In the last 6 months I’ve dedicated most of my time on the mat working through the Ashtanga Primary Series. I struggle with my transition through the seated poses, the jump back has always felt elusive to me. When I attempt it, I feel awkward, clumsy and stuck — unable to move from one pose to the next. For this reason, I avoid the transition all together during my self practice. I started to observe this avoidance and asked myself why? I don’t shy away from other poses that I find challenging or uncomfortable. I started to zoom in a little more on how my mind and body are when I attempt to jump back. I realized the connection between the breathe and the movement breaks down, sometimes I even find myself not breathing at all. I focus so hard on moving that I forget to breathe and then I can’t move at all (spoiler alert: also happens in life) Off the mat, I’ve always found myself in relationships, friendships, jobs and other situations where I feel the need to “stick around” and make it work, but I end up feeling “stuck” (yes, I referenced a Drake song) Especially, my most recent experience of staying in a job and a relationship to the point of deterioration to my mental health. I was aware of my unhappiness in both, but waited until I was pushed to my breaking point. I mentally “stopped breathing” and became paralyzed. Emotionally, I shamed myself for not being able to “make it work” so I just kept staying, rationalizing, and fighting. I let my emotions of feeling like a failure take over my ability to “breathe” through it and move onto what’s next. When we breathe, we can process what we are feeling while also letting it go. When we stop breathing, we’re trapped inside our emotions. On and off the mat, I have to remind myself that with each breathe, each movement, each day, there’s a beginning and an ending. We’re only stuck when we stop breathing.
“If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family” For me, a weekend is usually enough to expose my most “unenlightened” parts. I find that family has a way of bringing up every emotion on the spectrum — joy, anger, frustration, resentment, feeling all the feels. My experience with my family is no different. Gradually, I’ve been able to create space between my own emotions and the dynamic between my family members (that damn yoga making creeping into every part of my life) so that I’m able to view it as an “interesting case study” instead of “a one ticket buys you unlimited rides on an emotional roller coaster” type experience. Everyone in my family is incredibly stubborn in their own unique and infuriating way. With both my parents being the youngest siblings in their family and myself being four years younger than my brother — we all struggled with varying forms of immaturity. Even though I was the youngest, I often had to be the more mature one to bring balance to the family dynamic. And when I look to my family now, I see my brother as the most responsible one in the household. Roles have ebbed and flown over the course of changes in our family. We inherit so much from our parents and we find ourselves struggling with and against these tendencies. I saw my mom being very dependent on my dad, so I struggled to be independent. I saw my dad being very passive, so I overcompensated by being aggressive. I saw my brother taking the straight and narrow approach to life, I opted for a rebellious and messy path. Our family simply give us a starting point — a name, some strands of DNA, values and our first glimpse into interpersonal dynamics. A critical part of my adulthood was separating myself from my family and taking time to define what values and what type of relationships I wanted in my life — this is a really fucking hard thing to do. We’re attached to our family in so many ways; emotionally, sometimes physically and financially. This distance helps to separate who we are from our emotions and traumas. We’re able to consciously choose what to keep, what to change and what requires healing (more to come on this topic) Building this level of emotional detachment and awareness takes an incredible amount of discipline and requires daily practice (just like yoga!) There are times I want to avoid my family because it would make my life easier (same goes with avoiding negative or unpleasant emotions) but instead I choose to see my family as a place where we can all make mistakes, lose our shit and try better the next time. Just like yoga — my ego gets bruised, I fall, I get up and I continue practicing. And each time I like to think I become bit more graceful.
Is it possible to be too resilient? I find myself wresting with this question. Being a woman and living in America, I feel that many people are anti-resilient — the slightest challenge, set-back or difficulty sends people over the edge. People give up and think that this “resistance” is insurmountable. The act of giving up plays out in different forms such as running away from problems, shutting down, denial/numbing the pain, bitterness, and feeling like a victim. I’ve seen these various scenarios played out with people I care about. I also have a peculiar way of attracting these types of people into my life. It turns out I have a problem with resistance too. I run towards it, 100 miles per hour with a rusty, clunky suit of armor. From a very young age, I learned how to get really good at fighting my way through life. I fought for my independence from my parents. I fought for my ability to belong in college by working throughout my four years. I fought boredom in my early 20’s by leaving behind a job and a social life that wasn’t working for me. I fought for my own survival when my entire world collapsed around me after my mom passed away. Mostly recently I fought to keep a relationship and despite all my effort it fell apart anyway. The weight of the armor finally broke me. Over the years I’ve scrapped together armor that’s helped me fight and win these battles but wearing it never felt like a burden until now. When I experienced the trauma of losing my mom suddenly, it was critical for my survival to have that armor. As I worked through the grieving process, it became my security blanket. I know I no longer need it but it’s scary as hell to take off something that’s protected and served me so well. In my most recent relationship, I felt safe enough to take my armor off, and looked to the person whom I loved for support and protection, only to be disappointed. Even though he failed to provide this, I realized I could provide it to myself without the armor. This idea was frightening but I knew it was the only way for me to find strength in my vulnerability. Yoga helps us to maintain a balance between two equal and opposing forces. (That’s why we do balancing poses, duh!) Slowly, I’ve been changing my internal dialogue from “I need to stop this, I need to change this” to “What can I do to keep myself from falling into opposite extremes” and “What ways does this thing I perceive as “bad” serve me and what ways is it hindering me” and “What opposite actions do I need to incorporate to keep a balance” For me, taking off the amour was necessary, but it’s important that I don’t throw it all away. Walking around without the armor means I am vulnerable, it allows me to approach life in a different and more open way. Too often we operate from a place of default — either what was taught to us by our family, picked up along the way in adulthood or what served us in the past. The beautiful thing about approaching life from a yogic (balanced) perspective is that it doesn’t matter what those things are and we don’t have to fight ourselves to change it. We gradually incorporate an opposing force to help maintain a balance. Balancing the Yin/Yang in our lives means acknowledging all of the parts inside of us, the ones we find pleasant and unpleasant and create space for all of them to co-exist peacefully.
