Resolutions Take Practice

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Utkatāsana, Led Primary last Saturday at Nūn Center, Zamalek, Cairo.

As we launch ourselves into 2017, we see a lot of the stuff that new year’s are made of: the goal makings of the well-intentioned that gets folks to the gym or to yoga classes, to eating balance meals or quitting longtime bad habits–and it’s all well and good, when we’re in week 3 of January.

As the days and weeks wear on, however, how many of our resolutions will be set aside for difficult schedules, work or life emergencies, or for the more ingrained negative patterns that are themselves fighting for their place in our lives at this point. For whatever reason, prioritizing our health and well-being is a serious challenge.

For just about my entire life, I remember starting the year strong with such intentions only to have them peter out as the days and months wore on. This changed for me, however, some years ago. Without me noticing, I started to manage to stick to new goals–not all, some have continued to be elusive–especially of the creative and administrative nature. However, I saw marked improvements the years that I really started to practice with regularity.

Learning to practice, I realize now, fueled my resolutions. Through the regular practice, I learned the difficult job of showing up for myself, for doing something for me, because it was good for me and I enjoyed it. It wasn’t easy in the beginning, either. Though I knew the benefits, I also felt the difficulties: waking up in the mornings, being without a teacher, being confronted with my lack of coordination and my own belligerent body.

Practicing taught me how to stick to things, even when it was hard. It taught me to be patient and forgiving towards myself when I felt like I failed, especially during those periods that I fell off the practice wagon. And it taught me that the important thing was my willingness to come back to the mat and to try again. And as I learned these lessons through practice, I started to know how to practice the other things that I wanted to manifest and change.

And while yoga may not be the answer to your resolutions, it might actually help because resolutions don’t simply happen when you decide it. They become realities when you practice them with regularity and gusto–and this is something we learn in the ashtanga system. Once again, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois said it best: “Practice, practice, all is coming.”


I continue to teach here at Nūn Center in Zamalek, Cairo. Come if you would like me to help you power up and practice for the new year.

Morning Mysore is Sunday to Thursday 7-11am; Evening Ashtanga Monday and Wednesday 8-9:30pm. For more info on the ashtanga programs at Nūn http://www.nuncener.com. 

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Fall-ing: Change with the Seasons

 

 

I love autumn, despite how unfortunately little I’ve experienced it, growing up in tropical Philippines and one-season wonder Los Angeles. I love the crispness in the cool air. I love seeing the leaves changing color. And then there’s this stirring, seeing the world before you change, how nature simply knows that soon it will be time to shed its old self, it accepts and celebrates this in a quiet show of subtle but tremendous beauty.

When I’ve been lucky enough to catch fall over these years of travel, I just fall in love with it (sorry, I could not help the pun!).  I was in Arashiyama, Kyoto last weekend with a girlfriend and we both found ourselves jumping excitedly as we saw the bold reds, oranges and yellows of the mountainside, which had been, not that long ago, a pretty uniform green.

Autumn arrives here in Japan during a difficult week for both of my home countries. New regimes are stepping in to the highest seats of power and with them rhetoric and promises (some might call: threats) that is difficult to stomach and dangerous towards minorities. I have feel sad as a woman and as a first-generation immigrant, I worry for the safety and well-being of friends and family, particularly in post-election America.

The changing trees, however, remind me that transformation is always at work. There will always be shifts. Summer is not forever, winter will most definitely come, and, when all seems lost, spring will soon follow. Everything in its good time.

I don’t know how the world will change–though, I don’t plan on sitting idly and watching it all just happen.

But when I see the autumn leaves, I’m excited by it because it reminds me of something essential about myself. There will always be this time, this time of letting go, and that somehow this way I move forward. This is when I regroup, I look at my stores, knowing that energy is precious and limited and that its my duty to find where it is best served.

Our yoga practice likewise has its own seasons. Sometimes not quite in the same order, but sometimes very similar. The autumnal flow of practice is a pretty dramatic time, change is visible and tangible with the inescapable the feeling that we are at the end of something. We celebrate. Or mourn. There’s a great show before we huddle in for our deep internal winters, emerging when it’s time for spring.

As I process the changing world around me, I return to the lessons on the mat, looking for equilibrium by standing on my own two feet, by breathing deeply through the feelings of separation and fear, by examining my expectations for a world that appears to be going in a different direction. I am asking myself how do I balance a need for calm and collected thoughfulness while acknowledging that my participation is needed in the world I want to live in. I don’t exactly know how, but I do feel that I’m equipped with a way to do it.

