Oh rats, there goes Ahimsa

rat4I just love this little grocery store which incidentally exhibits an astonishing amount of products in the smallest space possible! There is no wastage of time, if you forget a thing. There is no wishing for roller-skates to get to the cereals. All you need to do is to navigate yourself past the staff and other customers in an unspoken code of who will stop, turn sideways and allows others to pass.

Waiting at the counter, entirely satisfied and happy with my shopping experience, I hear the unmistaken squeaking of a rat. Starting to get worried about my Parmesan I watch two men looking intently down at the cupboard behind the counter. The squeaking is getting louder, alternated with little screams of a woman!? My heart sinks, although I am no rat-lover, I know this one had no chance. As the squeaking becomes more intense, so does the shrieking of the (poor) lady teller. The clobbering of the rat that follows is only intensified by imagination since it all happens behind the counter.

Ahimsa or non-violence, one of the yamas outlined by Sage Patanjali, is probably one of the hardest living principles to follow. When it comes to rats, cockroaches and mosquitoes I pretend I have never heard of such a thing. Some of Kuala Lumpur’s population unfortunately contributes substantially to the proliferation of such pests by indiscriminately dumping their rubbish into backlines and other unsuitable places.

For now I practice Ahimsa as Donna Farhi describes it in “Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit”: To learn how to be non-violent toward ourselves. It takes some self-control not to bring our competitive society into the Yoga-room. Practicing Yoga without hurting ourselves requires awareness, attention and slowing-down. A slow practice intensifies our experience of the moment. We become aware of hurts and pleasures alike. We start realizing our tendencies to avoid certain postures and jump into others with enthusiasm. We have time to become aware of our thoughts. Mine are with that rat and who is to blame for its existence. Us, the rubbish-producers or the rat and its innate will to survive?

Mindless ramblings of a Yoga teacher

It has been three days and still no sign of my glasses. My reading-material is reduced to size 12 font confused-dogwith daylight and my arms are all but getting too short to hold the magazines. Talking about being mindless per se as I have absolutely no inkling where I have put them. It started with little misplacements, such as leaving them amidst the dishes or finding them in the (er) toilet. Somehow I still managed to retract my steps and get to them with a sigh of relieve. This time my mind just draws a blank spot whenever I try to recall where I last used them. Thank God for computers and their ability to increase the fonts to adjust to tired and over 40is-eyes, so at least I can ramble on about my glasses AND am able to read it. Being mindless is no state of being. Perhaps the Buddhist monks did not have to remember to bring and pick up two children on time, do the laundry, cooking and groceries, be the counselor for any family member who feels treated unfairly, fight to negotiate TV times etc.. Perhaps being mindful in a monastery with beautiful gardens and tranquil surroundings proved to be a far more possible thing then living in the midst of Kuala Lumpur.  Maybe this is all just an excuse to continue living a mindless day. Having said that, I shall make an effort to watch my breath whenever I catch myself rushing, ranting or running. I shall remember to live mindfully especially when it is the most challenging and hopefully I will find my glasses again.

Learning with Anusara Yoga teachers

award1It has been an awesome five days with Amy Ippoliti, certified Anusara Yoga teacher, in Kuala Lumpur. I even managed to participate in one of the Eye of the Tigress practices and got to bend and twist to a maximum level. Being a true Yogi I of course didn’t look around to see other people sweating their stuff. Cirque soleil would have a field day recruiting here… Oops, I did look… Amy presented this seminar with true professionalism and I couldn’t help but be pulled in by her high standards. Although I didn’t win an award I am now thanking all the people that made it possible for me to be there, which is my hubby, brother in law, and my dear friends. I feel truly nourished with knowledge, undigested though and shall continue integrating this learning experience into all aspects of my life and teachings.

Household chores and Ujyay breath

ironing-womanAnyone not living in Malaysia will declare me a spoilt brat. Why? Our maid ran off and left us with all the housework and the babysitting… To defend my position however, I must say that I organized my life around having help in the house. I won’t bore you with details but I am pretty busy without having to mop the floor and that doesn’t include facials or having my nails done… This is one of the advantages of living in Malaysia. You can actually afford help. Now that is beside the point. The point is that everything and everyone changes all the time. It is a constant adaptation to the moment. Just as I want to be present in my breath during Yoga practice I now need to be more present for my children and household chores. It is so much more challenging to practice Yoga when you have a million other things to do. That brings me to an observation I made the other day, when I attended a morning session with Edward Clark. I love being a student and always feel inspired by other teachers, their knowledge and creativity. We focused on breathing and the Bandhas and how to implement them while doing the postures. However when I came back home I felt grumpy and not quite willing to deal with my 3-year old daughter who has her 3-year old-moments very frequently. So again how serious am I in staying centered? When it suits me? When it is pleasant, exciting or calming? Can I stay focused and content and practice my Ujyay breath when I am doing mundane day-to-day chores rather then Eka Pada Urdhva Dhanurasana (one legged wheel-pose)? Practicing Yoga can be escapism if that is the only time I am able to focus, breathe and be at the moment. So here I go, the challenge is to stay in the same moment of joy, peace and satisfaction whether I finally managed to stand free in a handstand or I just folded and ironed my whole laundry.

