Rest

To teach over the holidays was a funny experience – I can never quite tell if I should make the class very active –  to burn out the holiday excess and sluggishness, or to make it super soft – to combat the holiday stress.

Before I came and lived in Denmark and be involved with the real Christmas business, I have never heard of the term holiday stress – I thought holiday inherently carries the opposite meaning to stress. Yet people, I, am holiday tired, and stressed. It is with irony and absurdity that we manage to get, at times, even more stressed out than normal, on these designated resting days. That away from the regular working schedule and getting free time, was often so packed full with activities. It is as if we hadn’t done something specialt, the holiday is deem wasted.

We, as a species, are not resting enough.

I am sure this is nothing new, or controversial, look at the popularity of all the various rejuvenating tools out there – meditation apps, Yin yoga, restorative yoga, beach trips, nature trips. Humankind is very constantly in the bound of not resting enough – how often do you get a full night of restful sleep without scheduling an alarm, or awakening because of duties and activities to do the next day? How often do you dedicate a few hours taking your mind off informations – TV, books, games, social media, and instead make a cup of tea and stare into the night sky. How often do you take walks not because of miles goal or fitness goals, but for the purpose of occupying the time?

I don’t rest enough.

I teach and preach restorative, balance, the contrast of activity and passivity, but I don’t rest enough. When I am off from teaching, when I really should be taking time to myself and resting, I am instead running errands, writing blogs, organising my schedule, taking new teacher trainings. When I am lying in bed, physically exhausted, I am instead browsing through facebook, looking at my classes sign in sheet, trying to get interesting new video to watch.

People around me don’t rest enough.

The amount of times I’ve observed my husband on the computer until 5 minutes before bed time. The times I’ve seen my mother in law comes home, absolutely exhausted and sat on the couch for hours on end to summon the energy to get to shower and sleep. The number of people, yoga teachers no less, that I have seen, taking no days off and working 6.5 days a week. My own mother, having her own schedule packed with activities and small travelling, and leaves no resting days at home.

In the old days holy days are meant for rest. It is meant for us to not have to shop, to not have to make activities, and to have time to reflect, rest, and be ready for the next week. It is (probably) from the idea of rest that we have weekends, that we even have the concept of weeks. If humans never sleep or rest, would we ever have the need for a clock or the concept of time?

In 2018, my goal is to make my own holy days, and my own cocoon of rest.

 

The negative space

On my way home from a weekend training, one thing that hits home with me was when Lizzie said “in the modern lifestyle there’s a competition of how busy one’s life is.”

Anyone who is friends with me on Facebook would have realised, I like posting random, pointless stuff. And at the peak of me enjoying myself and having creative freedom, there was a time where I had a constant outburst of very pointless and very quirky things that I make and do that I share. Sometimes they would be various little art works, sometimes it would simply be silly, simulating and unusual things that I do. And most of it can seem like a giant waste of time.

Back during this period I have this friend who like commenting on my social media posts with this one liner “you have too much time on your hands”, and I never quite understood the motive of that comment, nor do I understand why I always felt little irritated by it. Time after time that happened, with her commenting the same, hard to encrypt comment, I did something I have never ever done in my life – I decided to delete one of the comments and wrote her that I got tired of seeing her posting that same comment on my posts, and that was the end of that.

I never quite fully comprehend, what was it about the comment that wasn’t quite sitting well with me. Yes, I did have a lot of time on my hands, what she said was perfectly true and seemed to all be in good nature and fun.

But then I realise now, I felt that she was competing. By saying and commenting that I had too much time on my hands she’s saying she has so little time and somehow to me, was hinting that she has much more important and valuable things going on in her life. Whether that is her intention or my intuition reading too far between the lines, whether it is because of her feeling competitive in the being busy competition or that I felt guilty of being the less busy one, there’s no way I could tell.

