Stop and Smell the Roses

Spring is in the air! This past weekend i went to visit Allan Gardens Conservatory, a botanical gem in the heart of downtown Toronto.  It’s been such a harsh winter where minus 30 degree was the norm, I forgot what Spring feels like.  Stepping inside the botanical garden was like entering a winter oasis! Suddenly I forgot about the cold, forgot about work, and forgot about time.

Feeling warm and cozy, I took a look around me.  I was surrounded by a gorgeous view of vibrantly colorful trees and flower, sweet fragrant in the air,  and laughters of little kids.  I slowly strolled around the garden happily observing each and every beautiful petal and learning to appreciate simplicities in life.

The best part of all this experience is that admission is free for the whole family and it is open everyday.  If you haven’t been its time to take some time with your love ones, stop and smell the roses!

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

Advertisements

Work Life Balance

What does being a yoga teacher mean to me? It means to inspire others to dream more, learn more, and do more. It means making the world a better place by sharing the knowledge to health and happiness, one person at a time, one hour at a time.

image

I am very excited to announce that I will be teaching yoga at work starting next week! Working in an office environment where we stare at the computer screen from sunset to sunrise everyday is physically and mentally exhausting.  I’m fortunate that my employer is supportive on this initiative as they understand the direct connection between work productivity, health, and wellness.  This is an amazing opportunity to spread my love for yoga and encourage mindfulness in our busy working lives.  What should I initiate next….casual yoga pants Fridays? Just kidding!

Home Sweet Home

Time flies, it’s been one month since I’ve been home! I’ve spent the last few weeks catching up with friends, working, and reflecting. Everyone was surprised to see that I appeared to be exactly the same and they all asked with curiosity “so…are you enlightened?”

I can’t help but laugh and declare “not even close, but I’m on my way!”

To me, enlightenment is the state of perfect wisdom, knowledge, and freedom combined with infinite compassion and universal love. I’ve only begun to scratch the surface but I know a seed has been planted and it will only grow from here.

Coming back to the reality of my life back home was honestly a bit shocking. Even though I looked the same, dressed the same, spoke the same, and did all the same things, I feel distinctively different. I’ve travelled a lot in the past but has never experience this, it’s almost as if I’ve become a better version of myself living and breathing a familiar yet distant life. Reflecting on this amazing journey I want to share with you three important lessons that I’ve learned:

1. Gratitude

The most immediate feeling I’ve felt coming back home was gratitude. From the moment I stepped out of the airport I embraced the fresh clean air and smooth pavements. When I got home, I was impressed by the softness of toilet paper (it really makes a big difference to the whole washroom experience!) and consistent stream of hot water to take a comfortable shower. These are the little things n life that I’ve never really paid attention to but now feels like luxury.

My gratitude extends beyond physical things to relationships as well. Growing up I never understood why my parents refused to give me anything I didn’t earn. My dad grew up very much like an orphan and he could not afford to pay for school let alone a decent pair of shoes. Visiting the orphanage in India gave me a new sense of appreciation for my parents who built everything from zero and allowed me to be who I am today. I am also fortunately to have meaningful and lasting friendships from as far back as elementary school. Not all friendships lasts forever and when they do it’s priceless. I thank my body for providing the strength to help achieve my goals. I’ve put it through some rough times like running long distance in sub-freezing temperature, working past midnight for consecutive weeks, and now intense yoga training. The very fact that I can wake up every morning feeling strong and healthy is a blessing.

Yoga Sultra, one of the oldest on yoga, states that “from contentment comes superlative happiness” and I cannot agree more. By focusing and appreciating on the things that I have instead of what I don’t have shifts my mindset to be instantly happier.

2. Awareness

My time at in India at the ashram was probably the longest I have ever spent “living in the moment”. Practicing yoga and meditation encouraged me to be more aware about the connection between mind, body, and surroundings. I’ve learned to eat slower so that I can enjoy the flavours and feel how the food nourishes the body. I’ve learned to take long, deep breaths to bring awareness to the present and stop myself from worrying about the future or thinking about the past. I’ve learned to become an observer of my emotions, to identify the root cause, to own it, and to let it go. I’ve learned to sense the energy of the people and things around me to understand how they affect my well-being. In the book The Tree of Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar wrote “concentration has a point of focus; meditation has no points. That is the secret.” Awareness is about living in the moment, it’s about bringing all the senses into the NOW to feel every aspect of what is going on at any given time. It takes efforts to live in the moment, but it’s so liberating when it does happens.

Since I’ve been home I’ve committed to practicing yoga and meditation everyday, even if it’s just for 15 minutes. It’s a matter of discipline and some days are harder than others, espcially with demanding work hours during my company’s year-end. Normally I become super stressed and unhappy around this time of the year but I handled it much better now. The gift of yoga and meditation helps to cultivate a sense of stability and calmness so that i can deal with whatever life decides to throw at me next.

