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… :)
I lie half awake on the brink between dream and consciousness, the golden evening light playing hide and seek on my pillow. And I’m thinking of intention and action.
We dream, and we imagine, but the power of thought remains just that. Nothing will jolt the status quo unless we take that first step - to summon the courage to walk towards that gorgeous stranger on the train, to set aside an evening to take up weekly salsa classes, to quit a full-time job and buy a one-way ticket to a place halfway across the globe…
Way too often, too much action happens in our heads, and that fools us into thinking that some of that thinking must have triggered an action. But nothing changes! All those thoughts remain nothing but thoughts - until we open our mouths to say something, or move our hands to do something.
Would my colleagues feel valued because I THINK they’ve done a great job? Would my partner know I’ve missed him just because I’ve been THINKING of him all day? Would my parents feel loved because I SILENTLY appreciate how much they do for me? Would my life change just because I am constantly lamenting about what I would do IF…
The thought doesn’t count, because that’s all it is - a thought.
Let me tell you what counts: A call. A hug. A thank you note. A pat on the back. Or in other greater leaps of faith, a clean, fateful swipe of the credit card.
What are your thoughts, and what are you going to do to put them into action?
Let me be poignant, let me be deep. I may be sheltered but yes I will leap.
Leap with no fear, and leap with such force, because art and purpose will serve its course.
So much to learn and so much to know, so much to change and so much to grow.
This is the song of the many-sided soul.
Do you hear it? That niggling fear at the back of your head, that whisper of uncertainty in your ear, that shadow of doubt across your mind’s eye?
The good thing about me is that I see a goal, and I’m fixated on it. The bad thing about me is that I see a goal, and I’m fixated on it. I don’t allow room for questioning, even when I begin to wonder halfway along the way if that goal is something I still want. The doubts creep in, but because I am so fixed on actualising my goal, I don’t address them. Instead, I choose to squash and sweep them under the mental rug. I am so bent on getting to where or what I think I want, I ignore the signs hinting that it may not be what I want anymore.
One of those doubts came up on the mat today. Instinct had me pushing it aside, but something stopped me right when I was about to squish it between my chubby mental fingers. Instead of chucking it aside, I did something that surprised me - I took a deep inhale, and breathed that doubt into me.
I hear you. I acknowledge you. I might prefer if you weren’t there, but you are part of me and so I embrace you.
One of the greatest causes of unhappiness is our inability to accept change. We get our hands on something beautiful and we hold on to it, tighter and tighter as the days go and our fears grow. We banish those fears to a hidden compartment, and hang on tighter to our idea of a perfect destination.
But fear doesn’t end because you chucked it aside. Doubts don’t disappear because you decide you want them to.
Do something different today - welcome uncertainty and embrace fear, and let them guide you, however subtly. Live with the journey - not the destination - in mind. I’m trying. :)
Sooo… I have been in a bit of a life funk recently. I know I can’t be Little Miss Sunshine all the time, but the thing I often forget about funks is that they are vortexes. Sure, it’s okay to wallow for a bit, but linger too long and you’ll be sucked into a quicksand of negativity. I almost missed the tram out at the visitor stop, but I am blessed with angels (especially my boyfriend and best friends) who reached out to pull me on as I made a last minute dash.
Funks suck the fun out of life, and I lost sight of the knowledge that true happiness is inside me, not pegged to external variables. What better way to reconnect with my inner joy than to make it happen? So I went about my Sunday with the intention of creating joy.
1. Be silly. I love swimming because it makes me feel free (and I love the smell of chlorine on skin). While dodging another swimmer at the pool today, I unintentionally swished my bum left and right, and…it felt good. There was an inexplicable freedom in the movement that made me feel like a playful mermaid child. I snuck in a couple of swishes between laps, and because my heart was smiling at how good it felt, I finished my last lap swishing. Left, right, left, right. Ahhh…
(Or if you have access to an empty pool like my best friend and I did several weeks ago, jump in, pose and be silly! Yes, over-enthusiastic kungfu dancer and tree with Princess Leia buns kinda silly.)