But surely I can’t be the only one who has ever be confronted with this. I’m sure we have all met the one person who’s just so busy and in some kind of way compare your “unbusyness” to their busyness. In fact, I have done that myself. In fact, I still sometimes catch myself getting irritated at my husband playing video games all day on his day off while I was working and teaching. Logically I know it doesn’t mean he has worked any less hard to deserve the day off, logically I have and would do the same thing. Logically I was happy that he was having time to unwind and shut off his otherwise overactive brain. But the reaction of criticising him wasting time comes so quick and naturally, if I don’t catch myself it is easy to fall into the idea and resentment that he is somehow, inferior and lazy. And then I remembered how me and my friend went to a julefrokost (note: Christmas lunch) for startups, and one of the major bragging rights and center of the discussions was how little these people sleep.

We are a social animal, and it is of our nature to try to mirror those who is around us, to fit in. With that deeply rooted need to become unified, it is easy sometimes for one to forget logic and jump into the built-in, hand fed ideas and responses. We all know that competing on how busy one is is ridiculous; we all know that thinking one is superior because of the lack of idle time is not logical, but sometimes we all still do it. In this society we are today, doing less or having time to do nothing is considered wrong, it is considered lazy. And doing nothing make us feel guilty, so instead of trying to understand where the guilt is coming from, it is easy to project that guilt on other people. It is easier to accuse the others of “having nothing to do”, of “having too much time on their hands”. Even though having nothing to do, some times, could be a very good thing.

One of the fears I’m sure all new yoga teachers have experienced, was not the cuing and trying to figure out what to say; but to try to say nothing in the savasana, and to try to leave blank spaces in between our dialogues. It takes most new teachers quite a handful of classes, or dozens or hundreds, to get used to the idea of leaving negative spaces in the class, to not be frightened, and to get used to the idea that sometimes, not saying anything is enough.

Much like skilled illustrators and painters will tell you, the art of the craft is not only what you fill in on the canvas, but even more so in the negative spaces you leave in between. And in a art language, negative spaces has no negative connotation to it.

Just like a long time yogi and a skilled teacher will tell you, leaving/being left alone with the poses are sometimes the most important things in a class.

It is with the negative spaces, the core of the piece started to have a silhouette, starting to take shape. It is through having the negative space in yoga, that we can work through the mind’s resistance, and transformation takes place. It is through having the negative space in life, that we can develop, to grow and to expand.

It is through the caterpillar being in the chrysalis, seemingly without a lot of movements and external expression of efforts, the biggest metamorphosis can take place.

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– Sandy

 

Watch your thoughts

I have a husband who studies philosophy, and in the household we have many interesting, somewhat philosphical discussion. It is good, and bad at the same time (because one just simply cannot discuss too much into the tiniest details and still have hopes to move forward in life). But once we had a very good discussion about just words.

For those of you who know about philosophy please forgive and excuse me, for this is truly not my area and what I’m about to ramble on is all, I’m sure, some very basic thought banters that my husband was humoring me with.

But the discussion was, how being bi/multi lingual was very interesting, as it changes the way one’s brain can perceive and think of things. I find it especially obvious having speaking languages from two very different roots, that requires very different logic and way of framing in the mind, in order to function in that language properly. To explain what I mean in the simpliest way, is that different language have a different concentrated vocabulary. Like how icelandic has multiple many different words for different types of snow, the nordic language has many different words to describe the different flows of water, and in Chinese we are very concentrated in words that carries an emotion, or a feeling.

Talking with my folks back home sometimes really baffles me. As someone who hasn’t lived there for a while and don’t use the language everyday for a long time, whenever I get home, it takes me a good two weeks to get used to being around the language and the culture. And it is not because I cannot use the language properly anymore, but it strikes me every time, how negative I find people’s use of words and phrases are.

Whenever I have discussions about the subtlety (or not so subtle really) about languages, I like to stress how we are just culturally very different in the scale of positivity and negavitity. For example we (Cantonese people) rarely ever use phrases like “fantastic, awesome, good job”. When someone’s done well, you’d say “it’s really pretty okay”. And “okay” is pretty much as high praise as people are willing to give in a casual conversation.

And then I think of the Danish people, who has a, in my opinion, pretty straight forward and condensed way of structuring sentences. And how their demeanor in the beginning to me, not understanding the background of the language, was so rude and so blunt.

