Journey to conquer the fear (of chin stand)

In my journey of a yoga teacher, where people look at me and hope that I will be able to give them guidance about where to go in their practice, there is this tendency of wanting to be “look” perfect. Perfectly calm, perfectly wise, perfectly smooth in and out of poses, perfect in many different ways. I sometime fall into this too, but the learner inside of me, a lifetime practitioner who is always triving to learn, understand that there is no human with perfection without their imperfection. The journey of yoga to finest our skill, as like anything else in life, is a constant journey of trial and error, stand up and fall (and stand up again), run uphill and slip downhill. No perfection without imperfection.

 

So as last week where I took my students in their practice with the intention of celebrating ourselves, included in it embracing our strength as well as our limitation, one of my student said “Oh Iir, it seems like celebrating ourselves is much easier said than done.” Well, it is true, because in celebrating ourselves we have to be honest to ourselves to admit and embrace our limitation as well as our strength, without brushing it to the side and pretend it was not there.

 

“How on earth can we embrace our fear then??”, this student continue. Well, fear whether we want it or not, it is crucial in our life. It is something we carry from the ancient life of our human race, in our DNA, to alert us to fight or flight. When we hit this “state of fear”, to always choose flight doesn’t take us into an improvement, to be in a better state of oursleves. We keep drawing ourselves back and not challenging ourselves to be better than before. Always choose to fight is also not a clever solution because we could lost more rather than we gain, and no living things can afford to keep loosing. So the most important is how to be clever when we hit the “fear” state. Most often, there is a specific reason why we fear of something, usually it because we feel unsafe of our wellbeing. So admit it, we don’t want our wellbeing harmed. Next, is finding a way to approach the situation without risking our wellbeing. Find a way to approach it as safely as possible.

 

Eight years ago, I first time encounter chinstand (Ganda Bherundasana). I was 3 months after giving birth of my 1st son, and although I have been practicing yoga as long as I could remember, this pose was off the table. A year later I came across this pose again in a yoga class. In that time, I was those bendy ones who love backbend and gave all of mine to be in a pose 150%, so I gave it a go. Heck, I didn’t like the way it compress my neck. I was scared I broke my neck, I didn’t know how to fall safely without injuring my neck. As a result, I never visit that pose again.

 

In my recent practice where my point of few has been shifted massively from how the pose (I think) should look like into how it should feel, I started looking at the directions of those dark corners of mine that I locked away and brushed to the side. I started reading about how to go to chinstand, how to keep it safe, how to not taking unnecessary risk. Once in a while this pose came up in classes I attended, I have time a little bit to practice but often I don’t feel its enough. To master some skill I usually need “play time” on my own, and that is one of the thing I celebrate in “celebrating my greatness”, that I don’t mind to fall, to laugh, to embrace doing mistakes, to be okay to be imperfect.

From my reading, practicing, playing, trial and error, I found 2 ways of going to this pose,  one feels (for me) a bit riskier, the other a bit safer. First, is by pulling the shoulderblades toward each other hence accentuate the backbend, the other way is by keeping the shoulderblades aparts and wrap it around the armpits although it means the backbend will not be as deep. I tried those tricks, and I have to admit that I prefer the second one where I can keep the integrity of my shoulder. Below is the stages.

 

If you come to my classes, you know that I always said that there is not only one way to go to somewhere, there is always another way. It is nothing to do of being right or wrong, only feeling safer than another. You know your body more than anyone else in the world, so listen to your body than anyone else. Maybe my tricks will work for you, maybe not. The most important is the journey you are taking to learn something new and being kind to yourself to give room from mistakes, to keep progressing in mindful way, and to have fun with it! To celebrate yourself and your life!

 

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Start with several sun salutations to warm up your body.

