Real vibes, and NOT just good vibes only, please. #yoga #mentalhealth

During my asana practice, there often times when thoughts such as what would happen if I were not a yoga practitioner? What would happen if I were not able-bodied? What would happen if I were seriously ill and couldn’t even learn about yoga, let alone wrote a blog post about it? And many more. But these thoughts all stem from one thing: the fact that I have the privilege to practice which many others might not have. And that leads to one wisdom: We don’t know what others have been through. Therefore, what we think is right for us, might not work or can possibly be harmful for others.

When there are students coming to our class with some agitated feelings, do we tell them to stop feeling agitated because a yoga class is all about being positive, “good vibes only” bla bla bla or do we just accept them as they are, as they feel?

Often we see a common bias against mental health sufferers that they are not ill because there is no “physical” evidence to support other than their own accounts. Why can’t you be happy? Why can’t you stop being anxious? Why can’t you drag yourself out of your bed? Why can’t you get a life? And so on. Because emotions are subtle, we assume what work for us when we deal with negative emotions will definitely work for people suffering from serious psychological traumas. But it is far from the truth. In a yoga class, for example, let’s say there is a student who only has one leg. As yoga teachers, do we modify the poses for that student? Of course. Do we emphatise and try to understand why this student cannot do the pose? Definitely, we are great teachers after all. Yet, when we have students who refrain from doing a pose we’re teaching because it’s emotionally triggering for them, what do we do? When they intentionally put their body in a particular position because of their past trauma, rather than according to our cues, what do we do? Do we say “you’re not doing it right, please do as I told you”, or do we allow them to do a safe modification that might not be triggering for them? When there are students coming to our class with some agitated feelings, do we tell them to stop feeling agitated because a yoga class is all about being positive, “good vibes only” bla bla bla or do we just accept them as they are, as they feel?

Of course it is challenging when we have no experience either on our own or secondary ones when we are dealing with other people’s mental health issues. Even if we have our own personal experience, we still couldn’t completely understand what others have been through. Because human beings are complex. Our mind is complex. Our thought patterns and basically the whole of our nervous system are of course very sophisticated. Maybe for some people who are blessed enough to not have experienced mental illnesses, it is not difficult to be positive, in fact, for some it might be their default to always rise and shine. For some people who are not mentally ill, “small” problems are just small problems and they get over them quite easily. But for those who have been to the extreme end of mental health breakdowns, even what appear to be a normal life can be challenging to navigate. Small issues may look big and their body will also respond to these issues as if they’re life-threatening. When other people tell them to “stop being dramatic over a small thing”, chances are they will become even more dramatic about it.

When we enable toxic positivity in our environment, we are positively toxic for people dealing with traumas.

Because our experiences are unique to each of us, something that might not trigger most people can have huge negative repercussions for people with traumas. Of course, I’m not giving a justification that just because we have mental health issues, we can treat other people badly. But my point is that we should be careful and sensitive enough to accept that people are different and we are not always right. And things that might appear wrong for us are not always wrong for others.

Yoga class is not about being “zen” or “peaceful” or “happy” all the time but it is a practice to allow us to be more attuned to our emotions.

In the yoga world, many mental health survivors come to the mat because of their issues. For yoga teachers, chances are at least one of our students have experienced some sort of mental health issues either currently or in the past. And because of that, we should be sensitive enough to be able to deal with students who are struggling. We should be open-minded and educate ourselves more about mental health issues if we have not done so. We should figure out: What should we do as teachers to create a safe space for our students that also fits into our teaching style? What should we refrain from doing so that we don’t emotionally trigger our students? In essence, how do we allow a supportive environment for our students whilst being realistic at the same time?

If you really want to take pictures of students during savasana, ask for their consent to do it separately after the class, not during the real class. Not only it is distracting, but can also be traumatising.

Personally, I have seen some pockets of those in the yoga and wellness sector who are sadly not very aware of the above issues.  They are those who enable toxic positivity rather than creating a supportive environment by dismissing the reality of the students. Yoga class is not about being “zen” or “peaceful” or “happy” all the time but it is a practice to allow us to be more attuned to our emotions. We cannot just filter emotions as they come and go. We cannot reject our worries, anxiety, negative thoughts from coming to our mind as we go through the poses. We cannot pretend that those who come to our class are just bubbly happy without having emotional turbulence on their own. We cannot deny them of their worries and fear. We must allow them to accept those emotions. Only then they can SLOWLY release them. When we enable toxic positivity in our environment, we are positively toxic for people dealing with traumas. We should be realistic. We should allow them to feel any sensation in their body as their own. We should not dictate them what to feel. For sexual trauma survivors, what we might find are some people who are completely not in tune with sensations in their body and we should instead give guidance to allow them to feel safe and accepted so that they will be able to listen to their body more. Sometimes the process can be messy. But we must accept this messiness as a part of healing process.

Fear is as sacred as bravery. Shame is as sacred as confidence. Anxiety is as sacred as contentment. Sadness is as sacred as happiness. And life is about navigating ourselves through all these emotions so that we can transform ourselves to a higher level.

Another thing I want to say to yoga teachers and studio owners is that please with all your compassion, do not take pictures of students in savasana (corpse pose/ resting pose). Savasana is an extremely vulnerable pose. What we want is to create a safe space for our students so that they can completely relax in the pose. If your students have experienced some sort of trauma with their body, be it sexual, physical or emotional, when they find their savasana photos or videos uploaded in the studio or teacher’s instagrams without their consent, they might get very upset about this. So please, be mindful about it. If you really want to take pictures of students during savasana, ask for their consent to do it separately after the class, not during the real class. Not only it is distracting, but can also be traumatising.

In Yoga + Mental Health Summit that I recently listened to, Yogarupa Rod Stryker said that according to Tantra, all emotions are sacred. Fear is as sacred as bravery. Shame is as sacred as confidence. Anxiety is as sacred as contentment. Sadness is as sacred as happiness. And life is about navigating ourselves through all these emotions so that we can transform ourselves to a higher level. Without acknowledging our feelings, especially the negative ones, how can we transform them into something great? Without knowing how to feel anxious, how can we feel peace?

