someone, somewhere in the world, posing for a photo in natarajasana.
One year of cultivating a consistent yoga practice.
I went for my first class as a broke freshman in 2011. I liked it, but didn’t see yoga as anything more than a physical workout. Having no money to pay for classes, I turned to YouTube and was never very consistent. Yoga was not a big part of my life, but I kept coming back to it.
As it is with many things in life, sometimes a voice or a feeling from within tells or compels you to do something. It tells you what you like and what you don’t like. It tells you what you need – you just have to sift through the other internal noises to hear it. I needed yoga. I needed to carve out some private time for myself to heal, to grow. I needed structure, I needed discipline.
A year ago, when I had some money and time to spare, I joined another yoga class. This class was different. I was made to reflect on my breath, and made to be present in my practice. I started to understand the value of yoga beyond asana. I went for classes, briefly joined a studio, and started a personal weekly practice. I started to develop structure and discipline. I started to heal.
12 months later and I am so grateful for this practice, the knowledge it has given to me, and the people it has brought into my life.
12 months later and I am stronger in every way.
Twice I have been to Luang Prabang, Laos, and both times I have felt at home. I say I felt “at home” not because I felt “like a local” but because I felt at peace. I was full with love and connection, my mind was active – people were teaching me a new language and there was just so much to learn, and my body was put to work. My mind, body, and spirit were being fed and there is no feeling quite like the one you get when every part of you is full, is content.
A break from routine can allow you to hit the reset button on your mind, body, and spirit. It gives you time to reflect on the habits you want to change, the experiences you want to work towards, and the things you have and can be grateful for.
In my most recent holiday, which ended just last Sunday, I got to do all of these things and more. I got to spend time with a good friend who was often on the same wavelength (which made this trip much easier really), and got to be present and enjoy the time we had together. We decided 2 weeks before that we would pack our bags and go off to Laos. We went there with no real plan – just a list of things we could do, and the intention of making sure we would not need a holiday after our holiday. We listened to each other and allowed a plan to take shape as we went. We both even managed to get into a routine we want to bring home with us. I might not have “deserved” a holiday this time, but I sure needed it.
Is it weird that I am afraid of arm balances because I am a little too aware of how small my wrists are in proportion to my body?
They are tiny, tiny wrists.
Whenever my yoga teachers tell me to think of a mantra before classes my mind always seems to drift to three words “strength, ease, and gratitude.”
“Strength” because it is important to discipline the body and mind to endure the poses and sequences that are difficult for me.
“Ease” because even when I am pushing my body I don’t want to push it to the point of injury, and I still want to be able to have a smile on my face.
“Gratitude” because none of us should ever take our bodies’ capabilities for granted. Even if we are not as strong or as flexible as we would like to be, we need to be consciously appreciative of what we have, rather than fixated on what we don’t have.
A couple of days ago with the help of two of my favourite instructors I was able to get into eka pada rajakapotasana (one-legged king pigeon pose) for a short amount of time. It was not perfect, but I am so grateful that my body could do that, at least on that day. Asana come and go, and a pose you achieve one day could be a pose you “perfect” over time, or it could be a pose you are never able to enter again. All things in this life are temporary and nothing is guaranteed, so I’ve found it is useful to try and approach things with strength, ease, and gratitude ❤.
It’s been a six months since I have started practicing yoga regularly, and boy, a lot has changed since then.
Internally, I feel so much more balanced than I was before, and this comes through in my physical practice. Just two months ago it would have been difficult to come into the birds of paradise pose (above) at all. My mind was constantly buzzing with thoughts and anxieties. So much so that it was difficult to find ease and peace in being slow or still. I kept rushing through yoga and felt frustrated every time I lost my balance in one-legged asana.
These days mind is clearer, and my heart is more open. My practice has been such a gift :).
As a millennial, I have been raised in a world of blogs and social media (in my country during my early teens Friendster was the bomb). I have curated a total of 8 or 9 blogs with varying degrees of cringe-worthiness since the age of 13. I had the tendency to create a blog, abandon it whenever I experienced a big change in my life/outlook/personality, delete it, and create a new one.
One thing that has remained pretty constant across all of my blogging experiences is my tendency to write whenever I feel sad or a little bit empty. I don’t know why, or if others experience/d the same compulsion, but I tend to write when I am feeling down. What is interesting about that is the fact that I generally do not feel the desire to write when I am happy or simply content. Happiness and contentment were always just taken-for-granted “normal” states of being which did not merit 500 words on a page.
Now, in my mid-twenties on this journey towards greater mindfulness, I find myself seeing the importance of not only being mindful of the negative thoughts and emotions, but of the positive ones as well. Awareness of the bad energy within yourself is a really important first step, but reflecting on and appreciating the good helps to strike what I want to call a “balance in consciousness”.
So today, I write because I feel good. I write to remind myself that even though there are days that feel agonisingly long and moments which feel heartbreakingly short, the general tone of my life is positive. It is not always obvious, and I take it for granted while it is happening, but that is the default – an unrecorded sense of simply being OK.