2. Thank your ex for loving you. When romantic relationships end, it is always easier to discount the emotions and effort both parties invested then. I had a rare catch-up with my ex-boyfriend over Whatsapp earlier today, and I ended the conversation by thanking him for loving me in the past. “You’re welcome. We made each other better,” he replied. Giving thanks was a symbolic way of affirming the love we once shared, as well as acknowledging the better people we have grown to become along the way.
3. Put intentions into action. Gandhi once said: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony.” After months of contemplation and back-and-forth discussions, I finally took the first concrete step into the next phase of my life. I’m 700 bucks poorer, but so much more at ease now that my thoughts, words and actions are in synergy.
Play, practise gratitude and just do. :)
It felt almost surreal to be at the BaliSpirit Festival after several years of wanting, and the festival was everything, yet nothing, I’d imagined it to be.
The trip was nothing like I’d initially planned or envisioned – my best friend couldn’t make it, I was travelling with a new friend Jade whom I’d only recently met through yoga class, the nagging ache in my shoulder had morphed into a throbbing pain, and the villa I’d so looked forward to staying in turned out to be infested with insects. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, a fire ant bit me on the lip (nope, not in my insect haven villa or while rolling around in grass at the festival, but very ironically on the massage table where I was getting the knots in my back worked out), turning me into Frankenstein Jolie, just two days into the festival.
I was frustrated, and lost. I was really looking forward to a week of intensive yoga in Bali, but instead I found myself right smack in the middle of an insect UN conference with a throbbing shoulder and botoxed-lips gone wrong. That is a lot to deal with for a control freak like me, more so because these baseballs of Murphy’s Law were consecutively batted at me on my yoga mat, in Bali – two of my favourite places in the world where I always sought solace.
Well, BaliSpirit and I definitely got off to a rocky start, but I’m glad I didn’t give up on my mat. I was in pain, but I stepped on it anyway. I had clown lips, but I tucked my self-consciousness in my bag and stepped on it anyway. I was disillusioned, but still I got onto my mat, workshop after workshop. Some classes made me want to run away, but I stayed, even when they required me to dance, free-style, around the shack for an hour as meditation.
And then, change happened. Insights sneaked into my mind and joy blossomed through my soul.
On day four, I found myself in my first Kundalini yoga workshop, aptly titled “You are not your mind”. I didn’t experience any mind-blowing shakti awakening, but I remember feeling very emotional and crying quite a bit. I saw into my heart, but I also saw into my head. And as the tears fell, it was as if they took with them some of the cobwebs in my mind that veiled my clarity of thought. I could think a little clearer, and my self-perspective shifted.
That same afternoon, instinct led me to a Radiantly Alive vinyasa class, and it turned out that the instructor had shaped the practice around the story of Hanuman. My body was spent after the past days of intensive yoga, but all aches were forgotten as I floated on his words and the music of his pump organ. For 1.5 hours, through his story, through the asanas, I was Hanuman. As we lay, dripping in sweat, in savasana, he ended his story with the scene in which Hanuman demonstrated just how much he loved Ram. And my heart, already brimming with emotion from the morning’s Kundalini, burst with love. I was Hanuman, and my heart was bursting with love for Ram. Fat tears rolled down my cheeks, and my heart ached – both with joy and the weight of that love.
On the final morning of the festival, I laid my mat beside Jade for my first class with Les Leventhal, after hearing her rave so much about his teaching. The huge turnout stood in a circle, and as instructed, closed our eyes.
“Just listen. You are going to hear one of the clearest instructions you’ve ever heard. And when you hear it, just do it,” he said.
One second. Two seconds. Three seconds. And then the music came on.
“Everybody let’s dance.”
My eyes flew open in surprise. Before I had time to react, spontaneous yogis started dancing. And I joined right in, surprising myself with how easy it had become to let loose. At that moment, I truly believed that all the dancing I did in earlier workshops, especially that hour of free-style dancing meditation, was meant to be – so I could feel THIS FREE moving my body in a room full of strangers. They didn’t care, I didn’t care, we just wanted to dance! What followed was, as the name Rockurasana suggests, two hours of vinyasa yoga set to rock music. It was strong, it was tough, but energy was pumping through me. Every time we met back in downward facing dog my legs were tapping to the beat, and I had a wide grin on my face the entire time. There was no better note (pun intended!) I could have wished to end the festival on. Pure, unbridled joy.
