Monday, January 30, 2012

Run, run, run away

It's so ironic that yoga is supposed to help me be a calmer, nicer person, but I am becoming a super bitch the longer I stay at home in Taiwan.

I have a confession to make: the only reason I am staying in Taiwan for so long is because I am waiting to go to India for a month of yoga study. I don't know why I was so stupid and didn't finish all the errands before I came back to Taiwan. I naively thought that Taiwan is developed enough that I can do a few simple things once I get here, like confirming my flight schedule, exchanging/transferring some money, printing a few things, etc. I called the airline in Taiwan and the customer representative was totally useless. I went to a bank and the teller doesn't know how to wire transfer money to a non-western country. Nobody told me banks are closed for the entire week during Chinese New Year. They just assume I should know about it. Any time I ask a question, friends and family would eagerly tell me they can help me, or they have a friend who can help me, when in fact neither they nor their "friends" know much about what I am asking for. I wish I could just be referred to professionals, but I don't live in a very convenient place and it seems very important for my family to try to solve my questions "for" me by asking the wrong people rather than admitting they don't know what I I am talking about and let me find information myself over the Internet or call a professional to find out. If I want to purchase an item, they would insist they know the cheapest place to buy it. It would take from hours to days just to get something simple like an alarm clock. I think I end up saving like 50 cents more, when everything is already cheaper in Taiwan than in North America. This whole time everyone keeps showing hospitality by offering to show me around. I ended up feeling more stressed out than entertained when I got dragged around to way too many tourist locations in one day. Today I spent hours and hours in the car, where I was taken to bakeries, restaurants, junk food stores and night markets quite a ways from where we live. Luckily I have already visited this place (Yi-Lan) before, or else I would be seriously bummed to have the chance to visit a place known for its gorgeous sceneries but never get to see any of it.

I am sad to say I was not a very nice person today. I have done nothing but eat way too much food for the past 2 weeks. I realize I should be grateful for all the kindness, but getting me to try out delicious local delicacies when I am already full is torture rather than enjoyment. Walking up and down crowded night markets for hours where every vendor screams at you to buy their stuff is not a relaxing exercise. I can't take deep breaths either because air quality is terrible in crowded places with too much traffic. I really hate the way I am right now. I exude terrible energy and I know I make people around me unhappy. I desperately want people to leave me alone. I think I can go back to my calm self if they stop offering me things (eg. food and "help"), but they seem to double their effort in their offerings the more frustrated/bitchier I get. Stop feeding the angry beast!

I don't know why my family brings out the worst in me. I am never like this around anyone else. It's not just a matter of control. Nobody else generates such strong negative reactions within me. Probably because nobody else would repeatedly force me to do things I don't want to do, even if the forcefulness/strong insistance come from kind intentions. Meditation, deep breaths, gaps between thoughts, all that go out the window. I feel like a train wreck unable to shut up, just politely decline and get away.

It's only a couple more days before I head for India. It's not going to be an easy trip because I bought a ticket with way too short of a connection time, transferring at one of the crappier airports. I am sure there will be plenty of challenges for me to somehow make it to my destination. I was pretty nervous about it before I arrived in Taiwan, but my family managed to make other supposedly easy errands over-complicated as well, so I can't even discuss about this with them. Somehow I still think the chaos in India will be easier to deal with than my current situation. I will let you know otherwise. The yoga itself will undoubtedly be awesome. I wonder how much things will change afterwards. Not expecting magic bullets but I hope the yoga will help.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Cold practice

It was about 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahreheit) this morning indoors (no heater at home). First time doing yoga practice in such a cold environment. I did the full primary series practice in long sleeves, and barely broke a sweat. At my yoga studio I usually start sweating in samastitihi, right when we are about to start chanting. Practice certainly isn't easy in this kind of environment, but it's "safer" for me since I can't collapse into poses and over-stretch when it's so cold.

