“Yoga takes you into the present moment, the only place where life exists.”

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My current Everest

A few years after I started practicing yoga, I started to notice little habitual movements I had formed in class.  I would scratch my head during awkward/utakatasana, take an extra breath or three before lifting my leg in eagle/garurasana, and the biggest tick of all, suddenly becoming tired right before rabbit/sasangasana when I had been just perfectly fine a few seconds before (and then skip a set).

Despite becoming aware of them, some of these ‘ticks’ continued.  Fortunately, as a teacher, I am forced into facing my own weaknesses and quirks.  Because one thing I never wanted to be was hypocritical when I would ask students to challenge themselves.

So as part of my ‘service’ in this yoga progression, I will share with you what I am working on right now.

I have always struggled in rabbit, hence my reaction to it in class. I would look on with sadness when people are able to get the posture correctly because I wanted to feel so badly what they felt in the posture too.  When I am in it, I feel like a drowning rat.  Tucked chin, compressed belly, holding onto the heels, while sweat is dripping in my nose.  Yay.  Not.

Earlier this year, I’ve decided to dedicate more time in understanding the posture and let go of my built up limitations (long spine, horrible forward bends, the list goes on..).  Finally, I felt that extension of the spine I never had before!  Although it was short-lived, I was able to taste and feel what I was missing out on for almost six years.  Six years!!!

With the decision to open myself up to rabbit (figuratively and literally), I started picking up knowledge that I ignored in the past.  Like earlier this evening, a fellow teacher with similar woes sent me some notes from a senior teacher’s seminar (thanks, Jo) and instead of having an avoidance reaction, I am excited to try them!

So maybe I was supposed to feel like a drowned rat until I let go of my inhibitions.  Who knows.  But I do know that I have new things to try in my next class.

And perhaps this post can inspire you to let go and try something that’ll challenge you.  You never know what you may discover 🙂

Gloria Suen, 2012 International Yoga Champion

Gloria Suen, 2012 International Yoga Champion

Photo courtesy of IYSF.

Loosening the grip: The pain of slowing down

I’ve been missing my hatha yoga lately.  Bikram, as you know is my yoga of choice.  Work, studying, and teaching is the formula I’ve been running as of late.

Unfortunately, I’ve been practicing less and less so when I do get my chance in the hot room, I push as far as I can go.  I want sweat dripping and pooling around me.  I want to go to my edge in the postures so I can go further next time.  I don’t allow myself to sit.

Until I am forced to.

The crappy mix of little practice, lots of work, not enough rest, too much intensity has finally caught up to me in the form of  illness.  Twice.  In a month.

Naturally, I had anger and frustration, as this has taken away what little practice I could squeeze in.  I was a yogi.  A teacher.  I needed my practice.  So at first I didn’t let it stop me.  I dragged myself to class, when I could.  It wasn’t an ego thing, but more of a ‘maximize what I can in the little time what I have’ thing.  I cram as much as I can into my days, as if the days are shoeboxes being filled with old photographs.  Yoga was in that shoebox.

What I had realized after my last disastrous Bikram class, was that I have been spinning and running and working so hard that I crossed the line between dedication and obsession.  I’ve been so focused on certain goals that I had applied the same level of intensity into everything else around me including yoga.  And I’ve become unforgiving to anything and anyone that got in my way.

But like any grip that is too tight, or a plant that receives too much sun or water, intensity can be harmful.  Even Bikram says ‘too good is no good!’

It gave me some food for thought: are my struggles lately been because of too tight a grip on those goals?  Would I have more success if I eased up a bit?  Am I willing to take a chance that I’m not going to fail if I slow down a just a little bit?

My challenge now is taking a step back, see what I might gain.

Only time will tell, and I’m resisting the urge to shove that into the shoebox, too.

Humble adventures in urban gardening

Last year, I started my first balcony garden and loved it. At first I thought I was going to forego the garden this year, but the thought of a grey, dull balcony on a sunny summer day just did not sound appealing to me.

So here I am again, ready to get my hands dirty. I was a newbie (still am), and of course I made lots of mistakes.

