‘You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf’

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Confession: I’m deathly afraid of the water. This was instilled by a near-drowning incident in a pool as a young child. It was made worse by being poked with the handle of a pool cleaning net by my college swimming instructor as I stood frozen at the end of the diving board after being told to jump. (I obviously survived by treading, and that was his point. But he’s still an asshole, so I dropped the class, which I took precisely because I wanted to conquer my fear.)

Fast-forward to the present and I’m out here, surfing. Swimming lessons and years of exposure to the sea haven’t eliminated or minimized the fear. I realized it will always be there.What I needed to do was manage it. The beauty of surfing is, I’m going straight toward the very things that scare me, the waves, in order to wait for a bigger one that I can ride. Sometimes the fear can be overwhelming so I have to stop and get my bearings. Then, I go out there again. There’s no better metaphor for life than that. And, when you’re up and standing, there’s no thought about impressing anyone, looking pretty, being smart, earning money… It’s just you, your board and the wave that carries you. It’s pure bliss.

Another thing I discovered about surfing is I don’t suck at it… that much. Which could mean I probably don’t suck at life (that much) either. That thought is my gift to myself.

Public Self vs Private Self: Which is Which?

Photo by: Jason Rosenberg

Photo by: Jason Rosenberg

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” – Mahatma Gandhi

For many years, I hadn’t been able to align these two facets of my personality. In public or with friends, I was lively and energetic, vibrant, even funny. It was a different story when I was around people who knew me well. My private self was in stark contrast to the bubbly goof ball who always cracked jokes. I was way too serious, brooding, even morose – not much fun to be around, to be honest. I felt I had to put up a façade because my relationships, livelihood and self-image depended on it. Who would want to be around a sourpuss? So, I continued with my little charade: the hyperactive jester in public and the lethargic dud who occasionally exploded in thunderous anger when provoked.

That didn’t work in my favor because, although my intentions for putting on a public face were (sort of) noble, I thought of myself as a fraud. I suffered immensely and envied those who were living authentic lives and didn’t have to wear masks. I also wondered which of the two Louies was real, and sincerely hoped it was the public one.

“Who am I, really? Why do I not mean what I say and say what I mean?”

I’m not out of the woods yet and it’s pretty normal to not want to contaminate the world with low vibes, yes? We can’t blame people for wanting to present a pretty picture of their lives to everyone. Their identities are too intertwined with their imagined selves. Why do you think Facebook and Instagram are part of our modern existence?

Lately, however, I noticed I have been taking major steps towards living the authentic life I envisioned. If I don’t feel like doing something, I say it without sugarcoating. If there’s a project I can’t commit to, I won’t. If someone hurts my feelings, I call them out (not all of them, but ‘some’ is better than ‘none’). I also realized that it is impossible and unnecessary to please everyone, so I don’t even try. There are people who will never like me and God bless them. I have been rejected as many times as the next Broadway or Hollywood aspirant – by potential bosses and love interests – and each time, it sucked. Through it all, I try to be as transparent and honest as I can with myself and the world. I may not share what I feel all the time but I won’t make my emotions, and, in the process, my life, into something they’re not. I won’t flip sadness on its head and hope it bursts with fruit flavor. I won’t smile through gritted teeth anymore or chase after people who don’t want to be seen with me – I’ve had one of those too many. I strive for peace within, and hope it radiates and covers my entire being.

Meditation and yoga, as well as brutal self-evaluation, help me come to terms with things I can’t change. These have also given me the courage to plow through and live with difficult life decisions with as much grace and humility as I could muster. I don’t always succeed but it’s in the trying that we overcome.

I’m on my way to alignment. One day, my self and Self will be One. That is where true freedom and happiness lies.

‘How are you?’

Photo by Louie-An Pilapil

Photo by Louie-An Pilapil

A few days ago, I arrived a bit early for yoga class. As I waited, I happened to look out the glass wall and decided to watch people walking along the footbridge. What could each of them be thinking, I wondered. I was sure one was worried about a deadline or some work-related concern. Perhaps, another was thinking about a loved one or what to eat for dinner. They were, at that moment, moving within their own little universe, thinking of little else but getting from point A to point B. This is how we normally go about our day until something of massive emotional impact draws us together into a collective experience. Before then, we are separate entities – sometimes even from those we love – and continue the business of living in isolation. One can even feel alone in the company of a person or group, and this, in my mind, is the bad kind of solitude.

