"Breathe, my friend. You are not old, you are young. You are not a mess, you are normal. Extraordinary, perhaps. In the blink of an eye your life will change. And it will continue to change for decades to come. Enjoy it, embrace it… be grateful for the ride. You are not old, you are young. And faith will get you everywhere."
~Abby Larson, via tinydevotions.com
It’s past midnight but I can’t get to sleep. I am bent on making it to 7am practice tomorrow, but the desire to write from my heart is keeping me up.
Over the past week, one of my students has been writing me emails filled with yoga concepts, philosophies and quotes. He may be relatively new to the practice but already he has gleaned such profound insights of his practice, of life. I found myself anticipating his emails, not only because I was excited to read his new revelations, but also because I was equally excited to share my thoughts, my two cents’ worth. And as I sat up in bed crafting my reply at 1am a few days back, I realised that he had unknowingly given me a gift – a space to share my feelings and thoughts, a space I’d gradually lost upon my return from Bali.
Tonight, for the first time in a long while, I visited this forsaken tumblr site, and even I was slightly surprised by the last post – dated over half a year ago. It’s not that I haven’t been writing; I have, but most writings have been posted on sprout, sometimes even tailored for it.
During my yoga growth spurt a few years ago, I spent a lot of time internalising, reflecting and writing. It was amazing how almost every session on the mat birthed new insight, how hungry and eager I was for new information, how readily I devoured yoga books. And it was through those times when I sat down and turned concepts, philosophies around and around in my head that I felt that seamless connection with yoga.
Ironically, that fervour has ebbed significantly since I started sprout. It started first and foremost as a business, and then it morphed into an online community, which I’m thankful for everyday. However, even though it is my yoga baby, I’ve never been able to erase that super fine line that separated sprout – the business and Leigh – the person. I was still eager to share my thoughts and my writings, but Leigh the editor was always lurking somewhere in the corners of my mind, editing, curating, censoring.
I’d created a platform to share, but I’d ironically lost my authentic voice.
Thankfully, life has sent me a reminder and I’m taking it. sproutblog remains a community for yoga and wellness, but the Gypsy Diaries is back. :)
At various points in my life, my yoga practice evolves to take on different meaning. To my curious mind, to journey is to question, and there are even days when I ask myself – why do I practise? Instinctively I begin to search for answers, answers that have in the past always come when I laid my head, my heart, my spirit down on the mat.
For the past few months, my personal practice hadn’t blossomed any tangible answers. Insight came when I stopped looking – this time not when I was on my mat, but when I was standing at the back of the room, guiding others on theirs. I realised then that the answer never came because I wasn’t asking the right question. I should have asked instead: “Why do I teach?” So here’s my first insight not as a student of yoga (which I forever will be), but as someone in the seat of a teacher:
I teach because yoga is an amazing leveller.
When you come to yoga, you peel away your usual clothes, strip off your makeup and place material possessions in the locker, and then you step barefoot into my class, onto your mat. When I look at you, I see you without any preconceptions of who you are off the mat. For that hour or so, it doesn’t interest me if you are broke or filthy rich; I don’t see glittering jewels, tattered shorts or fancy cars. What I am interested in is how you breathe and how you move, and through that I think I glean more of your true essence than many do outside these studio doors.
Teaching yoga allows me a peek of how beautiful the human heart is without the armours we put on through life, and what I see often humbles me so, so much.
"It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.” ~ The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer
When Fagan and I started dating over a year ago, I had this inexplicable, unshakeable feeling that I was on the brink of a spiritual evolution. And I was in a flux. There I was, falling steadily in love with this super rational man; yet there I was, all curious and eager about energy, chakras and yogic texts. By then, I’d already decided I would be spending time in Bali for my yoga teacher training, and it felt like something momentous was waiting for me on the other side. I was excited, but also nervous and apprehensive that it would be the thing that would draw us apart. Would a free spirit and a man of logic ultimately find anything in common?
But I couldn’t bear to cage my soul. So throwing all caution to the wind, I poured my heart into loving him, and with equal fervour I poured my soul pandering to the mystic in me – quoting Rumi, singing out loud at kirtan, finding solace in Sanskrit mantras and twirling barefoot at ecstatic dance meditations.
Through it all, we talked.
