My first Ashtanga practice

Truthfulness isn’t safe, but it is good.

— Deborah Adele, Yamas and Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice

I woke up this morning before sunrise in search for truth. I climbed the stairs up to the rooftop, put on Ashtanga Master Sri K Pattabhi Jois’ (Guruji) instruction of the Primary Series back in 1993 (which looked more like the ’70s to me…was VHS that long ago?) and started following along.  As I warmed up with Surya Namaskars (Sun Salutations), the sun rose, turning the black sky deep orange, then light blue, revealing the Atlantic Ocean and other rooftops of Asilah, Morocco’s Medina before me. I got through about a third of the seated sequence and decided to skip to the finishing sequence.

First impressions:

1. So many jump throughs!

2.  There’s more to this than the poses. Drishtis (gazing point) and bandhas (“locks/gates”), for example.

I’ve decided to explore Ashtanga Yoga. It’s known as a physically challenging practice with 6 total sequences. Practitioners spend years, decades even, on the first one (called the Primary Series) and most people don’t move past the second series. What does an Ashtanga yogi’s practice look like? For 6 days a week, it’s the same 90-120 minute sequence. Moon days (new moon and full moon) are off. So are the first few days of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Practices are best done in the morning, according to Guruji.

As me and M’s round-the-world trip draws to a close, I’m looking to what’s next. In my professional life, I’m planning to apply for a physiotherapy degree in Italy next fall. In my yoga practice, I realized I was craving discipline and consistency. I wanted a practice that that would strengthen me physically, mentally, and emotionally. Well how about doing the same practice 6 days a week in the early morning?

When I looked into what Ashtanga Yoga was, I was intrigued. There’s the gross practice; that is, the physical challenge of expanding what I believe is physically possible for my body. But underneath that is the subtle practice: the drishti, which is the visual focus point of each pose, the bandhas, or energetic “locks” which direct the energy of the pose, and the moving meditation aspect of an Ashtanga practice: once I learn the sequence, I can focus on breath and energy flow rather than being distracted by what the next pose is. Not to mention the mental challenge of coming back to the same sequence each time and practicing mindfully, adapting to how I feel each day. The challenge of practicing safely, listening to my body rather than my ego. Of coming back to a pose that I feel stuck in. Or moving on to a pose that brings up fear, and rising to the challenge of gazing at the fear and releasing it This is what I’ve been looking for.

I believe my Ashtanga practice will help me reveal my truth. It will give me courage to look the tiger in the eye and pursue the next steps in this nonlinear life. The truth is not safe, but it is good.

Bonus: the practice also travels well. No matter where I am, the sequence is the same, and it seems like the Ashtanga community is a supportive and accessible group. This is a big plus because I’m not sure where I’ll be in the next few years.

So I’m going for it. Once we are stateside again, I’ll attend class to learn more about technique and how to direct my subtle body. For now, it’s me, Guruji, and the Moroccan sunrise 🙂

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A moment of relaxation

I’m sitting in a hammock in Ben Tre, Vietnam, a small town in the Mekong delta. After an afternoon of exploring the neighboring island by bike (the ferry across was 10 cents!), it feels good to relax with a beer after giving my legs a nice workout.

Rain is pouring and I’ve yet to make dinner plans. And that’s fine by me. This trip has been about the practice of enjoying the present, exploring my individual yoga practice and finding my way as a yoga teacher.  So far, so good.

(Next up: Can Tho–>Chau Doc–>Phnomh Penh)

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!

Round-the-world itinerary

Edit: M asked why our US leg was not included. I’d thought of them as two separate trips, but I like his idea of calling it a warm-up. So there it is.

At the end of September, my partner M and I embark on a one year round the world trip. As we travel,  I plan to teach yoga along the way and connect with fellow yogis and anyone curious about yoga. I also hope to deepen my studies of yoga.

Here’s our itinerary::

The Warm-Up..

August: NYC

September: San Francisco, Seattle & Tri-cities, WA, Vancouver

The Main Event..

September: Japan

October: Taiwan, Thailand, Myanmar

November: Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam

December: Vietnam, Indonesia

January: Malaysia, Italy

Feb – TBD: Europe, N. Africa

Excited to embark on this journey! Can’t wait to share photos and stories like these! 😉

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Aahhhhh! We’re moving!

Just picked up malaria medication for our trip! The countdown is real: 3 days till we move out, 2.5 weeks till we leave Champaign, IL for good, and 8 weeks till we leave the US of A!

