An Update on Independence

Funnily, it’s been a year and I read my last post, and I realize more and more how much independence is important to me.  Not freedom – but independence.  What I mean is that there are those who are born unafraid, independent, curious, crazy, interesting – they’re the ones who desire freedom; then there are those like me, born dependent, needy, untrusting, unsure.  For me, independence is fiercely important, because it’s something I wasn’t born with or encouraged to taste as I grew up.  But it’s something that I’ve really appreciated in adulthood.  It’s something that’s first to go in adult, human relationships.  At some point people realize that it’s the currency that hurts, so friendships, family, relationships, marriages just kind of beeline toward it.

Social media and general digital advances compound it.  All of my communications happen over some kind of online social media; and I found it a great way to keep in touch initially.  But these days it’s hard to distinguish between my dependence on social media and my dependence on a few select friends.  Both of these, for whatever reason, in my head, are quite toxic – though I love my friends, and I love being able to keep in touch through social media.

In the past year I’ve seen toxicity and commercialism in a lot of the things I used to consider most pure.  I loved yoga retreats – but had a poor experience in the last retreat I attended; I was unable to center myself as I have been able to do in the past.  I loved driving to LA – but have had more and more trouble hitting my meditative place in those five hours.  I think it’s the way I choose to perceive it, though – I’ve seen some of these ideas/ideals polluted, but I’ve also gained clarity in what it is I really seek.

Whatever the activity, there’s a place of pureness when I feel like I’m truly myself and comfortable in my skin – I’ve felt this in moments under water at 80 ft; sweating with my feet around my head and arms clambering toward each other 75 minutes into a practice that I swear could break me; anonymous in a crowd of hundreds, squeezing shoulder to shoulder.  I guess as I move on and forward, it’s most important to never forget that feeling, and to never stop seeking activities that bring that feeling into my every day.

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On Being Single

I think in the past three months, I’ve really been going about being single in a lot of different ways.  On the one hand, I spent one month traveling like the world around me was going to collapse tomorrow.  On the other, I tried online dating.  I tried meeting friends of friends, social gatherings, trendy dining, clubbing, concerts – I feel like these are all pretty core to what people conventionally consider the state of being single today.

Anyway, I came to the conclusion, though, that through all of this, I still haven’t really been single. I think what I mean is that being single means that you don’t need to be beholden to others.  You can do things for yourself, by yourself, unabashedly, unapologetically.  It means that you may “see” people, but that you don’t need to bend over backward to see them.  It means that you may not want to see anyone for a few days, and you can do that, without having to blame it on a boyfriend or family member.

To me, being single is a kiss in the pouring rain with a stranger because the moment was right.  It’s taking off on a whim to a new place I’ve never been for an adventure with people I’ve never met.  It’s trying something I’ll be horrible at and for once not caring how good I am at it, because I want to be there – and I’m not trying to impress anyone for once.  Being single is loving myself and counting on no one else to do that for me.  

On Love

Interesting thing… I realized recently that I’ve never felt secure in loving a person. That’s not to say I’ve never been secure in being loved, nor is it to say I’ve never truly loved a person. I don’t know if those I’ve loved over the years ever knew this.

I’ve never felt secure in loving a person, and I’ve never felt secure in being loved. My parents and family friends have healthy, loving relationships. So I don’t know what it was that was injected in me at such an early age that men cannot be singularly devoted to women. Or what it was that was injected in me that I believed myself unworthy of singular devotion.

But I suppose empirical evidence has more or less pointed me in this direction thus far. Being single afforded me the freedom of living my own life – but for someone like me to search for a serious relationship, sacrifices of the personal sort need to be made. I think I’m so afraid of those sacrifices, so afraid that I might give up so much of my self only to find that what’s left isn’t much worth anything to him, that I prefer not to believe.

Practicing Purna

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I’m currently undergoing my first yoga teacher training, and I can’t believe I haven’t blogged about it until now.  My teacher’s name is Naichin Tang, and she’s well-known in the yoga community as being the first female to bring Anusara to Asia (or something like that – I think I’m completely botching her bio right now so apologies!) – but that really does not encapsulate why she’s well known.  She’s well-trained, clearly (John Friend, Richard Freeman, and Clive Sheridan are her main teachers) – but really, she shines as a teacher who brings a lot of heart into her teachings.  Each of her classes during TT carries with it a theme – and today’s theme was purna.  Completeness, fullness.

Around this theme, Naichin structured a crazy flow.  One that really blew my mind to be completely honest – it wasn’t that the poses were difficult, and it wasn’t that the poses were easy; it was actually that the poses were so carefully chosen & modified that she could be sure that every student in the class would be able to find some ability they did not know they had before.