  1. Get 2 bricks and put it in front of your hands. Come in downward facing dog with fingers spread apart and weight spread across the palm without collapsing your shoulder.
  2. Rest your shoulders in the bricks without collapsing your shoulder. Keep the abdominal engaged and look down toward your mat, slightly foward. In these stage, some suggested to try to look much foreward so you curving your upper spine including the back of your neck and pulling your shoulder blades together which I don’t really enjoy the feeling in my back so here I just keep my neck just slightly curved to give room to shulderblades to be away from each other and wrap around. Walk toward your feet until you can not walk in anymore.
  3. Lift one leg up, and try a gentle hop without releasing the engagement of abdomen and glutes and inner thigh.
  4. Enjoy the supported chinstand.

Gratitude lessons

Anglesey Abbey October 2015

“Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life” – Rumi

It was 2010, the year I had to spent my first winter in Cambridge. I had spent winters in other countries before, but only for a short period of time, and never exceeding three months. It was somewhat a shock to the system to find out what it really means to live through an entire winter. See, where I come from, every day the sun rises at nearly the same time and also sets at the same time. Every day, there are only two possibilities of how the weather might turn out – rain or no rain. Even if it rains, the temperature will not go down below 26 degrees. And the sun will always come out, every day, regardless.

So, coming across seasonal changes, observing how days can stretch endlessly in summer and how compressed they can feel in winter, was a big change for my perceptual world. I have nothing against long summer days, although I found it very hard to go to sleep when it was still light outside – it seems that in the presence of sunlight my body still wanted to be active. It was the same in winter –  as soon as it would start getting dark, my body would immediately feel incredibly lethargic. I found it very difficult to find motivation and energy, and hey, it is coming from someone whose battery had never previously run out. At times, when it was particularly overcast, I found even getting out of bed hard work. I was easily irritated, mostly with myself. And more often than not, I felt no desire to do anything. I felt drained, a feeling which I had never experienced before.

Anglesey Abbey October 2015

That winter, I went to see my GP. Being asthmatic, I had to see a specialist and in addition have my regular flu jabs. Then I talked to the nurse about my lack of energy and difficulties getting up. She then told me about SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) – and suddenly things started making sense. The lack of light especially affects people with darker skin like mine, as well as those used to living with a lot of sun. I realised there was so much more I had to learn.

That winter, I learned to count my stars to overcome the tiredness on those days when I couldn’t get out of bed. Find one reason to get out of the house, even to just go for a walk, but more often the journey took me to a yoga class. The first step is always the hardest, but I always came back feeling better, no matter how cold or dark it was outside. Every time I went out, I knew I was getting better as it would take me less and less time to follow through with my  intention.

Now, during a transitional time like this, I know the demon I am facing. I know it will be hard for me to get out of bed on a particularly grey day, and I know the first step is always the most difficult. When such a moment comes, I will stop finding 1001 reasons to complain about, and instead focus on a single task for the day, then get up and start doing it while counting my stars; feeling the subtle movements in my toes, fingers, eyes, nostrils or finding some silly thing just to take my mind off complaining. Before I know it, usually, the day has gone by without me even coming close to the feeling I first experienced in 2010.

I have made a habit of writing down tasks I need to accomplish on a daily basis, thus cementing my intention in the morning. Today’s intention is to share these thoughts with you. My battle with SAD, I am still fighting…

 

 

 

The intricate layers of ‘happiness’

I will write peace in your wings, and fly you all over the world” – Sadako Sasaki

Dordogne June 2016Over a decade ago, stepping out of an airplane at Kansai Airport, Osaka, I felt like I’d stepped into a different world. Little did I know that those few months would change the way I perceive the world.

In Japan, the present time of technology intertwines with the history of magnificent culture, where the red round pillars in shrines and pagodas adorned with kitsune (magical fox) and buddhas; the beautiful ochre-red autumn flows into the flaky whiteness of winter (my first ever winter and my first snow)… The Shinto rituals are practiced, however often without much acknowledgement. Shinto – originated and written using two Kanji characters: Shen and Dao, is often associated with the Buddhist Dao/Tao philosophy, although much earlier in history they existed as separate concepts.

