The Path To Bodhichitta

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

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Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

All My Bags Are Packed, I'm Ready to Go

After holding my breath for a week, the much anticipated news came yesterday. The client approved the project and I'M GOING TO INDIA!!!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Missing: A Touch Of Spirituality

I was guiding my class through pranayama when a question popped uninvited into my mind. What makes my class any different from a class in the gym? What makes me any different from a teacher in the gym? Nothing, I realised with a sinking heart. In that instant, I felt that I had lost the very thing that I has once strived to keep alive in my classes - the touch of spirituality. I was slowly becoming commercial. My students sat in peaceful silence, their eyes closed and their bodies moving gently to the rhythm of their breath. I watched them through eyes blinded with despair. By the end of the class, they felt it too. The energy in the studio was like a strange breeze hovering around and they left in a subdued mood. I felt worse than before.

What had happened? No need to think hard, I already knew. My discipline had waned. Plain and simple. I hadn't dedicated enough time to my own practice. How could I grow when I wasn't nurturing myself? Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, Iyengar's Light on Life, Swami Vishnudevananda's Illustrated Book of Yoga...all remained half-read or untouched in my bookshelf.

I felt drained, empty. Like I had nothing more to give, to both myself and my students. And I was scared. Yoga is such an integral part of my life and at the same time it seemed to be slipping out of my grasp. I yearned for the ashram, which felt so far away.

Then after today's class, something guided me to the studio's CD collection and I picked up a satsang collection that was recorded live in the Sivananda ashram. I popped it into my player at home and when the first strains of Jaya Ganesha floated out, it felt like a hand had squeezed my heart. Almost a year has passed since I last sung that chant, yet the words came effortless to my lips as though they had been hiding in my mouth, waiting for a chance to be heard again. Closing my eyes, I could almost believe I was back in that serene room with the spring breeze wrapping its cool fingers around us, the sun spilling on the Himalayan range all around and Mother Ganga whispering right outside the window. My heart filled at the familiar music. It was like coming home.

I need to 'reevaluate' my personal practice, find another teacher and make a trip back to India. I need to immerse my entire self in the mysterious power of that mystical country. There is a possibility that that wish may come true next month. I just heard that I may have to make a short trip to Kerala for work. I couldn't have asked for a better place and am waiting for the good news. Please keep your fingers crossed for me!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Lioness In The Midst

SK, my lionhearted student, gave me a gift yesterday. And she didn't even realise it.

SK has osteoarthritis of the knees and has recently recovered from breast cancer, which brought on an early menopause, which in turn worsened her knees. She's only 39. Her doctor has recommended knee replacement surgery, which she has firmly turned down. It takes her at least half an hour every morning before she can walk normally. She has her good days and her bad days. Yet, she has turned up for every single class in the last six weeks. And with a beam on her face too. I spend time with her after every class and each time she walks out the door, I marvel at her courage and spirit. Her yoga journey has been an intruiging one for her and a humbling one for me.

When I first met her, I was blown away by her smile and the light in her eyes. She is naturally pretty, but her inner glow makes her positively beautiful. As she walked me through her condition, there wasn't a single hint of self-pity, resentment or despair. This is what I am, she seemed to say, not who I am. And what I am today, is not what I am tomorrow. She believes the doctors' diagnosis, but not their fears about her body's future.

On the first day, I spent extra time with her before the class, teaching her the modified version of the Sun Salutation. She picked it up in a snap. During the class, I noticed her struggling to follow the version everyone else was learning. My first instinct was to instruct her to focus on what I had taught her, but something told me to hold back. A few minutes later, I saw that she had reverted to her modified version. That was my first taste of her fighting spirit.

Two weeks ago, she turned up early for class and shyly asked me if I could correct her alignment in the Sun Salutation. To my amazement, she proceeded to do what the original version. Later, she told me that although she knew her poses had to be modified, she wanted to at least try the originals first. I told her I would allow it on one condition; she would stop at the tiniest sign of pain. She instantly agreed. I was taking a risk. I knew that. Yet, I also trusted her. And she hasn't broken that trust since.

Yesterday, she told me she wanted to do salamba sarvangasana (supported shoulderstand) like everyone else - without the use of a wall. I refused and told her flat out that her next couldn't support her weight. She was disappointed, but agreed. Then she wanted to try halasana (plough). I reminded her of her promise and slowly eased her into the pose, guiding her feet behind her head onto a stool with two pillows on it. She held the pose for 5 seconds, then indicated that she wanted to come out of it.

