Stories from my past memories - childhood, family, friends, growing up, poverty, integrity, dreams come true, finding peace and happiness, Buddhism, Yoga, and now...
(Updated November 2020)
I continued my journey of yoga and Buddhism after the library finished.
One day in April 2004, my employer from a dance studio where I had been teaching aerobics classes for many years had called me in the afternoon and asked me if it was possible for me to teach a yoga exercise class for her that evening. The yoga teacher couldn’t make it and it wasn’t the first time. Somehow, I was free that evening, even though I was always busy with teaching classes every day. I took up the offer because it meant extra money for me. I had to continue to support my parents after I came back from the world sport aerobics championship in France. I had to teach many classes every day to make a living at that time. The pay for aerobics instructor wasn’t very high.
I taught some yoga exercise classes in the past before, but not for long. I wasn’t interested at all in teaching yoga exercise classes in the beginning of my fitness career. Yoga exercise class was really boring for me. I was more interested in disco dancing and vibrant cardio fitness exercises with energetic music. That was why I enjoyed doing and teaching aerobics dance very much.
At that time, many of the yoga poses were being criticized as exercises contradicted with the rules and regulations for safe exercise of the fitness teaching industry. Lots of the yoga poses would be categorized as dangerous physical positions with high risk of injury. I didn’t think that I would be teaching yoga one day. Of course, there’s a huge difference between teaching yoga and teaching yoga exercise classes. We might be doing some yoga poses every day, but it doesn’t mean that we are practicing yoga. Vice versa, we might not be doing any yoga poses every day, but it doesn’t mean that we are not practicing yoga.
There was a situation in Malaysia around thirty five years ago, where the yoga teachers criticized the aerobics exercises were harmful to the physical body and the aerobics instructors criticized the yoga poses were inflicting serious physical injuries. There were many women came to ask me why did the yoga people said that aerobics dance could cause their uterus to drop? There were rumours circulating in the fitness industry that doing yoga exercises could cause serious neck injuries, back problems, knee problems, blindness, stroke and some other side-effects. It was like a war of criticism between the aerobics fitness industry and the yoga industry for attacking their competitor, to get the people from the other side to support their products and services. As well as the aerobics instructors and the yoga instructors also tried to protect their source of income to get more people to join their classes and stop their existing clients from leaving to join other exercise classes by saying bad things about some other types of exercise that they don’t teach.
Sort of like a political game that many politicians play to harvest support of the people by attacking their opponents by saying many bad things about them, instead of constantly improving their contributions and services to the people to win more support from the people, they attack their opponents to bring down their reputation with slanders, to stop the people from supporting their opponents.
We can’t put traditional yoga asana practice and aerobics dance exercise in the same category, or apply the same rules and regulations on them. They are completely two different forms of practice. Yoga asana practice is very slow pace, gentle, stilled body positions, very few repetitive movements, non-competitive and almost without impact. Meanwhile aerobics dance exercises are fast pace, violent, lots of high speed repetitive movements, competitive and with much higher impact. Above all, yoga asana practice is not about fitness training, although it enhances people’s health and fitness level as one of the by-products when it’s being practiced regularly. There’s nothing wrong when people use the yoga asana exercises as a form of fitness training. Just that enhanced physical health and fitness level have nothing to do with the realization of unconditional love and peace. One can be very healthy and fit physically, but the mind might not be free from ignorance, egoism, impurities and suffering.
I honestly told the students in that replacement yoga class that I wasn’t a trained or certified yoga teacher, but I knew some yoga poses that I could guide them as an exercise class. I didn’t know that yoga was about self-evolution, peace and compassion, which wasn’t any different from the teachings and practice of Buddhism. I thought yoga was just some stretching exercises originated from India to promote good health, fitness and beauty. That was what I learned from the yoga classes at the yoga and aerobics dance academy in Petaling Jaya. In those forty five minutes yoga exercise classes, they only taught some yoga poses as a form of physical exercise and never talked about any yoga teachings or philosophy at all.
When the replacement yoga class finished, the response from the students was very good and the majority of them had requested me to teach them once a week of yoga exercise class. I told them again that I was only a qualified aerobics instructor and that I wasn’t a yoga teacher, but they said they didn’t mind. Meanwhile my boss was very happy that the students loved my class very much and she would be happy to arrange a yoga class for me to teach.
And hence, I started teaching yoga exercise classes once a week and getting higher pay than from teaching aerobics classes. Initially my intention for teaching yoga classes was to earn more money. But very soon that intention was gone and replaced with gratitude and loving kindness to share yoga with many others, even though I received payment for teaching yoga classes. There’s nothing wrong with getting payment in the form of money or fees for conducting yoga classes. It’s ignorance when people think and believe that ‘asking for donation’ is okay, but ‘being paid in the form of fees’ is not okay.
I learned that there’s a huge difference between the aerobics students and the yoga students. The behavior of the people and the atmosphere of the classes was very different. It was calm and peaceful in the yoga class and everyone seemed to be happy and content. I myself, was calmed, relaxed and refreshed after teaching a yoga class. I could feel the energy in my body was vibrating differently from teaching aerobics classes.
One day, one of the yoga exercise class students doubted my qualification and asked me what type of yoga I was teaching and what were the Sanskrit names of the yoga poses and what were their benefits? I was very honest, and told her that I didn’t know what type of yoga it was, and I guessed the yoga exercises were to promote good health, fitness and beauty, and I didn’t even know what were the names of the yoga poses in English, not to say, in Sanskrit.
