Karachi Yogini

Yoga for Life!

Ahimsa (nonviolence towards the self and others) October 31, 2014

Filed under: healthy lifestyle,spirituality,Yoga In Karachi — yogini786 @ 9:13 pm

This is an article that I had half written 2 years a go as a response to some observations I had about the exercise and diet culture in Karachi.  Finally got motivated to complete it thanks to Nabeel Khan who administers a Facebook group for people trying to change their lifestyle in a healthy and mindful way.

Ahimsa (nonviolence towards Self & Others)

I was quite dissatisfied with the shape of my body for years, as it had accumulated stress and fat in all the wrong places. Yet every yoga teacher made me feel like my body was an incredible gift.

My experience with yoga had been long and uneven, until a moment of deep recognition on a Sunday afternoon in April 2009. During a yoga session, while holding my body, an awareness of my body and self dawned on me. In a flash I inhaled peace, exhaled presence and attention in my body and breath, and sensed a deep source of stillness in my heart. I returned to that yoga class every Sunday to build on and explore this incredible new way of experiencing myself, my emotions, thoughts and my body. Every class I attended, and as I developed my personal practice, I became more and more amazed by the capacity my body had to adapt and change. At the same time I became aware of my body’s limits, where I held tension, where I continued to feel pain (even now), and with how little awareness I moved my body. However, with practice the awareness of my body has grown and with it so has my respect and gratitude for what my body allows me to do every day.

Eventually practicing yoga became the focus of my life, and in 2010 I decided to attend my first teachers training in Baja, Mexico and subsequently began teaching yoga in Karachi. In the past few years I have had the privilege to teach people of all ages, sizes, gender, and experience with yoga. However, I have consistently observed that yoga is growing as a practice in an exercise culture where one’s external form is our primary focus. Where if someone has some extra belly fat, or large hips and thighs, or any normal female shape then they feel that they have to punish themselves through exercise and diet to conform to what has become a dangerous female body ideal: too thin to be healthy or a size 0.

The first question I ask participants – What is health to you? What qualities do you find in people that are healthy?

When I look at a person who is healthy, my first cue is their face and eyes. A healthy persons face and eyes shine with vitality. Then I watch their movements, which irrespective of shape, present a grace in their coordination. And finally I notice their breathing, which is natural and light. You can’t hear their breathing, and you can feel peace and warmth in that person’s presence.

In yogic terms the answer to this question is exceedingly simple and deep. Health is internal peace and union with the Divine. To achieve internal peace the body must be taken care of as it is the home of our soul. How do yogis suggest we take care of our bodies? Through a simple diet (vegetarians for those who can) that includes whatever is local and fresh, grains and dairy. A simple set of basic yogic movements to keep the spine flexible and strong (no six pack required, or certain size). And most importantly the focus on the breath to help reduce the turbulence of the thinking mind and increase the life force (prana) in our body.

There is no correlation between one’s external form and these signs of health. When we fixate on the form, we may think its someone’s biceps, or calf muscles, or their restrictive diet and daily exercise that create health. But the ancient teachings of yoga do not point in this direction. They point us towards the internal, and challenge us to surrender our desires in the external form.

What can we do to support ourselves with the genuine desire to feel healthier, lighter, stronger and more energetic? How can we embody the principle of ahimsa, or nonviolence, into our desire to improve our health?

1) Evaluate past attempts to incorporate exercise and healthy eating into your life: In my experience most people with good intentions begin an exercise/eating regimen that requires drastic change. We forget in our desire for certain outcomes that the process of change is gradual and mindful. There are also some people on the other end, who have the opposite experience and commit to too little and keep putting off necessary lifestyle changes, delaying their response to their body and minds needs for exercise and nutritious food.

Make the intention to have a balanced approach to bringing changes into yourself.

2) Exercise and Eat to Fit Your Life:- We have to accept that changing our eating habits is also a gradual process. Try to create goals that are reasonable and be grateful for all the bounties available to a person. Also realize that at times, our emotional state can also determine the types of food we eat.

