My yoga teacher tells me not to suffer in silence prior to the moment he pulls my arm and wraps it around my knee to let me bind in Marichyasana D. I nod my head and he pulls my arm. Every now and then, my knee hurts, but I never tell him NO or STOP. Other people do. Sometimes I hear people yell STOP! like there's a bus coming towards them. Other people moan out load or say NO three times. They don't suffer in silence.
This week I realized (again) my mother is a champion in suffering in silence. I've never seen her have a sick day where she crawls back to bed because she has the flu or an headache. She do has headaches because I see her rubbing her forehead and then I ask: 'Do you have a headache?'
'Yes, a terrible one.'
'Maybe you should lie down?' I'll ask.
'No, I'll be fine,' she always answers.
This week she and my dad had an argument with my brother. This seldom happens. My brother told me about it. They had some miscommunication and all of them got upset. According to my brother everyone was very emotional and my parents admitted they hadn't slept for two nights. When I asked my mother what happened, she said she didn't want to talk about it and all she said was: 'Yes, we had a misunderstanding, but everything is fine now and let's not talk about it.'
I disagreed and said: 'I am in this family too, I want to know what happened and how you felt and how dad is doing.'
'We decided that the case is closed and that we don't have to discuss it anymore.'
I now know why I don't yell and scream and moan in public, or in yoga class. I suffer in silence, just as my family does. Two days ago, I almost broke my nose, while practicing Bhujapidasana (what about this beautiful picture!). I had to throw myself on one side because I just could not get back up. Despite pulling up my bhandas and trying to breathe properly, I just could not do it. I hurt my nose and fell on one side. Nobody in the room noticed it because I didn't make any noise. I suffer in silence, just as my family does.
I am reading a novel by Ivan Wolffers. He is an academic professor in medical anthropology (don't ask me, I don't have a clue) and this is his tenth novel. I'd never heard of him and I got this book from the library where it somehow took my attention. The book is called Broer van God (God's Brother. I am half way through the book and I still don't know where the title refers to. But who cares).
Lately I've read novels (for pleasure) or I've read spiritual books (for wisdom). This Broer van God book is a novel too, but it is filled with wise words and (Western) advice. Somehow I forgot that Western people can think too. That they have brains as well. That they (sometimes) make sense. I am so into yoga and books from the East, that I totally neglected the West. Wolffers writes about a family doctor who explains to his intern why she has to measure the blood pressure of an eighty year old woman who comes in complaining about nothing particular at all. The intern doesn't understand why she has to do this. The doc explains to her that measuring someones blood pressure is an act of compassion and attention, and that you have to touch the patient to get her blood pressure. A lot of people, mostly of a certain age, are not regularly touched anymore. They live alone and can feel lonely and isolated. It's the doctors duty to listen to them and to give them attention, and touch them with warm hands (no not there, don't even think about it).
Maybe this has something to do with yoga as well. Is this why I like this Ashtanga Mysore Style method? Because it is good for my body, spirit and soul, but also because my body is being touched and adjusted? I remember when I was a kid and didn't want to kiss my parents goodnight anymore. I think this was at the age of 8. It wasn't until I was 14 that I kissed again, a boy this time :-) All these years in between, I think I was hardly touched. Kids like me liked to play cool.
I live with my BF and I am lucky that he still wants to touch me and hug me and kiss me. When days are rough there is comfort in lying in someone's arms. I know some people who are in their 30's and who live a single life. I like to imagine that they have these wildstyle weekends with a lot of different lovers, but in reality this is not the case. They date every once in a while, but it almost never gets them further than meeting someone once and all they do is have a drink together and talk about what they are looking for in a partner.
I think all people of all ages need to be comforted, nourished, held and touched. Only a few years ago I started kissing my mom and dad again. In the beginning it felt awkward and uncomfortable, now I know we all like it very much.
I came to the point to where I think that if you become a yoga teacher, there is touching involved. Just like a doc does to his patients, you help your students. You touch (their hearts).