At that time, I didn’t feel bad at all for being questioned about my qualification because I knew I wasn’t a yoga teacher. I didn’t pretend to be one. But that little conversation had initiated a strong desire in me to look for a yoga school to learn yoga. I wanted to know what yoga is. I wanted to teach yoga classes because I thought they were very good for me and everyone, and I wanted to be a responsible yoga teacher.
In the end, we will realize that whether what type of yoga that we do, or what are the names of the yoga poses whether in Sanskrit or in other languages, or what type of benefits of the yoga poses, are irrelevant to whether we will be free from ignorance and suffering and realize unconditional peace, or not.
Besides teaching once a week of yoga exercise class at that dance studio, I also conducted a few yoga exercise classes at my own studio, where the response was very good as well. This had encouraged me deeper to pursue my wish to learn all and everything about yoga. I am thankful to everyone who had been influencing me, supporting me and encouraging me to learn and practice yoga.
It was September 2004. My sport aerobics mentor cum partner helped me to search the internet for Sivananda Ashram in India which was recommended by a yoga teacher in Singapore.
I was in Singapore for a couple of weeks to update myself on the latest aerobics dance exercises in one of the famous fitness clubs in Singapore. They started with one fitness studio and then they had maybe seven branches everywhere in Singapore within a few years. The lady boss was a very smart and kindhearted person. She liked me very much and wanted to employ me as her instructor when we met for the first time, but I wasn’t interested to work in Singapore. Once every two or three years, I went there to update myself by attending different types of fitness classes under many different fitness instructors. It also allowed me to have a break and not getting burnout from teaching classes all the time. That year, I attended most of the yoga classes as well, which I never did before in the past years. I never thought that one day I would be teaching yoga or practicing yoga. Unfortunately, many of the yoga teachers there didn’t know what they were doing. They had to keep looking at a notebook while giving the instructions to the students in the yoga classes. But then there was a particular yoga teacher who actually knew what she was doing, and I felt the calmness flowing through her that spread over everyone in the class, including me. And so, I asked her for advice about where I could go to learn yoga. She didn’t say much, but just gave me a name ‘Sivananda’. But that was already helpful enough.
I didn’t have a computer and never surfed the internet before. I knew nothing about information technology. I didn’t have an email account. My mentor said that he could help me to search the internet for ‘Sivananda’. He found the website for International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Ashram in Kerala, South India, and printed out the registration form for me. Without any hesitation, or tried to look for some other yoga schools to compare, immediately I filled up the form and sent it off with the 300 USD deposit the next day, hoping to get a place for the yoga teachers training course starting in January 2005. The 300 USD was all the savings I had at that time. But I didn’t worry about how I could get the rest of the money.
I needed more than 15,000 Ringgit for me to go to India – the course fee, the return flight ticket, the money for my parents and my car installment. My mother was ill at that time. She had a stroke for the third time and became paralyzed. Every month, I gave 1,800 Ringgit to my parents and left a few hundred Ringgit for my own living. Knowing that my sister might take away the money that I gave to my parents to pay her debts and bills, we didn’t tell my sister how much money I gave to my parents every month. Only my uncle knew about this because sometimes I passed the money to him to bring to my parents who were living with my sister in another town about an hour drive from where I lived.
Though initially I didn’t have all the money for the rest of the course fee, I never asked the Ashram to give me any discount, or asked for any special rates.
There are many people involved in running the Ashram and the courses. They contribute their time and effort in making the courses to be available to the people. The existence and operation of the Ashram need to be maintained by labour and money. The fees that we give to the Ashram is supporting the Ashram to be able to continue doing what they are doing – giving opportunities to many people to come to the Ashram to learn and practice yoga. It isn’t about give and take. It’s not about paying some fees or working as a volunteer for the Ashram in exchange for something that we want in return. When people volunteer to work in the Ashram is not about in exchange for free food and accommodation and free yoga classes, or to gain credits of working and teaching experiences to put into their profile as experienced yoga teacher who had been working and teaching in an ashram, though many people come to the Ashram are with such intention. It’s merely performing selfless service without selfish intentions and desires, without expecting anything in return, to eliminate the ego and egoism.
At that time, people need to pay 200 USD per month to the Ashram if they want to live and work as volunteers in the Ashram. It’s not about what can I get from paying some fees to you or volunteering for your organization. There’s no guarantee that after we paid the fees or volunteering for the ashram, we will attain peace and happiness, and be free from ignorance and suffering.
People who are volunteering in the Ashram aren’t perfect either. If we feel disturbed by their imperfection it isn’t because they are not good enough or they didn’t do things right, but it’s because we expect them to be perfect, to be the way that we think they should be. We are disappointed by our own expectation that they should be wise and compassionate beings in order to work in the Ashram. But they are just like everyone else who try to do their best for themselves and others. They also will have bad days and bad moods. They also need other people to be patient and compassionate towards them for being imperfect.
My mentor didn’t only help me in making my dreams come true, but he had also helped me in the connection with yoga. The first few emails between the Ashram and me were sent through his email address. He would inform me whenever the ashram sent me an email and he would reply the email for me. For all that he had done for me without asking anything in return, I am always grateful and indebted to him. He also looked after me when I was in financial difficult moments where my income from teaching aerobics classes wasn’t enough to support my family. He would pay for my food when we ate together after our sport aerobics training sessions.