Technically, here is what we covered:

  • Arm balancing:  side crow, eka pada koundinyasana (1/2/3), eka pada galvasana (flying pigeon)
  • Back bending:  eka pada rajakapotasana (king pigeon), drop back, urdhva dhanurasana (wheel) w/ chest & face kissing the wall (basically trying to grab the feet)
  • Inversions:  handstand, handstand -> wheel -> handstand, scorpion

The thing about today’s practice was that it was very complete.  We had two hours to complete it – so that helped – but primarily what I mean is that I never felt rushed in the entire class; nor did I feel like I was ever bored.  The pace was structured just perfectly so that there was enough time to compare notes with classmates around me and work on my own practice, while feeling like I had cycled my way through an impressive set of poses.  

I’ve taken other intermediate yoga classes before, and the thing is that usually when you’re going through one of these classes, you end up feeling like you’re doing  a pose for the sake of showing off that you can, rather than for the sake of really trying the pose.  You also end up feeling like you’re rushed – because in a typical 75 – 90 minute class, you can probably only afford at most 5 minutes on even the most difficult of poses, especially since these poses usually require a demo session as well.

Today’s theme was purna, and I thought that just in the sequencing and  structure of the flow, the class was very complete.  There were elements of overcoming fear, elements of triumph, and elements of utter frustration — a perfect recipe for addiction!  

Aside from just the structure and technicalities of what was taught, though, the class itself was a purifying one in many ways for me, and for the class as a whole.  Today is the next-to-last day that we’ll have asana practice with Naichin, and the class really showed me how far I had come in my personal practice.  It also showed me that there will always be more difficult poses, more difficult variations of the same pose, and more poses that I can’t even touch.  The journey is a long one, and being complete in my yoga practice and life is knowing that completeness is not perfection.  

Yoga: The Land of Rejects

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I’m kind of falling asleep but did want to write about this, so this might be kind of rambling… 

Okay so obviously there are a ton of reasons I love yoga, but I have been thinking about this for a bit and discussed it with an old friend yesterday.  Something I’ve noticed in the bios and backgrounds of several of my loved and respected teachers, is that many of them come from ordinary or even sickly backgrounds.  BKS Iyengar, pictured above, is a prime example – who as a child suffered from malaria, typhoid fever, and general malnutrition.

The beauty of yoga, is that anyone can pick it up.  The beauty of yoga, is that it celebrates health – it promotes general well-being and (in most classic cases) really doesn’t focus so much on the ridiculousness of a pose as it does the basic alignment and holding of the pose.  Though I guess competitive yoga does exist, the majority of yoga I’ve encountered has not been competitive, critical, or negative.  The community overall has been encouraging – from my classmates, to strangers, to my teachers themselves when they present us with a challenging pose or set of poses.

I attended a breast cancer awareness yoga session this weekend that really moved me.  The morning was organized into a series of 20-minute sessions taught by teachers at my studio, and several of the attendees were breast cancer survivors who were there to share their stories and support.  As we began the asana portion of the class, it became obvious that some of the attendees had never done yoga before, and many of the teachers began to mill around to those who had had little to no exposure to yoga in the past, walking them literally pose by pose through five sun salutations.  At some point, two teachers were helping an older woman through her downward dog, and I just thought to myself how wonderfully inclusive the community and the practice of yoga really is.

Many of the teachers that I love at SPACE Yoga, it turns out, are from completely ordinary backgrounds.  It’s really encouraging to know that if you take the time to invest and learn about yoga, you can advance your practice, regardless of how athletic or graceful you are to begin with.  It’s really encouraging that the crazy physical yogis around me have a complete and profound respect for their masterful meditation counterparts, that ashtangis can take pranayama so seriously it isn’t even taught until the second series+, that yoga fosters a community of inclusiveness and not elitism.

 

Date A Woman Who Practices Yoga

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This is a blog post in response to the currently trending Elephant Journal article, “Date A Girl Who Practices Hot Yoga” (link here:  http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/04/date-a-girl-who-practices-hot-yoga-sarah-brose/).  I don’t really know how else to respond to this article but with the photograph above, Rachel Priest (www.rachelpriest.com), so here goes nothing… 

Single men (and women) of the world, I implore you to date women who practice yoga.  Not anusara yoga, not ashtanga yoga (though that would probably secretly make me quite happy hehe!), not hot yoga, not bikram yoga, not rocket, not jivamukti, not lady niguma, not yin, nor power, nor flow, nor vinyasa, nor gentle, nor shakti, nor any other special breed I’ve failed to mention.  At the end of the day, aren’t we one big happy family?  Why split hairs?  Single men and women of the world, date women who practice yoga, in whatever form they’ve been exposed to and/or prefer.