So I might not have come home with a stronger inversion practice as I’d hoped (sorry handstands, I’ll be with you soon as I can), but the lessons I took home are worth so much more than going upside down. The festival workshops have breathed life, joy and inspiration back into my yoga practice, my mind’s eye is much clearer and I have a better understanding of who I am, and what I believe I want and deserve to have.
And the greatest lesson learnt from Murphy’s baseballs? That I cannot always expect to control things outside my realm of control. The only thing I should be controlling is my reaction to these external factors, and to learn to find the joy, or at least the light, in seemingly dark events, as everything happens for a reason. This new vantage point from which I see myself and life has drawn up questions, some of which I don’t have the answers for – yet. But everything has its place and time.
What lessons will you bring, BaliSpirit 2014?
In yoga class last week, my teacher shared a story about a man who filled his bucket with rocks, believed it was full, only to realise he could fill the spaces with golf balls. In went a handful of pebbles, a scoop of sand and, just when he thought he could fit no more, a cup of water, which flowed into the tiniest crevices in the bucket. The story was meant to illustrate our priorities in life. If life were a bucket, first add the rocks (what matters most) before you fill the remaining space with the rest, in decreasing importance.
It reminded me of something my ex-boss and forever mentor once said to me a couple of years ago, when we were sharing a cab. She was worried I would burn out and stressed the importance of work-life balance. (She also spoke about finding a partner who value adds, but that’s a story for another day.)
At that time, I was charged and eager to make a mark. I worked 14-hour weekdays, leaving the office in the evenings only to go home to write some more, and 8-hour weekends, testing recipe after recipe. My job was king – I loved it so much I couldn’t imagine what I’d do if I wasn’t doing what I was doing. Work was the biggest rock that took up so much space, I could barely fit in a pebble, not to mention a golf ball.
Well, life couldn’t be more different these days. Ever since I committed to a regular yoga practice, leaving the office on time to get onto my evening mat took precedence over unfinished articles and half-crafted emails. The same extends to showing up on time for dates and social gatherings I commit to. More importantly, it is also about switching off the work-related wheels clicking at the back of my head, and setting aside the mental space to concentrate on and enjoy the present moments. Work can wait until the next morning, or at least until I get home. It never ends, anyway.
I’m not sure if I would have found the shift if I hadn’t stepped back onto my yoga mat 16 months ago. It was through my practice that I found joy - the unwavering kind of joy that stems not from what I do, but instead shines from my heart. My practice is a humbling lesson about how life is more than another article, another email, another recipe, another step forward in the rat race. Even if life takes any of that away from me, I am still joy.
My bucket is a lot different now, thankfully! The two largest rocks are yoga - because it is, unapologetically, my me-time to nourish my spirit, and my relationships – family, love and best friends; everything else would have their place and time. I work hard when I should, but never so much that I find life passing me by. No matter how crazy it gets in the office, there is ALWAYS time for a session on my mat, and a coffee date with the people who matter.
There’s always time for a hug, a kiss and an “I love you”. :)
Friday night. I snuggle up in bed to watch this documentary my yoga teacher/friend Asami recommended. Six minutes in and I find myself rewinding the clip because of something profound yet completely relatable that Briohny Smyth (otherwise known as the Equinox yoga girl) said:
“It (Yoga) ended up being something that helped me get out of my head. I think that a lot of insecurities and fears come from us believing the thoughts that are in our heads all the time. And yoga helped me, whether it was for a second, or five seconds, or sometimes even for a minute, to quieten those thoughts down. And till this day, I still have those thoughts, but I have a lot more tools to my yoga practice to help me see that those thoughts aren’t always reality.”
The rest of the clip was a patchwork of words and observations that had me nodding my head in agreement – some hit so close to home that I wanted to punch my fists up to the sky and go “YEAH that’s exactly it!” Practising asanas make me feel great, nailing funky asanas even better. But it’s way more than that.