Sometimes my brothers would borrow money from me for them to have food to eat. During the worst days, I gave all my scarce savings to my brother who had no money for food, and I was using the coins in my piggy bank to get my own food. Less than two hundred Ringgit of coins was all that I had for the month until I get my next pay, and that was enough for me to survive for one whole month, just by eating cheap bread mostly.
I decided to close down the aerobics dance studio before I left for India. I called my cousin in Singapore and asked him if he could lend me a few thousand Ringgit if I didn’t manage to get enough money by January. Though he wasn’t rich he said he would help me out if I needed the money, but it turned out that I didn’t have to borrow any money from him or anyone at all.
Not long after I made the phone call to my cousin, some students started to recommend me to teach yoga classes and aerobics classes in some other studios. From my usual income about two thousand five hundred Ringgit a month, it had increased to about seven thousand Ringgit for the next three months. I had earned the biggest amount of money that I had ever earned before. Though I had to work very hard by teaching a lot more classes within that few months, I managed to save enough money to go to India.
A few weeks after I sent in my registration form, the people in the ashram informed me that I was confirmed a place and that I should prepare myself by reading the Bhagavad Gita. I had no idea what it was and I didn’t know where to get it. A few days later, an Indian woman came to join my aerobics classes. I talked to her about my wish to study yoga in India and asked her if she knew anything about the Bhagavad Gita. She told me that her husband was a direct disciple of Swami Sivananda since he was a little boy, and he had been studying the Bhagavad Gita every day. She told me that he would be happy to lend me the book.
It was two months before the course. I got the book of Bhagavad Gita commented by Swami Sivananda (published in 1989) which I finished reading within a few days. It had touched my heart deeply. I could naturally understand and resonate with all the teachings in the Bhagavad Gita. I realized that the teachings of yoga wasn’t any different from the teachings of Buddhism. It was what I always believing in and practicing all the time. This realization had strengthened my faith in the path of yoga and Buddhism, and had no fear to go to India for the first time alone by myself.
My departure flight to India was just two weeks after the deadly tsunami which hit Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, the Andaman Islands, Thailand and Northern Malaysia on the 26th of December 2004 that caused so much damages and casualties. Many people said that it was a bad timing to go to India as there would be many diseases brewing not long after the tsunami. But it didn’t stop me from going. I was determined.
Initially the course was fully booked for more than two hundred participants, but many people didn’t turn up or had cancelled their trip to India because of the tsunami. And so, there were about one hundred and sixty something people turned up for the course. My husband, whom I haven’t met at that time, actually was on the waiting list, and he got a place in the end because of the many cancellations. That was also how we got to know each other while attending the same course.
There was purification process happening in our body and mind when we went through intensive learning and practicing yoga in an intensive course like that. There were past accumulated physical, emotional and mental blockages being released during the course. Different people experienced different types of purification. Most people cried a lot. Some of them went to the teacher asking for explanation because they didn’t understand why they feel like crying after the yoga practice even though they weren’t unhappy about anything. Some people got very impatient and agitated about many things. Some people had diarrhea, while others had constipation. Some people kept missing classes because they felt physically and mentally exhausted from the intensive practice and the disciplined daily schedule. Some of the students would get angry with the teachers when they didn’t get what they want and like. Some people strongly disagreed with the teachings of yoga because they had strong attachment and identification with their own thinking and belief that were different from the teachings of yoga, and they even shouted at the teachers with bad words in front of the class. There was so much anger and hatred in these people. Again, that’s their freedom for what they wanted to think and feel, act and react, and it was part of the purification process as well.
Yoga is about attaining peace and harmony in oneself through respecting many other different types of thinking and belief that are co-existing in the world, even if we can’t agree with them. We don’t have to agree with them, but we don’t have to be disturbed, or angry and hating either. But for many people, they believe that only their particular way of thinking and belief are right and good, while any other thinking and belief that are different from theirs, are wrong and bad. They get irritated, angry and hating other people for being different from them. Those who understand the mind won’t be disturbed by them, but wishing them be free from anger and hatred, and have peace and harmony.
Some people left the course halfway because they didn’t agree with the teachings and they were really unhappy to be continuing the course. They came to learn yoga but it wasn’t the yoga that they were looking for. They wanted to learn yoga that wasn’t yoga. Some people even insisted that the yoga being taught in the Ashram is not real yoga, but the yoga exercise classes that they attended at home that didn’t talk about any yoga teachings is real yoga. People can think and say what they want, and manipulate yoga into something that they prefer, but yoga is still yoga. While some others left the course because they didn’t want to go through the unpleasant purification process, and some felt that it was too intense for them to follow all the disciplines. In the end there were around one hundred and fifty five people had completed the course.
I was sick for the first three weeks, but I never missed any classes. I didn’t ask for any medicine or go to a doctor. I knew that it was part of the purification process. I just observed and endured the inconvenience and discomforts coming from being sick during that three weeks.
One evening after dinner, I was studying the teachings of yoga in the office area as there was better lighting in the office than in the dormitory. There was also a proper bench and desk to do some writing. And then there were a few female students came in to see the teacher. They had some problems with some other yoga students that they wanted to complain to the teacher. The teacher looked at me, and then told them, “Look at her. She looks after herself. She doesn’t need to come to the teacher to complain about anything.”