My primary goal is to eat food that is easily available, affordable, local and fresh. I personally try to eat nutritious home-cooked food, and avoid processed foods and sugar. I am mindful about how my emotions affect my eating habits. The more I eat food that is nourishing and wholesome the more energetic I feel, which motivates me to continue to eat better. Being around people who are focused on a healthy lifestyle can support your lifestyle goals.

Make a commitment to incorporating exercise based on your current lifestyle with the goal of it being sustainable. If that means a daily 20 min routine, or just an hour once a week, start with that. The process will unfold at its own pace for each individual.

Remember with exercise and food there is no one-size fits all prescription, but that our bodies were built to move regularly, and digest a varied, diverse diet of fresh wholesome local seasonal food! Be curious and non-judgmental about your process, increase awareness about your needs, and develop tools to cultivate self-compassion along the way.

When I started yoga I could only do it once a week regularly and even that one class a week and tremendous benefits for me! Now I practice yoga, run and swim regularly, and also love to walk, hike whenever I travel. I am open to trying new classes, new forms of movements, and always honor my body.

3) Just Breathe:- The most amazing, simple, and important intervention in my experience is making time to practice breathing exercises. Simply 5 minutes a day to start with and you can build up to 15-20 minutes. It can be done anytime of the day, but ideally before you start your day in the morning or in the evening before sunset. Tips for a beginner – all we have to do is notice our inhale and exhale breath, through our nose, and very gently make the exhale longer than the inhale. This affects one’s body physiologically at the level of their nervous system and organs, while simultaneously affecting their mind, emotions and spirit.

4) Be kind and compassionate with yourself, so you can be with others:- Lastly but more importantly our exercise goals are based on feeling better about ourselves. But we keep chasing an elusive illusion of our ideal self because we forget that actually the best part about being at peace with ourselves is our impact on others. So reorient your intention from self improvement for an external purpose (so I can be a certain weight, or look a certain way) towards an internal one. Make a goal of becoming more aware of yourself through examining your body, mind and emotions.

Exercise and eating healthy are important tools to balance our emotions, thoughts and physical body. By approaching these goals gently, you will be able to be more present with others, and give more to the various priorities in your life.

 

dedicated to 2013 December 18, 2013

the soft whispers of 2013 started sometime around last year at this time, in the lead up to the winter equinox of 2012, the end of the Mayan Calendar, directing me towards a new understanding of an oft chewed up word:  unity.   I danced barefoot deep in the jungle of Sri Lanka with people I barely knew on the 31st evening.  A fire broke out on the first day of the new year, and then i stepped into a year of transformation, purification.  except, at first, it didn’t feel so different.

I had a blazing early part of the year, caught up in the same hamster wheel of my bottomless self loathing and I ended up in an opportunity of my lifetime.  leading a yoga retreat in the beautiful hindu kush mountains.  After 12 days of juggling myself from teacher to friend,  I returned to a Karachi that was quiet in its summer solstice.  i prepared for what has become my most favorite time of the year, a month of fasting, and solitude with loved ones, and absolute clarity of what is Real.  And i tip-toed my way out of the wheel, and on to the edge of the circle.  whole.  and unified in myself (briefly yet so powerfully).  i started to drop my self for longer periods of time, and embraced the comfort and protection of some simple ground rules.

and as the earth finishes its orbit around the sun, in my 32nd year, a new simple sense of being opens itself, a gift of gratitude towards all that is, and all that is not.

so for all that can’t be put into words, and for all the moments that can never be captured, i dedicate this year to the spirit that moves forward, through obstacle after obstacle, with faith and love.  with generosity towards others, and towards oneself.  i dedicate it to my friends, spread across this beautiful living earth, whose hearts give me nourishment.  to the spaces, so rich in themselves, where I dissolve as a speck against its magnificent landscape, realizing how small and yet how expansive life is. to the ethereal breath that has dissolved and resolved my darkness over and over again.

and here’s to another year, in submission and surrender, to what is and what is not.  may we all carry forward our truth as best as we can.

