Mind Blowing Bali

By Elaine Ee
Bali is often called the island of the gods. If you’ve been to Bali, it’s not hard to see why. Signs of religion and spirituality are everywhere on this Sunda island, even in the most touristy neighbourhoods. From the daily offerings of flowers and palm leaves placed on people’s doorsteps; to ancient, mystic temples; a myriad of festivals; and the spirits that are said to roam the land freely; the other world permeates every inch of Bali, and is buried in the consciousness of the local culture. Development may have piled tourist contraptions thick and high on top of local life, but the spirits do not leave. They remain, deeply embedded in the fabric of culture and society here.
Every Balinese person views the world through the eyes of the spirits he knows. Including this Balinese gentleman I met on a holiday here some years ago. He was a yoga teacher.
I forget his name but I remember what he looked like. He was dark, with long, slightly frizzy hair and quiet air about him. He came to our villa on the request of my girlfriend and I, who wanted to treat ourselves to a yoga lesson, while our husbands took the children off somewhere.
He was in reasonable shape, but not fit like many yoga instructors you see in modern yoga studios. He wore a Balinese sarong, made almost no sound when he walked. He didn’t carry a yoga mat.
As my girlfriend and I sat down in front of him on our rubber yoga mats, gazing at him bright eyed and bushy tailed, he looked at us like we were slightly strange.
We started with some usual breathing exercises and a basic warm up. From there, my girlfriend and I were poised to go—ready to start a suite of asanas, expecting the typical triangle, warrior, chair, tree, cobra, locust, bridge and other postures we’d normally practice in our yoga studios back home.
But there was none of that.
Instead, he made us do some odd movements and poses, which didn’t feel like asanas at all. I don’t recall accurately now what these were, but I distinctly remember thinking at the time that this was turning out to be a very different yoga class.
After a few ‘postures,’ we asked him what we were doing and told him about the yoga we were used to practicing. “That is Western yoga,” he said, putting a lot of weight behind that statement. “This is Bali yoga.” It sounded like he wanted to explain what he meant, but felt the concept was way too complex and profound for modernized minds like ours to understand in the few minutes he had with us.
So he decided to show us in another way.
“Close your eyes,” he instructed. We both closed our eyes and sat cross legged.
I felt him walk over to me and place his palm over the crown of my head. Peeping out from under my eyelids, I could see his cool sarong in front of me. His palm was close enough to me that I could feel it, but not so close that it touched me. The energy from his palm was very strong.
I felt what I could best describe as a warm sensation at my crown, which I put down to the body heat radiating from his palm. My mind started to lift, and I soon felt like I was on a different plane, swimming in my head. I was drifting into my surroundings, hovering, yet still connected to my physical body. All the time I felt like the teacher was standing close to me with his palm on my crown.
I’m not sure how long I stayed in this state. It felt like 15 minutes.
When I started to come back down to earth, I opened my eyes, expecting to see the teacher next to me.
But he was opposite end of the room. Smiling.
I was stunned, and when I looked over to my friend, she appeared similarly awed.
“Wow,” we both said. “What was that?!”
The teacher walked over and sat down in front of us. “That was your crown chakra opening,” he said gently. “That’s why you felt those things.”
“But I only opened your chakra a little bit. Because if I had opened it fully, you might see too much, more than you are ready for, and you will be troubled.”
I had only heard vaguely of chakras at the time. I knew they were energy centres of some sort, like meridians in traditional Chinese medicine. But I had no idea where they were located, what they did or the effects they could have.
Now I know better. There’s Muladhara chakra, Swadhisthana chakra, Manipura, Anahata, Vishuddha, Ajna and—the crown chakra—Sahasrara. I know that they are located in the base of the spine, groin, navel, heart, throat, third eye and of course crown, respectively.
I know that they run along the vertical axis of the body, and are horizontal discs spinning round a central core, the shuhumna, or spinal cord. I know that each chakra is responsible for certain faculties and senses, corresponds with a particular element like Earth, Fire, Air, Ether (space) and Water, and has a bija or root sound, like Om, Lam, Vam, Ram or Yam, whose frequency resonates with that of the chakra’s vibrations and the chanting of which will therefore activate the chakra.
And I know that chakras are not to be messed around with. The energy that comes out of the sushumna, the kundalini, is powerful.
One of the villa staffed witnessed our entire chakra experience. After the teacher had left, the staff, a middle-aged man, came over to us and said.
“There are many people like him in Bali. They can see things moving around everywhere; and they know things. They usually stay in the villages and don’t come out much,” he said.
Well, this ‘teacher’ came out for us. Whether he was really a yoga teacher or a local ‘seer’ looking to earn a few bucks from tourists looking for a yoga class, I decided it didn’t quite matter. He had taught me something.