After I came back from India, I found the Chinese version of the Bhagavad Gita on my book shelf. It was given to me more than sixteen years ago as a present from an ex-aerobics student. I never had any interest at all to pick up that book to read, but somehow I still kept it on my book shelf. Then only I realized that the Bhagavad Gita (the essence of yoga) was always with me, but I didn’t know. And now, this Chinese version of the Bhagavad Gita is with somebody who is at the right time to have it.
I wasn’t a person who like to read books. I only read books about Dhamma. I read many of Swami Sivananda’s books after I came back to Malaysia, and they were all strongly connected to my heart. It was like a direct teaching from Swami Sivananda. Like all the other Dhamma teachers I had never met in person, I always feel that he is with me all the time, guiding me in silence. The Dhamma passes through this body and mind to other beings who need guidance to find their way back to their nature of unconditional love and peace.
Some people appreciate my classes, while some others might criticize my classes and myself as a person for being very hard or intense, because I practice and teach about depriving the ego and elimination of egoism. It makes no difference to me whether people compliment or criticize me. Everyone has the freedom to like or dislike anybody and anything. That’s their freedom of thinking, action and speech. Those with strong ego and attached strongly onto certain qualities of name and form to be identifying as who they are, and they take pride in being who they think they are, they don’t like to hear the teachings of yoga about eliminating the ego. But I don’t and can’t teach what other people expect me to teach, and I can’t not teach what other people don’t like and don’t want to learn or practice. I teach yoga. Everyone who comes for the yoga classes is learning how to identify the ego and let go of the ego. Of course, it’s up to their own free will whether they want to practice yoga as it is, or not. I can only tell the students if there are some teachings or practice that they don’t like and don’t agree with, that they don’t want to learn or practice, they don’t have to learn or practice them and they can just put them aside. If one day they think they want to take up those teachings and practice, then they can come back for them.
If people don’t like to practice yoga about letting go of the ego, attachment and identification, and the desire of craving and aversion, no one can force them. The teachings of yoga teach about respecting everyone’s freedom of thinking, actions and speech, for what they want to do with themselves, their lives, their bodies and minds. Everyone takes the responsibility for the consequences of their own actions and inactions, for what they believe and disbelieve, for what they want and don’t want. No one can control or purify other’s mind. It is up to everyone’s own effort and free will to control and purify one’s mind. The teachings of yoga never condemn anyone who doesn’t like the teachings of yoga, or who doesn’t want to practice yoga as it is, or who misunderstands about yoga, or who criticizes yoga. Anyone can take up any yoga practice and practice anyway that they like, or do whatever they like with yoga, or they can stop practicing yoga for any reasons. There’s no condemn, or sin, or punishment.
Those who practice yoga, they don’t condemn or criticize. Vice versa, those who condemn and criticize out of self-righteousness, they don’t practice yoga. We share yoga out of compassion, not out of egoism thinking that “Yoga is good for everyone. Everyone should practice yoga and should practice properly in a particular way, or else, they are insulting the sacredness and purity of yoga.”
One type of medicine may cure a person’s illness but may not necessarily has the same effect on another person with the same illness, or would it cure some other form of illnesses. People react differently towards the same medicine and have different tolerance towards certain side-effects of that medicine which appear differently on different people. Some people may be a good friend for many others, but may not be a good partner or good parent. There are people dislike and disagree with the teaching and practice of yoga. That is their freedom. We can’t expect or force everyone to like yoga and practice yoga as it is. There are people who never heard about the teachings of yoga and don’t do any yoga practice in a particular name and form, but they are selfless, compassionate and peaceful beings. And if yoga is something sacred and pure, how can it be insulted or contaminated by anything at all?
Some people kept modifying the traditional yoga practices into many different new styles and versions to suit the preferences of what people like and don’t like, what they want and don’t want. Though there’s nothing wrong with that in terms of business marketing strategy, customer service and commercial value, but then the yoga teachers are not really teaching yoga, and the students are not really practicing yoga. Instead, it is empowering the ego and egoism, attachment, identification, desires of craving and aversion, worldly thinking, ideas and habits of the egoistic mind. When we practice yoga, we stop giving the egoistic mind what it likes and wants. No doubt that sharing yoga is about sharing love and happiness. Yoga teachers are there to guide the yoga students on how to attain unconditional love and happiness by letting go the egoistic desires of craving and aversion. It’s not about giving them what they like and want, or don’t give them what they don’t like and don’t want, to gratified their desires of craving and aversion, to make them feel pleased, loved, satisfied and happy. They feel satisfied and happy is because they are getting something that they like and want, and not getting anything that they don’t like and don’t want. It’s conditional. It doesn’t help them to be free from the desires of craving and aversion, to realize unconditional peace and happiness. Once they don’t get what they like and want, and are getting something that they don’t like and don’t want, they will feel dissatisfied, disappointed, unhappy, or miserable. This is moving away from what yoga is about.
It isn’t a pleasant experience when one learns the truth of one’s impure egoistic mind. Most people would want to run away. Those who have the courage to confront the impurities in the mind will also need intense discipline and will-power to purify the mind. The mind purification process requires tremendous patience, perseverance, determination, tolerance, forbearance, forgiveness, adjustment, adaptation, accommodation and acceptance. The entire practice is all about letting go of the egoism, attachment, identification, desires of craving and aversion, and eventually seeing the truth of things as they are, being free from ignorance and suffering. All these teachings and practices seem to be anti-social and unpractical in the modern society for the worldly minded people.
