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.

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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

 

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.

 

samskara August 12, 2012

I turned a new year, younger as my teacher says, as we return closer to the source of Life, the source of all that is.

A few years a go I had my first memorable solo vacation.  While staying at a yoga retreat a group of us decided to visit Anuradapura, the ancient city in Sri Lanka, for the day.  And it was there I first saw the impressions of a moonstone embedded into the ground at these old beautiful sites.

I asked our unforgettable 75 + year old tour guide, E.D (shortened for us foreigners), who called me Ms. Pakistan and told cricket jokes to me all day long, what did all this stuff mean?  He explained the cycles by which the Buddha says we transform on the spiritual path, and how the layers drawn on this moonstone represented this progression.

He said a word: samskara.  Funny, I thought, I had bought a beautiful purple leather purse in Toronto just months before with the company name seared into my mind: samskara.

The impressions left on our subconscious, unconscious, from our past lives Hindus and Buddhists would say, or as modern psychologists would call it:  the collection of mysterious connections we have to our pasts which creates our “conditioning”.

I have heard some describe samskara as grooves, visually seen in our naked brain, lines that have been carved and created.  The synapses that have connected through unconscious impressions so often that they have become embedded into our nature.

All this stuff reminded me of my training in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and what Yoga was also teaching me to slowly unravel.  To discover that space, be aware of it, like the pause between our inhale and exhale, where our thought leads to emotion or behavior.  So that the process stops being automatic, and instead we begin to create this elusive space around it.

My mind.  The insanity with which it expresses itself.  The samskaras that are deeply rooted in self-defeating narratives, are not simply overcome by “positive” thinking.   But instead, today I realized, as I prayed while my mind continued its madness 22 days and nights into fasting my body, that the only route to be done with this samskara, is surrender, submit, wholly to a higher power by accepting the present moment in which I am just the way I am.  To accept fully that this heart of mine is full of un-anchored desires, and shrapnel wounds of love lost in an endless passage of events.

The burning sensation fills my chest, as I bring my attention over and over again to my heart, while moving rhythmically.  The pain travels to other parts of my body, like a sliding string of light and heat.  And I’m so easily there again, in my head, thinking, calculating, talking to imagined scenarios, creating, fixating, and leaving behind what is.  what is? what is right now.

I share with you the prayer I received today, as my heart repeated words that I did not understand.  I submit and surrender to you, please bring me wholeness, soundness, internally and externally.    Please bring sanity to my mind.  All that is, is of Allah’s decree.

I am awake.  and the more I wake, the less I can slumber in my spiraling samskaras.

 

Ramzan in Karachi August 3, 2012

As I look upon the view, from the balcony in an apartment I have spent the last 12 nights praying with a particular group of souls. the flat lines of Karachi, from Phase VII, with its long clean roads, and sparse palm trees, move with a dusty beat of life.

Karachi.  I have written about it forever it feels.  I discuss it endlessly on dinner tables and late night conversations.  Sometimes with old friends who have long gone but come back ever so often to share a beautiful only in Karachi type of night.

Sometimes with myself, as I gaze upon the beautiful mystery of its monsoon clouds, and the many shapes of the palm tree trunks and leaves.  It is my endless metaphor for seeking truth and understanding spirit.

Sometimes I am at a loss with its massiveness.  Its incredible capacity to cover and hide.  How we all live here amazes me, astounds my being and over and over again Karachi becomes my teacher.  Sometimes a cruel absent one.  Sometimes a loving, kind one.  Sometimes, most graciously, a forgiving one that has blessed me with treasures that millions in this city cannot afford, or dream to afford.

I don’t know how many Ramzan’s I’ve spent in this city.  How many years that the load shedding has started to get worse as the month goes by.  Somehow I missed all those years in between when Ramzan was in the winter, living far away in the snowbanks of Canada.  I arrived again as it journeys with the moon through the summer wind of Karachi.  Memories of my hot, dusty childhood.  Of barely any traffic on Tipu Sultan, and riding in a car with my parents, buying that special can of Vimto, secretly drinking it before the fast opens.

