“YOGA GAVE ME THE STRENGTH AND COURAGE TO BE ALIVE AGAIN”
Plunged into a sea of darkness during an all-time low in her life, Alyssa Lee found her safe space on the mat and re-centred herself through her yoga practice. Little did she know just how much her life would change with a one-way ticket to India
I am the eldest of three daughters and come from a traditional Buddhist Malaysian Chinese family. At the time of my birth, my parents had just relocated to Singapore. As a result, we spent quite a lot of time shuttling between Singapore and Malaysia.
Waipo (my late maternal grandmother) was a prominent medium in her village, so from a very young age, I became familiar with esoteric spiritualism and the psychic world. She was a strong, independent woman who raised her children – all 11 of them – single-handedly, as my maternal grandfather passed on early due to a fatal illness. Waipo’s spirit of strength, kindness, and generosity grew deep within the family and love flourished.
As an inquisitive, highly sensitive, and imaginative child with an insatiable thirst for knowledge beyond many realms, I was always actively seeking for the meaning of life. Encyclopaedias and documentaries were made accessible to me, and growing up, I spent a lot of time at Buddhist camps together with my cousins and sisters.
I remember my first foray into yoga – it was 1999 when I started learning yoga together with my sister at the community centre. We were the youngest in the room, and I recall those sessions to be very calming, and rather pleasant. However, yoga did not play a significant role to young Aly then. I was only 12 years old and there was so much else that life had to offer!
My inquisitive, energetic, and creative mind loved exploring texts, concepts, ideas, and movement in the body and in space. A good part of my childhood and youth was spent dabbling in the performing arts – I was involved in theatre for a considerable amount of time, and later on, in college, I fell in love with the world of dance.
In spite of a packed schedule filled with studies, community theatre, and dance club commitments as a college student, I found myself returning to my yoga practice whenever I could. In between school terms and rehearsal breaks, I’d also venture out on short trips with my friends from school.
On hindsight, I savoured my quiet moments a lot – I loved my time on the mat, and enjoyed the quiet spaces between social interactions. Contrary to what it looked like on the surface, I actually preferred my quiet and introspective moments, but as a youth, I felt the need to disguise myself as a highly active, busy, and sociable extrovert. You see, at that time, being an introvert who craved solitude seemed to be behaviour that was frowned upon socially.
LIFE WAS VIBRANT, FASCINATING, AND FAST.
Perhaps, too fast, so much so that I lost the intent of listening from within.
Homeostasis – the ability or tendency to maintain internal stability in an organism, is a natural state that’s always present, biologically and ecologically. The way I see it, everything works in a state of equilibrium and if something tips the balance, something has to give – and eventually, something did give.
In 2012 I plunged headlong into darkness. I found myself consumed in a massive sea of grief. I was at an all-time low.
Life was bleak.
YOGA RE-ENTERED MY LIFE
At this point, an unexplainable but significant event occurred to me in the interim and reminded me that there was something more to what “I” was witnessing in this life of “mine”.
I believe this event came from a source of divine ancestral protection. It gave me a surge of renewed strength and courage. I knew that I had to pick myself up and wring myself out of that black hole. I had to remain afloat, and live on.
And thus, I began on a quest to re-centre and ground myself. My first step was to look for a safe space. I decided to seek out something familiar. Amidst the flurry of activities that I used to partake in, I chose to return to the mat.
I was very fortunate to chance upon a newly opened studio with inspiring and authentic teachers. I’d found the space I needed to re-centre and ground myself. There, I witnessed the transformative effects of yoga, and was inspired to be more committed, sincere, and dedicated in my practice than I’d ever been before.
Yoga gave (and gives) me strength and courage to be alive again, it taught (and still teaches) me a sturdy sense of freedom, which brings me peace from daily suffering.
My thirst for knowledge grew. With a hunger for deeper immersion into the ancient practice, I started heading abroad for festivals and workshops. With the guidance and encouragement from a beloved teacher, Daphne Charles, I decided to undertake an immersive yoga teacher training with Andrey Lappa, who founded the Universal style of Yoga. A year after completing my training, I went on a pilgrimage to a monastery in Nepal, along with Andrey and other fellow practitioners.
Andrey Lappa, to me, is a true Sadhakha (in yoga, a Sadhakha is a yogi devoted to the practice of yoga, seeking liberation deep inside the soul), with admirable devotion to the investigations and explorations of the ancient yogic sciences. He’s also a great teacher who clearly articulates the concepts that he presents from his cumulative, and extensive, studies and practice. Andrey cuts no corners and remains firm in his classes. His devotion and dedication to the authenticity in a system, remains a source of inspiration for me up till this very day.
