The Path To Bodhichitta

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

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Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Yogi At Heart

Yasmin Ahmad may have never glided up to sirsasna or sat in padmasana, but if you asked T. Krishnamacharya, he would have said that she was certainly a yogi.

She practiced ahimsa by trading violence and hatred for love.

She practiced satya by speaking with intention and telling the truth in the best way possible.

She practiced asteya by not denying herself opportunties to realise her true nature.

She practiced tapas by cultivating an inner aim and direction in life for growth.

She practiced ishvara pranidana by always remembering her religious faith.

Yasmin Ahmad didn't practice for glory or self-gratification, but so the rest of us could learn from it.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

An Afternoon of Ashtanga

As any serious practitioner will know, ashtanga is a demanding and unforgiving practice. Leave the mat for too long - and that means a week - and you can forget about a homecoming party when you return. No sir! Astanga will make you work your limbs off to make up for lost time. So you can imagine how much I dreaded getting back on the mat when I realised it has been nearly two months since I last practiced. Ashtanga, that is. Since returning to Gary's classes, my practice is made up of hatha, vinyasa and yin yoga.

Then three weeks ago, I received an email from two separate friends about an ashtanga workshop by a Malaysian student of Shri K. Pattabhi Jois. Li Ling studied in Mysore and England for fifteen years and would be in Bangsar for a three-hour workshop. Would I be interested? Still bouyant from my last workshop, I said yes.
And that's how I wound up in Yoga2Health on a hot Saturday afternoon.

Li Ling turned out to be a slight woman with an air of calmness about her. I liked her instantly. The workshop began with an introduction to ashtanga and then progressed to Surya Namaskar A. Of the ten of us, only three were ashtanga virgins but impressively kept pace with the rest of us. After a couple of rounds, we moved on to Surya Namaskar B.

Li Ling demonstrated variations for the beginners and told the rest of us to take our practice a little deeper by lenghtening our inhalations and exhalations, as focusing on our bandhas. That was when I realised what I had very conveniently been leaving out of my practice - the holding of bandhas. And with that, my entire practice changed. I fumbled between breath and bandhas as I moved through the sequence. When I held the uddiyana bandha, my breath automatically shorted. When I focused on lenghtening it, the bandhas instantly dissolved. It was hard!

The rest of the three hours alternated between progressing in the primary series and taking a break with theory and philosophy. By the time savasana rolled around, we couldn't lie down fast enough.

Later, we gathered round for Auntie Van's legendary ginger tea and vegetarian sushi and sandwiches. Everyone agreed that the workshop was nothing short of fantastic and by the time we dispersed, we had convinced Li Ling to teach regular classes at Y2H.

In those three short hours, I remembered why I was addicted to ashtanga last year. Once again, I immersed myself in the quiet power of the practice and emerged completely refreshed. And it felt very, very good.

My body hurts today. But I'm relishing this ache. It's ashtanga's way of throwing me a homecoming party.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Not Too Tight, Not Too Loose

The same way you would tune a violin string, I suppose.

Not too tight, not too loose.

But the only way you will find that balance is when you have allowed yourself to wade into one extreme.

Then you turn around and wade back.

It is true that you must let go to hold on.

And it is hard as hell.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Anatomy of Passion

Last weekend, I walked across the KLPAC lawn with a hammering heart for the Functional Anatomy and Yoga Physiology Weekend workshop. It was the first workshop I would be attending since returning from my teacher's training three years ago. Yes, there were many raised eyebrows at this admission.

The Thinker sent me off with these words, "I hope you don't just learn a lot, but also remember why you love this so much."

Studio 5 was a hive of activity. Two women and a man were assembling a skeleton, old friends were catching up and new friends were being made. Outside the huge windows, dusk was beginning to settle. The workshop began within ten minutes with Michelle Lam, a physiotherapist from Hong Kong, passing out the workbooks. I flipped open mine, scanned the contents and felt my heart perform an breakdance of joy. This. Was. It.

Michelle took us through the anatomical terms, then instructed us to pair up and called one person from each pair to the front. Ong, my Pilates partner, had never done yoga before and pleaded for me to go up. We stood in a line and as Michelle called out anatomical instructions, we fumbled to contort our bodies into the pose that she had mind. Only one of us figured out it was Warrior II. The rest of us, yours truly included, were twisted in poses that would have baffled even Iyengar himself. Once the laughter died down, Michelle called up the other partners and whispered the pose into which she wanted themn to guide us. Once again, laughter erupted in the class as people arranged their limbs in the oddest positions.

