University of Nottingham Malaysia
Centre for English Language and Foundation Education

Article #11: Yoga

I remember coming back from my first yoga class in a gym with aches and pains all over, but the therapeutic effect it had on my mind was so astounding that I kept going back. Whenever I’m in practice, there is only me and my practice and nothing else. All other worries, somehow, amazingly, are blocked out. Over time, my stiff-as-a-piece-of-wood body became more and more nimble, and I could breathe better too. Just like that, yoga has been my constant companion and sanctuary for the last 14 years. 

Some of the things I’ve learnt, and am still learning, from yoga:

1. What was seemingly impossible became possible

I recall a conversation with a trainer in my earlier days in the gym. We were both staring at a poster showing an out-of-this-world yoga pose which we thought would never be feasible to older practitioners. Much to my surprise, after years of practice, I was able to get into the pose. It was a confidence booster and taught me that it may not be when we start but how long we persist that matters; that in the world of Yoga, at least, many things are possible.

 2. …. only to be impossible again
Over the years, certain poses that were once accessible to me became inaccessible. Maybe it’s because age is catching up, maybe it’s the state-of-mind, maybe it’s a bit of both. But it reminds us that like all things in life, there is no constancy. I guess we learn to accept ‘what is’ and not dwell too long on the ‘good old times’. 

3. Ego…how much is too much
Some amounts of it, I think, is healthy as it propels us to keep improving, but when there is too much of it, something has got to give.  In yoga, that something is likely going to be our body. I learnt this in one yoga class when I cared more about my ego than my body. The body was, understandably, unhappy and left me with a permanent existential imprint of what is more important. Since then, I’ve been more mindful in listening to my body instead of over-feeding the ego.

4. Of fear and judgement
Fear, like ego, is a double-edged-sword. It keeps us safe from unnecessary risks, but too much of it leads us nowhere. A common fear in yoga is the fear of falling, which makes bodily inversions an absolute nightmare for some practitioners and hinders the possibility of progress. In a world where we often judge, and are judged, based on outcomes rather than effort, such fears may be met with irritation and impatience. Hence, on the rare occasions when we do meet teachers, friends or any individuals who show compassion and patience, we hold them close to our heart, even when they are no longer with us. Their gentle encouragement may lead us to point (1).

The real challenge, as one yoga teacher puts it, is to break down the walls of the yoga room such that the positive experience and lessons acquired, such as blocking out the noise in life and staying focused, keeping the ego in check, acceptance and non-judgment etc., can transcend beyond the classroom. I’m nowhere near this state, but we all have to start somewhere and, well, there is always point (1).

Contributed by
Ng Pek Kim 

Centre for English Language and Foundation Education

University of Nottingham Malaysia
Jalan Broga, 43500 Semenyih
Selangor Darul Ehsan

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