As someone who loves understanding the ways in which societies express their belief and culture systems through the medium of language and the arts, I was completely absorbed in this intriguing phenomenon. I was astonished by the way the Japanese seemed to embrace polar opposites, using them to enrich their culture rather than abandoning them in conflict. The intricate layers of understanding co-exist harmoniously to accentuate each other. The understanding that to be in the light, we have to experience the dark, to be in high spirits we have to experience feeling down, in order to see the white we have to find our way through the black. The yin and yang, the harmonious balance. The understanding that absolute beauty is not the destination but rather the journey, i.e. the effort we put into the process of finding balance.

img_0146Sometimes in life, we reach a junction which becomes one of the major turning points, shaping our personality. Mine was the time I spent in Osaka. For the first time, I learned to follow my heart. The price I paid for it was to turn my world upside down and throw away  EVERYTHING I knew previously. Then I realized I knew nothing, I had no-one except myself. The advantage of being ‘upside down’ was knowing that the only way out of it was up. Nothing will get worse, I just needed patience and perseverance. In Dao “pain is inevitable, but suffering is a choice.” So after I finished grieving over my pain, I chose not to suffer any more. On my birthday that year, I wrote a quote from Sadako Sasaki in my diary, made a promise to myself, and took flight:

I will write peace in your wings, and fly you all over the world.”

I was learning to follow my heart, to consciously choose not to suffer despite any pain coming my way. Accepting events lightly and patiently. Telling myself that any pain will eventually subside as long as I choose not to get attached to the suffering. Taking responsibility for creating my own happiness. Those were (and are) the greatest and hardest lessons I have ever learnt, and I am still learning them. Writing the words of peace and happiness over and over again in my heart and in my wings. The practise requires a lot of strength, perseverance, and integrity. Simply because “happiness is a choice, not a result. It lies in our own hands, we create it. It is not given by others”.

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Actions speak louder than words

Coming from a so-called a third-world developing country in South-East Asia where there is no such thing called ‘social services’ provided by the government, the only safety net we have is the family, the community, and friends. When ‘bad luck’ strikes and no solution to our problems seems to be found (e.g. your children get ill, no free healthcare), we tend to turn to people around us for help. Hence conformity and humility are our virtues. It doesn’t necessarily mean we cannot be different, it just means we have to prove our point if we wanted to be different, we have to ‘show it’ not merely ‘say it’.

When I completed my bachelor’s degree, the normality was such that I should have come back to my hometown (hometown: Borneo; my university: in mainland Java, two hours away by plane). Like every other graduate in our country, I was expected to be back living with my family until I could stand on my own two feet (or if you are a girl, until someone married you, most probably someone your parents would help choose). I fought against this kind of normality. I made a deal with my Dad. I said I could support myself in Jakarta after graduation, and if in three months I failed, then I would come back. I proved my point to be different, and he knew it, and he respected it. I never moved back, I kept moving forward. Respect is gained through actions, because their echo speaks louder.

2016-06-03 17.47.03-2Individuality is a somewhat alien concept where I come from. This is further reflected in the language: we don’t start sentences with I, You, They, or any person or Subject. We start with the Object. We say ‘The work has been done’ rather than ‘I have done the work’. In my language it is the Object that takes centre stage. What needs to be done gets done, with extra hints to mention the people responsible for doing it. There is no benefit in putting oneself forward at the expense of others. This ‘object focus’ view divides people into two categories, those who work hard and subsequently gain respect for their actions, and those who hide behind someone else’s work. In the end, it’s human nature. Either you are a worker or you are not.