That, in itself is of course a very interesting observation that I’m sure all multi-lingual people share.

But that can’t be only applied to people born with different languages. What about those who do speak the same language, but tend to choose to use different choices of words?

So instead of saying they are doing really well, they like to say they are doing ok. Instead of saying the food is good, they like to say it’s not bad.

One of my favourite sketches of all times was the Monty Python Woody and Tinny words sketch, and of course, more the actual seemingly nonsensical discussion of words session, and not the later half of this video.

As much as it seems non-sensical and it’s for giggles, I think there’s a fair share of truth to it. For every word we use every day, we hear them a lot more times than we have actively said it with our mouths. Say you were a child, trying to stick your wee finger into the electric socket, your mum said,”no”. And over the many years of growing up, the times we have heard the word “no”, must have far exceeded the times we have said it ourselves (until we got our own kids, that is). And it wouldn’t be too unimaginable, that this sound of word, has imprinted a deeper than memory sensation, almost a gut feeling to it. Versus if the word is “good job” (or in Cantonese, it’s pretty ok), it must have made some kind of positive association in your deep cells.

Much like the Pavlov’s dog experiment, the conditioning of the dog has created a quick, biological response. Is it not completely imaginable that positive, reinforcing lingo, has conditioned us to feel better over the years?

I’m sure you have experienced being in class, and your yoga teacher suddenly say something so profound to you, that it brings the tinniest smile to your face.

And what if it starts before it even leaves your mouth?

We are all aware (I think), that we think in some form of language in our heads. And who’s to say these words doesn’t create the same psychological to biological reactions when you think them, as it would when it is being told to you?

Watch your thoughts; for they become words. Watch your words; for they become actions. Watch your actions; for they become habits. Watch your habits; for they become character. Watch your character for it will become your destiny.

A little longwinded, and a little obvious. But this has been running through my head for the longest time. And I can’t help but wish that we, as people in a collective society, would be able to put in some effort to watch, and to slowly catch and perhaps modify these patterns, for I think this is the only way that could help making us happier and more fulfilled.

– Sandy

Illustration credit: Simon Prades

No, really, I don’t know

Perhaps it’s just me, I get alarmed and frankly a little irritated when I get the “oh you are a yoga teacher you must be so flexible” response.

Yes I can get into a full split, I can touch my toes and I can open my inner thigh to a wider range of motion than most people do.

But if you, whether you do yoga or not, think that there’s a = sign between yoga and flexibility, we as teachers are not doing it right.

Recently I stumbled upon this very intersting podcast on the science of stretching, and stretching isn’t quite what we think it is:

https://itunes.apple.com/hk/podcast/episode-9-jules-mitchell-the-science-of-stretching/id885440301?i=1000316997281&l=en&mt=2

What I loved the most about this, is how real the struggle she had when she started to come face off with the evidence, that the traditional passive stretching may actually be bad for you.

One of the best one liners I’ve ever heard as far as body, movements and trainings go, was something like this “The whole industry needs to understand, we are just beginning to understand this stuff”.

My favouriate teachers as I’m going through this journey, has always had the courage to say, “I don’t know”, or “I could be wrong”. It is because they have understood, just how vast this study is, and how little we actually have figured out. It is because of their mastery of their craft, that they have realise the limitation of what their craft is.

But saying “I don’t know” or “I could be wrong” is somehow very difficult. It probably is because of my ego, my still somehow stuck perspective of having to be a know-it-all as a teacher, that makes it so very hard to admit there are so many things that I don’t know.

Today I was confronted with the struggle of “I don’t know”. When a question was raised, instead of saying I don’t know, I somehow got trapped in trying to find excuses with what I haven’t studied, or learned. I caught myself being embarrassed, and frankly a wee bit irritated that I was asked. With wanted to be humble, and real constantly in mind, I sat and observed myself try to wiggle out of saying “I don’t know”. I admire my teachers who has a practice of admitting what they know and not know, and having the practice of admitting they could be wrong. And here’s to wishing that I could be there one day. For it is then, I could consider myself a teacher I could respect.

