Sunday Yoga – Standing Still in a City that Never Rests

Published on by Manon Van Damme

Shanghai is a vibrant, restless, and beautifully chaotic city. I found yoga while looking for a way to stand still and hear my own thoughts in this city that never stops moving.

In my life here, yoga class is the one place where the noise of the world fades away, and I am left with just me, my body, and my mind. It does not matter so much for how long or how steadily I can hold a position, or if my transitions are graceful or totally clumsy. For me, yoga is about bringing awareness to my actions, my surrounding, and my being.

Raj, our instructor who has been teaching yoga now for 15 years, said in my first class, "Everywhere else, your body is breathing for you; in yoga, you are breathing for your body".

Through becoming conscious of my breath, I am waking up to all the things that my body has been on ‘autopilot’; like breathing, eating, biking or walking. I wasn’t aware that my shoulders had a tendency to tense up, or that my neck would feel so relaxed when stretched in a certain way!

Yoga is about being more aware

Going through my daily routine of work, home, sleep, my body only needs to be engaged in a very small range of motion. But I know from the freedom and joy that I get from running, jumping, and swinging my arms outside (when was the last time we did these things? and when was the last time we did these things out in open, fresh air?) that my body was made to move. Being aware has resulted in gratitude for the things that I have taken for granted; like my breathing lungs and my beating heart. It feels as though I am helping my body break out from the cage of quotidian life.

As I step off the mat, the joy that the class has shown me follows me into the real world. I notice more and more beauty in the world with my fresh perspective - the way a leaf rustles in the wind, the song of crickets at night; my natural instinct urges me to protect and share this beauty with others in the world.

Yoga is about pushing our boundaries and getting out of our comfort zone


Yoga is also about pushing the limits of my body and mind to discover all the things that my body is capable of doing. Through trying to align my movements with my breath, I learn that there is a connection between my willpower (mental) and my body's abilities (physical). For example, some positions are easier to arrive at when they are aligned with the correct breathing pattern. And certain feelings of physical pain and tension, which I once thought I was completely powerless about, can sometimes be overcome through a mindful release. As a result, I have gained confidence and trust in myself. When I am faced with a difficult situation in the world, my instinct is no longer to back out or charge forward in fear or anger; rather, I remember that I am capable of being in control and as a result, I can act and not react.

Yoga is about staying connected to our natural environment

The yamas and niyamas in yoga are moral and ethical guides for life on and off the mat. One of the yamas, "Ahimsa", means to do no harm. Many aspects of modern life are unsustainable for the environment and harming our physical and spiritual wellbeing.

‘What does being spiritual mean?’ someone asks. ‘It means doing things from your heart. That’s what it really means!’ Raj answers.

Resource depletion, habitat destruction, and global warming have all become hot buzzwords. They leave me feeling guilty and helpless, quietly turning a blind eye to the consequences of our actions as we sip coffee from a disposable cup. But very few people in the world actively want to do harm. We are creatures of habit, vulnerable to advertisements and bound to convenience.

We often get discouraged, ‘what good will one less disposable coffee cup do if the problem is already so big?’

Most of the harm that we do while living in the city arises from ignorance, and from sitting back and letting others make decisions for us. Yoga has taught me to be aware of my consumption and avoid whats not necessary.

Yoga is about bringing people together at different stages of their life's journey

Everyone in the class is at a different stage in their journey - of life and yoga. We move at different speeds, bend at different angles, stretch to different lengths, but we are all in the same room, enjoying and struggling together, each focused on putting our best effort into this moment. It’s like we all do things differently in our lives, but yet, are part of the same planet.

In class though, it is the time that we all spend mindfully working towards our best intentions to create a sense of unity and joy in the room. Every motion, stretch, and application of pressure on the mat brings me closer to rediscovering the connection between my body, mind, and the Earth that nourishes me.

Yoga is about having a positive mindset

It is so common to hear people complaining about their upcoming Monday.

Oh no! It’s Sunday night already! many say.

We live and work in a fast-paced society that is always demanding us to perform to our best. Relaxation and introspection has become a rarity instead of a necessary step to recharge. Constant social and work pressure results not just in a stressed body, but also in a stressed mind (and spirit) which compels us to take decisions and actions that stress our environment.

For me and many of my fellow-yogis, Sunday evenings have become about realigning our trio of Soul, Body, and Environment, about positive thoughts + fresh energy to kick off the new week to achieve greater impact at work, and off it.

Because we are most productive, when our mind and body are healthy & aligned!

To find out more about Green Initiatives' upcoming yoga sessions, visit this link.