Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sustainability Begins Within – How Yoga Changed My World View. By Nizhen Hsieh

My growing up years was spent being disillusioned with the world and life-at-large because of the kind of bad things I witnessed happening to good people in beautiful places. Over time, I overcame the inertia of my disappointment by engaging in small daily acts of kindness and goodwill although there was uncertainty over what the definition of benevolence really entailed. Regardless, at an early age, I knew that however my life panned out, it would staunchly be rooted in meaningful purpose that would go beyond myself, something that would resonate of a beauty pageant participant’s clich├ęd answer “make the world a better place.”

During University, I was clueless as to what the future held. Everyone else seemed to have a vague notion of a career goal – law, medicine, journalism, as I bore the weight of getting a clue pronto. So I flitted from job to job that ran the gamut from writing for magazines, research producing for variety television, and crewing for theatre, to reading the bible for blind Jehovah Witnesses and teaching poetry workshops to medium security prisoners, all in the hope of finding something that would confidently stick, click and fulfill that ‘meaningful purpose’.

After spending 8 months journeying solo in the Middle East where conflict and crisis seemed to be the prevalent subject of many a random dialogue, it inspired the decision to do work that would make an impact i.e. stop bad things from happening, or at the very least, take care of the good people these bad things were happening to. Thus began my fervent search for a suitable non-governmental/non-profitable/charitable/social entrepreneurial job that would check all the utopian boxes. Instead, it

led me to a tumultuous series of (mis)adventures that will remain unforgettable – teaching English in an earthquake-afflicted village in the NWFP of Pakistan, general managing an eco-resort in a Palawan coastal town, overseeing a reforestation initiative in Inner Mongolia, working in a China-based environmental consultancy that collaborated with multi-national businesses and local communities, etc. Each experience while unique and rich with lessons learned all ended with something in common: utter disenchantment. It was hard to swallow that even the best of intentions could result in the most negative of impacts, or else less than savoury agendas came under the guise of a seemingly righteous cause. For these reasons, the term sustainability, which was often bandied about in my line of work, felt nothing more than a feel-good buzzword with very little substance.

Frustrated, I turned to Yoga, initially with the concern of easing the stress, repairing the damage done by a careless lifestyle to my physical body and calming the agitated mind. I had taken Yoga classes before but youthful complacency that my health would be eternal had kept me at bay. What I ended up receiving was not just a slowdown but an elevated awareness that much like the original meaning of sustainability, I lacked the ‘capacity to endure’, both physically and mentally. As my practice grew deeper, it seemed logical to pursue my Yoga Teacher Training. So I headed to Nepal for 2 months with the intent of taking my practice to the next level.  

On a visit to a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery in the middle of my Yoga course, I came across the wise words of the Dalai Lama painted along the side of a wall overlooking Kathmandu Valley: Where ignorance is our master, there is no possibility of real peace. It wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard of before but never had it struck so profoundly as it did then. During this Yoga journey, it took much self-inquiry to shift the focus from my disenchantment towards the failure of the systems I had experienced in my social work to the failure of my own system of being. In other words, how could my psychological imbalance, unhealthy routine, unresolved issues, let alone my sense of entitlement to this pervading frustration render my actions anymore wholesome than the organizations I had worked with? I may have been doing all the right things on the outset but I was certainly mired in a vicious cycle of emotional duality.

What came out of my Yoga Teacher Training in Nepal was the understanding that true sustainability or benevolence begins within the self. If we don’t unlearn our bad habits that arise from the acceptance and understanding of our unsustainable behaviours, we will always be hindered from achieving the kinds of changes we want to create.

As my Yoga teacher and mentor once said when I regaled to him my epiphany that compassion if misguided has the potential to be poisonous, “This awareness you just discovered for yourself is one of the most [essential] qualities (if not the most important) of a Yoga teacher. If you are technically sound but emotionally [out of control], what do you think you will pass on to your students? It is a paradox of our time when too many supposedly great gurus end up in scandals… i.e. any yoga system can be developed from the imbalance of its founder. There is no comfort [in] the yogic path...that’s why we do not teach on a warm beach of a protected resort in Thailand where you can see poverty only from your window.”