One thing is for sure–and has always been a certainty–the world is changing and, like it or not, we will change with it.

Bookish Beware: Less Reading, More Experience

 

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A world of books. A rare little independent Japanese book seller in Nakatsu, Osaka.

I’ve always identified myself as being a literary person. I studied English literature in university and even majored in creative writing. I love books, the actual physical touch of them, the weight of them in my hands, the smell of paper. As a youth, books were my escape from an awkward adolescence. My first experiences of love, obsession, heartache were from the novels I read, even the experience of reading them was very real to me, from forming attachments to the characters to feeling sadness when our time together would inevitably end in the last pages of a story. I still enjoy getting engrossed in a good novel, but I don’t seek them out as much as I used to.

My last bookish phase came with the beginning of my yoga practice. I collected as many books on yoga, I wanted to understand it, to use the same love for words to experience this new way of living. I don’t think I read through a third of these books that take a whole shelf on my bookcase in Manila. The ultimate teacher is always life itself, every book, lecture, teacher is a supplement to the greater lesson-maker which is life.

No one and nothing can show you the experience of anything. One might help facilitate or guide or share. Ultimately the job of experiencing anything is our own. We must, simply, experience it. To learn yoga, we must must practice. To live life, we must live.

Sometimes, I miss my books. I miss the old me totally absorbed in the pages of another world. But I also know that my lack of enthusiasm for a world of paper, stories and information is due to a greater engagement with the world that I live in–that these days, I favor activities that dissolve the stories and words that have previously defined me and my life. And perhaps, in the future, I will enjoy reading again with the same voracity as before, but for now, I am content in enjoying the moment before me, the unfolding story of life in real time.

āsana and the yoga of cairo

It’s been a spell since leaving Cairo, but this piece inspired by the old city and its people has long been stewing. People often ask me why I keep coming back to Cairo. There are many reasons but one of the big ones is this: it inspires a level of sadhana that is well beyond the body. It’s a place that reminds me to live my yoga practice.

There’s this chair in a room. It’s a small receiving room in an old apartment in Downtown Cairo. The square room is painted red, and despite its tiny floor size, it stretches up and up with high ceilings. The chair is the only real furniture in the room. There’s a desk lamp, that sits on the ground and the three walls of the room are filled with artworks of varying sizes that reaches up the wall.

The seat, a wooden antique reclining chair with white cushions, feels lonely to me, partially lit by the lamp. Framed against the bits of modern art crawling up the red, it feels stoic, but solitary.

Later, my friend, to whom this space belongs, tells me about his life in Cairo. The struggles of ordinary life filled with victory and loss; he speaks of caring for a parent dying of cancer; of the failed revolution; of life in Tahir Square; of the many crazy things he witnessed during that crazy time; he shares the oddness and disparity between the different social stratas which he straddles, because Cairo, the world he lives in, constantly vacillates between extremes.

In yoga, “āsana” is often referred to as the postures we take while we practice. It is the “seat” of yoga.

These days, we mistake āsana as taking shapes in space. There is a proliferation of this on the internet with photos and videos of beautifully performed handstands and human pretzels… The day I started writing this article, a funny spoof on the yoga video phenomenon went viral among my yoga circles. The following day, a number of the same people who shared it online were once again liking yogāsana snap shots on social media. There’s nothing wrong with that, we can, of course, appreciate all sides. But it had me thinking, once again, what it means to be sitting in yoga.

It is truly something awesome to see a human being defy the limits and gravity with his/her body. They definitely inspire. But I wonder, are they accurate representations of āsana?

I do not offer any photos for this post, though originally I wanted to share one of the chair itself. My friend asked that I refrain from doing even that, such things are, after all, private and the delicate practice of our lives is sacred.

My friend and his chair (neither pictured here) move me in a way that I do not feel when seeing some popular representations of yoga. My friend and his chair, his seat, remind me that the essence of yoga cannot fully be captured in a polished physical posture, however amazing, however artistically articulated.

My friend, he’s no expert at Cairo life, certainly not at yoga. He’s simply doing his best to just sit in all the crazy, all the joy and all the disappointment, striving to find peace with all of it. And that feels like yoga practice to me.

When we practice, we are practicing our ability to sit in yoga, to find equanimity in the body, mind, heart. The greater practice is life itself, the challenge of which is to find equanimity in the body, mind and heart amidst the chaos of an ever changing world.