Thank you, for those who were here at the workshop, those who had wanted to come but couldn’t today. You are the best teachers.

– Sandy

Young and beautiful

We are only as young as we are today. And we are forever beautiful.

This realisation is especially true when you are meeting, working, talking with people who are going through something you can recognise and resonate, probably from experiences in life.

I love it when I am training or am chatting with people who have the ideal, the love, the passion, and the innocence of what I had. I love when I come face to face with the realisation that I have been there, in the exact same perspective, and that there are always someone who is talking to me, thinking the exact same thing.

Life, in all its stages, are to be appreciated. We are all so very right in the moment, to the best of our capacity. Even though it might only last for this short period of time.

And then life moves on. And you find another little something to be so very inspired and passionate and biased about, and then you move on. It’s an endless cycle of metamorphosis.

I love how wrong sometimes I can think people are, as much as how right I would think myself at the moment. I love when we are all so correct, in our perspective, in our space in time, yet we come in to the same parallel, and have a conversation about it.

And the importance, the lesson to me, is that all these universes are so very true, so very beautiful, and so very necessary.

When I say, as a general believe, that I love and really appreciate all people who are in their perspectives, their mindsets, their stages, I mean it in the very extend of it.

Be it that you are depressed, be it that you are cocky, be it that you are passionate, be it that you feel weak. Maybe you look at life and people around you cynically, maybe you look at life full of passion, maybe you are just getting by. Life is just so beautiful, and correct, and righteous, in every single moment of it.

And it is only when you look at every individual that you come across, and try to put yourself in their shoes, then you realise how beautiful the experience they are going through, and how our individual ideals, perspectives and understanding only forms a small fraction of this real truth and reality that we communally live in.

We are only as young as we are today. And we are forever beautiful.

The Tao turns the tides and changes caterpillars into butterflies.

Practices aren’t always butter smooth and easy. Our body is in such a constantly fluctuating state, some days we feel butter smooth, some days we feel energised, other days we feel void, exhausted.

Today my practice felt like a real challenge, body heavy, wrists weak and I could feel the acid build up. The first half hour of the practice was pure unenjoyment. But as I worked my way through my body’s resistance, it started to feed back to me, it started to open up and things started to change. Through the intensity my hands started to shake, and through the trembling my muscles started to find strength, it started to find space, it started to find the breeze of energy flowing through again.

And then I thought to myself, I had thought about given up half way, I had thought otherwise about getting on my mat today. As my hands were trembling, my whole arm and shoulders shaking, I thought this was not the day for my active practice.

But things we prefer doing aren’t always what is necessary, what we don’t want to do aren’t always what we should avoid.

When we are confronted with flavours we don’t like, sensations we are not familiar with, our minds creates fear, and this fear stops us from experiencing the full spectrum of other sensations, it stops us from being. It is only when we face and run towards feeling and digesting this fear, this discomfort, do we understand and fully synthesise the learnings from the ancient, fluid intelligence of our body.

Luna

Luna, lovely Luna.

Do you feel it in your system? I feel soft, void of active energy today. And for the first time in quite a long time, did my first full yin practice. It just felt right, it felt necessary.

All this last eights days have been a continuous, brain exhaustion. I haven’t had a day off since last Tuesday.

Feeling at the end of the line, feeling overwhelming by passing over my old job, shaping up the new little space, my multiple websites, making plans to fit a social life and looking for a new job.

Sometimes what one can do is to just endure. Some times your brain will just refuse to shut off, no matter how hard you try, how many tools you employ.

And at times like this I wanna run, run into the mountains, into my own cocoon. Let the storm be on its own, making waves and remaking nature, let me be selfish and hide in my cave, shut off the lights and sleep over all the bumps, the hurdles, the rough patches. And let this bumpy ride rock me into a deep, deep space of my own.

Spaciousness

So here’s the thing: I just taught a what I thought to be amazing class today.

In sandy’s self grading system, classes are separated into meh, good, great and amazing.

It doesn’t necessarily had anything to do with the flow, what poses, what feedback, but the general sensation that I get: the more synchronised I feel in the energy between me and the student, the higher the ranking goes. And this was the first amazing class I’ve taught in months.