Yoga Philosophy in a Nutshell

By Elaine Ee
Coming across yoga philosophy for the first time can be a little bewildering. For the uninitiated, yoga philosophy can feel like an abstract universe of esoteric concepts with unpronounceable Sanskrit names. Yet it can be made straightforward and concrete. Here are five key ideas to get you going.
#1: Don’t forget the other 7 limbs of yoga
Yoga is not just about getting into postures like a pretzel. In fact, Asana practice—which how the modern world defines yoga—is only one component of one path of yoga.
Before this gets too confusing—let’s start with what yoga is. Yoga means union—of body, mind and spirit. There are four paths to this union: Karma yoga, which put simply means doing deeds without any intention (or expectation); Bhakti yoga, which is a devotional form of yoga; Jnana yoga, which is acute self-reflection and the study of philosophy; and Raja yoga—also known as Ashtanga yoga, which is the control of the mind.
Practice of Asanas is one part, or limb, of Raja yoga, and there are seven other limbs. Without sounding like a laundry list, the seven, in this order, are: Yamas and Niyamas (living a ethical, pure life), Pranayama (controlling the life force), Pratyahara (detachment from the senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and, the final stage, Samadhi (attainment of a super state of consciousness). Asanas is the third of the eight limbs, and means holding steady poses to still the body, to in turn still the mind.
Only when all eight limbs are viewed together is a yoga practice whole. So take your practice beyond the classroom, and into your life and live the eight limbs.
#2: Prana is the master teacher
In most yoga classes, the instructor will ask the students to do Pranayama—the fourth limb of yoga—which most will understand as breathing exercises. But what is ‘prana’ exactly? It’s more than just inhaling and exhaling oxygen and carbon dioxide—it is the life force, the vital energy that courses through your mind and body, that keeps you ticking and allows you to be balanced and in control. A similar concept exists in Traditional Chinese Medicine, known as ‘qi.’ Like ‘qi,’ prana is the fuel that keeps your engine running, and just like high-grade fuel helps a car perform at an optimal level, prana in a good state helps you function at your best—physically healthy, mentally alert but calm, engaged but at peace, active yet still.
Pranayama, or yogic breathing techniques, is the best way to harness and control the prana. Breathing can help prana rise or cool down, remove blockages, and bring about physical, mental and emotional healing. During yoga practice, Pranayama is what sustains your Asanas, centres you and helps you go further and deeper into your practice. So the next time you are in class, and the teacher says ‘breath,’ remember there’s a whole lot more to it.
#3: Karma is unfinished business
The term ‘karma’ has been used a lot. It is commonly understood to mean ‘destiny’ or ‘retribution’ and is described in terms of ‘good karma’ and ‘bad karma.’ In fact, karma is something quite different.
Karma is what stems from unfulfilled desire. What this means is—in each one of us dwells very deep urges. They may be so buried embedded in our subconscious that we are not aware of them, but they shape our character and drive our thoughts, decisions and actions. They may be things like the desire for acceptance, for recognition, for security or for love. Until we let go of our basic desires, they will continue to drive us and we will continue to produce karma through our chosen deeds and their consequences—which is why karma is called ‘unfinished business.’
Fortunately, there are ways to wrap up our unfinished business, like by mastering our mind and will through the practice of Raja yoga. Taking care of unfinished business frees us from our karma and allows us to lead a higher existence—the pinnacle of which is Enlightenment.
#4: Stuck in Samsara
Because of our karma, we remain caught in the cycle of birth and rebirth. This means that even after our physical bodies die, our soul remains on this earth and enters a different form, as it continues to seek its unfulfilled desires. And that before our soul entered our body it probably already existed in someone else’s. And it will continue to do this until it lays to rest its desires.
This cycle is known as Samsara, which is often depicted as a wheel. But before you think you are going to come back as an eagle, a worm or the next Bill Gates, remember that striving for a particular form is a desire in itself. Of course you have to believe in reincarnation in order to accept this paradigm, but even if you don’t the thought that one should purify and advance one’s spiritual development already offers huge potential for one’s yoga practice and one’s life.
#5: Be Sattvic like the sun
One level of existence that is higher but not yet fully enlightened is Sattva, which means purity and knowledge. A Sattvic person is highly evolved, discerning, and spiritual, and understands the path to Enlightenment though he or she may still be seeking it themselves. It is one of three basic qualities of living things, called Gunas. The other two Gunas are Rajas and Tamas. Rajasic people do not see the truth and operate mainly at an emotional, egotistical level. Tamasic people live in darkness—they are ignorant, negative and destructive. These three Gunas are in all of us, in varying degrees at different times of our lives. Together, they form the human existence.
Ultimately we want to move beyond the human existence, beyond even Sattva, to become enlightened, free from Karma, free from Samsara.
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As you can see, yoga philosophy is not just about ideas or thought. It is a holistic way of looking at life itself, in which everything from the past, present and the future, to how you think, how you breath, what you do, is interconnected. The best way to comprehend yoga philosophy is to live it. Only then will you internalize it and will it become as natural to you as the sun rising in the East and setting in the West. Because yoga philosophy is not static words on a page, or something that a preacher says, but a living philosophy that guides you through life and to finally your highest fulfillment.

