Can Women Really Have It All?
Pearl Bhasin, a former award-winning copywriter with Young & Rubicam, gave up a career she loved, so that she could be present for her kids. “Feminism is not about having it all,” she says. “It’s about having the choice to choose.”
“I quit writing after the arrival of my firstborn, Maya. It was very hard because I really enjoyed the work. I was really good at it, even winning a regional award for a campaign I created,” shares Pearl Bhasin, who teaches Dharma Yoga at The Yoga School.
But the fact remains: if I left the agency, they would just find another writer. If I stayed at my job full time, Maya can’t find another mother.
“That was the basis of my decision to stay at home,” she says, matter-of-factly, then adds, “Having kids is a responsibility that you don’t mess with. Nobody can have it all. Feminism isn’t about ‘having it all’, it’s about having ‘choice’ – and it is a choice – you have to choose.
“Feminism is about having equal opportunities, equal pay, and the choice to have a career,” she adds. “‘Mother’ is a verb,” she emphasises, “You do it. The way I see it, giving birth does not make you ‘mother’, mothering does.
With her self-practice rooted in Dharma Yoga and Gokul Yoga (“Gokulji has a clear-cut, no-nonsense way. His methods are unforgiving and very revelatory of one’s state of mind, but the level of awareness you harness if pretty ‘third eye’-opening,” she shares), Pearl’s personal views may come across as austere to some, but get to know her pass that facade and you’ll quickly discover a warm and compassionate heart who practises ahimsa in everyday life by opting to be a vegan. “I do succumb to the occasional teh tarik,” she admits, “But strictly no animals. As for dairy, I don’t fuss too much, otherwise it gets uncomfortable for other people. But as far as possible, no dairy – the dairy industry is very cruel too.
“I’m more of a ‘suck it up, Buttercup’ kind of person,” she explains pragmatically, “So when someone goes, ‘Oh I need to go to the office to stay sane and mother properly’, I find myself asking, ‘Who’s mothering your child when you’re gone 10 hours of the day?’
“Of course, there are those who are pressed financially to be in the workforce, and this is when feminism and equal opportunities matter (not when you can do with less materially, and have precious time raising good human beings).”
Pearl’s firstborn, Maya, is now 20, and an undergraduate at Yale-NUS. Ruhi, her younger daughter, is 15, and studying in Methodist Girls School. “As soon as they were able to prepare their own breakfasts, I very slowly and mindfully eased away from house-holding and eased back into the workforce as a yoga teacher,” the dedicated mum shares.
Pearl was still in her early 20s when she started practicing yoga while living in Dubai. “I did it on a semi-regular basis, just to get some stretching and circulation into my system,” she says. “I’ve never been particularly sporty or active, in fact, I’m severely flatfooted and the idea of running is enough to make me sweat. Yoga has always been my go-to thing because it allows me to be whatever it wants and/or whatever I need it to be. That’s not to say that it’s just about what I want to do – similar to anything else that we want to accomplish, achieve, or maintain in life, there is an aspect of discipline and austerity involved.
“Dubai now has several beautiful studios, and even an Ashtanga Shala, but back then, there were no yoga lessons offered, let alone yoga studios to practice in,” she recalls. “I practised yoga and received Reiki from a teacher named Kathy Singh, who taught out of her apartment.
“I’m naturally flexible, so that could be one of the reasons why I continued with it,” Pearl figures. “I could accomplish the flexibility feats quite easily, so that boosted my confidence. But the chaturangas and arm balances presented a challenge! I had zero strength when I first started.”
After spending six years in Dubai, Pearl moved back to Singapore in 2000, with her husband and baby Maya in tow. “I practised yoga on an ad hoc basis as most of my time and energy were dedicated to Maya,” she says.
Ruhi came along next, and it wasn’t until her younger child started kindergarten, that Pearl embarked on her first yoga lesson in Singapore. “It was at Joo Chiat Community Centre, with an elderly lady that everyone called ‘Ling Laoshi’,” she recalls. “My command of Mandarin was quite weak but I carried on taking classes with her. At that time, it was the best thing that offered me with a solid foundation and understanding of the practice. Every week, Ling Laoshi would make us do the exact same things for the first half an hour of the hour-long lesson. I’d often feel so bored that I wanted to quit!”
But Pearl stuck with it and over time, began to recognise the value of repetition. “It’s about rote learning, humility, and practice,” she explains, “When I eventually stopped going for classes later on, I found that I was able to simply sit quietly on my mat at home and close my eyes – and my body would know what to do.”
11 years later, in 2011, Pearl had to uproot again when her husband was posted overseas for work. The family spent their next three years in London. It was then that Pearl started practising Dharma Yoga with Mark Kan and Emi Takahashi Tull, two highly respected senior yoga teachers based in London.
“My first lesson with Mark was the very first time I got up into Pincha Mayurasana – at that time, I didn’t even know that such a pose existed!” she quips with a laugh. “As I struggled to bind in Uttitha Tittibhasana as instructed, Mark, who was watching me, said, ‘Don’t be lazy,’ and he grabbed my wrists and made my hands meet.
“Later on, Mark would head to New York to serve Dharmaji. That’s when Emi took over,” Pearl shares. “Her incredible physical presence is as astounding as her absolute humility. She has always been very supportive of my practice, even after we moved back to Singapore in 2014.”