Coming from a modest family where everybody works, being idle has never been an option. My Mum is the second eldest of nine siblings, my youngest aunt is three years older than me. My Mum and Dad sent every one of us to school despite the fact that in the absence of free schools (probably still the case) they had to pay the fees. Everyone around me worked as hard as they could to chip in. There were many mouths to feed. What we had on the table had to be shared with everyone. My grandma was a traditional midwife and masseuse, paid by donations whenever people came asking her help. Sometimes they paid her nothing. She never complained as she said they needed the money more then us. She never earned much. Being a great gardener, she grew fruit tress in her small garden; climbing those trees has remained one of my happiest childhood memories. We didn’t have luxuries, but we never starved either. We were considered lucky compared to other people.

IMG_4230I was the first one in the history of our extended family to go to university. My parents said they could not give us money as inheritance, but they offered to help us study as much as we wanted to fulfil our own dreams. As a young girl living in a patriarchal society, I was always told that I had to work twice as hard to be considered equal. Making friends was wiser than making enemies, as friends would help you along the way, sharing your burden. Treat others the way you like to be treated, even those who treat you wrongly, because fighting fire with fire will make the whole house burn down, and an eye for an eye will make the world completely blind. Keep focussed on the job and make the best out of every opportunity, persistence will take you a long way.

Humility is essential – this saying echoed in my mind as I was growing up. There is always another peak above the peak we’re currently climbing.

Live through actions, not through words. People perceive you based on the actions you take. We have an old saying “empty bins make loud noises” and no one wants to be seen as an empty bin. Another saying goes “rice grains bow to the ground in humbleness as they gain more grains instead of sticking their branches to the sky”, which means the more you understand, the more humble you become, and the less you need to speak to prove your point. Humility helps us maintain ‘zero mind’, a willingness and openness to being taught.

Cambridge, July 18, 2016IMG_4267

 

 

Twist: construct, deconstruct, reconstruct

“In order to be myself, first I had to destroy what I was telling myself I had to become.” 

There are always at least four corners to a room, two sides of a story, three dimensional perspectives, but from where we are standing, we can only see part of it. It takes courage, an open mind and an open heart to receive the possibilities, that maybe – just maybe, other stories, sides, or perspectives exist. Maybe, if we have a little courage to twist ourselves, our view, there will be another way of seeing. From where we are standing, with our limited vision, there is always something hidden, whether we realise it or not. Hence it is necessary that once in a while, we reset our perspective. Turn around and look towards our blind spot. Whether it is ‘in line’ with whatever side, story, or perspective we currently hold, is another matter.

Bogor life, July 2015

We are often so fixated on clinging to our story, side or perspective as the only one there is. The righteous one. By doing so, not only we miss the oportunity to broaden our horizons, but we also compress our heart into a small compact space enclosed by walls. The beauty of being human is our ability to use imagination and to enjoy a free will. So why don’t we let ourselves imagine beyond our imagination? Once we stop using our imagination, stop questioning, stop looking beyond the horizon – we stop growing.

At one point in my life I thought there was only one way to believe, the way my ancestors believed. No questions needed asking, no questions were even allowed to be asked. I thought that was the only way, and that everyone lived like that. One good friend once asked me some probing questions which I hadn’t dared formulate, let alone ask myself. But her questions echoed in my mind for a long time, bouncing back with more and more questions. Then I started seeing different points of view, and the wall I so studiously built around my life expereiences started coming apart. In the end it completely collapsed. My friend’s questions made me question myself – was my way really the Kebun Raya yoga shootonly way, the only possibility? The denials I had gone through soon after, the anger of partying with something I had held so dear for so long, and which evidently no longer served me… Knowledge is akin to sand – it is impossible to hold on to. I remember my bitterness, looking out from beyond my crumbling walls, distorted corners. A new exciting possibility to explore, which had been there all along, but blinded as I was by the wall of my own making I could not see it before. So I stepped out, I searched, I investigated. Since then, I have not stopped; since then I am always coming out my comfort zone, constructing new perspectives, knowing that one day I might deconstruct them and reconstruct something else altogether.

