I am finally coming around to working my way through that box of books I brought back from Mysore in November. There is a book about Shri K Pattabhi Jois and the personal accounts of his students and family members
It’s a new habit of mine lately to scan the table of contents first and to jump straight to the part which catches my interest first. Naturally, I zoomed in onto Saraswathi’s interview. I think Donahaye and Stern did an awesome job in keeping her answers in its most original form, edited only as much as is required, but still allowing her voice to come through. Because it certainly felt that way. Reading it was like listening to her talking at the Sanskrit College in October when she and Sharath were invited as honorary guests for their contribution towards spreading the light (and method) of yoga.
I remembered the first time I had ever seen her in person. In Brickfields when she was in Kuala Lumpur for her 2014 Asia tour. My journey with Ashtanga yoga then was new, and I wanted to find out what the hype was all about being able to practice with immediate family members of Shri K Pattabhi Jois. I remembered a room packed with people so early on into the morning, and the gentle rhythm of chanting from the temple nearby. When I saw her it wasn’t really anything special. She struck me as a regular woman. And though it may be anti-climactic in that sense, there was an energy that emanates from her and throughout that entire LED class. I didn’t know what it was or exactly which moment in that entire class that made me realise I wanted to spend an extended period of time practicing with her, but I knew that very night I will be headed to Mysore sometime in the year just so I could practice in her class again.
In an earlier account somewhere in this blog, I wrote about the first 2 weeks in Mysore being filled with a combination of confusion and disappointment. I loved being close to her but that persistent thought of “I learn more and progress more at home with other teachers then here” was the main theme at least for those first few days. Week 3 & 4 was when the magic took hold and I began to understand that learning and progress occurs in so many other ways that the traditional method of learning I grew up with.
My experience of her are fond and warm, very much like a warm embrace of coming home. Even when I barely knew anything about her personal life aside from the fact that she is the daughter of Pattabhi Jois and the mother of Sharath Jois. I remembered at the end of my first practice in KPJAYI when she stood next to me, leaning against the rows of pictures lined up on one side of the shala, and casually asking me where I had come from. “Malaysia”, I said and her face lit up and immediately peppered me with questions about Ganesh and his wife.
There is a firmness in her touch, yet a kindness that follows through closely behind that. The only adjustment I would ever get from her are the rare support in Utthita Padangusthasana, and at the end in Shirshasana. One morning she called me to stand next to C, who was also about to enter into her Utthita Padangusthasana and made us complete that posture next to each other while holding our legs steady with both of her hands. I wished someone had took a photo of that! C and I laughed about that all throughout breakfast admiring her skills at multitasking all these students in her shala.
If anyone ever catches her eyes, there is a kind of gentle humor that resides in the depths of her soul. It’s like a gentle crinkle of the eyes and a smile that is just there for no reason at all. A day before Diwali, she was in class adjusting as usual, singing to her favorite songs. By then I’ve developed the habit of occupying my thoughts and movements within the perimeters of my mat but the strange voice of a woman humming eventually made me realised it was her singing. It was only when she stood in front of me, I realised she had an earphone in one ear and walking around with an iPod too.
It was luck that my stay there somehow coincide with that event at the Sanskrit College because that night, while she was giving her speech, was the first time I realised her immense contribution not just within the circle of Ashtanga practicing community but beyond that as a woman. I don’t know if she ever realised this, but being the first female Sanskrit scholar (largely thanks to Pattabhi Jois’ insistence as well that women should receive equal education) and later the first and perhaps the only yoga teacher at the time to be teaching Ashtanga to a mixed group of men and women opened up space to reconstruct, expand or even reimagine the role of women within the Indian society. I believe, her exposure in the Western world helped reinforce her presence within the social fabrics of the traditional Mysorean family life. Reading her accounts of having neighbours and family members giving her grief for moving back to Mysore after having her 2 kids while her husband was away working with Tata Motors was heartbreaking nonetheless.
I have been blessed to be introduced to yoga through so many other wonderful beings. The journey that started if at all by chance all the way back in 2003, and the amazing souls I had met and learned from since then is responsible in its own way for allowing me to be where I am today. Those that we learn from, especially in isolation for long extended period of times (as in committed to one teacher at one time) undoubtedly leaves its mark within us. The way they speak, adjust, teach and sometimes think eventually and to a certain extent is reflected in the way that we speak and teach. And that I believe is the most beautiful outcome from a student-teacher relationship.