I had heard about a young acquaintance’s suicide days before, so the concept of isolation incessantly filled my mind. I didn’t know this young person well and only saw them a couple of times in a yoga class I either taught or attended. But news of their passing struck a nerve. Questions like “What could have been done to prevent the tragedy?” and “What were the signs?” arose, but the thought that kept nagging me was: It could’ve been me. I am almost certain that anyone living with depression who learns about someone’s suicide thinks the same thing.

“It could’ve been me.”

I write this a few days after news of Robin Williams’ apparent suicide broke. I, like many of those who enjoyed his performances and marveled at his comedic genius, am heartbroken. There is, however, another layer to my grief. I know only too well the despair of someone who blacks out and loses hope. In my case, thankfully, these moments are temporary because, somehow, I am able to crawl out of that dark hole and press on. Others like Robin Williams, the young person I mentioned, and countless others, could not. And I was left wondering again why some people fall off the edge and others don’t.

Let me continue by saying that I had to debate with myself on whether to write this entry or not. Before this, I thought I was comfortable talking about living with this illness – and realized I wasn’t. There was fear of judgment after all. It was only recently that I started to open up about my depression to friends and some family members and the load became somewhat lighter. Talking about it in a public venue, such as this blog, is taking every ounce of courage I have, which goes to show how deep my fear of the stigma attached to this illness is.

So in light of recent events, the other question that came up was this: Why must we be ashamed of how our minds are wired?

Commentators on television with different opinions on a subject rarely make sense to me, but, when talking about depression, they are united in saying that the stigma against mood disorders and other mental health issues is an enemy that needs to be vanquished. If someone with heart disease or diabetes can walk around without shame, why couldn’t someone with depression? Why do we have to feel less of a human being simply because our brains lack certain chemicals to function the way healthy ones do?

Perhaps this is because of society’s preference for intellectual pursuits. Brain function is tied closely to a person’s abilities and, therefore, their worth. Decision-making, analytical prowess, and creativity are the arenas of the brain and anything that is perceived to be a block to this muscle’s capability to carry out what it was made to do is considered closely tied to one’s personality. Maybe, I don’t know. Whatever it is, it has to end.

For those of you who are wondering what it’s like to have a depressive episode of the chronic kind, I will try to describe it as clearly as my writing powers would allow: Take yourself back to the worst time of your life and feel the grief that you experienced then. Multiply that grief about five times and remove the reason behind the despair. That is pretty much how it goes.

Some people experience this a few times in life – the death of a loved one or pet, the disintegration of a long-term relationship, the loss of a job… For some, this comes with an emotionally charged event. For others, like me, it often does not. If you who don’t live with it are confused, imagine the frustration and sadness of someone who does.

The way I deal with this is two pronged: there’s the physiological aspect that handles brain chemistry. This involves therapy and medication. I’m exploring holistic and natural ways to heal myself as well, such as yoga, acupuncture and the elimination of processed food, all meats, and refined sugar (the last one with a lot of difficulty because of my sweet tooth). And then there is the more important part in my view: the care of the soul. I believe this illness in particular deadens the spirit. This is why I cultivate a rich inner life that allows me to transcend the depths to which this illness takes me. This involves meditation; prayer; friendship; love of self, others and animals; and – what do you know? – yoga.

Sometimes, the monsters we are afraid of are self-created. When I started openly talking about this illness, I’d had nothing but support from friends and family. The judgment I feared was all in my head – how funny! May I also tell you that someone in the throes of a depressive fit would do anything in their power to hide it. That person in the office who has it all together, that lovely socialite with the handsome husband and gorgeous kids, that neighbor with whom you exchange pies, that yoga teacher in your favorite studio, that comedian whose purpose in life is to make people laugh – they could be living with this. It is up to us to be extra vigilant and care enough to ask “How are you?” and “How are you, really?”

