Coming home

The term “feels like coming home” must be very familiar to many people. How it feels like to come home could be similar across different individuals, but the trigger to that emotion is deeply personal and unique. Coming home to some means finally meeting a person whom they connect with on a higher level, like lovers meeting, or a person picking up a paint brush and realising that his life’s calling is to paint.

I am fortunate to know what this feels like, and if it weren’t for yoga or the want to share it with others, I am pretty sure I would never know the pure joy of coming home at least up until now. Coming home to me means that joy i feel immediately at the end of a class. It could be a basic yoga class, or a prenatal class. Before each class gets into full swing, I love to just begin with everyone sitting down with their eyes closed. They are told to return to their breath so that it is deep, even and steady, and in the same moment, I get to return to my home, the space where ideas, sequences, knowledge and passion flows seamlessly and merges into a fluid yoga session. 

Although some sequences (opening, salutations, closing) can be repetitive in a number of classes, it is the middle section of the class, like the fillings of a sandwich, that is open to experimentation; to the different needs of the students who are in the class at that time, different injuries and different stories needing modifications and variations.

Sometimes the response doesn’t seem to come from me, but rather ‘through’ me. I believe this is something that I must have read before and it is just sitting in my memory waiting for the right moment to come up. Mostly, I believe it is the universe working its way through me 🙂 

What is your definition of coming home?

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On the Mat

On the Mat

On the mat,
Where I step onto
Every. Single. Day.

On the mat,
Where emotions of;
anger, happiness
sadness and love
pours onto 72″ by 24″ of rubber

And like rubber
Bending, flexing,
Pushing the limits of the human
mind and physical form
Ultimately returning back to its original state
Of perfection

On the mat,
Where I learn to accept
perfection exists so intimately with
come what may

MBB_171

Between Yoga, Running or Nothing At All

Can’t decide which should be your weapon of choice when trying to fight against the mounting stress, expanding belly and tightening joints? A recent research proves inconclusive due to variations of yoga styles practiced. Though it did highlight the importance of moving your body as beneficial over choosing the couch!

PS – This week’s Daily Post Challenge asks writers to annotate their thoughts in 50 words or less which turned out to be more difficult than expected, especially when there is a lot to be said of a specific topic. If you are keen to be part of this challenge head to The Daily Post for more details.

PPS – for those who do end up choosing the couch, there are even some yoga moves you could do while on a couch. So really, you have no excuses!

” How do I know I’m doing it right? ” – 3 ways to trust your own practice

I believe a lot of people who are new on their journey into yoga must have thought of this question quietly to themselves more than a handful of times, while they huff and puff their way through new and sometimes unnatural positions in a yoga class.

My natural inclination as a yoga instructor is to teach a small number of students in one session. This usually means at most, 4 people. But of course, doing this on a full time basis now, teaching a bigger class a few times a week makes more economic sense. That is not to say I do not love teaching larger classes, in fact I love sharing my knowledge of yoga with anyone who would have the time to listen. full stop. It only means taking a different approach when it comes to a class with more than a handful of students.

As a student as well, it makes perfect sense for a person who may not be sure if yoga is really their ‘thing’ to refrain from investing in a smaller private classes that usually costs double or more of group class fee. Some people I have spoken to use the aid of a mirror to help them realign and self-adjust so that their final asanas resemble something that of the instructor standing in front of the class. This can be helpful sometimes, but for most of the time, it can prove to be detrimental to the person especially if it means ignoring the alarm bells that their body is telling them at the same time.

Image

I think I look awesome in this pose today!

So as a person who is trying to figure out if yoga could be the answer to your prayers, what are some of the signs to know that you are holding a pose correctly?