So many changes happening now: packing up the things we need and shedding the things we don’t, scouring the web for daily costs at each country (and we’ve got quite a list: Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, Italy, Myanmar to name a few), beginning the process of eventually moving to Europe: deciding which country makes the most sense, where can we find jobs, and don’t even get me started on work visas…it’s all exciting and stressful and scary and — what I try to tell myself — fun.

My partner M has been immensely supportive when I start freaking out about the future. He reminds me that I’ll only experience this moment once. Isn’t there a yoga sutra about this?

Ah, how about the first one? Atha yoga anushasanam: yoga is now. Today, I’m reminded to be present and not let fear rule my perspective. Much like working on a difficult pose on the mat, working on letting go of incessant (non-helpful) thoughts is yoga off the mat.

I leave you with this Buddhist temple that I came across on a hike outside of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia back in 2013. It was tucked away, bathed in the silence of the forest surrounding it. For me it’s a reminder of being present, and letting the little mysteries of life unravel on the path I’ve chosen to take 🙂

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Compassion Course: week 3

Hey guys! This is post number 2 in a weekly svadjaja (self study) series I’m doing to share my thoughts during a one year online Non-Violent Communication (NVC) course with NYCNVC. I’ll be publishing every Friday my thoughts on the previous week.  Click here for weeks 1&2!

Feelings. What are they good for? Absolutely nothing?

This week was about feelings and what they do, exactly. From the NVC perspective, feelings tell us what our needs are. They could be “good” feelings, meaning needs are being met, or “bad” feelings, meaning those needs are not met. In short, feelings connect us with our needs.

Whoa.

I wish I had known that growing up. I was raised in the US by Taiwanese parents, and traditionally, Taiwanese people don’t talk about feelings. Opening up or sharing the vulnerability and tenderness of feelings was unheard of, and greatly discouraged when I tested the waters as a kid. Though feelings of anger, disappointment, accomplishment or satisfaction were ok, things like being scared (and why) or feeling affectionate were not. I spent a lot of my childhood trying to understand why that was, and why the “American” kids were more able to express their feelings.

A few years ago, about two years into my practice of yoga, I really began to look at what was going on inside. I recognized points where I would feel extremely frustrated with myself or others, yet unable to find the words to express it, much less move forward from it. These uncomfortable feelings were trying to tell me about my unmet needs for things like autonomy, connection, acceptance, and understanding. But no one had taught me that.

So, I started with guided meditation to let myself feel my feelings. I’d spent over two decades pushing them away! This was an intense experience, but so worth it. I began to open up to myself, and as a result I felt more connected to my internal weather and climate (and more grounded too). I saw my relationships with family and friends improve because I was more aware of who I was and more accepting of where I was in my journey to understand myself.

Most importantly, I was honoring who I was. I continued to meditate and joined a meditation group when I moved to Champaign, IL last year. I also met with a counselor for a few months to get clarity on things I felt stuck on. And my yoga practice gives me a chance to check in regularly to see where I am and how I’m feeling that day.

Thats not to say there aren’t days where I do not feel accepting of where I am or how I’m feeling. But being aware of that goes a long way, and my interactions with myself and those around me are that vastly more authentic and fulfilling because of the work I’ve done. But good days or bad, each one is an opportunity to change old, stale patterns (samskaras) of thinking and create something new. It’s all part of the yoga practice 🙂

Soyee Yoga FB and upcoming site!

Hey guys!

My Facebook Page, Soyee Yoga is up and running! Check out events and follow my travels as my partner and I take off for a one year round-the-world trip beginning in August. I’m also working on a site with my good friend, foodie/movie buff and talented developer Kim (check out her site here). That will be a great place to find out more about me, my yoga teaching experience and inspiration, and check out photos from my trip as well as finding out where I’ll be. Even better: if we’re in the same neighborhood, let’s connect and practice together!

I’m really excited about sharing more yoga with you, and about embarking on this trip! The roll out date for the site is the end of the summer, so stay tuned!

I’ll end with this mantra: lokah samasta sukhino bhavantu — may all beings everywhere be happy and free 🙂

Compassion Course: Weeks 1 & 2

I plan to do a weekly series on my thoughts and a-ha moments from my Non-Violent Communication course, published every Friday to kick off the weekend with some love for yourself and those around you. Jai!

I’m currently two weeks into a one-year online Non-Violent Communication (NVC) course with New York City-based Thom Bond, founder of NYCNVC. I chose to take this course to deepen my understanding of myself and how I interact with the world around me. I think it will be especially enlightening as I am traveling around the world, beginning in two months!

