for a while now – it seems fitting that I penned the first entry while traveling in India, giving life to it in the birth place of yoga. With this blog I want to share my journey as a yoga practitioner, student and teacher. I am also hoping to rekindle my love affair with writing, which I have lost touch with somewhere along the way of “growing up”. I was too busy, that was my excuse, but really, it was because I got too protective of myself. I grew weary and wary of social media – I did not want my life, my feelings, my thoughts and ideas on public display, open to judgment by anyone with a smart phone, tablet or computer. So why then, you may ask, did I start this blog?

A friend once asked me to start a yoga blog – this was shortly after I had finished my first teacher training – and I said, “Nah, I don’t know enough to write about it.” Well, I still don’t know much, I can hardly call myself enlightened, but now I realised that this is exactly why I should write about it – to connect with all the other yet-to-be-enlightened souls out there and to share that yoga is not about looking incredibly flexible in a pose wearing the latest yoga fashion. It’s not about achieving the “out of the body” experience during meditation. It’s never about the destination, it’s about the journey. It’s about what it brings to our lives. Yoga doesn’t only happen on the mat or meditation cushion – it’s happening right here, right now, during every moment of our lives, every single snapshot of now. It’s being aware of our every thought, word or action, and how it impacts ourselves or others. My desire to verbalise this idea of yoga has led me to let me guard down, overcoming my fear of allowing another soul to pass judgment on my choice of words. Heck, maybe no one will ever read this, but that’s ok, writing helps me crystallise and articulate the running commentary in my head. If anything, it will help me in my own self-discovery journey. So this is how I decided to bare my supposedly divine self in a blog.

Coincidentally, today is International Yoga Day, so with a ceremonious click, I will publish my first blog on this ceremonious day. Namaste.

Reflections from the Teaching Journey – Part 1

The end of the year is often a time for review and reflection of the year gone past. I have made yoga teaching a full-time profession for over half a year now, and I feel that it’s time to reflect on the journey thus far. There is lots to share, but I will keep it short and share bits at a time. Thank you for sharing my journey with me. May the new year bring more happiness and peace to your lives!

Reflections from the teaching journey – Part 1

Everyone thinks that if you’re a yoga teacher, you must be a calm person. I am calm, most of the time. Ironically, I experience my most unnerving moments when I teach yoga. Hear the soliloquy in my head: oh no, he looks angry… is the sequence too hard for this class?…They look bored. Are they…? Am I talking too much? The worst one of all: Oh god, I’m a crap teacher. When these voices appear, teaching yoga becomes an isolating experience. It’s easy to lose control in a downward spiral of self-destructive thoughts. 

The truth is not everyone externalises their thoughts and emotions. Yoga in itself is – and should be – more of an internal practice than an external one. I have learned to appreciate that expressionless faces are actually good indications that it’s a good class, as it means that students are focused on their practice, their breath, their inner work. I must admit that great feedback from students do make my day, but I’ve also learned not to validate my self-worth based on compliments or even thank you’s. 

I have taught classes in which I was totally in the zone. No voices in my head. I was completely in the moment. Totally concentrating on verbalising, observing, adjusting – my mind free of distracting thoughts.It’s incredible when it happens. Every time I teach, I’m working on the yoga as much as my students are. Every class is an opportunity for me to teach whole-heartedly with one-pointed focus, and without attachment to the result. This, to me, is the true practice of yoga and is much more advanced than any pose I practise on the mat. 

the freedom to be free

I’ve led my mind into a maze while writing this blog – getting closer to freedom as my fingertips flutter over the keyboard, wandering deeper in and getting lost every time I confuse myself and hit the backspace button. I’ve been inspired to write about freedom after attending Omfest last week, but so far I’ve only managed to trap myself in a labyrinth of thoughts as I write – how ironic. Well, I’ve decided that instead of staring out the window and muttering words to myself like a crazy, I’m just going to write. Welcome aboard my train of thoughts, destination: freedom?

We often hear that yoga is the path to freedom. The more I repeat this to myself, the more abstract it seems. What does it mean to be free? Freedom is a multi-dimensional word – easy to define in some ways but elusive in others. It seems accurate to deduce that one has to be free from every possible constraint in order to be truly, completely free. If this is true, then we must be aware of what the constraints are, so let’s explore.

Physically, to be free is to be unrestrained in space and time. At this very moment, I am free as my presence is not required in a class or in someone else’s company. I am free to write whatever comes to mind, whatever I want. I am free in the comfort of my own home, and I can go out and enjoy the sun if I wish. But I don’t feel free as I’ve chained myself to the desk and committed to publish this blog today. Why? Because I’ve started it and I’ve decided that to not finish is to fail. Suddenly, I’ve imprisoned myself with my own bare hands.