  1.  It feels goooood – yes, this IS actually quite a possible feeling to experience even in your first yoga class. If a pose helps to alleviate an existing discomfort, or brings on the sensation of tension releasing from your muscles, you are doing the right thing
  2. There are no sharp pain – some fellow yogis might defer in this point of view, but in my own practice and when I lead a class, I will always make sure to place emphasis on this point. The uncomfortable feeling of a tight muscle being stretched is acceptable, but a sharp pain that shoots right through your nervous system and makes you want to cry out loud is not. Back off. Come out of the pose. Either reposition and begin again, or put up your hand and ask your teacher for extra guidance
  3. Trust your inner voice – this inner voice must not be confused as your ego talking to you. How do you tell the difference?
    Ego will sound something like this: “Look at that person in front of you, if she can get into it so can you, don’t be a wuss, stretch more and ignore the pain!”
    While your inner voice will sound more like this: “Breathe, you can focus on reaching your ankles today, this is where you are today, accept it and know that everything changes, and with practice this will change too”

Check in with yourself as you move in and out of different poses. Let the instruction from your teacher guide you into the pose, but ultimately always listen to what your body is telling you while you in it. This is the beginning of forming a mutual trust with your own body and towards building your own personal practice over time.

Time traveling to my younger self

It has been a while! (Actually make that almost a year). In the blog world I was told that could mean blog-suicide.

But, I’d like to think of it as coming back from a very long Savasana. Previously known as Almost Hijau, all the posts that you loved from there are all still here, albeit under a new name and colourful brand 🙂 As you could already tell, I am taking my yoga instructor role a tad bit more serious than the previous year and ramping it up into a full time gig at the moment. If you love what you read, please feel free to share this along to your friends on your social media.

To celebrate my initiation back into the blogging world, I have decided to ride on The Daily Post weekly challenge with the intention of spurring my writing habit back on track, and generating some interesting angles to write about yoga, teaching & nutrition.

This week’s challenge gives me a free ticket to the period and place of my choice: which would be roughly 10 years back from today. To the 19 year old me who was just starting a life away from home. I would sit her down, with a mug of steaming hot chilli chocolate from Max Brenner (our favourite!) and tell her what I think is THE most important advice that I wish someone would tell me at that time:

“Do not fear the idea of fear itself”

And this goes across all areas of life – career, relationship, education. That the idea of “falling” or making mistake or getting hurt in the process is not so scary after all. It is by any means a feeling. Fear is an instinctual emotion designed to protect ourselves from hurt. But just as our internal system can intelligently fix and mend itself so can too our emotional system. With a little bit of practice and a lot of faith and strength of course!

I would tell her that I am currently still working on to a full bound headstand without a wall. And that today, after running across a great idea from Yoganonymous, decided to try a different way to get into this King of Inversion pose.

Knowing the possibility of flipping over to be highly likely, I had lined up some giant square pillows to break this fall and to be kind on my back (remember the concept of ahimsa or non violence? this is one of my interpretations of this word too). And just as I begin to raise and straighten one leg off, testing the water one feet at a time, I wanted to try with both feet off the wall. What happened next, would have seemed to occur very fast to any observer. But to me, time fell into slow motion. The split second of achieving the full pose, the slight confusion of not knowing how to engage all the necessary muscles, the realisation that I will flip over, flipping over and wondering where the floor had gone to, and finally coming down flat on my back (thank god for those cushions!) and lying there with the biggest grin.

I am thankful for this journey I have taken into yoga. The fear of falling over doesn’t seem so scary anymore once you know how to fall ‘correctly’. Once you have made necessary preparation and then going into it wholeheartedly. I have had similar experiences with other poses earlier in my yoga journey, and if you fall, dust yourself off, and come back to that pose another day until it becomes possible.

Fear in its most elemental form arises to keep us safe, but sometimes fear is also the one that holds us back from realising our full potential. The only way to be able to distinguish between the two is to face it and discover what awaits you on the other side.

Splurge some, scrimp some – the updated dirty dozen list

Now that I have been having a little more time since ending a rather crazy project, I have been getting more chance to make smart and educated choices when it comes to what I decide to put into my mouth. My kitchen will have these cycles, of frequent use and constant turning on and off the gas stove and when things get hectic at work, the only thing that ends up being used is the water filter and the kitchen tap. So while I have these little luxuries (which I have this sinking feeling will be shortlived indeed), I’ve decided to pay a much needed visit to the supermarket and stock up my refrigerator with the healthiest things I can find (and afford).

