Monday, January 10, 2011

New Year's Reflection

2010 was the year that I found yoga. I completely immersed myself in this activity, practicing 2-5 times/week for the entire year, trying out various styles (Hatha, yin, Anusara, Ashtanga, Power yoga, Hot yoga, pilates, etc. etc. etc). I read yoga journal articles and yoga books almost daily (often at school); I went to yoga workshops and even attended a yoga conference. It was a lovely experience by the way.  Senior teachers are such lovely people, and the experience taught me to pick alignment principles that fits me personally rather than adhering to a certain yoga style, since different styles often have directly opposing instructions for certain asanas.  I also started looking at other activities related to yoga and wellness - using myself as a guinea pig to try out acupuncture, chiropractic, various styles of massages, sound therapy (Tibetan singing bowls / harmonium / chanting), meditation, and everything science dismisses as "alternative", ie. "that which has not been shown consistently to be effective". Can you say obsessive compulsive? I had so much fun doing this though, at the expense of neglecting my thesis.

Don't get me wrong; I still believe in the value of science.  In the alternative therapy/holistic wellness world both practitioners and patients / customers / students seem to have a lot of difficulty distinguishing between the effective aspects from the completely BS aspects.  It's just that being so rigorous, a scientific study first has to reduce any problem into a simple testable situation where all variables except for one are controlled. Not all problems can be simplified this way, especially with alternative therapies, where results are based on subjective patient experience.  Neither the problems (say, chronic discomfort/pain) nor the solutions (a reduction in some aspects of the discomfort) can be easily measured by an instrument.   In many cases, the simple fact that the practitioner paid attention to the patient / customer / student and/or simple human touch can reduce discomfort.

So, uh, why was I doing this again? I think I just got really sick of the BS in academia.  Also, studying a single topic that no one around me cares about (both in every day life and even within my lab/school) became hell three years into my studies. I was in serious depression for a long time, while my family just thought I was a spoiled brat acting up. Once I found yoga, the amount of available reference materials, company and support made this activity seemed like a 7-star all-inclusive resort, and I hurled myself at it.  People who don't practice yoga still didn't care about my new-found passion, but at least there's a classroom of people + an online community that shared my obsession.

Yoga provided comfort and pampering when I was feeling emotionally isolated and helpless. But it couldn't help me focus on my project. It took this grand trip to provide me the motivation to really want to finish my grad student way of living and move on with life. It was really hard to focus toward the end of last year. All I could think of all day long was my evening yoga classes. I hope this year I can actually focus on my thesis during day time and only think about yoga during the actual yoga classes. Nobel mentioned about energy levels being low on days without yoga practice.  My energy level hypes up after yoga in the evening, but if I practice yoga in the morning, I often need a nap afterwards. I noticed that while I was traveling, my energy level and alertness could be quite high throughout the day for many days in a row.  I think it's because of all the stimulations of new surroundings, plus the fact that the tour leader took all the stressful factors  (finding transportation and accommodation, planning the itinerary, considering safety issues) out of my trip.  I was so "awake" and so receptive to new sights, smell, and hearing for such a prolonged period of time at once, it was like being on drugs without the side effects.

Now that I am back home, I feel re-charged and ready to tackle the last bit of my thesis project.  I hope the new found energy level is strong enough to carry me through to graduation.  After not doing any yoga for 3 weeks, it'll be interesting to see how it feels once I start it again.   I am looking forward to establishing a routine once again but am hoping for new thoughts about my old life.  I'm a greedy person I guess.. greedy about new thoughts, ideas and sensations.  It's what keeps me going :)


  1. I went through a similar phase in grad school as well. Soon after I started yoga, I realized how everybody around me in academia was living life "from the neck up"; they also seem to think that anything which does not directly contribute to their very specialized research area is of no value to them. Yoga (and any mind/body discipline) counteracts this tendency, as we know. I even thought about quitting grad school for a while. But I think it's a good thing I stuck it out; being able to deal productively with stuff one intensely dislikes is part of the yoga practice after all.

    Here's a little unsolicited suggestion: Perhaps you can set yourself a really manageable, yet reasonably challenging daily goal (for example, writing a certain number of words for your thesis every day). Then once you have met this goal, you are free to go do as much yoga (or whatever other favorite activities you have) as you desire. This helped me a lot in maintaining balance when I was finishing up my dissertation.

  2. Thanks a lot for the advice Nobel. I'm sure I'll be a very happy bird when I'm done!