The Path To Bodhichitta

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

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Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Fear Rising

There's something about facing the soles of my feet to the ceiling that scares me half to death. PDN, unfortunately, is fond of inversions and includes at least one in his Monday evening class.

Usually it's the Headstand, which I can still stomach, since I've learnt to gently lower myself down the minute I feel the panic rising in my throat.

Then, the inevitable happened. PDN decided we were all too comfortable on our heads and should now learn to stand on our own two hands.

My mind immediately bellowed, "No way!" And it refused to budge, despite my body's feeble protests that maybe - just maybe - it could do it this time. Yes, yes I'm a teacher, but I'm also like a wildlife enthusiast. Both awed and terrified by the beauty of the beast in front of me. I reminded myself to keep my mouth closed as PDN gracefully lifted himself up into the Handstand. Once he was safely back on his feet, he cheerfully instructed us to buddy up and practice kicking ourselves upside down.

Now, PDN is an excellent teacher, who makes sure his students know exactly how to provide support to each other before he introduced the buddy system. Plus, this is an advanced class and the students have gritted their teeth alongside each other for years. Everyone trusted each other to keep them from plunging to their death. Yet, this still wasn't good enough for my mind. It absolutely refused to allow my body to be supported by my hands. And so, it instructed me to waltz around the class helping others into a Handstand instead of being in one myself.

That ruse worked for the next few classes. Sure, I felt guilty about skipping around the issue but I REALLY DID NOT WANT TO BE UPSIDE DOWN. Then, last Monday, Judgement Day finally arrived. The entire class was based on inversions. From Headstand to Handstand to Tripod to Scorpion. I may as well have hung myself upside down for those 90 minutes.

I tried pottering around the class again, but this time, my buddy was quite insistent that I put my feet in the air. And so with heart that was heavier than than my entire body weight, I agreed. The minute I swung my trembling legs upwards, I heard a terrifed (but thankfully, soft) squeak escape my lips. I remained upside down for all of 5 seconds before feeling like my body was disintergrating above me.

Use the wall, PDN constantly chides us when we collapse in a clumpsy mess on the floor. Doesn't work for me. All I do when faced with the wall is stand in paralysed fear for about half a day, coax myself to do a baby kick, whack my head against the wall and crumple onto the floor feeling as shaken as if I had just rollerbladed all the way down Mount Everest.

I wish this story had a happy ending, but it doesn't. Not for now, at least. But I will persevere. I have no choice anyway. PDN has offered to personally hoist me upside down in tomorrow's class.

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Ouch Behind Om recently ran a piece on yoga titled 'When Yoga Hurts'. The writer reports that the number of Americans practicing yoga has shot up 136% since 2000 to 14 million. Of that numeber 13,000 have been treated in an emergency room or a doctor's office for yoga-related injuries in the past three years.

Scary? You bet. But many people who walk into a yoga class don't realise that. I've had people, upon finding out that I'm an instructor, say that they want to sign up for classes because:

"I was a gymnast/ballerina/circus act about a hundred years ago, so yoga should be really easy."
"I REALLY need to stretch my muscles."
"I don't exercise at all and yoga looks like it doesn't need much physical fitness."
"I want to challenge myself."

Despite my warnings of the risks of practicing yoga for these sole intents and ambitions, they refuse to budge. So I refuse to take them on as students. When I first started teaching, I accepted them all and learnt the hard way that there's only so much influence you can have over someone else's mind and body. Now, I refuse to have their self-inflicted injuries clinging to my conscience.

The writer goes on to say;

"Often people get hurt because they assume that yoga is simple and that anybody can pretzel himself or herself on demand. Edward Toriello, an orthopedic surgeon and spokesman for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, says most of the injuries he sees are sustained by "weekend warrior" baby boomers who begin yoga without realizing that their bodies are no longer what they used to be. "They think that yoga is an easy way to start exercising, so they go to class once a week, not stretched out at all, and they get hurt."

But she doesn't ladle all the responsibility on the students.

"Part of the problem is that increasingly, the people teaching yoga don't know enough about it. Yoga was traditionally taught one-on-one by a yogi over a period of years, but today instructors can lead a class after just a weekend course. Though the Yoga Alliance, formed in 1999 and now based in Clinton, Md., has set a minimum standard of 200 hours of training for certification, only 16,168 of the estimated 70,000 instructors in the U.S. have been certified. "Yoga means bringing together mind, body and spirit, but in Western yoga, we've distilled it down to body," says Shana Meyerson, an instructor in Los Angeles. "That's not even yoga anymore. If the goal is to look like Madonna, you're better off running or spinning."

So tell me, why do you practice yoga?