I left that evening's class almost drunk with happiness. Walking back across the lawn clutching my books, I wished that I was a student all over again.

The next two days were full and grueling. Michelle taught us muscle mapping, the characteristics of the spinal vertebrates, and understanding the knee complex, hip joint, shoulder, pelvic girdle, respiratory and digestive systems. Armed with coloured pens, we drew on each other's bodies, outlining the bones, feeling the structure and studying the movement. By the end of the day our knees, spine and shoulders were a beautiful mess of coloured squiggles.

To help us study asanas anatomically, Michelle asked us to demonstrate a few and then chose two people for each - one who moved easily into the pose and another who struggled. This was when I found out that my Triangle is not as 'pretty' as I thought it was! And neither is my Downward Dog. :(

Lunch on the second day was with four new friends, all of whom said the right words to further fan the growing fire within me. They were encouraging, but wise and their words have lingered until today.

The workshop was intensive and I will probably need a refresher for everything to properly sink in. But for now, I thoroughly loved being taken to a deeper level of understanding yoga. The biggest reward was in Gary's class the next day when I realised that I understood and performed the asanas in a different way. And for now, this is enough.

Because by the time the workshop ended that Sunday evening, I had learnt a lot and remembered exactly why I love this so much.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Healing Hands

"Mom wants to know if you want to go for a massage." As usual Dad sprung this sentence during a completely irrelevant conversation.

"Huh? What? What massage?"

"Something ayu...ayu...wait, you talk to Mom!"

The phone exchanged hands.

"Do you want to go for an ayurvedic massage?"

"Yes! How do you know what ayurvedic is?"

"What do you mean how do I know? I take ayurvedic medicine."

"You take AYURVEDIC medicine?!"

Mom has an unwavering faith in the mystical powers of all Chinese herbs to heal any ailment. The worst they taste the better they are, she would promise. I would stare miserably at the black liquid defiling my favourite teddy bear mug, take a deep breath, pinch my nose and knock it back. As I struggled not to spew it out, she would beam, "See not so bad right? Here's your chocolate." I was sixteen.

So you understand my incredulity that this Chinese herb supporter now also dabbles in ayurveda. But thanks to her, I found myself in the ayurvedic centre - which incidentally is run by Mom's yoga teacher and ayurvedic doctor - that same weekend.

Pushpa, a tiny lady in a white saree, led me to a small room. There was a wooden platform with a single burner with a pot on it at the foot. A small cupboard was positioned right outside the tiny bathroom. She locked the door behind me and for a very brief moment, it resembled an unimagnative torture chamber. Puspha smiled at me.

"Take off clothes, madam."

Now I have no problem with that as long as it is confined to my upper body. In fact, I had already prepared a short and firm speech about how I would very much like to keep my underwear on, thank you very much. But Pushpa was having none of it.

"All, madam"

"No thank you, I will keep this on."

"No madam, all." She looked confused.

"No, I keep this on."

"No madam! Not good!"

Long story short, she won. Once I was satisfactorily undressed, she fashioned a little loincloth out of a scrap of cloth and tied it around and between my legs. She patted the wooden platform. I sat obediently.

Pushpa poured some sesame oil into the pot, heated it gently and began drizzling it all over me. I felt myself dissolve. Pushpa ran her fingers through my hair, working the oil into the scalp. After a few minutes of bliss, she told me to lie down. More oil and then her hands were gently kneading and rubbing. AS she worked she told me the abridged version of her life story.

Hailing from Tamli Nadu, she studied ayurveda and went on to practice it for five years. Two years ago, she left her family and came to Malaysia. That was the extent of our conversation for she apologetically explained that she couldn't speak very good English and struggled to answer my stream of questions.

We existed in comfortable silence for the next hour, broken only when she laid hands on my shoulders and asked, "Working computer? Very hard."

After that glorious hour was up, she heated up tiny cotton pouches filled with herbs and smacked them all over my body. Absolutely divine.

Then just when I thought the best was over, she motioned to me to follow her into the bathroom. I sat on the small chair and she came in stirring a big bowl of green paste.

"What's that?"

"Green dhal. Take out oil."

I reached out for the bowl but to my amazement, she started spreading all over me. And then proceeded to give me a bath. I felt myself shrinking to three-year-old size and my eyes filled with tears. When she towel-dried my hair after the bath, all of me wanted to crawl into the folds of her saree and fall asleep. For that brief moment, I felt like a child again and I loved it.

The ayurvedic massage has to be one of the best treats I've given myself this year. I floated home half-asleep, tossed work out the window and crumpled into bed. It was a very good night.