A rolling stone gathers no moss
When I was fifteen, I listened to the album Power of rapper ICE-T. At the age of sixteen, my friend and I watched him perform live on stage in Rotterdam. We didn't catch the last train home and we spent the night just walking the Rotterdam streets until in the morning the train of 7 AM got us back home. I remember I was a paperboy (papergirl, haha) at that time and that my mom had to deliver my newspapers in the morning. Spending the night outside in a city like Rotterdam as a sixteen year old sounds dangerous and irresponsible somehow now. But back in the days I didn't see danger. All I saw was excitement and adventure and I remember feeling free. Luckily my parents let me do my thing. Somehow they trusted me. My dad likes to tell me that he knew that at a young age he already realized I knew my limits and I could keep myself out of trouble.
Back to the yoga. This week I practiced four times. I skipped Sunday's Led Class as I was visiting my family. Yes, this is a somewhat lame excuse because I could've visited my family after the Class, but I chose to go early to visit them myself. Monday through Thursday I practiced Mysore Style. Yesterday was a Moon Day so no practice. It was a Full Moon and I felt it. I was tired, somewhat annoyed, not in the mood for company and I wanted to eat crisps so bad that at 9 in the evening, I put on my shoes to go to the store to buy crisps and I ate them in bed.
This week at the studio I missed some of my fellow practitioners. I contacted one of them and asked where she was. Maybe she had a women's holiday. It wasn't like that. She told me she had doubts. Not about the practice, but about the method. About the teacher. According to her a lot is going on in Mysore and in the Ashtanga world. I didn't know exactly what she meant and I didn't ask her. (Later on I realized maybe it had something to do with 'Listgate'.) I tried to convince her to still come to the shala in the morning.
'It is so much nicer to practice with friends than to practice by yourself,' I said.
'I just cannot do it,' she said. 'I don't want to be in that space right now. I cannot handle it.'
I saw she was going through some rough patches and I knew I wasn't going to convince her. As I am the type of person who is easily influenced by other people, I started thinking myself. Am I having doubts too? Do I care about Listgate? Do I have troubles with the teacher? What do I know? Who am I to try to convince someone who's practicing for years and years as I am only for a very short time?
I did the thinking. And I stopped it. I just want to do this practice. I know I do not care about Listgate. I am very grateful for my teacher and he teaches me a lot of things, but I am not going to die if he quits tomorrow. Do I have doubts? Yes, of course. I can have doubts about ANYTHING. But for now I think: When in doubt, do your practice.
Back to ICE-T. He is a master. A teacher. He inspires me just as much as my yoga teacher does. At the age of sixty (60!), ICE-T is still as cool to me as when I was fifteen. This week he wrote his advice on Twitter:
1. Stay ACTIVE, a rolling stone gathers no moss
2. Avoid stressful people.
3. PMA: Positive Mental Attitude
What's the point I am trying to make? I had to ask myself. Teachers have power. ICE-T has the power. But it's up to me who I listen to.
'Most of us only have one story to tell.'
Everybody is reading The Only Story by Julian Barnes, and so am I. If you are not everybody: The story is about young pretentious Paul, who at the age of 19 is home from university for the holidays and he is urged by his mother to join the tennis club. His mother hopes he'll meet a sweet girl there. At a tournament he is partnered with Mrs. Susan Macleod, a married mother of two nearly grown-up daughters, who's in her forties. Soon Paul and Susan start an affair.
This affair isn't just a summer fling, it lasts and lasts until they ran off to London and start living together.
'The only story is a love story — and it’s inevitably sad'
They start living together as lovers in the fantastic city of London, Paul studies and starts a career as a lawyer, Susan keeps house and spends her time just being happy and taking care of Paul, so they have this simple yet fabulous life even if she is more than twice his age. They show the world that true love is really possible and that it has nothing to do with age. The end.
Of course not.
That is not a story, although I would like it that way.
When they are living in London, Susan starts drinking far more than she should and she develops into a real hardcore alcoholic. This to the point that she has to be hospitalized. Paul stops taking care of her and continuous his life without her (and with other women), but his love Paul has for Susan doesn't automatically stop.