FINDING PURPOSE IN HER PRACTICE
While living in London, Pearl slipped on ice during winter and suffered two very bad ankle sprains. She also incurred a right rotator cuff injury while doing heavy housework. “It affected my practice,” she says, “but you just learn to work around these things.”
The physical world is not all there is. If we look beyond what we see and feel, we’ll often discover much more going on beneath the circumstances we perceive as negative. Pearl’s temporary physical setback turned out to be what led her to discover her calling in Yoga.
“During home practice, I came to the realisation that I could heal myself just by being very mindful to my body, my breath, and how I chose to respond to a certain pinch or pull, in each and every breath I took, during each and every pose,” she says.
I realised that yoga was too good not to share.
With that realisation, came more intuitive insight. “It hit me there and then, that the people who need it most are probably not the ones heading to the studios to sweat it out,” says Pearl. “I told myself that I would embark on teacher training as soon as the kids were a little more independent.”
Upon moving back to Singapore in 2014, Pearl started teaching as soon as she completed her 200HR Ashtanga Vinyasa certification from Tirisula Yoga. “I began volunteering with Bettr Barista, a coffee chain which trains baristas and offers coffee appreciation courses and workshops. They have a Holistic Training Programme (offered to ex-offenders, juvenile offenders, and marginalised women) which consists of counselling, life skills training, and barista training.
“The yoga classes I teach at Bettr Barista look and sound nothing like the ones I offer commercially – there, I work with women who have lived through abuse, and teenagers who struggle with anger management and suicidal thoughts,” shares the big-hearted mum-of-two, who continues to give back to society through the social enterprise. “My students from the programme have a very different set of needs. Some of them have never heard of yoga before, and most of them have never attempted it. Some of them still have tracking devices strapped onto their ankles, and they are there only because it’s a requirement stipulated by their social worker or probation officer.”
Yoga is the journey of the self through the self, to the Self.
With roots in Ashtanga Yoga and influences from Dharma Yoga and Gokul Yoga, Pearl’s practice is dynamic, yet pensive; liberating yet grounding. Like every other mum, Pearl juggles a plate full of responsibilities, but she mindfully tells herself daily “not to sweat the small stuff”.
“Dharma teaches that everyone has to go through everything. Any discomfort or illness, only happens to the body and the mind, not the Self – and this is where it gets interesting,” Pearl points out, and then asks, “What is your definition of Self?
“If by Self you mean, ‘stressed out Karen, school teacher, and mother-of-three, who has not gone for a proper manicure in three months,’ then yes, you’d be looking at lavender drops in the bath, or quiet ‘me-time” to a soundtrack of babbling brooks and bird songs,” she quips, then carries on to explain, “But if by Self, you mean the eternal bliss that is your ‘true nature’, the original ‘you’ without name; gender; education; upbringing; race; religion; culture; or any form of identification in life (be it mother, daughter, sister, girlfriend, best friend etc), the Self that’s stripped bare of all those definitions – you’d still be ‘you’, a small ball of energy that’s part of the original Big Bang.
“Our true nature is enlightenment. And caring for this ‘real you’ requires disciplined insight and insightful discipline. It requires Yoga, and it’s all properly mapped out in Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga (nothing to do with aromatherapy baths).”
When the mind, restrained from material activities, becomes still by the practice of the Yog, then the yogi is able to behold the soul through the purified mind, and he rejoices in the inner joy.
– Bhagavid Gita 6:20
“One of Dharma’s main lessons is that ‘the goal of Yoga is Self-realisation’. The Self being the ‘Purusha’, or pure soul matter – not the ‘I am Pearl, I am fed-up, and I need a Ben & Jerry’s’ concept of self (that is defined as Ahamkara, the ‘I’-maker).
“Purusha is pure consciousness; unadulterated bliss; our original being,” Pearl continues.
“Self-realisation comes when your awareness becomes highly refined, when you realise that you are not just your body and mind. Whatever happens to you, happens only to the body and the mind. That’s why Dharma always teaches us to ‘be a witness’. If you practise taking the stance of a witness, you’ll soon realise that you are beyond just physical, emotional, and mental activity. So the goal to get to Self-realisation, is through the practice of Yoga.”
ABOUT PEARL BHASIN
Yoga has been in Pearl’s life for more than 15 years now. What started out as a fun way to stretch her stress away, evolved into a journey into awareness, care, and healing. Motivated to share the goodness of yoga, the warm-hearted vegan and mum-of-two decided to embark on teaching and sharing.
Pearl is trained in the tradition of Ashtanga Vinyasa, and graduated from Tirisula Yoga, under the watchful eyes of Master Paalu and Master Satya Wei Ling, here in Singapore. Although trained in Ashtanga, Pearl’s self-practice is heavily inspired by Dharma Mittra Yoga. While living in London for some years, she practised regularly with Senior Dharma Teacher Mark Kan, and Emi Takahashi Tull.
Curious to explore Dharma Yoga with Pearl? Join her in a healing and engaging workshop on 23 November 2019. Focusing on the hips and heart, this 2.5-hour session will include Pranayama (breathing exercises), Dhyana (meditation), asana practice, and Yoga Nidra (deep rest). Click here to find out more and reserve a mat!