Wednesday, November 28, 2012

my manila moment

A month goes by fast, especially so close to the end of the year. It’s been a mad Manila moment. Good mad. It's been quite a full experience. 

As a yoga teacher, there has been a lot of teaching—I’ve never taught so many classes before, maybe ever.  During peak season in Boracay, there would be 2 or 3 weeks so of intense work. But then it would always peter off to a manageable island pace. 

As a yoga student, there has been a lot of life lessons. And as usual, Manila has been an extraordinary classroom.

As difficult as it is, at times, to manage a hectic schedule, to negotiate traffic, to spend time with family and friends, to find time to rest let alone have a sustaining self-practice, I feel an incredible sense of joy being here.

I came home to share and this objective has been so greatly supported by the two studios (Urban Ashram and Yoga Manila) that have so warmly welcomed me for the short term, by some remarkably seasoned yoga practitioners who are willing to entrust me even in the most difficult positions, by those curious enough to try my themed yogasana classes—which didn’t fall into any of the usual categories at UA—and especially by those who came back for more.

It's no coincidence that the lessons I shared over the month’s teaching are the same lessons that I am also myself learning: establishing one's practice, grounding, centering, seeing one's inner light, accepting/embracing the self. 

I wish I could say that I was sharing from a vault of prevailing wisdom. But in truth it all comes from a crazy heap of life experiences, many mistakes, much fumbling. I feel encouraged to see how all the moments of falling, and with them all the moments of getting up, brushing myself off, and starting over seem to be really worthwhile.  Not just worth while--it almost feels like these are the moments that matter the most, that make the biggest difference.

I've also been greatly supported by family, my dad in particular. They have so beautifully adapted to me popping in and out of their lives and to my alien vegetarianism--vegetables are usually served with meat in the Philippines. They are so generous when I do come "home," they are a quiet force behind the work that I do when I'm here. It is such a boon to know that though yoga continues to be vague to them, they appreciate that it makes me a happy, more balanced person and family member. 

There's the Universe, of course, which continues to steer my "education," introducing me in the most opportune times to just the right person, bringing about just the right topic of conversation, bit of literature, chance meetings, or human drama. (Yes, dear, Universe, I am listening. I'm a bit hard of hearing sometimes, but I know you are there and that you are trying speak to me). 

Then there's me. That kind of sounds weird, I know. But I am supporting myself too. I haven't been so much alone with myself for a very long while. And this month has given me some precious personal time. In the car, during the wait in between classes, so many moments this month where it's just been... me. I have to admit being so much on my own does rattle me some and I have moaned about feeling lonely at least once. Still, I also feel it has been a good time. I've been talking to myself. Not in the strange skitzo way. My dialogues are mostly internal, though admittedly some are full on out loud conversations--usually in the car, there's a lot of time in the car in Manila. I've had some good heart to hearts with myself, some emotional purges, and quite a few pep talks. It's been really nice. I'm really enjoying my own company, my own head space.

In all, I'm loving this short Manila meeting. It's been an interesting dialogue with the city and with those who I have had the good fortune to cross paths with. There have been many points of connection and disconnection. There have been moments of flow. And some moments of obstruction. Despite the push and pull, I feel the positive effects of movement. I feel incredible gratitude for all that has brought me to this moment.

As I close this time, I feel satisfied that I have done what I came to do. I came to rest my roots in this crazy extreme land that I know more than any other--and that knows me, as well. I've gained support and strength from this hot mess of fertile land. I feel refreshed enough to pack my bags and continue forward on this inexhaustible journey.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

manila mind and the city's yoga boom

Scenes from the road: EDSA. 

As I drive to my 7am yoga class at Yoga Manila in Chi Spa,
Shangri-la Edsa. 
You've heard of a "monkey mind," right? I always visualize monkeys swinging here and there, everywhere. Chaotic and mischievous. Almost cute, actually, though it connotes the unsettled mental state.

These days I've been battling what I call the "Manila mind"...

