Before we get into anything–and because I think everyone thinks they know what it is–what is yoga?
There’s the philosophical connotation–the union of the mind, body, and spirit. But the more common connotation is really a physical practice. In its most basic, yoga is finding a way to relax while holding a pose.
Actually the origin of yoga–the reason why you do all the physical poses–is so you can sit in silence and meditate. You train the body so you can sit in the lotus pose for hours without feeling pain. “Asana” translates to “sit.” The end goal is to sit in lotus and meditate for long periods.
Interesting. I always thought yoga was an end in itself. Like a sport.
But yes, yoga can also be a lifestyle, a refuge. Sometimes yoga is what saves you from something.
What did it save you from?
It was life-changing for me. I do a lot of leadership talks, and I used to be in IT for 30 years, and I only retired in 2013–I’m a busy, type A woman. Yoga changed me emotionally more than physically. It changed how I deal with situations and strong emotions.
When I experience anger or frustraion, I can now watch myself like an outside observer, instead of reacting as quickly. Im not saying I don’t feel anything now, but I respond more than I react. Whereas before, I would’ve reacted in a violent way.
For me that’s the biggest change. I noticed the change in me, and other people noticed it as well. I see the difference with my friends from high school–I went through menopause without a hitch, but they experienced mood swings and all that jazz.
Wow. How does it do that? What is it about yoga specifically that leads to these changes? Why not pilates or crossfit?
That’s a very good question. When you’re on the treadmill, you’re multitasking–listening to music, watching TV. And that’s your usual mode of operation. So you’re reinforcing a non-focused behaviour, a scattered mind, in the gym.
According to neuroscience, your brain works on patterns. If you do something repetitively, your brain creates patterns between two neurons–
–your brain creates new synapses, or new patterns of thinking.
Yes. Are you a psych major? The more you do something over and over, these synapses become stronger. And then these new habits become harder to break or undo.
I didn’t study psychology, but a mentor told me the same concept when he was encouraging me to practice my craft everyday.
The way yoga works is it trains your mind to focus. Particularly on the breath. Because yoga, as an activity, is very hard to do if your mind is busy. If your mind is everywhere, you cannot hold the pose. You’ll be twitching. There are students like that–if they’re new in class, they’ll be impatient, they’ll move around.
I think that would be me, if I was in your class.
You have to stay put. The discipline is to just stay put. Stay, regardless if your sweat is getting into your eyes, your nose, your ears. If your bra is falling off, don’t worry about it. It’s like you’re training your brain to switch to a different mode.
What is that “other mode” the brain goes into?
There’s something that happens to your brain when you focus on something–which, in yoga, is the breath—you learn to be IN THE MOMENT. And that’s not being taught in pilates, nor in the gym.
Because often, we think about the past and the future. You remember something that’s already happened, and you worry about something that’s not even sure to happen. We never think about the here and the now. And the here and the now is always the breath. There is no past or future breath. You inhale, you exhale. Now.
That is beautiful. Reminds me of Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now.
So when you train your mind to observe, you see yourself like a third party. Sometimes you catch yourself: oops, I’m starting to get angry! Oftentimes we don’t notice the reaction in the body–it gets to our head immediately and we lose our temper, we say harsh words.
But if you’re able to observe, you’ll feel your body tingling from emotion, but you let it pass. I don’t even have to identify the emotion, but my face feels hot, my head throbs—emotions are chemical reactions after all–then after a while it will just go away.
So yoga helps you dissociate.
Yes. If we get attached to emotion and let it control us, that’s when we suffer. That’s the whole philosophy behind it.
I think I need this in my life.
A lot of students who do yoga don’t really understand what’s happening to them, but they feel it. And people will notice. “You’re so calm.” Without you even knowing. It’s just cause you’re always trained to focus. It will translate to your behavior in the office, at home, everywhere.
How long did it take you to see the changes?