Good classes give me a recognition from my mind, great classes give me a energy burst and amazing classes give me a recognition, a learning from my soul. And the tricky thing is, you don’t choose to teach amazing classes.

It has nothing to do with prep work, there is no guarantee if you practice or meditate you will get it. You just simply have to have the right amount of chemistry in the class, the openness, the energy amongst all those in the room.

Thinking back, I seem to remember teaching amazing classes a lot more often back when I didn’t teach this much. I don’t know if this was to do with frequency, to do with me finally getting my upper spine freedom back, or to do with me getting go of my studio managing job.

Yes, just this last week I made the decision of committing into what I’ve wanted to do for some months now. It was a scary decision, it’s no good for money and it was emotionally a little painful as well.

It is not until yesterday I realise we found someone to fill in for the job. And life goes on just as normal.

Could it be the unpronounced stress, the muscle that’s tucking from my thinking over clock brain that’s stopping my upper spine to find the freedom? Could it be just a coincidence?

Life is more philosophical, in many ways, I think, than real philosophy. (Don’t quote me, I’m making this up as I go) the tightness in the mind, is a metaphor to the tightness in the skin of my skull, and it is affecting the tightness of my spine.

This vessel that is made of meat and bone, you see, are no difference than the vessel that we think to be sitting inside of our skull, in our chest. And there isn’t a relationship quite as fluid, and as one, as it is between our bodies and soul. There IS no body, no soul, just the one unit.

Find the spaciousness in your very own cocoon of existence, and the expansion, doesn’t come from the space within our meat suit, it expands in fact as one, without boundary, without a fixed shape, and is ever fluctuating from one small fraction of a moment to another. You gotta break the walls of your house, walk the outside of the edges of the path, in order to find space, find room to expend.

Let the walls of the house to be dispersed, let the stone side walk of the path to wash away, let the limit to what your one can be to evaporate. Be free, float, elevate, transcend. Dropping the weight of the burden, of the worries, of the “realities” and let the wind carry you, light as a feather, floating like Peter Pan.

And how?

While being a yogi means that one is less likely to be grumpy, less likely to be angry, it is not always just grit-free.

I’ve just heard a piece of news about a place I was very close to. A place that the condition at the time was so horrendous, me and my friend left scarred, scared and to this day, I refuse to be close/be associate with it.

And this place is somehow doing very well. From the condition before we left, it looked as though it was definitely going to be over. Deranged, delusional, fights, accusations, all of those that were wrong made up to be the one of the most stressful and depressing experience I’ve been through.

And looking at what seems to be a success base on this piece of news, I can’t help but be suspicious. There’s got to be some equally horrendous things going on behind the scenes, right? I can’t help but be a little bit angry at the inequality of the universe; that the horrible treatments that me, my friend, the people associated with it had received, is not paid back by some cosmic, poetic justice.

Sitting in front of the invitation that we collectively received, I’m splitting between shock, jealousy (?), disbelieve and a small degree of happiness for them. You see, as much as I would love to just be the meditated, yoga lovely dovey happy and forgiving saint/yogi, I am still holding on my grudge and am still jealous/angry/confused as hell.

As much as I preach and believe that one should accept thing as is and be happy with whatever circumstance that one finds him/herself in, as much as I am genuinely impressed and want to congratulate, I really, really, really want to tell them to go fuck themselves.

 

 

And the yoga is

Energy level is a funny thing. It is in a constant state of fluctuation. Three days ago I was in the highest outburst of energy, being on my day offs and being home was killing me. It was like thousands of little energetic soldier ants ready to March. And I did the most amazing, the most ass whooping practice.

Today I feel out of place, grumpy, tired, and generally like a total tit. While practicing was okay, teaching an active class was a little rough – I didn’t feel like socialising at all.