Imagine the intellect locked in the grips of bumper to bumper traffic, moving very VERY slowly. Also restless, but unlike monkeys, unable to move freely. Unable to run, or play, or jump from tree to tree. Unable to live in accordance to its true jungle nature. It is trapped in gridlock. From all sides, it is being subjected to a canopy of media, giant billboards, print and digital, each one puling at the eyes, drawing the attention from the course ahead.

It's insane: the slew of commercial models selling all sorts of wares. Clothes, underwear, mobile phones, fast food. Two lovingly look at each others' eyes over instant noodle soup in a styro cup. I nearly drive into a concrete crash barrier when I spot a Lactacyd White Intimate ad the size of a small building along C-5. The feminine wash boasts of being able to lighten ladies' privates with marine and plant-based extracts. WHAT? Or better yet: WHY??!!

"Target your market"? Um, hello! Are we
human beings or commercial prey? 
If not the ads, then there's traffic. If not the traffic, then there are the high-rise buildings popping up like mushrooms throughout the metro. Everywhere, I feel a sense of growing density. People living, crawling on top of each other. I know most people will call this progress, but it is tight out here!

Obviously, I've been spending too much time on the road again. But this is life in Manila. These are the obstacles to living here, the veils that drape over the essence of this truly special country.

Even off the road, we've gotten used to visual multi-tasking. You can be lunching with friends and each one will be plugged into various interfaces, 3G or wi-fi, and checked into different online platforms: text, email, facebook, twitter, foursquare. We're so used to meeting virtually, are we loosing touch of actually connecting?

It's hard to find space in the city, especially this one. There are few parks where one can just sit, look up, see sky. And what about the inner space, where we might have some stillness or roominess to stretch out from the compression that occurs in the city?

Maybe that's part of why yoga is becoming so big in Manila. The city is getting bigger, building upwards, sideways, all directions. People are looking for space to breathe. More and more people are taking up yoga and joining the various yoga studios (which are also, incidentally, sprouting up like mushrooms, albeit the happy magical kind). The appeal, I think, is that they are finding room to stretch out, staking out some sacred space within the area of a 70 x 180 cm rubber mat.

I know for myself, it's challenging to not get swept up in this insane energy. It wears me out. I've only been in Manila 3 weeks, but I feel so tired already. Throughout the day I feel inspired, so many thing I want to write down. At the end of the day, however, I've got little to no creative juice left.

Thus, I continue to inhale and exhale deeply. I try to observe without absorbing. I practice. I practice on the mat. I practice off the mat. I do my best anyway. I continue to feel blessed by the gifts of yoga, which creates space where there appears to be none, which gives strength when I think there is none left, which clears the Manila mind of some excess traffic.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

yoga off the mat: license renewal, pinoy style

I started this evening's class by asking the students if anyone had already practiced yoga today? It was a 7:30pm class at Urban Ashram, Fort High Street in Manila. They looked at me peculiarly as they all nodded in the negative.

"Are you sure? No Yoga?" Was this some strange trick question from the new yoga teacher, they might have wondered.

I explained briefly three classical definitions of yoga.

According to Patanjali: "Yoga is the cessation of the whirlings of the mind."

And Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita said that yoga is "steady ease" and "skillfulness in action."

I asked them to think whether they had practiced any yoga while I shared with them the general flow of my day: I taught morning class, then self-practiced, in the early afternoon went to renew my drivers license, which expired last June, which brought me to two centers, the final one so full that it took just over 5 hours of cueing, waiting for medical tests, picture taking, more cueing before I went to teach my final class in the evening, legally driving to my next location.

I had started the day with yogasana, I was ending the day with yogasana, but the half day sitting, waiting in the backseat of a tediously long bureaucratic (Filipino bureaucracy) process was--I think--me really practicing yoga. This may seem strange.

I mean, I was just sitting there, seemingly so inactive. How could that be yoga?

It didn’t have to be. I could have whiled away the hours staring blankly at the backs of people’s heads. I could have been picked up by the wave of growing dissatisfaction, feeling irritated and restless. I could have checked my watch at each opportunity, slowing time with my unmet expectations of spending most of the afternoon writing in front of the computer and then going to a kirtan at the Art of Living center in Manila before teaching that evening. It could have been yet another event that was happening to me.

