Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Instant Coffee for an Instant World

 My sister sent me a link to last week’s sermon by a Catholic priest.  It was entitled “Coffee, Karate and Christmas”.  The sermon was about how Starbucks is now selling Instant Coffee - so you can drink it as soon as you want it.  He contrasted that with the movie Karate Kid where the character played by Ralph Macchio (I only watched the original) was made to do mundane chores instead of practicing Karate.  It turned out that these chores laid the foundation for the karate moves that he was going to learn.  Plus, the Master was trying to teach him that Karate is more than just fighting.  It’s about discipline, perserverance, mercy and self-control.  There is no such thing as instant Karate.

The priest used this analogy to introduce the season of Advent (the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas Day) and how Christmas was more Karate, versus Coffee.   For Christians, it is more than the lights, present, trees covered in tinsel and the sounds of carols which have sprung up overnight – the message of Christmas goes deeper than that.

Reading his sermon got me thinking about how many people today are taking the Coffee versus Karate route towards Yoga.  In our modern world where we get instant information via the internet and instant messages via SMS, we forget that the path of Yoga (like learning Karate) takes time, discipline and dedication.

The physical asanas are not easy.  It takes time to open up tight areas in our bodies, building up flexibility, stamina and strength.  Many also overlook the less visible aspects - developing the Breath (which is the key to a Calm, Focused Mind) and Yoga Philosophy which also teaches one how to behave towards oneself and others.  There are people who can do the physical practice easily but are they true Yoga practitioners if their thoughts are fractured or they treat others with dis-respect?  Does being a good practitioner necessarily mean that you will make a good teacher?

Yoga students used to devote themselves to their practice and One Teacher their entire life.  They used to remain students for a long-time before becoming teachers themselves. Today, Yoga is becoming more mainstream, but alas, also more commercial.  Many fusion forms of Yoga are appearing and Teacher Training Courses are becoming very common.  Sometimes I think that we all want to run before we can even walk.

It is hard to deny that with today’s technology, we live in a world where we can easily get instant gratification.  This is not necessarily bad but we have to remember that some things require time and the journey plus the lessons learnt traversing it is often more important than the destination.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

What Rafa and I have in common

I always talk about Roger Federer but this week I read the news that Rafael Nadal is back training on the courts, after a long layoff due to injury

 That got me thinking about certain similarities that Rafa and I share ;o)
  • Nadal is one of the most dedicated, hard-working athletes on the tennis tour.  Tennis plays a huge part in his life.  Yoga has the same role in mine.  I practice 6 days a week on average, and have been doing so since 2004.  It requires a lot of discipline and sacrifice.
  • Rafael has had problems with his knee for the past few years, but has continued to play competitively.  I have been having shoulder problems, but have never had to disrupt my 6-days-a-week practice.
  • This year however, Rafa had to stop playing completely after a partial tear in his patella tendon.  I had to stop practice too, after an incident in Sydney.
  • Rafa probably did a lot of physiotherapy and rehabilitation exercises to strengthen the proper muscles.  I went to see a physiotherapist for the first time and am doing exercises on a daily basis.
  • Rafa is back on the courts and hopes to compete in the Australian Open.  He wrote on his Facebook page, "My first tennis practice after all these weeks.  Getting better and hope to continue with the positive trend."  My sentiments exactly!!  I am back in Mysore and (touchwood) am slowly starting to build up my practice.  My hope is that I will be able to do a proper backbend again.
  • Oh, one last point - Rafa could not play in Wimbledon, the Olympics and the US Open this year.  Neither could I.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The relationship between Food and a Country’s GDP

I travelled through parts of Australia, USA, UK, Italy and Copenhagen this year.   A good friend also had a travelling year, moving through China, Mongolia, Russia, Poland and Turkey.  She backpacked whilst I stayed mainly with family and friends.  We met up in Mysore and one of her first question was. “What was your best Food experience?” 

Her question took me off guard because she’s not even Asian (she’s a blonde Australian).  Then I remembered that she thinks and talks about food like a true Singaporean.  I was slightly ashamed because I couldn’t answer her.  Aside from excellent home-cooked food, I had nothing else from 6 months of travel that I would rave about.  She on the other hand, had many food stories to share.

I have now been in Mysore for almost a month … and I have more food here, that I happily re-taste in my head, versus anywhere else this year.  What could be the reason for that?

After much deliberation, over a few dosas and chai, my conclusion is that Food experiences are inversely proportional to a country’s GDP.  By this I mean that the more developed a country is, the less of a thrill you get from the food there.