The last thing we want to do to other people is to be judgemental. And being judgemental often involves invalidating their feelings. For yoga teachers, our students want to come to our class to transform their feelings. They might feel sad as they enter our class because they want to feel less sad after the practice. Yet, how can they transform this sadness if we block them from feeling uncomfortable emotions as they walk into our class?

Self-love is not about toxic positivity. Self-love is not without negative emotions. Self-love is acknowledging whatever emotions, thoughts, or feelings that we have, RADICALLY as they appear. Self-love is not something that can be imposed upon us, but it is find within. Self-love might sometimes appear “ugly” – that is why it is radical to accept something “ugly”. And it is often not as sexy or beautiful as those “perfect yoga poses on the beach” on Instagram. Good or bad vibes don’t matter. They are just vibes. They change, they come, they go. Nothing is permanent anyway!

Should you attempt 108 Surya Namaskar? #yoga

If you would like to see the video of me doing 108 Surya Namaskar, click here.

For hatha yogis and yoginis, they would understand the meaning, benefits and wisdom of the 108 Surya Namaskar. But let me just briefly explain for those who don’t know or have never done it before. Surya Namaskar or Sun Salutation is a flow in hatha yoga practice that generates inner heat in the body. It is normally performed in the morning, as a practice on its own or before a series of yoga poses. There are different variations of Surya Namaskar depending on the hatha yoga traditions. There is the general one, Ashtanga Vinyasa, Sivananda styles and so on. In Ashtanga Vinyasa, there are two variations, Surya Namaskar A and B, with B being more intense and longer than A. Generally, 108 Surya Namaskar is performed by yogis on special occasions, for example, birthdays, new year, and weddings. I was thinking of doing it on the day after I get married, which I don’t know where and when -it’s just fun thinking about it sometimes, LOL.

…it’s said that one round of Surya Namaskar burns on average 13.90 calories. This means that doing it 108 times, we could burn on average 1,500 calories!

108 Surya Namaskar means that the flow is performed 108 times. If one is new to practicing hatha yoga, depending on one’s physical fitness, even 5 Surya Namaskar can already feel intense. So we could imagine what 108 rounds mean: it is extremely demanding, that’s why it is normally performed if one has already established a regular yoga practice. I just did a quick google search and it’s said that one round of Surya Namaskar burns on average 13.90 calories. This means that doing it 108 times, we could burn on average 1,500 calories – easily in about one hour or less! Of course this depends on our body compositions etc. (but you get the idea how challenging this practice can be).

Why 108 rounds? Why not 100? Why not 200? Well, 108 is a sacred number in yogic tradition. There are a lot of references to it but you can google them yourself. Personally, I just stick to the traditional way of doing it and if it works, it works and if it doesn’t, I’ll explore another way. And you know the answer: it works wonder! In what way? I’m getting there shortly.

The year 2019 was a special one for me. I managed to do two 108 Surya Namaskar. Since I’m an Ashtanga practitioner, I did the Ashtanga style and of course, Surya Namaskar A! Maybe I will attempt the B once I start practicing the advanced series which might take years or decades of practicing. Right now, I’m taking my own sweet time to practice full primary and a couple of inversion practices separately.

I believed that I wasn’t capable of being strong physically, let alone mentally! But the doubt disappeared as soon as I reached 100 and then the last 8. I could feel that the closing mantra was so powerful.

The first 108 Surya Namaskar that I did was during the last class of my ashtanga training in August. Before the training, I did not trust my body; I believed that I wasn’t capable of being strong physically, let alone mentally! But the doubt disappeared as soon as I reached 100 and then the last 8. I could feel that the closing mantra was so powerful. I felt that my body was shaking, partly due to intensity of it as well as the shift in my perception of what this body is actually capable of. Of course after the practice, I marinated and drenched in my sweat and extremely exhausted – but it was extremely rewarding. And one thing I realised: it wasn’t as intense as I imagined it would be. The full primary (with full vinyasa: jump back, jump through) is actually more tiring for me. The second one I did was the last day of 2019, the dawn of the new decade. As my body is getting stronger, this one was easier than the first one. I was teaching yoga in the morning before I did the 108 Surya Namaskar, so I thought it was gonna be exhausting. I was wrong. In fact, I managed to squeeze in my handstand practice afterwards.

While there is an element of sacredness to it, Yoga for me is about finding wisdom of life based on my own experience. Reading about the essence and benefits of 108 Surya Namaskar might be helpful but what is more important is actually doing it and contemplating about it after. When doing 108 Surya Namaskar, our bodies will give us cues about our experience, our breaths will be our focus whilst our mind is racing and jumping from one thought to another – probably busy counting how many rounds we have done. While on it, we are also confronted by our doubts and fear and the sense of uncomfortableness in our physical and mental body. But the secret is to just keep going and make sure we don’t lose the count (if in doubt, do more). Soon we’ll realise that we’re already in the last few rounds.

In essence, yoga is not about how perfect our poses or how “strong” we appear physically. For me it is a celebration of what our body can do.

For me, 108 Surya Namaskar is about my own personal test of endurance. How much stronger have I become physically and mentally? How has my focus improved after daily asana practice? What am I truly capable of? How comfortable have I been in my practice? How deep my breaths have become? In essence, yoga is not about how perfect our poses or how “strong” we appear physically. For me it is a celebration of what our body can do. It is about paying respect to nature for the body that has been given to us. And it’s our responsibility to utilise its possible capacity and capability. Of course, there should be an element of ahimsa (non-harming) in practicing the 108 Surya Namaskar. If one is new to practicing yoga, perhaps doing 108 will be too much. Hence, one should start with five and gradually builds one’s endurance up to do the full 108. Or if one wishes to do 108, one can try to do 54 first and the other half after some rest. Basically, we should listen to our body. For ashtanga practitioners, the yardstick is if we can do full primary (with full vinyasa), chances are we can do 108 in a single session.

