Mantra

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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 ❤.

Practice makes progress

IMG-20170219-WA0005.jpgIt’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 :).

 

Hanan

 

Today I write because I feel good. 

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.

 

Hanan

 

 

 

 

“You talk a lot”

… 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…

 

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The Flipside

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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.

 

 

Hanan

 

 

 

 

 

When bending feels like breaking

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.

Leading with an open heart

It has been a long time since I have *properly* blogged… I have never found a platform that has suited my needs and I have created and deleted so many blogs before this one. Hopefully this platform works for me. Here goes… something.

I have gotten into a bit of a fitness groove lately. After a few years of what was essentially a sedentary lifestyle, I began to ‘get physical’ again about two months ago.

I have, for a long time, been drawn to the practice of yoga – in my teens I would marvel at how serene and centred yogis seemed during their practice. Something about strength and balance is just so enticing – perhaps this is because those are attributes I long for when times get hard. We all feel weak and unbalanced at times.

While in university, I attended a yoga class and practiced it  on my own for a while. After I made the decision to wear a headscarf at the age of 21, I started to feel uncomfortable with the thought of practicing yoga, or doing any form of physical activity outdoors. I became extremely conscious of the amount of fabric I was wearing on my body, and I was somehow afraid of attracting attention. After all, at the time I hardly ever saw any other young hijabis working out in public spaces.

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Picture taken several months ago when I wanted to do yoga but couldn’t bring myself to. There are thousand imperfections in this silhouette of a tree pose, but I love that this was captured because it reminds me of how unbalanced I felt in this transitional period of my life.

Wearing the headscarf was a personally meaningful act, and continues to be meaningful to this day. However, deciding to wear it was a big change for me. I was going through a huge internal shift in my worldview and values. I also very quickly realised that  even though wearing the headscarf was a personal and private choice, I could not change the fact that the headscarf is also a public statement, and symbol that is open to interpretation. Though the symbol means one thing to you, it also means so many things to others, even those who on the surface seem to share the same beliefs. Where I saw freedom, flexibility, and empowerment, others saw oppression, false consciousness, backwardness, and rigidity. Where I saw a process of acceptance and discovery, others saw room for criticism and judgement. The awareness of the diverse views people had made me extremely self-conscious when I first started wearing the headscarf. As much as I longed to accept myself and the decisions that I had made, I could not, because I was simply too concerned with what others might have thought. This all took me away from focusing on things like my physical strength and health.

I was making every possible excuse to stop myself from diving into something I clearly had an interest in. The pull towards yoga was getting stronger, and I got the boost I needed when I stumbled upon the instagram account of a hijabi who happens to be a kickass yogini and yoga instructor. I joined her classes and feel like they are the safe space I need for now, before I go on and explore the ways, experiences, and ideas of other yogis in this country and perhaps elsewhere. When the time is right, and I am truly excited about that “right” time, I will dive deeper.

In practicing yoga again, the concept that has resonated the most with me is that of the “open heart”. The idea of opening your heart is such a beautiful one. In yoga it often refers to the “opening” of the chest area in your physical practice, and in my recent return to yoga, I have felt a connection between the heart opening in the physical as well as emotional and psychological sense – a connection I never felt prior to this. In my heart opening practices I have found a greater sense of acceptance of 1) my body and what it is capable of for now, 2) my current state of being (i.e. in terms of career, emotional state etc.) 3) the potential for both good and bad in the days or years to come.

It is really such a beautiful thing to feel – acceptance of things as they are, acceptance of the people in your life, their journeys, and who they choose to be, acceptance of the decisions you have made – even the ones you continue to have a tinge of regret for, acceptance of who you are, what you believe in, and how you choose to lead your life.

I have learnt that the open heart comes and goes. One moment you might feel complete acceptance, and the next, you go back to bad mental habits i.e. being unkind to others or being unkind to yourself. I have also learnt that it is OK to not always feel perfectly centred, open, receptive, and accepting. What has become important for me is the conscious effort to lead with an open heart – to take things one breath at a time, at a comfortable pace, and to, as much as possible, come from a place of kindness and compassion when engaging with others, as well as engaging with my self.

It has taken a while for me to reach this point, this state of being a little more open than I was before. It has not been easy, and I doubt contentment will ever come easily, but in this moment I feel excited about how this personal journey  will develop.

Hanan