With a rough meal plan for the week worked out and armed with my list of things to buy, I walked down the all to familiar aisles of Jaya Grocer. Of all the supermarkets around Subang & KL, I still prefer my neighbourhood’s Jaya Grocer. Even the posh and overpriced Jason’s at BSC can’t seem to beat the lineup or organic items offered in the former. Months of not doing my groceries gave me a rude shock when I got hold of a bunch of organic celery for a soup I was planning on making. RM 35 (USD 12) for a bunch of celery?? Okayyy..let’s put that back down. And then some weird craving hit me while I was there and I decided to look for some blueberries. Organic blueberries – RM 25 for a small box. Whoa.. maybe not. With such horrendous, out of this world prices for the standard, middle class person such as me, how does one achieve healthy eating and minimise all those nasty pesticide and chemical intake?

Which brings me to the topic of weekly groceries shopping and what are the items that should be bought organic and what are the items that we can save a few pennies on buying from the non-organic aisle?

Recently Food Matters together with the Environmental Working Grop updated their list of dirty dozen which is a list referring to 12 most ‘dirtiest’ veggies & fruits that should be bought organic where possible and 12 clean items that you can get away with being non organic most of the time. This year however, they added a few more and this has been a good list for me to keep in mind as I trawl up and down the aisle collecting my goods in the trolley.

Splurge on organic items for those things that you crave from the Dirty Dozen list

Click on the link and you will find more information and even a pretty nifty phone app for you to download. Granted that this list is more American-centric, I would imagine it to be pretty similar across other countries especially those that import their food from large agricultural producers.

With this in mind, I now know I should skip on the celery and replace it with something locally grown. Blueberries (generally the berry family are to be treated like strawberries in the dirty dozen list) are out of the question too. So more papayas, dragonfruits and mangosteens it shall be! A general rule of thumb that I use would be – if you have to peel it in order to eat it, that would generally be ‘cleaner’ rather than items that you consume directly as they were bought.

Most definitely, one must keep in mind local is always better. But with certain fruits like the avocado that contains large sources of good fat, and all that other goodness in its green flesh, sometimes it is difficult to replace it with a local alternative that is equal in nutrition content. And by all means, if you are swimming in money every month, heck if it was me, I would buy those celery and blueberries once in a while because I know I can afford to.

For us normal beings though, sometimes it is a good idea to splurge on some organic items (local over imported where possible), and scrimp on others where non organic would be considerably safe for consumption.

A well stocked fridge is a happy fridge :)

A well stocked fridge is a happy fridge 🙂

Contemplating on Tbilisi..Tbili..what? – Day 2 Pre & Post Natal TTC

Day 2 of Pre & Post Natal TTC. We had a quick recap of yesterday’s module, and Haika joined the group. I remembered one of the teachers whose studio I go to once in a while mentioned that the yoga circle in Malaysia is really not all that big. It is in fact very small. And you will end up seeing/hearing the same names over and over again. And to prove that, Haika turns out to be one of the Yin Yoga teacher that used to teach at Upward in Saujana. Unfortunately though, she is currently in the process of moving back to Germany with her husband, so you won’t be able to find her there any longer.

Yesterday, Jaq (as one of the girls called her today which I thought was both informal and rather cool) broached the subject of having me teach and manage her studio in Tbilisi. I knew apart from the one here, Sun Yoga has another ‘branch’ all the way in Tbilisi. Except at that point I didn’t know where this city is apart from the fact that it has a very pretty nice ring to its name.

I have been restless for a while now having been in this country for the last 5 years with no real “move” in between. Of course this has always been the country and the place to which I will always call home, but the feeling that I am growing roots when my wings are yearning to flap and fly away is quite a feeling to decipher. So when the idea to jump on a plane, pick up and move to Tbilisi is presented right at my feet, I had to use my energy to keep myself from pouncing on it immediately.

Clearly there are more things to be worked out before any real move can happen. But my research of the city and country so far has made me even more keen. And having Jaq stopped momentarily during class yesterday to hand me Sun Yoga Tbilisi card and say “Here, I think this is meant for you. It keeps falling off my notebook all day long, it must be a sign” and today when I was asking around for change of coins to stock up on the parking meter and she pulls out a Georgian coin and goes “oh wait that’s a Georgian coin, ah there you go! Must be a sign”.