I also learn one more important thing: I should take care of my body.

I was not feeling well mentally in the last few days of 2019. I felt more anxious and depressed lately and I had also been doubting myself too much and even finding myself out of bed in the morning was quite challenging. But after I did 108 Surya Namaskar, I felt more rejuvenated and empowered. I now fully trust that I can survive decades to continue living, if fate permits. However, I also learn one more important thing: I should take care of my body. I already felt pretty tired after the practice, let alone doing few rounds of handstands. Then, I got throbbing headache after. This made me realise that I should be kinder to my body. I should take things slow, be gentler and not push myself too hard. Yes sometimes it can be difficult to determine whether we are just being lazy or we are indeed tired. But for me, when my body is in pain, it is a sign that I should take a step or even few steps back. My body tells me not to rush things. Do more restorative yoga poses, listen to my favourite music or play my piano. Sometimes it might also mean that I have to take a day off from my personal practice.

Conventional wisdom says that we should set a deadline if we want to achieve something. But yoga says the opposite. It might seem counterintuitive but when we don’t set a deadline, we don’t expect anything and if something is meant to happen, it will be. Internal and external discipline (yama and niyama) is way more important than having a deadline. Also, labelling something as pleasant/good or unpleasant/bad will not help us progress in our spiritual journey. Just enjoy life as it unfolds and we will surely discover wisdom along the way.

May the rulers of the earth keep to the path of virtue for protecting the welfare of all generations;
May the religious, and all peoples be forever blessed;
May all beings everywhere be happy and free;
Om peace, peace, peace
(Ashtanga Closing Mantra – translated)

Borderline notes

There are times when you feel ‘normal’
Then come days making you feel worthless
Seeing what a beautiful, successful lives other people have
And what a sad one you have
You’re doubting yourself
You’re trying to justify whether you should do extreme coping mechanisms like you did before
As if something inside you triggers that emergency button
That you have locked, kept safely away
But then your emotions drastically wake up
Knocking you up right in the border between your normality and insanity

Your fear, your sadness, your depression, your worries…

They are all VALID

The nauseous feeling you have in your stomach
A quiver of pain, trembling, shaking right below your eyelids
That causing you to cry but you know crying doesn’t wash things away
You might get an hour or two of relief but deep inside you
You still feel soaring mountains of agony, afflictions, suffering
None of the things you want in life come into reality
You question your life, you question your values, you even come back to the basic question that always triggers you: why are you still alive?
But you have managed to survive so far
Even though you are in deep pain
Because life is not perfect
So are human beings, we are not meant to be perfect and flawless
What you are feeling: everything you feel, even what you consider as unworthy
They are all VALID
Your fear, your sadness, your depression, your worries
They are all VALID

Because what you feel is real
Your feeling is real though it might be different from what other people think or see
But you ought to accept them, those damn worries
You ought to accept that you are not normal, and never will be
You ought to accept your flaws, and that life is full of them
You just hope someday people will accept you, unconditionally, for no reason and not for what they want you to be
Be you, and be kind to yourself, at least for tonight
You’ll make it to tomorrow, that’s all that matters

You’re your own silent guru #Yoga

“Silence is golden.”
Perhaps this is one of the classic old proverbs that most people have heard at least once in their lives. While this proverb emphasises on the virtue of silence, it actually underestimates the importance of being silent. Silence is not equivalent to gold; in fact, it is even way more precious than diamond or whatever the most valuable thing people consider in their lives.

“Silence is ever speaking; it is the perennial flow of “language.” It is interrupted by speaking; for words obstruct this mute language.” – Sri Ramana Maharshi

A prominent Indian sage, Sri Ramana Maharshi – who was well-known for his silent demeanor – always highlighted the importance of silence, in which he used the sanskrit word, mauna, that is not the absence of sound but an unmoving, silent, peaceful state of the Self. He said that the reality is mauna. Silent is the truth. He rarely spoke to his followers, instead just radiated his pure consciousness to those around him. Nevertheless, he spoke when necessary. He spoke about silence in these excerpts:

“What exists in truth is the Self alone. The self is that where there is absolutely no “I” thought. That is called Silence. The Self itself is the world; the Self itself is “I”; the Self itself is God.”

“The inner silence is self-surrender. And that is living without the sense of ego. Solitude is in the mind of humanity. Silence is ever speaking; it is the perennial flow of “language.” It is interrupted by speaking; for words obstruct this mute language. Silence is permanent and benefits the whole of humanity. . . . By silence, eloquence is meant. It is the best language. There is a state when words cease and silence prevails.”

Often we find silent vows in monastic and yogic traditions. While this is not the “silence” Sri Ramana was referring to, the vow of silence is one way to quieten our mind so that we could experience the state of pure silence. In yoga, a lot of things we do are about conserving our prana (energy) so that we could live a long and healthy life. And with a long life, we can further our practice in which we eventually rediscover the truth, the essence of self, or the state of samadhi. Clearly, talking and talking and talking incessantly is wasting a lot of our prana.

When I attended vipassana retreat, I realised that not speaking for nearly two weeks really changed my sensitivity to my inner body and surroundings. But soon after I started speaking again, my mind became easily distracted and I fell into my previous habit – by speaking too much too often and too unnecessary. However, after my daily ashtanga practice, I started to be able to feel the state of silence again and now I have less tolerance to small talks – not sure if this is a good or bad thing – at least for me it’s good :).

In debates, there are often right and wrong answers. But who can say whether this silence or that silence is right or wrong? Simply, pure silence is the truth we have always searched for.

In the age of social media, we have a lot of channels to vent our anger, negative thoughts, hatred or even showcase our “best” selves. There are more debates happening in social media than ever about basically everything, from important issues concerning the world to menial issues of celebrity scandals and so on. By being involved in these debates, we tend to find flaws in others’ opinions and oppose them. We degrade those without same views with us. We seek differences, not a common ground because we always think that our opinion is better than this or that person’s. Doing this daily actually feeds our ego and distracts us to experience the now and the state of silence. In debates, there are often right and wrong answers. But who can say whether this silence or that silence is right or wrong? Simply, pure silence is the truth we have always searched for.

