Tag Archives: Yoga

Building Peace: A Greeting

In May 2016, I started a series of blog posts entitled “Building Peace”. This led, two years later, to a book that tied together many of the ideas presented in these posts, ideas that remain fundamental to the role I want to play in this world. I have written just a couple “Building Peace” posts since then, perhaps because I find this theme far more obvious now than when I first began tugging at stubborn threads. Somewhere along the road, these nascent ideas coalesced into an identity.

And it has been a road.

A significant personal change is that I like who I am; the adult can speak to the child in me without crying. In optimistic moments, it’s enough just to know that. In pessimistic ones, I still find that it helps to spend time among trees.

Rereading, I stand by what I wrote back then. So maybe it’s not that I have changed, but that the way I understand myself has changed. Not so lost after all, perhaps.

December in the Gregorian calendar situates us at the end of a cycle. There are certainly other means of marking time, but standardization allows for a more connected world, and a blog is a product of such a world. Readers of this blog come from 151 countries and this is astonishing to me. I thank you for the privilege of writing and I thank you for your patience in reading.

Western tradition says that this is the time of year for us to reflect on the past year and resolve, in the new year, to act differently. To push back on convention, as usual, I would like to suggest that the best time to make a change is the moment in which you recognize that a change should be made. Walk peacefully.

But in keeping with convention, which has a time and a place, I offer the greeting that ends many yoga classes. It takes different structures, forms, and languages, and it has meant different things to me at different times. I share this greeting because it is a reflection of how I try to walk in the world, behave in relationships with others, and consider my actions in relation to the planet. I hope that it resonates with you, too. And regardless, I wish for you what you wish for you.

Hands to the heart reminding us to have clear and loving intentions.
Hands to the forehead reminding us to have clear and loving thoughts.
Hands to the mouth reminding us to have clear and loving communications.
The light in me recognizes and honours the light in you.
Namaste.

Schalkau, Germany – September 2021

Breath & Body

I started practicing yoga about 11 years ago. My roommate was on a quest to lose wait in a natural and healthy way – by monitoring what she ate and making a habit of exercise. She asked if I’d be willing to get up early and do yoga with her. Of course I was! All I knew of yoga at that time was what I had learned through years of dance classes – knew child’s pose, plank pose, tree pose, and perhaps down dog had slipped into popular culture by then. At the time, my own exercise aside from dance was running, largely because my then-boyfriend was a runner and according to him, running was the only type of exercise worth doing.

But yoga was different. It was mine, first of all, something I started to help a friend and something that helped me far more than I helped her. Yoga was a way to stretch that helped me in dance, but also helped with the meditation that I’d been dabbling in for many years. I was in middle school the first time I read about what I now understand to be a body scan meditation, and I was in high school the first time someone led me through one. Yoga pulled all of this together, but like with many things, I didn’t realize it at the time.

The beginning was not glamorous, and certainly not spiritual or mindful. Yoga was for stretching and it was a way of exercising that was not running. YouTube videos with titles like “Power Cardio Yoga” and “Yoga Cardio Workout” caught my eye, or “Yoga for Weight Loss,” and “Cardio Yoga for Fat Burning”. I felt guilty about not running, guilty for loving every moment of yoga while I was still trying to even like running.

Looking back, the choice of videos tells me not only about what my body craved (intense physical activity), but also about where my mind was willing to go. I avoided videos with too much downtime, or what I saw as unnecessary focus on breathing, stillness, and relaxing the mind.

As a gift from my parents about a year into my practice, I received a yoga mat and classes at a newly opened Bikram yoga studio. I had never felt stronger in my body than I did during the nine or ten months that I practiced there. I had never been more amazed with what my body could do. When I left that studio, I knew it was not likely I would go back. Bikram was never pleasant, as those who have tried it will know, but it was there that I let myself truly feel my body, and it was there that I first realized the meaning of energy in a room. I have never forgotten the first time I viscerally understood that there are forces in the universe that science cannot explain.

I remember the first time I allowed my body to just be there. I was in my first yin yoga class in Bali, already on a journey through my mind and heart that I still see as pivotal to the places life has taken me in the five years since. Yin did not allow me to ignore the mind through quick movement or to hide myself in flexibility. Yin opened my body and forced me to breathe. And I did so, first in an effort to reduce the intensity of physical sensation, and then because I was fascinated with how much my body could give me if I just gave it space.

I have come a long way in 11 years of practice. I have had many teachers, both through YouTube and in real life. I have tried many different styles, and I have learned where yoga comes from. The point of asana, the physical yoga postures, is to breathe. The breath itself is the practice. The body, if you let it, will move with the breath. The breath will move the body. This synchronicity aligns the mind and slows down our experience of the world.

There has been a great deal of yoga practice for me recently, a product of the amount of time I am spending at home since our return to online learning. But unlike this time a year ago, my mind is quieter, my body is more responsive, and my heart is finding it easier to smile at what I have in my life rather than crying out for what is lost.

And for this, I am deeply grateful.

Ubud, Bali, Indonesia – February 2016

Three Pops

I was stretching after my run on Tuesday morning when I heard three pops. Uh-oh. I’ve been a reluctant but reasonably dedicated runner since university and I’ve been a dancer my whole life. It is not good when something pops while you are stretching.

My right hamstring grew stiffer as the day went on and I did what I normally do, which is to forget that icing immediately is a huge help. Tiger Balm later in the day helped instead.

I felt much better the following morning but I’ve learned a few things in a highly active life and one is not to push it. That being said, working from home has brought an entirely different pace and shape to the day and feeling my body move before settling in at my makeshift standing desk has been an anchor, something that signals to me that I have transitioned from my world to the work world.

About ten years ago, I started practicing yoga early in the morning to support a roommate who was trying to build a healthier lifestyle. We practiced in our living room in our university apartment with the aid of a video series. It wasn’t until many months later than I actually took my first yoga class but videos are still the most common way that I practice. And so, unable to run but no longer limping and feeling a need to anchor my day, I modified the poses in a yoga video.

The point of yoga is to breathe, which is easy to forget. I understand that many people use yoga as a workout and it certainly can be. You’re supposed to get the blood and body moving and it feels really good. Especially at the beginning, the poses are new and it takes time to get used to what to move and when and where. But the point of yoga is to move with the breath. The poses are simply a way of moving the body to follow the breath.

As I breathed through each pose, modified differently on the right side than the left, I thought that this actually made for a nice metaphor of living in our Covid-19 world. I know that countries are tackling this pandemic differently and I have certainly seen Singapore’s response develop since January. But no matter where we are, life is different than normal and we are finding ways to modify our lives in order to keep breathing, to keep doing whatever we can to hold onto what is important to us. And in the situations where we cannot do so, where the relationships or activities or work that bring us meaning have transformed unrecognisably, we have found ways to modify our lives to cope with this reality.

The depth of human resilience has brought me awe in the last few weeks. I’ve written about human fragility but I think I’ve overstated that and neglected something that I now understand about human determination, dedication, and flexibility. It is probably not an exaggeration to say that everyone I know is stronger now than they were before, and probably stronger than they thought they could be. I’ve been looking for silver linings and perhaps this is yet another one.

I went for a run again this morning before work after last night’s rain and immediately found my socks and shoes soaked from the muddy ground. I shrugged off the discomfort and laughed with the childish joy one experiences running through a mud puddle.

And then the body moved with the breath, perhaps slower than a few days earlier, but the body moved with the breath.

On my way to practice yoga in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia – January 2020