The Path To Bodhichitta

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

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Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Sunday, April 20, 2008

My Big Little Triumph

I'm going to be very self-indulgent in this post, so please bear with me.

Those of you who have been reading me for a long time would not be a stranger to my fear of inversions. How I can only manage sirsasana (Headstand), and how any attempt at another inversion leaves me in a quivering mess. It is with great admiration and longing that I watch my fellow classmates effortlessly kick upwards in pincha mayurasana, their legs slicing easily through the air and their heels coming to rest lightly on the wall. I've tried it so many times but fear keeps my feet glued to the floor. The times that I do kick up a little, I resemble a foal trying to walk for the first time. So I have resorted to just sticking one leg upwards for The Teacher to pull up and brace against the wall.

Last week, in the privacy of my yoga room, I was suddenly seized by the desire to give it another shot. I set up my mat against the wall, aligned my elbows and lower arms, and looked ahead. Slowly, I walked my feet closer to my arms, order the screaming voice in my head to shut up and kicked as high as I could. It didn't reach the wall, but it was surprisingly better than I had ever done before. So I kept trying, and trying and trying.

After the tenth kick or so, I finally did it And of course the wave of euphoria sent me crashing right down. But I DID IT!!!!!

Those of you with acrobatic prowness in your blood may not understand - like The Seer, who watched me proudly demonstrate and said, "I don't get it. What was the big news?" - but trust me when I say, it's a fantastic high! Pun not intended.

I immediately texted The Teacher, who replied 'Patthabi Jois says, practice practice and all is coming'.

I don't know whether ALL will be coming hereforth, but I'm just thrilled that one has finally arrived!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Yoga of Diving

The Sister recently returned from a diving course on one of the stunning islands in the east coast. On our drive home, she regaled me with anecdotes, many of which revolved around a friend who had shown an ugly streak.

Embalmed in bitterness after rough encounters with certain people in her adopted country, the friend unleashed her unhappiness on unsuspecting strangers, who offered a friendly smile or a kind word. The Sister observed in silence until she ran out of patience. In her usual straight-as-an-arrow style, she smacked the manners back into the girl.

"And so the next time you feel yourself getting upset, remember what we were learnt to do if we get entangled in seaweed; stop, think and move away."

Stop. Think. And Move Away.

I thought it was a brilliant mantra - for those underwater and on dry land. Confronted by someone who relentlessly pushes your buttons, you have two options. You could spit out that sarcasm-laced remark that makes you feel smug for all of sixty seconds and like a shmuck for the rest of the night. Or you could Stop, Think and Move Away, and sleep soundly, not under a soft blanket of self-righteousness, but under a rough sheet of humility. The humility that comes with swallowing your pride, in order to do unto others as you would like done unto you.

Stop. Think. And Move Away.

That little mantra goes beyond just removing your physical self from that space. It urges you to disentangle your mind and emotions from it too. To move away from the black haze of anger/fear/sadness that clings to you and keeps you firmly in the exact place and time, from which you're trying your damnest to run away. It liberates you.

Stop. Think. And Move Away.

It could lead you to places you've never been to before.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Alchemy of Yoga

I cannot believe we're past the midway of April! Where has the time gone?! And of course, when I realised this, I also realised that I promised another post about my subsequent tete-a-tete with John Scott.

Tea with John Scott, unlike dinner, was a rather subdued affair. But considering that he was at the tail-end of a five-day teacher training workshop, I was grateful that he even agreed to a quick chat.

"I'm getting there," he said with a wry smile, when I asked him if he was tired. "But I get so much back when I teach, that feeling tired is a small price to pay."

I watched him pouring the tea and wondered where to begin with all the questions that were almost bursting out of me. He reached for a chocolate chip cookie and leaned back, his blonde hair catching the last rays of the evening sun.

"When you first started teaching, did you have any insecurities? I blurted out.

"Yes," he replied easily. "But if you hide behind just learning, then you will one day find that you can't absorb anymore because you're too full. So the only way to create space for more learning is to teach."

Then The Elder joined us and the two of them launched into a passionate conversation about the workshop. I watched by the sidelines, struck by the fire in their souls that was reflected in their eyes. Their love for their art was pure and whole.

The rest of the evening went by, the topic of conversation slipped this way and that, and when the sky finally shrugged on its lovely lavendar shawl, I rose to bid adieu.

