Dear Bakasana

Dear Bakasana (crow pose)

My closest yogi friends know that I’m pretty daring with my practice. I tend to like pushing my physical, psychological and emotional limits. This, if anything, makes me a “good practitioner”. But one pose has always made me groan: bakasana or crow pose.

At least it used to.

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An earlier trial affair with bakasana circa 2013 in Wat Ounalum, Phnom Penh

Crow pose is considered by many as a gateway arm balance but I’ve just never gotten it. Watch me get into flying pigeon and other arm balances, but crow just had too much face-plant factor for comfort. Hence, I never liked it.

In the last week, I’ve been practicing it almost everyday. My boyfriend, after attending some of my friends’ community teacher training class where crow pose was featured, got a little too attached to learning it. And so we have been breaking it down to each other, almost every night. And then one night in class, sweaty from a great flow, I tried it and it just clicked. I even threw in a crow jumpback in there.

And so finally, six years later: Dear Bakasana – I get you now!

I was ecstatic but after doing a gleeful dance in my head and in our living room, I took a step back.

Celebrate Breakthroughs, but Honor Practice

What we often forget when we see nice poses of Insta-famous yogis is that it takes years to get to that place where a posture comes with ease. What we don’t see in these moments of lift-ups and float-backs are the many repetitions, the thousands chaturanga dandasanas and high planks, and all the other mental and physical building blocks that guide our bodies to surprising grace.

I talked about this in an Instagram post. I posted a video clip of me practicing crow and jumping back a few times. It’s a new experience for me to publicly post a part of my practice that I am trying for the first few times. It was sweaty, imperfect – but to me, it was a revelation. This is how real practice looks like. For me at least.

And I hope I never forget, whether I’m floating up into my tenth or thousandth bakasana.

This lesson comes at a great time. This week, I started driving lessons and drove on the road for the first time in my life. I also needed this extra perspective in my running. I have been down with allergies for a week. My first run was a trial. It’s frustrating to feel like no matter how long I’ve been running, some days it feels like it’s the first time. And this is totally fine! It’s these moments of devotion that really comprise our yoga/driving/running lives.

In light, love, and om,

K

When it’s hard to be nice, be nice

instagram post

We cannot understand light without shadow. Some days, like today, I feel small, sniffly, sick, inelegant. Eloquence of mind and spirit is hard to come by. What do I do? I try to be generous with my intentions. Today, I find this especially hard precisely because I feel small. So I need to do big things to be / feel tall.

I posted this on my Instagram yesterday because I was feeling really sick and missing my bed ( we were still in Albany). I had a runny nose, my throat was swollen and irritated and I could not breathe properly through any of my face’s orifices. Perhaps because of the lack of oxygen to my brain, I found myself irritable and when confronted with a minor professional issue, I found myself getting drawn to conflict.

In situations like this, I have trained myself to pause and take deep breaths before doing anything. This technique has served me well and probably has saved many of my personal and professional relationships. But what do you do when you, physically, are unable to breathe?

In that moment, I remembered my intention for taking those centering breaths. It’s to be nice, generous, kind to others. And it’s good to be reminded that this does not always come easy, that it does require work to be good to others. That it often does not matter too much what the actual impact is on the other person – life goes on for everyone no matter how you react – but that it affects you/me in a profound way when we choose to take a certain path. And in the beginning, it’s easy to backtrack and re-trace your steps to that moment where you can reimagine who you want to be for others, but at some point, I believe the paths diverge more and more. Each moment is foundational to who we are for others.

Taking the leap: 6 tips for aspiring yogis

I’ve had numerous starts and stops with yoga. I vaguely remember trying out short instructional videos in the early 2000s when yoga was barely a thing in the Philippines, where I lived at the time.  It wasn’t until a yoga space opened near my apartment and workplace (I walked to work like I used to walk to university) that I really began my first exploration of yoga.

It has been about 5 or so years since then and while it’s an irrevocable part of my life, things can easily get in the way of a consistent practice. Though I’ve come to accept brief pauses as par for the course, I feel more like myself when I am able to focus on my practice (on and off my mat). As a result, and as funny as it sounds, I’ve made many life decisions around yoga – where to live, my default leisure/lounge clothes, my work schedule, my fitness routine, etc.

But still, the biggest hurdle in your yoga life cycle will probably be finding the initial momentum to keep getting on your mat. I get it! There are many mental, emotional, financial and physical (mostly unfounded) blocks to getting started. I’ve learned a few tips and tricks along the way that I think are helpful to those finding or re-finding yoga.

  1. Take advantage of as many beginner deals as you can. Most studios have beginner discounts or deals (usually structured as an unlimited week or month for the price of 1-2 classes) to get you in the door. If you are completely new, this is a great way to get yourself into the habit. When I first moved from Manila to Washington DC, I tried a bunch of studios and teachers as a way to save but also explore what the city had to offer. It was a great way to get to know the different neighborhoods as well.
  1. The first time you try anything, go at least two days in a row. The first time I did Bikram (or Ashtanga, or power vinyasa or… ) yoga, I was sore for hours. It’s not unlike running 3 miles after a month or more hiatus. I felt instantly better when I stepped into the hot room again and did the same poses. Each type of exercise, and even yoga at times, works different things in your body. For yoga, this often means engaging or extending parts of your body you never even thought you had. The more you use it, the less pain you eventually feel. And while you probably won’t jump into a handstand or achieve perfect stillness and clarity in meditation in that second class, you’re 100% closer to it than you were the class before.
  1. Find a teacher you can easily talk/relate to. Take a moment before and after class to talk to your teacher. Ask questions about your own practice and their practice. If you feel compelled, share your yoga journey or ask them about theirs. Afterwards, on your way home, ask yourself – “What did I enjoy about her class? What new thing did I learn from listening or talking to her?” The teachers that resonate with me are often the ones that are accurate and passionate about sharing new knowledge, which is consistent with my behavior as a constant learner.
  2. Go with a friend, or make a friend. Go with your classmates, roommate or workmate. Make plans in advance. Big cities often have free community classes – from teachers-in-training or yoga activists who want to share their knowledge. This is a good way to convince someone to try it out. Check if your workplace sponsors or hosts yoga classes for employees. I teach a community class where I work; there are about 8-10 of us who regularly volunteer for the daily classes.
  1. Don’t buy an “expensive” mat – yet. Some yogis would go so far as to say don’t buy an expensive mat ever. I have tried many mats at different price points and find a concrete difference with those that are priced slightly higher but this is just my experience. Mat preference is an extremely personal thing. Some go years without having to change their mats. When I started, I bought a cheap mat but often used studio-supplied mats when I practiced in a class setting. From this baseline, I crafted a wish list of the perfect mat for me: sticky/non-slip, padded, easy to clean. It’s easier to shop around for a mat once you’ve found built up this list.
  1. Talk to a “friend-vocate”. That friend of yours who is obsessed with it? Talk to her/him! Yoga, which literally means “to unite”, is great at inspiring generosity within people. People like me who enjoy yoga as a practice and way of life love to share insights. It doesn’t matter if your question is all about a pose – keep checking in with that friend. I have a friend who recently moved to the West Coast and started going to yoga classes and while I’ve known her since we were 6 and 7, yoga is one of the new topics we now frequently check in with each other on.

Let me know in the comments if you have other tips!