A life fully lived

14_thankfulHere a yawn, there a snore, some of the fifty over participants used all their willpower to stay awake after an all-nighter. They didn’t party nor did they finish some undone projects from work. Their whole devotion throughout the night was to change something within themselves, so they can have a more fulfilling and joyful life.

Sounds corny? You bet, but this is what they did and there they were dragging their feet and yoga mats to attend the early morning Yoga class, accompanied by the sounds of crickets and chirping birds. The sun was just rising. Some still managed to muster enough energy to do a few extra push-ups (Chaturanga).

It takes determination, focus and willpower to change one’s life. Although the focus is on worldly achievements, it is a phase of becoming freer in other ways. Freer to be who we came here to be, freer to be giving and generous and freer to let it all go, when the time comes. A life fully lived – isn’t that what we all crave for?

The four traditional phases in a Yogis’ life.

A yogini in the middle of Kuala Lumpur

This morning I got myself all riled up, rushing for this, rushing for that and increasingly observed myself getting angrier. I did my best to change my thoughts of despise to loving ones. I knew from past experience that the more I get myself into this state, the less I will enjoy the rest of my day.

Did Sage Patanjali (he wrote the Patanjali Yoga Sutras) fathom, that a couple of thousand years later, the eight limbs of Yoga are more relevant than ever? Especially the12_yogi-relax-funny1 5th limb “Pratyahara” (non-fascination of senses) is an invaluable tool to survive hectic times in the 21st Century. Although Yoga A.D. was predominantly practiced by fully renounced Yogis and “Ashtanga Yoga” or the eight limbs of Yoga meant to guide them to absolute truth, Yoga has also been practiced by householders throughout times.

I imagine that Pratyahara is easier to achieve, if you live in a remote cave in the Himalayas than if you are a busy working mum or dad. However the practice can still give me an important tool to not be sucked in by surrounding madness and stay calm amidst chaos. My immediate goal might not be to achieve absolute truth just yet but to live my life more harmoniously and be a beacon of light to the people in my life. Patanjali the eight limbs of Yoga.

To be or not to be – or to be and not to do

William Shakespeare’s famous sentence in the play „Hamlet“ is timeless. However I have to ask myself, whether I can fit any “to be” time into my busy schedule as mostly I am in a mode of “doing”. Modern society doesn’t treasure “being” anymore. Being is made synonymous with laziness and has a negative connotation to it.

11_to-be-or-not-to-beThe most treasured memories I behold show me how important it is to “be”: watching my babies sleeping, lying in the green warm summer grass in Switzerland, watching clouds pass by; being present at an early morning sunrise in the desert of Rajasthan, drinking in the view of the majestic range of Himalayan mountains trekking in Darjeeling. These are a few of my most precious memories.

We all have wonderful memories and I bet when they happened “time practically stood still”. Whether we “are” by watching a beautiful sunset over the ocean or meditate to find that inner tranquility, at the end of the day it is important to “take time out” of the busy world. It is those moments where we truly are at one with ourselves and the world and time ceases to exist just for a moment.

Words have power

We all have heard these words before and probably thought ya, ya, could be true, but weren’t too convinced. So all the swearing and cursing on the road (I shamefully admit, this is what I do too…) has no effect except letting off some steam. However when it comes to encouragement and praise, we all are willing to admit that it certainly 03_water-crystalhas an effect.

Just how much power words have, has been made visible through water-research by Japanese scientists please watch one of the many videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1-0ulKgmio.

Being mindful about what we say has been stressed on in ancient teachings and is certainly not a new discovery. However in the scientific world we live today, proof of these teachings help us to once again consolidate that practice. I will start today by making the best effort not to use hurtful words, whether it be silent or outspoken and I will make sure to express positive thoughts, so the water crystals in my and the other person’s body can take beautiful shapes and vibrate with joy.

The skills to relax

Being able to relax is a precious tool. Practicing Yoga in a balanced manner, i.e. a mixture between asanas, breathing and relaxation teaches the important skill to relax 01_swirl2not only while lying in Savasana (corpse pose) but also in the midst of activity while we move towards and stay in an Asana (posture). As we become more skilled in our practice, we are able to maintain a pose while mentally relaxing, even though it might be quite a challenging posture.

The practice to relax in the midst of a Yoga posture will help us to transfer this skill into daily life. During each day we are confronted with challenging situations and that is where we test our ability to relax the most. Learning to relax can be a life-saving choice.

Studies done on the effect of Yoga on hypertension (high blood pressure) have shown that practicing Yoga can be an effective tool to lower high blood pressure. Logically a tensed body has also tensed blood vessels. As we consider the body and mind as one unit, it makes sense, that a relaxed mind creates a relaxed body. http://jnci.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2010/12/17/jnci.djq536.full

Perception of time

I have more or less the same routine every morning after I get up at 5:15 am. However sometimes somehow wickedly I run out of time and am running (and driving) like a mad woman to be at work on time.07_traffic-light-orange-red1

I thought about it and came to the conclusion that what makes the difference to “have enough time or not” is my attitude. Perhaps many of you have had that experience of being in traffic jams and having little time to get to the destination. So I am all tensed up trying to overtake, run the yellow traffic light (sorry… ), my fellow-driver swerves in in front of me without indicating (remember I live in Malaysia…) and every traffic light I drive to seems to turn red.

Just before getting all worked up I decide to take a deep breath and surrender to the fact that I am going to be late, in other words I relax. And alas suddenly traffic moves smoothly, traffic lights turn green and I am where I need to be just ON TIME!