Don’t we all build our own prison cells, brick by brick? Every commitment is a brick – work, relationships, kids, mortgages… If we delve deeper, living in a society as a law-abiding citizen imposes constraints. There are expectations on how to behave, there are people who govern us, whether we like it or not. The superficial definition of freedom doesn’t seem to uphold. The Statue of Liberty is being chipped away at every stab I take at defining liberty.

But these are fundamental pillars of life that we can’t or don’t want to alter, there are commitments that we want to honour. So, if life isn’t meant to be lived with ultimate freedom, maybe the notion of freedom needs to be explored in another dimension – as a state of mind. Here we build walls with mental constraints: I can’t, I am not good enough, I am too good for this, I am not in the mood, I’m afraid. There is so much fear and worry within these walls. To me, this is where yoga comes in – if not practised as pure calisthenics – as a tool to calm the fluctuations of the mind in order to recognise that we have the freedom to choose with what we fill the void. A handstand, for example, is an opportunity to recognise that while we are constrained by the force of gravity, we can choose to approach it with curiosity and calmness rather than self-doubt and anxiety.

To be free doesn’t mean that we must be free of thoughts; it means being able to recognise that we have choice. Just as we had the choice to build our castles of confinement, we also have to the choice to undo them if we feel that it’s the right course of action. If you’re stuck in a job, relationship, situation that’s undesirable, the freedom comes from knowing that you have the choice to get out of it – or if it is a constraint that cannot be removed, you can choose how you live with it. The great Mr. Iyengar said that “moksa (freedom) is a thousand little freedoms that we accomplish each day”. As I’ve been writing this post, I’ve come to redefine freedom not as achieving big break-out-of-jail experiences, but rather as ordinary moments in our lives in which we choose how we view ourselves and the world around us. Now I liberate myself as I publish this :)

the needs

As we renovated our apartment, we had to put away our stuff in storage. It felt like our lives were bubble-wrapped, sealed with tape and stowed away somewhere dark and dingy for two months. I was ecstatic when we got our things back. Christmas came early as I unpacked box after box of us. The emotions inspired a spiral of thoughts: Do we let our things define us? Do our needs and urges shape our lives? Even the best of us fall prey to consumerism – we are made to think that we need to have the newer, bigger, better, faster, stronger, nicer; we succumb because our egos say that we do. Can we still discern needs from wants?


fridge magnets yoga books
photo frames
scarves winter clothes
canisters of tea leaves

why
did I need them
to feel
at home?

I need
a cooler pair of leggings
a faster phone
another glass of wine
a sun and beach holiday

the first-world definition of need
is yet another expression of
unquenchable desires

I need I need
to shut the elevator door
to post a photo on facebook instagram my blog
to balance in that handstand

Are needs
fluctuating emotions
that we cannot control?

I need I need I need
not to be my so-called needs
my desires
my compulsive nature

my belongings
will not belong to me
eventually
what
will I take away?
what
will I need then?

the deal with spirituality

My admission to the Catholic Church was the result of a trade: thirty-four years ago, my parents wanted to get married in a Catholic Church in Montreal. Neither of them was Catholic. The deal was they could have their beautiful church wedding if they raised a Catholic family. The deal was sealed with their “I do’s” – seven years later, with water poured over my head, I was baptised as Catherine. 

I don’t know if the faithful God-loving Catherine ever materialised. Growing up, I believed in God the same way I believed in gravity – someone told me that the force was there, I accepted it and had no reason to challenge it. I had no reason to reject the religion, but perhaps my sixth sense was conspiring with its other five siblings to deliver a message – physically, my body was rejecting the practices of the religion. My eyes never sought beauty in stained glass paintings and statues, I was repelled by the smell of incense in church, taking communion actually made me gag. I dutifully attended Sunday mass so I could have my after-church Happy Meal.

The Happy Meal deal grew less attractive as I grew up. Religion manifested itself as compulsories in the form of school subjects and chapel gatherings. By the time I was in university, I was happy to be God’s fair-weathered friend who only talked to him when I was in dire need of a miracle (like acing an algebra exam). Then the friendship turned sour when I dated a devout Christian who – bless him – with all his good intentions, desperately tried to inject Christianity into my bloodstream. I resisted. My relationship with the guy ended eventually, as did mine with organised religion. No deal.