At the end of her interview for this book she said:
When your mind is strong you stay with one teacher (…) when you meet the right one, you will know in your heart
Before I left, some of the more common topics circulating around the breakfast table in Mysore was “would you come back to practice with Saraswathi or would you try Sharath?”. My answer was always the same, to practice with Saraswathi for as long as she is around. Because I know in the depths of my heart that I would miss no other teacher more than I do for her.
Time is rather fascinating, from hours, to months and years – one can’t help but wonder what life would be like without any concept of time? Without any regard of time there will be no such thing as New Years no? But the concept of time, amongst its many other function serves as a tool of reflection, consolidation and integration of experiences into something meaningful. Because man is always out to find and attach meaning to everything that happens to them, Viktor E. Frankl certainly got famous from it, and I am not far behind in agreement.
This year has been nothing short of magical. Cliche I know, but it is one word that I can use with all honesty and still feel that it falls short of encapsulating the essence of 2014. Since it is also the end of my twenties, that “defining decade”, it feels really good to be exactly where I am today, to look back on all the big life decisions I have made to bring me here, and to feel a sense of excitement entering into my thirties.
If there was a word I could use to sum up my entire year it would be blessings. I am infinitely blessed and for this I am endlessly grateful to the Universe and the Higher power that governs it. From the opportunities that came in a steady stream and watching Mind Body Breath grow from strength to strength (with the 2 coolest thing to happen to it was the appearance on TV3 Berita Utama and coverage in Her World magazine), the kindness of strangers, the meeting of beautiful souls and mind blowing connections that transcends all my understanding of what it means to really and truly connect with another person, and ultimately the expansion of a group of people I hold close and dear in my heart.
Delivering a report and having a Vietnamese translator by my side (and discovering that having your presentation translated actually gives you plenty of time to calm that public speaking nerves – woohoo!), appearing on their national news, embarking on this teaching thing full time, sharing my written thoughts with others and seeing on it print, sharing what I love and what I know to others and watching them experience similar benefits and positivity, that maiden trip to India, falling in love with Saraswathi and her energy, discovering the value of parampara, falling head over heels with the entire practice and discovering an entirely new world around it, kick starting a business partnership with a person who is so similar to me in values yet so utterly different in certain worldviews and looking forward to the kind of boundless beauty that will result from this communion.
There were a couple of lessons that became really clear to me which affirms some of my understanding of the world or whatever it was that I may have read from before. I understood the concept of making space by first releasing the things that doesn’t serve you anymore. Magic happens in those spaces. They really do 🙂 I understood every quality that which we love, admire, hate or detest in other people are merely the reflection of the exact same qualities within ourselves, shedding an entirely different light and meaning on my understanding of ‘one-ness’ and the self. And I have also come to understand that the Universe awards you with many, many gifts in different forms and that you would only have to be present and aware when it happens to fully appreciate it. Of the biggest lesson in this though, I have learned that sometimes this gifts are not meant to be kept, sometimes to be let go as immediately as they came, sometimes to not be owned but appreciated as they are, and on other times, to be experienced and then to allow distance from it and to admire it from afar. The challenge that remains for me at least is to learn not to grow attached to any of these wonderful gifts.
Equally as the affirmation occurs, so too did the disintegration of certain beliefs that was accompanied with a lot of questions that was really uncomfortable leading to days of unease and sleeps underlined with meaningless nightmares. I am still questioning a lot of things but I have managed to find comfort in this very uncomfortable process, to make peace with certain things that remains unknown and to embrace fully my ability to question the very foundation of my faith and trusting this entire process in and of itself. Certainly these questions arise from within for the mere purpose of drawing one closer to the self.
here is the deepest secret nobody knows(here is the root of the root and the bud of the budand the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which growshigher than soul can hope or mind can hide)and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apartE.E Cummings
Has it really been 3 weeks already??
I was looking at the calendar yesterday and realised that I have only 2 Sundays more before I board that plane back home. Although, this little town right here has always feel like a second home to me the minute I arrived at the doorstep of my landlord’s (ok ok fine, if we were strictly speaking factual stuff, it took me a few hours after that arrival and some sleep before I actually felt like it’s second home to me).