There is so much we still don’t know, and sometimes we may not want to, but by expanding our ability to see in a different way, we might find something new, something which may not necessarily be in line with our current thinking. This new perspective will scare us, threaten our previous beliefs, shake our very foundation, make us indignant, uncomfortable, angry, offended… But don’t be in a rush to reject it. Explore the possibilities. See it in different way. Wring out your mind. Open your heart. Listen carefully, see beyond the obvious, let it rest in your heart, let the echo bounce back. Does anything resonate with you? If the answer is yes, even in the slightest degree, isn’t the idea worth investigating further before we get fixated again on one option?  There is nothing certain in life, except birth and death, so why do we assign certainty to something that plainly isn’t so?

Once we can see beyond our fixated view and realise that a new outlook might demolish our current beliefs, don’t give up on questioning it, investigating it.

Bogor life June 2015The learning curve has just begun. Keep exploring the possibilities, the extremities. You might experience confusion, anger, agitation, disbelief – but the journey of our human knowledge always goes through phases which might be described as ‘thesis – antithesis – synthesis’, in other words chaos and order. So stay with it, keep moving forward and keep your mind and heart open – there is no other way to keep learning than by deconstructing and reconstructions our knowledge. As life should be, a constant learning curve. After all, that is what has made us able to progress this far in this Earth, the constant of constructing – deconstructing – reconstructing. To find a new truth, first we have to be ready to question the old truth.

The theme of this month will be twisting, observing and questioning our perspective and ability to see in different way. Hopefully, we will then be able to reconstruct our views.

Holiday with the Thoms, July 2015

Twisting – between deconstruct and reconstruct

“In order to be myself, first I had to destroy what I was telling myself I had to become.” 

There are always at least four corners to a room, two sides of a story, three dimensional perspectives, but from where we are standing, we can only see part of it. It takes courage, an open mind and an open heart to receive the possibilities, that maybe – just maybe, other stories, sides, or perspectives exist. Maybe, if we have a little courage to twist ourselves, our view, there will be another way of seeing. From where we are standing, with our limited vision, there is always something hidden, whether we realise it or not. Hence it is necessary that once in a while, we reset our perspective. Turn around and look towards our blind spot. Whether it is ‘in line’ with whatever side, story, or perspective we currently hold, is another matter.

Bogor life, July 2015

We are often so fixated on clinging to our story, side or perspective as the only one there is. The righteous one. By doing so, not only we miss the oportunity to broaden our horizons, but we also compress our heart into a small compact space enclosed by walls. The beauty of being human is our ability to use imagination and to enjoy a free will. So why don’t we let ourselves imagine beyond our imagination? Once we stop using our imagination, stop questioning, stop looking beyond the horizon – we stop growing.

At one point in my life I thought there was only one way to believe, the way my ancestors believed. No questions needed asking, no questions were even allowed to be asked. I thought that was the only way, and that everyone lived like that. One good friend once asked me some probing questions which I hadn’t dared formulate, let alone ask myself. But her questions echoed in my mind for a long time, bouncing back with more and more questions. Then I started seeing different points of view, and the wall I so studiously built around my life expereiences started coming apart. In the end it completely collapsed. My friend’s questions made me question myself – was my way really the Kebun Raya yoga shootonly way, the only possibility? The denials I had gone through soon after, the anger of partying with something I had held so dear for so long, and which evidently no longer served me… Knowledge is akin to sand – it is impossible to hold on to. I remember my bitterness, looking out from beyond my crumbling walls, distorted corners. A new exciting possibility to explore, which had been there all along, but blinded as I was by the wall of my own making I could not see it before. So I stepped out, I searched, I investigated. Since then, I have not stopped; since then I am always coming out my comfort zone, constructing new perspectives, knowing that one day I might deconstruct them and reconstruct something else altogether.

There is so much we still don’t know, and sometimes we may not want to, but by expanding our ability to see in a different way, we might find something new, something which may not necessarily be in line with our current thinking. This new perspective will scare us, threaten our previous beliefs, shake our very foundation, make us indignant, uncomfortable, angry, offended… But don’t be in a rush to reject it. Explore the possibilities. See it in different way. Wring out your mind. Open your heart. Listen carefully, see beyond the obvious, let it rest in your heart, let the echo bounce back. Does anything resonate with you? If the answer is yes, even in the slightest degree, isn’t the idea worth investigating further before we get fixated again on one option?  There is nothing certain in life, except birth and death, so why do we assign certainty to something that plainly isn’t so?

Once we can see beyond our fixated view and realise that a new outlook might demolish our current beliefs, don’t give up on questioning it, investigating it.

Bogor life June 2015The learning curve has just begun. Keep exploring the possibilities, the extremities. You might experience confusion, anger, agitation, disbelief – but the journey of our human knowledge always goes through phases which might be described as ‘thesis – antithesis – synthesis’, in other words chaos and order. So stay with it, keep moving forward and keep your mind and heart open – there is no other way to keep learning than by deconstructing and reconstructions our knowledge. As life should be, a constant learning curve. After all, that is what has made us able to progress this far in this Earth, the constant of constructing – deconstructing – reconstructing. To find a new truth, first we have to be ready to question the old truth.

The theme of this month will be twisting, observing and questioning our perspective and ability to see in different way. Hopefully, we will then be able to reconstruct our views.

Holiday with the Thoms, July 2015

 

The Balance – Between Past and Future

In the modern fast-paced world, where we expect results instantly, we often forget how to feel ourselves in our bodies, breathe, and slow down. We shun our capacity to feel and let our bodies operate on autopilot, taking over most of the decision-making process, so we can just move on from one task into another, and then another. Like a conveyor belt that keeps churning without even realising the last time it had a break. We forget how to give ourselves time to digest events, time to listen to our inner voice and our own feelings.

Anglesey Abbey October 2015

There is an inner chatter going on in our heads about what we should and what we shouldn’t do, and what we could have done but  didn’t. We judge ourselves on whether we have done enough, whether it is us or somebody else that screwed up. We expect ourselves to perform more to a higher standard. Wondering why one expectation crashed but the other didn’t, thinking about a third and trying to figure out how to avoid it from crashing down again. We have lost the ability to see the big picture, that actually, whatever or whoever was at fault, now it doesn’t matter. The event had already taken place. And the future where we abandon our dreams in a distant horizon hasn’t materialised. We are swaying like pendulums, between regrets and expectations, from failures to dreams, from both extremes of past and future, and we forget that here we are, still standing in this moment. On the same Earth where all our past happened and under the same sky where we hang our dreams.

Bird of paradise

We are fixated on our perception of what we really need to make our life complete. We spend all our efforts to plan, create and recreate to align with this perception of our ideal future. The perception of what we must have, that we couldn’t life without, that if we don’t have it our life will be empty. We draw up long lists of things to make this perception come true. And on that long list, we forget at least two things. It’s the breathing and the happiness because what is a body without the breath? It is just a corpse. And what is a life without happiness? It is just torture.

We are so blinded by the glitter of our perception of that ideal future that we miss the opportunity to enjoy the moment. Persistently, we keep wanting what we don’t have and taking for granted what we do. Things that we do have that some other people don’t, and will probably never have. But in this moment we have the time and opportunities that will never come back again. We can’t comprehend how we should be more appreciative of what is right here right now.

The story of the past is a unique story for everyone. There may be tears, disappointment, memories in our hearts that have glued together. There may be laughter, love, fulfilment. There may have been people that have really touched our hearts – we might still be able to see their fingerprints on it. Their faces might be blurred as we walk further forward, but we will always remember how they made us feel.

