Morning Yoga

This week, I’m in NYC visiting friends in the city I called home for 5 years. The neighborhood I lived in, Hamilton Heights, is growing quickly: new coffee shops and cafes have popped up every time I’ve visited this year. Columbia University continues to buy up property close to the Hudson River, inching their reach further uptown from the main campus on 116th to the medical campus on 168th. In this neighborhood and this city where people move quickly, where things change and places change and 8 minutes is a long time to wait for the next train, it’s even more important to find groundedness within.

That’s what I love about New York:  it challenges you and also gives you the freedom to be you — if you’ve got the conviction to. Yeah, anyone can find peace when meditating in a quiet candlelit room with incense burning, or at a retreat in the great outdoors. But what about finding it on the uptown D train at 59th st. when you’ve just heard someone yell “it’s showtime!” What about finding it at a crowded deli counter while you’re waiting for your turkey and egg on a hero? Even finding it on the mat in the city is something else. You might hear trucks downshifting to brake at the red light, ambulance and police sirens passing through, animated conversations in Spanish, Russian, Mandarin…all while you’re being told to move with your breath, not to rush from one pose to another.

That is precisely what I’ve learned to do. Only after I moved away from the city, spent a year going deeper into yoga, meditation and connecting with my breath was I able to come back and notice a change in my yoga practice. Besides being more confident in alignment, transitioning from one asana to another, and feeling the energy created by those around me, devoting time to look within myself this past year has uncovered a stillness and groundedness that I couldn’t see before. It was covered up by voices around me that I had internalized throughout life, telling me what I should be doing, who I should be in profession, in appearance, in having-my-shit-together.

So, when the yoga teacher this morning said “don’t rush”, I didn’t. I savored being in each pose, sensing how my body was feeling and what it needed today. I heard a semi drive by outside, noticed the toned back muscles of the guy behind me in adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog), and felt the muted vibrations from the floor as someone below us climbed up the stairs. I wasn’t fazed. I was here. Exactly where I needed to be.

Grateful goodbye

I’m sitting in a sushi place, enjoying some me time before we begin our travels on Wednesday.(First stop, NYC!) Yes, even though we’ll be in Japan in a month, I’m still getting sushi…because yum.

Anyway, I notice the giant glass of ice water the waitress set in front of me, and how I gave it no thought when she set it down:

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I feel grateful for ice cold, free-refill, safe-to-drink water because I know in a couple months we’ll be in places where this is not a thing.

It’s with gratitude that I say goodbye to the USA this month…till who knows when!

Compassion Course: weeks 7 & 8

Ahh, sangha! In the last two weeks, I’ve been basking in communities that I’ve come to know: Champaign, IL where I spent a year studying yoga in a teacher training program and bartending at a local craft brewery and Ann Arbor, MI where I grew up. As I spent my last week in Champaign, I reminisced about the places I’ve lived in my adult life: New York City, Indonesia, Mongolia. In each place I’ve lived, I’ve come to know some great people. Each place they welcomed me into their sangha, or community, and made me feel at home. It’s a warm and wonderful feeling, like rich dollops of honey dripping into an aromatic cup of tea.

In this Non-Violent Communication (NVC) course, there is also a community of people with the same goal: to realize and develop compassion in themselves and compassionate interactions all around. In the weekly emails, forum discussions, and monthly conference calls, we’ve created a community of the 21st century: global, virtual, yet connected and authentic in its own way.

Community and connection are two important needs that we humans have. When I feel disconnected or alone, I begin to defend, to judge and put my guard up. This happens naturally when I arrive in a new place because my mind is trying to make sense of it. In what ways is this new place (or situation) similar to things I’ve seen before? How is it different? Judgments are useful (and contrary to popular belief, not a bad thing) because they give me information to work with. If you’re curious about how, I’ve given an example at the end of the post. In my practice of yoga, meditation, and NVC, it gets easier and easier to sense when that shift happens in me. And the beauty is, I get to choose what to do. I don’t have to be stuck in discomfort, or the needs-not-met zone, I can do something about it!

I am so looking forward to experiencing this over and over again in the coming months: arriving at a new place, noticing familiar and strange things about it, and deconstructing the judgments that come up, opening up to the community that surrounds me. Sharing a cup of tea, a beer or glass of wine, a meal, or going to a concert, for a hike, or a buggy ride to who-knows-here with people I meet along the way. So many possibilities!

