Beijing is a challenging city; millions of lives intermingle in a constant jumble of noise, traffic, and pollution. Expats face the additional stress of being far away from loved ones and familiar support systems. We speak to Theresa Pauline and William Bi, two yoga teachers who guide Beijingers on how to slow down and just be.
Go with the Flow
Theresa Pauline (US), Yoga Teacher and Founder of Taozi Tree Yoga
Pauline moved to Tianjin in 2007 for her studies, and has been in and out of China ever since with a total of four years in Beijing. She recently returned to bring her love of yoga to the community here. Pauline is also fundraising for the Yoganda Project, which enables Ugandan widows to become self-supporting by teaching them how to make yoga bags.
How did you come to practice yoga?
I started in university in Boulder, Colorado and immediately felt it was something that would become a lifetime passion. The balance my yoga practice makes me feel is incentive enough to continue exploring a decade after my first class.
What is yoga?
This question is funny because yoga is everything! Yoga is awareness, being present, being in the body, the spirit and out of the mind. It is movement and it is stillness; it’s about creating balance. There are many ways to practice, the most common way, and what most people think of when they hear “yoga,” is the physical asana practice: making postures with the body while incorporating breath and perhaps movement. A physical yoga practice is a great tool to quiet the mind and to restore balance and health to the individual.
Can anyone practice yoga?
There are so many misconceptions about what yoga is. People may think they have to be able to kick up into handstand or put their legs over their head, and this is simply not the case. If a person is breathing, they can practice yoga. Anyone who is capable of setting aside some time from their daily routine with the intention of bettering their health and their state of mind can practice yoga. Sometimes the willingness to get on the yoga mat alone (even for five minutes) is enough to start a slight shift in behaviors that make lasting life changes possible.
Do you have to follow a particular religion to practice or benefit from yoga?
Life in Beijing can be busy and stressful. What are the benefits of yoga?
The benefits of yoga are endless: a more relaxed and calm state of mind, a better physical body, more awareness about the environment, and increased intuition, among many more.
Two of the chief benefits of yoga in relation to living in Beijing are firstly its calming properties. Beijing is a big, crazy city and taking the time to be on a mat and focus on the self is a wonderful way to restore much needed balance. Secondly, yoga can be detoxifying. Continual twists and movements of the spine remove energy blockages, gentle compression on the internal organs flushes out toxins in the body, and deep breathing helps clean out and increase the capacity of our hard-working lungs.
Many parents experience worry and self-reproach related to their parenting choices. How can yoga help them?
A healthy yoga practice helps us accept ourselves as we are. With consistent practice, we drop the rambling monkey mind of judgment that most of us are afflicted with, and grow in compassion toward ourselves and others. Worry and self-reproach can be transformed into acceptance and self-love, and then passed onto the rest of the family.
How can beijingkids readers get started with yoga?
I have studied yoga all over the world with many of the planet’s best yoga teachers, but reading a variety of yoga books on a daily basis has been my greatest teacher. There are also amazing online yoga resources available. You can take streaming classes with incredible teachers at the click of a button. I advise people to try a few different classes or styles before choosing what type of practice to include consistently. Readers can contact me directly. I’m always happy to talk about yoga.
Is yoga suitable for children?
Some yoga philosophies believe practice is about returning to the inner child; because this is one of the main aims of yoga, chldren make excellent practicioners.
Practicing together is a beautiful way to create unity and a nurturing, fun environment – perfect for families right? As long as the practice isn’t super serious, it’s suitable for kids. First, parents can get an idea of what type of yoga works best for them as individuals; after they develop a practice, they’ll be better-equipped to involve the family. In the summer time, there is free yoga every Sunday in Chaoyang Park – it’s a great place to bring children to experiment and play.
At what age can children begin to practice yoga?
Children of all ages can practice if yoga is approached as a time to play together. Playing with yoga involves telling stories while mimicking different animals through asanas devoted to animals, such as the crane, cobra, eagle, camel, horse, and frog.
Practicing at a young age gives kids a head start on mature concepts such as mindfulness, confidence, and balance while also introducing them to a lighthearted and joyful understanding of their body. Until children have full body awareness, I avoid putting them into poses where they could be prone to hurting themselves. Keep it playful and fun; there’s no need for Ashtanga or Bikram with young kids!
William Bi (Canada), Journalist and Yoga Teacher
Bi moved to Beijing eight years ago to work as a journalist. He leads a bi-weekly meditation class at the Yoga Yard.
How did you come to practice meditation?
About 15 years ago, I traveled to Thailand and visited a friend who was spending a year as a novice Buddhist monk there. I picked up some books on mindfulness of the breath, and later started practicing back in Canada. I was drawn to the sense of silence, stillness and renewal that came following a meditation session. In the following years, wherever I went, I sought places to practice. I visited monasteries in Canada, India, the UK, and Thailand.
What is meditation?