I’m writing this because I think it’s important for the depressed to seek help and not feel shame for doing so. Also, I want everyone to know that many of us who live with this illness are productive members of society. We work and live as fully and frantically as everyone else. We have dreams and we strive to achieve them, just like everyone else. We love and love deeply. The stigma, the need to slink back and keep quiet or plaster a smile on one’s face to show everyone they’re okay when they’re not… that has to stop. We need to get real about this illness before it takes more lives. Feeling awfully sad does not mean you are weak; it means you are human. It also means you have an illness that requires attention.

In life, Robin Williams spread light and happiness to the world. In death, he brought understanding and curiosity about a disease that is often discussed in whispers. Two of the best movies I have seen in my life are Good Will Hunting and Dead Poets Society – both films had fearlessness and “sucking the marrow out of life” as themes. The universal grief over his death is testament to the good he brought to humanity, because, my God, we all need a good laugh.

So, the next time you get out of the house, in a hurry to get from point A to point B, remember to glance up from the concrete once in a while and look around. Someone in front of you, next to you or behind you might just need a simple smile and a sincere “How are you?”

———–

And to you, o Captain, my Captain… farewell.

Do-what-you-can-with-what-you’ve-got sequence

 

One consequence of crossing time zones is jet lag, and I’ve been struggling with it for three weeks now (over there where I had just been, and now here). While on vacation, I was so busy soaking in the new sights and experiences that jet lag was an afterthought. Exhaustion finally caught up with me and I slept for almost 20 hours straight eight days into my trip. Still, I got up, hopped on the train and then walked my heart out with my nifty little point-and-shoot camera despite the yawns, drowsiness and occasional disorientation.

It is now that I’m feeling the full effects of jet lag. The body and mind have a way of acting like petulant children when they don’t get what they need, and, in this case, it’s a full night’s sleep. I wake up at odd hours and plop onto bed in midday, completely disrupting my circadian rhythm. I try to buck up and stay awake during the daytime to be tired enough at night but I still wake up at three in the morning angry, depressed and wanting to eat my dining table, or computer, or television set – anything I could lay my hands on – because the fruit I have stocked is not enough for my growling stomach.

What’s the natural thing for a yogini to do? Yoga, of course! And here came my handy Rodney Yee yoga DVD to the rescue. I figured going to the studio and plowing through strong sequences was not what I needed at this point and this DVD had always been my go-to on days that I couldn’t get out of the house for some reason. Well, what do you know? I ended up struggling through the Rodney Yee sequence, which I’d previously always done with ease! My body was that out of whack, and, frankly, so was my mind. I was having spectacular mood swings, and in order not to infect and affect people with them, I stayed indoors most of the time and isolated myself. Not the greatest of solutions, but stimuli of any kind aggravate my depressive moods, and in times like these, I prefer to be alone to ride out the mental storms.

Today, I woke up at 5:30 a.m., and had six hours of uninterrupted sleep, which meant the jet lag could be in its end stages. I was still feeling a sort of emotional heaviness, though, and my monkey-mind kept swinging from neuron to neuron, making it extremely difficult for me to meditate. In short, I couldn’t be still. So, without even thinking, I took out my mat again and listened to that little voice that kept saying “Do what you can with what you’ve got”. What I came up is this:

  • Three rounds of gentle Surya Namaskara A (Sun Salutation) – No exertion, no speed, just movement in sync with the breath; knees on the mat during Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-limbed Staff Pose) or low push-up.
  • Two rounds of gentle Surya Namaskara B – Again, gentle movements especially because my body was extra stiff. Focus was on alignment and breath, not speed.

I then went straight to a seated sequence, skipping the standing poses altogether. Overexertion could lead to frustration at this point and I was feeling good after the gentle sun salutations. I didn’t want to break the serenity.