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Useful Judgments Example: If I’m thinking “the people here are so close-minded! This place is so hot and stuffy, and the food is crap. And it stinks!”, then I have three pieces of information to digest. These three judgments could be telling me that 1) I am feeling disconnected and have a need to be understood and accepted, 2) I’m outside of my physical comfort zone in temperature and taste, and 3) I have a physical need for fresh air. Then I choose how to respond. I can react by freezing up, limiting my interactions with others  and complaining about the smell and the food. I can also press the pause button, take a moment to breathe and acknowledge what’s going on — the judgments and underlying unmet needs. Then I can try to meet those needs by seeking out people with similar interests, introducing myself and being open to things that I do have in common with the people around me, and allowing time to adjust to the temperature and the food. I could even ask those around me what they like to eat, cool places to check out, and how they beat the heat. Or start a conversation about how trash disposal works in that city, and what their experiences are, whether they’re satisfied with the service. Boom! Lots of potential for connection, shared understanding, and discovering a new yummy place to eat!

SoyeeYoga is now live!

Hey guys, my website Soyee Yoga is now live! There I have more about my journey as a yogi, photos and a map of where I am in my round-the-world trip, and where I’ll be next! There are also lots of great ways to connect with me, virtually and in person. I’m excited to share my travels and wanderings with you all in one site. I’ll continue to blog about my experiences right here too 🙂 Cheers!

On being myself

Nine kinds of distractions come that are obstacles naturally encountered on the path, and are physical illness, tendency of the mind to not work efficiently, doubt or indecision, lack of attention to pursuing the means of samadhi, laziness in mind and body, failure to regulate the desire for worldly objects, incorrect assumptions or thinking, failing to attain stages of the practice, and instability in maintaining a level of practice once attained.
(vyadhi styana samshaya pramada alasya avirati bhranti-darshana alabdha-bhumikatva anavasthitatva chitta vikshepa te antarayah)

Yoga Sutra 1.30

 I’m halfway through spending a week with my family in Ann Arbor, MI. Man, has this place changed! Lots more young professionals here, which bring more yoga studios, high-end coffee shops, bistros, and shopping, and a LOT more loft apartments. I’m happy to see my hometown thrive, and also mourn a bit the loss of the grittier side of this town.

At my parents house, the little sapling that swayed in the front yard is now twice as tall as I am! Coming back to the place I grew up, I see how much I’ve changed too. I’ve overcome challenges, learned about myself and the world around me, and I keep learning about the person I want to be.

When I interact with my parents, it is obvious how much I’ve changed. I see their perspective with adult eyes: I can understand and discern opinions and beliefs of others from those of myself. I see that the way they see the world is not the way I see it. This led to me feeling frustrated and misunderstood, which is the topic of Yoga Sutra 1.30: distractions and obstacles that come up in life.

The obstacles listed in the sutra above are pretty broad, but at the heart there are two ideas: seeing clearly and practicing. These ideas are useful in yoga, and they’ve translated well to my life too. For example, the root of my frustrations this week with my parents became clear after a chat with my sister J and my partner M, meditation and asana practice (and that beer I had with dinner last night ;)). I need to express who I am, and I need to be heard. I now see that their lack of communication is their limitation but it doesn’t have to be mine.

There is a Hindu principle, abhyasa, that Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras, also prescribed to yogis. It means sustained practice. Each asana (pose) I do, each breath I take in meditation and pranayama, each obstacle or piece of joy I come across are all part of the practice.

Here’s to enjoying the day today and looking forward to a connected and grounded rest of the week!

Night biking bliss

I’ve been biking to and from my bartending job these days. Enjoying my last days. On my ride home, it’s dark and often very quiet. The moon is bright and the stars are very clear — no light pollution here! — and the trees in the neighborhood frame this gorgeous night sky. It’s quiet.

After the hustle and bustle of being behind the bar, biking home is a reward. My legs working as I pedal full speed past dark homes and parked cars and empty yards, rarely a soul in sight. I feel completely in the moment, present to the sights, sounds, and smells around me.