I watched what I could in David Garrigues' video about breath and receptivity (reviewed in Nobel's blog). Couldn't watch the whole thing because I'm "borrowing" neighbor's wi-fi with my iPad and the connection is not so great. Took me 10 minutes to watch 3 minutes of the video. David mentioned that there should be a balance between effort and receptivity. He also said that the breath will do its own thing depending on the body condition and environment. Well, my breathing in sun salutations were done in slow motion today (I am known to rush through the whole series in 60 minutes). I guess in the cold the body's too stiff to rush through the motions. My mind wasn't awake enough to dominate my natural breathing pattern, and it wanted to take its time to heat up the inner body. Cold practice sucks for the ego, but is good for my body and breath.

It's bizarre to be practicing yoga in an environment where everyone else barely cares about their bodies (or they try to eat their way to health - diet supplements sell really well here). My sister has a haunch back so severe, I've only seen such a curved spine among really old people. She refuses to do much about it. I don't understand how she holds herself up. Last year when I saw her, her back got much better since she had a massage therapist friend who manually adjusted her and really improved her spine, but now it's back to an old lady spine. Her son and daughter also both have haunches, non-severe ones but nobody says or does anything about it. One cousin tells me she has lower back pains and unknown foot problem such that she can't walk for more than an hour at a time. As far as I know, no one's conditions are completely hopeless, but everyone seems to choose to let the body worsen rather than doing something to improve it. I guess in a culture where watching TV and eating are the biggest national hobbies, as long as the mouth and eyes still function, the rest of the body parts don't really matter.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Thanks for asking, but I don't feel like talking about my yoga practice with you right now

I never ever thought I'd get to this point, where I don't want to discuss yoga with people (specifically non-yoga practitioners. To my yogi friends: you guys don't apply to this category).

From the amount of yoga videos and yoga articles that I compulsively post on Facebook, most of my friends whom I haven't seen for a long time get the hint that I am slightly obsessed about yoga. When I first started yoga, I couldn't stop talking about it, whether people wanted to hear about yoga or not. Like a zealous religious fanatic, I would shove complementary yoga passes into people's hands and try to get them to come to a yoga class with me. Over time, I learned that most people have strong mental resistance against trying something new. Some people didn't enjoy physical education in high school and concluded that all physical activities suck, period. Others seemed to think that I would be so inconsiderate that I would take them to an advanced yoga class when they are not that active in their day-to-day lives (or maybe they think all yoga movements are too advanced for them). So I stopped mentioning yoga in social situations. However, whenever I meet up with friends, especially the ones who are on Facebook but whom I haven't seen for awhile, they would always casually ask me about my yoga progress. I get questions like "How's it going with you? Are you still doing yoga? (It's only been 2 years) Wow, you must be a yoga master by now"; "So which new poses are you learning lately?";  "Are you going to become a yoga teacher soon? That's not a bad profession, eh? Probably make a good side income."

For awhile I got so tongue-tied that I couldn't even answer them. I blame too many years of grad school for worsening my social skills (which were not so good to begin with). As a total nerd I'm pretty clueless about what people want to hear, since they obviously don't care for yoga. I do admit also I got a little offended by the implications of these questions (which I can't blame them because they honestly don't know much about yoga besides what mainstream media portrays it to be, but it still affected my ability to think straight), so I usually just answered, "Yep, still do it sometimes", and left it at that. I would get a somewhat stunned look and an awkward pause, before people clumsily find another topic to talk about. There's a good chance I have offended them for shutting down an innocently casual conversation-starter like that.

Upon some serious pondering (the only thing that a nerd like me knows to do), I believe that people want me to casually talk about my yoga progress, with a sense of humor, and maybe some gossip, as if I were reporting about my progress in, say, salsa dancing or figure skating: "Oh it's going great! I fell on my butt soooooo many times but I just mastered pirouetting on one foot last week!" "I'm so much more flexible now that before I started yoga. I used to not be able to touch my toes, and now I can almost do a split!" "OMG, there's this one yoga teacher who is super hot! Men who practice yoga have such nice bodies! I go to his class all the time, and he's the only teacher who can get me into a handstand! You should come try his class with me sometime! He has the most sexy voice ever and you'll feel so relaxed in this class!" "My butt is so much perkier now after all the yoga I've been doing. It's super awesome. The yoga inversions help reverse the aging effects that gravity has on a woman's skin and boobs! I feel younger than ever before!"