'Everyone has their love story.'
Look around you. They too have their love story to look back on. They too: your parents, your grandparents, the bored looking couple next to you, your friends who are just going through the most ugly divorce and yes, even you and your partner. Look back and remember your story. Where did it start, what happened, where is it now? And of course, as a Yogi, I want to look back at my yoga story. And at yours. Because speaking for myself: I have more than one love story. I may have six (woops). But I do have only one yoga story.
What about you? When did your yoga story start? What happened along the way? Where are you now?
My week in Yoga and commuting:
On Monday I visited Amsterdam.
On Tuesday I slept in.
On Wednesday and Thursday I got up at 5.30 AM to practice Ashtanga Yoga at my shala.
On Thursday evening I flew to Barcelona, Spain, with three family members and two friends.
On Friday my two friends and I practiced a Half Primary Led Class in Barcelona, at a Catalan studio (they write yoga as ioga!). We were the only three in class.
On Saturday we walked the city and along the beach, hung out at a vegan cafe and enjoyed the sun while sitting in the park.
On Sunday we watched the half marathon and went to a soccer game of FC Barcelona (Barca! Barca! Baaarrrcaaaaaa!).
On Monday a friend and I practiced Ashtanga Mysore Style at a studio in Barcelona at 7 AM, and a few hours later we flew back home.
Tuesday everything was back to normal and I practiced at my shala. So did I on Thursday and Friday. Not on Wednesday as it was a New Moon. An intense one according to my teacher and I took his advice to Take Rest seriously.
The Catalan teacher was very sweet and she did some great adjustments on trying to open my right hip. She told us she felt insecure about her English and that she had a hard time teaching in English. But it went very well and the three of us felt great after class. Even my hip agreed.
'You don't have to pay me,' she said. 'I wasn't myself. My English is not good.'
We didn't agree.
'Don't be silly,' we said and we gave her some extra. She was out of her mind with the money.
Even though I am not really into soccer, I enjoyed the game at this huge Camp Nou. It's seating capacity is a little 100,000! Imagine all these people singing together. I felt the energy in my whole body.
Unfortunately, FC Barcelona didn't score a goal. Not even one. This hadn't happen in 18 months!
I think to visit another country, city, with a different culture is great for your view on the world. And it always makes me look differently to my life at home. Again I realized how lucky I am with a shala around the corner where I can practice every day at 6 with so many like minded Ashtangi's and a energetic atmosphere.
'Are you alright?' My yoga teacher asked me when we met in the hallway of the yoga studio.
'I was a bit under the weather,' I said. 'I was suffering from a cold. Runny nose, sneezing, bit feverish, you know.'
He nodded and said: 'I missed you in class.'
'You are one of the steady ones. Are you okay now?'
'Yes, I am,' I said.
'See you tomorrow then,' he said.
'Yes, see you tomorrow.' I turned around and felt awful. Why did I say 'See you tomorrow' when the last thing on my mind was to practice yoga the next morning?
For the past two weeks, everybody in the Netherlands got the flu. And the three persons who were lucky enough to not catch this flue, suffered from a terrible cold. Like me. It made me stay at home in and around my bed and to not go to yoga practice for four days. Now I did feel better, but this evening I was going to go to Amsterdam. Do I have to say more? No, because I said I was going to AMSTERDAM.
I spent the evening there, got the last train back home and went to bed at 1.30 AM. I hesitated for a bit when I had to set my alarm. Just do it. 5.30 AM. Because I am a true Ashtangi and will practice no matter what! Tapas and all that! But I just couldn't.
So I slept in and didn't go to practice. Fifth day in a row. The first four days I did not go because of this sneezing, then because I went off to Amsterdam. The sixth day, I was practicing. I was back. I feared having to face my teacher. He would be upset and disappointed. He would yell and scream and send me out of his shala. This didn't happen. But he did ask me why I skipped practice.
'I am so sorry,' I said.
'It is okay,' he said to my surprise. It made me feel more secure.