The Yamas in Everyday Life

I’ve been living separate lives.
Within my yoga practice, there exists a harmonic sanctuary where I am blissfully content and aware of Yamas. In the room, practicing with others or on my own, I am awarded the peaceful mind that is congruent with the principles of Ahimsa, Asteya, Sattya, Brahmacarya and Aparigraha. On the mat I can become focused and controlled in these disciplines, bringing my mind and breath and body together in focus. The challenge of social discipline rarely affects me in the company of fellow yogis and yoginis.
But then I step outside, onto the pavement of the real world, where instantly I begin to check my work email, attempt to cross the road, compete to hail a taxi and negotiate how to plan my time to best accomplish the challenges of that week.  Stepping in puddles, getting upset with my taxi driver for taking the long way home, feeling annoyed at the external pressures of life, it’s almost an immediate undoing of all the Yamas I have just practiced.  I am reminded that everything is a measure of productivity and results. And once again, I’m critical and judgmental, struggling to find the social discipline the Yamas provide.
A rough definition of “yoga” is “union”, yet here I am, a splintered person, confining my Yama practice to a room of like-minded individuals, on a safely-harbored yoga mat.  How have I become a Yama practitioner for merely an hour or so per day? It’s such a convenient life, but also a very unbalanced one.
In a rushed city such as Singapore, which is undergoing such rapid change and improvement, it’s easy to ignore the Yamas. In Aparigraha, or the principle of not coveting things that aren’t essential to one’s life, we face the challenge of walking a fine line between greed and profit making.  Another example is Ahimsa; we are instructed to not harm others, but really, isn’t the practice of losing patience with others a form of harming them?  And by ignoring the Yamas, we are essentially betraying Sattya, or truthfulness, because we are being totally inconsistent with ourselves.  These are just a few of the Yamas, but you kinda get my drift here.  It’s not easy following the social discipline prescribed to us in the Yamas.
Admittedly, it’s an everyday challenge to live the Yamas outside of the yoga studio. The pursuit of joining these “separate lives” together in balance will continue to baffle me.  However, now equipped with the knowledge of the Yamas, I have a better chance in consummating my separate lives. Talk to me in a few months. Maybe you’ll see a certain sparkle in my eye that’ll secretly tell you my double life is over.
Stay bendy everyone.