I think one of the reasons I continue to be drawn to Cairo is that the city’s version of the ebb and flow of life is on some serious kind of overdrive: it is a vortex of living, of varying energies, sweet and terrible (political, economic, cultural, social, individual) all swirling rapidly together in this thick soup of a city, layered with modern and ancient civilizations, and with them their countless innovations, numerous mistakes and unfathomable mysteries.

To sit in it, to stand, to walk, to move, to work, to be there, to be well–let alone, thrive there–takes a special kind of practice.

That’s not to say that everyone in Cairo is sitting in yoga, with every challenge there’s a good amount of avoidance or numbing–but the opportunity to practice yoga exists at every turn, every interaction, every bit of gridlock and difficulty. It is easy to see this in the lives of many of the city’s inhabitants, most of whom don’t know what the inside of a yoga studio looks like. Practice is alive in the struggle. It’s inhabitants must simply do what they can, working to find some stillness in all this whirlpool of energy; Cairo is their yoga.

The search for softness or grace or space or peace in the whirlpool of life is both challenging and sublime. I suppose it’s like this everywhere, though the extreme energies of a place like Cairo accentuates the experience. It is the same experience in a mysore room, where practice is alive and well, gritty and difficult, at the edge of some seemingly insurmountable odds, which we learn to overcome little by little.

Ultimately, the āsana of Cairo is that of everyplace, it is the practice of every man. It is about how we sit, stand, move, interact with our environment, with the people we meet, it’s how we rise up to our challenges and it’s how we live up to our victories.

 

The Practice of Finding Those Wide Open Spaces

 

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About a month ago, I was feeling so cramped up being mostly in the small the suburb of Gokulam in Mysore, India. I felt this incredible restlessness that could only be quieted by riding my scooter out into the fast road out of town, towards the open rice fields and farmland along the Cauvery River. I was nervous at first, unsure of the way, because I rarely ventured out alone. I had gotten complacent and comfortable in my surroundings, little noticing until that moment that I craved for more than yoga practice, houses, wandering livestock and fellow yoga students.

I remember feeling great relief when the landscape opened up. It was a reminder that wide open green space, fresh air and nature was so readily available so long as I was willing to leave my comfort zones.

This is often what I feel in my own practice and body. How the body I sometimes think I have is a little different from the body I actually have. How, at times, I perceive my limitations as permanent state of being.

Our yoga practice helps us find space where we might think there is none. These spaces can be small, or big, or so subtle that they appear to hardly exist in the body. It can be the difference between comfort and dis-ease, lightness or suffering. At times these spaces are in our minds only, and when we respond to challenges better, we create space and this, too, reflects in our body.

In no way is pushing a good thing. Knowing our limitations is also a good thing too, it keeps us safe. Do not push, but rather be willing to explore, to step beyond what is comfortable and easy, because beyond that bit of uncertainty these is so much space.

Catching Wind, Empowering Practice


So many times I have found myself blown in certain directions. Mostly, though not exclusively, with incredible positive outcomes. Even gale force-like winds and maelstroms, which might have moored me into isolation or thrown me into some catastrophic disaster, would eventually abate and I would land wherever with the softness of a feather. I consider myself blessed to have had such good luck to be propelled so. I also know, that in many ways, I called for it, that I invited the elements myself to move me. Time and time again, I’ve taken myself to some peak, opened my arms in surrender, and like wings unfurled, I would get picked up and thus be transported.

I wondered, however, what would it be like if I participated more in this act of flight? The last year in particular has been about recognizing the difference between flowing with things and flying myself.

It’s been an amazing process, coming to a deeper understanding that all this raw energy can be transformed and directed. That I am not prey or play thing to the forces I perceived to be much greater than myself, but, instead, an active player, instigator, herder of energy.

There is so much in this; the world at large is packed with potential energy, raw, unharnessed. In the microcosm of us, we are likewise full of unrealized vitality and force. When we learn to access this, when we learn to use it skillfully, to move it in certain directions, something huge shifts. We are empowered.

This naturally happens when we practice. There’s this wealth of untapped energy in our bones, our connective tissues, our muscles, our breath, our thoughts and hearts. Our practice helps us soften the gross layers, physical and subtle, emotional and mental, that keep us from connecting with our own physical/metaphysical body.

When we practice with consistency over a long period of time, we start tapping into these energies, which then become apparent in the practice itself. We extract energy from the practice and it fuels us. Our bodies become efficient, so does our breath, we develop an economy of thought and effort and before we know it, we are no longer consuming energy but creating it, so ample that it overflows and drips into our lives causing all sorts of creative bounty /mayhem.

