June 3rd 2001
Cat lessons for the cyber age
Today's cybernetic environment requires only the mind, the eye and the hand and the result is that we are often not comfortably at home in our body
HAVE you ever stopped to watch a
cat stretch itself? It does so fully - and luxuriously.
It's about stopping the frenzy, to do one thing at a time, so as to do it well. It's about being present to the """full bloom of the moment'', in Walt Whitman's words, relaxed yet fully alert to the surroundings.
Picture Akira Kurosawa's samurai with his sword drawn, or Clint Eastwood's cowboy with no name in the Sergio Leone trilogy, squinting his eyes coolly in the sun as he faces a deadly enemy.
It's about breathing freely, not fretfully or fitfully, which we do most of the time.
IN THE early 1970s, I took classes at the non-profit, non-religious Singapore Yoga Health Centre in River Valley Road. The monthly fee for the sessions, one hour each time, three times a week, was $15, if I remember correctly. The teacher was an Indian man in his 70s, but looked to be in his 60s.
The centre was in a two-storey shophouse, and classes were held upstairs in a hall with timber floor boards, in the mornings and evenings. There were separate beginners', intermediate and advanced classes.
The students would unroll their mats on the polished timber floor in two rows on both sides of the long hall, and the teacher would walk up and down in the middle, as he took them
through the exercises or asana, the original Sanskrit term for them.
""Breathe in deeply,'' he would command, then, ""hold'', and after a long while, ""breathe out - slowly.''
He would help us maintain our shoulder stands, or correct our postures when they were not done correctly.
I enjoyed those classes, especially the death pose at the end of each session, when we lay on the floor with our legs slightly apart and our hands limp by our sides, our eyes half-closed, and breathing normally.
As any beginner would tell you, breathing normally is, paradoxically, the hardest thing to do.
I would lie there in the room and watch the whirling fans on the ceiling, and feel all the day's anxieties - mine was the evening beginners' class - fall away. Time seemed to stand still.
I did move up to the intermediate class - I could actually sit in the full-lotus position - but it wasn't long before I stopped going to the centre altogether.
There were other distractions, and a convenient excuse to get out when I read a magazine article in which a doctor was quoted as saying that yoga was merely self-massage.
The other day when I popped into the building, I saw renovation work being carried out inside. The yoga centre obviously is no longer there, and in its place would probably spring up another pub or new-age office.
I have forgotten how it feels like to stretch like a cat for a long, long time.
Like just about everyone else caught up in the new economy, I have been treading the mill in a cease less frenzy.
Perhaps it's time I get back to yoga and learn again how to breathe normally.
03/06/01 Cat Lessons for the cyber age