… too much, perhaps?
I have, periodically, been informed that I talk a lot. As a teenager, my peers had not yet learned to mince their words, so some would plainly complain that I talk too much.
For a few years I felt quieter. When I deleted all of my social media and stayed off it for the bulk of my university days, and when I lost my phone and changed my number, I lost quite a number of friends along with a whole internet presence and persona. I started keeping to myself and did not actively maintain any new friendships.
It didn’t matter then – disconnecting like that. Given the circumstances it was important that I spent a lot of time without a lot of people.
Now that I’m back home things have started to change. I’ve been “putting myself out there” a little more (even this blog is part of this new development), and I have been trying to connect with some friends, old and new, more regularly.
In the last two weeks one or two people have commented on my talkativeness, and I realise that it has been bugging me.
I do not like that I am occasionally weighed down by a heaviness in my heart that feels like guilt and shame when I start to worry that I am becoming an annoyance.
It feels like such a silly insecurity to carry around.
Really, it is so silly.
It upsets me that I have made so much progress in the self-care aspect of my daily life that I can still feel insecure about things the more rational section of my mind can see are of little to no importance.
Sometimes the heaviness creeps in when you least expect it.
“You talk a lot” could be meant as a neutral comment but that toxic voice inside you can twist it and fill you with all the insecurity and shame of your pubescent years.
“You talk a lot” has a number of stand-ins: “You’re too_____” or “You’re so_____”.
They all feel the same on a bad day.
They all feel as heavy on a bad day.
I do not like that I occasionally feel like an insecure teenager…
I like that I am more conscious of these toxic thoughts and feelings.
Just a year ago I would have let the negative feeling fester and take over.
Just a year ago I would have consumed the poison.
A year later and I able to take a step back an recognise that sometimes depression comes back, and it can do so insidiously. It can plant its seed in the smallest and most insignificant looking ideas — “You talk a lot”– and if you nurture that seed a plant will take root. “You talk a lot” can turn into “You are terrible at your job,” “You are a disappointment to so-and-so,” “They would be happier without you”…
Being aware of the way you are talking to yourself is so important, and it starts with the little things.
It is so important that we all remind ourselves that we are enough and we are okay. It is so important to take a step back and recognise that the things people say are not always meant to harm you, and even if they are, you are enough, and you are okay.
When we reflect and be mindful of the nature of the thoughts and emotions we encounter, we empower ourselves with choice.
Once we can step back and recognise that part of the solution to our problems can be found within ourselves, we can choose a healthier way to live our lives
This year I want to choose happiness.
This year I want to choose positivity.
I want to give myself the power of choice.
Ah, backbends. Is anyone else a little afraid of backbends? At times I am straight up terrified of bending back when I have nothing to hold on to. My mind starts to race. It’s almost like a fight or flight response is triggered: my hands want to fly towards something to support me and I want to run away from backbending altogether.
Backbending yoga postures, while terrifying at times, are truly amazing. They really expand the chest area (a.k.a. open the heart) and, I don’t know if anyone will get what I am saying here, but they allow me to breathe with clarity. I remember the first time I got into my wheel pose just a couple of months ago. I had the pleasure of experiencing a yummy, full, tingling feeling in my heart centre after coming out of the pose. That was the moment that inspired me to write my very first post about this new #yogajourney.
On that day I hadn’t anticipated how much harder it was going to feel to get into and stay in wheel pose and other backbends. I continue to feel a sharp pinch in my lower back and I often feel defeated when I am not strong enough to hold a pose.
One thing I have come to realise, particularly through practicing backbends, is that the more I learn about different asana, the more aware I become of my ‘mistakes’. It is a sad fact that my brain has been conditioned to berate my body and my being when it does not live up to a particular standard.
This is all to say that sometimes ego gets in the way of fully appreciating your body. Getting onto the mat and doing something for yourself is in itself an accomplishment and a blessing. I used to think that an ego-driven practice could only happen in a public yoga class, but it is clear to me now that ego can lead your practice in a private space too.
It is difficult, but it is important to remember that executing poses is not everything. Some postures take time, and some others may never be accessible to you.
One of my goals for this year is to undo the negative conditioning of my mind. Instead of reacting with harshness and criticism, I’d like my intuitive reaction to be one guided by love and encouragement. Instead of a fight or flight reaction, I want to embrace the experience of yoga – struggle and all. After all, flight or fight responses should only be reserved for actual dangerous, life-or-death scenarios – and let’s hope yoga doesn’t fall into that category for anyone out there (lol, Hunger Games: Yoga Edition, anyone?).
Ok, I have run out of words to type and it’s about 4 hours past my bed time.
Here’s hoping yoga newbies like myself practice safely, and if you ever find that you can’t bend back, lean back.
P.S. This is the backbend practice that triggered today’s yogic reflections. Kino is such an amazing spirit and teacher. Definitely my #WCW.