In our social lives, there is a term called “awkward silence”. It is an in-between state when a bunch of people trying to find topics to talk about. It is as if silence is really that bad which needs to be eradicated as soon as someone finds a boring topic to talk about. But we know that when we are with people we’re comfortable with, we don’t care if we don’t talk to them even though we are in the same space. So, why can’t we apply the same thinking to strangers? Why can’t we just gather and sit together in silence without feeling awkward?

By focussing on something, we can be more in tune with ourselves, we can be aware of things that come and pass, we can feel the rising and falling of sensations throughout our body.

Various religious traditions also highlight the importance of silence. Silence is often maintained in many holy places so that people could concentrate on their connection with God. Yet, how many of us pray when we want to achieve something but soon after we finish praying, we start talking bad about other people or whine about our goddamn lives? Yes of course prayer is good to still our mind and to help us focus. By focussing on something, we can be more in tune with ourselves, we can be aware of things that come and pass, we can feel the rising and falling of sensations throughout our body. But what’s the point of praying if it actually feeds our ego? How is it possible that prayer is supposed to make us become a good person, yet it can also make us think we are better than others?

Similarly, in yoga, our asana practice is meant to train our physical body to remain comfortably still for a period of time. In an asana class, it is important to focus on our own body and not look around to find out who’s better in this or that pose. We start our practice by focussing on our breath. Asana is meant to still our mind and physical body. When we are still, we can concentrate, we can feel sense withdrawal, we can meditate and subsequently we can reach the state of pure silence. In silence, we can discover the truth and eventually, we can be one with the universe.

We speak only the truth; yet in silence lies truth.

While it may seem ironic to write about silence, I do think it is essential for us to remind ourselves about its importance. It is imperative that we think before we speak. And we speak only when we think it is necessary. And we refrain from wasting our energy to talk about things that don’t benefit our practice. We refrain from complaining about small issues which are tolerable. We reward ourselves with the gift of silence as a space to contemplate, to discover wisdom as well as to grow mentally and spiritually. We speak only the truth; yet in silence lies truth.

Remain humble and blessed holidays!

What to do when you have commitment issues #yoga

We’ve all been there. We got inspired. We planned to do something that we thought could change our world. We said to ourselves that we were definitely going to do it every single day from then on. Then we successfully did it one day. Two days. Three days. Then we got distracted. Few days passed. Few days turned into few weeks, months and we (not so) surprisingly remembered that we actually stopped doing it months ago. Soon after, we found a new thing to commit to. We repeated the same cycle. After many cycles, we concluded that we actually have commitment issues.

Whatever it is that we commit to – be it eating healthy, exercising regularly, reading books, daily yoga practice, or even a relationship – our failure to commit always left us wondering: why can’t we commit to at least one of these things for life?

Well, the world, as we know it, is never ever black and white. We’re neither saint nor sinner – most of us are in between. There are so many shades of grey in the activities that we perform.

The root as to why we fail our commitments is because we have been conditioned in our society to have “all or nothing” mentality. It is either we do it totally or we don’t at all.  Let’s say we want to eat healthy, but somehow in one afternoon, we can’t resist a very tempting chocolate cake. The most likely scenario is that we say “f*ck it, might as well…” and when we finish eating the cake, we believe that we should just abandon our commitment to eating healthy because we’ve just “ruined” it. Well, the world, as we know it, is never ever black and white. We’re neither saint nor sinner – most of us are in between. There are so many shades of grey in the activities that we perform. Eating a piece of chocolate cake doesn’t ruin our commitment to eating healthy. Similarly, skipping a day of asana practice doesn’t make us a bad yogi. Not writing for two weeks doesn’t make us a non-committal blogger (Yeah…talking to myself here!).

I think in most cases, we are being too hard on ourselves. When we join a competition, we’re striving to be the first. The best of we can be. When we end up coming in the second place even with very slim margin, we feel like an absolute piece of sh*t. We think we’re a complete loser. We ignore all efforts that we have put in the competition. We quickly quit because we think we will always fail miserably. Surely, this illustrates what happen with a lot of commitments in our lives.

Perhaps, we should ask ourselves, why do we want to commit to something? Maybe we could also think of what are we getting from our commitments? Is it because we really want to be a better version of ourselves? Or is it because some inspirational person tells that we have to do it, or because we need some kind of approval from the society? If we really want it ourselves, why can’t we do it then? Are we expecting too much from ourselves? Do we overestimate our capability? Just write all this thing down and then it will become clear to us the commitment issues that we are facing.

It is important that everyday before our practice, we have to remind ourselves to not expect our body to be able to do certain asana “perfectly”.

With our commitments, we should always practice “non-attachment”. This means that whatever action we are doing, we are not expecting any specific result from it. Let’s say we are committing to do a daily yoga practice. It is important that everyday before our practice, we have to remind ourselves to not expect our body to be able to do certain asana “perfectly”. Because when we cannot do it on a particular day, we will feel discouraged the next day. We end up questioning our daily practice. And then puff! We just quit.

Why is it so hard to form a habit but easy to quit? Another reason is that we need at least three weeks to sustain a habit and just three days to completely ruin it. Why? Because after three days, things that seem easy become slightly harder to perform and it is very tempting to give up completely – unless of course we don’t place any expectation from our action.

…the rule of thumb to any commitment should be 70:30… Being too strict on ourselves is not gonna sustain us for life. Be kind is.