Instead, I reminded myself: I choose to be here. I committed to this travesty of civil service for the afternoon because I had a purpose. I was doing what needed doing.

By deciding that, I didn’t spend my time seething at the poor LTO workers drowning in paperwork, surrounded by people whose minds bent towards rioting against them. I accepted, at least for the afternoon, the poor conditions, and just got on with it. I read. And made notes on my book. I did my best to be constructive.

I don’t claim to be the only one practicing yoga that afternoon. There were others who smiled through the process, who I felt calmness from when I was beside them. But there were those who were fidgeting, pacing the space, or even mumbling angrily. They, sadly, were not practicing yoga.

I’m not saying it’s right to wait 5-6 hours, this is definitely an issue to be addressed in terms of operating with more efficiency. I am not condoning the way our government offices are so inefficiently run. But I think we should adopt a good attitude about things, one that’s constructive.

It hit me how difficult the situation was for everybody that day when I asked the woman taking my picture at about the 4th hour, innocently--I swear!, “What time do you think the license will be ready? I ask because I still have work.”

She was sharp with me, “Wait till we call you,” she said in Filipino. I asked again politely, sure that there must be an estimate. But she replied even more irately, “We will call you.”

This is when I felt that I was practicing yoga the most. It was a split second sort of processing: I was struck at how unfair she was being. I had a simple question, one I’m sure she could have answered. And I felt the tide of dissent well up within me. But then I could see that she’d been asked this very question the entire day, maybe in some not so nice ways. And along the way, she allowed herself to be victimized by the faulty system and the stressful situation, and had lost a touch of her own humanity along the way.  By understanding her difficulties, I had created distance from my own potential to be upset by the situation. I would not be another victim.

I stepped away then and asked someone who looked less stressed. At first, she reacted in a similar way. But when I repeated my question, again in a calm and friendly tone, I think she realized I was not making a ridiculous request and that there was no harm in actually sharing that information. It would be done in half an hour.

Why do we make life so hard for ourselves and for each other? Why do we create such enmity? We are all on the same boat, the same planet; we share the same struggles.

What if we practiced yoga all the time, even in the smallest, pedestrian moments such as these? How much more skillful would we be? How much more even-minded? How much more understanding would we have for each other?

Ok, practicing yoga in this way may not solve the world’s many issues, let alone the way the LTO is run, but it would create a shift in how we acted, in our attitudes. I can’t help but think how it’s the kind of shift that will allow us to be in the right state of mind to really work on things with love and with compassion.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

coming home

The Philippines. Manila. Home.

Coming home is like walking through the door of some magical, enigmatic poem. The colors, the people, the temperature are different. Everything, all sensory experiences, dialed up a notch.

It feels surreal. Each time, coming home feels more and more so. Perhaps because home remains somehow constant, while each journey continues to chip away at my human landscape. Each return makes each personal revolution more apparent; the experiment in contrast to the control. Manila, my marker.

I question this place. Or perhaps it's the other way around. Already home is challenging my sensibilities: my tastes, my diet, my sense of order, my renewed love for seasons and cooler climes. It must be doing its job as motherland: to test, to inspire, two sides of the same country coin.

It's only been 3 days but I have already experienced all sorts of things since returning. I have felt a deep sense of belonging. I've also felt strangeness and difference. I have felt calm and also short-tempered frustration. How is it that I can be perfectly natural one moment and perfectly out of place the next? Everything fits, but ever so imperfectly, clothes just slightly off, a wee bit loose here, sleeves ever so slightly short, a centimeter tight in some places.

Despite all of home's strangeness, all of my fish-out-of-water sensations, what I cannot deny is that there is a certain power to being here, to coming home. I have felt this before. That as it beams its invisible rays of dissonance, it also embraces me. It welcomes its wandering, prodigal daughter. It recharges my restless spirit, which like a spec of dirt that rests on the side of the mountain becomes a part of the mountain itself and is absorbed into Mother Earth.