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

IMG_0988

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.

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.

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.

Image

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.

——-

Image

 

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.

Follow

Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: