I’ve been asked to write about my yoga story and provide a picture of myself in a yoga pose. Currently I have a strained muscle in my neck. So, I’ll do the best I can, given the situation. I pick Samasthiti (equal standing pose). Standing firmly engaged, balanced, calmly aware, steady and comfortable, the alignment and principles of this pose can be applied to most other poses. How often I have overlooked this pose and just stood waiting for the next pose to be given by my teacher, when I could have been practicing?
My first class was at a Toronto YMCA in 1998. And I injured my back trying to reach my toes in pachimottanasana as I tried to copy the pose of the super bendy yogini next to me. The lesson [realized years later (I’m a slow learner)] was to tune into the teacher inside and make yoga an internal practice, listen to my breath and never do harm. I tried yoga again six months later and thankfully, without injury. I loved the practice - the challenge, the deep sweat that felt so cleansing, and the sweet peaceful surrender of savasana at the end. I could also feel my life begin to flow easier. I learned that this practice was a method of hatha yoga called Ashtanga. I continued to take classes about four times a week until I moved to Taiwan in 2004.
My first year and half here I didn’t connect with a studio and my practice dropped to a few times a month as I tried to do what I remembered on my own at home. Mostly sun salutes and some standing poses and shoulder stand. My health began to change and I was plagued by allergies and respiratory problems. Eventually fate connected me again with teachers in 2005. I noticed my health improve again. The lesson learned here was that yoga works when you practice it regularly.
In 2006 I committed to a daily mysore practice. In 2007 I attended my first training and I came out of it thinking I was ready to be a teacher. Ha! Looking back, I have to laugh at myself. I had given no time to the process of yoga, to practice what my teacher taught and allow time for integration. I was more interested in ‘mastering’ all the difficult poses. Then a teacher asked me what I was trying to achieve. It must have been so obvious to him. It took me much reflection to see that it was ‘poses’. A year of my practice was about quantity over quality. The lesson learned here (again realized later) was that I had an attachment to my yoga practice and that asana is unimportant but necessary. I began to connect with Buddhist teachings and the concept of equanimity jumped out at me. I began to embrace that quality in my practice. That was the biggest gift I gave to myself. To practice Samasthiti with as much sincerity as I would something like Urdhva Kukkutasana or some inversion-arm-balance sequence. Applying my best effort and awareness to breath and alignment, to find Samasthiti in each pose during the entire practice regardless of the ‘degree of difficulty’ of the pose. Something happened inside of me and I realized that yoga was so so so much more than poses on the mat. It was connecting me so that I could see myself more clearly. The lesson I learned here was that there was so much more to learn, so much more to integrate and truly practice. All the chanting that was once awkward and in a language I didn’t understand became like compass. There was something about the chanting that felt really right, peaceful and full of love. I began to read the yoga sutras, attend workshops, and continue my education in the Ashtanga and Anusara methods of hatha yoga.
In 2009 I was in a motorcycle accident that broke my jaw, which needed to be wired shut for 3 weeks. I couldn’t work, speak or do mat practice. I had a series of meditations where I connected with an incredible peace and love. It helped me find a sense of ‘Samasthiti’. Meditation became something I wanted to do, not something I should do because of my teacher. As I continued to meditate consistently I saw that it was the time inbetween the meditations that benefited from the practice.
The past two years of my journey have been mostly about learning to let go. Paul Dallaghan teaches us: practice, focus and surrender. I do my best to stay with this formula and the direction he set me in. The practice and focus take discipline, not always easy but so worth it. Honestly, the hardest part for me is surrender, it can be really scary to just let go and trust (just keep practicing, focus and repeat). The more I surrender the richer and more wonderful life becomes.
When I look back at my journey I feel things happened in ways that I could understand them. I have faith in these practices as I feel they lead me deeper within and connect more meaningfully outwards.
Surrendering into not knowing what the day will bring. These yoga practices can ready the body, mind and spirit to better deal with the unknown. A healthy body, a present mind and peace and love to face whatever the unknown (or known) is: a challenge, helping someone else, something new to learn, or a beautiful moment to appreciate.
Travelling light for the adventure
The 194 verses of the Yoga Sutras are like a map. Mantras and chanting are like my compass. Practices are like preparation. I used to over pack when travelling. I’m learning to deal with my own personal baggage and lighten my load. It’s making the experience of life more and more an adventure and I’m noticing more and more treasures along the way
With heart felt gratitude to my teachers (Vande Gurunam…): Chris Acrucci, John Ang, Paul Dallaghan, Emma O’Neill, Desiree Rumbaugh, Stephen Thomas, Naichin Tang, and Rachel Tsai. Thanks for selflessly teaching me the practices, sharing your wisdom, asking me the right questions/the hard questions, adjusting me and for leading by example. To my fellow teachers at Space (Saha nau bhunaktu…): thank you for sharing your knowledge so that we may learn and grow together and work at becoming better teachers. May our yoga practices bring us a healthier body, clearer mind, and open hearts. May our collective practices help make the world a better place.
Om Shanti. Namaste.