To be a yogi

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I’ll be the first to admit that I fear change, especially when I know it will be uncomfortable or inconvenient, or worse, painful. But change is supposed to be all those things, otherwise, it would just be another version of the present.

I’ve been teaching Bikram for almost a year now. I relished having a regular class with regular students who are strong and dedicated. I was able to fight off new-teacher nerves because those students can pretty much can take care of themselves in the hot room. Additionally, opportunities weren’t always available at other studios, so I hid behind that reason to stay where I was. Teaching a good group of students every Wednesday, solid and concrete.

Then one day, I finally decided I was ready. I was done hiding in the shadows of comfortability and convenience. I sought out other studios far away from me, one at a time, signing up for whatever came my way. My students became even more varied the further away I went. Broken bodies, broken hearts, yet the kindest of souls. Mostly older, and some who don’t speak English at all. Their profiles resembling my immigrant upbringing and my parents’ generation more than anything – a generation that put hard work and families before their own health and happiness.

I was looking to grow as a teacher, for anything that can be thrown at me so I could be better, stronger on the podium. Maybe play with my voice, as has been a feedback for me to work on. To say teaching this group as tough would be an understatement, at times driving me to the edge of frustration. I thought, it sure is a lot of work to improve!

But when a student shared with me that she was grieving a loss and didn’t know if she could be in that hot room, suddenly the sound of my voice nor my ability to recite the dialogue became a useless. Since it was just the two of us, I practiced alongside her instead, almost in silence except for Bikram’s voice in the background and a few lights instead of the blaring bright ones traditional to a Bikram room.

I had teach not with my words but with empathy and patience.

While my regular classes have been monumental in my first year of teaching, the past month with my new group of students have made me remember that to be a yogi, you must be human too. And to be a good teacher, you mustn’t forget to be human.

I have one more Sunday to spend with them, and it has been well worth the commute.

Strangers

As yoga teachers, we see many people in our classes.  My regulars downtown?  The die-hard yogi, the dancer, the athlete.  The lawyer, the soccer mom, the hippie, the banker, the walking Lululemon advertisement.  They’re all there.

Today, I had a group of strangers.  Strangers to me because I had just started teaching at a new studio north of the city.  Strangers because I didn’t know their bodies or their names.

I was excited to teach because it was something new.  Never could I have imagined what I would take home with me today.

As class went on, it had become apparent that these group of strangers weren’t like my regulars:  the husband whose toes wouldn’t touch together no matter how many times he tried, his wife who was every bit his partner across the room, the mother and daughter who practiced side by side, and the 60-yr old jubilant lady with the smile who kept on wiping her sweat guiltily in between postures.  And these strangers were teaching me something.

How exactly were they teaching me when it was I who stood on that podium, speaking dialogue and directions?  Well, as the husband attempted to bring his feet together for umpteenth time and the jubilant lady sat down to catch her breath, they both smiled.  They smiled at me despite the sheer effort that I know it took just to get through this tough practice.

Teachers know that the poses aren’t the object, but the body.  Most students do not.  But these strangers, my beautiful strangers, their effort wasn’t for the full expression of the poses, a locked out knee, or how good they looked in Lululemon shorts.  Their effort was for themselves, fuelled by the sheer determination that maybe one day the feet will touch.  And that if that day never does come in their lifetime, they will still continue to try.  And they will continue to smile along the way.

After I finished the class, the jubilant lady came up to me and said that she found my voice inspiring, so she tried her ‘best’.  I was humbled and in shock, not for the flattery, but because she has no idea just how much she had inspired me with those words.

She tried her best.  

I had been so excited to teach, when it was a group of strangers who taught me more than I could ever have imagined in 90 minutes.

It’s been a year…

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…since I got on that plane and headed to Los Angeles for Teacher Training.  I have butterflies in my stomach for new trainees as they start their own journeys!

I’ve been looking through pictures and old writings from that time and I am so happy that I was able to relive those moments even if just through words and pictures.  If you want to read my Teacher Training journey or just absolutely bored, here are a select few from Week 1-Week 9 and the first class that I hilariously and disastrously taught.

Cooking was my coping mechanism for the stress of training, so let’s just say I cooked…a LOT.  Because of the amount of nutrition needed with limited resources, we had to be really creative.

A fellow yogi requested a sample recipe of foods I had made while in training, and how they may be of some use to the new trainees (thanks, Marina!).

This recipe is quick and simple and so packed with nutrients, you won’t need to eat any of those packaged ‘energy bars’ that are too expensive and tastes like expired granola bars, dirty socks, and melted plastic.

You will need a blender or a Magic Bullet for this.  If you have patience, a sharp knife.  Recipe adapted from a friend of mine, Daniela.

