A Tale of Two Yogas

My fellow yogi and writer Marina had asked me to write about my ashtanga practice.  Head on over to her blog at Bikram Yoga Musings and say hello.



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.

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.’¬†

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?

Finding passion

The time between now and my last post hung in the air. Each day, the desire to compose words gets heavier and heavier. Even though I struggle to start, writing and re-writing even the simplest of lines, I am never in regret when I finish my writing.

My Bikram practice is similar. There are days, lately more often than not, where I fight with each posture, angry at my body when I should be more patient. Then angry at myself because I should know better. But never a regret when I finish my class.

And with cooking and baking, despite the failures of a sunken cake or a burnt dish, I give myself a moment to mourn and then I am onto the next dish. The disasters before me serve merely as reminders of the possibilities that lay ahead. Humility has wonderful gifts.

All these things, what they have in common for me, is that any pains related to them, I accept. I see them as a challenge so I grow and reach beyond what I can see ahead. Ultimately, it only makes me hungry for more. That, to me, is the definition of passion.

Passion, of course, can mean many different things to people. But there is the commonality of passion being a driving force for more. More success, more money, more material things, more education, more strength, more everything – both positives and negatives. Insatiability, some would even say. Like in yoga, we practice and practice for more. More strength, more flexibility, more patience, more peace. Not to be perfect, but to be better versions of ourselves.

But what happens when passion ceases to exists?

It begins to hurt. Menial things become tedious, the lightest tasks become insurmountable, conversations awkwardly uncomfortable because you can only feign interest so long. Then the numbness takes over as you watch the clock tick til the day’s end. In this environment, you can become careless, unrefined.

Then you find yourself impassive.

But because you can only be numb for so long and regardless if you’re ready or not, you will stumble upon a mirror that will show you the road you’ve just passed. Whether that mirror be another person, a loss, even an injury, or plain old self realization, you wouldn’t be able to ignore it because the universe does not pride itself in staying stagnant.

So there you stand in front of the mirror, and you are faced with choices. Do you continue on your path counting the seconds of the clock or search for passion again and choose the road you have not yet travelled?

I’ll let you know which way I’ve chosen when I figure it out. I hope you do too.