The morale of the story: whether I have too little or too much time is in my mind and I have the power to choose to relax or get all tensed up. And of course, there is a practical thing called “time-management”, which helps too…


Happiness is a decision

This has been said before, but I just remembered it because I was in a state of intoleran02_happy-smiley-w-glassesce, not happiness. Whenever there was a trigger, it would throw me into discontent, such as that person who cannot appreciate the work I am doing but focuses instead on my shortcomings. It is her loss really, because that is how she is tuned into the world. She will only see the mistakes although they make up the minority of the whole work done. Seeing the glass half empty or half full is a decision.

I can choose to look for the positive, encourage others, praise where it is due. It starts with my children. Every day is important as it could be the last one. I don’t usually live this way and take life for granted. Once in a while I get shaken up by someone I know who falls gravely ill or dies. I am so caught up in my activities in life that I fail to experience the moment. When the moment catches up with me I am assaulted with thoughts of the past and future.

Buddhist philosophy teaches us to live mindfully, i.e. experience every moment being fully aware. I am alert, when I focus on my breath and let thoughts of what happened and projections of the future pass by. It is possible to be mindful even in the midst of work. Coming over and over back to being aware of my breath, I also can others let be and allow them to find their own peace in their own time. Having decided, I also know I will stumble and falter at times. Then I will pick myself up and continue on the path of being happy regardless…

The faces of adversity

Do I deserve a break on a public holiday? You bet I do. My idea of chilling out on a lazy day is to sleep in, go for a walk and then do Yoga, allowing it to carry me wherever I feel like it’s taking me.

m-eyes1I am just beginning to deepen my breath, when the first “distraction” arrives. She has got two big brown eyes, a cheeky smile and a little nose that can smell the makings of pop corn even after an hour has passed.  After a hearty hug and kiss I can continue my inner explorations. Then the other distraction arrives, he has got long eyelashes, a charming smile and wicked humor. Sure enough, another good morning hug and kiss and off I go. jeyes1

Just as I am taking my next deep breath the arguing starts, yet I am still focusing on myself; one pinch, one squeal, another ouch, then a cry, all that, on top of the bed, right beside where I am practicing. Ok, now I am taking another deep breath, not because I have just moved into Urdhva Dhanurasana.

Why oh why do I attract such adversity when all I want is a little peace and quietness? I can only figure that a long lineage of Yogis or God or whoever I believe in is testing my skills. After all I am teaching Yoga! So can I stay calm and relaxed in the middle of turmoil? The answer is sometimes. All I can say is, it is getting easier. If it wasn’t for Yoga I would have probably died of a heart attack already. I used to get pretty worked up about things.

Pratyahara or non-fascination of the senses and Dharana or concentration are but theoretical aspects of Ashtanga Yoga until we translate them into practice in daily life. Few of us have the luxury of meditating and practicing Yoga in calm and remote environments and herein lays the challenge.

It just happens that I also love my little adversaries mentioned above. It is so much more challenging to stay focused on your breath and being calm when you face someone or something that will have you explode.

Living life fully and stay cool (most of the time…) is the ultimate gift Yoga gave me. And….on top of it I am more healthy and energetic as well! So come my little adversaries…bring it on!

Contentment versus satisfaction

My kids are on holidays. We went to the shopping mall and bought some promised toys and there is a big smile and supreme satisfaction on their faces now. For how long that will last, I don’t know. The younger they were, the shorter the time span between this satisfaction and wanting the next thing. As they gradually (or in spurts) grow up more each year, they are learning to wait and practice being content with what they have a little longer each time.  At least I feel like doing my job as a mother teaching them delay of satisfaction. content-baby-face

This satisfaction has nothing to do with Santosha or Contentment, which is a state of being rather than a temporary state of mind when we have fulfilled yet another desire.

Perhaps we get a glimpse of what true contentment is when we watch a beautiful sunset or we see the smile on someone’s face when we have given something without even expecting a thank you in return. We can also experience it when we meditate.

Furthermore true contentment stems from a place within that cannot be shaken regardless of the circumstances around us. Being content doesn’t mean I must accept any condition of life and stop growing and evolving emotionally and spiritually. I consider it a tool of reassessment that allows me to stay centred and at peace when all is not quite how I wish it was.

Santosha is one of the 5 “wise characteristics” (Yamas) of the Patanjali Yoga. The yamas and nyamas are universal in nature and applicable to any belief system as they were codified by wise people, setting guidelines to create harmony in society and within oneself and to expand consciousness. For one of many insights of what Raja Yoga is click: Raja Yoga .

My own practice

imgp2179-copyIt has become my increasing pleasure to practice Yoga early morning. No class can compare to this. I feel like a microcosm attuning to the macrocosm around me. Without my practice my day feels bland. It is not only my body I attune but also my mind. It makes me feel wonderful, energized and ready to face the challenges of the day.

Simultaneously this offering of Yoga to me is a practice to live any moment with awareness and purpose, even as I execute my other duties in my job and as a mother. As I become more vigilant of my own thought patterns I recognize my own capacity to change them, if they do not empower me. In Yoga terminology this is called tantric sadhana. “The tantric believes that every act, however mundane, if offered to the higher force within oneself, becomes meaningful and a medium through which he can transform awareness.” (Swami Satyasanganandan Saraswati, Tattwa Shuddhi, 1992).

What I feel during my own practice I aim to experience throughout the day.  It is within my mind I decide to make this work, setting aside likes and dislikes. My practice helps me to remind me of how I am supposed to feel throughout the day, full of energy and acutely conscious.