Here are some of the things I worked with last year:

1. My balcony is very windy, so I was constantly working to keep my soil healthily moist.
2. My balcony faces north, so sun exposure isn’t as ideal as a south-facing balcony. Unless I move, there’s not much I can do. Luckily, I get part of the West sun so the afternoon sun sustains my plants fairly decently.
3. My containers were decent size but I think my plants could have benefitted from bigger pots.
4. I started my seedlings later in spring, which meant a later harvest.
5. I grew tired of the gardening chores by August, so I wasn’t as attentive near the end.

Despite my blunders, I did enjoy harvesting cherry and vine tomatoes (one plant even grew taller than me!), basil, mint, cilantro, and arugula. This year, I’m adding radishes, beets, hot peppers, Thai basil, and marigolds to the original crops. I’m considering more, but I think I have to keep myself contained before I go a wee bit overboard. My balcony isn’t that big!

As you can see, my urban garden is pretty humble. I don’t believe in spending a whole lot of money for planting stuff. I think gardening should be as accessible as it can be to encourage more people to discover their green thumbs which leads to a healthier environment. The only things I spent money on were for soil ($12), containers from the dollar store ($12), lavender and Thai basil seeds ($6 for both, which didn’t even grow!), starter plant for mint ($1.49), and a trellis for my tomatoes ($1). A friend sent me a big package of seeds that will last me ’til eternity and I used seeds from organic cherry tomatoes from my salad.

I’m also thinking of starting vermi-composting (composting using worms) to give my plants nourishment. Last year, I added dried seaweed (ground), epsom salt (diluted in water), used tea leaves, and ground eggshells to the soil every few weeks and the plants responded well to them. Imagine what good, yummy compost can do! I didn’t use any fertilizers because…well, I’m not a big fan of it.  I can’t justify paying a ridiculous amount for shipped worms so I’ve contacted local people who raise for worms for personal use to see if I can buy some from them. Plus, I don’t want 30-50 LBS of worms and castings. I have nowhere to put that.

I am reusing the containers, trellis, and have a ton of seeds left. I did buy a few more seeds, and of course soil. I used toilet paper rolls and used coffee cups for seed starters, and saving used cans as containers. I’ve offered seed exchanges, but to be honest, almost none of my friends/coworkers garden so I have no one to exchange seeds with :(. (If you’re in downtown Toronto and want to do garden/seed exchange, just leave a comment below.)

Last thing, something I am looking forward to is finally growing beets. I just love beets!

Anyways, thanks for stopping by. Here’s to a healthy growing season and hope to hear about your gardens soon.

A Quote

“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” ~ Virginia Woolf

Happy International Women’s Day!!

fem·i·nist: [femuh-nist]
adjective
1. advocating social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.
noun
2. an advocate of such rights.

Happy International Women's Day!!

Artist: Mari Naomi

To all those who make the world a better place for the marginalized and the oppressed, thank you. Because of those who fought for our rights, I can vote, study, have access to abortion. Hopefully within this century, I will earn equal pay for equal work with my male counterparts.

Happy International Women’s Day!!

Food, unconditionally

resized

I’ve always loved food.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have grown up in a culture where food is central to our traditions, customs, and norms.  While my family has worked hard to shield me and other relatives from hunger, I was a child in a country where having enough to eat was a daily struggle for many around us.

Even with poverty a real threat, nourishment was a priority.  Always.

But despite the scarcity of resources and the influx of cheap, processed foods marketed towards the poor, our people never failed to celebrate with our traditional foods.  Holidays, important dates, birthdays, a good work day, high marks in school – all have been reasons to busy the kitchens and fill our tables.  In fact, poverty has strengthen our value for food, so much so that leaving even just one grain of rice on your plate is a huge sign of disrespect.  Scarcity made us respect anything that is put on the table.

This is what food has always meant to me.  Culture.  History.  Traditions.  Celebration.  Respect.

I share with you this because as I look around me and the communities I belong in, conversations about food reflect very little of that.  Most conversations around food in the mainstream involve diets and health.  Worst of all, diet and health have been used as if they are interchangeable things – to which they are not.

But I’m not going to argue about what is healthy and what is not.  I trust that we are all  capable of making these decisions for ourselves.

