Why I do yoga

I’ve been practicing yoga on and off for about 5 years. And by “on and off,” I mean, the one time you went randomly, felt instantly rejuvenated, and you vowed to go more often. Then it doesn’t happen for another few months because, as you know, life happens and has a tendency to hijack your intentions. Anyways, since Bali (2 months ago), I truly fell in love with it, this form of exercise, this lifestyle, and its community. I’ve been practicing consistently since then. As a writing warm-up for my Chapter 2 literature review (yes, I am actually producing pages. yay me.), I want to reflect on reasons why I practice yoga. First, I purposely chose the word “practice.” According to Merriam-Webster:

1prac·tice

 verb \ˈprak-təs\

: to do something again and again in order to become better at it

: to do (something) regularly or constantly as an ordinary part of your life

: to live according to the customs and teachings of (a religion)

 

The first part is straight-forward. You do yoga, you get better at the asanas (poses). As a generally goal-oriented person who is also impatient and likes to see instant (relatively speaking) results, yoga provides me that venue where I can enjoy the pretty linear process of inputting efforts and ensuing outputs. I get more flexible for the back bending, and stronger for the inversions, with consistent practice over time. To bring that into the larger context of dissertation writing, it becomes especially important. Yoga gives me the little “wins” along the long journey of doctoral pursuit. Secondly, I enjoy the subtle precisions in yoga. Relating back to the first point, it’s the nuance you start to notice through maturation. For example, through practice, I master the precision in carrying out a “simple” downward facing dog: fingers spread wide, shoulders blades tucked in, arms along with ears, legs straight…It feels good to know the difference. Sometimes in life, that’s where the line lies to distinguish an in-group from an out-group. The latter two definitions bring up the bigger picture. Growing up mostly as an atheist, I feel yoga has provided me a sense of guidance and taken up a void that is usually filled with more conventional religions for other people. I practice yoga so I can adopt this way of life, physically and spiritually, and be part of its larger community. I came across this blog called Weekly Sutras, and found a quote that particularly left an impression on me.

The aim of yoga is to cultivate more self-awareness so that we can make the appropriate changes in our lives to reduce suffering and increase inner peace. – Sutra 1.2 & 1.3

Since I started consistently practicing yoga, I noticed I’ve become a lot more aware. First, it was the physiological symptoms. I started to pay attention to my breathing (I used to hold my breath when feeling stressed or anxious, which obviously only makes it worse), my posture (I now walk and sit taller, which provides a positive feedback to my breathing). Then the experience got deeper: I’ve become more introspective, and I learned to take a step back to examine my thoughts and my emotions. Overall, I feel yoga has become a very positively complementary experience to dissertation writing. I sit better at my desk so I dont end up with a sore back and neck after every session. (Actually, I started using a standing desk at home. But I will save that for the next post.) I try to breathe through my writer’s anxiety, and the mental clarity helps me just think about the concepts at hand. Ok, I am sufficiently warmed up now. Off to chapter 2 I go.

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Writer’s Anxiety

If you were my friend, I’ve definitely talked to you about my anxiety problems at some point. The conversation usually ended with “I really have no idea why (I feel this anxious about writing).” Then finally, I came across a post on Gradhacker, written by Jenae Cohn, a PhD student in English. It felt as if the light switch finally went on. Someone finally helped me translate my anxiety into words:

“As graduate students, writing is the way that we prove our mettle to our advisers, peers, and even people beyond the academy. We’ve got to write to show that we’re strong thinkers and that large, looming reality is what drives many of us not to write, to throw on our MITs and shield ourselves from the very thing we absolutely need to do above much else.”

Simply put (at least per my interpretation), shit is getting real. This is real work now, and no longer an assignment to be graded like when you were a masters student (Ugh, those kids…) This is your academic debutante into the larger community as scholar (that word itself scares me, by the way). It debuts what you are interested in, what you should be known as, and more importantly, what you are capable of, at least academically. I am pretty sure I am 50% being melodramatic. I’ve been told, and warned against, by my wise mentors many times before that I need to remember a dissertation is not a life’s work. It is not larger than life (though it suddenly feels that way when you are in the midst of hyperventilating in front of the macbook screen), and there is certainly life (a way more interesting one) after you finish writing that god damn thing. So, just finish writing the god damn thing.

So, this is the mental progress I’ve made thus far: I am starting to understand where my anxiety is coming from and I am slowly learning how to redirect it.

In addition to changing my perception of the dissertation’s importance, I also find the tips suggested by Cohn quite helpful. For example, this short little blah blah blah post is my writing warm-up before I go into the actual writing.

And here I go – my Scivener window opens up.

Something changed.

Something happened in Bali. A moment, an epiphany, a transformation…Something. I feel different, leaning toward better if I must evaluate it. When I was first on the 4-hour plane ride from Singapore, I had a recurring thought: I kept comparing this trip to my time in Antarctica. The parallels being I left for Antarctica to heal my heart and now I journeyed to Bali to heal my mind. In 2009, I ended a serious relationship and graduated with my masters, my life was broken and I wasn’t quite ready to see the open opportunities those two events would bring. I brought my copy of “Eat Pray Love” (Yes, I was one of them…) and boarded the ship that would take me to the end of earth for two weeks. I was hoping the cold air would clear my mind and heal me. And now, five years later, I’ve hit a wall in my life, a mental wall. I was too distracted, too burnt out, too unfocused, too scattered. I think subconsciously I registered that another change was bound to happen again because honestly, I couldnt carry on that way much longer, with my head spinning all over place. So, I brought my copy of “Focused,” and flew myself to Bali. The first thing I did after landing was to purchase an unlimited yoga pass at Yoga Barn. I needed that mental and spiritual retreat.

A week into Bali, the inner whispering inside my head since last year telling me to change my dissertation topic got louder – now too loud to ignore. So I listened, and I followed. I changed my dissertation topic (*Cue audience gasping*). It was hard…felt like a loss of some kind, beyond the obvious loss of time and mental energy that I’ve already dedicated to my previous topic. But at some point, you just gotta know it’s time.

Let it go.

First post

It is (already) March, yet it feels like only the beginning of the year since I’ve been travelling and living out of my backpack since Christmas. So, I will treat it as so – a new year, with my usual hopes and dreams for this year to come. I set my intents for this year: get some writing done (seriously this time), simplify and detox my life, physically and mentally. On that note, I decided to start this blog to journal the process.