I left my first kirtan session buzzing with hippie high, and sent him a very uncomfortable message asking if he would accept the spiritually curious me. (He said yes.) I walked out of an ecstatic dance session and told him I felt liberated, but doubted I would ever do it again. (I did.) I shared with him mythological stories my teachers told me, and called him from Bali after a powerful but extremely bizarre Tibetan bowl meditation session. He didn’t always understand, but always, he listened.
And through it all, we grew.
We reshaped each other’s perceptions of spirituality and of life, and unconsciously bridged the distance from our opposite ends. No longer wary of his reaction, I grew confident enough to spout mystical concepts as he grew comfortable enough to set me back in place whenever I got too airy-fairy. He discovered his free spirit as I reigned in mine; he opened up to my offbeat explorations as I developed a more grounded take on spiritual practices; he incorporated hippie floor thumps (picked up from a yoga session we took in Bali) in his Parkour class as I discovered my surprisingly low tolerance for over the top hippiedom. And somewhere along the way, my meat-loving man started trying out Meatless Mondays and got all excited reading about green smoothies and superfoods.
Just when I thought my heart couldn’t get any fuller with love, last night, we did something I never would have imagined doing with him – we took up our friend’s casual suggestion and meditated together. Switching on a guided meditation app HE had downloaded, we sat face to face on the bed, held hands and breathed our way into a clearer head space. And today, we did it all over again, this time over Skype. No transcendental, earth-shaking epiphanies; just two meditation newbies discovering new mental horizons.
I’m still reeling from the surreality of our whole meditation arrangement, and absolutely amazed by how those deal-breaking kinks have worked themselves out so seamlessly. My lover, my best friend and quite possibly, my spiritual warrior?
This love always, always finds a way.
A three-day build up of arguing culminated in a screaming match in the car yesterday. I can’t remember the last time I screamed at someone, much less lost control over how high my voice rose. Every time I thought I’d be able to reign in my emotions, the words somehow still came out in a hoarse shriek. It felt good and bad, both at the same time, and it made me realise how sanitary our previous arguments had been.
Frustration. Exasperation. Tears. Hurt. But beneath it all, still beneath it all, love.
Even though I’ve been born with a practical streak, I am still a hopeless romantic at heart. Strolls at sunset, poems, soulmates sharing the same midnight sky. Chick lit love, movie love.
Quite often, our love is exactly that, and a part of me wants to keep it that way - untainted, pure, protected. But then there are times when that Hollywood perfection catches and we falter - raw, scraped, cuts and bruises. It’s human to want to seek pleasure and run from pain, to want the oxytocin-fuelled, happy moments and reject the heart-aching fights and tears.
But it’s not real.
At times, real love rips you open, exposing the darkest corners of your soul, corners perhaps even you yourself hadn’t yet made peace with. Real love comes with baggages, scars from the lives you led before you came together, along with the complicated existential problems of being human. Real love isn’t bubble-wrapped; it is affected by work, family, friends, decisions - life. Real love sleeps at midnight and wakes four hours later, because loving sometimes requires you to make uncomfortable choices. Real love fights and real love hurts - fighting not to hurt the other party, but instead fighting through the hurt to reach a common ground, together.
I’m not proud that we screamed at each other, but I’m proud that we did. It was like we were both saying: “This is me. Hurt, raw, vulnerable. I’m so effing mad that I can’t be nice to you right now. I’m not perfect, will you still love me when I’m mean and ugly?” A layer was peeled away, exposing a deeper part of our beings to each other, to ourselves.
And in time, after the screams quietened and we stooped staring daggers, we wiped the tears from each other’s eyes and held each other close, our embrace a balm for the throbbing slashes we’d inflicted. Perhaps we were both still feeling a little hurt, a little unjustified, but we’ve learnt along the way that some resolutions will only come with time, maybe even more screaming fights - who knows?
Like my love says, we fight because we care for each other; if we didn’t, we wouldn’t hurt, we wouldn’t bother.
We would always want perfect days and rosy blushed moments, and we will live them, many in this lifetime, soulmates watching the sunset sky. We would always actively avoid the imperfect days and painful moments, but we will have them, many in this lifetime, soulmates fighting underneath the same sunset sky.
