Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Random Facts about a Yoga Gypsy

Suburban Yogini today posted a lovely list of silly things about herself, and asked for some in response.  Which inspired me to share this little list of silly facts of my own, at complete random and in no particular order.

  1. The first time I was ever on a sailboat, I was 3 months old.  My parents rolled me up in a huge blanket and stuffed me tightly into a shelf so I wouldn't fall out when the boat heeled over.  I've been a sailor ever since!
  2. Sometimes country music makes me cry.  Sign of my heritage - I was born in Calgary, Canada, cowboy country!
  3. I have lived only 11 years of my life in my native country (and most of that was between the ages of 0-8), and lived the rest in 7 others.  So I have always been a bit of a Gypsy!
  4. I originally came to East Timor for 3 months.  That was in August 2004. ;)
  5. When my partner goes on holidays I revert to being a terrible bachelorette and have a tendency to eat beans on toast for supper.
  6. Although yoga encourages us to stay away from stimulants, my 3 favourites are: Timorese organic coffee - (the best coffee I've ever had!), New Zealand Sauvingon Blanc, and dark chocolate.  Mmmmmm.
  7. Since working for myself, I discover I have developed an absolutely allergic reaction to 9-5 employment.
  8. I have crossed the Atlantic ocean twice in a sailboat.  Magical.
 What can you tell me about yourselves, readers?

Monday, August 23, 2010

The River of Yoga (I of IV)

After class the other day a new student approached me, and said he wanted to ask me about some of the things I'd said in class that he didn't understand, and, you know, what is yoga really all about, and what is the purpose of it exactly?


In a nano-second my mind was blown away by the vastness of that question and by the delicate position that I was in of being asked to answer it. I mean, sheesh, why would I know anything about that?  Oh, except that I am a "yoga teacher", and therefore I guess I am supposed to know how to explain these things.  Anyway, in the end I told him, more or less, that yoga could be about many things for many different people, from purely physical to purely spiritual and everything in between, and that his best approach would be to keep practising, and keep an open mind, and see what he gravitated towards.  I told him that for me, yoga was about being the best person you could be, whether that meant physically, mentally, spiritually or all of the above.

But it's got me thinking.  As teachers we are given the opportunity to share our love for yoga and to share the joy that it has brought to our own lives.  We also have the opportunity to share some of the insights that we have gleaned from our years of practice, like lanterns that may just help to light the way for others.  So I'm going to try and answer his question from my own experience.

For me, Yoga is a journey.  It's not a new journey, because we are always moving, flowing down that river of life! But it's a journey within a journey, a path you navigate within that great river.  The difference I guess, for me, is that instead of being swept downstream, Yoga is like finding a small boat, and using it to navigate your own way down towards the sea.  Along this great river, as you learn to navigate in your small craft, you encounter many small pools and eddies, and you spend time in each one, discovering what it holds for you...

The first pool I encountered was a vast lake, surrounded by a dense forest.  When I first arrived, my senses were overwhelmed by the abundance of life there.  The forest was alive with birds and animals, all living out their dramas on its shores, making commentary on their lives in loud, raucous tones.  I tried to navigate my craft towards them, only to find that no matter how hard I tried, the forest remained always just beyond my reach.

I longed to reach that far shore, to join the life of the forest and to make it my own, but instead all I could do was watch from the outside, consoling myself with my stories of what was happening inside.  Gradually I became absorbed by that forest, and I would sit all day on the rail of my small boat, eyes riveted on the distant shore.  Oh, how I longed for it! How I wanted to discover each and every creature in it!  I watched the forest day after day, and when the animals would peek out and briefly come into my field of view, I named them, gave them stories.  In my mind, I recreated what the forest might look like inside, how all the creatures lives, what were their places, purposes and roles.

But not matter how long I watched, I never drew any closer to the shore.  So, for a time, I mourned. Mourned that I was apart from this world I dearly loved, mourned that I could only watch it from afar. I felt lonely, and empty, longing to be in that place where I could not go, to be a creature of that forest, to be a part of that world.

One day, as I was in my usual spot, a small splash of water shook me out of my reverie.  For what felt like the first time, I looked down to see the water, and my small boat, and myself.  Suddenly I remembered the great river, and the journey I was on.  And as my memory returned, I noticed that all around me the water was pulsing with life, fish darting beneath the surface, small insects leaving trails like skaters on the waves.  Light poured in from above, danced on the ripples, creating a kaleidoscope of colours blue-green-yellow-purple-black.

On that sudden impulse, I drew in my sails and felt my boat, limp and listless for so long, come alive beneath me as we harnessed the elements.  My hand touched the tiller and I felt myself quiver as a shiver of life ran through me, electrifying my body and lifting a weight off my soul.  I felt like I could sing, I felt like I could soar! I breathed in the fresh air, and my whole body filled with joy.  It was as if I had been asleep and suddenly woken to realise that I was alive, I was on a journey, I was myself! I felt as though I would burst from this happy knowledge, and so I set my sails, and felt my boat gain momentum, and I did not look back as I sailed away from that forest, leaving it to its own mysteries in order to finally sail on towards my own.