Food, a symbol of bounty of nature and richness of the soil, has become a method of control: to police our behaviours, to make ourselves feel bad for a pound gained, to create a moral high ground through the condemnation others who eat differently.  With the exception of a very, very small group of people I know, this is the general attitude I have observed around me.

Being a yoga teacher also gives me an access pass to the yoga community.  I have seen just as much eating disorders with my fellow yogis as anywhere else.  Practicing yoga does not give you a health immunity.  In fact, I feel like the world is suffering from a big, giant eating disorder masked as health consciousness!  That is quite sad.

So I ask this question: Is this is where we want to be at?  My ancestors would shake their head.  I think yours would too.

If we continue to base our happiness on the number of calories we failed to eliminate, the minutes we spent exercising, the numbers stitched on the back of our clothing, this will only shape our relationship with food for the worse.  And food deserves more than that.

Instead, I ask that you remember what it’s like to love food unconditionally, to remember what foods makes you happy.  Strip it down to the basics, keep it simple.  Start from there and see where it takes you.

Oh and one last thing: I take a very serious offense to the naming of eating meat murder.  This is not only a narrowed view of the world, but has racist, xenophobic, privileged undertones…or overtones.  Please stop policing my food and focus on your own plate.

Let’s get sweaty for 2013!

This is not another New Year’s resolution, it’s a sweat revolution.

I think that may have been the cheesiest thing I’ve ever written in awhile. Literary angst aside, this post is for a serious matter: sweat.

As a Bikram yogi and teacher, my world can easily revolve around sweat. Planning out which class/teacher makes me sweat hard (in a good way), how much sweat I like to see when I teach, the least amount of clothing for maximum sweat surface area, how much sweating hurts after a few wine glasses the night before…you get the picture.

Luckily, I’m not alone in this mindset. I’m fortunate enough to be around hard working, boundary-pushing yogis. There are those ones who could do the unthinkable with their bodies, the athletes, the dancers, and the yoga champions.

To these yogis, there are no weekends, no holidays. Where calendars only matter if there’s far too many days since their last sweat.

To these yogis, the measure of their being and happiness isn’t the calories they’ve eaten, the number on the scale, or the size of their clothing. (Lycra and spandex bode well for this group.)

To these yogis, success is being able to practice yoga on and off the mat.

It’s not about who is the most flexible or the strongest. It’s about keeping their patience and cool when all else around them is crumbling.

The best part about these people? They are the dedicated, everyday people you see in class next to your mat.

They’re also you and I.

Because health and happiness is just as important before and after Christmas and New Year’s Day, let’s get sweaty and happy all year round.

Convinced yet? Join a number of yogis who will be doing a 30-day beginning in January and sweat with the community wherever you are in the world. We’ll be on Twitter with the hashtag #30DCJan, short for 30 Day Challenge January. I’ll update this post of bloggers and writers as we go along. You can also drop a comment below and say hello. Or cheer on in silence.

Yoga, run, bike, dance! Anything goes here. All that’s required is we do our best to sweat 1x a day 🙂

It’s not another New Year’s resolution, but a sweat revolution!

Ahh, cheese. Happy 2013 everyone!

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There is no try.

I can’t remember a specific moment or injury that caused weakness in my left knee.  I also can’t remember when I finally attempted toe stand years ago.  Every class since, I’ve tried padangustasana, and every class, I’ve fallen out or released the left side of the posture because of pain (including in teacher training).

Yesterday, for the first time in a very long time, I thought, what if I stayed in tree. But because of habit, or years of practice, or the need to do the series as a whole, I went in even while still contemplating about not doing it.

Let me rephrase that – my body was doing things my mind was saying it could not or would not do.

My body, so disciplined in this yoga, went ahead and left my mind in the tiring debate of ‘to do or not to do’.

While this was just one posture, it was the one to show me what a regular practice has done for me.  It isn’t to help me be incredibly flexible, or build the strongest body but to eliminate the cant’s and the wont’s.  Who would’ve thought that was toe stand’s benefit?

In the words of Yoda, ‘Do or do not. There is no try.’