For those who have come to know God, the whole world is a prayer mat.
— Bawa Muhaiyaddeen

 

monsoon in june June 13, 2013

Filed under: And the Journey begins...,poetry,spirituality — yogini786 @ 5:21 pm

it’s been a long time since I wrote anything and actually posted it.  A melancholy sifts through my day today.  With clouds hanging low, the sudden release of rain, hoping, waiting and then just letting it all go so that the earth can absorb me again.

I watched as two birds sat on the highest little branch of my grandfather’s tree watching and listening, just as I, the sky change color, the wind mixed with rolling thunder.

As things continue, my fourth June back in Karachi, the movement of my solitary life has reached a new destination, completely lost in translation.

cliff-diving

my words are stuck, a theme for 2013, where I long and yearn for something to truly change.  a lost heart, broken with wings, flies from mountain top to mountain top to find that the view has not changed at all.  And neither have I.

 

I feel incomplete, longing for a wholeness, that tempts me with glimpses. and all i can do is return to the lostness of the vast sensations my heart sends through and through.  as my mind races from the past to the future, I pray for the depth to carry myself over another edge.  of never knowing and yet always trusting.

 

“Are you going to leap into the abyss or are you going to stick to the safe, the known …In other words, if you do not leap off the cliff, you will be tossed off it.”  Shaykh Ebrahim (Etsko Schuitema Millenium Discourses)

 

 

burning heart November 23, 2012

Nov 16, 2012

the fire
burns
quicker
than I
can catch the words.

So here I am again. Three years later and Truth has truly become like Krisnamurti has said… “a pathless land.”

Life has humbled me this year. I thought what was the worst had passed, but now I’m beginning to understand that better or worse are old remnants of a conditioned mind.

A mind that has nothing but complaints and desires. And then the polishing of the heart. The constant and deliberate process. I am feeling its burning, burning away the ideals of the past only to desire again truly the deepest love one can.

I travel today with other seekers to a place of spiritual calling. A longing in my heart, so deeply fulfilled, by the entire sequence of events that will unfold over the next few days and yet I know it is just one more experience in the pathless-ness of Truth. That what I need I am always getting. That when I cry I am always held. That when I reach out I am always protected.

Nov 23, 2012

Returned.  Arriving home from home.  What does it mean when every place becomes home?  Where love embraces me as if I am no stranger, as if i’m not the seeker but the seeked?

Ganje Shakar.  The Sweet One.  There are no words for this week.  The beads of my tasbih lay witness to what my soul experienced with the deepest of gratitude.

 

The Divine Net October 28, 2012

Filed under: Islam/Sufism,poetry,spirituality,Uncategorized — yogini786 @ 8:42 pm

I float in between the boundaries of shock and realization.

I am on a path gifted through the breaking only true suffering can engender.  And on this path there has been a consistency of pain.  The more I open, expand, the more my life continues to fall beneath my feet.  nothing is solid, nothing is real.

“Transformation is painful. A Master has to work with a hammer in his hand.”

May god have mercy on the many people today, including my family, who have been deeply affected by the loss of a place built on hard work, heart & soul.  May the fire that burns through the walls of an impermanent structure, clear and purify the space, so our hearts can even more deeply embrace the awe of our Master. and continually allow us to submit our powerlessness to His will.

“For those who are afflicted with disaster, glad tidings await them: so remain patient and happy with your Lord. ‘He cannot be questioned as to what He does, while they will be questioned.” (Quran, 21:23).

 

why… October 9, 2012

Filed under: And the Journey begins...,Islam/Sufism,poetry,spirituality — yogini786 @ 9:37 pm

that word seems to have a certain negative quality to it now.  and yet it returns again and again.  others ask me, but why?  I ask myself, why? and when most lost, I look to the Divine, and I ask it, why?

And the answers are never clear-cut.  and yet they are.  It is a complete and utter paradox.  But when prompted to put the answer into words, into human form, I am at a loss only anchored with one truth:

“it feels right” (translates to I have surrendered).

no more pretense of being nicer than I am, happier than I am.  I have been completely and entirely undone again and again so many times that there is no safety in pretending that somehow I am in control of the events that unfold which loosely connect to what I call “my life”.

But there is something I am more aware of increasingly, that in each moment, my choice is to either be with me as I am, or to cling/desire/avert/escape the moment.  and even this choice is actually choice-less when it is done through truth.