Until I can change myself, in how I view and live within the world, while consciously acting on my own inner being i.e. being good to myself by getting rid off bad patterns, whatever difference or impact I’d like to make will not happen, and the karma I accrue will be passed on accordingly. Yoga has given me an internal sustainability that not only allows me to maintain and cultivate a sense of wellbeing, but it also encourages my energy to be extended to my surroundings and community, beyond the window to this world and life-at-large.  

Nizhen Hsieh hails from an eclectic social entrepreneurial experience. Previously employed in the environmental field overseeing an education initiative and projects involving Corporate Social Responsibility as well as NGO capacity building, she came to the realization that true sustainability comes from within our own personal development to inspire change in action. A budding Yoga teacher, she has been a committed practitioner for 10 years, and is affiliated with Yogi-Nomad (, a non-profit organization dedicated to expanding consciousness through Yoga worldwide.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Development of a Yogic Mind, by Kristine Storer

The Development of a Yogic Mind

There have been many transformations within myself since I have started practicing, thinking and feeling this gift that is yoga. Perhaps it started when I was 16 and went to my first yoga class. I remember being so shocked at how great simply breathing in and out felt, the first connection of the body and the breath.  Perhaps it was later on as an adult when I would seek out quiet stillness, even for a few minutes a day to return to centre, to calm the never-ending energy that was spilled out for every little thing. Maybe it was when I committed asana practice to my life and felt myself growing, opening and evolving. Slowly I started seeking out more knowledge than I could obtain on a sticky mat in a studio.

In hindsight I really have no idea what really led me to a Yoga Teacher Training in Nepal? I had no thoughts in mind about what I wanted to learn. I had no idea what yoga was really about besides asana practice. There was no real expectation about becoming a yoga teacher. The only thing I knew was there was a desire to know more. A draw for knowledge that I dove head first into, and what a beautiful dive it was.

It is hard to put words to the many things that I learned (and am still absorbing) from Nepal. Yes my asana practice is stronger and more advanced, yes I spent many hours practicing pranayama and meditation, and yes there were mantras, kirtans, shatkarmas and karma yoga. All of these are wonderful things that I learned and grew from. However, they are not the things that I brought back into my world.  They are just components and tools to a bigger picture. The primary change that I have noticed has been a shift of mindset in the way I see and think about things. There is still vagueness to this, however I feel that it is becoming more focused and understood with each day, act and breath.  I know in my soul that I am moving in the right direction.

The development of a yogic mindset will go into depth about the expansion of awareness, overall acceptance for the way things are and a new attitude for life that is strong, graceful and resilient. The bliss of no expectation will be explored with the search for peaceful satisfaction and contentment in life. The power of positivity is explained showing how it can infiltrate your entire life. Next is the opening of the soul and a radiant shine of oneself that is fearless and powerfully revealed. All growing, evolving and developing into a life long path of happiness.

Slowly, day-by-day I am practicing, living and learning this mindset. I am standing tall, keeping the eyes and heart open and a steady breath of inward flowing life and outward flowing release. There is strong days along with weak ones, positives along with the negatives, joy along with struggle… Everyday presents itself as a new challenge, whether is a blessing or a hindrance. Regardless of the result, with this growth and mindset, there is nothing in this world that I cannot approach, accept and learn from.  It is a beautiful awakening of the self in an ever-changing world.

Awareness, Acceptance and Growth
The first step in the process is simple awareness. The Jnana Yoga inquiry of “Who am I”? Who is this sprit inside this physical space? Is it a comfortable old friend that I know well? Is it a confused stranger that I hold at arm’s length? Or does it simply depend on the day or the circumstance?