Last night, we lay on our backs and spent an hour in Tibetan bowl meditation. I left the room feeling like I had cobwebs in my head, almost like I’d just woken up from a really long sleep. I walked into the nearest spa, and upon hearing they were full, headed straight to the minimart to buy a Magnum ice cream. I’d never been one for ice cream therapy, but that was how crappy I felt.
I’m not big on meditation because my mind is chock-full of chatter. (Funny, experts say all the more people like me should meditate…) I’ve had a few scattered memories of utter relaxation, white light and heart-deep answers (or maybe it was just my noisy brain talking to me), but last night was something else all together.
As I lay there in the dark silence, reverberations from the Tibetan bowl danced across the studio and enveloped me, engulfing me in a blanket of familiarity. I couldn’t see anything; I just felt. And that feeling transported me to a particular scene in my childhood, a memory so poignant yet so seemingly inconsequential I’d forgotten all about it in my adulthood. But in those dark moments lay the key as to why I am shaped this way, and why I feel and behave the way I do. Beyond that, how I felt in that memory has spiralled its way through the next 20-odd years of my life, gaining momentum and picking strength.
"I want to let that go. I need to let that go. You’re free now," I silently whispered to the mini me in my mind’s eye. Maybe I fell asleep after that, but I woke to a pain in my left arm that intensified as the bowls hummed their last song. My teacher says that it could be my body getting rid of a deep-seated trauma that it didn’t need anymore. Very likely, but I’m still tender around the edges and a little worse for wear.
Isn’t it amazing how our body remembers even the supposedly insubstantial things our minds choose to sweep under the rug? And then someone comes in and turns the rug over for some dusting and voila! Issue right where you left it, throbbing with life.
Time to heal.
Written on 7 August 2013
Four days into my training and I’m beginning to feel more at peace. With myself, my fellow trainees, and my decision to come to Bali. “When you teach…” - this phrase has come up several times from the get-go. At first, it made me apprehensive and doubtful. Will I teach? Am I good enough to teach?
But on day two, we had the experience of teaching sun salutations in small groups. Standing up in front of my friends, encouraging as they were with their smiles, was a little unnerving initially. I blanked out and went on autopilot mode for a bit, but I soon realised how eager I was every time it came to my turn to lead. I wasn’t comfortable hearing myself speak at first; then I relished it.
That said, I don’t have the confidence to call myself a teacher-to-be yet. Beyond the technical knowledge, which we are soaking up everyday, I realised that I’m shrinking in, unsure of my forte, my style, myself. When I strip away my life in Singapore – my career, my roles as a daughter, niece, girlfriend and friend – what am I?
I was lost when I came to Bali but I am slowly tapping on this light flickering inside. I know who I am. I just need to coax it out and fan the flames. Am I a physically drawn yogi? Yes. A mystical yogi who likes Rumi and kirtan? Yes. I’m incomplete but I’ve taken the first steps to figuring that out. The pieces are coming together. Slowly, slowly.
It’s 18:10 hrs in Bali and there’s a chill in the air that transports me right back to evenings in Ahmedabad. I’m walking down the same road in Ubud, taking the same path I did just two months ago.
"You’re finally here!" says my heart.
“Are you sure?” questions my mind, caught in the limbo between dream and reality.
Even though I still get hit by bouts of surreality, I am indeed here and just hours away from starting my yoga teacher training course.
"What is it that you like so much about Bali?" my love asked me earlier this week. I didn’t have a definite answer. Could it be the sun? The people? Or the air of spirituality the island breathes?
"My relationship with Bali is like one with a lover," I told him. I was attracted to her fun and beauty, but as I returned time after time, I started noticing the pockets of flaws that made her real. I accepted them without question - they only made me love her more. And like a true partner, Bali gifts me with insights once beyond me. It is on her soil that I feel change is possible and that magic is alive. Is this trip really about getting a cert to teach yoga? No, it’s more than that. It’s about travelling to the place that holds my heart to begin a journey, a dialogue with my inner self that I’ve been waiting to start.
"Why are you going?"
Because I want to be a better person - for myself, and for us.
In less than two weeks, I would tuck my journalist identity in the backseat, and exchange my pen for spandex and my yoga mat. It’s been 10 years since I’d fixed my heart on a career in magazine publishing, eight since I first celebrated seeing my name in print. And ready as I am for this step into the unknown, it is not without discomfort that I am pressing pause after the five years I’d spent in the world of food.