  • Dandasana (Staff pose) for five deep breaths with emphasis on opening up the chest and lengthening the spine. I activated my thighs and core to support my back instead of relying on my arms and hands to straighten my torso.
  • Paschimottanasa (Seated-forward bend) for eight breaths. I needed to relax my brain and this was the best way to do it. I noticed how shallow my forward bend was and it was because, unlike in a normal vinyasa sequence where I was drenched in sweat and on fire from the balancing, warrior and arm balancing sequences that came before, my body was sort of lukewarm at this point. I thought “This is okay. I’m warm enough but not burning. Just what I need”.
  • Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-knee forward bend) for five breaths on each side. I continued with the forward bends because they relaxed me and allowed me to breathe into my brain. Also, I made no effort to place my head right on top of my knee or clasp my wrist with my hands, which was what I normally did. I merely reached for each foot and breathed.
  • Baddha Konasana (Bound angle pose) for five breaths because I needed a hip opener and wanted to continue with the forward bends.
  • Navasana (Boat pose) for three rounds, five breaths each round. I needed to strengthen my core both in my physical and energy bodies. It was important for me to include a core strengthener for its actual physical benefits, as well as its symbolism.
  •  I hugged my knees and softened my belly after Navasana. I laid back for what I thought was the most important pose of the day, Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Supported bridge). A heart opener, it relieved me of the heaviness in my chest as I focused on expanding my rib cage. I felt the burn on my thighs as I decided to do three rounds with 10 breaths each round. Each time I lifted my hips up, I squeezed by glutes (okay, bum) which brought more flexion to my lower back and a deeper curve to my spine, allowing my chest to open up more. As I lifted my sternum up, I felt peace – that thing that has eluded me for weeks.
  • After that, I came into a supine twist for about a minute on each side to release my spine, savoring the openness that just occurred.

I learned today that doing what you can with what you’ve got has power beyond measure. Your vulnerability becomes your strength. It takes unbelievable humility and honesty to come to this place, especially if you’re so used to things being a certain way. By admitting that we are, at this very moment, weak, we become strong.

This is my life

holsteemanifesto

When I was still part of the conventional working world, I taped a printed copy of the Holstee manifesto (the image you see above) onto my office cubicle. I realize now that it wasn’t one of my brightest ideas. It probably gave people the impression that I’d rather be somewhere else. Of course, they’d be right: I’d be sitting there, typing away, trying to craft a coherent sentence, but my mind would be out among people, trees, stars, seas. I’d daydream about teaching yoga full-time, being among practitioners and leading them into calmness, health, and a happier existence. At the time, I’d been teaching several yoga classes before and after work, and loving it despite the lack of rest. My journey towards teaching was fraught with trepidation and even injury that when I finally got my certificate, I was filled with both happiness and dread. Was I ready to teach? What kind of teacher would I be? Could I make a living doing what I love?

Months after I quit my office job and plunged head first into teaching, I’m still waiting for the answers to those questions.

I wish I could tell you that all is peachy and bright in my world after I decided to go down this path. I wish I could say all my cares and woes dissolved after every exhilarating session I attended or taught. I wish I could say that most days I feel more courageous than stupid. On different times, I think my life is either a sitcom, drama or an episode of the Twilight Zone. Every time someone asks me “How’s it going?” I have taken to replying “I’m living by the grace of God.” Dramatic, yes, but true. I also know that each of us is living by God’s grace every day, not just when things are perceived to be great.

I suppose part of the dilemma is the newness of it all. Transitioning from a salaried cubicle dweller to a levitating yogini without a steady revenue stream can be terrifying for anyone. Trying to make a spiritual endeavor into something commercially viable while keeping it authentic and true is a delicate balancing act. And doing it at a time when the number of yoga teachers doubles every year makes it more daunting than ever.

Moreover, years and experience added to one’s life pave the way for a change in perspective. While I can still plow through projects that feed my body but not my soul, I can only do it for so long. Call it blind idealism or stubbornness, but what I do now has to mean something to me. When I was younger I could hack it by faking it – all the time. Now, I can only do that some of the time.  My hope is I get freed up to do the stuff I really enjoy: teaching yoga and taking on writing and editing assignments about projects, programs and people that make a difference in the world. I can’t prevent climate change, stop pillages and rapes, or eliminate poverty but I can make people feel good about themselves one person at a time. I also hope I can pay the bills and not worry about my finances while I’m at it.