Once this relationship with the self (all aspects of the self: the good, bad and everything in between) was established and acknowledged, I started to understand that all my positive and negative attributes are the building blocks of who I am. They are the essence of my being. I need to love and accept all the components of who I am and focus positive energy into them if I want to see a positive change within myself.

This is the egocentric view of awareness, however it can also be applied to the larger picture in the way we view and accept our friends, family, community and lovers. To first be aware of both the positive and negative attributes the relationship holds, then to love and accept them for whom and what they are. Accepting the negatives with as much grace and compassion as the positives. Once acceptance is obtained, one is able to clearly focus on the changes they are seeking and put positive loving energy into them.  I find this to be a healthier approach to growth and change rather than applying guilt ridden and toxic energy into the search for a positive change.

We all have the individual power to choose our approach to life. Whether it is a positive outlook or negative one. We are the only person steering our ship. Awareness of the self and the world around you can lead to acceptance for all things on all levels, which is then transformed into positive action and change. If that is the direction you wish to take it. A new outlook of positivity in the way we exist and evolve.

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own and you know what you know.  And you are the one who’ll decide where to go.” –Dr. Seuss

The Bliss of No Expectation
By increasing awareness and acceptance for things as they are, I have been led to a satisfied peacefulness within myself and within my world. I have primarily noticed a change in the expectations that I hold for myself and the expectations I hold for others. Having always been a stressor and worrier about most things that were generally out of my control, I am finding less energy being spent dreaming, planning and manipulating how I want my future to be. Although it is a slow evolution, there has been a beautiful stillness to all the hopes, frets and never ending energy that I would throw into things. 

I now find that I am floating along throughout my days with more trust as to how things are right now. There is more faith as to where things are going and an overall acceptance for the future outcome (whatever that outcome may be).  So long as I refrain from attaching unneeded thoughts, expectations and desires to future events, there will be no disappointment to the outcome.
Put as simply as possible: To accept all things and outcomes for what they are, you are left with nothing but satisfaction. For all thoughts and feeling there is acceptance and contentment.

The Power of Positivity
From grounded peace to the lightness of no expectation comes a radiant power of positivity, almost in an addictive state.  One positive thought or feeling spills over and manifests itself into a different and new positive thought or feeling. This positivity grows and grows until it is hard to see anything else.

This idea of positivity was once explained to me as a garden. Our life, our world is our own little garden and we are the master gardener. Anything we plant and put energy into will not only grow but flourish wildly beyond our imagination. By planting, sowing and harvesting positivity in our lives, positivity will thrive. Slowly and steadily growing until positivity takes over the whole garden. Even when pesky weeds or thistles sprout up, the positive growth will overcome the negative.

This can also work in the opposite direction. Negative thoughts and feelings that are planted in our garden/life will steadily grow and thrive in accordance to the energy we give them. The longer we allow this negative growth and feed it, the stronger it will become. Eventually the negative growth will overtake the positive that tries to grow, but will continuously get shut down.

Each soul is its own master gardener. We must plant our seeds wisely, love and nourish them every day, with every thought and action in order to watch our radiant positivity grow. Growing and growing until it is hard to imagine anything but the good in all things.

The Awakening of the Soul
The next step in this journey of a new mindset is the awakening of the soul. By finding peaceful acceptance and implementing positivity as part of your life, the soul opens up, radiating from its originated home. This soul now shines forward as your true essence, your true being, a beautiful expression that you might have never shown before.  Dr. David Frawley explains the soul as our deeper identity in life. 
“The soul itself is like a sun, a source of light. Each individual contains such a secret sun in its heart as the soul force behind its being” - Yoga & Ayurveda, David Frawley.

There have been times in my life when my soul has been hidden by false expectations of what I should be, self doubts about what I am and what I am not, embarrassment or rejection of who I am but don’t want to show… The excuses and never-ending layers that I used to cover up myself, to cover my soul weighed heavier and heavier until I was completely bewildered as to whom I was and the soul that I possessed buried and lost.