I recently watched a fitness tutorial and the trainer said “push your body beyond your edge as if you cannot do it any longer.” This kind of mentality of course is not gonna be sustainable in the long run. In our commitments, when we push ourselves too hard, chances are we’re going to absolutely despise it, hate ourselves when we can’t and then give up! I’ve learned that the rule of thumb to any commitment should be 70:30. That we should put 70% effort out of 100% capability, because the other 30% is the non-attachment to whatever it is that we are doing. Let’s say we want to commit to a healthy diet, we should eat 70% healthy and 30% delicious or basically whatever we want. This reminds me during my university days: getting a 70 (the lowest mark for Distinction) is like getting a 100. Being too strict on ourselves is not gonna sustain us for life. Be kind is.

…with obsession comes expectation. With expectation comes disappointment. With disappointment comes failure to commit.

I drew so much inspiration to my commitments from Judith H Lasater’s book, Living Your Yoga. In her book, she specifically said that when we want to start something, we should start with only one thing and do it for 15 minutes. It is important that we do it for 15 minutes, no less, no more. Because when we do it more, we will become obsessed with it. And we know with obsession comes expectation. With expectation comes disappointment. With disappointment comes failure to commit. She also suggested that we have to stick to this one thing for at least one month. After one month, we should review our commitment: whether this is necessary or not and whether we should increase or decrease the intensity/timing. In this way, we become really living in the present moment – our lives do not just revolve around ticking the boxes of tasks that we have to perform just because we want to achieve or prove something.

In my personal yoga practice, my 6-days a week ashtanga vinyasa was INDEED a real struggle until it became natural to do so. Imagine waking up every morning and be reminded that I have to do ashtanga on that particular day. Sometimes I honestly felt shut down when I imagined all the efforts that I have to put to my personal practice. But as time goes by, it has become ‘somewhat’ easier. Initially I started only doing it for 4-5 days a week. Then as I got used to it, I started doing 6-days (but not religiously). I also started with skipping some asana that I don’t like (yeah Marichyasana D) but gradually I added them back to my sequence. And now, I can’t believe  that I almost do this daily practice for half a year!

The key is really simple: every single practice day I have to tell myself, it doesn’t matter how long my practice will be or how many asana I will manage to do that day. I should just unroll my mat. Because of the fixed ashtanga sequence, I just sort of did my practice naturally and soon I realised I had completed the series. I know I’ve got some commitment issues in other areas but at least my yoga mat is one thing that I can commit to every practice day, LOL! The other day I was talking to my friend telling her about my commitment issues. And she suggested that I should find a partner that I can commit to like my yoga mat! With my yoga mat, no matter how, I somehow always make myself available on my practice day in whatever mood or energy level that I am in. I think of it as a love-hate relationship – but at least the commitment is there.


After all, action speaks louder than just a feeling!

“abhyasa vairagyabhyam tat nirodhah”

Unruly thought patterns that cause unhappiness, and distress, are harnessed (nirodhah) through the practice (abhyasa) of observing these thought patterns in a non-attached manner (vairagya).

Yoga Sutra 1:12

Why we should stop reading “how to be happy” books #yoga

As I walked and browsed the shelves in one of my favourite bookstores, I noticed one striking thing: the “highlights” were all the books about happiness, or how to be happy in life. Ironically, I felt sad when I saw this. What does this trend imply? Is it because A LOT of people are in deep sadness and that they need to swallow these happy pills? Is there so much negativity in life that people need to escape from?

The true key of happiness is the exact opposite of escaping: that is experiencing life as it flows. How many of us would always remember to go with the flow?

Then I thought, if I were myself not too long ago, I would impulsively buy these books, paid for them, carried them home and forgot about them just in one night. Then the only time I would remember that I have bought them was the time I had to catch a flight. Then I would read one of them on the plane because I hated sitting next to some strangers doing nothing. How many of you would do the same? Indeed, this scenario is quite paradoxical. We want to escape things that make us uncomfortable in life by reading books on how to be happy. Meanwhile, the true key of happiness is the exact opposite of escaping: that is experiencing life as it flows. How many of us would always remember to go with the flow? When there is a long queue, how many of us would rather distract ourselves so we wouldn’t have to endure the “pain” of waiting?

Even if we eventually make it to the last page of some happiness book, how long will it take to forget what we have just read? In today’s fast-paced world, we believe that we don’t have much time to slow down and digest the ideas laid out by the book. We scan through pages whilst agreeing or disagreeing with the ideas presented depending on our value system, and finally put the book back in the shelf. How many of us would actually implement methods or tools that the book teaches? This is the limitation of our “intellectual” memories.

Our body is capable to store way much more memories and make them last longer as opposed to if we just remember things using our brain.

In yoga, we are taught to gain wisdom at the experiential level, as opposed to the mere intellectual level. It is pointless to read a million pages of vedas, yoga sutras and other scriptures if we don’t actually practice yoga – on and off the mat. The practice is important because we are utilising not only our brain, but also our entire body parts – our bones, muscles, nerves, glands and others. Our whole body is smarter than just our brain. Our body is capable to store way much more memories and make them last longer as opposed to if we just remember things using our brain. As a result, we don’t need to search incessantly for best-selling books on happiness because we will discover the insight, the ultimate truth, when we pay attention to our practice. Of course sometimes we need books to guide us in our yoga practice. But without practicing, reading those books is simply unhelpful.

Through continuous self-inquiry, we will obtain wisdom that is better than what a book tells us.

For example, in our asana practice, we are confronted with the poses that make us extremely uncomfortable such as deep backbends. When we encounter such poses, do we want to escape practicing them? Do we exert enough effort according to our ability or do we pretend that we cannot do these poses because we just hate them so much? Why are we feeling this way? How to tolerate this feeling? Through continuous self-inquiry, we will obtain wisdom that is better than what a book tells us. Because we discover wisdom on our own, we truly understand it to the core. And off the mat, when we encounter any uncomfortable situation, our body will remind us about the deep backbends that we always practice. Our body will then sort itself accordingly to tolerate any uncomfortable sensation that arises.

How many of us would feel intense sorrow when our relationship ends at its most beautiful time? Why is that so? Is it because we attach our happiness to this relationship?

