Our travels begun with a rough start. India. Beautiful and exotic. But also intoxicatingly stressful and hectic. We both found it quite hard to relax with the language barrier and tendency of falling ill. But at the same time, the views were breathtakingly stunning and awe-inspiring. It was an odd combination of contradictions that still run down my memory spine.
I signed up for an in-house 200 hour yoga training course at the heart of yoga, Rishikesh because I wanted to live, breathe and eat yoga for a period of time. And boy I did. It was one of the most challenging and rewarding things I had ever done in my life. The yoga class comprised of fewer than twenty students from all walks of life. Most were young backpackers in some sort of life transition stage. We poured over yoga philosophy on chakras, practiced asanas and studied Patanjali for up to 12 hours a day. I broke down a few times because I was overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of being away from my family, away from my familiar bed back home and tied down to a rigid structure that demanded a brand of hardcore discipline I abandoned a long time ago when I left school. I know that in the zen scheme of things, the luxury of blowdrying one’s hair should not feature. However, I was somewhat devastated that the hairdryer that I brought with me from Singapore resulted in a few power failures in the entire yoga hostel. The hairdryer I subsequently got from a shop down the street at Rishikesh blew cold air out at me with an embarrassingly loud whirring sound. I think I can safely say I woke everyone in the mornings blowing my horn. Also, truth be told, I am an introvert. Though many cannot fathom this because I have spent a good part of my life mingling with crowds…whether it was a crowd of tourists at the Night Safari where I used to work as a tram guide or a class full of college students when I used to teach for over eight years. And now, here I was, thrown out of my safe shell and placed in a class full of yogi wannabes who had to wing it together. I was truly blessed as they were all beautiful souls which melted my shyness a little. The teachers were also especially encouraging and never failed to remind us to focus on the journey and not just the end result. I loved yoga philosophy though I struggled to sit upright on the floor in class. My mind wandered all over the place during meditation classes. It especially focused on the nagging pain I felt at my lower back from all the attempts to be still. It was also particularly challenging when we had to master the art of zen amidst the multiple fly nose landings that happened in the tropics. We had to sit on the floor with our backs erect for EVERY class everyday for 30 days. I struggled. But there were two charming ladies in their 50s with us in class who floated through the classes with such grace. How could I complain? I had no excuse. I was the only one in class who could not do a headstand for those 30 days. I’ll be honest. I got really frustrated with myself and beat myself up a lot about it because I bottled so much of fear of falling and breaking my bones. What if I failed? What if I didn’t make it? What if I..?
Upon hindsight, I realise that most of my deepest fears were brought about by my own ego. Once the ego melts, experiences become so much more expansive and fluid. I had to stop judging myself even if people did judge me. Or if I imagined I was being judged. I only had to live and stay true to the highest version of myself. So I willed myself to focus on my strengths and in the end, I passed the training course along with the rest. It was one of my happiest moments in life. And I practiced the sirsasana for the next 30 days after the course had long ended. I willed myself to get rid of every single excuse left in the closet – that I was too stiff, too clumsy, too weak, too old, too slow. One day, as my husband blasted music through his headphones and was busy doing his thing in the hotel room, I got down on my knees and tried kicking my legs up to get into position again and again . I did it almost a hundred times nonstop. At one point, I cried again (I think my mum was right when she told me a long time ago that my puffy cheeks were filled with tears). My fingers were bruised and swollen from all the abrasion. I kept trying. Then, suddenly, I found my balance. The feeling of having the full length of my legs and torso hovering above my head as I inhaled and exhaled from this new vantage point was amazing. The last time I was dangling upside down like that was probably when I was just born and being held by the doctor. And that was another one of my happiest moments in life. When I believed once more that nothing was out of reach ever.
I wish you many such moments ahead. Because you deserve it. And because the pain is just an illusion you need to conquer. The stillness and focus that we seek so much in the external world is something we need to discover within ourselves first. We need to get the order right. Then, magic happens. Your breaking point could very well be the tipping point towards everything your heart desires. It sure was for me.
P/S - So there I was (in the picture) finally doing the headstand at Ladakh, India - where I finally found my balance. I am actually quite a headstand addict now. Isn’t it funny how your greatest fear may become your best friend once you open yourself up to it? If you’d like to see me doing the headstand at the Ang Kor Wat and alongside a wandering worm, look me up on Instagram (serene_martin)
Also, for those of you wondering why am I so interested and passionate about wanting to learn the headstand, the reasons go far beyond the fact that it is a visual spectacular. It improves blood circulation, enhances digestive fire, gives you a nice buzzed feeling long after without the after-effects of coffee,sugar or alcohol, improves skin tone and strengthens various muscle groups. It spins your world around in very good ways really. For more information on the benefits of inversions in general, do refer to Yogajournal .
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