(a.k.a. how yoga screwed my head back on my body and got my leg behind my head)
By Yang Lishan, TBL Facilitator
Before I came to work full-time at LKCMedicine, I was a part-time yoga teacher for six years. I only started practising yoga when I hit my 30s and felt like a disembodied head. I hated exercise. I’d always been naturally thin, able to gorge on massive amounts of food without gaining weight, so I never had cause to exercise. Or so I thought. However, long years of working in academia meant that I was constantly dwelling in the realm of the intellect, but utterly lacking in physical strength and dexterity, hence the feeling of being in my head all the time but not in my body.
On the mat, I finally found that mind-body connection, corny as this sounds. I felt present in my own body again. I’ve been asked, why yoga of all activities? I don’t know – it just happened to be the only physical activity that I’d actually wanted to get back into after I was done each time. Again and again. Indeed, yoga in that initial year was an addiction – I rushed through my academic teaching and writing jobs just to make it to at least two yoga classes every evening. By the end of the first year, I had signed up to attend an intensive four-week yoga teacher training course in Ko Samui, and right after completing the training, I scored my first yoga teacher job at a yoga studio.
In time, and with maturity, my practice progressed to one that prioritised quality over quantity. Relentlessly attending three classes in a row had taken its toll – pushing through tiredness meant I was not always mindful to ground and stabilise in the poses, which, exacerbated by scoliosis (an abnormally curved spine), double-jointedness and a previous injury, led to lower back pain and two months of downtime from my beloved practice. I learnt that as much as in education we expound that both learners and teachers need to be reflective in their practice, the same held true in yoga (or any other physical activity, for that matter).
While the downtime was tough for the compulsive practitioner that I was, it also gave me time to reflect on why I had to practise three times a day – was it for my ego? To get more toned? To be physically stronger? To scratch that addictive itch? In this time of reflection (and some amount of initial restlessness and grief), I scaled down my practice to restorative poses and meditation. It was a humbling experience that taught me patience, and to be grateful for whatever capacities I have. Most importantly, I learnt to let go of attachments that do not serve me positively, developing a more balanced view towards my practice and what it means to me.
Aside from physical changes – a more toned physique and much reduced tendency to succumb to the flu – I also noticed I was less irritable, friendlier to strangers, waaaay less road-ragey, and overall, simply a happier person. Being able to still breathe normally and stay calm while physically holding challenging yoga poses has bestowed upon me a gift that extends far beyond the mat (because, if you can be calm and still smile serenely when balancing on one foot while holding on the other foot of the leg that you’ve wedged behind your head, you pretty much can be calm through any circumstances).
Yoga continually teaches me that tough moments are fleeting. It has imbued me with the grounding, not just in my practice but also everywhere else in life, to stay centred through difficult moments, and to be grateful for what I have and what I can do.
Editor’s note: In between her work commitments at LKCMedicine, Lishan freely shares her tips for better posture and mindfulness with interested colleagues at the School who want to avoid the physical and mental toll of prolonged desk work.