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.


Yin-ning my yang: A Bikram yogi’s hot, sweltering day

After 5 years of Bikram Practice,  I have grown to embrace the challenge of the hot room.  Give me heat and the dialogue, and I’ll be the first in line.  But give me calmer, more subdued yoga, and I am a fish out of water.

Earlier this week, I excitedly signed up for my first Yin yoga class.  I’ve heard good things about it and finally decided to try it out.  I wanted to try new things and challenge myself.

Shedding my Bikram yogi shell, I had every intention to enjoy the experience, absorb it all in, and open up these chakras – as they say.

I walked into the beautiful studio.  The candles were lit, music turned on, lights were dimmed.  The teacher distributed bolsters and blocks and a couple of pillows, too.  Most students grabbed a blanket, but the neat freak in me passed.  While I have no reservations about sweaty towels and mats in the Bikram studio, a communal blanket I could not do.  Baby steps here.

Then class started.

The teacher spoke so calmly, her voice reminded me of a softness I’ve long forgotten.  This was good, I thought, I could do soft.  Baby steps.

While we were in the midst of opening our shoulders, I somehow gained the superpowers to hear every single sound happening around me.  The pipes, the ambulance outside, the rain, my eyes darting back and forth.  I struggled to go back to her voice, she was speaking of the seasons and changes in our bodies.  But oh man, the plants beside me were lulling me to their lush green leaves and the windows needed someone to look out through them…

About 20 mins in, struggling to be patient in the postures, I looked over to the dude to my right (whose girlfriend dragged him to class) thoroughly enjoying himself.  There he was, smiling from ear to ear, joy emanating from his body amidst all the props the teacher had supported him with because he was so tight.  That’s when I realized I had a look of horror in my eyes.  A look of horror at my own self.

So at that moment, I made a conscious effort to soften my face .  I realized had to let go of my need for control and succumb to the candles and the music, even just for that one class.

Finally, the sounds of the pipes and the traffic disappeared and all there was was silence.  Ahh peace.  I think I may have finally found you.

Near the end of class, the teacher had us all lying in savasana, eyes closed, again rocking us softly to calmness and peace with her voice.  I thought to myself, ‘I could do this.  This will be good for me.  I could do candles and music and softness.  Soft is good….’

Then she asked if anyone who would like to be tucked in with their blankets.  My eyes bolted open, horrified at the thought of anyone tucking me in such a public space.  And just like that, I was back to the present.  The Bikram yogi reappeared, peace quickly dissipating like sand through my fingers.

Bikram mentions in training and in his books to ‘imagine you are stuck in rush-hour traffic in the middle of summer.  It’s about 102F degrees outside, your air-conditioning is broken and your window rolls down only halfway.  You’re 45 minutes late for the most important meeting of your life, the same wonderful human being in the blue van just cut you off for the third time, and you really have to pee.  Now if you can feel peace under those conditions, then you can meditate anywhere.  My yoga class is that sweltering day.‘ (Bikram Yoga, p. 75-76)

Yin yoga may just be my sweltering hot day.  I guess this means I have to return and find out.

Yin yoga, yes.  Communal blankets, no.

Damn baby steps.

I just wanted to a little bit of cake

I am not a big birthday celebration kind of person, as I always shy away from being the centre of attention. Many of my friends don’t even know my actual birthdate. But I felt that I needed to write this post, if only to serve as a reminder.

I found my 20s to be adventurous, filled with discoveries of people and places, and filled with fearlessness. I jumped as high as possible, and ran away as far as I could. All the things your 20s are supposed to be.

But I found it equally exciting as it was tumultuous. This decade was of loss and lessons alongside the struggle of figuring out who I was. I experienced heartbreaks one time too many, hardening my shell more and more as time went by.

So on my 30th birthday, when the clock struck midnight, I sighed with relief. It was as if I had been holding my breath until that moment, and finally let go.

As if my letting go needed to be more exhaustive beyond the breath, I also unexpectedly allowed myself to cry, not to weep, but to release – to release old heartaches and the tension my body held onto so tightly for protection.

That night, I slowly let go of what insecurities, uncertainties, and precariousness I could, wishing them to sail away with my 20s. In their place, I wished myself peace.

I didn’t have grand plans to be symbolic or introspective. I just wanted to a little bit of cake. Who knew I was also able to set a part of the past free…unexpectedly?