When we practice our favourite poses, how many of us would actually come out of them when we most enjoy it? We tend to come out of these poses not at its most pleasant moment but when we think we don’t enjoy them any longer. When we ask ourselves why, we will find that we tend to attach ourselves to pleasant things and sensations in life because we think that they make us happy. And similarly, we tend to refrain from things that are not pleasant. In relationships, how many of us would feel intense sorrow when our relationship ends at its most beautiful time? Why is that so? Is it because we attach our happiness to this relationship? Though we know that in one way or another, this relationship will end sooner or later, how come we then become very much attached to it? What should we explore in our yoga practice to build non-attachment? Buddha taught us that craving is the source of suffering. When we attach ourselves to pleasant things, it’s because we crave for pleasure. Then we suffer when this pleasure is taken from us.

We tend to put a big wall blocking love that flowers from our heart because we are reminded of times when we are heartbroken.

Attachments come in many forms. Sometimes we don’t even realise that we have attached ourselves to something until we feel the sense of deprivation after it is taken from us. Think about the time when we take something for granted and we end up realising that it is actually important after it is no longer with us. How many times we take our health for granted? How often do we take our breath for granted?

There is another tool in yoga asana practice to resolve and release attachment: hip-opening asanas. I don’t know how many times have I emphasised the importance of these poses because we store a lot of emotions, most of the time the negative ones, around our hip. If we don’t release these emotions, there are always residues from our past that we unhealthily cling into. We cannot fully enjoy the present moment because we are constantly reminded of our trauma. We tend to put a big wall blocking love that flowers from our heart because we are reminded of times when we are heartbroken. How can we be happy then?

We are happy when we have no expectation. The word bhakti or devotion in yoga means that we devote ourselves completely and that we put our energy fully without expecting anything in return. If we devote ourselves to life – purely love our life as it goes, we can find salvation from suffering. We will then cherish every moment that passes, honour special connections that we have; all without hoping to fulfil our craving or desire.

Love life unconditionally and keep your practice. And all is coming.

Are instagram-perfect yoga poses detrimental to our well-being? #yoga #ego

Yes. Yes. Yes. And I have stopped following the so-called instagram yoga influencers. When people think of a yoga teacher on instagram, many would think of the instagram yogis with feeds demonstrating advanced asanas in exotic locations – normally beaches – with some inspiring quotes as captions, and sometimes the captions have nothing to do with the essence of the asanas posted. Also, don’t forget the perfect ‘yoga body’ tagging expensive yoga clothings and branded mats. Then I thought, is this how I should market myself to succeed in the yoga world? But I felt extremely uncomfortable how exclusive this approach can be to those who want to experience yoga. When I saw those perfect, often heavily photoshopped asana pictures, I felt intimidated. I felt that I’m not good enough. I felt ashamed of my basic practice. I felt ugly about my body. I felt inadequate for not being able to do those advanced asanas.

Yoga is for everyone. Not only for those bendy, muscularly-defined perfect-body yogis.

With the proliferation of these instagram yoga influencers, and worst, the so-called self-taught yogis, yoga has been lost in translation. The exclusivity of this community – because we have to be in certain body shapes and certain asana abilities to be acknowledged as the instagram yogis – contradicts the essence of yoga. Yoga is the union of everything, so how can it be exclusive? Yoga is for everyone. Not only for those bendy, muscularly-defined perfect-body yogis. Yoga is for young, old, sick, healthy people in different sizes and races. In essence, Yoga is inclusive, not exclusive.

I always remind my students the non-competitiveness element of yoga: that they should not compare their bodies with others.

In my class, I try to create a safe space for my students to experience any sensation and emotion arising from practicing the asana. For so long we have been configured by the society to be competitive from when we were born to adulthood: having to perform in exams, securing a place in top schools, winning competitions, getting a job in a top company, getting promoted in work etc. This competitive nature is often present when we are on the mat in a yoga class. For instance, we tend to compare how others are better in inversions, have stronger core muscles, hip flexors, or more stretched hamstrings etc. Thus, I always remind my students the non-competitiveness element of yoga: that they should not compare their bodies with others. As long as they try their best with safe and correct techniques, are aware of their breaths, work on the targeted muscles, they are good to go! It doesn’t matter whether we can bind our hands in paschimottanasana. It doesn’t matter whether we can do pincha mayurasana with or without the wall or cannot even lift our legs up at all.

Asana progress is not equal to yoga progress. When we progress in our asana but our ego is even more inflated, we are actually regressing spiritually in our yoga practice.

We must not forget that the practice of yoga is about dissolving the ego. In today’s instagram world, it is hard to judge whether by posting advanced asanas we are actually dissolving or elevating our ego. Sometimes the difference between elevating and dissolving ego is very obvious. For example: yogi #1 posted an advanced asana with a google-searched random #inspiring quote. Yogi #2 posted an advanced asana to educate the people about the benefits of that particular asana. We can roughly see the difference. Yeah, maybe yogi #1 is more elevated in their ego than yogi #2. Yet, in the end it is very hard to judge what is the intention of the yogi #2 when they posted the benefits of the asana. Is it for people to know and experience these benefits? Or is it to show people how knowledgeable they are in yoga? Only the person who posted the picture know what is their true intention and whether they actually progress in their yoga practice. Another example would be when a yogi posted an advanced asana telling the technique of the asana, how they worked very hard non-stop with the best teacher/trainer in perfecting that asana and how they want to inspire others to do the same. Sounds like they have the humble intention to inspire others? Look again. When they showed how hard they had to work to finally be able to perfect that asana, are they elevating or dissolving the ego? Asana progress is not equal to yoga progress. When we progress in our asana but our ego is even more inflated, we are actually regressing spiritually in our yoga practice.