I don’t know when i transitioned. The transformation is not something you would notice. It’s a gradual process. you’re undoing many years of patterns from childhood.
I never knew yoga can have that much effect on behavior. That’s wonderful. But how about the physical aspect?
Of course there is the physical improvement. When we go out on trips, my stamina is so much better, even better than those who are younger than me.
I can’t even go up a flight of stairs without losing my breath!
(Laughs) And you’re half my age! That’s okay, at one point I was very unhealthy too.
Did you ever smoke?
Oh yeah. for 17 years.
How’d you quit?
Cold turkey. That’s the only way. Just don’t do it. I also drank heavily, everyday. Now, I drink very occasionally–wine, cocktails. All the bad habits, the bad food. So now I’m more about maintaining my health, and my diet. 80% of the work is really what you eat.
So, aside from strengthening your body, would you say that yoga motivates you to be generally healthier?
It goes back to how yoga regulates you emotionally. If you’re balanced emotionally, you’ll be balanced physically. You won’t overeat, overdrink, nor feel the need to smoke.
How long have you been practicing yoga?
11, almost 12 years. I started back in 2005.
What made you start?
I started mainly for fitness. At that time, I was already physically active–I was doing fitness classes, I had my own weight trainer, I was doing badminton. And then the Yoga Plus studio opened below my office, so I tried it. After a week of doing yoga, I canceled my gym membership and stopped doing badminton. I got hooked.
Since you already very fit when you started, would you say that it was easy for you to learn it?
Like with any skill, there is a learning curve, a bit of difficulty. The muscles you use for yoga are very different from what you use in the gym or during sports. I thought I was strong because I was lifting weights, and my training was something males would do—chin bars, pull ups, squats with barbels. But when I had to do the squat pose for some time, I was shaking! It’s because yoga tends to work the smaller muscles, and weights focus on the big muscle groups.
How long did it take you to learn?
Yoga is a continuous process of learning. You’re never really in the perfect pose. Every time you practice, your body is different, your state of mind is different, and it affects the way you do a pose. So maybe today, you feel like a rockstar, but the next day you had a late night or you’re stressed from work. That pose is not going to be the same.
So it’s not something that you can really master.
I think that’s what makes yoga exciting—-you’re always tweaking something in the process. If not your body, it’s your mind, or your breath.
I don’t know whether you’ll ever come to the point where you’ll be an expert. It might get easier, but easier is also relative. Let’s just say you become stronger and more flexible.
Do you think people who are not naturally flexible can do yoga?
Yeah definitely. The body opens up as you practice. I always say that the physical aspect of yoga—what we see—is just movement with the breath. If you can breathe and you can move, you can do yoga. If you can stay in a pose and breathe, that’s yoga.
What’s it like in a class with other people?
Say you’re the type A personality. Somehow when you’re doing this pose, you’re the loser. Everybody else does it better than you. So it’s a very humbling experience for me. Im CEO, I’m used to getting my way, but in class I needed to listen to the teacher. I have to accept. And just facing the mirror everyday and seeing all your imperfections is very humbling. A lot of students cant even look at themselves in the mirror!
How often do I need to do yoga to see any significant changes?
Once a week is better than none. But hopefully it becomes more often.
What’s the difference of doing yoga alone or in a group?
I discourage training yourself from Youtube, because there’s nobody there teaching you and you might end up hurting yourself. But if you’re already familiar with the poses, and you already know your body, and you know how to modify, then you can.
I think that’s all we need to finally take the plunge. Thank you Ms. Dina. Namaste. ~
Clothes courtesy of H&M.
Story | Iris Lee
Art Direction | Deiniel Cuvin
Assisted By | Patricia Melliza
Photography | Yukie Sarto
Styling | Mac Mendoza
Hair | Edgar Soliman of Maquillage Professionnel
Makeup | Tamara Pineda, Jerome Bustamante and Drew Cultura of Bobbi Brown
Special Thanks to:
The French Baker