3. Simplicity

Life is short, we should focus on the things we love to do with the people that we love. I often feel that my world is spinning and there’s never have enough time to do all the things I want to do. But when it comes down to it, it’s is a matter of choice. With that I realized I need to take a serious look at my choices and live a simpler more fulfilling life. This includes focusing to be good at 2 or 3 things instead of attempting to do 10 things. This includes saying no to everything that are keeping me away from reaching my goals. This include listening to my inner wisdom and gut instincts to find out what truly inspires me. By making the right choices, I know I’ll have more time and energy for things that matters.

Simplicity also translate to material matters. I admit I am a shopaholic (see my about page haha). It’s true, I like to make money, spend money, and enjoy the finer things in life. My yoga teacher would label these desires as “rajas” qualities. I’ve struggled on this and even asked him “does being a yogi mean giving up on all the material aspects of life?” He told me there is a tremendous balance to be achieved between the philosophical and practical life. We need to stay true to our own evolution but not lose sight of the spiritual path. It’s natural to have materialist desires, but be grateful about what you have and remember to give back. I am taking this advice to heart.

With all that reflection out of the way (thank you for reading by the way!), what am I doing now? I want to turn this blog into a place where I can continue to share you with all the things that I am passionate about: conscious living, healthy eating, natural beauty, active learning, and appreciating all the little things in life. I’m currently working hard to fine tune all the details, but I promise it will be worth the wait! 🙂

Defining Moments

We’ve all experienced defining moments in life: first job, falling in love, getting married, fighting illness, finding success and overcoming failures. These are the moments that give us a burst of insight and clarity. These are the moments that forever changes our mindset and paves way for new possibilities.

Holding the teacher training certificate in hand, I knew it was a defining moment. I felt happy, proud, and bittersweet all at the same time. This experience has not only shown me the knowledge to live a happier and healthier life, it gave me a brand new perspective and purpose in life.

I must admit also I was extra emotional because I completed this journey with my dad and brother. We’ve been living in separate continents for as long as I can remember; being able to spend time together, learn together, and grow together was truly special. And to tell you the truth, my dad never got to attend my graduations from school before due to personal reasons. This was probably as close as it gets to a make up session! I know he’s so proud of us and these are the memories that we will cherish for years to come.

IMG_0565.JPG

I want to thank my group of wonderful new friends and fellow yogis who were inspirational and made the whole experience fun and unforgettable. We all came from various corners of the world and different paths of life yet we bonded instantly over the same passion. As we go our separate ways, I know this is not goodbye but a new beginning. Nameste!

IMG_0582.JPG

It’s Show Time!

We are now just few days away from the final exam, everyone is getting a bit stressed. One afternoon we asked our teacher, Jitendra, what will happen if we fail the final exam. Jitendra responded with a smirk “wake up tomorrow morning and meditate, put your hands by your heart then ask yourself, what will happen if I don’t pass?”

Very well said like a true wise man! We all have the wisdom within ourselves to know the consequences of our actions.

IMG_0575.JPG

IMG_0573-0.JPG

Now that we’ve covered the basics, we started to focus more in depth on teachers training including body anatomy, benefits, contraindications, designing classes, and adjustment techniques. I feel very confident with Jitendra as a teacher who has more than 25 years of experience. Patanjali International Yoga Foundation strives to stay true to original source of yoga and as promises we are learning directly from classical Sanskrit manuals such as Yoga Sultra and Hatha Yoga Pradipika, some of the most influential surviving texts on Ashtanga and Hatha Yoga. Our practical and theory topics cover asanas, pranayama, bandhu, mudra, kriya, meditation, and philosophy. I particularly enjoy learning about the spiritual side of yoga, healing energies of chakras, practice of non attachment, and Samadhi the ultimate state of enlightenment. There are also many words of wisdom found in Yoga Sultra that really struck me, these ancient knowledge from thousands of years ago still is very much applicable in the modern world. This goes to show that irregardless of time, culture, and identities, we all share the same emotions and sufferings.

Aside from studying my body finally adjusted to practicing yoga everyday and the pain in my muscles slowly disappeared. In return, I can feel my flexibility and stability increasing day by day. The disciplined living and learning each day now seems like a pleasant challenge rather than a dreadful task. I also enjoyed the bonding time with my brother, Edward. As English is a second language for Edward, I would spend time every night to translate the lessons for him and discuss together what we’ve learned during the day. I feel as if Edward and I are back to being little kids again, studying and going to school together!

The sunny rooftop is everyone’s favorite hang out spot (aside from a nearby Japanese restaurant that serves Nutella pancakes and other delicious non-yogic food that Jitendra would not approve haha). It’s always so cold and windy during mornings and evenings, we try to get as much sun as possible during lunch time.

Showing off some yoga moves 😉

IMG_0546.JPG

IMG_0552.JPG

image

IMG_0547.JPG

IMG_0556.JPG

IMG_0553.JPG

IMG_0554.JPG

IMG_0557.JPG

IMG_0579.JPG

IMG_0558-0.JPG

Hiking to Lord Shiva Temple

What do yogis do on a day off? Wake up at 5am and hike 13km up the mountain to visit the famous Neelkanth Mahadev Temple!