Joy. Head space. Heart space. Clarity. Tools to deal with that constant mind chitter. To practise non-judging. To be in the present moment, without letting my ego or preconceived notions of what something should be like affect my ability to just be. To get a little respite from life when it chooses to manifest as a knot weighing down on my chest. To just… breathe.
This is why I do yoga, and why I keep going back to my mat time after time after time.
One of my good friends Alison shared a quote with me on Monday, and her words have resonated with me all week.
“We only experience fear when the challenge we are facing is something we know we can conquer.”
Deep down inside, we are all wiser than we give ourselves credit for. We know better than to give much thought to the impossible; it is often the plausible that holds our minds, and our hearts.
For a long time, inversions were this yogi’s greatest nightmare. Going upside down scared my tights off me, and when it came to conquering the headstand, I often found myself pulling back right at the very last, tipping point.
I couldn’t get up, but neither could I get my mind off getting up.
After almost a year of tumbles and too many “I can’t do this” face-plant moments, I committed myself to an evening of countless retakes. When I finally stuck my wobbly legs up in the air, I realised that it wasn’t the lack of technique or strength that was holding me back – it was fear. Fear of being upside down, fear of losing control… big, fat fear that I now squash between my head and the mat every chance I get.
In the words of American spiritual author Marianne Williamson: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
One of the chapters in Donna Farhi’s Bringing Yoga to Life talks about the importance of a self-practice, and letting your inner teacher (atman) guide you. I read the chapter several months ago and I remember thinking how lost I would be if I were to do that. You see, I have on a few occasions attempted to practise yoga at home, but often found myself racking my brains trying to recreate the sequence I did in my previous class, or – when thinking failed – falling back on sun salutation after sun salutation. I felt lost, not empowered, so I filed that chapter, and further thoughts of developing a self-practice, away at the back of my head.
A few months later, in the middle of a yoga class, a strange thought flew into my head: “Why am I here? I know exactly what is coming next and I know the alignment cues the instructor is going to give. So why am I here?” I still ended up enjoying the class immensely, but something inside told me I now had to focus on working on the postures I wasn’t good at in order to grow in my practice, not mindlessly flow through yet another strong sequence and thrive on the high it made me feel after class. There isn’t the luxury of time to work on poses in a group class, and I knew I had to do this in my own time. On my own.
I’d since scaled back on the number of classes I attend at the studio so as to spend more time on my mat at home. My self-practice isn’t how I imagined it to be: instead of just knowing the exact sequence to flow gracefully through in a state of meditative bliss, I am often tumbling all over, red-faced and sweaty, from working again and again on a static pose. But it was through the repeated falls that I felt myself rise through my growth rut.
About two months ago, I sprung out of bed one morning with an immense urge to work on my headstand – a posture I hadn’t even come close to getting into in my past year of intense practice. I pulled my mat against the wall and spent the next hour doing just that. At times I almost got it, other times I fell out before I was even close. But for the hour, with just me and my mat, I had the finally had the time and chance to face my fear of falling and to work around it, instead of brushing it aside and rolling up my studio towel, telling myself I’ll give it another three tries at the end of my next studio lesson.
At first, all I could hear were the muted sounds of my father’s telly in the background and the birds chirping outside my window. But as I climbed into the pose again and again, the voices of the teachers I’d practised with in the past began to flow into my head. “Don’t crunch your shoulders. Tuck your tailbone in. Keep your knees curled into your chest, almost like a ball.” I pressed on, guided by this inner kaleidoscope of teachings I’d gathered. In time, those voice fell away, leaving in their place nothing but the sound of my breathing. And then I heard it, my inner voice: “Shift your hips nearer to the wall, push your shoulders down… go for it.”
Slowly but surely, I pressed my legs toward the ceiling and voila! I was up. Unsteady perhaps, but I was up. “Keep breathing, tuck your tailbone in.” And then the voice, too, faded away. It was back to the silence.
I eased back down and laid my forehead on my mat, grinning in joy.
“You did it, Leigh.”