Coincidental? Perhaps. The question is now what do I do with my current life here? 6 months is the minimum should I agree to go, with a prospect of staying for a year. A whole year! Of adventure and travels to neighboring countries which by the way includes Turkey. At the same time, a prospect of learning the ropes to run a studio, a juice bar AND teach at the same time. I mean wow, this is like a tailored gift for my belated birthday!

Ok right. Day 2 Pre & Post Natal TTC. Where were we?

We got to draw stick men on mahjong paper, as we come up with poses specific for the first, second & third trimesters. We learned the basic sequence of a prenatal class irrespective of audience and how far along they may be in their pregnancy is spinal health. I had lines drawn in green marker pen all along my back and neck to demonstrate to the class of the trapezius muscles. I was enlightened of ALL the wonderful and not so wonderful things pregnancy does to a woman’s body. With so many complications, I wondered briefly in that entire time how any woman can voluntary and even YEARN to subject themselves through these phases in order to have a child of their own. Perhaps something that I can only  understand when the time comes for me to be wanting the same things. Perhaps an understanding that I will only gain when I see the faces of potential mothers and to-be mothers attend my prenatal class flushed with the glow of pregnancy and excited of the future to come.

The most important takeaway for Day 2 is – for a woman to be healthy and minimise the complications arising from pregnancy as much as possible, is to build strength and fitness way before she intends to conceive. That does not mean 1 or 2 months before you gear on your baby making skills, but preparation for that should happen at least 1 year before a couple plans to conceive. Even though you could technically make a baby overnight (given that timing is perfectly done so) you can’t build strong muscles nor gain strength in one day. So ladies, enrol yourself in some form of fitness program much earlier before talks of starting a family even begins. My biased suggestion would of course to start yoga, whether it be strict regimes of Ashtanga or a fast free flowing Vinyasa, these can only do your body good in the long run, with or without a baby on its way.

Happy Baby Pose! .. oh you mean this is actually a yoga pose?

“Some of them swim in circles” – Day 1 of Pre Conception, Pre Natal & Post Natal Yoga Teaching Course

In keeping with the true fashion of fulfilling Yoga Alliance requirement of  ‘continuing education’ for Registered Teachers, I had enrolled into a Pre Conception, Pre Natal & Post Natal Yoga TTC. Now that is a mouthful to be typing over and over again for the next 4 days and so this training will be referred to as just Pre & Post Natal Yoga TTC.

My interest to focus on yoga for women came almost as simultaneous as the day I picked up that Jamu book in Ngurah Rai Airport in March. I knew that women’s need are multi dimensional yet specific at certain points of her life. And what better way to explore this further through a short 4-day TTC with Dr. Jacqueline Koay from Sun Yoga. 

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, other than at the end of this 4 day I would ideally like to know, with confidence, how to successfully teach prenatal women and guide them through all the way until their postnatal phase. As a bonus it would be nice to be able to help those trying to conceive achieve their desired goals as well.

There are only 6 of us who signed up for this course which makes it all the more enjoyable as interaction are more intimate and there’s more time for questions to be attended to. Jacqueline was a life force on her own. When she introduced herself as a mother of 5, with the eldest being my age, I was floored. Later on the way to University Malaya where we were going to spend Day 1 learning up the theory of hormones, conceiving, and all the awesome she-bang that comes with making a baby (no pun intended of course hah!), we found out amongst other things that she was an Oxford educated, ex McKinsey consultant, now serving WHO as a surgeon in Jakarta.

Our day was spent in the Anatomy class, where we sat in one corner surrounded by preserved sliced brains, hearts, feets, hands, and fetuses of various months in glass jars. Theory classes such as this has a tendency to get dry very quickly, but thanks to what I’d like to attribute as partially my own interest in the topic (back to Biology class yay!) and her ability to weave in her own experience and stories made the whole learning process quite enjoyable.

Our conversation was bar none, educational but explicit all at the same time. It really felt like I was back in high school doing Biology class, except this time it’s the teacher who asks ‘naughty explicit questions’ instead of those hormone raging innocent 15 year olds themselves. I mean heck, we are talking about making babies here and inevitably the topic of sex would come up (I don’t expect anything less from a Pre & Post Natal TTC otherwise!). “So what are the best sex positions to make babies?” were some of the questions thrown to the group.