My teacher training with Andrey in 2014 was pivotal – it intensified the flames of sadhana, enabling me to burn away the attachment to my comfort zones. My first few glimpses of citta-vrtti-nirodhah (no thoughts, no forms) during training, sparked in me, a ferocious pursuit of the yogic sciences. I wanted to immerse in traditional Indian yoga in its most authentic form, and it was through Andrey’s training that I found the courage to uproot and move to India for the next few years.
MOTHER INDIA BECKONED
Up to that point, I had been working professionally as an English language teacher at a leading enrichment centre. It was a very well-paying job, but post-training and pilgrimage to Nepal with Andrey, I sensed that change was coming.
I took Mother India’s call, left my full-time job, and bought a one-way ticket to Mysore, India. Prior to this, I had never travelled with an unplanned itinerary, nor did I have the guts to travel alone.
Life in India was, in itself, a teacher – I was thrown entirely out of the comfort that my pre-existing environment and routine once provided.
But it was in Mysore that I discovered a global community of sincere, dedicated practitioners, wonderful teachers of philosophy, sanskrit, pranayama, and chanting – this was yoga beyond asanas.
I was led to my beloved teacher, Vijay Kumar of Ashtanga Saadhana, to whom I would return regularly in the following years to study philosophy and pranayama, as well as practice Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. I also assisted my teacher in the Mysore room. The rest, as they say, is living history.
Practicing yoga is a privilege. And with this privilege comes a duty to be kind, to share a smile, and to offer the yoga from the mat into the rest of your life.
– Maty Ezraty
A NEW CHAPTER
I resisted teaching yoga professionally for a long time. The sharing of my practice took roots with friends and family, and was something that began way back as it was only right to share something so immensely beneficial.
Later on, I had to find ways to make a living. Over time, I slowly grew accustomed to the notion that it can be seen as an exchange of energy.
To share the practice as a guide, is my duty to serve (yoga). It is also an act of gratitude to the teachers that have come before me. I hope to be able to hold space and share the practice in the same grain that my teachers have done so for me.
YOGA IS AN INTEGRAL PART OF MY LIFE
Yoga, without mindfulness, is only exercise. For yoga to be happening, there must be mindfulness and awareness. Dedicated sadhana, inquiry, and practice, enable access into the deeper layers of the “Self”, if only to allow us to be more empowered and grounded. I believe that growth and development is essential – having a desire for growth is as important as the body’s ability to breathe. However, whether we “grow” or not, we ought to be detached from this outcome.
To fully practice yoga without being attached to the fruits of our efforts and actions – be they challenging asanas or difficult sittings, is not easy. In any action, there are so many factors that are beyond our control. Any attachment to result, becomes a reason of suffering. Learning to gracefully let go of the attachment to outcome, allows us to eventually arrive at self-mastery of Karm Yog (non-attachment to the “fruits of action”).
In this aspect, practice is challenging – life, in its entirety, is practice, one that presents challenges in several forms, and it’s interesting to observe its many manifestations.
My time on the mat is a source of comfort. It is my sanctuary, my safe space.
I used to get upset with myself or with situations that conflicted with my schedule, robbing me of proper time on the mat, but that too, has passed. It took me a while to get here, but I now understand that my yoga practice is a support, not a mandate.
Ideally, our practice should cultivate inquiry, sensitivity, and kindness to ourselves. These days, I accept that mat practice can range from 10 minutes to a few hours, and practice can be about asanas and pranayama, or simply sitting in meditation.
The harder yoga practices are actually the ones off the mat. There are days when I fail, and there are days when I thrive. Some days, I find that I’m better off taking more rest, or going for a walk in nature.
Each day is a new day which presents fresh possibilities and opportunities for practice, but one must never be complacent.
I’m often reminded that, like our breath, each moment is a brand new moment. Just like our in-breath and our out-breath, it all passes in seconds. With this in mind, I make it a practice to stay present. I do not let emotions get me down (or up) for too long because when we are anchored in the present moment, there is no suffering.
Perhaps, present mindfulness is the key.
*Editor’s note: Thanks to Alyssa Lee for sharing her story with The Yoga School.
ABOUT ALYSSA LEE
Are you looking to dive deeper into the ancient practice of yoga? Join Alyssa Lee on an enriching journey into Universal Yoga® on Saturday, 26th October 2019, from 9am to 12.30pm.
A mixed-level session for anyone open to learning dynamic asanas, vinyasas and breathing techniques of the Himalayan Yogis, this modernised practice is based on ancient techniques designed to develop the body, control one’s energy, and skilfully stabilise the mind.