"I felt like I couldn't breathe," she said.

"It's normal to feel a slight choking sensation," I assured her. She looked relieved.

"I'm also afraid," she confessed.

"That's normal too," I replied. "It's something new. You have the right to be afraid. But don't let that fear decide how far you go on your journey."

"I will get better, right?" she asked hopefully.

I told her to think about her first class. About what she could do then, and what she can do now. That beautiful smile lit up her face.

"I don't ever want to stop yoga," she said, as she rolled up her mat.

Like all the other weeks, I marvelled as I watched her leave the studio. But this time, I also felt a rush of gratitude. That evening, she had given me renewed determination to continue my own rehabilitation program.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Keeping It Real

My cousin changed her last name over the weekend. I was one of her bridesmaids. The dress was a floaty piece of baby blue chiffon, dappled with lavender, pale yellow and white. The only problem was that it was knee-length. The last time I wore a hem that high was in 1995. Yes, I have an issue with my legs. The same way some people have an issue with broccoli, exercise or Monday mornings. No further explanations necessary.

The second disturbing factor was the image I felt I needed to create, in order to 'fit in' during that big day. I live in pants, be it jeans, corduroy, linen, cotton, etc. My wardrobe contains 20 pairs of pants and one lonely dress, reserved for very, very special occasions. In other words, I'm not a girly girl. I don't crave manicures, pedicures, facials or Brazilian waxes. I've been getting by on my clean, fresh, au naturel look and I'm perfectly happy. But would that look work with the dress, I agonized.

I was silently mulling over this during a family dinner, when out of the blue RT blurted, "You know, you pretend to be a city girl, but you're not."

I have no idea what inspired those words, but I got the message loud and clear. This wasn't a masquerade. It was a wedding and I should go as myself. Yes, showing off my legs wasn't my style but that didn't mean I needed to reinvent my entire self.

Being authentic doesn't mean shunning self-improvements. It just means selecting enhancing what you already have, instead of disguising them. It means being the same person in two different environment. Wearing a dress didn't mean I had to transform myself into Marilyn Monroe. It just meant I had to make that dress jive with who I am. And I did.

I turned up at the chapel with freshly washed hair, minimal makeup and slathered in my favourite body lotion. No bouffants, war paints or heavy scents for me, thank you very much. And I felt spectacular. The dress didn't bother me one bit because the person in it was still familiar. I was wearing my own skin and that felt better than any designer dress.

Of course, authenticity is more than skin deep. Who you are is the essence of your soul. If you are in touch with your authentic self, you won't be - you can't possibly be! - anyone else, no matter where you are, who you're with or what you're doing.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Passion Knows No Boundaries

I reached out to the international yoga community for the first time recently. I needed help with the few plus-sized students in my new beginners class. I sensed that they were frustrated with their limited mobility and wanted modifications for which they were too reluctant or didn't know how to ask. So I launched a search in cyberspace and found Lanita, a plus-sized yoga teacher in America. Fed up of forcing her body into poses meant for the svelte, she modified them to fit her body's unique contours. Today, she's teaching these same poses to groups of very grateful plus-sized women.

I was intrigued and inspired, so I wrote to her, explaining my situation and asking for pointers. She replied almost immediately. After thanking me for my interest and admitting that it would be challenging to offer me help from such a great distance, she wrote the following:

'I am starting you with a handout that I use in some of my workshops. I am sorry that we have no pictures with it, but you should be able to figure out the pose by playing with them yourself. Let me know if this helps. Use walls for standing poses as much as possible until they get stronger physically.

If there are enough teachers in your area that would be interested and able to put the fares together, I would love to come and spend time with you sharing what I know!'

I was touched. Touched that a complete stranger would so willingly share the contents of her workshop with another complete stranger.

"Yeah, only mat sallehs will do that. You won't find a local teacher doing that," another yoga teacher commented when I marvelled over it.

Smack me on the forehead and call me naive, but I don't believe that. I believe that no matter what the colour of your skin or background, if you are truly passionate about something, the most natural instinct would be to share that passion with the rest of the world.

So thank you, Lanita for sending your passion to my Inbox!

P/S: If you'd like to get in touch with Lanita, you can reach her at

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