The Path To Bodhichitta

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

My Photo
Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Sunday, December 30, 2007

All The Way Back

Dear Other Backs,

Once again The Resident has broken her promise to me. Foolish of me to have expected otherwise, really. But she did seem determined when she jotted in her notebook 'Be pain free by December 2007' last November. Then again, she may have been delirious from all that coffee she consumed to stay awake during the motivation seminar that she was sweet-talked into attending. Delirious or not, it was a dirty trick. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, I'm taking revenge.

To her credit, The Resident has tried her best to befriend the insurgents within. That would be Gluteus Medius Fascia, Latissimus Dorsi, Thoracolumbar Fascia and Trapezius. Between you and me, I suspect there are more who are lying very very low. As it is, these four have hideouts that are embedded deep within places where no Balinese, Javanese or whatevernese massages can inflitrate. And so, the battle has been a long drawn-out one.

The Resident had it coming, though. Always slumping in sofas, standing with all the weight on one foot, tottering around in heels even after spraining her ankle...not giving a damn about me, in other words. I silently suffered through all that abuse, but after she thoughtlessly put me in the direct line of fire, I decided it was time to rise and fight. You could say, it was the straw that broke the camel's back.

So I gathered my team and we plotted. What would make The Resident repent for the ill-treatment she dished out to us almost daily? Sciatica was out, as that would involve the legs, which whom we had a good relationship. Herniated disc was a possibility but SOME MUSCLES were afraid of the pain. Wusses. We eventually settled on scoliosis.

That night we had a meeting with Tan Sri Spine, who agreed to shift its top and bottom ends slightly away from the middle line. Enough to create considerable pain but not too much that it required surgery. I told them that fear of pain only exists in the Mind (of whom we don't think very highly), but no one listened.The attack was launched the very next day. But in true Resident-style, she only decided to do something about it one year later. That made my job very difficult because you know how some muscles can be when they have to perform tasks outside their job scope without any rewards.

Anyway, the first treatment The Resident undertook was chiropractic. All of us braced ourselves, but nothing prepared us for the rude shove that came from above. Tan Sri, Latissimus, Thoraco and Gluteus had such a fright, they screamed. The Resident heard us but guess what she said? 'That felt really good'. I don't need to tell you how offended the foursome were. So they did the obvious - they retaliated.

The Resident and The Chiropractor met for three straight months. At first we enjoyed launching a counter attack after each session. He even talked her into an acupuncture session once. Thankfully, she hated the threads of energy wriggling under her skin as much as we did.

Then, The Chiropractor took it too far. He began explaining our modus operandi to her. He even had diagrams and models! We had to do something! But before we could cook up another plan, he dug his own grave by telling her, "Maybe you should give up yoga."

That was the end of The Chiropractor. And The Resident was still in as much pain as she was before she met him. Next in line was a Swedish massage. Lattisimus, lulled into sleepy surrender, almost crossed over to the dark side. But we slapped him into wide-eyed attention the very next day.

Next was reiki. How we chortled. The Resident had agreed to a friend's offer to send healing energy her way, but we knew she didn't fully believe in it so the battle was lost even before it began.

Then came shiatsu. This time we were on alert because the shiatsu master was the real thing from Japan. Fortunately, it was only a one-off session during a spa event and nothing really came out of it. He did give her some ammunition though. Warned her to stay away from the cold so as to not worsen the pain. Spot-on advice. We were slightly impressed.

The physiotherapist was another laugh. The Resident was almost won over when, during the second session, the therapist confused 'convex' and 'concave', and turned to The Resident for help. And this at a renowned medical centre, mind you!

Then she scared the living daylights out of us by visiting an orthopaedic specialist. Even Tan Sri Spine contemplated waving the white flag. The Specialist prescribed muscle relaxants and we immediately cooperated. The Resident is very against chemicals so we were surprised when she agreed to give it a shot. Our decoy worked, though she never went back when her dosage finished even though we resumed our attack.

The crystal healing may...MAY...have worked if The Healer and The Resident had spent more time on the sessions than on drinking copious amounts of masala chai and exchanging soap opera stories. You'd think they would have learnt their lesson, but they still do it to this day. The only difference is that they've graduated to wine, which we hate, because the chilly liquid makes us hurt more than we want to. You see how she blatantly disregards our wellbeing!