For a while I sailed this way, enthralled with my own being, with my newfound awareness.  My senses felt heightened, as though I were seeing for the first time, smelling for the first time, breathing, touching, feeling alive in the world as never before! As I made my way down the river, I encountered a strong current, and I let this current take me, speeding towards the unknown.

Stay tuned for part II... In the meantime... What are your reactions to this story?  Can you relate to it?  What are your reactions to the question my student asked me?  What might you have said if a friend asked you the same thing? :)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

World Humanitarian Day - Today

Who are we?

We are sisters.  We are brothers.
We are mothers, fathers, sons and daughters.
We are leaders.  We are servants. 

We are witnesses, we are warriors,
relief-bearing, compassion clad.

We are die-hard optimists,
survival-mode cynics.
We are on a plane in moments,
flying in where people flee.

We attempt the impossible,
try to ease the pain.
We desire to restore dignity
we crave only the same
opportunities for everyone,
to live and love,
to peace and change.

We are at war with suffering,
armed with medicines and food,
we fight mankind and nature equally,
we fight apathy too,

From our homes, from our desks,
from our clinics, from our tents,
We do everything we can
when the world calls out in need.

We are human.

Are you?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Eat Pray Love - the Island behind the book

Jamie at On the Mat recently posted a nice review of the book/movie event, Eat Pray Love.

I have to say that the book fell a bit flat for me, although I did read it until the end.  I enjoyed the bits about Bali because I go there often and recognized many of the places, but I couldn't really relate to Gilbert's character, and I didn't find myself warming to her.  Maybe that's because I've never been through a divorce.  Maybe I'm just a different kind of person in the way I deal with hardship in my life.  I did like the wise words of the Texan yoga dude though.  I wish HE would write a book!

Anyway, as a spin off to Jamie's post, I have definitely been affected by the side affect of this book that she mentions - the people who are now going on copy-cat vacations and yes, you guessed it, ending up in Ubud, Bali, one of my favourite and often frequented (it's only 1.5 hours away by plane) vacation spots!  Not that there's anything wrong with that - Ubud is a tourist mecca and not exactly private anyway! - but really, there are only so many western women looking to find themselves (and a hot Brazilian second husband wouldn't hurt...) who can hang around in any one small Balinese town! ;)

I guess the thing that bothers me is that some of these visitors are traveling to far-flung places but are not really as interested in discovering those places as in finding themselves.  Now there's nothing wrong with soul-searching, but if you are going to come to someone else's home, why not learn a bit about it?  Get to know some of the locals? Learn about the history and politics of the place, the struggles and joys of its people?  I know Gilbert did this to some extent in her book, and that's great, but I have met people in Bali who don't even know that Bali is part of the Republic of Indonesia!  Really.

Last time I was in Ubud I met a woman on one such soul quest.  When I told her that I lived in East Timor (blank look), an island south-east of Bali, she looked at me and breathily oozed: "oooooooh, is it just PARADISE?".  I hardly even knew how to respond.  The words sort of stumbled out and I mumbled, "oh, it's not as nice as here", and moved off.  It wasn't her fault that she wasn't aware of the poverty, hardship and suffering (or existence at all), of the people in East Timor.   But what I wanted to say was "no... and neither is Bali".

Because Bali, while it may seem like paradise (and I'll be interested to see how it comes across in the film), is just a place like anywhere else.  Behind the glossy tourist facades, there is a harder life, too.  Corruption, harsh political realities and the constant struggle against poverty are just as much a reality here as many other places in the Indonesian archipelago.

Just sayin...  Satya, they yogic principle of truthfulness, is also about seeing the world as it is, in all its multi-layered complexity.  Not seeing only what you want to be true.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Asana and I: A love story

Being sick recently with dengue fever has meant that for the last month my asana practice has been completely modified. Stepping to my mat on Day 10 after getting the fever (2 days after leaving bed for the first time!) I couldn't believe how weakened my body was from the illness. So it has been short, gentle practices for me, focusing on stretching out the muscles that were cramped up by the fever. In addition, mornings have been tough now that I'm back at work, so I have been putting in play my 10-minute sequences!

Being unable to do asana has made me reflect on the dominance that it plays in my yogic life, and how that has changed over the years. See, I have gone through times when asana has dominated my waking moments, and not necessarily in a healthy way. I have gone through times when I didn't practice at all, preferring other forms of physical exercise instead. And I have gone through times like now, when I can enjoy my asana practice in balance with the other elements of my life.