The above examples have nothing to do with my personal practice, by the way (or maybe some of them do, but I don't really talk like that in real life), but I think these are the type of things people who don't do yoga expect to hear. I'm not sure if they want me to sell yoga to them as a miracle panacea, make self-deprecating jokes about yoga, brag about how many poses I've mastered, demo some fancy asana on the spot, make claims about how close I am in becoming a teacher, or what. Fellow yogis and yoginis, please share your experience with me on this matter.

I guess I personally take (Ashtanga) yoga sort of seriously, even though I haven't been practicing it regularly. I'm not saying it has to be so serious; I'm just in a weird mental state at this moment and just don't feel like going along with what people want by feeding them superficial comments about yoga (I'm 99.5% certain they prefer to hear something short, funny and snazzy rather than how I'm trying to burn through my samskaras with metaphoric/energetic fire generated by breath and postures). Don't get me wrong; I'm not going through post-graduation depression. I'm feeling a sense of peace that I haven't felt for years, as I used to always have my thesis project in the back of my mind at all times. I don't really feel like defending myself or pretend agree with people when they make uncreative assumptions about my vacation plans, career plans, or my yoga practice. I'm aware my social behaviour makes me seem like a total snob, and I'm pissing off some of my friends. Let me be clear: I don't think I'm above other people. I just feel like I need to step off the hamster's wheel of social expectations (how to talk; how to behave; how to proceed through life in a conventional way) for a bit and just be. I'm pretty sure it's only a temporary phase, some sort of cognitive fatigue (societal expectation fatigue?) maybe. Once the phase passes I'll happily get back on the hamster treadmill and conform to social norms again.

Monday, January 2, 2012

We live in an interesting time

I just finished watching an interview with Slavoj Zizek... such a fascinating talk. I haven't read any of his books yet, but I know I must add him to my gigantic list of authors I need to read. There's a lot to digest from this interview. If you're not used to thinking all over the place, he might just sound like a crazy man to you. However my brain operates the same way (though I know next to nothing about the world compared to him) so this one interview answered so many questions I've been pondering for a long time now.

Zizek pointed out current weirdness of societal values everywhere in the world. In the West (I'm guessing that includes US/Canada and Western Europe), the society currently implicitly encourages a kind of "spiritual hedonism" - "be true to your self,  have a full life, realize your potentials". In other times the public had been told to live a life to sacrifice oneself for the greater good (for the family, the community, the religious group, the corporation, the country, etc). It's great for the individual, but not so great for production/manufacturing (where's the fulfillment working in a factory?). In this way, totalitarian style of ruling (eg. China, Singapore), where citizens are taught to place country and work before the self,  running capitalism can achieve much better efficiency + productivity than the western way of ruling countries - good for building a strong, rich country, not so good for the individuals, especially the blue collar working class. Nevertheless, it means China will eventually dominant over the West, and the West is scared.

It's really interesting how the human mind is so malleable. If you were recently born into North Korea, your society will tell you that your country is more important than you, and without access to international media, you would probably believe it and that's how you would live your life. If you were recently born into the West, society shows you this "spiritual hedonism" and you would take many things for granted: benefits, libraries, maternal leave, nice roads, etc. depending on where you live. If you were born in the Middle East, depending on which religious group you were born into, your family would teach you about the disputes and injustice that some other religious groups have done to your group for thousands of years, and you might spend the rest of your life obsessing about getting back at them.

I feel I'm anxious because I am deeply conflicted by the fact that I am educated by the West ("be the best that you can be"), but my parents try to instill traditional Chinese values in me (study hard, gain critical thinking skills, and then forget about the educational enlightenment part and focus on conforming to family values and to society - I think they do not fully realize that western company cultures are not quite the same as Asian companies/bosses). So I turn to yoga + meditation for some peace and equanimity, but my ligaments feel a bit overstretched and my SI joints hurt (from hamstrings being over stretched)? Meditation also does not provide me with job hunting skills, or skills that would help me dealing with family whose fundamental values are almost polar opposites of my values.

Either things will resolve on their own, and the world will self-reorganize into a better place, or the world will end soon and I don't need to worry about my future right now, I guess. I don't really like to be in denial, but I don't have too many alternative options here. 2012 should be an interesting year for me (and for the rest of the world).

p.s. I had a not so great yoga practice today. Learned a thing or two about my body nevertheless.