Old habits die hard

reading-newspaper1

Every morning while having my breakfast I read the newspaper. As I open the newspaper FEAR stares me in the eye: fear of swine-flu, fear of losing the job, fear of being pounced on by ruthless snatch-thieves. The list continues as you all know newspaper sell on disaster and misery. At least the Malaysian newspapers also publicize the latest chicken-prizes. Now that is worthwhile information that could potentially change MY outcome of the day… So why do I keep on reading it; out of habit or because I never catch the mailman on time to stop the delivery? Robert Lawrence Friedman, a psychologist and motivational speaker says it takes 21 days to change a habit. So I am going cancel my newspaper delivery and go on cold turkey of 21 days, not reading the newspaper at all. That includes passing by newspaper stands and NOT glancing at the Malay Mail headlines. And if anyone wants to fill me in with the latest political dramas, I will politely but firmly decline. Now that can’t be so hard. How about creating an empowering habit? During the Christmas break I actually got up every morning at 5.30am to do my Yoga. The first few days I was delirious with energy until about 2pm when I crashed. Then I got used to this special and delicious feeling of energy and looked forward to it every day. However initially my biggest obstacle was my own self-sabotaging mind-talk! My mind would say: “Never mind, just sleep a little longer, you are so tired”. Then my other mind would say: “Get up lah, you’ll regret it for the rest of the day if you don’t”. That would go on for about ten minutes and the latter usually won but occasionally I would regret not having gotten up. That was during the Christmas-break. I had created a good habit, and then let it go… So tomorrow morning not only will I not read the newspaper, I will also get up an hour earlier. After all how hard can it be…I got 21 days?

Plastic bags and Law of Attraction

plastic-waste-city1The world is in turmoil. There are natural disasters aplenty and the world economy is threatening to collapse. What can my tiny little self achieve in the face of such enormity?  Plenty. I still have a collective say and will save energy, turn off my car while waiting in the shade,  recycle and use my very practical Bangsar Village shopping bags everywhere.  Unfortunately when I go the shopping-centre I hardly see anyone else using recyclable shopping bags, not even expatriates.

Hello! In most western countries we have to pay not only for shopping bags but also for the increased rubbish we create. Yet I am stunned to see shopping trolleys full of plastic bags in expatriates as well as locals as if those rules don’t apply in Malaysia! What has this got to do with Yoga? Yoga teaches me to be more aware. By taking care of myself I consequently take care of my environment. The Light show in Annexe Gallery Kuala Lumpur www.annexegallery.com/) shows how wasteful we humans are, despite the fact that the artists created beauty out of rubbish. The exhibition is running till 3/5/09.

 

Incidentally I cannot control the world-economy, but I can control how much bad news I read and what thoughts I am thinking. After all, I believe in the Law of Attraction www.abraham-hicks.com.

 

An almost 3-year old yogi in the making…

 I am counting: .1..2..3..4..5..6..7..8..9..there – at last, an exhalation after Kumbhaka* (breath retention) in child-meditate-clipart1form of a long, drawn out scream, only to be repeated a few times. I am talking about a Yogi in the making, my almost three year old daughter Maya, which means illusion in Sanskrit (oh, she ain’t an illusion). Right now she is protesting the fact that she is not allowed to see Barney yet again. I myself am breathing deeply to maintain my patience as I ask her to come up to have her bath. All the breathing makes me dizzy, so I am moving into practicing Pratyahara* (non-fascination of the senses) by ignoring her behavior. How I wished I was in the Himalayas now, listening only to my own inhalation and sending good vibrations to all those families with toddlers and teenagers.  My swerving away from the focus of my attention (Dharana) brings about another battle of willpower but this time I remember the tantric philosophy that all beings are inherently good. So I swoop her into my arms and carry the wiggling, screaming bundle up the stairs, not only to shower her in water but also in my love for her. However Maya is not being very receptive at this moment. So I resolve to practicing Karma-Yoga (do thy work without asking for any rewards) and not to thinking about how much I would like to be hugged. Finally, probably after running out of energy, Maya turns her attention towards her favorite book and teaches ME about mindfulness AND presence in the here and now by jumping up and down on our bed, laughing and giggling