'Do you want to know what my excuse was?' I asked. I didn't wait for his answer.
'It is only one word.'
'Amsterdam? Yesterday you went to Amsterdam?'
'Did you put on your party face?' He asked.
'Maybe,' I said. 'Well, yes, a bit.'
I think he smiled back at me. Somewhat. I felt relieved. I can still be who I am. A yogi who knows how to party. Sometimes. A bit.
This week I met a young guy at the yoga studio. He just tried his very first Easy Flow Yoga Class. I have never took such a class, but I'm guessing it's like a slow Power Yoga Class with less poses, more breaths per posture and a teacher who takes it down a notch (it = whatever you think it is). But again, I never took such a class so I don't really know. The guy told me he'd liked the class, but that he'd had some trouble with some poses. He showed me Balasana. Child's Pose. I repeated the mantra 'don't judge and don't have an opinion about everything' in my head. He asked me how he could prepare for next week's class.
'Meaning?' I asked.
'Could you give me study materials about the postures? So I can study them and practice at home. Then in my next class I will do better.'
I told him about The Good Old Internet and how it is filled with instruction video's and blogs about yoga. We chatted some more. I told him about how I started prating yoga and what it has brought me. He told me about his recent burnout. It was already his second one in only a few years. I felt sorry for him. I felt sorry for him even more when he told me he was 28. His perfectionism got a hold of him every time.
'Ah. And you just asked me how to improve your yoga. So you want to be perfect in yoga as well?'
He looked at me. I smiled. He smiled back.
'You're right,' he said. 'What the hell. I do it all the time. I want to be the best. I want to be the best in everything.'
'I can relate,' I said. 'I have the same problem. I have this new job and I know nothing. I want to know everything. Immediately. I don't want to ask questions, I want to have the answers myself. I am afraid of losing Marichyasana D, I can't stand it I can't do Bhujapidasana the right way without falling on my butt.'
'What are you talking about?' he asked.
'Nothing,' I said. 'Yoga is not about being the best, about being the strongest, the most flexible. It is about what's happening on the inside. It's about making better choices in your life.'
'That's exactly what I need to do.'
I felt I wanted to chose something. I cycled home and I went online. I bought this new and not very cheap Manduka Prolite Limited Edition Affinity Yoga Mat. Yoga helps me to make healthy choices, to practice awareness, to ease my mind, to teach me about spirituality, to show me that what makes me happy is inside of me. I will never get a gold medal for being able to bind in Marichyasana D. I will never be better in Bhujapidasna even if I wear the most expensive yoga pants. But after more than two years of practicing on my damaged and cheap yogamat (it was for free, it came with my first yoga member ship) I decided my body is worth a real Manduka yoga mat.
Things come and they go. People come and they go. Everything is constantly changing. Yes, everything. Every day, every hour, every second. Nothing lasts forever. Except there is the Self, who watches this. Who sees people coming and going, who experiences these constant changes.
Knowing this, comforts me. Life for me can be hectic, chaotic and unreliable. Some changes are for the good, other are hard to accept. Some goodbyes are forever and all that is left is a vague memory.
There was a time, only a few years ago, that I wasn't happy. I was tired during the day but could not sleep at night. My work did not interest me, yet it gave me tension and headaches. And even during the weekends I could not detach from it. Watching tv for hours was a way to escape my stress. Drinking alcohol was too, until I could no longer stand the hangovers. I had to make some changes, my body forced me too. I found yoga. Or maybe, yoga found me.
Since then, bad things left and good things came. As Max Strom writes in his book, yoga helps to make sensible choices. It makes logic sense as in: the time I spend practicing yoga is a time in which I cannot watch tv, surf the internet, eat cake or spend stressing in a traffic jam. And after yoga, I feel so refreshed that I don't want to spoil that feeling. I want to eat healthy, take rest, be quiet, do some cleaning (I noticed since I practice yoga that I find it more important that my house, desk and clothes are clean), go to bed early, read books about spirituality, take a bath and spend quality time with friends and family. It is easier to make healthy choices. To chose for myself. To let go of people who don't support me and my practice. To let go of nasty habits. To come up with new ideas, new friends, renewed love for family.