I haven’t been able to write for a while.  The block is deep, because the change is vast, and the expression seems stunted, almost comically absurd even now as I start to recollect why?

But, yes, the answers have been coming as beautiful strong feelings of clarity and trust.  I know not to trust my desire to know why, but I also know now not to take it so seriously.  to lighten up a bit, breathe some space into the thickness of my emotions, and embrace starting from where I am (Pema Chodron thank you).

and now i’m seeing that perhaps the best answer to all these why’s is why not?

 

Surrender August 29, 2012

I’ve heard and said that word so many times in the last few years that I can’t remember a life where I thought one could go without it.  I can’t remember being the person who would rigidly fight for her dear life with any decision, or any opinion, that disagreed with her’s.

This fault-line opened at a gracious moment when I first surrendered and accepted life as it is.  It was a leap of faith, courage, and of immense heart opening.  I thought I was done now with this lesson.  This surrendering, I’ve figured it out.

But today after a moment of absolute clamoring madness, in a room with my mother, I saw myself cruel and unkind to her.  I saw how I did not have patience, and I did not have any compassion for her anymore.  I was saying the right words, but I did not feel them in my heart.  And not surprisingly she didn’t hear my words, as right and logical as they were, she felt my with-holding energy and before I even knew it I was back in a melodrama, playing my part to perfection.  Our dance had not even begun to end.

I sat back in my car and felt like I was bleeding from inside.  It was too much.  I couldn’t take this anymore.  This terrible grief, this terrible pain, I just don’t want it anymore.  I ran through the motions, watched myself move through the city with an angry arrogance, and at home, the point where I bowed down to pray, I became angry at God.  I heard my own words, and I felt my tears and then as swiftly as they came, I felt them disappear.  And I remembered what I read just two days ago:

“The reason we’re often not there for others –whether for our child or our mother or someone who is insulting us or frightens us — is that we are not there for ourselves. There are whole parts of ourselves that are so unwanted that whenever they begin to come up we run away…Only to the degree that we’ve gotten to know our personal pain, only to the degree that we’ve related with pain at all, will we be fearless enough, brave enough and enough of a warrior to feel the pain of others.” – Start Where You Are, Pema Chodron.

I had confided in some friends and felt a little bit more supported.  I have a beautiful loving family and again I felt less alone in my pain.  And then, tired as I was, dragged myself to my friend’s house, to take a yoga class in his open garden.  A yoga celebrity, my friend gives classes that are notoriously challenging.  In fact many times I have laid in dead pose or childs pose while he talked the class through super vinyasas.  Today he was going to take it easy, and I sighed with relief.  Knowing his easy, meant, well I’d still have a difficult time keeping up.

I moved through the class with precision and grace.   My mat is as familiar as my own breath.  When I’m on it suddenly it does feel as if I’m on sacred duty and I have surrendered to what will arise in me, and I will watch it, breathe through it, and be completely present with my contradicting & conflicting feelings.

We got into Warrior II and held it for almost 2 minutes.  1 minute in, my legs quivering, I kept looking at my focus point (dhristi) and surrendered to the pain.  I knew this was just the first side, the weaker leg, and I continued to be there for myself as I was debating: should I stay with the feelings or should I escape them?  Sometimes I had to release the pose, and then resume it.  But I did not push the pain away.  I did not push to create more, but I accepted what it meant to be a warrior.  I realised deeply that surrendering was the ultimate task for any warrior.  Surrender to the moment as it is, “because we escape, we keep missing being right here, being right on the dot. We keep missing the moment we’re in.  Yet, if we can experience the moment that we are in, we discover that it is unique, precious and completely fresh. It never happens twice.” (Chodron).

And as I finished yoga today, and felt the incredible connection and peace within my soul, I wished for a moment it would not go away.  And then, a new practice came into being.  I embraced the impermanence of this feeling, felt gratitude for it, and understood that soon it would be gone.  I returned to my car again, and I asked myself, what do you need to be there for yourself right now?

Surrender control.desire&escape from pain.  And yet while all these voices are clamoring for attention, just relax into them, ending today right where you are.