Reflecting on my experience so far, it felt like the first 2 weeks was spent feeling like I don’t want the 1 month to end. Which is kinda self defeating because that felt like I had wasted the initial 2 weeks worrying about the inevitable, which is going to come anyway. It was only towards the tip end of the 2 weeks that my highly strung “oh my god this wholesome awesome goodness is going to end SOON” mind began to relax and accepted the fact. I think it had mainly to do with allowing my mind to soak in and process everything that is happening. Even if from the outside, a person who has no idea of the Ashtanga practice much less the daily in and outs of being a KPJAYI student might feel like there is not much going on aside from the 6 times weekly practice, there is a LOT that is happening within that short space of 1.5-2 hours in the shala every single day and that alone was enough to keep me overwhelmed for the rest of the day, on some days.
In my first 2 weeks of arrival, my challenge was merely trying my hardest to draw in all my senses inwards during practice. In a downward dog, I’m easily distracted by that girl with the splaying arms in her chaturranga. My mind was kept busy thinking “oh girl, you are going to hurt yourself if you keep doing that”. It took me a while to be able to remove and humbly place down my ‘teacher’s’ cap. Here I am the student. 100%. And my perspective needed to change as observer without a wanting to correct, change or share my opinions about someone else’s practice. Because frankly, as a student, it is not my place. And then there was the constant instructions coming from Saraswathi, calling out to the next student, “you catching?” referring to Marichyasana D more often than not, or “you, what are you doing?” and that “you” was always enough to make feel “is she talking to me??” followed by that 50/50 indecision of whether I should look up and towards where her voice was coming from, risking altogether looking like the distracted, kaypohchi student that I was or not looking up at all and just continuing with whatever I was doing like as if the comment might’ve been for someone else.
9 out of 10 times it was meant for someone else. The one time I decided to continue, the girl on the next mat had to turn around and nudge me whispering ‘I think she’s talking to you’ which of course resulted me in sitting up as quickly as I could (the correct term would most probably be popping up) followed by a meek ‘sorry?’. Because truth be told, my level of respect for her is deep enough that she actually infers some sort of a mixture of respect/fear/awe towards me. It turns out, I got my next pose on that day. “Tomorrow, you do Garbha”.
I have been doing Garbha a few times in my Mysore practice back in KL. So it wasn’t an entirely new thing for me. But just that feeling of being handed the next pose by this respected woman, I felt like I wanted to go skipping down those stairs pumping my fist in the air crying out WOOHOO to the coconut man standing outside.
I love it here, There is no doubt about that. But I also have a life back home. And that can’t possibly stop while I am here. And so after practice, there are days where H and I will be locked in intense discussions about where we are taking this little “baby” of ours, or I will be sorting out my November teaching schedule, or answering someone’s Whatsapp about an upcoming class.
And it occurred to me, my biggest 2 challenges became so crystal clear while I am here. Allowing myself to be entirely present in the moment (without thinking about tomorrow, next month, or WHEN I am coming back here), and secondly, practicing non judgement when I finally get into the zone of the present moment. Like when I am finally paying attention to the group’s conversation and it veers to a specific pose, a specific something about the practice, and I think “practice, practice, practice, why is everyone talking about their practice again?”
Sometimes I believe, these are just the knee-jerk reaction to cope with new environments. new people and new experiences. I do believe the mind in some ways need to be able to link back an experience to an understanding which already exist, it demands new things to be categorised neatly in a box so that it doesn’t become too overwhelmed. And because of this, more than ever, it is a time which demands keen observation of the mind.
Life in Mysore has been gentle. Like a warm cradling arm of a mother to a child. The days melt and blend into one another that somedays you forget what day or date it is. Most days that doesn’t really matter. It allows me to truly pin point the things that I needed to focus on. 2 weeks is a long time to allow the mind to settle in, even if from day 1 physically I fit right into the place. But it is what it is, and it is a nice feeling to finally accept that as with all things, this too shall pass..
Part of what made me fell in love with the practice was the idea of commitment, consistency and perseverance which Ashtanga demands before you are rewarded with the fruits of your labour. These fruits come in the form of self-accomplishment, and a deeper understanding and acceptance of your own possibilities.
Guruji was known to have said this to his students when he was alive, “practice, practice, practice and all is coming”.
I was excited when I saw glimpses of this truth manifesting in my practice when I begin my daily Mysore classes at Upward. From Navasana (boat pose), I was given, and this I am describing in my own words and perception, the notorious Bhujapidasana (shoulder pressure pose). One of the gate or ‘peak’ poses in the Ashtanga Primary Series. I lost count of the number of times I had to awkwardly untangle myself from the pose because my body just could not register the level of strength required to pull myself out of it into a Bakasana (crow pose) AND jump back from there.
