The Path To Bodhichitta

You start where you are, the practice will meet you there.

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Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Monday, December 18, 2006

Yoga On Ko Phangan

I just returned from a 10-day trip to Ko Samui, an island in south-east Thailand. On the third day, we hopped on a ferry and arrived in the infamous Ko Phangan 40 minutes later. Phangan is renowed for its monthly Full Moon parties and more recently, its offerings of yoga classes, retreats and teacher's training courses. These two polar opposites are what make Ko Phangan one of the most commercially-drenched islands in Thailand. Unfortunately, I only realised that when I had two feet firmly planted in its pale yellow sand. But that story is for another day, place and time.

Aside from being shamelessly ripped off by arrogant tuk-tuk drivers and bored hawkers, I had a lovely time. In between reading, eating green curry and lying on the beach, I made it a point to sniff out the island's many yoga centres. Most were located in the north. Hardly surprising. The parties were held in the south.

I visited at least three of them. The rest were too expensive and only offered month-long internal cleansing courses or meditation retreats. The last centre was the most promising. Named Agama yoga, it offered classes every morning and evening and even had an evening lecture. And the first class was free. I was there the next evening. Not because the class was free (I must hasten to add!) but because the teacher had to be good to make such a generous offer.

There were 15 people in class. I underestimated the travel time from my beach hut to the studio and arrived during the first sun salutation. It was different. Each sun salutation was done with great awareness and precision. After each round, we were instucted to stand in Tadasana (Mountain pose) to feel the effects of Surya (Sun). After the fourth round, we did another three more, this time to mantras dedicated to each of the 12 poses. I liked it. It made it easier for me to focus on the current pose instead of on flowing into the next pose.

The next half hour was spent on warm-up exercises. As we did neck rolls, eye movements and uddiyana bandha, he walked around making sure everyone knew exactly what to do and how to do it. Then we moved on to the asanas. Each asana was held for a minute. This time, however, he practiced alongside us. Many people had obviously never done yoga before and were doing the asanas with their limbs at alarming angles. I had to close my eyes to fight the temptation to rush over and correct them. Again, after each asana, we sat in silence to absorb its energy on the corresponding chakra.

Then things got a little strange. The sun was setting and shadows began falling across the room. The teacher turned on the lights. They were ultraviolet and suddenly every slice of white in the room was glowing. An unusual effect, I supposed. It was time for a spot of meditation, he annouced, so we settled in a cross-legged position and waited. He instructed us to focus on our vishudda (throat) chakra. Then he turned on the music and my eyes flew open. It wasn't chants or even new age strains. It was trance music. For the next ten minutes, I felt like I was part of a Star Trek episode. Initially, I told myself to keep an open mind. Perhaps this was a technique I could learn from and maybe introduce in my own classes. Then I peeked at the guy next to me. His eyes were closed, his spine was erect and his head was gently bobbing to the beat. OK, maybe I won't try this in my class.

By the time we got to final relaxation, the mosquitoes were out and ravenous. Instead of focusing on the 'gentle rise and fall of my belly with each inhalation and exhalation', I was stifling screams of frustration. To add to the agony, the ultraviolet lights seemed to have gotten brighter and the glow was no longer interesting, but eerie.

15 miunutes later, when the teacher said, "Ok, that's enough for now" (a phrase he used throughout the class to instruct us to come out of a pose), I couldn't get out fast enough. And I never went back.

But I learnt something from that class. That if you pause a while after making a move, stillness steps forward like a shy child and you not only see where you're going, but also where you are. Kinda' like chess. Kinda' like life.


Blogger Jane Sunshine said...

The pause that brings in stillness is the most difficult thing for me to do. I am always rushing, running, heaving: more things to do, achieve and go. The pause remains forgotten and so the where you are/where you are going question remains unseen. Which in turn causes a whole range of pent up emotion and stress.

It all goes back to the disconnect I tend to have with the spiritual self and nature as I battle daily life.

4:57 AM  
Blogger starlight said...

i know exactly what you mean, Jane. i used to be so afraid that if i paused for just a microsecond, i would miss out on some opportunity in life. then i would get frustrated and confused because i would have forgotten what i wanted yesterday and where i was meant to go today. but today i'm learning to 'stop and smell the roses' every now and then. i still slip back into my hold ways every now and then, but it's slowly getting easier. actually, it's all about letting go. your #2. :)

7:49 AM  
Blogger kryptykl said...

hi starlight, i really like your site, very nice yogic writings.
i attended the agama yoga place on koh phangan for 4 months, doing a three month 500 hr teacher training with them. HOWEVER, i found agama to be a highly manipulative, perhaps "cultic", organization. Some people obviously resonate with the teachings there, but actually it is less teaching by leadership than it is indoctrination through manipulation. anyway, in light of your one class at agama, i think you might find my blog site interesting... what you didn't miss.

6:47 AM  

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