Even when some people think that they love yoga and like to practice yoga, but actually what they really love is what they like and want, and what they can get from yoga. There’s nothing wrong with this either.
There are many different paths in yoga to suit many people with different personalities and temperaments. But in the end, all are leading us back to oneness or non-separateness. If some people wanted to do yoga that is easy and pleasant for the egoistic mind, there’s nothing wrong with that. Enjoy doing the easy and pleasant yoga, and be happy. If people aren’t interested in attaining liberation from ignorance and suffering, that’s their freedom.
Teaching yoga is not about trying to convince other people to believe in the teachings of yoga, or to persuade other people to like yoga and practice yoga in certain way. It’s not about recruiting many people to be our yoga students and joining our yoga classes, or to set as an example for others to imitate and become like us, or to build a yoga empire of certain brand. The students of yoga shouldn’t follow or imitate the teacher, or blind-believe in the teachings of yoga or what the teacher taught them. It’s guiding the students to be free from egoism, and allowing them to take their own pace to be free from attachment and identification towards any thinking and belief, including the teachings of yoga, to investigate into the truth of everything and to attain self-realization. Everyone may or may not need some guidance, but it’s up to everyone’s free will to change their own thinking and behavior by developing self-control and self-discipline over their own thoughts, actions and speech, to stop hurting themselves and others out of ignorance. The teacher doesn’t and can’t control or change the students, but can only give them guidance and support. The teacher and the student will meet at the right time, at the right place, naturally, when the time has come, without the influence of egoistic selfish desires.
There’s nothing wrong when people think that when they feel unhappy, angry, hurt and disappointed is nothing to do with their own ignorance and egoism, but instead, they think it’s everyone and everything that they come in contact with, that are bad and wrong, that cause them unhappiness and suffering. There’s nothing wrong when people believe or disbelieve in God. It is everyone’s freedom of thought, actions and speech. But when one starts to have strong attachment and identification with what they think and believe, there will be separateness, discrimination, prejudice, hatred, violence, fear and unrest in their minds towards others who are different from them. Some people even enjoy being angry and violent. They won’t feel good unless they get angry and violent.
I came back to Malaysia after the yoga teacher training course, finished all my savings, without any money left to buy food. Some of my students knew that I came home with no money left and they invited me to eat at their home and also brought me out for food for many days. But, very soon I started earning my livelihood again by teaching classes at home and a few other dance and fitness studios. I continued to teach aerobics classes and yoga classes, but with deeper understanding about yoga. I also immersed myself into regular yoga practice.
In February 2006, I went back for the advance teachers training course which was designed more for developing understanding, discipline and perseverance in our own personal practice, or Sadhana, than to teach classes, which was another great learning process for me. Many people, including most of the teachers training courses providers, would think that by attending, completing and graduating from the advance teachers training course will provide training for people to teach ‘advance yoga practice’ and give them the title of ‘advance yoga teacher’ who are being qualified and authorized to teach ‘advance yoga class’. That’s their freedom of thinking and desire.
Again, somehow I managed to save enough money, which was about 18,000 Ringgit, to go to India for four months this time.
Coincidentally, I met my husband again in the same course and we went travelling together in India after the teachers training course, to learn more yoga and meditation from other schools and teachers. We attended a three weeks long yoga course with Iyengar teachers, Swati and Rajiv Chanchani, in Dehradun. We also attended Vipassana silent meditation retreat in Dehradun after the Iyengar yoga course. During this meditation retreat, I went through a very intense purification process where lots of pimples broke out on my whole body and my face as well. I didn’t bother about it. It had lasted for one and a half years before it cleared out from my system completely.
We also went to Gangotri, Rishikesh and Dharamsala after completed the courses.
On the way to Gangotri, we stayed a night at the Gangnani hot springs. We wanted to do the pilgrimage walk towards Gaumukh from Gangotri along the hilly paths of the mountains, but my husband felt sick after about three hours walk. He wanted to go back to the hotel in Gangotri to take rest and he asked me to follow the other pilgrims to continue walking towards Gaumukh, and he would wait for me at the hotel. I couldn’t let him going back by himself as he was complaining dizziness and fatigue. And so, I insisted to go back with him, taking over the backpack he was carrying, and slowly we walked back to Gangotri. On the way, I told my husband that I wished to see snowing, as I never saw it before. And surprisingly a few minutes later, snowflakes started falling down from the sky. By the time we arrived at out hotel, the weather became bad where hailstorm were raging.
We were lucky to have come back down to Gangotri that day and didn’t continue our walk. There were others pilgrims came back later in the evening, all wet and tired, and it was freezing cold below zero degree. Some of the women were trembling in shock, as they were caught in the hailstorm and there were landslides and rocks falling down in front of them. And they had to turn back as the path was blocked by huge rocks. We didn’t stay the night at Gangotri in the end, as it was too cold and the half-built hotel didn’t have a heater. We went back to Gangnani hot springs to stay the night instead. We also visited the Sivananda Kutir in Uttarkashi on the way to Rishikesh the next day.
My husband and I got very sick from food poisoning that lasted for a month from the first day we arrived in Delhi after we left the Sivananda Ashram, where both of us took turn to take care of each other at our worst condition. We knew each other a lot more during that two and a half months traveling together, which led my husband came to Malaysia to be with me in 2007, and we got married in 2008.