Let me establish my baseline though.  I am not a fan of gourmet food or fine dining experiences.  I love street food and places which locals frequent ie ‘’secret’’ places that not listed in the Lonely Planet because locals don’t want them to be over-run by tourists.  Yes, I am cheap!

There is great hawker food in Singapore but it cannot compare to certain dishes I have had in Malaysia.  My friend used to plan our driving trips up to KL based on the number of food places we would hit.  It made her very upset that there were not enough meals a day to eat all the food that we wanted.  This was based on eating 5 meals a day and the fact that we were not trying any new places.  Does the level of hygiene make a difference? Possibly.  Many people have bemoaned the drop in the taste of food in Singapore when the health authority became stricter on cleanliness ratings and hawkers had to switch from charcoal fire to gas/electric burners etc.

My favourite place this trip to Mysore has been a little dark Hotel (ie restaurant) – called Country Hotel Cuisine.  I order the same thing every time I go - Ragi Dosa, which is made from a Millet (versus Rice) and Lentil mix.  This dosa is heartier, with more texture.  It is served with a very tasty Sagu (vegetable stew) and coconut chutney.  My research has taught me that the earlier you go, the lighter and fluffier the dosa is.  I’m not exactly sure why.  Perhaps it’s because more oil accumulates as more dosas are cooked on the huge dosa pan?

I have also realised that I haven’t written in a while because nothing has inspired me so far.  A good meal is always an inspiration though … which is why I have been for Ragi dosa 5 times since I arrived in Mysore :o) YUMMY!!!

Here is a picture of this morning’s Ragi Dosa.  I apologise for how unappetising it looks .. I forgot that I wanted to take a photo in my eagerness to eat it .. so you’ll have to settle for a photo of an assembled half-eaten one.

PS.  I have also completed my 7th Christmas stocking, in record time.  Finally I have learnt that picking an easier pattern makes all the difference


Saturday, September 29, 2012


I arrived back in Singapore on the 4th of September, after being away for almost 6 months.  It’s been hot, humid and hectic but I have had some time to reflect and here are the 2 things that are foremost in my mind:

1) Home is where the heart is

Someone asked me the other day if I felt homesick during my time away.  My response was immediate – No, although the week before my return, I posted a photo of Popiah and Teh Halia (which I'd been craving) onto Facebook, hinting quite openly that I would love to have that  welcome me at Changi Airport.

I never missed home because in all my time away, I was with close friends and family.  I did miss my sister and family a lot but I was always in touch with her (thanks to Whatsapp, Viber and Samsung Galaxy S2s).

But the main reason for never feeling away from home was that I spent a huge chunk of time with my brother and his family in London.  My brother left home for University when I was 15.  He returned for National Service when I went away to study.  We managed to overlap in London for my final year.  It was great being able to run upstairs to his apartment and lie on his bed, while he made me a cup of tea.  As a bonus, he was great at Corporate Finance and the only person with the patience to try and explain the CAPM model to me, despite my shouting at him that it didn’t make any sense!

Spending 10 weeks in London gave me the precious opportunity of renewing my relationship with my brother and deepening the one with my sister-in-law and my nieces (especially the 5 year-old).  The unmeasurable element was just living together, each of us doing our own little thing and coming together at certain times of the day.  What the element of Time gifted to me in those 10 weeks cannot be bought or created in our current day where we seek instant gratification.

Society may have advanced our lives but I feel that we have also lost the beauty of doing nothing.  Sometimes it's only when you're quiet that you will hear God, who is within us.

2) You only value what you have when you lose it

My yoga practice this year has taught me more than the whole of the previous 11 put together.  That is ironic because at first glance, I hardly did much at all.  With the shoulder injury sustained early on in my trip, I went from doing a full, strong physical practice to a tiny baby practice.  I was first overcome with worries of whether I’d need surgery and then, doubts and questions about the long-term sustainability of the Ashtanga practice itself.  My ego and spirit were crushed.   