Over the last two weeks I’ve noticed very strange but obvious changes. I had a busy week at work and was also traveling. For the first time since I got back from India, I was inconsistent with my yoga practice. I also ate some unhealthy food (think ice cream sandwiches, spicy wings, pizza and the like) and also binged on some TV. I’ve done all of these things before and never felt like my world spun off its axis. Holy shit. I was angry, cranky, didn’t sleep well, my thoughts went off into the deep end (very negative) and felt extremely tired. The ironic part is before these two “off” weeks was a week filled with emotional landmines — both the anniversary of my mom passing and my ex-boyfriend’s birthday. I breezed through the week like it was nothing. How did I go from feeling so blissful and an emotional ninja into a complete wreck? Simple, my actions. Without my daily yoga practice, my sleep went to shit. In turn I started to crave old comforting foods. My body started to feel tired and lazy — in turn I spent time on the sofa bingeing on Netflix. Who knew the slope was so slippery? My mind started to go to a dark place, my compassionate voice was drowned out by the loud, judgmental, negative wailing. I couldn’t believe that just a few short days of skipping yoga and reverting to old habits (that served me quite well, may I add) threw my mental health completely off. Apparently I’ve changed and my mind has taken note of it. It no longer wants things that use to soothe me. It no longer enjoys activities I use to find fun. My body no longer wants foods that do not nourish it. My body will not take my shit. But I don’t understand — we use to love this shit! Just a few months ago I would not have had the awareness to tie feelings and emotions to actions. I would have blamed the shit feeling on work, people, other things out of my control. Yoga helped me get back to yoga. The awareness that yoga brings will spill into other parts of your life — whether you want it to or not, whether you are ready for it or not. It’s incredible how powerful the yoga practice is — how quickly and how deeply it can change your mind, body and heart.
Welp — back to the mat!
As a child I always felt that I didn’t fit in. This feeling continued throughout my adolescence and well into adulthood. Being a part of the yoga community was no different. I can say with confidence that 99% of the yoga classes I have attended, I was the only Indian person in the class. The irony is not lost on me. My first few years of yoga practice was limited to gyms and fitness studios, I knew there was more to yoga than just the physical practice and I wanted to learned more. It seemed very logical for me to go to India to study yoga. My family, both in the U.S. and India were very puzzled by my desire to do such a thing. I arrived to Rishikesh, bright eyed, looking forward to immersing myself in a traditional yoga experience, only to be completely turned off by the guru culture and Western whore-shipping of all things Indian. As luck would have it, the one week I came to Rishikesh for a yoga intensive was the same week as “International Yoga Festival” — imagine every corner of the small city overrun by white people decked out in harem pants, freshly painted henna and sparkly bindis. They traveled from every part of the world overzealous with spiritual ambitions, in eager search of their beloved gurus while young men from Dehli reveled in their annual Spring Break holiday. While taking in this experience, I tried really hard not to judge and to be a “good yogi”, but it was really fucking hard. If anything, this experience made it clear to me if that I wanted to take this whole spirituality thing seriously, I was going to have to stop my eye rolling, commit to doing the work and go it alone. For me, yoga will always be a solo journey. I don’t follow a lineage, and I don’t believe in gurus. I’ve learned by self study and the guidance of teachers. I ask questions, I read books and I continue to expand my understanding but cautious to never following anything blindly. The worshipping of a man, no matter how “enlightened” he may be, is counterproductive to a path of self liberation. I believe that yoga is an individual journey that forces you to work through the challenges of your own mind, body, karma to gain an understanding of yourself and the world around you. Your first level of awareness hopefully informs you to never wear harem pants again.