If anything, yoga is a contradiction of terms and ideas that confounds definition. Its practice is as exacting in alignment as it is expansive in expression. To all purposes and intents, this blog celebrates my understanding of yoga, a journey I started about two years ago at Hom Yoga Singapore. It is first and foremost, a tribute to Hom Yoga for having changed my life, for introducing yoga as a way of life, on and off the mat. More instrumentally, if yoga is seen as a practice, my inner transformation is predicated on the wonderful practitioners and instructors at Hom Yoga. And in case you are wondering, I am not being paid to do this blog; rather, it is a timely homage to the life lessons that Hom Yoga has inscribed in me, about what it means to practise yoga, and what yoga really means to me. By way of illustrating the paradoxes that constitute yoga, I will offer my meditations on this beautiful practice.
As a first example of why yoga, to me, is all about paradoxes, the manner in which I stumbled across Hom Yoga at Orchard Central bears mention. In 2015, I made an appointment to have lunch with a friend and I parked my car on the 6th floor. For those who drive, the circuitous slope up Orchard Central is a nightmare, for me at least. Already late and lost after many turns, I finally found an exit door, only to find the words “HOM YOGA” on my left. I asked for directions from a girl behind a “zen-like” white counter, and she very politely gave me directions to the main lifts. Call it serendipity or providence, my poor sense of directions paradoxically pointed me to a life I would have never imagined.
Second, I realized that all movements, or asanas (poses), the twists, the turns, inversions, balances, flexing and folds, are interestingly and ironically, meant to lead us into a unitary point of stillness. Specifically, stillness of the mind and the body, with the breath, into a state we call savasana (Corpse pose). Further, just because someone can get into Crow pose (Bakasana) does not mean that he/she is doing yoga, because if one can sit still and breathe mindfully, that is yoga. And if I were to be pressed into giving a definitive meaning to the term yoga, I would say yoga is all about the breath – that is, a breath-centric practice.
The expansiveness that is yoga, and where asanas (poses) are concerned, really, is an exteriorization of the multiplicity of selves that reside in each of us. There isn’t a singular, monolithic and exacting self, and what yoga does, in each and every pose, is to mirror the multitudinous aspects of ourselves that we may have forgotten, choose to ignore, or even worse, privilege some of these aspects as a calcified definition of ourselves. Even in its insistence on precise alignments, yoga brings to bear the rich palette of our inner landscape.
Again, as an example of the paradoxical practice of yoga is the all-too-familiar narrative beginners (or even “advanced” practitioners) experience – the hurry to achieve a certain pose. In my nascent journey, the more anxious I am to do a certain pose, the less I am able to get into that pose. In surrendering, I “reach”; in letting go, I “arrive”; and in going “inwards”, I find a more expansive understanding of myself outwardly. Or in the poetic prose that is distinctly Osho, “Yoga says that the more you are impatient, the more time will be needed for your transformation. The more you are in a hurry, the more you will be delayed”.
This is the beautiful paradox of yoga, because it illuminates the space, the indeterminacy and resistance of ambivalence. To understand yoga as simply a matter of achieving a pose does not only dilute the dignity of the practice, but also precludes the other limbs of yoga. As a final example of the paradoxical beauty that is inherent in yoga, I realize that it is in the stillness that we begin to notice movements inside, subtle shifts in thoughts, emotions and the limitations of the mind; it is in the doing of yoga that we begin to undo habits and ideas so ingrained in us that coalesce into what we call our identity (or in my case, my proverbial tight hips and rounded back).
Yoga is universal, but it is also intensely personal. It is a great leveler, with no limitations to gender, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, religion or any other identity-making practices. But, just as Yoga is universal, it also universalizes the particular; it is a celebration of a communal spirit as much as it amplifies the uniqueness that is in each of us.
By Noel Koh