So within the span of roughly 5 hours, I learned that missionary, spooning and doggy styles are the best ways to make sure a baby will be a result of a hot lovemaking session. And to be extra sure of it, one must go into a bridge pose or a shoulder pose so that gravity can aid all the little swimmers to their destination – THE EGG. I learned that there are such abnormalities like sperm swimming around in circles lost of direction and never able to find where their other chromosomal half that leads to the woman not able to conceive.

And amongst her many entertaining stories, are also serious stories like nasty tears and surgeries in the labor room. Vivid description of how a vajayjay can look like right after labor – “like torn liver having to be sewn up”.

So that is day 1 of 4. Tomorrow we get to do the fun stuff as we head back to the shala and put some practice back onto the mat.

Infertility Poster

Causes of infertility – which includes sperm with giant heads. Seriously.

 

Balispirit in all its glory

This year’s Balispirit happened to be the first yoga related festival I had ever attended and wow, what an experience it was! I was excited for a very long time, both for the prospect of visiting Bali for the first time AND attending such a huge event consisting of all things commercially yoga. As I am making my flight back to Kuala Lumpur, I found myself reflecting on this trip. What have I learned from the cornucopia of different classes, workshops and sessions I had attended?

Surprisingly (and I may be a little ashamed to admit this) nothing too life changing that I would want to apply to teaching my own classes really. Thinking back on how this could be possible, because after all I was in the presence of so many respected teachers whose names are akin to what Google is to search engines and Facebook to social media. A moment of contemplation made me realize that I had been far too busy judging the teaching styles, the asanas chosen for the vinyasas, the conversation and what sometimes seems to me incessant unnecessary chattering in class. I arrived in Ubud with an open mind, excited to take part in only the biggest annual yoga event in this region. The minute my first session began, and unfortunately throughout the entire weekend, the open mind quickly switched to judging, evaluating, comparing.. and all those not so yummy habits that only resulted in me sitting here in the plane right now thinking, ‘so hrm, what new exciting things can I bring to my own classes now?’

And a resounding silence as my mind searches through every unturned corners of this experience for an answer.

What did in remember instead? I remembered the mental notes I made as a checklist of ‘things to avoid doing in my own class’. Why? Because I remembered the silent moments sending out mental messages to the instructor of the session begging him to stop talking already. Have you ever tried following a class, wanting to return to your inner self and quieten that self chatter only to have it totally replaced by the booming chattering of the instructor relating about something or other about his day through his clip on microphone?

There were 2 sessions which I appreciated though in one we were asked to attempt an udhiyana bandha and nauli (a type of Kriya which involves the individual freely contracting and relaxing the stomach muscles in a certain motion) less than 2 hours after lunch time. I hope no one had indigestion that night.

Perhaps a festival such as this really is to serve a ‘buffet’ of yoga to attract and cater to a large number of people. It allowed me to experience Kundalini yoga, Vinyasa (with rock music), Ashtanga yoga with influences of Shamanism, Hatha with precise scientific techniques borrowed from Tai Chi. And another session which involved a lot of running around in circles whilst doing Bhashtrika, an experienced which struck me both as different and close to some sort of insane version of yoga created by the western world.

Perhaps it is a gathering of like minded people celebrating the diversity within and outside of themselves. Although as a first time participant the like minded part seemed to be more about the staggering proportion of people wearing lululemons, and carrying either a Jade, Manduka or (surprise surprise) lululemon yoga mat. Admittedly, I was one of them too minus the expensive mat as my Manduka Eco mat was far too heavy for me to hand carry all the way to Ubud. Most of the time it felt like people moved in their own groups. I didn’t sense an open-ness but again, this was probably largely colored by looking through my judging lenses.

So what was my main takeaway from this entire experience? I learned that judgement closes the mind to accepting what is, to acknowledge the different things that are subtly present and most importantly it impairs your memory so that it selectively remembers all the unpleasant things and overlooks the ones that could be beneficial.

