Staying Zen in the big city

09:21, November 11, 2010      

Email | Print | Subscribe | Comments | Forum 

Some readers might have noticed I've been absent from these pages for the past month. I took a small hiatus from the keyboard to immerse myself in another passion - yoga.

Over 30 days, I took 48 hot yoga classes (that's 90 minutes each in a room heated to 40 degrees) and attended more than 100 hours of lectures on anatomy, philosophy and history.

To cram this much yoga into that many days, I was up at 6 am and in bed long past 10 pm daily to bend, stretch and memorize.

By the end of week one, I had taken to calling the program "yoga boot camp". Luckily, "boot camp" wasn't set on a military training ground, but in a luxury resort on the southern coast of Thailand.

Before I left for Thailand, most friends were encouraging about my ambitious undertaking.

But a few said such things as: "Are you crazy?"

"Why would you spend your money to go to work? Why not just relax on the beach?"

Why did I do it? To find Nirvana, I jokingly explained to those friends who questioned my sanity. But on a more practical level, I wanted to be certified as a yoga instructor, so I could come back to share what I enjoy with more people.

Sure enough, during the month of intense exercise and soaking in of yogic principles (while eating an immensely healthy diet of mostly vegetables) I was cool as a cucumber, a big change from my usual hot-tempered Beijinger alter ego. Daily reading of pithy aphorisms on life that the sages wrote down thousands of years ago helped me "still the fluctuations of my mind".

Anyone who has been to a yoga class has seen that, in addition to incredibly toned arms, yogis also sport a bewildering calm. They seem to float on a happy cloud high above petty daily problems. Now I know their secret - they owe their Zen-like state to a true understanding of the meaning behind these arcane statements:

"From the practicing of contentment the highest happiness is gained."

"When the breath fluctuates, the mind fluctuates; when the breath is still, the mind is still."

"Think not of internal object, neither of external object. Abandon all thinking. Think of nothing, not even thinking itself."

When I was in Thailand, it was easy to pretend that I grasped the profound meanings and emulate the calm of long-time yoga practitioners. After all, I was living in a sunny paradise with room service and a saltwater swimming pool.

In addition to the cushy amenities, there were few distractions at "boot camp" - just sun, sea and books.

Alcohol and tobacco, along with other unhealthy elements, like fried chicken, were banned from the ultra-healthy premises.

Although each day was busy, the two-minute strolling commute from my room to the classroom could hardly rival Beijing's rush hour traffic. Put simply, there was little to stir the fluctuations of my mind, my moods, while I was away.

When I stepped off the "boot camp" grounds and returned to reality, my yoga was put to the test. You know what I'm talking about, those little trying instances that upset us each day.

Someone cutting in front of you in line, on the sidewalk or in a lane of traffic.

People walking through doors you've taken the trouble to open with the nonchalance of hotel guests gliding past a doorman. Having to shout and wave your arms wildly just to get a waiter to come take an order.

So, the real challenge, I'm discovering, is how to maintain the calm of a yogi in the bustle of big city. I caught myself halfway as I started launching into a snappy retort to a taxi driver who grilled me on which route to take less than 12 hours after touching down in Beijing.

Over the last week, as I've settled back into my metropolitan life, I've been extra mindful of my reactions. Whenever something tempts a rise out of me, I ask: "Why is this bothering me so much?"

Most of the time, just pausing to question myself is enough to make me realize that whatever the thing is, it's no big deal.

Perhaps this will be the way forward for me - it's impossible to stay cool all the time, but as long as I put a little thought into my words and actions, I'm getting a step closer to enlightened bliss.

By Qi Zhai Source: China Daily


  • Do you have anything to say?


Special Coverage
  • Premier Wen Jiabao visits Hungary, Britain, Germany
  • From drought to floods
Major headlines
Editor's Pick
  • Chinese Navy soldiers hold an evening party marking the upcoming 62nd National Day aboard Chinese Navy hospital ship "Peace Ark" in the Pacific on Sept. 28, 2011. The Chinese National Day falls on Oct. 1. (Xinhua/Zha Chunming)
  • Photo taken on Sept. 30, 2011 shows the crowd at the plaza of Beijing Railway Station in Beijing, capital of China. The railway transportation witnessed a travel peak with the approach of the seven-day National Day holidays on Friday. (Xinhua)
  • A man wearing high-heel shoes takes part in the 3rd annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, an event when men literally walk in women's shoes to raise awareness about ending violence against women, at Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto, Canada, Sept. 29, 2011. (Xinhua/Zou Zheng)
  • Photo taken on Sept. 29, 2011 shows a cargo ship in danger on the sea near Zhuhai City, south China's Guangdong Province. Cargo ship Fangzhou 6 of Qingzhou of southwest China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region lost control after water stormed into its cabin due to Typhoon Nesat on the sea near Zhuhai Thursday, leaving 12 crew members in danger. Rescuers rushed to the ship and saved them by using a helicopter. (Xinhua)
  • Actress Gong Li poses for L'Officiel Magazine. (Xinhua Photo)
  • Demonstrators from the Occupy Wall Street campaign hold placards as they march in the financial district of New York September 29, 2011. After hundreds of protesters were denied access to some areas outside the New York Stock Exchange on September 17, demonstrators set up a rag-tag camp three blocks away. Zuccotti Park is a campground festooned with placards and anti-Wall Street slogans. The group is adding complaints of excessive police force against protesters and police treatment of ethnic minorities and Muslims to its grievances list, which includes bank bailouts, foreclosures and high unemployment. (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)
Hot Forum Discussion