This is my tenth year of yoga practice. It’s not a very long time–I continue to feel like a babe in the woods–but it’s not a short time either. Whatever length it is, it is long enough to observe the effects of practice, how it’s changed, how it’s changed me, how my life has changed because of it.

These days in Cairo’s Nūn Center, there are a number of beginners and some students returning to practice after a substantial break. And naturally the struggles that come with starting an ashtanga practice begin to appear: the body gets tired, the mind wavers, the internal debate on whether to go to class starts when the alarm rings in the morning.

I remember my teacher saying that if you never leave your practice, it will never leave you. I still have those days where doing my own practice is like going to battle with myself. What he said, though, it’s true, and it gets me on my mat, it gets me through the first sticky sun salutation, and, eventually, the practice helps me catch wind.

Mysore Classes here at Nūn continue. Sunday to Thursday, 7:30-10am. This week, we are adding Ashtanga Basic classes Monday and Wednesday at 7pm. These classes can be used as an introduction to the morning Mysore program. Drop ins and all levels are welcome! 

Cairo, The Romance Continues

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Taken at Cairo’s Gezira Club by the late Zeinab Lamloum, a great photographer, devoted ashtanga student and good friend.

There are some places that simply draw us, that holds a place in our hearts and our imaginations, that stirs in us some deep kind of recollection of what it is to be terribly, beautifully human. Since late 2013, that place for me has been Egypt. So, in this year which I’ve dedicated to living more fully, more authentically, making my fourth teaching trip to Cairo feels like a pretty good idea.

Over the last few years, I realize, I have formed an interesting, and ever changing, relationship with the place and its people. My first trip, I subbed for fellow teacher, Egyptian Iman Elsherbiny when she took her own trip to study with our teacher in Mysore, India. That first experience was like stepping into someone else’s life, living in her apartment, teaching her classes, being taken around by her friends. My second trip, I joined forces with Iman to help her open her new yoga space, The Shala in Maadi, during which we did a few retreats together which solidified our own sisterhood; her friends became our friends. The last time, I was teaching workshops and retreats, mostly on my own, I spent practically every weekend away from Cairo, it was beautiful but discombobulating. I started to make my own connections, but it was snippets of a life in a whirlwind.

In a way, over those trips, Egypt and I were having a romance, intense but fleeting, substantial enough that it has kept me wanting more; so risky at times that I wanted to keep myself at a safe distance. Still, the feeling remains, I know that Egypt and I like each other.

It’s been nearly a year and a half since my last meeting with Egypt and I wonder whether we’ll jive or not, whether we can we still top the magic of the first, second, even the third time?! I’m not going to try to think too much or speculate the possibilities. I can’t speak for Egypt, but I know I’ve changed and I have a feeling that in the backdrop of Cairo I will know how much more different I am from the other times I’ve come to visit. I know I have grown there, and I know there is probably more growing to do together.

I have different intentions than previous trips. Instead of seeking adventure, wanting to teach everywhere and spreading myself too thinly, I am concentrating my energy, hoping for a stable two and a half months of teaching and self-study.

This time, I am making Nūn Center in Zamalek my base for two months, while continuing to offer Inner Dance in The Shala in Maadi, where the healing modality grew a steady following by the end of 2014.

Between April 17 and June 10, I will be teaching a Sunday to Thursday Mysore program between 7:30-10am at Nūn Center (pronounced “noon,” Nūn is the symbol for primordial water in Ancient Egypt), along with supplementary weekend workshop classes on Friday mornings that will include “Introduction to Ashtanga Yoga” and various themed explorations paired with the traditionally counted led class. For more information on the Nūn  Ashtanga and Inner Dance offerings, please check out the website http://nuncenter.com. Email or call for bookings and inquiries we@nuncenter.com/+20 122 398 0898.

I will also be facilitating Inner Dance in The Shala in Maadi on Thursday evenings. For information on the Inner Dance schedule please call 01223717729-01222384498 or check out The Shala Facebook Page.

There will surely be more in store, dates are being floated and ideas are brewing. So, please continue to check in for updates.

I can’t say where this romance will take me, but I suspect it’s where I want to be going, deep into the personal work that fuels my own teaching, my hunger for learning, and my love for living. I’m excited to say: Cairo, I’m coming.

For Weekly Mysore Classes & Friday Workshops
Nūn Center
4 Shafik Mansour, Zamalek, Cairo
we@nuncenter.com/+20 122 398 0898

For Thursday Night Inner Dances
The Shala
6, Road 200 (in front of the South Africa Embassy), Maadi, Cairo
01223717729-01222384498