If I could map out some stereotypical stages of relationship to yoga-asana, it might look like this:

  1. Flirtation: You first meet, and you feel a spark. For a while, you keep your distance – doing a bit of reconnaissance, and research. You attend a few classes, the spark nurtures a flame and your attraction grows...
  2. Dating and Romance: Before you know it, you are dating. In fact, you are more than dating – you can't get enough! Your friends notice a change in you... You are giddy and all you can talk about is yoga this, and yoga that, and how great yoga is and how much you looooove yoga...
  3. Obsession/compulsion: And sure enough, it's not long until you barely even see said friends anymore, because all you ever do is yoga! You eat, breathe and sleep yoga, you check all the yoga books out of the library, you spend hours locked in your room trying impossible yoga poses. Your wobbly knee in Warrior II can reduce you to tears, and the last time you had to take child's pose you held it against yourself for a week. At the same time, you can feel deep shifts happening within, in places you'd rather not go, in realms that are dark and scary...
  4. The breakup: And so, you decide you need to take a break. After all, haven't you always wanted to take up long-distance running? Why not start now! At first you enjoy the free time. You reconnect with your friends and have a few drinks and laugh about how you are so over that yoga thing. But after a while, you start to miss it. You see someone on the street with a yoga mat, and your heart leaps while your tummy lurches.
  5. The make-up: And so eventually you steel yourself, you swallow your pride, and you humbly go back and offer yourself up to the practice. It feels so right, it feels so good! And here, you may take one of two roads... Maybe you will head straight back to Step 3 and repeat Steps 3, 4 and 5 over and over again... But just maybe you will pass go and progress to...
  6. Going steady: Yep, you and yoga are here to stay, and you have all the characteristics of a good relationship. Yoga complements you without dominating your life. You recognize that you will have good days and bad days, and you don't judge the relationship based on that. You acknowledge that you need to have other hobbies and social time for the other relationships in your life. Instead of brining out the worst in you, yoga brings out your best side, and opens up a place for you to grow and confront your fears. You don't feel judged, criticized or insecure – you feel just fine where you are, thanks, and you are enjoying the journey.

And so, folks, I'm happy to report that I am feeling very Stage 6ish at the moment! I am slowly building back my strength and do look forward to getting back to my former level. But I also feel more balanced about my asana practice than I have been in a while. I am happy with where I am and the progress I have made till now. I am content with my pre-illness 45-50 minute morning practices before work, and not beating myself up for not doing Primary (Ashtanga series) 6 days a week. If I need extra sleep and my morning practice is only 10 minutes, well, I am happy with that, too.

What about you folks? Does any of this sound familiar? What has your relationship to asana been like?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

What would be your 10 minute yoga?

It can happen anytime. Just as you step onto your mat, your leisurely morning turns into a rush. Whether your girlfriend calls to move up your brunch date, you suddenly realize you had the flight time wrong, or your boss calls an emergency meeting, you are suddenly left with only 10 minutes on your mat.

Gasp! Dedicated that you are, you NEED to practice. 10 minutes is better than nothing,right? So, yogis and yoginis - what is your 10 minute yoga?

Can't wait to read your sequences!

Monday, August 2, 2010

The future of books?

In the spirit of my brief visit to the 'first' world (land of FREE high-speed internet, waitresses with iPhones, Starbucks, fast food, and so much more), I have been playing with new toys and I have discovered... The e-book.

I know, I know, they've been around for a while, but this is my first time experiencing them, and I have discovered that I am a fan! Despite my love for ink-on-page, I am finding that there are are a few things I really like about the electronic format:

- Portability: as a frequent traveler and someone who can devour a 500 page novel in one sitting, being able to carry multiple books in one slim device is an awesome advantage for me!! Gone are the days of lugging multiple paperbacks across several continents... Or the days of finishing my book and realizing I still have 8 hours left in an airplane...

- Text size: I know it sounds silly, but I love that I can re-size the text to suit my needs. As someone with poor eyesight I am forever wishing they would print things just a wee bit bigger, so I love being able to make the text bigger or smaller as suits me!

- Paperless: Ok, I am a little on both sides of the fence on this one. One of the great joys of a good book is passing it on when you are done, well-thumbed pages and all. But how many
books have I read and then thought 'well that certainly wasn't worth the paper it was printed on'? There are thousands of stores filled with millions of paper books, most of which will be read only once and then left to fill a shelf? No, I think I like the lower paper footprint of the e-book a lot!!

- Availability: A big plus for me, and anyone else who lives several islands away from the nearest English-language bookstore, is that as long as I am connected to the Internet, I can buy books!!! After 6 years on an island without a bookstore... THIS... IS.... AWESOME. :)

- Interactive and Educational content: The number of interactive books and gsmes for kids are growing by the minute, and they are great! From music, to learning the alphabet, to interactive stories, to spelling and math games, e-books are surely going to be huge resoures for the new generation... And they are great attention-grabbers, too! (Find me another toy that can contain enough gsmes to distract a toddler for hours on end!)

- Multimedia: Some of the new e-books come with embedded audio and video content, kind of like the special features on a DVD. Personally, I think the kids books are ahead so far, but there are a few cool things out already like those create-your-own-ending books, and I bet we will see more multimedia content in time.

Overall, readers, I am a fan, especially for trashy summer novels and mindless airplane reads. Iknow that nothing quite replies the joy of handling a well-loved book... But for the 9/10 books that I will probably never read again, I am an e-book convert!! Oh, and they are about half the price of a paperback, and I never need to worry about losing my place. Bonus!

What are your thoughts and experiences with the new medium?