Three years have passed and we're entering our fourth year of rebellion. That's almost as long as the Iraq war. All throughout those years, The Resident has lived in pain. We remind her of our existance every minute of the day - when she sits at her computer, when she lies on the couch, when she gets out of bed, when she's had a long drive, when she tries to arch into a backbend, when she struggles to take in deeper breaths of air, when she crumbles after 5 minutes of sitting in get the idea. We hurt her the same way she hurt us.

We took joy in the fact that we prevented her from practicing her beloved yoga the way she wants to. Each time she achieved relief in downward dog, spinal twist or wheel, we sprang back with a vengence. A few months ago, we made it impossible for her to do plough and shoulderstand without tears of pain. We thought we were winning the war. Little did we know that the joke would soon be on us.

We recently decided that The Resident has learnt her lesson and we could return to our old ways. But that wasn't to be. We had held our positions for so long that we didn't know how to go back. the panic was overwhelming! None of us had thought to pave a way back home. Just as we resigned ourselves to our fate, The Resident found someone who gave her and us a ray of hope.

Last week, she visited an osteopath. For 90 minutes, The Osteopath counselled us with her fingers and we poured our fibers out. We were in bad shape, she said gravely. We had aged...this was the back of a 40-something not a 20-something. Lodorsis in the lower back, slight kyphosis in the upper back, protruding left ribs and muscles that were a complete mess all over. Naturally, the blame game erupted. Everyone accused the other of overdoing it. But really, it was all every muscle's fault.

The counselling hurt like hell. The Osteopath said that it would take three months before we would see any improvement. The Resident is hopeful again.

So this is my story. It doesn't have an ending yet and I don't know what it will be but we're all cheering each other on.

I will write again soon when I have more news. Thank you for listening.

The Resident's Back

P/S: The Resident is not a camel. That was just a figure of speech.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Goodbye Benazir...And Thank You

You've no idea how hard I've looked for a gift to bring You.
Nothing seemed right.

What's the point of bringing gold to the gold mine, or water to the Ocean.
Everything I came up with was like taking spices to the Orient.

It's no good giving my heart and my soul because you already have these.

So- I've brought you a mirror.

Look at yourself and remember me.

- Jalaluddin Rumi

I wonder, Ms. Bhutto, if you are astonished at the intensity of grief, fury and unity that your death has unleashed. If you are, you shouldn't be. Because despite tragedy being hereditary in your family, your vision was beyond your personal self.

What your short life hadn't yet achieved, your death certainly did. You have proved that although we are able to gleefully parade our sophisticated weapons and technology, our very essence of humanity remains in shambles. So, thank you for the jolting reminder.

You came back for your people. And now, they will look in the mirror and remember you.

Rest in peace.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Here's hoping that every one of you is soaking up the beautiful spirit of Christmas in the company of those who create sunrises in your life. xoxo

P/S: I found a Yoga Journal 2008 calendar and Donald Moyer's Yoga: Awakening The Inner Body in my stocking this year! ;)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Pull...Again, The Pull

My soul is restless again. It struggles - not valiantly, not desperately, but enough for me to notice - to go some place where it will be replenished. Where the beauty of sights and sounds will act as a healing balm, a bandage, over its invisible undiagnosed wound. The mind knows that beautiful distractions are not the answer, but the heart remains insistent.

Kanyakumari keeps slipping into my mind these days. Three years since I caught that little article about its charms in a newspaper while I sipped my morning coffee on the veranda of a wooden beach hut. Three years since I tacked it onto the noticeboard in my study, where it patiently waited until its edges turned yellow. Three months since I crumpled that article and tossed it away during the move to my new apartment. And as though it is determined to not let me forget, Kanyakumari has been haunting me.

A month ago, I was the emcee for PDN's dance performance. During rehearsals, I noticed the backdrop. It was a temple surrounded by crashing waves. I had never seen it before, yet a name popped up in my mind like a jack-in-a-box. Vivekananda. I asked the producer what the temple was called. The Vivekananda Rock Memorial, she replied. And where is it, I pressed. Kanyakumari, she answered.