I believe that money is merely energy changing hands, relationships made tangible. Despite the struggles, I want to report that, all things being considered, I’m doing well. Not as well as I imagined I’d be, but well enough to still think clearly and make plans. I’m lucky to be surrounded by supportive family members and friends as I navigate this brave new world. (Special shout-out to my mom, her siblings, and her friends. My own friends are awesome, too. If you’re reading this, you know who you are.) The Universe has been very kind to me by linking me up with people and transporting me to places that give me strength when it is waning. I stumble upon books that resonate with me, written by authors who are living authentic lives. I’m currently reading “Outrageous Openness” by Tosha Silver and found this quote:

“Why worry? What is meant for you is always meant to find you.” – Indian poet-saint Lalleshwari

I believe you, Lalleshwari. I truly do.

And, of course, there’s the Holstee manifesto. That piece of text that has become my North Star. I’d like to send good vibes back to the writers of the manifesto by pointing you to their website and inviting you to look at what they’ve got.

Do what you love and do it often. See where that will lead you.

(If you have trouble viewing the video, click here.)

‘How long before I lose weight?’

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Photo by: Dani Lurie

A woman asked me this a few days ago after finding out I was a yoga instructor. It’s a perfectly valid query as most people go into yoga for its physical benefits (“yoga body”, “yoga butt”, “yoga tummy”, “yoga whatever”) so this is not the first time I have encountered this question.

My answer remains the same: The emotional and mental changes are almost immediately felt that when the physical changes do come after some time, they usually seem more like bonuses.

With that, the curious would-be yogi would either light up with excitement or get deflated because they didn’t get the specifics they wanted.

Countless yoga blogs have dealt with how ubiquitous the so-called yoga body has become in the media so I won’t go into that. I don’t see the need to get riled up about it too much as it inspires people go to the studio or seek out a yoga teacher. After all, as BKS Iyengar points out, the spiritual journey begins with the body.

The yogi knows that the physical body is not only the temple for our soul but the means by which we embark on the inward journey toward the core. – BKS Iyengar, ‘Light on Life’

By being curious about the physical benefits of yoga — which include better sleep and circulation, detoxification, and, yes, weight loss — people embark on the journey of a lifetime that, more often than not, continues into the emotional, mental and spiritual nature of the practice. If they choose to stay on the purely physical level, that’s fine, too, but I doubt that often happens.

What I and many yoga observers fear is the obsession with physical perfection. I am guilty of this sometimes because I, too, am inundated with images of sinewy, lithe and attractive celebrity yoginis doing handstands in ads for yoga apparel. So, on certain times of the month when I get all bloated and pimply, I get stressed out. Yes, it happens even to yoga teachers. Haha. We’re human after all. But I now recover my composure pretty quickly and go about my business without fuss, unlike before, when I’d obsess about how crumby my body and face looked.

And while I generally maintain healthy habits, I’m prone to eating junk from time to time. I’m not proud of it but it happens. And I don’t rush to the studio to “sweat it out” afterwards because yoga is not just a work out for me. It’s my time to go inward and get to know myself better, to get connected to the Source of all energy and life. A growing number of people are starting to think this way, too, and that’s wonderful.

Now, about weight loss. Of course, yoga is a calorie burner. If you don’t perspire buckets during class then have your sweat glands checked. Within weeks or months of regular practice, which is normally three times a week, and proper nutrition (I’m taking about a plant-based diet, and, no, potato chips are not part of that) you will see the inches and scale numbers drop and your muscles get toned.

You might ask: You can make this happen with any exercise program so what makes yoga different? Here is my simple take on that. Yoga instills a love of self. That self-love is the fuel for everything else that you do for your body, whether it’s choosing not to pick up that piece of tripe from the kare-kare your mom made or surrounding yourself with people who will not call you a loser if you order orange juice instead of beer. That self-love will push you to go to yoga class even when you don’t feel like it. It’s also this self-love that will sustain the healthy habits, and prevent the so-called yo-yo effect that dieters often complain about. Yoga targets the heart and mind through the body, which makes the effects more lasting.

That self-love will also make you appreciate what you see in the mirror more than the yoga bodies in the yoga magazines that are scattered all over your yoga mat.

Lessons in falling

headstand

Photo by: Lauren Nelson

I just finished reading this article about headstands and it made me think about my own relationship to the “king of asanas” (shoulderstand is supposedly the “queen”). I love doing the headstand. It allows me to focus like no other posture and I come out of it feeling lighter. Perhaps the rush of blood to the brain is the cause of that sensation, or simply being able to conquer my fear of standing upside down was enough to instill a sense of accomplishment, no matter how fleeting.