The ego, you see, is a tricky little rascal.
At the peak of my yoga fever last July, I knew that there would come a day when I wanted to immerse myself so fully, I would breathe nothing but yoga. At that time, I was taking classes with Asami, a teacher and friend who brought out all the grace and joy in my practice. I remember telling her in the locker room after an evening class: “I want to go for teacher training eventually. I can’t wait for that day!” It felt right and I was almost impatient to take that step.
The day is finally nearing, but in the past month, the readiness I’d felt a year ago has been blanketed by self-doubt. A few months back, I started taking classes at a studio where half the class was kicking up into handstands. That forced me to push my asana practice up several notches, but while I was nailing new poses, I was also losing touch of the calm, unwavering strength I’d always felt on the mat. If all these hand-standers weren’t going for teacher training, why should I? I’m good at my publishing job, so why am I putting it aside for something I’m not sure I’d be great at?
Ironically, I am much stronger physically now than I was last July, but my ego etched those questions on my mind.
When in doubt, I practise, so I returned to my homing studio and restarted on a blank slate. On quiet mornings and mellow evenings, I returned to my mat, again and again. I bounced out of a Monday night flow class with a spring in my step. I felt inspired and joyful, not because I’d nailed another pose, but because my breath and body were in sync and I’d moved with strength and a grace I barely recognised. I took a Friday ashtanga class and floated out, not because I’d nailed a pose, but because I’d spent the past hour in moving meditation. And on the mat from which those questions arose, I found my answer.
Somewhere along the way, I had allowed my practice to become a search for physical growth, and I was letting my ability or inability to do certain poses define me as a yogi. I was clouded by what I couldn’t do, instead of celebrating the joy of practising, and of course, those little victories along the way.
So I asked myself the same question I asked a year ago, after one of Asami’s particularly inspiring classes: What does yoga mean to me?
My answer remains unchanged. Yoga is joy, and my dance of life. That is the bottom line I’d lost sight of when I focused my energy on advancing in my physical practice. I was so caught up chasing those little bursts of exhilaration that came from nailing poses, I’d lost my connection to that inner joy, that inner flame that lights when I immerse myself in the flow, those moments when mind, body and spirit are one. I don’t need to be in a funky asana to feel that connection, and it sure is easier to be in the zone when I’m not strategising how best to kick up into a forearm stand.
It was joy that led me to this point in my life, and it is joy that I’m bringing with me to Bali. And if I do teach one day, it is joy that I want to share.
I’ve made the choice to leave my ego at the door, and with it the asana perfection it is hanging on to. I can’t float up into a handstand yet, but I will not let that make me any less of a yoga teacher trainee.
So hi, I’m Leigh. And I will soon be a yoga teacher trainee.
Six years ago, I stumbled into a yoga trial class in a Chinatown shophouse, unaware that it would change my life. At that time, the breakdown of our family business had ripped my sheltered life from under my feet, I was reeling from a breakup, and things were going in a downward spiral. Wednesday evenings became so precious, because I found peace and solace on the mat where I couldn’t find anywhere else.
When time erased the scars of the wounds that yoga healed, my practice became one of celebration and joy. At a work dinner not too long ago, someone asked why I practised yoga so often. The answer, to me, was simple: “Because it makes me happy.”
Happiness is a bit of a struggle of late. The unexpected turn of events last week has thrown me into the deep end. Joy, when it comes, often bears a tinge of guilt. Can I be truly happy when my father is fighting such wars?
And so I turn to my mat, and my practice becomes a time for healing. I was almost led to think that I stepped onto my mat for peace like I did six years ago, but I realised that there is a deeper truth to it.
That truth is equanimity, a word that comes up often in class and my readings. It took me quite awhile to really wrap my head around it, and when I finally did, it all made sense.
equanimity |ˌēkwəˈnimitē; ˌekwə-|
mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, esp. in a difficult situation.
My mat is my sacred space, and my time on it offers me solace, as well as the chance to cultivate equanimity through times of both suffering and happiness, more often off the mat than on it. Am I happy? Yes. Am I sad? Yes. But it is okay.
This is why I practise.