Yes, asana is important because it is one of the eight limbs of yoga. But asana for the sake of asana itself is meaningless and actually rather harmful for our mental and spiritual development. Imagine spending hours trying to take a picture of what is considered as a ‘perfect’ yoga pose that we rarely even do in our daily practice and end up failing to meet our own expectations. We will feel frustrated, useless and discouraged in our practice. We might hate ourselves or blame the circumstances when we can’t we do the pose. We will become very self-conscious. Bla bla bla. This is the recipe for disaster! What can we do instead to spend the same amount of time? Let’s say we spend few minutes or so taking the pictures, laugh at the pictures when we appear to have weird facial expressions in those pictures, post the pictures, let go of any expectation from others and spend the remaining time to enjoy life.

…we have to be real. We have to be true to ourselves and others. We have to really show what goes on in the practice.

I am not against posting the journey of progressing in advanced asanas and inspire others. In fact, I very much support this. But we have to be real. We have to be true to ourselves and others. We have to really show what goes on in the practice. We have to be aware and tell the not-so-cool sides of practicing the asanas: the falling, the frustration, the expectations, the rare occasions that we can hold the pose longer, the occasional giving ups, and finally the surrender. Indeed, it is hard to dissolve the ego in this instagram world. But it is not impossible. Yes, we have to constantly ask ourselves when we want to post something: “Do I add value to enriching people’s knowledge and experience of yoga? Am I secretly elevating my ego by posting this?”

We have the power to contain and dissolve our ego. It is in, not beyond, our ability to liberate our mind from its own prison of expectations, plans, emotions and judgements. Whether we want or not is the question.

Healing is not linear #mentalhealth #yoga

Yes, the journey to healing is not linear though it may appear so from the outside: we get sick, then we receive proper treatment, we also never skip the medication, and one day “PUFF!” we are miraculously cured. Alternatively, we could also be gradually healed as we continue the treatment. Slowly, we are going from 1% better to 100% completely cured. During this process, there is absolutely no such thing as recurring illnesses after we recover. Sounds like a fantasy? Yes it definitely is! We all know by our own common sense that life is not linear – yes we are born and then we are going to die someday. Yet, in between these eventful marks of our lives, the journey is not a mere straight line.

There is a huge difference between thinking about something and act on that thinking.

As a living survivor of mental health issues, I have to remind myself that it is okay whenever I’m feeling blue, or even worse than blue. It is okay to feel angry at life, to feel nauseous thinking about living this life, to wait anxiously until my life eventually stops and so on. The key is that I do not have to always entertain these thoughts – not to ignore them but to restrain myself in executing things that in any way can endanger my bodies such as self-harm or even suicide attempts. There is a huge difference between thinking about something and act on that thinking. This is where the role of meditation comes in.

When we are anxious, angry or depressed, we should just be aware of these emotions and not label or judge anything.

Meditation is not about getting calm or relaxed. Indeed, it is true that we might be calmer after we meditate but this emotion is only the effect, not the goal of meditation. Meditation is to be aware. To recognise. To observe. To see things as they are. To bring our awareness to the present moment. When we are anxious, angry or depressed, we should just be aware of these emotions and not label or judge anything. We should not judge ourselves to be a failure when our mind wanders in certain way. We should not judge ourselves to be weak when our mind tells us that we cannot do things properly. Instead, we should simply be an observer of our mind. The more we observe, the more we find that it is unnecessary to react or act on our thoughts. Because our thoughts and perceptions always change everyday, every hour or even every second of our lives.

We are living in the society that strives for perfection. Everyday we see in the social media, advertisements, news and so on that we are constantly told to change our lives as if our current lives are not enough for us. If we don’t meet the “ideal body weight”, we are then told to lose some weight. If we don’t meet the beauty standard, we are then advised to buy cosmetic products to change our appearance. If we don’t meet the criteria of being rich, we are told how to be “successful” and get rich faster. If we are single, we are asked to install online dating apps to find our soulmates. And if we are not good enough by some religious standards, we should be more religious or sign ourselves up to any particular religion… And many more examples of such.

Perfection is the imaginary gold standard of how to live a happily-ever-after life.

The above examples always appear and torture our mind without we realising it. So, in every waking day, we wake up thinking how could we be better? Or how we wish that we should not eat too much last night. Or how we expect ourselves to wake up looking fresh and happy, just like that perfect instagram shot that we saw last night. The more we expect, the more we actually become unhappy. It ends up consuming us the first second when we open our eyes and before we realise, this strive to perfection has defined our lives. Perfection is the imaginary gold standard of how to live a happily-ever-after life. And we think that we will be happy after we reach whatever we target ourselves to be at. And we all know it, we won’t. This chasing after perfection will never ever end.

It is important in life, not necessarily to be strong, but to feel strong.

Then how should we live this life when things are not linear? How to lead a life that is always unexpected? How to deal with a life in which we don’t always get what we want? In the film “Into the Wild”, Alexander Supertramp said that “it is important in life, not necessarily to be strong, but to feel strong.” It implies that strength is a state of mind, not something that we should work towards. Strength is not something external that we should always seek to achieve. Because we already have it. We just need to feel its presence. When we feel strong, we can lead a life no matter how life takes its turn. We will always be optimistic. We will always be content. Of course sometimes despair comes… Then we should just remind ourselves to feel our inner strength. Again and again.

But we must also know that there is a difference of feeling strong and acting snobbish. It is not so much about what are being done, but how we do it. When we are snobbish, we try to show our false strength by putting other people down. In constrast, when we feel our inner strength, we don’t act by letting anyone down. We don’t see others as inferior to us. We don’t hate. We don’t blame. We don’t upgrade ourselves by degrading others. We simply are living and being our true selves. The practice of asana in yoga indeed helps us to keep us grounded. Through arm balancing asanas for instance, we lift our body against the gravity but we have our hands to resist from falling – our hands are our ground, our base, our nature – this very essence of humbleness.

Feel strong and enjoy every second of your life!

Turning depressed and anxious #mind into its original state #yoga

For some people who have experienced deep sadness, struggled with depression, felt agitated a lot, we all know that these disturbing thoughts don’t really disappear completely. There were times when we felt okay, when we were not ruminating in our negative thoughts and we thought “I feel free! I am recovered!” But then the following day, these negative feelings came again and we were like “I thought I recovered, why the heck do these feelings come again???”