Learning to master it, however, was frustrating at best. Like the author of the article, I relied on the wall a lot in the beginning but realized it was a crutch. I moved away from the wall slowly and that’s when the falls started happening. There was one instance when I couldn’t control how I fell and landed knee first (ouch!) when I toppled over towards the direction of the wall, which was, by then, too far to break my crash landing. (Falling is natural, by the way. In “Light on Yoga”, BKS Iyengar writes: “To topple over by learning the headstand is not as terrible as we imagine.” Still, care has to be taken when attempting this posture and beginners must do it in the presence of an experienced teacher to gain the necessary confidence to do it on their own.)

I didn’t get hurt, thank goodness. My knees were okay and I was ready to get up and try again. It was then that a voice inside me said “Maybe you’re trying too hard.” It was only then that I realized I was exhausted. I had been upside down for quite some time but didn’t notice because I was too determined to get up and stay up.

So, I stopped.

And I didn’t try again for months. I went from being too aggressive to being completely defeated in a matter of seconds.

Eventually, I mustered enough courage to come up again, this time armed with more anatomical knowledge and clear-headedness that I figured was needed. This time I was able to stay up for two breaths, which increased in number as time went on. No falls. I was able to prevent a fall by coming down quickly and landing on my toes. Nice.

One breakthrough, however, came during teacher training. It was a low point: I couldn’t get my cues right, I was messing up the sequence, etc. In short, I was physically tired and frustrated with myself, which was a normal process to go through when doing something life-changing. And, when during one yoga session, we were told we could come into headstand, my feet went up despite my exhaustion. My mind was swimming in a million and one thoughts and my core was as jiggly as Jell-O. In no time, I felt my legs and torso start to shake. I was about to crash again and memories of that initial plunge in my room months back resurfaced in a heartbeat. I knew I was scared but, as soon as I realized this, another thought flashed in my overdriven mind: Let go.

And let go, I did.

I fell, but with a difference. I didn’t feel the compulsion to control the fall or stop it from happening. In the process, I landed with not as strong a thud, but a thud nonetheless.

After that, everything changed. I got my sequence right. My fear of public speaking diminished and I could teach with utmost concentration and more confidence than in the previous disastrous days.

All because I let myself fall with grace.

Thank God for good people

friends

Photo by: Vinoth Chandar

“I get by with a little help from my friends.” – Lennon and McCartney

My blog has a new home! This very clean and slick new website would not be possible without the generosity and expertise of friends and professionals who did an awesome job in helping me put this together. I promise not to lay their efforts and talents to waste by not updating my blog! Yep, you will read more from me about yoga and a range of other topics that I find interesting. Watch this space!

But first, a couple of “thank yous” are in order.

My heartfelt gratitude goes to Mon Marquez of MONster Studio for the images. He’s a passionate photographer who captures the essence of a person in a photograph, which is far greater than making someone look nice.

My good friend and former colleague, Aimee Ocampo, built this website from scratch and gave advice on usability and content. Aimee is not only an excellent editor, manager and now web designer, she is also a wonderful friend. Her laser-sharp eye for detail and attention to the little things that matter would rival that of a surgeon! Couple that with a heart of gold, and you’ve got an all-around gorgeous person, inside and out.

Thank you, Mon and Aimee (mes amis!) for the assistance.

On the Front Line of a Different War

Hello. It’s been a while, I know. So much has happened since the last entry that an apology is in order for the dearth in updates. So, to the three (or four) people reading this blog, sorry.

What do you know? I took a 200-hour teacher training course at Bliss Yoga Manila and got certified in December.

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While I am unable to go into yoga teaching full time, I have been lucky to be teaching at all given my work schedule and newbie status. It has not all been candy and roses in this brave new world I entered but I feel I can touch lives here, be of service somehow. Sometimes, I forget why I took this leap in the first place. I let my ego get the better of me and judge myself harshly for not being who I think I should be. Yoga and teaching became new barometers I used to measure my worth. It was only recently, after an incident that tested my love of the practice and made me doubt my abilities and decisions, that I realized I am here to share a gift and keep doing what I love. That’s all. That’s it. As long as I remember this, I’ll be fine and sort of immune to the baggage that comes with the inevitability of always trying to see your reflection in other people’s eyes.

In an age where humans are exploring outer space with the intention of building a colony somewhere, many of us yearn to go inward. And I tell you, it is the scariest place to be. I look inside myself a lot and at times, or many times, do not like what I see. Yoga has helped me quiet my relentless, wicked, and foul mind. I only need an hour or so of peace, you see. One out of 24 is more than enough to sustain me and allow me to soldier on despite the demeaning internal dialogue that rages in my head even when, I believe, I’m asleep. I need that one hour or so of compassion for myself from myself because I need it to be compassionate. I need to understand those who are not compassionate toward me or others. I often judge myself for judging others who are judgmental and it never ends… until I hit the mat. I’m not saying yoga is the solution for every problem on the planet. There is yoga and yet there is war. There is yoga and yet there is rape. There is yoga and yet there is intolerance.

But there is yoga, and thank God for that.

——-

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Tim Hetherington, portrait by Stephen Kosloff, CC by 2.0

I am watching the HBO documentary “Which Way Is The Front Line From Here: The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington” as I write this. It is a fitting tribute by author Sebastian Junger to his fallen friend. I first came across the image of Tim Hetherington on television, in an interview he gave to CNN during the 2010 war crimes trial of former Liberian strongman Charles Taylor. I was writing an article on Taylor for a news website at the time and this was how I became extra attuned to this story. While watching the interview, I was drawn to the superficial: the deep alpha voice coupled with an impeccable English accent, the regal yet rugged bearing. Yet I was more impressed by his gentlemanly resistance to decimate a supermodel’s character despite her testimony during the trial. That was hard, I thought, because it was so easy to get carried away by anger and blurt out something sensational, which, in this case, would have been understandable and even warranted (judgment, I know). Anyway, I wrote the story, had it published and forgot about the intelligent and earnest English gentleman with the nice voice. Less than a year after that interview, that gentleman, a war photographer, would be dead in Misrata, Libya, along with another photojournalist Chris Hondros, and the whole journalistic world would be shaken to its depths.

News of untimely deaths has a downing effect on me even though I know nothing about the person who passed. In instances where I read or hear about young people who die violent deaths or succumb to illness, I always have to remind myself that we are all on borrowed time and death can fetch us any day. But I was struck by the interest that Tim Hetherington’s story aroused in me. The more I read about him, the more curious I got. The sadder I became, too, that lives such as his and Chris’s, so full of promise and possibility, were snuffed out just like that.

Why am I writing about Tim Hetherington on my yoga blog? Well, what’s not yoga-like about Hetherington? By all accounts, he was a humanitarian and the embodiment of compassion. He wanted to get into the core of the human experience by documenting the suffering, joy, vulnerability and beauty around him. Judging by how he was and still is being mourned, he knew what love and friendship were and what they entailed. His creativity stemmed from being present, from his need to connect with a Source, from his hunger to understand himself and his world. His was and is an incandescent spirit.

Here was a man who truly lived.

Namaste.

Arm balances and patience

We were made to do arm balances in class the other day and, well, I was up and flying for a fraction of a second and, bam, I was barely able to keep my chin from hitting the floor. Of course, I was frustrated. I’d been practicing the crane pose at home for quite some time in the past and was able to stay up for five breaths. It’s true what they say: If you don’t use it, you lose it. And since I have been neglecting my home practice, it wasn’t surprising at all when I *almost* fell face down on the floor.

Now, I am NOT and will never be a paragon of patience. Everyone who knows me well can attest to this. I want things done now and done right. This attitude can be viewed as a plus in the corporate world but detrimental to one’s mental health. Relationships could also get unnecessarily cumbersome and exhausting because of (my) impatience.

If there’s one thing I need to learn, it’s to be gentle on myself and with others. Breathe when waiting my turn at the ATM.  Let all the elevator passengers out before I enter (One of my colleagues is so anal about this and thinks it’s rude of me not to wait. I’m starting to get swayed toward agreeing with him instead of thinking people are too slow when getting out, haha!).

Arm balances require a strong core, open shoulders, a flexible spine and tons of patience. All of which I will have one day.

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