Sunday, October 25, 2009

Coming to Terms with Gravity

Gravity is a force of nature that is absolutely unavoidable. It acts on us all in some way or another, whether we notice it in the way of an apple dropping onto our heads, physical exhaustion, or the bits and pieces of human anatomy that tend to head further south the longer gravity has been working on them. For me, it is most apparent in my nearly daily stumbles and tumbles as I make my way from one place to another, and the plethora of scars that I bear as a record of all these mishaps. As a person who has spent essentially my entire life in some sort of physical training, this seems a little bizarre. I began taking dance and gymnastics lessons from the tender age of 3, and transitioned directly from my life as a dancer to that of a yoga student, so what went wrong along the way? Why can't I seem to put one foot in front of the other without losing bits of my skin and acquiring bumps and bruises? Some of my most natural and effortless moments of physical prowess have come to me while I am championing an extraordinarily difficult yoga posture, or flying through the air in the grand allegro portion of a ballet class (take THAT gravity!), yet something as simple as walking up a flight of stairs will more often than not, lead to catastrophe. I have earned the highly apt nickname "Smashley" for these frequent and less than elegant mishaps, and I lived up to it entirely earlier this week.
Walking from EF to the busy Depok terminal to catch an Angkot home from work is usually a fairly safe and uneventful venture, however, this past Thursday it had been raining heavily and this set the scene for a rather dramatic episode of gravity vs. Ashley. I was wearing my comfiest sandals that I have been wearing almost non-stop for the last two years, and needless to say, they are lacking in traction at this point in their lives. I was shuffling along the slick sidewalk in front of ITC, a busy mall, and realizing the precarious nature of my journey, was taking great care with each small step. Before I knew it, something had gone terribly wrong, and I was flying horizontally through the air, umbrella in hand, like a cross between Superman and Mary Poppins. I landed gracelessly in a heap on the sidewalk, noticing that at some point during this highly embarrassing event, my headband had gone flying from my head to land in an unknown location. I scrambled to my feet amid gasps from onlookers, grateful that I was wearing pants and not a skirt, and shuffled away trying to calculate the injury to my aching body. I miraculously landed on a packet of cookies that were in my purse, and having completely obliterated them into a packet of cookie dust, I managed to save my hip from what could have been serious damage. Unfortunately I did come away from this event with scrapes and bruises and aching muscles, and a vivid sense of mortification. One big point for gravity in the ongoing battle I suppose, but really in the grand scheme of things, this could have been much much worse, and I will be sure to get even in a moment of sublime weightlessness while practicing yoga or on my next surf adventure. Now I suppose the only thing to do is to dust off my wounded ego, buy some new sandals, and hope for this force of nature to present itself to me in gentler manifestations... :P

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Thanks, Merci, Terima Kasih or Arigato... it is all the same in the end.

Thanksgiving is really a lovely time of year; I think it is the one holiday that hasn't been ridiculously commercialized with greeting cards and shopping extravaganzas (only speaking for Canada here) and turned into some politically correct event that people end up tippy-toeing around. If you have heard about people switching from saying "Merry Christmas" to the non-denominational "happy holidays" or "season's greetings" you know what I mean. When I was growing up, this holiday was a weekend to enjoy delicious food from my mom and dad's farm, and spend time hanging out with usually at least one grandparent, maybe a neighbor, or the boyfriend of the minute, or whoever happened to stop by the house for the feast. I loved helping my mom bake dozens of pies, enjoying the fragrant bliss wafting out of the oven, and later meticulously scooping the filling out of my slice (who am I kidding... SLICES) and handing the crust over to my dad. The last few years that I haven't been home to celebrate with my family I have been lovingly "adopted" for the day, and there is plenty of reason to express thanks for that as well. So far, 2009 has been nothing short of absolutely incredible, and I feel like it is only appropriate to show a little reverence for all the good that has come to me.
These are just a few of the things I am grateful for...
~My family because I think they think I am a little crazy, and they worry about me an awful lot, but they love and support me anyways. I LOVE YOU
~My study of yoga, because it has granted me a lot of peace, and taken away a lot of physical pain leftover from the years of trying to force my body to comply with the ballet aesthetic.
~My past experiences, good and bad, because they give me something to relate my present life to.
~My health: this has been the healthiest year of my life (knock on wood), even while spending most of it in developing countries, and questioning what might be taking up residence in my intestines.
~Studying at KPJAYI in India, learning about surrender and devotion and getting a glimpse of what it means to be patient, as well as crossing paths with some of the loveliest people in the world
~The opportunity to live in Indonesia and have so many adventures, and while I am here, a job that is really useful to others.
~The kindness of strangers.
~The generosity of the universe. One of the friends that I made in India talked ceaselessly about the power of the universe, and ever since I have been throwing my dreams out into the world, they have been coming back to me in the best possible manifestations. It's a pretty big deal!
~My friends who became family. Being away from my family so much of the time has allowed for a few special people in my life to take on these roles with reckless abandon. I LOVE YOU

"I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder." ~G.K. Chesterton

"Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light." ~Albert Schweitzer

Friday, October 9, 2009

Setting free the butterflies

Last Friday I taught a yoga class for the staff at EF. All day, I felt a sense of nervous anticipation and was vaguely aware of little butterflies persistently flapping around my tummy. I felt like an impostor waiting to be revealed, and that at any moment, lightening bolts might come out of the sky and I would be smited for the audacity of trying to teach others at this tender stage of my practice. The lightening bolts never struck, but there was a pretty spectacular rainstorm, and I slunk into the office with my yoga mat while the other teachers were still in class and took a few moments to try and boost my confidence. A friend that I met in Mysore, India called me a yoga baby, seeing as how I have only been walking this path for a little over a year; it is meant to be a lifelong practice, something that a person might do into a ripe old age, so the comparison is not so far off. What business does a baby have trying to teach anyone anything? I set my reservations aside, seeing how excited the ladies at the office all were, and decided that even though my knowledge is limited, I can share the bit I know, as I have been taught, and hope to pass on a little bit of the positivity and vitality yoga has brought to me. We got set up and I was surprised as one of the ladies changed her clothes and slipped off her head covering to reveal her hair, something that many Muslims will only do amongst their families. It was a group of all women, so there is no taboo there, but it brought a certain level of intimacy to the class. We started talking about breathing and bandhas, basic elements of any yoga practice, and moved on to some slow surya namaskara (sun salutations). There were titters and giggles as I demonstrated the vinyasas and I think I may have heard something like "she looks like a lion!" There was a surge of confidence inside me as I watched these ladies, never exposed to any yoga before, work their way through these first movements, and settle into the structure of an Ashtanga yoga class. Some of the students were struggling, as is expected, and some were managing the asana with remarkable ease, and I reminded them that yoga is not something to be achieved in a single practice, that it is meant to be practiced "slowly, slowly, and all is coming." (Guruji, Pattabhi Jois) When everyone collapsed gratefully into savasana, the final resting posture, I felt as though I had conveyed something of this yoga to my small group of students, and was pleased to share my experience (limited though it may be) with them. It is very special to watch people learn, and it has inspired me all week in my personal practice. Class is being held again tonight, and it looks as though it will be a weekly event, so I suppose I should set the butterflies in my tummy free into the world, and just go with it.... if the universe is pointing me in this direction, then this is the path I will follow.