After ten days of very disciplined living, we finally got a free day to do some sightseeing. Located at a height of 1330 meters in the mountain of Rishikesh, Neelkanth Mahadev Temple is one of the most revered holy shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva and a prominent Hindu pilgrimage site.

Somehow it was very easy getting up at 5am, must be the excitement! Before we departed we were told that there maybe many animals including peacocks, monkeys, and occasionally elephants and bears! Our teacher, Dr. Jitendra Das, warned us “if you see elephants or bears, don’t take pictures, just run!” I’m wasn’t sure if he was joking or not but good thing I’m a fast (somewhat) runner!

IMG_9214.JPG

The hike was A LOT steeper than we expected at times i felt like I was rock climbing! A few people from my class were still recovering from sickness and two were expecting moms, they all made the hike nonetheless, such troopers!

IMG_9195.JPG

Breathtaking sunrise view at the top. Ganga river clearly visible surrounding the peaceful town of Rishikesh.

IMG_9219.JPG

image

There were lots of scenic photo opportunities along the way. I think Jitendra secretly loves pictures as he enthusiastically taught us how to pose for pictures on the trees.

IMG_0536.JPG

IMG_0537.JPG

No elephants were spotted on the way (so disappointed!) but we did encounter many monkeys. My brother had prepared some peanuts to feed the monkeys but as soon as he put down his backpack, the aggressive money grabbed the entire bag and ripped it open to help himself.

IMG_9239.JPG

We stopped for a light breakfast (a warm cup of masala tea and some freshly made pakora).

IMG_9258.JPG

IMG_9265.JPG

Finally we reached the temple! Each of us bought a plate of offerings and went inside to present it and show our respect. We chanted “om Namath shivaya”, a powerful mantra sung by devotees in prayers and meditations, it translates to “adoration to Lord Shiva” and it is associated with divine love, grace, truth, and blissfulness.

IMG_0543.JPG

image
image

IMG_9281.JPG

No Pain, No Gain

Research suggest it takes 21 days to form a habit. Today is my 8th day at yoga teacher training and I know I am still far away from being accustomed this intense level of training!  Our daily schedule generally looked like this:

6:30 am: wake up for self practice
7:30 am – 10:00 am: mantra, pranayama breathing, warm up, and asanas
10:15 am: breakfast / lunch
10:30 am – 1:00pm: self study / group discussion
1:30 pm: herbal tea
2:00 pm – 4:00 pm: science, theory, philosophy, text book
5:00 – 7:00pm: asanas, adjustments and corrections
7:15 pm: dinner
8:45 pm – 9:30 pm: meditation, chanting
10:00 pm: lights out, silent time

The rigid schedule and long hours of practice has really taking a toll on me.  I’ve never practiced so much yoga, close to 5 hours per day consecutively! My body’s been stretched, twisted, bent, and folded like a piece of dough, leaving my muscles so sore it hurts to even walk!  Eating two meals a day also took some adjustment, you know how much I love (and need) to eat all day long! Finally, trying to interpret and memorize all techinical terms in Sanskrit has been challenging like learning any new language.

We have one main teacher and two teaching assistant.  In my opinion, all three teachers have perfected yoga with their extreme flexability and depth of knowledge.  Practicing yoga here is a serious business, our teachers are very strict about alignments, percisions, sequences, and accept no imperfection.    A lot of efforts were also put into explaining technqiues that would help to activate the various chakras energies in our bodies.  I really appreciate this as they corrected many of my bad habits, helps me understand the intricate connection between our mind and bodies, and enabled me to perform a few asanas i thought was impossible such as the headstand!

The first 4 days I was full of enthusiam and was keen about learning, I embraced the pain in my body and pushed to go further.  By day 5 I broke down. Waking up in the middle of the night, my stomach was turning, musscles were stiff, and i was feeling feverish shivering non-stop even underneath two blankets. The next day I missed the morning yoga and afternoon yoga classes.  Unable to lift myself out of bed and I felt so helpless and depressed. To get certified we cannot miss more than 5 classes and I’ve already missed 2. A part of me really wanted to quit and just go back home to my comfortable bed, central heating, and unlimited supply of chicken noodle soup. But I know I will regret it forever if I quit now.  Like running a marathon, i just need to keep going.

Thankfully my dad and brother took care of me. Dad attempted to cook congee (in a tiny water kettle, he added white rice with water and salt), gave me some herbs to boost immune system, and told me to sit back facing the sun for an hour. I then fell into a deep coma and slept for 16 hours straight! Waking up the next morning I felt my energy returning and was beginning to feel a little bit better, at least enough to observe and resume classes.

After my incident, a few other students were also started to get sick one by one like fallen soldiers. “This is just India! You have to get sick at least once or else you’ve never been to India” was what one of my classmate said.  I sure hope the hardest part is over and that it will be mostly downhill from here to the finish line!