By using awareness, acceptance and positive growth as building blocks to happiness and self-discovery, the ice that has froze around the soul starts to melt. I safely and slowly let it thaw, drop-by-drop until there is nothing left to protect, nothing left to lose. I am who I am, simple and beautiful. There is nothing left to change, nothing left to manipulate. All that is left to do is simply breath in life and exhale the unnecessary. By letting the inner essence shine through, there is happiness in just being.

The inner light within me was so buried and disguised from myself that I was not even able to recognise its opening at first. It seemed to be more noticeable to others who would make comments like “You always have a smile on your face.” and “Are you always this cheerful?” I started to think… Well, yes I suppose I am! I know that I have not always been this way, but my soul is evolving, opening and shinning. Most days I am blissfully content and happy. And it shows!

So what has changed? Personally, I feel that it is the realisation that negative thoughts, feelings and emotions are not worth my time or energy to stew on. It is a choice that I make. To accept things as they come to me, being thankful and by positively embracing this experience that we call life. I prefer this to being grumpy and focusing solely on the negativity that life holds.

Now don’t get me wrong, life is hard!! There is no doubt or avoidance to that. However, by being honest about the problem, accepting all aspects of the issue, and seeking the positive solution for change, we are able to grow from the experience and develop a silver lining to the negative things in our life. Perhaps we learned a valuable lesson? Perhaps we were humbled? Perhaps it gave us courage and strength we did not know we possessed? Good things can grow from the bad cards we are dealt in life. We just have to be able to see the blessing in disguise.

Challenges push us past our comfort zone and help us grow and develop into the people that we are. I find that the bad things in life are only bad if we let them be. Once again from Dr. Seuss - “You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.” To accept the negative for what it is and grow from it. To find peace and let it shine fourth. This sure beats the alternative of letting negativity define your spirit, your soul, and forever hold you down. Allow your soul to happily move forward confidently and fearless

The Path of Happiness
The problem that I feel most people have with happiness (including myself at times) is seeing it as a goal that we look towards, far from our reach. We make excuses to explain our unhappiness such as: I could be happy if I had more money, if I liked my job, if this would or wouldn’t have happened, if I was or wasn’t this way… This frame of mind is not only endless, but counter productive. The thought and feeling that happiness is out of our reach (for whatever reason), leaves us feeling sad, yearning and unsatisfied with the life we have right now. This negativity then weighs on our thoughts, spirit and actions, reversing the direction of happiness. 

Everyday is a journey that takes honesty, courage and focus to confidently move forward in the direction you wish. Some days we progress in leaps and bounds, other days we may take one step forward and two steps back. In my opinion happiness is not an end point that we arrive at, it is a direction that one moves toward continuously. Happiness is a beautiful journey that should be enjoyed with each step, each turn, each fumble and fall. Happiness is a daily practice within our thoughts, relations and actions. It is beautiful path with no end in sight. 

The Arrival of a New Mindset 
To love and accept peace within the self… To focus on what the heart and soul needs to open and evolve… To move energy and positivity in the direction of my destiny, my svadharma… The journey of yoga begins. I realize that this shift in awareness, acceptance, positivity, happiness and the awakening of the soul has led me to the beginning of my journey in yoga. It was not traveling to the other side of the world. It was not the impressive asana practices or a recognized certification. It was simply a change of mind. A new thought and attitude of what this life is, what I want it to be and how to move towards it.

Breath-by-breath my life fills with positivity, light and joy. My spirit has met a quiet peace within itself. I am no longer afraid of the spirit within my space. I am traveling happily on my path and looking forward to the journey.

With love in my heart and peace in my mind - Namaste- 

Kristine Storer is from Ketchum, Idaho, USA. After 10 years of yoga practice, she completed her Yoga Teacher Training and Thai massage Certification with Yogi-nomad in Nepal. She is also a full time server/bartender, teaches snowboard in winter and garden in summer, loves rafting and outdoor sport in general. Kristine's Love, Energy and Kindness are highly contagious!
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