Years later, I’m officially in my 30’s, with growing nephews in the house, a puppy who is what words cannot describe to me, and aging parents.  I’m not a child anymore, yet somehow Ramzan always makes me feel like I’m meeting Karachi for the first time, with that same innocence and wonder.  Or maybe its that my soul gets washed and scrubbed by the process of fasting, with each year the water getting hotter and colder, stripping illusion away to make space for truth to arise.

And I wish, I pray for the peace of each soul that churns and burns in this city of no real description, while the dark, dusty, endless view of its scape dots my horizon.

 

commit.ment April 18, 2012

Filed under: Islam/Sufism,spirituality,Yoga Class,Yoga In Karachi — yogini786 @ 9:26 pm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commitment

its almost the middle of 2012.  its a day before my 30 day mark in my 365 day yoga personal practice challenge I have committed to myself and its been a little more than 2 months since I brought the love of my life, pepper, a mixed breed, oversized, puppy into my life.

I have grown up a lot it seems in 2012.  And its funny, how I thought I could make commitments before, and now how after being scared and fearful of anything that I could attach to: job, city, friends, relationships, activities, I am finally ready to commit.  Not to what we usually think about. Not a relationship with someone I love or someone I want to marry (in my communities those two don’t necessarily correlate).

So then what am I committing to?  I don’t know how to put words to the tangible aspects but psychologically, emotionally, spiritually and economically I am committing to being a full adult.   And as an adult will I need help, love, friendship, support among other must haves like chips, chocolate, laughing, beach days, my laptop, phone etc?  YES, I will plus more!

Committing to being an adult is strange since everyone (including me not so long a go) assumes that age is the way to gauge our adult status.  But I guess i’ve come up with some things that are part of my commit.ment to being an adult.

– I can and will support my self financially because I have the capacity and time and opportunity to do it.

– I can and will be responsible for my well-being and safety and not blame others for when I fall, hurt, and break (physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally).

– I will always live with my truth, sometimes its glaringly uncomfortable, other times overwhelmingly wise.  I accept that I exist in this shifting pendulum of life of which I do not control much, if at all.

– I am always going to feel butterflies in my stomach and have a heart made of soft squishy putty when it comes to emotionally unavailable intelligent artistic men.

– I am never going to be completely serious. or perfect. or anything.  I am just going to be here living it up with gratitude as much as I can.

– I know now that I have a lot to offer.  I believe in the dreams I have for myself and the communities I live in/with (including the biggest jungle of them all, with my adult survivor kit handy: LIFE IN KARACHI!)

– I will sing & dance!

So thank you all, many of you have helped me reach this critical point in my journey.  I have faith and courage.  And I have fear & anxiety.  All are ok.  All are impermanent.  But my life seems less like a dream and more like the perfect gift for a 30 something soul searching yogini.

 

s.p.r.i.n.g March 22, 2012

it’s been a challenge to blog for the last two months. a part of me wants to share and another doesn’t.  and whenever there is a split, its time to notice and wonder, what’s going on?

spring.  the third week of march has been etched into my museum of memories.  3 years a go it was the beginning of a separation, which led to breaking, then moving, and finally coming somewhere where the past did not define everything.  then

and then. life never stops.  its just something one has to accept. accepting the first noble truth – that life is full of suffering – does not make life and living any less worthwhile or beautiful moment to moment.

I’m having a rough time tying sentences together.  my mother has been in treatment.  my family has been experiencing a reality that none of us ever thought was possible.  a future of health, responsible actions, and yes most likely relapse and then recovery.  but at least this new hope. this new feeling of having a mother, who not just looks like an adult but is capable of being one, is letting me grow into being the adult that I am.

the days leading up to spring, a strong intention moved into my heart. 365 days. I want to know what it would be like to do yoga every.day – no days off.  no days off because its not work. its my doorway to singing a new tune and knowing that the song was inside of me all along.

ps – i am still writing, but lots more poetry. welcome to it: yogini786.tumblr.com