My husband had left India before me, as he had to go back to France working for a refuge in the Pyrenees. I had another two weeks in India by myself before my flight back to Kuala Lumpur. I took the train from Delhi to Trivandrum which took more than 54 hours. That was quite an experience as well. An incident happened in my coach where a man was being accused for touching a girl when we were all sleeping. I was woke up by the sudden shouting between the father of the girl and the man, and then the police came and he got slapped very hard by the police right in front of me, and then he was taken away. I couldn’t say anything as I didn’t really know what happened and I don’t understand their language, but from their body language, I guessed that was what happened.
I stayed a few nights in Kovalam, and then I went to stay in an ashram that looked after underprivileged children in Trivandrum until the day I flew back to Malaysia. These children were not orphans, but their parents were either too poor or didn’t have the time or effort to look after them properly at home. And so, they came to stay in the ashram and were given food, accommodation and educational support until they reached eighteen years old.
While I was in Trivandrum, I went to a shop owned by a young Indian woman who was being friendly to me initially, but when I told her that I had been travelling with my husband (unmarried at that time) in India for the last couple of months, she was so disturbed and angry that she spat on me because my husband and I weren’t married at that time. I learned about other people’s different thinking and cultural belief and practice. I wasn’t disturbed by her reaction, but respected her cultural belief and practice. I left in peace and wished for her be in peace too.
Though there is a very significant teaching of yoga about seeing God in all and everything, that God exists in all and everything, but one doesn’t need to believe in God or spirituality to practice the teachings of yoga. For those who don’t believe in God, this teaching can be taught as seeing the one same universal consciousness in all and everything, which is the truth of impermanence and selflessness, where there’s no ‘I’ or individual existence exists in everything that is subject to impermanent changes. For those who don’t believe in God or the one same universal consciousness, this teaching can be taught as seeing the essence of a teacher in all and everything to teach us something to attain higher understanding about worldly life existence, and be grateful and thankful for all kind of good and bad experiences. Those who truly implement this teaching in everyday life wouldn’t be disturbed or determined by all the pleasant and unpleasant, agreeable and disagreeable experiences, and wouldn’t generate anger or hatred towards anyone or anything. They would respect the law of impermanence in all the different qualities of name and form, and respect all the different types of thinking, belief and behavior that exist in the worldly community as they are. This teaching leads us to peace and harmony in ourselves and stop generating violence, anger and hatred in ourselves and into the world. If our minds are over-powered by egoism and have pride and arrogance about ourselves and our particular thinking and belief, we would find this practice impossible or very difficult, unless we are ready to let go of the ego, pride and arrogance.
Disturbance and disharmony exist in our minds due to the ego and egoism, pride and arrogance, attachment and identification, craving and aversion, greed and discontentment, fear and worry, and all kinds of impurities deriving from ignorance or the corrupted thinking and belief in the mind. One also generates disturbance and disharmony into the surrounding environment when one isn’t peaceful and harmony. If every being is free from ignorance, egoism and impurities, naturally the society will be free from separateness, discrimination, prejudice, hatred, violence, fear and unrest.
If we want peace in the world, we must have peace in ourselves. Having peace and harmony in oneself is the only effective way to help the world to have peace and harmony among all the different qualities and diversities. By being violent, angry and hating others and happenings that we don’t like and disagree with, and provoking anger and hatred in other people to also be angry and hating those whom we think they are bad and wrong, it won’t help the world to be peaceful and harmony as how we would like it to be, but instead, we contribute so much restlessness and disharmony into the world, it doesn’t matter how good and right we think we are.
After I came back from the advance teacher training course, I retired from teaching aerobics classes and focused on teaching yoga. I learned that aerobics dance exercises were very good for fitness, but it didn’t help people to come out from miseries. While yoga being practiced with the correct understanding would lead us to self-transformation besides giving many health and fitness benefits to the regular practitioners. Though I was quite physically fit I never emphasized on the physical ability to perform the yoga asana practice. I emphasized on disseminating the Vedanta teachings in all the yoga classes and allowing the students to take it or leave it.
Teaching yoga is definitely not a job, even when we are receiving fees that can support our living. It’s sharing and learning at the same time. It’s in everyday life. It’s in every relationship we have with everyone and everything. Everyone and everything is an instrument for passing the Dhamma from one to another to purify all kind of impurities, allowing the mind to see the truth of itself, to know thyself.
Before my own self-transformation, I perceived the world as a suffering place, and I was very angry and disappointed and feeling meaningless most of the time. But after the transformation, I didn’t see that there was anything bad or good about this world. Unhappiness is here, happiness is here too. Hell is here, heaven is here too. They are not out there in the names and forms that the mind perceives through the senses about what we experience in life. They are right here, right now, in our mind, upon how the mind reacts towards all the names and forms being perceived through the senses.
This was how I had changed from teaching aerobics classes to teaching yoga.
Everything was already there on the path for everyone. It was just waiting for the right time. Whether there were some good or bad experiences, they were all learning process for us to realize selflessness and compassion.
When we know what is yoga, we will know that teaching yoga has very little to do with qualification and certification coming from attending yoga teachers training courses. Yoga teachers training courses are for people to learn to become their own teacher. When one realizes the teacher within oneself, one will know that everything and everyone are teachers to teach everyone something. One will be free from discrimination and hatred towards anyone and anything, and will respect everyone and everything as they are. And naturally, one can also guide other people to become their own teachers to realize unconditional love and peace, without the need of any certifications, or authorization, or acknowledgement from anyone or any organizations.