Ashtanga yoga tends to attract the more determined, driven, disciplined personality types.  In my case, over time, the yoga has tempered those traits in me. However, I never realised that I was still so attached to the practice that I could not take a day off if it wasn’t an ‘’official’’ rest day.  The injury was serious enough that I had to rest for a full week on 2 occasions and the 1st few days drove me crazy.  As my trip progressed and I still could not practice much, I realised that I had to really let it go and accept that I may not ever regain my pre-injury practice.  Once that happened, then I began to treasure whatever little I was doing and enjoying it. After over 10 years of practice, I had to re-learn the practice all over again, from ground zero.  It was truly back to basics.
On my last leg, when I was assisting my friends who own an Ashtanga studio in Copenhagen, I realised the difference when I did not feel envious watching advanced practitioners.  Instead, the feeling that welled up inside me was gratitude that I still had a practice which I enjoyed every day.

Looking ahead

My original plan was to end my Life is Short 2012 tour with a 3 month trip to Mysore.  When I sustained the injury, I wasn’t sure if that was still a good idea.  The energy in the Shala is great to fuel your practice, but what would that mean with an injury?  When I asked myself why I go to Mysore, I realised that it was to practice with my teacher and that I loved being in the Shala with Sharath.  With that epiphany, I booked my ticket.  So, with my 7th Mysore trip due to begin, in a way it’ll be like my first … going with a beginner practice, but with an open mind and with an open heart.

In a Yoga practice, the visible outward element of the Body tends to overshadow the deeper practice of the Mind.  My experience this past year has enriched me in ways I do not have the eloquence to put into words.  But it has definitely given me more of an understanding of what the practice is truly about. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Why watching Sports is like doing Yoga

On one of my previous trips to Mysore, I attended a Yoga Philosophy class and the conclusion I drew from it was that Roger Federer is a Yogi.

A key fundamental about Yoga is the ability to focus and be completely present in the moment.  This point was re-emphasised this year when I lived and breathed Wimbledon and Olympics air for a about a month.

Usually I watch my tennis on television but this year, I was blessed with a Wimbledon Centre Court ticket for Men’s Semi-finals day.  First up was Roger Federer (also referred to by my family as “My Hero”) versus some guy called Novak Djokovic.  People closest to me know that I cannot watch any live Federer telecast.  I may start sitting down, but at times of stress, I will inevitably fidget, stand up, pace and eventually hide in another room.  My friends have given up coming over to watch with me because they inevitably end up watching it alone.  They say, “I might as well stay home”.

Watching in person, on the other hand, is a completely different story.  I am very calm, quiet and remain glued to my seat.  When I watched Federer play at the Australian Open, I thought it was because I was alone.  So of course I had to behave and not show strangers how idiotic I am, right?  This year, I went Wimbledon  with a friend but I was just as calm (ok … maybe I pulled his shirt at a key moment … but just not more than twice!).  I then realised that watching live tennis is different in the following ways:

1) Live tennis is way faster than watching it on tv.
Television does the skill of the players no justice.  You don’t appreciate how hard they hit, how fast their reactions are and how they do all that so consistently until you see the top players live.
2) There are no replays.
Once the point is played, there is no way of watching it again.  So, if you snooze, you lose.

3) You only see one angle.
On tv where they have cameras all over the court so they zoom in close to the players in between points or pan away to different sides of the court.

4) There is no commentary.
Commentators are invariably biased and their ‘’professional opinion’’ just hypes things up for the viewer.

All this led me to the conclusion that when you watch tennis live, it’s like doing yoga.  You only focus on one thing … watching the ball.  And once the point is over, you just move on to the next point.  There is no time to dwell on past points or to think about the next point.  If you do, you will miss the current action.

London Olympics:
This point was re-emphasised during the Olympics.  I was fortunate to watch a few events live, catching the remainder on tv or online.  The BBC coverage was Awesome! 2-4 events on tv and up to 24 live streams of coverage online.  This means I could toggle between different events simultaneously.  In comparison, people were in Singapore had to watch whatever was given to them (especially if it was our tabletennis team of foreign talent ;o)).  In the US, ''lagi'' (Malay for ''even'') worse - they couldn't even watch the Men's 100m final live!

With such expansive coverage, it was amazing but also overwhelming.  Trying to watch more than 1 event at a time meant that you never fully appreciated the drama of each moment of each event.  The build-up, the intensity on the athlete’s faces, the moment of execution and the elation / despair of the result.

So, as I get onto my mat every morning, I am reminded of how I should approach Life … take it slowly, one breath at a time, fully appreciating each and every moment with gratitude.

The UK went all out to support Team GB, even to the extent of doctoring their flowers

Artistic Gymnastics at the North Greenwich Arena (they weren't allowed to call it the O2 arena because O2 wasn't an official sponsor)

aka a Monster in Pain

Simultaneous sports spectating