A few days later, I figured out how to come up without untangling myself. But I kept falling on my bum. And believe me, with my bony frame, it was literally bones against the mat over and over again. Thank God for those well padded Black Pro Manduka mats. My head would come up and I would move to the instruction of either of my teachers (“straighten your legs, pick up your bum, straighten those legggsss”) and BOOM I would fall. And there are days when doing one of those was enough and I would much rather lie flat on my mat after and she would smile slightly and say, “try, 3 more times”.
THREE more times?! My wrists felt like it was about to detach itself and run away to be the understudy for Idle Hands movie.
But I did. Grunting. Breathing like my life depended on it. There was no ease in that pose. Definitely no sukham in those few long minutes. A little over a week later, I came up. Bum up. Stayed up. And I eased (or at least tried to channel some ‘ease’) into something that resembled a Bakasana, and stepped back. All in a little over a week of 6 times a week practice, plus a few more moon days in between.
And so I had thought, by coming here, and being so close to the source itself would help me progress faster. I am coming into week 2 of my 1 month stay. At the back of my head I am filled with a slight but very real pressure of returning home having completed the entire Primary series. But my practice seemed to be just at Supta Kurmasana and everyday I am hoping Saraswathi would say “Tomorrow you try Garbha” which is the next pose in the series. Everyday I approach my Shirshasana (headstand) with a deep resentment and a splinter of hope because I know how it will be. Halfway and I am stuck. That hope is mostly a little bit of courage to try to balance on my own. But mostly it fizzles out as soon as I am on the tip of my toes. Or these days, I catch the attention of David, her assistant, and he kindly helps me with the full headstand and the pike headstand. Supporting me and ensuring I don’t go flipping backwards and shock the entire room with a big bang. I feel like I could write a whole entire book about my journey into trying to stand and balance on my head. It has been 2 years and I can’t help but feel that typical ‘dang! is there something inherently wrong in my physiology that it’s taking me this long? When is it coming already??”. What took others a few days to learn (I have seen this happening personally), I am still struggling with. 2 years later and I have progressed forward at the rate of a very sleepy tortoise. Maybe that is the challenge that I have to face. To detach myself of the desire to progress at MY own timeframe, but rather allowing it to happen on its own. Perhaps.
OK so it has been over a year since my last entry. Whoever coined the term “time flies” .. they are NOT kidding at all. A person whom I am currently in business with, and who also has just completed her 200hr TTC at Vikasa commented recently that I should write more often and take this to a different level. It’s not that I have completely given up on writing, if in fact I have started writing in other places and this little corner unfortunately got a little neglected in the process.
A lot has happened and many changes has taken place since May 2013. Wow..May 2013. Just typing that out sends a little shudder down my spine because a year is certainly not a short time. If I had just 3 words to summarize my 16-month long absence from the blogosphere it would be “Everything is perfect”. Perfect in every sense, in every way that it is meant to be as it is today.
In September of last year, I fought for (well ok a little, everything seems like a fight when you are in a big corporate setting it seems) and received a life changing international project. It sent me to Vietnam. To the city of Danang to be exact. I had always wanted to work as an external consultant to an NGO on a pro-bono basis. And I had also always wanted to experience what it’s really like to live and work outside of my own country for an extended period of time. Yes – the apt word for that would be as an expatriate.
It was to be the one project which not only allowed me to cross off the last final items off my list that I had wanted to achieve, experience and learn from as a management consultant, it was also the most valuable project that changed my perspective on the environment, my role within this world, my capabilities to achieve an infinite number of things that matter to me and creating real, genuine connections. I ran my first project all by myself, I worked with a number of French people who spoke in French a lot to each other which I’ve come to find addictive as I love the language, even though I can only understand maybe 5% of what was actually spoken, I volunteered to run yoga classes to a group of young Vietnamese adults. I later added 2 words to my limited Vietnamese vocabulary which was the equivalent to “Inhale” and “Exhale” in their language. I learned the power of body language surpasses all language limitations. I experienced my first major typhoon and the power of God that can so easily rip through the entire city in just one night. I was in a town that was on CNN and BBC for the entire week when Typhoon Haiyan was predicted to hit the city directly after it ravaged through Philippines. And I learned what it feels like to be in the path of Mother Nature’s wrath, and be in a place where curfews was put in place to ensure the safety of its people.