So how do one keep practicing the same thing, same sequence, same manner everyday? While I definitely agree that as a yogi we do need to practice everyday but I am an advocate of practicing what feels right to do on the day. As a teacher what I think we can never encourage enough is for students to listen to their bodies. Not in the quoting the book “listening to your body and its limitation” way. But listen, and find the little clues that will inform you how you actually feel today sort of way. As modern humans, we typically spend a lot of time “upstairs” in our “attic”. And the side effect of spending too much time upstairs is that it is difficult to know what’s happening on the ground floor. And the more activity, the more impressions we feed ourselves and our students, the harder it becomes to connect to the ground floor.

As teachers, as much as giving instructions and information is important, it is just as important to back off. Sometimes our giving space, our feeding a question, a few moments of pauses in the hottest, spiciest of vinyasa flows is what is going to help our students feel, what helps them from going too far, from going into injuries. I went to one of my colleagues classes last year and I remember so very distinctly that she started the class with: I want you to take the responsibility of taking care of your body. That she was there to guide and it is the students responsibility to decide and to communicate with their bodies in their practice.

We all have had injury discussions with our students, I’ve had students coming to me a week after class telling me she felt bad in her knee after the last class. We have had one way or the other tried to give modification, tried to give suggestions to see if we can help. I’ve had student coming to me and told me about their injuries before class and asked me to keep an eye on them and tell them if it was dangerous in some poses.

It is all fine and perfect but what we also need to understand is, teachers should not, and simply can not take the responsibility away from the students. It is the student who are in their skins and feel their sensations. It is the student who has the best shot of getting all the hints and making the most informed decision. It is the student’s practice, it is the student’s yoga.

The moment we stop treating this practice like a mimicking monkey exercise and take it internally; the moment we start understanding this practice as an internal exploration; only then, and at that very precise moment, are we putting the yoga into our yoga practice.

 

The biggest enemy is your expectations

It’s been about a month now that I’ve engaged in a daily handstand tuck practice.
In full disclosure I cannot do a handstand without the wall. But being my daily extra this month I’ve employed my loyal husband to help me. We do one to two jumps everyday, he catches me and I see how long I can hold it up for with him assisting my balance. And through this I’ve observed a few things. One being, of course your balance changes everyday. It seems to, to me also varies on what I have been practicing as my main practice that day. I could swear if I had had a shoulder focus practice, I had way more stability in the stand.
One thing that is beyond any practices, any tips that I’ve read that day, whether or not I’m tired. Is that I do WAY better when I have the least expectations. Case in point I realise I could do a mayurasana for the first time yesterday, in the midst of me messing around and getting a feel for my body before teaching. As I was warming my wrists, it came to me that I should try. And right there and then, a pose that I have been wishing and attempting to do for three years (I kid you not, it is literally on my bucket list) suddenly made sense to me for the very first time. It wasn’t all the tips that I’ve read, the tutorials that I’ve watched, the workshops that I’ve attending that helped me, I reckon. It is the blank of the mind and the going for nothing that got me there. It is the lack of expectations and whispering thoughts of how to pose, what shape to hold that got me there. It is the freedom my body was allowed to have without my brains interference that got me there.

When in doubt 

Im present again. And it took the oldest, most obvious trick in the book: practice.

I don’t know how it happened, but I hadn’t been practicing enough again. Other things in life takes over, and the inertia of rather doing nothing becomes a more permanent state. 

And the result is transparent. I didn’t have inspirations to how to teach. Without the input that I feed the intelligence of my body, my intelligence doesn’t know how to teach. Mechanically yes, but honestly, energetically no. 

As soon as I started making a daily practice to hit the mat again every thing changed. Maybe ta the challenge that I provide myself but I tend to think it’s more of a sensational thing. My favourite thing to do in my own practice is to systematically squeeze all the muscles, all the cells that I can think of. And experience that ecstasy of little bubbles of vibration simmering open. Time and time again, my body has shown me that if I’m not feeling my own simmer of energy, I don’t have the ability of teach what I deem a genuinely great class. And the difference between a great and a good class, is all it matters to me. 

So I’m practicing daily again. Sometimes it’s 20’inutes, sometimes it’s an hour, sometimes it’s 3 hours. And what matters is, and always will be, is the consistent arrival at this place.