In this last month that I’m in Champaign, IL, I also meet once a week with other NVCers at Green Yoga Spa, a lovely house and spa run by longtime yogi Mary Wolters. In the last two weeks, we focused on needs and judgements. The main idea is: everything we do, we do to fulfill a need. This is an eye opening concept to me, something I’m pondering as we delve deeper into the course. It’s a simple statement, but woooosh! It’s powerful. Pretty regularly, I meet people who do or say things that baffle me. People that have had vastly different life experiences than I, with different (and sometimes conflicting) perspectives and attitudes. Sometimes it’s hard for me to see where they’re coming from. That’s when the judging happens.

In our meetings, we identify feelings that we feel as a reaction to a conversation or action with another. Then, we connect those with needs that we had associated with those feelings. That is pretty eye-opening in and of itself. Kind of like “oh, so that’s what my feelings are for. I didn’t know they could be so useful!” The second part is an even bigger whammy: doing the same process for the other person. What were they feeling, and what possible needs were they trying to meet?

When I think about the violence happening this week in the US between police and Black Americans, my first reaction is frustration and helplessness. Frustrated that the problem is so deeply embedded in our law enforcement system, and at the lack of awareness and acknowledgement by so many in this country. Helpless because I feel like I’m on the outside looking in. What can I do to change things? I can voice my support to my black friends, to the black community, that I stand with them. But real change comes when we unite and see each other. Real change comes when we see our very real and very different experiences growing up Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, rich, poor, gay, straight. How can we make this happen? How do we unite the law enforcement community with all of those they vowed to serve and protect?

Compassion is a word I come across all the time, but what does it really mean? I love this take on it: compassion is love in action. It applies to actions toward yourself and towards those around you. I think if we practice this by being compassionate towards our own feelings and needs and by recognizing and honoring the feelings and needs of someone that seems so different from ourselves, then we have a chance of truly uniting and enacting real and meaningful change.

Bliss: why I teach yoga

Why do I teach yoga?

I teach yoga because it is my dharma, my purpose. That is, it brings my whole being — my True Self — bliss! Not bliss in the newlywed, just-got-promoted, everything-feels-perfect sense, though there are moments of that too. It’s bliss in my soul. Content, at home. It feels like, “this is what I’m here for.”

When I see the transmission of yoga through me to my students, I smile inside. When they challenge themselves by listening to their breath and their body, I feel joy. When they’re able to let go of their ego, and simply be, I know I’ve done something good.

I want to stress — bliss is not perfection. It’s not the thrill of a roller coaster. It includes times of struggle, can-I-make-a-living? (Not yet.) It includes boredom, a lack of inspiration. (How can I teach today? Nothing moves me!) But it also includes gratitude for those struggles and those feelings, because it’s all part of the journey. And every time I teach another class, or try something new in my practice, or see my old practice through new eyes, it feels like home.

Happy Spring! Outdoor meditation

My partner and I are dogsitting this week! We both love puppies but due to our frequent travel and upcoming round-the-world trip, we do not own a dog now. So the last day and a half that she’s been here has been amazing! It’s wonderful to be around the warmth and positive energy of a dog, even if she does open your fridge and eat two chicken breasts while you’re out watching Captain America 😉

This morning, I took advantage of the outdoors as the pup and I were walking through the park . I spied a bench underneath the shade of a sycamore tree, and I made my way towards it, my furry companion sniffing and trotting happily beside me. After I secured her to the bench, I sat down and closed my eyes and began my meditation practice.

I started with nadi shodana, or alternate nostril breathing. This helps slow my breath down and my thoughts so that I can focus and hear my True Self. This was my first time meditating outside, and I felt a little self conscious: do I look weird? Will the dog bark or eat something she shouldn’t or try to tug away?

After I finished my breath work, I let my hands sit gently in my lap and continued into meditation. Currently, I’m practicing Merging Breath meditation: focusing on the pause between exhale and inhale, which represents the stillness that’s always there in our Selves. Though my thoughts were jumping around more than they would have if I was in my usual spot, I enjoyed the quiet and the sounds of birds chirping, the water splashing in the fountain nearby, the sound of the dog sniffing intently her surroundings. It was also nice to feel the gentle breeze and enjoy the scent of grass floating by. Most importantly, I wasn’t judging myself for having more thoughts and being more distracted (I admit, I peeked open my right eye to make sure the dog was still there).

I think the pup got something out of it too. This is her after we returned home:

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