I argue that it isn’t about the sweatiness of a hot yogi (pun intended), that the specialness and wonderfulness that is yoga is manifested in every branch of yoga!  Date a woman who understands that she lives in a world largely defined by material wealth, that she will fall susceptible in some way at some point, that she should and will take it upon herself to strike the balance that works for her.  Date a woman who understands that there is a time for a party and a time for meditation, that the world she lives in needs for her to participate as well as observe.  Date a woman who accepts that there won’t be time to practice yoga every day, a woman who is grateful for the time spent on her mat, as well as the time spent off of it.

Date a woman who understands the needs of her body — not only to sweat, twist, bend, engage, and lift, but also to nourish. Date a woman who eats! Date a woman who listens to her body, be it loud screaming Let me out of this position, I’m about to break!, or a bit of a whisper I really need some protein today.  Date a woman who stands, sometimes awkward and alone, amidst a sea of trends beyond her comprehension, looking inward and so excited she can’t wait to share this love she’s found with the world.

Find a woman who practices yoga — and struggles with it.  A woman who’s hooked on the adrenaline of the asana, the music of the mantra, the focus of meditation, but can never seem to master any of it!  A woman who’s ever learning, who gets so frustrated over a simple tree pose, because she knows her feet aren’t truly grounded, her alignment never exactly right.  Find a woman who struggles with the joys and challenges of yoga, and struggle with her.  

A Creature of Habit

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I was calling into my favorite veggie bento place today, to put in an order for my bento (yes, these lunchboxes are so popular that you need to call in and reserve one, at least two hours before lunch).  The lady recognized my voice and identified me as Ms. Chou, who cannot finish her large bento lunches.  She suggested that she’ll put in more veggie and less rice for me, so that I can finish my lunchboxes in the future — seriously, LOVE the customer service at this place.

But I digress.  As I was thinking about this, I realized I really am a creature of habit.  I love my daily, weekly, monthly routines – my favorite stalls at the day markets (coconut man & veggie auntie constantly ask about my work, because they’ve been seeing less of me lately!), at the night markets, eateries, my yoga habits (my favorite teachers are always asking up on my schedule, why I don’t come in more often anymore…)

I suppose this is a primary reason as to why I love the practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa.  It’s a set sequence, something to hold steady in my life.  In reality, I really do spend a lot of my time flailing this way and that — traveling, working, having fun – but I love that my yoga practice is something that is simultaneously ever-changing and ever-steady.  Of course, other teachers at SPACE and elsewhere have rather bluntly noted to me that my foundations are shaky, and that I need to take more hatha/flow classes to mix things up, which I do to some degree, but what I need in my regular weekly practice is that foundation of ashtanga.  It fulfills me, not just physically, but also emotionally, somehow.  I can’t put a finger on it, but when I step into the classroom for an ashtanga class, I feel like I’m in the right place and the right time – like all is right in the world if I’ve made time for ashtanga this week.

I remember one of my best friends once exasperatingly joking with me, “I set you up on this paleo path, and you come back to me two months later asking about oatmeal!” — but that’s exactly my personality, and also exactly why I need to have my little routines.  Everything else about me is so curious to try new things that I feel like I need a few things to ground myself — they’re like hooks into my identity, a reminder that I have a self at all; I spend so much time finding who I am, sometimes I wonder what’s left of my id.

It used to be him — not my most recent ex-boyfriend, per se, but the presence of a man.  That used to be the grounding factor in my life, like no matter what happened, I had someone else who was relatively stable (and looking back, my exes were, during the period we dated, all more or less of stable disposition) who could hold on to my self while I went out and tried new things.  I don’t know when or how it changed, but at some point while dating my last boyfriend, I think I broke out of this shell and depended more on these little things, these little routines, than on men.  I don’t know if that’s commentary on the way I perceive men and relationships, nor do I care to elaborate on that now – another exploration for another time. 🙂

I suppose what I’m saying in this random spew of a rambling mess, is that my personality and lifestyle are rather chaotic, and in general often difficult for me to come to terms with.  While I do admit that this is really the way I prefer to live my life, I also realize that selectively, I find ways to stabilize and ground myself – routines that may seem trivial, but that I adhere to, almost without fail.  I suppose the ultimate goal may be to meet myself somewhere in the middle — to stop flying around, to stop taking journeys with no expiry dates — but my soul, perhaps is not as developed as it should be.  I’m still very much captivated by what my sensory organs perceive of the outside world, and in most cases unable to tear away to look inside.  Practice, and all is coming, right?  Namaste.