Meditation is an exercise of one’s pure consciousness, pure awareness, and pure attention, as opposed to the engagement of the thinking, judging, wandering, or lazy mind. We come to see things as they are in this moment; not what we think they should be, in the past or future.
When we don’t see things as they are, we may pursue aims which may be short-sighted or confuse us. Careful reflection helps us recognize actions whose aims are violent, deceitful or intoxicating. Meditation gives us a good aim: to be clear and attentive to what we are doing and how we’re being affected in a moment-by-moment way. In my tradition, the tool we use is breathing, but it doesn’t need to be the breath.
Can anyone meditate?
Yes, anyone with a functional brain can do it; in fact, it may be of more benefit to someone with a slightly dysfunctional brain!
Do you have to follow a particular religion to practice or benefit from meditation?
I am a Buddhist and the method that I practice is deeply rooted in Buddhism. However, our tradition doesn’t require the practitioner to be a Buddhist or follow any form of devotion to any deities. We discourage attachment to the supernatural or blissful states some traditions promise; we even discourage attachment to silence and calmness.
Life in Beijing can be busy and stressful. What are the benefits of meditation?
For a good part of the day, we see and act in a world that requires us to constantly evaluate and make decisions; you need that to earn a living and support a family. But the critical mind is also a source of unrest and angst; pollution, corruption, traffic congestion, and difficult landlords create tremendous amount of stress and unhappiness.
When we lose our inner balance, we rely on external support and sensual stimulation: we watch a DVD, get on Facebook, or have drinks with friends – pleasant distractions which can make our lives more bearable. But they don’t solve the root of our problem, which is that we are looking at this world with intolerance.
Meditation helps me set aside my critical judgment and focus on moment-to-moment awareness. By sharpening awareness, we understand things more clearly and apply our rationality only after having thoroughly understood this moment.
The tool of our practice is breathing, and we develop a keener sense of awareness by observing the breaths. A side benefit is that we breathe better, which improves our psychological health, respiratory system, and physical health. When we remove ourselves from phone calls, emails, WeChat messages and go into silence, our mind gets better rest, we sleep better, we learn to be friends with silence, with boredom, and with less stuff. As a result, we have less need for fancy food or entertainment, and we save money.
Many parents experience worry and self-reproach related to their parenting choices. How can meditation help them?
Meditation helps us to be fully awake and maintain a level of detachment. Parents are under a lot of pressure, and they can often be too emotionally invested in their children to keep their mind in balance. A regular meditation practice can help parents develop patience. It gives them a space to breathe, to forgive the past, to set aside what will happen in the future, and just to be OK in this inescapable moment.
How can beijingkids readers get started with meditation?
Readers can attend my classes at Yoga Yard. There is also a lot of teaching material online. When [readers]holiday in Southeast Asia, Europe or North America, they could make a trip to the many Zen or other Buddhist monasteries and retreat centers. Meditation is a practice; reading up a bit helps – but if you’re reading and talking a lot, or discussing Zen over cocktails, you are just seeking more distractions.
Is meditation suitable for children?
At a school where I volunteered in Southern India, children from preschool ages to young adults sit together, once in the morning and once in the evening. It’s amusing to watch some small children sitting serenely cross-legged, while others gyrate, shift, and try to distract their friends.
But all the children learn to be patient, to observe rules, and to be still. They may run away to play cricket as soon as they file out of the meditation hall, but at least for twice a day, they learn to be quiet and to sit, oblivious to the mosquitoes and blaring motorcycles outside the school. In India or Thailand, families go to a temple or monastery on weekends and everyone sits down and meditates; it seems completely natural, no different from having a picnic.
At what age can children begin to meditate?
Children can benefit immensely from meditation, but they won’t likely have initiative or understand why they need it. An adult figure can introduce meditation to them. From my observation, children age 4 or 5 are already old enough to learn to sit patiently. Some will only tolerate ten minutes or so. They need persistent parents who know the value of meditation. They learn the best by watching older children and the adults who meditate with them.
The Yoga Yard 瑜伽苑
6/F, 17 Gongti Beilu, Chaoyang District (6413 0774, email@example.com) yogayard.com 朝阳区工体北路17号6层
Yihe 42 Hot Yoga
Various locations. For more info, call 8405 9996/98 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Yoga Yard
Contact William Bi at email@example.com to find out more about his bi-weekly meditation class.
China Culture Center (CCC)
CCC offers both Zen meditation and a class called Music and Sound Meditation for Stress Reduction.
Bldg 9, Maple Drive-in Movie Theater Park, 21 Liangmaqiao Lu, Chaoyang District (Mon-Fri 9am-6pm: 6432 9341, Sat-Sun: 8420 0671, firstname.lastname@example.org) www.chinaculturecenter.org 朝阳区亮马桥路21号枫花园汽车电影院内湖边红色房子
This article originally appeared in the beijingkids 2014 Health Guide. Click here to read it on Issuu. For your free copy, contact our Distribution team at email@example.com.