In his book A Life Worth Breathing, Max Strom makes it simple.
'Relax Your Life.'
A not so difficult to understand sentence that can have an immediate impact.
I can stress about anything. My job is not a very hard one. I am not a brain surgeon, I don't have to deal with people who would die without my care, and I don't have to drive a bus/fly a plane with loads of children on it. But I still stress.
'Oh no, the phone is ringing.'
'Oh no, there are 14 new messages in my inbox.'
'Did I put those invoices in the right folder?'
'What is the best time to call that woman back?'
'I want to go on a holiday. When do I ask my boss?'
Relax Your Life. I try to remember Strom's words whenever I start to panic over my stapler and a pile of paper or when I forgot another password. Relax Your Life.
It is simple. You are always allowed to relax your life. Because why not? To relax is always better.
In ANY GIVEN CIRCUMSTANCE it is better to relax. When you are a indeed a brain surgeon, when you are giving birth, meeting your in laws or when you are involved in a really difficult game of chess, RELAX.
Professional chess player Magnus Carlsen showed me this. I watched a documentary about his (childhood) life, his family, and of course his game of chess. In 2013, he played the finals of the World Championship. He beat Viswanathan Anand from India, who had been the world champion from 2007-2013. They played ten games. The first four, I watched Magnus Carlsen looking anxious, stressed and tense. He didn't play his best game. The first four games all ended in a draw. Then there was a day of rest. I saw Carlsen hang out with his family. They spent the day in the sun at the pool, laughing and playing. After that day, when Carlsen and Viswanathan started their fifth game, I could see how Carlsen was no longer a nervous wreck, he was relaxed and he was in very good spirits. And he won this fifth game! And he kept going and won the championship! This is something to remember. Whatever you do, do it with a relaxed approach. With a smile. Tomorrow in the office I'll smile when the copier refuses to spit out my paper.
How stable is your practice? Do you have an every day practice? Do you take rest on Saturday, do you go to the Led Class on Sunday?
Yes, my dear, yes, yes.
This morning I realized I didn't miss a single practice this year (yes I know it is only January 20, but hey, be nice) and as I didn't have a proper New Year's Resolution (because I don't smoke, I don't have to lose (very much) weight and I am not cheating on my husband) I now came up with this one: to practice yoga every d-a-m-n day. And by yoga, I mean Ashtanga Yoga, the method as it is taught in Mysore, India. Because sure, I can do restorative yoga every day for twenty minutes and that will be very comforting and nice, but it is Ashtanga Yoga what I practice. It is a physical and a spiritual practice. Abs and energy. A toned body and gratitude. I will go to the shala six days a week (five if it is a Moon Day like last Wednesday) and if I am not in town (because I do fly around the globe, you know. Ha, no I don't, although in three weeks I will fly to Barcelona, Spain, for four days) I will practice wherever I am. So my mat will be with me all the time this year. What about that!
And another thing. last week I read this book of Max Strom. I think it is clear, simple (don't get me wrong, simple writing is the most difficult writing) and inspiring. In this book, Max Strom says to go easy on opinions. That it is better for you to practice to have less opinions in a day. I liked this idea and I immediately put it on my To Do List.
To have less opinions. About what or who? Mostly about other people. So no longer: I think she is dull with her boring sweater and her soft voice and her ridiculous point of view about veganism. Why? To become a better person. To ease my mind.
The first days:
'I think his breathing is too loud.'
'Why is she late?'
'Did you see that man's shoes?''
I think it is stupid to eat cold food after practice.'
'I don't think you should have another coffee.'
All these thoughts, I tried to ignore them. I swallowed them. I kept quiet.
Suddenly I have very little to talk about because now I know I usually talk about things that bother me.
The next step is to not have an opinion about my quietness.
And the step after that is to not have an opinion about other people's opinions. More than ever I notice how people are spreading and sharing their opinions to me. About everything! About everyone! All day long!
To not have an opinion is hard work.