It’s not important whether we know the names of the yoga poses in English or Sanskrit, or not, and what type of yoga we practice and what are the benefits of the yoga exercises. Practicing yoga is not about attaining the benefits from the yoga exercises at all. Knowing the names of the yoga poses in different languages and which type of yoga we practice have nothing to do with the realization of unconditional love and peace. It’s about letting go of the ego and egoism of attachment, identification, expectation, desire of craving and aversion towards our actions and the fruit of actions, or towards the yoga practice and the result of the yoga practice.
Yoga is about realizing compassion and selflessness through the practice of dispassion towards worldly objects and ideas, discrimination of what is real and unreal, eliminating the ego and quieting the modification of the mind, and be free from all kinds of attachment, identification, desire of craving and aversion, expectation and impurities. All these practices have nothing to do with the impermanent condition and ability of the physical body to perform the yoga poses, or how many years we have been doing yoga exercises, or how much yoga exercises we had done, or how many yoga poses we can perform and whether we can perform the yoga poses in perfect alignment, or not. It’s also nothing to do with all the physical health and fitness benefits that come along as side-effects from performing the yoga practice. All these names and forms doesn’t determine whether we know about yoga or not, whether we are practicing yoga or not, whether we can teach yoga or not, and whether we will be free from ignorance and egoism and be liberated from suffering, or not.
Many people including many yoga enthusiasts don’t like to hear about the practice of dispassion and renunciation. They give themselves many reasons to justify themselves that they don’t need to be dispassionate, instead they promote passionate way of thinking and living. They said follow all our desires and live life passionately. There’s nothing wrong with having desires and being passionate towards life existence, self-image, worldly ideas and ambitions and social activities, and everyone has the freedom to choose what they want to do with their life existence, but it isn’t what yoga practice is about.
Dispassion towards worldly objects, ideas and activities helps to render the mind calm and quiet to be able to perform self-inquiry to know who we really are, or, who we are not, to know what is the ‘I’ that we think is who we are. Passion invigorates strong attachment and identification towards worldly life existence, the function and ability of the body and mind, and the passionate desires of craving and aversion towards names and forms. Instead of quieting the mind, annihilating the worldly ideas and eliminating the ego, it is stimulating the mind, strengthening the worldly ideas and empowering the ego. Passion hinders the mind to see the truth of things as they are. If people enjoy being passionate and don’t mind being restless, that’s their freedom.
Dispassion doesn’t mean that we have no love. It is loving the world and everyone as they are, without selfish desire, expectation, discrimination of likes and dislikes, attachment, identification, craving and aversion, not necessarily it’s the way that I like it to be, or the way that I think it should be.
Passion is loving the world and everyone with selfish desire, expectation, discrimination of likes and dislikes, attachment, identification, craving and aversion. It’s I love the world and everyone being the way that I like it to be, or the way that I think it should be.
When one is free from ignorance and egoism, there’s no difference between passion and dispassion. One can live and perform actions passionately in the world, but is being undisturbed and undetermined by one’s actions and the fruit of actions.
The realization of selflessness will allow the mind to be undisturbed or undetermined by whatever the mind perceives through the senses, remain equanimous and be at peace unconditionally. When one has realized unconditional love and peace, one won’t be intentionally generating thoughts, actions and speech that will hurt oneself and others under any circumstances, which is compassion. The realization of unconditional love and peace has nothing to do with the knowledge about anatomy and physiology, or the physical condition, ability and alignment to do the yoga poses.
Everyone can practice yoga and share the wisdom of yoga and its practice with anybody, when the mind is free from ignorance and egoism and realized unconditional love and peace. They don’t need a piece of commercialized paper to allow or authorize them to share love and peace with others. Those who haven’t realized unconditional love and peace in themselves, they can’t share love and peace with others even if they have been attending many yoga courses and possess many certifications. Those who think and believe that they need to attend professional yoga courses and acquire a few pieces of paper to accumulate credits recognized by such and such alliance and organization to allow them to share love and peace with other people, they don’t really know what is yoga. These minds are still under the influence of worldly ideas and attached onto the qualities of name and form.
All kinds of different yoga practice serve the purpose of influencing and purifying the mind, preparing the mind for self-inquiry, or contemplation upon the truth of “Who am I?” or “What is this I?”
To practice yoga is not necessarily that we have to be doing some form of yoga asana exercises. Yoga asana practice is one type of the many yoga practices. Some people are being limited by health condition and physical limitation which hinder them from doing certain yoga asana practice, and it’s okay. Some people just do Japa and chanting alone. The practice of Japa and chanting generates harmonious vibrations that serves the purpose of influencing and purifying the mind. Some people just perform selfless service to eliminate egoism and attachment. Some just practice living in the present moment as they are. Some spend most of their time on contemplation. Some focus on observing their thoughts and have self-control over their actions and speech at all time. Some people combine a few practices. Some try to practice all of the different practices. But in the end, all the different practices are not separated from one another when being practiced with non-attachment, non-identification, non-expectation, dispassion, right discrimination, and free from the desire of craving and aversion. Ultimately, it’s freeing the mind from impurities to see the truth of names and forms as it is, and be free from suffering that derived from ignorance.
There are yoga centres that teach traditional yogic and meditation practices combine with the practice of dispassion, right discrimination, six fold virtues and the yearning for liberation that would gradually lead to the annihilation of egoism and ignorance. But most of the yoga classes we come across everywhere in the world are only about attaining benefits from the yoga asana and pranayama practice, and many are about using yoga asana practice as a form of fitness exercise to achieve fitness results, which is neither bad or wrong.
