I am counting: .1..2..3..4..5..6..7..8..9..there – at last, an exhalation after Kumbhaka* (breath retention) in form 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
Life 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.
This week has been a shitty week, pardon my language. My son and I were attacked by some knife-wielding thieves 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.
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?
A great book to start taking responsibility for your thoughts is: “the Secret” by Rhonda Byrne.
I wished I could travel to see my family in Switzerland every year and that I could travel to any otherdestination of my choice as well. However so far we only make it back every two years, which is mostly a financial decision. I was talking to someone else who wished she could travel with the airline of her choice, instead of taking the cheapest ticket, for which she then gets reimbursed by her company. The next person wished he could travel period, but cannot afford it at all and has never been anywhere else then his birthplace. Some people do not wish to travel and are happy where they are. And the last person IS travelling anywhere and anytime she wishes. It is human nature to want and strive. That is how we evolved. Otherwise humans would still be happy catching fish with their bare hands instead of doing so with nets. But when does the striving and wanting get as destructive as the big trawler nets that fish out the seas regardless of kind and size of its catch? It is all a matter of perspective whether I see life as a set of circumstances that I have no control over or I see life as a presenter of choices, so I can evolve and grow. If there is an obstacle that prevents me of reaching a goal I could choose to like the challenge to overcome it or dislike the obstacle of being there. So likewise I could choose to be happy to travel back to Switzerland every two years, instead of never be able to get there anymore, right? However that doesn’t mean I am not striving for making it possible to go back every year. To get back to the trawler: If I go back to Switzerland every year within the same financial circumstances, ignoring all obligations, which would be like overfishing the oceans…it would be foolish and selfish, because it cannot be sustained. On the other hand, if I can take up opportunities to create more financial freedom, I not only keep on learning new things (even if it is about your own limits…) but also can become that person that IS travelling anywhere and anytime she wishes.
There I am having a fit of anger and get the standard line: “but you are doing Yoga, how come you get so angry!” Believe me, I do get angry despite doing Yoga. Being a mother, my buttons get pushed all the time. My children are my greatest teachers and bring forth all those deep-seated, raw and not-dealt-with emotions. Yoga just helps me to manage them better. There is one more difference. Now I SEE myself being angry rather than just being fully involved in it. I see myself reacting, but another part of me watches that and thinks “what is she going on about?” In Buddhist teaching it is called “passive witnessing”. Sure one part of me doesn’t feel so passive at that particular moment, but another part kind of just sits back and observes. There is a great website out there that teaches how to deal with any type of anger and gives rules how to fair-fight http://www.angriesout.com/. Anger can be a great driving or an incredible destructive force. It is one of the most primary emotions we learn to mostly suppress as children. Rather than suppressing it I taught my son how to express it without hurting anyone. Scream into a cushion, bang the baseball-bat into it, jump around, and write about it. We all have our times that are out of control. However all of us are getting better at expressing it with more damage-control. After all it is a powerful energy, it is good to use it wisely.
There is this universal truth about abundance. It says that abundance is right here and available to everyone. All we need to do is to open ourselves to receive it. It can be pretty tough though to hold this thought constant when all around us we hear news of people loosing jobs, that country going bust and this country trying its best to juggle with economic challenges. However thoughts have energy and the more we focus on the downward-spiral, the more we feed that energy. It can be as simple as a walk in the park with a smile on the face. The amount of smiles that came back to me, when I did just that, was astonishing. I keep my focus on bringing joy, health and abundance into my life with every inhalation during my Yoga class or practice. Taking a moment to watch my breath every now and then during the day, whether I drive the car to pick up my kids or do my chores, helps me to connect again with that true source of power, rather then getting sucked into a cycle of fear. I also repeat empowering affirmations, which I make up myself to hold on to the thoughts of abundance.