I first travelled to Bali 11 years ago. I was a few months shy of 16, wide-eyed and happy to have my older siblings pay for our trip to the Grand Hyatt, where I could bask in the sun all day. I was taken by the vastness of the property, the frangipani trees surrounding the lobby garden, the live band at the lounge (had a massive teenage crush on the guitarist) and the inexplicable feeling that all in the world was fine. I couldn’t wait to return.
I developed wanderlust a few years later, and my shallow student pockets brought me – among several places within the region – back to Bali, more than once. I stayed in a few questionable properties and saw parts of the island I was oblivious too when sheltered in the luxury of my first five-star trip, I fell in love deeper with the island, and even started toying with the idea of moving over to work in a resort property (in my mind’s eye it looked a lot like the Grand Hyatt).
As life would have it, my diploma in hospitality management was relegated to the back of my bookshelf when I chose to further my studies in mass communications and began to grow my career in magazine publishing. But as life would also have it, I was sent to Bali for my first press trip.
I was put up in a ridiculously expensive ocean-front private villa, with a private strip of black sand beach just a few steps beyond. When I opened the sliding doors to this view, all I could think of was how amazingly lucky and blessed I was to get to experience this.
Work’s taken me to many more gorgeous places and properties over time (more often than not, Bali), but even while I’ve grown to feeling less awkward when being spoilt rotten, I’ve never been able to tame that sense of wide-eyed wonder, and that niggling feeling that I’ve done nothing to deserve these pleasures.
As life would once again have it, I find myself back in Bali for work (third time now) and I’m typing this in my spacious nest of a suite. Most of my day has passed by in a surreal blur – private pool, cold scented towels delivered to my cabana, soaking in a tub, fluffy robes…
How did I get here, time after time, if not by the blessings of abundance life has always showered on me?
I’ve never been able to shake the feeling of surreality every time I check into a gorgeous property for work, and perhaps it’s meant to be so – a reminder that things are transient, and to not take these gifts of experience for granted.
Today, I choose to pause in the thrill of wonder. Because who’s to know what tomorrow will bring?
In its simplicity, to “show up” means to physically turn up, to get your behind to a meeting, an appointment, a date. In recent weeks however, I’ve become acquainted with a deeper meaning behind this phrase, especially when it’s applied to romantic relationships.
Love is often described to be easy, and I don’t disagree. Love – in its essence – is a state of being. Relationships, however, require work.
Midnight strolls, snuggling on rainy nights and doing all sorts of silly things together… while enjoyable and a big component of a loving relationship, they are also what I call “candy floss” – important but ultimately superficial pleasures. These may be enough to keep the romance going, but they’re not the anchors of a relationship.
There are many, and I’m definitely no expert, but one of the most important concepts I’ve learnt along the way is to show up when it matters, even if it means stepping out of my comfort zone.
Very early on Thursday morning, I was greeted by a bleary-eyed Fagan in the yoga studio. I knew he was lacking sleep and nursing an injury, but still, he kept his word to try a class with a new teacher I really enjoyed practising with. He showed up for me – literally if we’re talking about getting his bum from his bed to the mat, but it also spoke to me on a deeper level, because I knew that he knew how important yoga was to me and how much I wanted him to try this particular class.
Last night, after months of procrastination and an entire afternoon of anxiety attacks, I surprised him by showing up at his Parkour class. It’s something I wouldn’t consciously seek out to do, but I know how important Parkour is to him, and I felt that it was a step I had to take so that we could grow together. Flinging myself across rails and balancing on beams REALLY isn’t my thing, but at least I know now how it feels like to actually do it.
Relationships are organic and, like most things, are in a constant state of change. Who we are right now is a little different from who we were yesterday. As individuals, we are constantly exposed to stimulus, situations and people who inspire change, and we are constantly changing and growing. It is unrealistic to wish a romantic relationship to remain the way it is; it is smarter (I think?) to want to strengthen and grow together in the same direction.
It could be as easy as taking up a new hobby together, but more often than not as the relationship progresses, it means stepping up to bridge the gap so you don’t grow in opposite directions, and showing up to see the world from your partner’s perspective – in our case while attempting to stick a foot behind the head, and squatting precariously on a shaky railing. But hey, every relationship’s different… :)