Yoga Off The Mat : Respect The Differences

Coming to Mysore has always been a reality check for me. To realise how little I need, how much there is for me to learn, what do I need to let go of and where do I move from here.

At the start of the season, Sharath already made quite a few changes. He is more particular about practice timing, constantly reminding us not to turn up too early, no practicing on mats with the sacred OM symbol and no 3 stripes symbol on the yoga rug; and more controversially, the dress code during practice – no short shorts and sports bra.

Whether you are for or against the new ‘rules’ the fact is he is implementing all the changes. Either you follow them or break them as long as you are willing to bear the consequences.

Being back several times in Mysore (Gokulam) I am beginning to notice something which I have previously not realised. There may be a few more new cafes and malls sprouting up but the town remains conservative and reserved in its ways.

Sharath has always reminded us that it is a different culture here. They (the locals) are not used to the western culture. We need to respect the culture and behave appropriately because we are the guests, we are the visitors. We cannot expect them to accommodate to us but instead we have to learn their rules because we are in their land.

Back home in Singapore, t-shirts, shorts and flip flops are acceptable dress code for most casual occasions because the heat is unbearable. We are so used to dressing down and everyone accepts it as a local culture. We address strangers affectionately by ‘uncles and aunties’ as a common term which some may find it strange and awkward.

Few years back I went on a mission trip to Myanmar and learned a valuable lesson. Coming from a first world country, we are quick and efficient in giving suggestions and ideas to what should be done for the locals. It was until a friend asked – ‘How would you like it if I come to your house and started (re)arranging your furniture to my liking?’ That was an awakening moment for me. Such a simple analogy that made total sense.

Every country has their own unique culture and unspoken rules. Like it or not, it is definitely a personal choice as long as you are willing to accept the outcome of your choice. Yoga doesn’t starts only on the mat, it starts with our actions and thoughts.

Urban Ashtangis – Real People . Real Inspiration : Sheeling

Sheeling is a fervent ashtangi who enjoys good food and a glass of wine. She prefers lazy Sunday picnics over fancy Saturday brunches because she thinks it is imperatively therapeutic to lay down on the grass after a meal. She secretly enjoys clicking the camera just to hear the sound of the shutter which is how she found her passion for photography.

As an animal lover, she strongly believes that dogs are created by God to show human beings what love is. Last but not least, Sheeling admires anyone who can bake because she is one of those people who can follow the recipe to the T and still burn a cake.

1. How did you shift from flying (as a flight stewardess) to a traveling ashtangi?

The shift came inevitably after almost 9 years of flying. The irregular hours and job demands have definitely made its toll on my health. The last few years of flying I was constantly ill. That was when I realised that if I’m serious about getting my health back I needed to quit my job. I never knew about Ashtanga Yoga back then. I did some form of yoga but it wasn’t a regular practise and certainly wasn’t as intense as Ashtanga Yoga. It wasn’t until I quit my job and moved back home that I tried my first Ashtanga Yoga LED class. I enjoyed it so much that I started researching places in Singapore that solely teach Ashtanga Yoga.

That was when I discovered The Yoga Shala Singapore. I went for my first mysore session within a week and I have never looked back since. Although my flying career ended but my love for traveling certainly did not! I continued to travel while discovering different shalas and practised with various teachers during my travels.

2. How has the practice of Ashtanga Yoga changed your life – e.g. the way you live, your priorities, your values etc.?

Not to quote Richard Freeman’s “Yoga ruins your life!”. But it had certainly “ruined” mine! The moment I started to prioritise my practice first everything else either have to follow suit or fall apart. I think a big part of my lifestyle change has got to do with me becoming more aware and conscious about how I spend my time.

I noticed myself withdrawing from my usual social circle, limiting to just family and close friends. Not that having a lot of friends is a bad thing but I just didn’t want to be around people who are there purely to absorb your energy. Through this priority shift, I have adopted a more simpler lifestyle. I gradually discovered that I actually didn‘t need a lot of things in life. Maybe also because I travel so much and I couldn’t afford to carry a whole house back!

Human beings acquire things only because we want to live and get accustomed to a certain lifestyle. But once you realise that you don’t need to acquire things to lead a happy life then it becomes very liberating. Because it is only then you will see what are the things that truly serve you or they are just there to weigh you down.

3. What inspires you to step on the mat each time?

The mat is where my home is and my home is where my heart lies. After almost 2 years of travelling, I realised that it is important to find an anchor point that keeps drawing me back to the mat and is that feeling of homeliness.

You don’t need a physical home to make you feel a sense of wellbeing, love and gratitude. It should come from within regardless of where you are, how the weather is that day or who is around you. Travelling is fun but is also brings uncertainty and stress. But just the fact that I can simply step on the mat, unwind and let the practise takes me where I need to be is simply amazing.