India has always had this silent hold over me. Every once in a while, it pulls at my heartstrings, asking me to come back. And everytime, I promise that will sometime soon.

This evening, a sweet breeze blew as I sat reading on my balcony. I lifted my head, inhaled deeply and something in me begged me to go back. I have tentatively planned a pilgrimage to India next year and I think I will definitely be going back this time.

Until then, my soul remains yearning and restless. Reaching out for the unseen in the unknown.

Friday, December 21, 2007

In The Zone Of Love

Last Friday, I got myself a litte loving from a stranger at a place into which I once swore I would never set foot.

Earlier that day, a rare but necessary display of firmness from my side knocked me a little off kilter. Emotions churned within me and nervous energy began rising. The Healer texted to say she was attending two classes that evening at a yoga club I disliked for its blatant commercialism. Come along, she invited. She had free passes and promised that 'Gary's style is exactly what you like and you will love him!' I was desperate to channel this exessive energy elsewhere, so I agreed to attend the hatha class. By evening, I was walking a tightrope and decided to show up for the vinyasa class as well.

The class was small and I settled in a corner where I could get wrapped up in my own practice. Gary walked in, smiled one of the sweetest smiles I've ever seen and said, "Although you are in a class, this is your own practice too. Listen to your body and remember that you can always come out of a pose anytime your body wants. Now close your eyes, imagine that you're all alone and prepare for an hour of focusing on yourself."

I'm sure I had the lovestruck expression of a groupie on my face, as I turned to The Healer, who shot me a triumphant I-told-you-so look.

The vinyasa class was challenging, mainly due to a long work week but also because my inner self was not in the mood for a continuous movement. Yet the nervous energy had dissipated by the end of the class. Physically, I was tired. Emotionally, I was quiet. But what really helped me get through the class was Gary. He held all of us like individual kites. Each of our strings in his hand, which he unravelled generously but gently tugged on occasionally as a reminder to not fly beyond our personal limitations. We dipped and rose in accordance to our inner rhythm, with Gary's soft reassuring voice telling us to leave the ego outside and focus on embracing our bodies the way they were that very moment.

The hatha class was next and my inner self sank into it like tired head on a soft pillow. The haze lifted from my mind and I completely focused on my body. Move slowly, Gary called out, no swinging up and down. And so I learnt how to move with both strength and grace. Each pose came with variations from which we could choose. Everyone in the class seemed to be truly absorbed in their own practice, allowing their bodies to be imperfect and closing their eyes as they breathed and held each pose. At the end of the class, The Healer and I both agreed that the loving energy emitting from Gary had made all the difference in the world.

I returned to Gary's class the following week. This time it was Yin Yoga. The Healer decided it wasn't her cup of tea - too slow and too much holding. But I loved it! It allowed me to get deeper within myself and the pose, and once again, Gary's compassion added to the pleasure.

The only thing that could have made this class even better was if Gary had made more hands-on adjustments instead of verbal ones. No doubt, his instructions were remarkably clear but those sitting towards the back had a little trouble viewing the postures he was demonstrating. So although most got it somewhat right, the exact alignment was a little off. Also, everyone moves into a posture in a way that makes them feel comfortable, which means that a shoulder could be unconsciously higher or a knee being unintentionally strained. To his credit, Gary did make a few adjustments but not enough.

Yet, his approach and energy is as delicious as a warm slice of chocolate cake. In other words, I'm seriously considering buying a package in this once-detested yoga club.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ashtanga, Baby!

"If you feel you can't make it past 15 minutes, that's absolutely fine. Remember, it's your first time."

Of course, that only made me more determined to survive the entire Ashtanga class.

The group was small..tiny in fact. Just three of us in a small cosy room in The Elder's private residence. No payment, she told me firmly. Just a promise to seriously commit to our practice. Fair enough.

We started with Ujjayi Breathing.

"Do you know what that sounds like?"

"Um...Darth Vader?"

"Ok good. Show me."

When she was satisfied, she motioned for me to stand in samasthiti. The real work was about to begin.