Most importantly, I learned that you can experience deep kindness and compassion from your client on your work, and my time there showed me what an immense amount of passion, curiosity, and the desire to help can truly do to ones own career and experience in life.
Nothing after that, work-wise at least felt the same once I returned back to homebase.
So in February of this year, after many sleepless nights, lots of conversations, and discussions of the same thing over and over again, countless hours of contemplation and endless prayers to be guided onto my next path in life, I made the decision to finally leave my corporate job. It was one of the most difficult and scariest decision I had ever had to make. The day I decided to have that conversation with the big people, my mouth went completely dry a full hour before the meeting took place. But once the conversation started, it felt like the most natural thing to do. I told them I wanted to go back to school. Traditional Chinese Medicine. The art of healing had always been close to my heart. So had the idea of taking my yoga teachings on a full time basis. I wanted to do both. I had a plan. Teach yoga full time for 7 months. Then commence school for a 5-year full time study. Some colleagues were amazed and encouraging, but I am pretty sure many more think I’ve gone bonkers instead.
That didn’t mean I danced and skipped my way into the non-corporate life. For a whole week after my last day at work, I woke up with a racing heart, thinking “okayyy, what if I can’t make as much as I did before? What if I can’t feed myself from my work as a full time Yoga Instructor?”
Late April, a friend from high school connected me with her friend, a person who owned a yoga studio and was about to open another close to where I live. I was given first dibs into that new studio’s schedule that was opening in May, and asked to teach a few sessions to sub other teachers. I went from a maximum of 3-4 classes in a week to 21 classes a week.
And though that was good for exposure, I did not anticipate the kind of energy that is required to back up a really intense teaching schedule such as that. I was sick for a short while (I believe the consistent yoga practice helped cut the down time and made it wayyy shorter) and powered through 2 classes pretending to be ok when I was really already running a slight fever by that time. The idea of self-care didn’t quite embedded itself deeply in me until that incident.
Mind Body Breath, the company which I founded was registered sometime in June. Today there are 2 parts to Mind Body Breath, personal, group and corporate yoga which I am responsible of, and personal fitness training program that my sister is currently running with much success as word of mouth spread. As an older sister, I am so absolutely proud of her.
Mind Body Breath has been featured in Healthworks.my with my articles on yoga. 2 of them were published in a national newspaper. In July, I was interviewed by one of the national news and it aired in earlier this month. A few days ago, I received a call from one of the female lifestyle magazine who wants to feature yoga as part of a healthy lifestyle. A lot of times throughout, I had to stop everything that I was doing for a little while, and breathe through the whole surreality of it.
A few months back, I was accepted as an apprentice with Ninie Ahmad, a yoga instructor whom I had always admired and been to her class before many times. She was mentioned in one of my earlier posts here. That whole experience was amazing. To be surrounded by like minded people, felt like I was back in Vikasa in 2012. A few of us now meet once every week, and talk about everything and anything yoga and the healthy natural lifestyle. Next month, I start teaching at her studio too.
On the business front, I became a partner to a cute and hippie yoga studio that first took me in May. I was actually invited to join 2 others to expand the first studio opened in Damansara Perdana. The studio is known as YogaonethatIwant. And just yesterday, we ran our first official event with Clarins in the newly renovated and expanded studio. I am infinitely blessed.
One of the things that held me back in the corporate world was the family that I had found in all of the people whom I had shared many projects with. I didn’t want to leave a family behind. But I realised, you don’t ever leave a family once you have become part of it. We still keep in touch regularly. I see a select few on an almost weekly basis. In allowing myself to explore the rest of the world outside of the comforts of what I had come to know as my reality then, I have unknowingly become part of 2 new major families that are different in so many ways, yet alike when it comes to our love of yoga.
In October, I will make my first trip to India and finally dive in a month long Ashtanga practice with Saraswathi in Mysore. India had come to be on my list of places to visit since after Vikasa, to make that trip to the place of origin for all things Yoga. In November, I will be running 2 workshops at a national level Yoga Festival in Kuala Lumpur.
And so here I am. In writing all of these, it is in no way of me to shout and scream about my achievements. If in fact, it is an exercise which I wish to undertake to allow me to reflect back on how far I have come since my last post here. It is a blessing in and of itself to be able to wake up feeling inherently blessed for everything you have got going on in your life.