By doing some yoga asana and pranayama exercises regularly without the practice of dispassion, right discrimination, six fold virtues and the yearning for liberation, will bring some physical and mental benefits to the practitioners, but it doesn’t lead to the annihilation of egoism and ignorance, or be free from unhappiness and suffering. That’s why, many people might have been practicing yoga and pranayama practice regularly, but if they still have strong attachment and identification with the worldly life existence of the body and mind and are over-powered by the desires of craving and aversion, and have attachment towards their action and inaction and the fruit of action, then they would still be disturbed and determined by all the perceptions of name and form, and have no peace, as the mind is in a state of restlessness being disturbed by ceaseless impurities arising and passing away in the mind due to the constant egoistic reactions towards all the perceptions of name and form, generating craving and aversion towards what it likes and dislikes, agrees and disagrees with.
It’s not about how much good health, good feelings, physical strength and flexibility that we gain from practicing yoga, but whether there are less and less impurities and restlessness in the mind. There are less anger, hatred, jealousy, greed, dissatisfaction, disappointment, pride, arrogance, ill-will, feelings of hurt, fear and worry. There is more peace and harmony. In the end, there’s only unconditional love and peace, being free from ignorance, egoism, impurities and suffering.
Traditionally, yoga asana practice is about holding a few different basic postures in stillness and at ease for a period of time, to influence and quiet the state of the mind. It’s knowing and respecting the limitation of this physical body without generating attachment, identification, craving and aversion towards the impermanent condition and ability. The skill, the stamina, the strength and flexibility will gradually develop as we practice regularly. In the beginning, when we put our body and mind in certain positions that they aren’t familiar with, there will be certain degrees of discomfort or struggle and we need to exert great effort to perform the yoga asana practice. We need to endure the discomforts and be patient and persevere in our practice until one day the practice becomes steady and we can hold each position effortlessly for a prolong period of time.
There are many different variations of yoga poses that sprung from the six basic positions. Yoga asana practice combines with the practice of pranayama serves the purpose of influencing the mind in different ways internally without using any external influence such as drugs, but using our own physical body and the breath as the tools. The purpose is mainly to balance and calm the mind so that the mind isn’t being overly elevated or depressed, while purifying the energy centres and channels, and unblocking any blockages, releasing physical, emotional and mental blockages. Instead of exerting energy outward strengthening worldly ideas, desires, attachments and identifications, yoga practice is channeling the energy inward for realization of the truth, rendering the mind calm and pure to perceive the truth as it is.
The six basic positions are:-
1.) Inversions like headstand, shoulderstand and plough.
2.) Forward bends like sitting forward bend and standing forward bend.
3.) Backward bends like fish pose, cobra pose, locust pose and bow pose.
4.) Twists like sitting twist, standing twist and lying twist.
5.) Balancing positions like crow pose, peacock pose and tree pose.
6.) Side bends like standing side bend and sitting side bend.
Yoga asana practice is very different from the commercialized yoga fitness exercise classes. It’s beyond the physical fitness training. It isn’t about training the body to be able to perform complex exercises or challenging the physical body to go beyond its limitation to become more fit, flexible and strong than what it is. We don’t have to be physically fit, strong and flexible to perform the yoga asana practice. But it’s using the physical body and the breath as tools to control our mind, to balance the mind, to purify the mind, to calm the mind, and eventually allowing the mind to be able to perceive the truth of things as they are under a pure and calm state of mind, and be free from egoism, impurities and ignorance, to go beyond the body and mind, to transcend suffering and have peace.
Yoga asana practice helps the mind to develop awareness and acceptance towards the reality that is not necessarily the way that we would like it to be. Being aware of all the impermanent changes in the physical body and the state of the mind, and allowing all the changes to be what they are – accepting the impermanent condition of the physical body and the state of the mind as it is, from moment to moment. We learn to be undetermined by what our body can do and can’t do in the present moment. We learn to let go of pre-judgment based on our past experiences. We let go attachment and identification with the thinking and belief in the mind. We stop judging, comparing and expecting. We let go attachment and expectation towards the existence and function of the body and mind. We let go craving and aversion, passionate worldly desires, anger, hatred, jealousy, greed, dissatisfaction, disappointment, fear, worry, feelings of hurt, guilt, pride and arrogance.
Though I didn’t have the rest of the money for paying the total expenses for me to go to India after I paid the 300 USD deposit payment for the course, the money came to me naturally when I needed it, without me worrying for it. But of course I had to work harder and work more to earn the money. It didn’t just fall down from the sky and land in front of me.
Yoga is not for sale, but the fees are important to support and allow other people to have the opportunity to come to the Ashram to learn about yoga. There are basic expenses that keep the Ashram running, to provide classes, food and accommodation for the students, and also to provide living and travel expenses, food and lodging for the many live-in ashram care takers and teachers as well.
I never see teaching yoga as a job, or a business, but the fees coming from the students is supporting our living and enable us to have the time and space to perform our own practice, besides paying the cost to run the yoga retreats and maintaining the yoga studio. This allows us to continue doing what we are doing and allows some other people to come to us. It doesn’t matter if one day we stop running retreats and teaching classes. I didn’t have any intention to teach yoga, or to own a yoga centre, or to recruit yoga students.
Teaching yoga doesn’t has to be in classes or retreats.