Often we look at a relapse or recurrent episode of mental breakdown as a bad thing that should not happen because we have been working very hard, mentally and physically, to ward these evil thoughts off our mind. Yet, they always come back and we sometimes don’t really understand why they come back. We feel disappointed with the fact that they come back, and become even more depressed, thinking that we have failed to recover. Then the vicious cycle starts again.

When our mind is still, we have the potential to turn it into something extraordinary.

This is not how we should deal with the recurring mental breakdown. I was writing on my journal the conversation that I had with my mind when these negative feelings came. I thought it would be useful to share it with those who can relate and hopefully we lift ourselves up completely from the suffering dark hole.

I recently watched a talk by a monk about the natural state of our mind. He showed our mind as water that is shaking in the glass – depicting our mind with disturbing thoughts shaking it. And then he placed the glass on the table and the water returned to its natural state as being still – and this is the natural state of our mind. Our mind is naturally still, free from disturbing thoughts and can reflect things clearly. There is a saying that if we can understand our mind (or consciousness), we can understand the whole universe. When our mind is still, we have the potential to turn it into something extraordinary: the enlightened (Buddha) mind. This is not supernatural power that only God or a few can possess. We all have the capacity and are capable of reaching this potential. We just need to do some work to shift our perception, get rid of the noises surrounding the mind and therefore we shall be liberated.

Turning the wheel of depression recovery means that we should change the perception that depression is constant. We should contemplate on the impermanence of things and “this too shall pass.”

Yet we all know very well that when we are depressed, we think nothing of liberation. When we are in a deep state of depression, we always think that this emotion will not go away and that we are hopeless for whatever comes in the future. We think of this negative state of mind in constant term – that we will be depressed forever – hence suicide appears as the option to escape this depression. Turning the wheel of depression recovery means that we should change the perception that depression is constant. We should contemplate on the impermanence of things and “this too shall pass.” The suffering that the depressed mood creates will go away. Soon when we reflect fully on the impermanence, we will realise that we are feeling better already.

We should not even seek to “improve” ourselves because when we think we could be better, that feeling of inadequacy comes.

When we are depressed or anxious, the feeling of inadequacy very often comes with the mental breakdown. We feel that we are not good enough, we question ourselves too much, we doubt our ability to do things and so on. We should turn this perception into acceptance. We should accept who we are and what we are able to do as it is, right here right now. We should not compare ourselves to others. We should not even seek to “improve” ourselves because when we think we could be better, that feeling of inadequacy comes. Instead, we should think of our potential. And the potential of our mind is limitless and we should reflect on this. When we feel inadequate, the lack of motivation will follow suit and we will never come out of our depression. But when we think of our limitless potential, a glimmer of hope appears that slowly, gradually this seed of hope will bring us out of the mental darkness.

If all else fails, do inversions, do a headstand or handstand and then fall, fall hard, many times.

Another emotion that always presents when we are depressed and anxious is fear. Basically we tend to be afraid of everything. We are afraid of meeting people, of being judged negatively, of failing and so on. What we should do when the fear comes is to experience it. To ask ourselves why we are feeling this way. To not be hard on ourselves. To say that it is okay even if things are not. To not expect anything. If all else fails, do inversions, do a headstand or handstand and then fall, fall hard, many times. As you fall, you will realise that it is okay to fall. This is a yogic way to conquer the fear of life.

When the disturbing thoughts slip into our mind, return to our breath. A simple anapana meditation will actually make us a lot better. A simple awareness of our breath – linking and uniting our consciousness with our inhalation and exhalation. Soon we will realise that everything in this vast universe is connected. Oxygen that we inhale must have come from somewhere. Carbon dioxide that we exhale must benefit some beings somehow. Then we feel the union. We are in Yoga. And always… Feel the present moment as we experience it. Just live. Just be.

Dissolving ego with #Yoga

When I looked at impressive yoga asanas (poses) in the social media, my mind immediately thought, “I wish I could do that…” or “How long did it take for her to do such amazing asana?” or “Ok..next time on the mat I want to try this out because this looks cool…” and so on. And when I successfully attempted the pose, my ego inflated, “Oh I can do that…”. As soon as I realised that my ego had just increased, I came back to the awareness that yoga is beyond a successful attempt of the asana. The asana is just the medium to attain yoga: to get the inner peace, to accept life as it is, to realise the Truth.

If by doing an asana we actually feel more superior than others -our ego inflates- that is not yoga, no matter how well we are in executing that asana. Indeed, the more advanced we are in our yoga practice, the more it gets harder to dissolve our ego because we are at the point of doing such “impossible” asanas. Yet that is actually the point of yoga practice: to get rid of the ego, no matter how impressive the asanas are.

Our ego is always hungry, yet feeding it will make it hungrier.

It is very normal to feel depressed when we regularly do our yoga practice. That is because we deplete our ego. And as soon as our ego is starving for attention, it can make us feel depressed. Because by nature, ego is addictive. Let’s say we get 10 likes for our asana picture…soon we want to get 100 likes…when we reach that we will want 1000 likes and so on. Our ego is always hungry, yet feeding it will make it hungrier. That is the danger of ego. When we constantly feed our ego, we are in the vicious cycle of suffering. Craving is the origin of suffering and ego creates such infinite craving.

Then, how should we deal with our ego? By acknowledging it. When the ego gets inflated, be aware of it. By being aware of this subtle change in our mind, we can slowly let this ego dissolve. When we feel depressed in our practice because we deplete our ego, just be aware of that feeling. Ask ourselves, “Why do I feel this way? Why do I feel that there is no point in life? Why can’t I be special just for one second?” Then we should acknowledge that these questions are those asked by our ego. Only then we can slowly let these thoughts go away.

When ego creeps into our mind, take a deep breath and remind ourselves the true yoga, the ultimate Truth – we are nothing but the sense of knowing.

Tomorrow is my Ashtanga rest day. Happy weekend!

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