Yoga poses at Kebun Raya

Those experiences, feelings, we lock them inside us, rarely allowing them the time to come to the surface. We are afraid to let them surface even once, as it may lead to other uncomfortable truths. It’s Pandora’s box. But we need to honour all our experiences, even the painful ones. Because only in that moment we learn the strength to get back up and try again. To stand up, collecting the last pieces of our heart, and move on. Only then we can admit we had been broken into an unimaginable array of pieces, inhaling every last bit of pain, realising there is no other expectation other than taking one step at a time. By receiving and understanding our limitations, we can grow beyond anything we knew previously.

The future is the path we are taking in the belief that it would lead us towards happiness. But what is happiness? Without being really sure what it is, we often expect it to envelop us once we have attained certain things we currently desire, be it the best work opportunities, the best house, the best dress, or the best yoga poses. But in life, there is no such thing. Once we reach the end of that thread of desire, we realise how short-lived the feeling of ‘happiness’ is. We are seeking one achievement after another, goal after goal, milestone after milestone, but happiness is still far away. We forget that each goal we reach, each milestone, signifies that we have developed in some way. As we hike the path we have chosen, we progress towards learning. We consciously take each step on the path leading towards our chosen destination, harvesting the persistence and the patience to keep on track no matter the obstacles, all the while being grateful and appreciative of what we have achieved thus far.  Only when we can see eye to eye with ourselves, then we can find our contentment. Once we let ourselves free from the knots of the past, and the pulling strings of the future, then we can truly see how the journey is making us stronger, better.

Kundiasana 2

So next time we are in a yoga class, rather than trying to recreate an Instagram shot of some distant celebrity out of context, perhaps we might try to look into what has been left unsaid. Behind every such photograph there are real people bringing their stories, their frustration, their wounded inspiration and pieces of a broken heart and unfolding it onto their mats in tears, sweat, pain, laughter, hours of dedication and practice, understanding and mastering their bodies and their minds, persistently and patiently. We can learn from them to harness our own patience and persistence, to improve our practice. Not because we demand an instant result, but because we commit to taking the journey of learning our own body, our own mind. Untying the knots of the past, releasing the silver thread of expectations and judgements of the future, and taking the journey of the moment.

What we have, whether we think it is enough or not, is often dependent on our perceptions. We can always complain and wish to have more, but we could also have less. When I was growing up, my Mum used to say: “If you keep looking above you, will hurt your neck and you will always see a lot of things to reach for. Peaks after peaks, mountains after mountains, the sky is limitless. This way we will never feel that we’re enough. So let’s learn to be kind to ourselves, and instead focus on our track, and appreciate how much we have gained and how far we have walked”.
So let us learn to be grateful for what we have. To be persistent yet patient, to keep moving forward one step at a time. Let us keep our courage alive and let the fear push us out of our comfort zone. We have all been scarred, some deeper than others. Let us not waver in our intention to be kind, especially towards ourselves, and not be judgmental. Between past and future, there is a balance. Learn from the past, walk towards the future but LIVE only in the present.

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Hunting the Fear

Fear is something primordial, something we carry in our DNA throughout the long history of evolution. It’s a way our body raises a warning of potential danger, and in 7 seconds we have to decide whether to flight or fight. Have you ever noticed in these few seconds before we decide what action to take, after the alarm goes off, our body suddenly becomes more alert? Our senses become more acute, and we see our surroundings as an opportunity that is asking us to perhaps respond in a different way. Fight, or flight. Become the predator and go out hunting, or become the prey that curls up and hides.

imageSome animals, when in danger, may freeze, curl up pretending to be dead, or run away. Some fight for dear life. Have you ever realised that those who fight are mostly predators, and those who flee are mostly prey? It is the same with people. Those who are fighters rely on themselves, take control over their actions, and face the consequences of their decision. Those who are flighters (if there is any such word) rely on their hiding place to protect them from the ‘predator’, their life at the mercy of somebody else.

