Sustainability Begins Within: How Yoga Changed My Mind

My growing up years were spent being disillusioned with the world and life-at-large because of the kind of bad things I witnessed happening to good people. Over time, I overcame the inertia of my disappointment by engaging in small daily acts of kindness and goodwill. There was still uncertainty over what the definition of benevolence truly entailed. Regardless, at an early age, I knew that however my life panned out, it would be rooted in meaningful purpose that would transcend myself, and echo the cliche, “make the world a better place.”

During university, I was clueless as to what my future held. Everyone else seemed to have a notion of a career goal – law, medicine, journalism, etc. It pressured me to get a clue. I flitted from job to job: writing for magazines, research producing for variety television, crewing for theatre, reading the bible for blind Jehovah Witnesses and even teaching poetry workshops to medium security prisoners, all with the hope of finding something that would stick, click and fulfill the void of what's next.

After spending 8 months journeying alone through the Middle East where conflict and crisis were prevalent, it inspired the decision to do work that would make an impact i.e. minimise bad things from happening, or support good people to whom these bad things were happening. Thus began my search for a suitable non-governmental/non-profitable/charitable/social entrepreneurial role that would check the aforementioned boxes. Instead, it led me to a series of unforgettable (mis)adventures – teaching English in an earthquake-afflicted village in the NWFP of Pakistan, managing an eco-resort in a Palawan coastal settlement, and overseeing a reforestation initiative in Inner Mongolia. Each experience while unique and enriched all ended with something in common: utter disenchantment. It was hard to swallow that even with the best intentions, if they were matched with poor management, cultural misinformation and unsavoury stakeholder agenda, purposeful work could result in the most detrimental of impacts. The term sustainability which was often bandied about in my industry felt nothing more than a feel-good buzzword with little substance and rife with hypocrisy.

Frustrated, I turned to Yoga, initially as a way to ease stress, mitigate the damage wrought by burnout and calm a perennially agitated mind. The result was not just a complete slowdown but an elevated awareness of my inability to endure. As my practice deepened, I decided to pursue my Yoga Teacher Training. So I headed to Nepal for 2 months with the intention of taking my practice to the next level. On a visit to a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery upon completion of my Yoga course, I stumbled upon the wise words of the Dalai Lama painted along the side of a wall overlooking Kathmandu Valley: "Where ignorance is our master, there is no possibility of real peace." Never had it struck so profoundly as it did then. During the training, it took much self-enquiry to shift the focus from my dissatisfaction towards the failure of the systems I had worked in to the unsustainable nature of my own system of being. What arose was the understanding that true sustainability begins within the self. If we don’t unlearn our bad habits through the acceptance and understanding of our unsustainable behaviours, we will always be hindered from achieving the kinds of changes we want to create.

As my Yoga teacher and mentor once said when I regaled to him my epiphany, “This awareness you just discovered for yourself is one of the most essential qualities of a teacher. If you are technically sound but emotionally out of control, what do you think you will pass on to your students? It is a paradox of our time when too many supposedly great 'gurus' end up in scandals…some of the yoga systems we avidly follow today have been developed from the imbalances of their founders.”

Until I can change my system of being and how I relate to the world, whatever difference I'd like to make will not happen and the imbalances I accrue will be passed down accordingly. Yoga has given me an internal sustainability that not only allows me to cultivate a sense of wellbeing within, but from that wellspring it can also replenish and extend itself to my community and beyond.

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