Energy Bites 

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grainy picture from our dimly lit hotel room in training: from left to right – walnuts, coconut, cocoa powder, dates, honey, and salt

1 cup pitted dates
2 cups of high fat nuts such as walnuts or cashews (almonds are a little hard in the blender)
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
Honey or maple syrup, as needed
1/2 cup unsweettend coconut flakes (optional)

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Date and nut energy bites

  1. Blend the nuts with the salt, set aside in a bowl large enough to mix everything in.
  2. Blend the dates.  They may get really sticky so do a few at a time.
  3. Mix all the ingredients together with your clean hands.  Trust me, this is the easiest way.  Use the honey (or maple syrup) to bind everything together.  Add more cocoa powder if it’s too wet, more honey if too dry.
  4. Shape about 1 tbsp of the mixture into small balls and roll them on the coconut.  Or some cocoa powder for the truffle look.
  5. Place in a container or freezer bags.  Keep in the tiny tiny tiny hotel room fridge so they’ll last longer.

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Alternatively, flatten the entire mixture on a plate, and slice them in cubes.  Pretty isn’t what we’re going for here but portability.  These will keep for at least a week or two. I would have one or two of these an hour before class or for breakfast when I desperately needed the energy. They’re also gluten free, sugar free if you use unsweetened coconut, vegan without the honey, and dairy free.  If you don’t have a blender, use almond butter or peanut butter instead of the nuts (I prefer the texture of fresh nuts).  If you’re a raw vegan, there are plenty of raw versions of the ingredient list.

Good luck to the new trainees!

Laugh, dance, and cry if you need to. Most importantly, love yourself.

Finding strong again – A 30-Day Yoga Challenge

In the middle of packing my yoga bag, I can feel my eyebrows furrowing deeper. I really, really didn’t want to go to class. My bed was so much more comforting and it didn’t smell like sweaty feet.

But I knew this was exactly why I needed to go, why I signed up for a Bikram yoga 30-day challenge with a fellow teacher, Miss Nicola all the way from the UK, and other yogis worldwide. **

For those who don’t know, a 30-day challenge is what it is – 30 days of yoga, consecutively. People do it for many different reasons, of course. But it is what it is, a challenge. A month of sweat, laundry, and working your body from fingertips to your toes. It’s as physical as it is mental and emotional. If possible, done with a smiling happy face, as per our yoga teachers.

Unfortunately, smiling happy face is not how I would describe my last 13 days (I’m on Day 13, in case you were wondering). I’m not usually the type to wear her grumps on her sleeve, but this challenge is unlike any that I’ve done happily in the past.

So why am I doing it? Well, It’s been harder and harder to get to class lately, and I’ve manage to skate by with the bare minimum. It’s easy to blame the nice weather outside or a hangover or lack of hydration because it’s less painful to admit that it’s just became too hard to be on that mat. I’ve been weaker too, frustrated with my loss of strength. No doubt a product of my absence.

The solution? Throw myself in full force, allowing for no options, no choice. I can still kick and scream and pout. I just had to do it on my mat with those mirrors in front of me. Strong doesn’t happen from the outside looking in.

I don’t exactly know why the grumps, and frankly, I’ve been…too grumpy to bother to figure out why. Introspection aside, I continue to show up, even in the grumpiest of days. No choice.

All I can do is accept that this is what I need.

‘You don’t always get what you want, but you’ll always get what you need.’

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**If you’re interested in connecting with fellow challengers from all over, we are using the Twitter hashtag #Sept30DC.

On body image, yoga, and food

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Like any other person, I’ve had my share of teenage angst and self-image issues.  I’ve obsessed about my hair, my looks, my body.  I knew the jungles of thinness and fatness and brownness like the back of my hand.

Then one day, I had enough.

I re-discovered a different world of food when I learned how to cook.  I even had a run at vegetarianism (where I learned that just because you’re vegetarian, it does not mean you’re healthy).  While I am gladly eating meat now, I learned to respect vegetables and fruits for what they were, not as side kicks or afterthoughts to a great dish.  Or diet food.

I stopped seeing things for their calories and fat, and instead, I saw them for what was possible.  I learned about the importance of fresh ingredients, of cooking from what nature provides, of understanding that we need fat and calories and carbohydrates in order to be nourished.

In order to be happy.

While I cannot claim to be unscathed by the occasional bouts of self-doubt and self-criticism, I am better at understanding where that comes from and how to move away from it.  Instead of being hard on myself when I’m feeling less than beautiful, I pack my yoga bag and head to class.  I sweat away the reasons I doubt myself or criticize myself, and create reasons to be proud.  I also drink water, I run, watch a movie, laugh, and my favourite, I cook or bake.

I don’t do those things as punishments for a pound gained.  I sweat and work hard because I need to respond to my internal dialogue through respecting my body.  To remind myself that while I may be feeling all those things at that moment, I know a way to lift my spirits back up.

And respect doesn’t come from self-loathing.  It can only come from loving yourself unconditionally.