The soundtrack to my night time biking is Jamie Xx’s In Colour. There’s something about listening to this album while traveling in the dark. To me it syncs with my heart beat and evolves tranquilly with my surroundings. I am. So hum.  So hum. So hum.

I’m looking forward to my trip. To seeing new places, new faces. To experiencing new things through sound, taste, rhythm, touch. I’m looking forward to when M gets back from his contract job, to giving him a big kiss and hug. But right now, I feel blissful and alive to be here, right now.


Image credit: Mark Unrau

On Stillness

Imagine a spinning top. Stillness is like a perfectly centered top, spinning so fast it appears motionless. It appears this way not because it isn’t moving, but because it’s spinning at full speed.

Stillness is not the absence or negation of energy, life, or movement. Stillness is dynamic. It is unconflicted movement, life in harmony with itself, skill in action. It can be experienced whenever there is total, uninhibited, unconflicted participation in the moment you are in — when you are wholeheartedly present with whatever you’re doing.

– Erich Schiffmann, Yoga: The Spirit and  Practice of Moving into Stillness

This morning, I meditated in my hosts’ garden. It is filled with trees, flowers, fruit, and herbs, and butterflies and hummingbirds often come to visit. As I closed my eyes and began to listen to my breath, I also heard, smelled, and felt the alive-ness of my surroundings. The soft grass and uneven dirt underneath my feet, the smell of the flora around me, the hum of a hummingbird’s wings (so I imagine with closed eyes), the gentle fullness of a summer breeze grazing me as I sat. I felt at peace and at ease.

Afterwards, I sat on the patio overlooking their garden and read those words above. It’s been awhile seen I’ve seen or even thought of a spinning top — is there an app for that? — and I’d never thought of stillness that way. Stillness to me was the calm surface of a lake or the quiet of the deep ocean. But Erich’s words resonate. Because after all, doesn’t a lake, pond or ocean always have little waves, no matter how calm the winds? Doesn’t the deep sea move in a conveyor belt fashion and transport nutrients to the upper layers? In fact, a big misconception of meditation is that you’re supposed to empty the mind, quiet it of all thoughts. Good luck with that! Meditation is actually the practice of allowing thoughts to pass through, letting go of the holding-on of these thoughts and the feelings that follow. Meditation is about checking in with your internal weather and allowing that weather to exist.

And so it is with yoga asana. I do the same poses over and over again to practice being in the moment, letting go of judgments or assessments and honoring how my body is feeling that day. I practice being uninhibited, unconflicted and fully present in what I’m doing. I get better at it each time I try.

I’m intrigued, Erich. What else will your words teach me?

Compassion course: week 6

Wow, summer is flying by! This is the fifth installment of a weekly svadjaja (self study) series that I’m doing to reflect on the Non-Violent Communication course that I’m taking with NYCNVC. I’m jotting down how the course changes my day-to-day life, and take away from each week’s lesson. Check out last week’s post on anxiety!

As I get deeper into building my compassion “muscles”, I’m beginning to realize that the learning won’t be over after this one-year course is over. Rather, I’m just scratching the surface of exercising this new skill, and it will take practice (just like everything else, huh) to incorporate it into the natural rhythms of my life.

The past week really zipped by with moving out of our apartment, M getting a contract job, and moving our few possessions into storage. Lots of travel and beginning to say “see ya later” to friends. We’re officially nomads now!

Over the next two weeks, I am staying with good friends of mine, the owners of Living Yoga Center, the studio where I teach yoga. In addition to their warmth and generosity (they’ve even let me use a car for getting to work), I’ve felt a natural connection to their openness and their stories from their own life experiences. Jai!

This week’s practice was about noticing hidden judgements that we make towards ourselves or others. That means noticing those judgements that are disguised as feelings.

I noticed that as I become more aware of judging vs feeling, I am noticing judging in others more clearly. In fact, I’ve been judging others for judging! Is that progress?

That’s where I think of the yogic concept of non-attachment. Through the eyes of non-attachment, judgement is a comparison of my expectation with reality. When those don’t match up, AND when I’m attached to my expectations, that’s when I judge. So if I let go of my expectations, I’m much less likely to judge.

Aha! So while I’m not going to transcend judging anytime soon, I can recognize the expectation I had that caused the judgement and let it go. Then the judgement dissolves too.

That’s my samadhi (enlightened) moment this week. Till next time!