In modern life we live comfortably, those senses are not needed as much anymore. Thus we are becoming less and less aware of their importance, so we just shuffle our fear, our demons, to the side, undermining their significance, and then we numb it out. We forget how to confront and control our fear. Instead we run away from it, boxing it into a corner, numb it, hide it pretending it was never there – so we can safely go back to our comfort zone. We forget that, although fear can be our enemy that pushes us into hiding, we also have the power to turn around and confront it eye to eye. By doing this, we make fear into our ally which will push us to our limits to be better, stronger, a builder of our own destiny, the predator rather than the prey. We take responsibility over our life rather than letting our actions stem from fear.

The funny thing about fear is, it never dies. You can numb it, but it will be back. I love image practicing inversions and arm balances, but the fear of falling is still there whispering in my ear. Sometimes when demonstrating in front of a class, I still get the whisper whether this would be the time when I am going to completely humiliate myself in front of my students. The fear never goes away, but I refuse to feed it. Instead I just focus on what I have to do, one step at a time. And if I fall (oh yes I do fall! Numerous times, and in front of my students on a few occasions!), I just laugh about it and get back up. I have got used to falling, and although I am still scared of it, it doesn’t rule me. I’m still learning how to fall correctly,  how to laugh about it, and most of all, I’m learning the courage to get back up and try again.

Over a decade ago when taught languages, I used to have a student who was a marine. He loved parachuting. I asked whether he ever got scared. He said that he always felt scared just before jumping out, but that was also why he kept on doing it. This guy chose to tame his fear rather than being controlled by it. I still remember his words: “Don’t give yourself time to feed your fear, just JUMP! As long as you know your equipment is safe, you will be fine”.

Now what has this got to do with yoga? Many of us are scared of trying inversion postures or arm balances, mainly  because of the fear of falling. By persevering with the poses that scare us, we learn to turn around and see our demon eye to eye, realising it is not that scary anymore, and falling is not so painful after all, and getting up and trying again are the only ways to move forward. Once we are used to that, we can start seeing any obstacles in our life as an opportunity for empowerment. It is no longer the falling we give our attention to, but the discipline of getting up again and mastering the courage to keep going.

This time, rather than hiding your fear in the deepest and darkest corner of your heart, find it, hunt it, and bring it to the light. Turn around and see it eye to eye, and before the fear has a chance to grow bigger, JUMP! And if you fall, don’t be scared to GET UP and TRY again! THAT is the only way to develop.

Happy hunting!

Define your goal and choose your tool

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The greatest glory of living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall” – Nelson Mandela 

If you are kind to your body, it will respond in an incredible way” – Vanda Scaravelli

If you see any yogis in only one particular moment, you will not see their stories. But if you try to see them beyond that moment, you will see the journey they have made in their years and years of practice. The sweat, the tears, the learning, the frustration, the determination, the patience – every single emotion you can think of brought to the mat and undone, never to return. The discipline, the tapas, of not holding on to what is unnecessary and doesn’t serve us any longer. The patience of taking one single step at a time. In my practice, I found peace of mind in the union of breath and movement. I am discovering myself anew, either in standing and seated poses, arm balances, inversions, and above all in savasana.

In the end, what I am looking for is peace of mind, a space where I am quiet and content with what I have, right here right now, away from my mind’s background noises, away from my own fluctuating emotions. A space where I can discover and feel every single cell in my body, where I experience gratitude for little things, appreciating what my body can do rather than focussing on what it cannot, learning my lessons. Taking time to appreciate little things that otherwise in our fast-paced life would go unnoticed. Expanding the feeling of gratitude and self-love, self-respect and self-appreciation. With all these, I can then grow and share love.

Undoubtedly, the practice of asana (poses) is important, but the longer we practice the more we realise that asana is just a tool, not an end goal. All those fancy poses are nothing but tools. My goal is a peaceful mind, a content heart, and a kind attitude. And to attain them, I chose my tools. So, define your goal and choose your tool. Don’t be distracted by the tools. Once you find them, remember that even 1000-mile journeys always start with a single step, so take courage and make your first step.