"I'll see you again someday...perhaps in Still Point," I said, hugging him. (Still Point is John and Lucy's retreat centre in New Zealand)

"Yes," he smiled.

I left The Elder's house, feeling the embers of the conversation glowing within. John Scott had - whether knowingly or not - stoked my fire to return to teaching again soon.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Dinner With John

“If I arrange for a dinner with John Scott this Sunday at my place, would you come?” The Elder asked.

Would I want to have dinner with the man to whose DVD I practice, and whose book lies open next to my mat? Would I want to eat barbecued chicken across the man to whom The Elder salutes as her guru? Hell, yes!

For the uninitiated, John Scott is among the revered clan of Ashtanga teachers. A prodigy of Pattabhi Jois himself, his presence graces the shelves, screen and lips of every Ashtanga devotee. The first time I saw Ashtanga in motion was courtesy of his DVD, and the poetry he brought to the screen was breathtaking. Even now, I still scrape my jaw off the floor when I watch him flow through the series.

In a nutshell, I couldn’t accept The Elder’s invitation fast enough.

Driving to The Elder’s house, I called my mother who laughed at my girlish excitement. I felt like a teenager meeting my pop idol.

The Elder greeted me at the door with her usual lovely smile. Clutching my bottle of red, I followed her to the patio, where dinner had already started. John turned and smiled, and all I could think of was, “Gee, he looks so much smaller in person.”

Despite two days of teacher training workshops behind him and another three more ahead, John was relaxed and pulsing with mellow energy. The conversation whipped and whirled in all directions and finally came to rest on (what else?) yoga. Without warning, The Elder looked straight at me and said, “Tell John your problem with alignment.”

All eyes turned on me.

“Let’s hear it straight from the horse’s mouth,” she encouraged, as I scrambled to pull my thoughts together.

So I told him. About two minutes into my little speech, his left eyebrow bounced up and down like a yo-yo. He waited for me to finish before standing up and stretching out his arm stiffly.

“Have we met?” he asked. I wasn’t sure what he meant and I said so. He repeated his question, so I stood up and tried to shake his hand. I say tried, because it was funny trying to curl my fingers around his rock-hard hand. Then he relaxed and offered me his hand again.

“Now let’s meet again.”

This time our hands fit into each other’s curved palm snugly. He smiled at me and the light bulb finally flashed.

“Which handshake felt better to you?” he asked.

I conceded that it was the second one but persisted in my argument that alignment is still important, otherwise our bodies would make mockeries of the asanas.

“What is alignment?” John looked at me intently. I thought for a moment.

“Body awareness,” I answered slowly. “It’s knowing what each part of the body is doing at each time.”

“That’s one level,” he agreed. “What else.”

Before I could answer, the voice piped up from the other end of the table, where two teenagers sat.

“Alignment is when all the pieces of the universe are linked to each other. Like a blanket. That’s when everything is in balance. So it’s when we are connected to the world and everything in it.”

John pointed at the teenager. “There’s the yogi,” he grinned.

Then he suddenly grabbed his right foot, pulled it up to his face and stuck his big toe in his mouth. Everyone gasped in shocked delight. Popping its out, he cheerfully announced that the toe in the mouth could be more aligned than the foot behind the head.

“If a screwed up spine is trying to be straight and causing pain in other parts of the body, is that alignment? What feels good for the body? If your asana is perfect but your body is in pain, then that is not alignment. And the breath always comes first in every asana. No point the spine being straight if the breath is ragged. You have to feel that blanket. When your body and breath are connected, then you are aligned.”

I was still thinking about my rounded back in utthita hasta padangusthasana. John probably sensed it because he propped his right heel on the table and held both sides of his foot.

“Watch the masters,” he told us. “They move into forward bends with their backs softly rounded, only then do they glide their body forward and straighten the spine. Many younger practitioners move into forward bends with their upper spine arched like they were moving into a backbend.”

As he spoke, he moved and I saw exactly what he meant. And I realised that arching of the back is exactly what I do to make sure my spine is completely straight…all in the name of alignment. It had always felt right, but as I watched John it looked all wrong.

The conversation danced into the night and pirouetting on different subjects, most of which I wasn’t paying much attention to after John’s little lesson on alignment. The more I watched John talk, the more I understood why The Elder chose him as her guru.

Driving home that night, I felt the high of being around someone who glows from within. And I had every reason to be happy. I was having tea with John in a couple of days.