4. You have practiced with so many teachers, what are the qualities you think that a teacher should have and why?

I must admit I have practised with quite a few teachers. But only because I travel so much and each time I land somewhere I will find a Shala to practise in. I don’t actually advocate seeking out any particular teacher to practise with because in my opinion it is actually more detrimental for your practise.

It’s really difficult to pinpoint what I look out for in a teacher. In the Ashtanga Yoga context is even more difficult. That is because the Ashtanga Yoga method is distinctly intimate. It’s a very personal exchange between the teacher and the student. Which is why I think having chemistry between the teacher and the student is the most important.

You can have the best teacher in the world with years of experience and certified to the highest level to teach you. However if there is not even a slight bit of chemistry then it makes no difference for you to go to a gym and working out on an exercise machine.

5. What is your biggest AHA moment on the mat and how has it affected / influenced the way you practice?

The Ashtanga Yoga practise in its entirety is a never ending journey of self discovery. Even though it may seems like we do the same thing day after day but my practise still surprises me everyday . One of the biggest lessons I have learnt since I started practising Ashtanga Yoga definitely have to be the act of surrendering.

On the contrary, it is not about letting go or rather it is simply about letting it be. Surrendering to what the practise entails and what the practise may bring. For me this is what serves me the most in my practise.

Blog Urban Ashtangis – Real People . Real Inspiration : Ann Lee

Ann dances (clumsily) to her own tune in life. She believes many of life’s problems can be solved simply through self-inquiry and observing nature. She appears nonchalant about most things but has a beagle-like mentality towards the few things she loves. An outdoor enthusiast, Ann chases sunsets, gazes at stars and finds solace in the majesty of mountains. She also goes gaga over silly things like fluffy bunnies, chocolate ice-cream, waffles, sashimi… well yes mostly food.

1. What is the most common myth about practicing Ashtanga Yoga based on your personal experience?

I think most people with little-to-no yoga experience tend to view Ashtanga Yoga as an intense and challenging form of yoga meant for advanced practitioners. The practice is challenging for sure, both physically and mentally, and this is true regardless of yoga experience.

However, it is definitely not meant for advanced practitioners only. You can be a complete beginner and be given specific instructions on how to move through the practice. You just need to be open and have a little patience. People with the stiffest bodies (me included!), injuries, different ages and abilities, all practise in the same room. Put simply, everybody can practise ashtanga.

2. How has the practice of Ashtanga Yoga changed your life – e.g. the way you live, your priorities, your values etc?

I guess the biggest benefit is some clarity on who I am, and I say “some” because this journey of inquiry is never quite a straight line. Oftentimes it takes a detour and you find yourself more confused than ever.

It has also taught me to be present in the things I do. It’s not about how many things I’ve managed to complete or achieve, or ticking the boxes off a list. These days it’s more about being fully involved in everything I do. It’s about seeing things I would normally miss, going deeper into what I see (and sometimes this can be uncomfortable), creating beautiful and meaningful memories, finding joy in simple things and being grateful.

The practice is an allegory for life. How you hit the mat is also very likely your approach to life. The realisation of that is the start of change.

3. How do you manage between work and practice? (any tips or advice?)

You need to make practice a priority. Once you decide on the days and times you want to practice, stick with it. I started practising two days a week, then three and then slowly building up to a five / six-day practice. Start small but be committed. I don’t let regular work or social gatherings get in the way of practice unless absolutely necessary.

These days I also look forward to the eve of Moon Days (full moon or new moon days in the lunar calendar where Ashtanga practitioners traditionally take rest) because that means I can make plans for play and feasting! Practising in the morning helps since there’s less chance for distractions and you start your day feeling energised.

4. What is your biggest obstacle in your practice and how do you overcome this?

Fear and ego. I don’t think I overcome them. Every day is different. I enter my practice as a blank sheet of paper and try my best to observe how I feel physically and emotionally. At some point in the practice, you will notice contention. A simple example is when I move into a pose and feel stuck. Do I try to inch deeper or is it time to back-off? How do you make the call and are you at peace with your decision?

Some days I feel strong enough to arrest fear and ego. Other days I crumble and succumb to them. You might win today and lose
tomorrow. That’s why it’s called practice. It’s a never ending process. But there is always hope. I think the most admirable thing
about Ashtanga practitioners is the will and courage to face this whole cycle over and over again, every single day.

5. Mysore or LED (which do you prefer?) and WHY?

Mysore. You get to dictate how you want your practice to be – fast/slow, work more on certain poses etc. But most importantly, the time and space for inward growth and self-discovery.