Sun Salutation A was simple enough. A slight play on variations, but very similar to that of hatha yoga. Then came Sun Salutation B. After five rounds, my arms were begging for a year-long vacation. But no time for rest, must keep the fire burning. The Elder led me through the six fundamental asanas - padangusthasana, pada hastasana, utthita trikonasana, parivritta trikonasana, utthita parsvakonasana, parivritta parsvakonasana and prasarita padottanasana A, B, C and D. Once I had gone through all of that, she sweetly instructed me to do it all over again.

(The ego also attended the class, by the way. As I breathed in prasarita padottanasana, it told me to look between my legs at the girl who was doing tittibahsana 'so much better than you'.)

But something different happened in that class. I dabbled in an ashtanga class once and barely made it past the second round of Sun Salutation A. Though I was determined to make it through the entire class this time, I also had my secret doubts. After all, stamina isn't exactly my forte. And I have never applied ujjayi breathing for an entire class. Yet, this time, I found and felt a certain strength in my postures. In fact my entire practice throbbed with a different energy.

It was as though by gently drawing my hand upwards, The Elder pulled an invisible thread, causing any idle muscle to instantly snap to attention. Each time she adjusted me, I felt myself simultaneuously releasing and tightening in all the right places. By the end of the class, I knew that it wasn't just the ujjayi breathing or my determination that saw me through. It was The Elder's quietly powerful energy.

Naturally, I woke up the next day feeling like I had wrestled Godzilla. But there's no rest for the wicked. The very next evening, I hauled my loudly complaining muscles onto the mat. And the next evening too. It's funny how commitment to someone else always drives you further!

Ashtanga is challenging. A lot bolder than hatha. A lot sterner. A lot less forgiving. But it has a good heart and I'm hoping that that heart will reveal itself in my practice one day.

For now, I will enjoy watching where it takes me and my body.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Facial Asanas

When I was a kid, I almost never pulled faces. Mainly because my mother would not stand for it and also because Enid Blyton had me convinced that if the wind changed direction, my face would be frozen in that expression for a long, long time.

When I crossed the threshold into adulthood, my first job was that of a beauty writer for Marie Claire magazine. One of the most in-demand articles was on minimizing facial lines and creases, and the first rule was to reduce excessive facial movement.

But like everything prim, proper and stuffy, snooty rules too eventually fall prey to irony and humour. Including those that Blyton and the beauty editors dreamt up. Kate Stinchfield's health article in last week's issue of TIME declares that Facial Yoga is spreading like wildfire through New York, all the way to Honolulu.

Students in Annalise Hagen's Yoga Face class congregate every week to press their fingers into their foreheads and move them around, stick their tongues out and let them hang. Practitioners say manipulating facial muscles tightens sagging skin and reduces wrinkles.

Hagen's brainwave took place when she noticed many of her clients trooping to spas for botox injections during their lunch break. "It didn't seem to be in the spirit of yoga to me," she says and thus, Facial Yoga was born.

A yoga teacher friend once told me that if I wanted to relax my face while holding a pose, I should just relax my jaw. Intrigued, I tried it during a practice and I could literally feel the tension crumbling from between my eyes, my forehead, cheeks and chin. Evidently, all our facial tension is channeled into the jawline, which single-handedly contributes to the wrinkles and creases on our faces.

However, as with everything else, moderation is key.

"If someone was doing a bizzare contortion, they could spasm. They might actually cause permanent damage," says Dr. Min-Wei Christine Lee. But, she adds, a little cheek-puffing and lip-pouting "could help train muscles not to go into those worry lines."

Asanas For The Face

1. Repeatedly blow kissess. It will give you stronger lips and a firmer pout.
2. Stretch your tongue and let it hang. And tingling means you're doing it right.
3. Widen your eyes while keeping your forehead steady will smooth your brow.
4. Squeeze all your facial muscles together at the centre of your face and release.
5. Puff your cheeks out and release to keep them supple.
6. Tilt your chin upwards to firm your cheeks, chin and neck.
7. Move your eyeballs to the left and right to keep crow's feet at bay.
8. Relax the entire face, closing your eyes and your mouth.