Not all was lost though as throughout the few days I was there, I come to understand the fascination that a lot of people have on Bali as I felt the pull and the need to pack up and call Ubud my new home. A walk down Hanoman Road brought me back to being right in the middle of Brunswick Road in Melbourne, minus the cold weather and plenty more sunshine 🙂 At the night music event where a lineup of talented international World Music artists, I was exposed to an awesome array of music, one of which was a song called Lullaby by OKA. Below is an excerpt of what one of the nights were like at this year’s Balispirit

Be students, be teachers..be truth seekers

This year’s International Women’s Day was especially special for me as I had my first experience of teaching a corporate yoga class at the IWD event that is annually held at the place that I work for. I had made known my intention early in November last year, and as circumstance and fate came together I was eventually given a 1 hour slot during the activities portion of the event.

Of course they failed to tell me that my yoga session would be at 4pm, 15 minutes after the afternoon tea break and will be running at the same time as the manicure/pedicure session, the ‘luxury’ goods auction and the treasure hunt which they called “the amazing fund walk” where participants search for clues and get to keep the prizes they find along the way (which I found much later included cosmetics from Bobbi Brown)

Nevertheless, 7 people turned up in this beautiful studio. Earlier in the day as I was rolling out the mats for the class, looking through the ceiling to floor glass windows and the green park outside, it felt for a few seconds like I could own this studio  and be teaching in this kind of space for the rest of my life. It felt surreal.

 

One day, my future studio will look similar to this too

One day, my future studio will look similar to this too

The 7 ladies that turned up had a varying mixture of experience with yoga. Some were completely new to it. As I went through my sequence, one that I had been prepping for a few days before (which is rather unusual for me) I realised that makes teaching fun for me was the spontaneity it allows me while I am in front on my mat demonstrating one pose flowing to the other, and another until we finally come to Savasana. So out the huge sunny window went my plan and I taught what I knew.

I guess I must have grown comfortable with my Saturday group that teaching a completely new group came off as a little unnerving. I looked ahead at faces which I have never met, most smiling, ready, but some skeptical. Perhaps that little voice in my head was tuning in a little too loudly to the negativity that I seem to pick up from the room.

Although the class ended quite ok, I opened the floor to questions or comments at the end. One lady said she never knew yoga could be so hard. And of course that little voice in my head goes off on a bullet train speed chastising my choice of poses for the day. And I had to remind her (and more so myself at that moment!) that as with all things, practice, practice, practice and all is coming.

Needless to say, all of my energy was completely drained by the time my day ended. I couldn’t quite figure out why as teaching always leaves me high on a buzz or serves to pump up some of the energy life force but realised the answer a day after as I was about to start my Saturday afternoon class.

L, a lovely British lady whom married a Malaysian and settled her for the last couple of decades is one of my regulars. She walked in while I was setting up and said “you look really tired” and instead of choosing to explain my rather complicated experience from the day before, I replied that I had no make up on (like WHO actually puts on makeup before they teach??). Because she was my only student in that afternoon session, and because we have this familiarity about us as I had seen her for the last 5-6 Saturdays, I felt like I could give her the attention she needed, thrown in with the detailed explanation to suit exactly where she is now.

Towards the end, as she came out of her Sarvangasana, I felt somehow teaching this class gave me that familiar energizing feeling. I taught and I was reenergized. A completely opposite effect to the previous day. I took the opportunity to thank her and told her it was such a joy to teach her that day and that all of my tiredness seem to have just evaporated away. And she told me something that made me realise why I love what I do and why every moment that lead me to being able to teach yoga was absolutely worth it.

“Sometimes I dread coming down here with all the other things  I have to do. But everytime I walk out of your class, I always feel 6 feet tall”

As I ponder back to this conversation, watching her achieve her own breakthroughs in her practice, I realise what makes teaching so enjoyable and empowering for me is to be able to follow through with the student as both mine and their practice evolve, improve and grow with time. On the flipside, what makes it draining at times is succumbing to the negative thoughts and the desire to make each session as accessible to everyone as possible, at the expense of my own peace of mind.

Ultimately, I think we are students as much as we are teachers to one another. And at the end of the day, beyond the peace, and happiness, we each seek enlightenment and truth in its own unique form, whether it be through our work, or how we generally choose to go through life.

Be students, Be teachers, Be politicians, Be preachers, Be believers, Be leaders, Be astronauts, Be champions, Be truth seekers

– The Script, Hall of Fame