Finding yoga

Between stimulus and response, there is space. In that space lies our freedom and our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our happiness.

– Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning


Living in a city like Singapore certainly has its fair share of allures, cosmopolitan cuisines, exciting activities available at all times of the day, the constant buzz in the air, the gleaming shop windows laden with designer wares, high street goods, everyone always seems to be going places.  There seems to be always something there for everyone.  

Yoga, like all the commodities that a typical city has to offer, was (at that time, 7 years ago) yet another thing to do. I was holding down a high-stress job and raising 3 young children and I wanted to get in shape. Anyhow, yoga had become fashionable in recent times – with yoga studios in their quest to look minimalistic, holding out potential reaping of calm in the eye of the storm that is our daily lives. In any case, at that time, all I wanted was to do some form of exercise, and yoga to me at that time was now looking back, laughably immature and superficial – that it was a slow type of exercise – which suited me at that time because my fitness level was at its most abysmal.  And up to last year, yoga was exactly that to me although by then I had come to realise that yoga was not “slow exercise”. It could be as slow or fast as I wanted it to be, depending on the classes I joined.

All that changed when I signed up for a mindfulness course online in September last year.  And then it all clicked. The moments of silence, the emptying of thoughts before the start of a yoga class. The reminders to breathe. The instructions focus on the key muscles for each pose. Shavasana. Namaste. I had not really considered what each component of a yoga class meant, how it was supposed to strengthen me physically and mentally – to me it was just another form of exercise, something that I did for an hour in the morning before I hurried off to work, diving into the next conference call or typing furiously away at the laptop working out details of the next transaction.  Somehow what were disparate pieces of a puzzle (at least how it seemed to me) began taking shape.  Belatedly, I began to understand that far from being “slow exercise”, yoga was a journey to understand oneself, to live well, and not merely survive. 

I began to pay more attention to the pranayama exercises, cues to breathe during a pose, to fully engage in the pose, to focus on what I was doing at every moment. Most importantly, I developed a meditation practice. Yogic philosophy (Yoga Chitta Vritta Nirodhah) prescribes the calming of the fluctuations of the mind. Just as we need to cool down the body after physical exercise, the mind needs to still itself at various times of the day so that we are able to once again sense into the present, and be aware of each moment that we are living in.  

On this, under the second limb of Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga which is “Niyama” lies the sub-limb of “Santosha” which basically refers to contentment, enjoying every moment of being conscious, aware, without attachment.  Simply appreciate the moment that we have, that we are in at the current moment without judgement.   The mind too often veers off on the negative end of the spectrum.  Especially given the pervasiveness of social media and the effects of capitalism which has produced a growing chasm between the “haves” and “have-nots”, the tendency to compare our possessions, our experiences becomes a habit and our mind automatically reacts and we all too often focus on what we do not have (a natural tendency of the mind to focus on the negative).   Santosha reminds us to take a step and appreciate what we have, to be detached from external objects, subjects and fantasies.  Once the mind is cheerful, we forget the body.  Nothing can get us down.  With these philosophies in mind, I began to pay closer attention to my environment, all the goodness that there is in my life.  And indeed beauty is here in this very moment for us to embrace and behold, if we so choose to do so.

At this juncture, I invite you to take three minutes now, close your eyes and take 3 beautiful deep breaths and think of 3 people that you are thankful for.  Feel a light shining from your heart, its warm glow spreading across your body and uplifting you.  I now invite you to consider your mind and body feel following those moments of mindfulness 🙂