It wasn’t until my yoga teacher training that I revisited the notion of faith again. During training, I was presented with novel concepts such as tantric philosophy (if you’re thinking whaaat?, it’s not what you think it is), karma, reincarnation. I learned the stories of Hindu gods like Ganesh, Vishnu, Shiva and chanted about them. I pondered newfound definitions of laymen terms like self, universe, grace. Did I emerge with a new set of religious beliefs? I suppose you could call it that, if being religious simply means believing in a higher power. I believe that this higher power, call it God or the universe or cosmic energy or whatever you’d like to call it, resides deeply within each of us – and it embodies everything that’s good in the world: love, kindness, compassion, honesty, humility, gentleness, patience… In essence, I believe that everyone is inherently good, perfect even, but most of us require effort to access our best selves. I believe that there are ample ways to get there, and the opportunities are present every time we choose our actions, words and thoughts. I believe that yoga poses, meditation and chanting are just some of the tools and techniques that aid in the process. I believe in the karma bank that rewards good deeds in ways that we may not see. I don’t believe everything I’ve learned in training, and I certainly haven’t carried any Hindu god statues home after training. What I’ve carried away is a set of beliefs that resonate with me and align with my values. I choose what I believe on my own terms, and that is my new deal with spirituality.

the formula

Assume that time is broken down into infinitesimally small units. As we move along the continuum of time, every moment in which we find our presence is now.

Let x = any given moment in time and f(x) = the quality of attention paid, mindfully and without judgment, to the particular moment.

The Fullness of Life = ∫  f(x) dx

********************************************************************

Please excuse my sudden outburst of geekiness. The mind works in mysterious ways, and mine suddenly found itself excitedly marrying the simple integral I learned in school years ago, and the idea of mindfulness which I’ve been studying lately. Our lives are made up of so many wonderful but mercurial moments that can easily slip away if we’re not paying attention. Be present.

the decision

I had harboured many thoughts of quitting my job at the bank for a few years, but I couldn’t overcome the fear of losing the stable job and income – and for the longest time, I couldn’t figure out what to do for a living if I had left. On paper, it was a job to die for at a prestigious firm. It seemed crazy to give it up. But if you could read between the lines of my resume, you would see that I wasn’t happy. You would see that the bullet-pointed responsibilities and achievements didn’t fulfil me. If you had a barometer to measure the pressure I felt, you would see that the reading peaked every morning, every Monday, every time I returned to work from a holiday. I knew that it had to change – but how? I knew I wanted to do something with fitness or wellness – there just seemed to be no way out or in.

I wish I could tell you about the lightbulb moment when I decided to quit and be a yoga teacher, but frankly, there wasn’t one. It was a cumulation of events: my 30th birthday was creeping up on me (“what have I done with my life?“), the idea of a promotion was floated at work (“hmm… am I excited about it? nope!”), my boyfriend wanted to do some extensive traveling before he buckled down for work (“yippeee!”)… The stars had it aligned that I would quit last year. I felt lighter as I started plotting and scheming my exit plan. The decision was cemented when I registered and paid for the teacher training recommended by my teacher Nora. Then the time came to deliver my resignation letter to my manager. I felt liberated as I spilled the truth about not being excited about the promotion and wanting to do something else. I could finally stop pretending to like my job, dropping the Oscar-winning role of that girl who had ambitions to climb up the corporate ladder.

Many of my ex-colleagues expressed jealousy when they learned of my decision and said it was courageous of me to “pursue my passions.” The truth was – I enjoyed yoga, but I had no way of knowing whether teaching yoga was indeed my passion to be pursued. I hadn’t done it before! The point I’m making is that it doesn’t matter if you haven’t found your passion, calling, vocation, or whatever you may call it. If you’re not happy, if you’re not at peace with yourself – any change is better than doing nothing. But you have to be the catalyst for change.

Before I left the bank, a friend said that my worst case scenario, my last resort for survival, was to go back to the bank, which was a dream job to some people. At that time, it was a comforting thought. Now, more than a year after I’ve embarked on my self-discovery journey, like Ariel who has seen the world above, I wouldn’t choose to go back. I feel as hopeful now as I did as a fresh grad, sitting wide-eyed in the Convocation Hall with my graduation gown, ready to explore the sea of opportunities out there.

The great Steve Jobs said, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationships, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”

So with those parting words, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the my decision to brave this journey. Namaste.

the (rainy) day to be grateful

It’s been raining all week in Hong Kong. Instead of thinking ‘ew’, ‘argh’ or ‘yuck’, focus on the good things that rain brings: cooler temperature, more reason to stay in and read, the lovely percussion of raindrops against the window… I always find myself more introspective when it rains. Today, I’m grateful for the natural irrigation the rain brings – the farmers of HK and my lemon tree appreciate it. What are you grateful for today?