*Three  phases of Pranayama = Puraka (inhalation), Kumbhaka (breath retention), Recaka (exhalation)  www.holisticonline.com/yoga/hol_yoga_breathing-exhalation.htm

*Eight Limbs of Raja-Yoga = Yamas, Nyamas, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi – www.sivananda.org/teachings/philosophy/eightlimbs.html

 

Equilibrium

baby-and-scaleLife is like a stage play. Every morning I am a mother, later I am a Yoga teacher. I am also a wife and partner of my husband. Sometimes I am a counselor, and a friend. Other times I am a stranger in a taxi. The art is to maintain equilibrium in life in  many roles I play as a human being. Yoga creates harmony in the endocrine system. It helps the glands to work efficiently.  It is challenging to find balance over and over again. Just going out into Kuala Lumpurs traffic can jar your nerves. Being up with a young child all night throws out many good intentions. When I practice the handstand my world turns upside-down. Standing on one leg in tree pose is just a symbolism of how many times I stand on one leg in my life. And yet it is possible to stay calm and unwavering. It is not about getting that great body (although it is a nice side-effect), or bending like an acrobat (which can be fun). Can I take a Yoga pose and transform it into a play with my child? Can I stay calm and unwavering when things don’t turn out the way I expected? Sometimes, and if not I just pick myself up and try again…just like after falling down from the handstand.

 

Of thieves and loving kindness

 

This week has been a shitty week, pardon my language. My son and I were attacked by some knife-wielding cp_pursesnatcher1thieves on a motorbike early morning. They were out of luck because I only had my son’s schoolbag in my hand. Then my car broke down and finally my sunglasses were stolen. Although the guys on the motorbike were obviously more vile and professional in their pursuit, my thought was what person thinks something left in a shelf automatically becomes public property?  Is there a difference between threatening someone with a knife and simply taking something that you know doesn’t belong to you? Although the Yamas in Raja Yoga clearly state rules of conduct: Ahimsa for non-violence and Asteya for non-stealing I believe these universal laws of human conduct are not exclusively taught in Yoga but are part of every religion. Obviously the guys on the motorbike do not practice Yoga. Well, I can’t change the way those thieves think or act, but I can change the way I react to that incidence. First I am grateful that both I and my son remained unharmed, second that they did not get my handbag and third that I can finally get some new sunglasses. It will take me a little more practicing of “loving kindness” to actually see that those thieves are caught in their own downward-cycle of life. And finally next time I better remember how I judged these thieves when someone offers me that pirated CD.

Squatting toilets, traffic and Yoga

trained-cat-toilet1    Teaching Yoga in Malaysia brings a variety of students with different racial and ethnic backgrounds into my classes. One thing I noticed is that most of my Asian students seem to have more flexibility in their hips and upper backs compared to my Caucasian students. Without turning this into a racially biased observation, it is quite clear why. If you go around Kuala Lumpur on a bus you quite often see Malaysians squatting on the floor to wait for the next bus. Furthermore most public toilets in Malaysia are of the squatting type. Now if you gotta go you better learn to squat… How many Caucasians, me included, grew up with squatting toilets? I still remember the agony I endured to sit cross-legged for just 10 minutes, when I was 23 years old! The good news is it can be learned and I am good example of that as I sit quite comfortably for about half hour. And that’s it. While I am starting to squirm my fellow Malaysian keeps still as social or spiritual gatherings sometimes require. Now the upper-back thingy is another matter. Flexible upper backs require a “soft” and “open heart”, at least that’s what I have learned in the Anusara-Yoga seminars. Excuse me but when I am driving in Kuala Lumpurs’ crazy traffic I simply don’t experience many open-hearted individuals of any race. For all I know some of the red-light and queue-beating individuals might be late for their next gym-Yoga-class, where they then bend like willows into Urdhva Dhanurasana (upward facing bow). So this is my own personal theory: I am not super-flexible in my back, because I don’t like bending backwards, period.  But I do it anyway and keep breathing and voila, my heart has “softened” quite a bit already. I can now keep my cool, when that crazy driver just pulled in front of my car WITHOUT indicating. You Malaysians, you know what I am talking about, right?