The Path to Equanimity: Learning Yoga on the Mat and on Water
“Find the balance between ease and effort.”
You will hear Lalah de Dios mention this in her yoga classes held at the Beach Hub in San Juan, La Union. If, in the middle of a pose, your body gives in to discomfort, she will remind you to refocus your energy into achieving this subjective sweet spot. Don’t strain yourself but don’t slack either. Lalah approaches her students knowing that each one of them will experience a different degree of ease and corresponding effort. The harmony of shifting energies in one single class can only be achieved by sharp teachers like Lalah.
If staying in sync with an entire class on the mat is no small feat, what happens when you consider an energy far greater than the human body? Aquanimous Yoga, Lalah’s brainchild, takes yoga to the ocean. How does one find balance between ease and effort when you replace your yoga mat with a stand-up paddleboard, or SUP, floating on ever-changing water?
La Union Soul caught up with Lalah to know more about her approach to teaching yoga and how to achieve the state of equanimity in and out of the water.
Hi Lalah! Thank you for doing this interview. How did you first get into yoga?
I got into yoga in 2008. I was on a surf trip in Bagasbas, Daet when I had my first yoga lesson. [Daet] is also where I learned to surf in 2002. I went with a group of rock climber friends who were there to set up a wall for a surf event. One of them, Allen Enrique, was practice-teaching Ashtanga at that time. We would have yoga sessions outside the hut at night after surf.
I was with the UP Varsity Swimming Team for some time, and was also into volleyball, surfing, flag football, triathlon, and a whole bunch of other sports when I was younger. Being an athlete, I was very competitive and I very much enjoyed the challenge of the practice. I was using my strength in the postures, and even though I was very stiff, the stretches felt really good. It was like having a really good massage from a really good masseuse. It eased a lot of my body pains from injuries and bad posture and it improved my athletic performance.
I remember wishing yoga was included in my course, Sports Science, or in the varsity training program, or even in P.E. classes back in college—now, it is!
I continued practicing with Allen. After work, I would go all the way from Makati to Quezon City or anywhere she's holding a class just to get my yoga fix. Aside from being an athlete, I was, at the same time, training athletes and was also working at Gold's Gym and teaching in Assumption College. Back then, yoga was more of a physical practice for me and was just part of my training program.
My yoga breakthrough came on the heels of a devastating let-down in the man department. It's quite embarrassing to admit, but I think many of us have had an experience of the heart-break variety, yes? That was when I started digging deeper into the practice. I went to countless Kirtan sessions where I met and befriended a Reiki master and did several sessions with him. I also joined my first Vipassana Meditation course. It was the beginning of a life-changing spiritual journey for me.
In 2010, Allen encouraged me to do a Yoga Teacher Training Course (YTTC) with her Ashtanga teacher, Clayton Horton. He is a traveling yogi from San Francisco, and is one of the few certified teachers of Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois (Father of Ashtanga Yoga). He is now based in Hong Kong.
What special preparations did you do to become a yoga teacher?
My yoga journey with Allen prepared me and opened up this opportunity for me. Also, the Vipassana Course that I've attended was a really big factor in changing my mindset about a lot of things - it literally changed my life!
Aside from the regular yoga and meditation practice that I was doing, I was also reading a lot of books about yoga, meditation, and Buddhism. So when I took the one month YTTC in Boracay with Clayton, a seed was already planted. I was already studying yoga's deeper philosophy and practice. It wasn't just a physical practice anymore but also a spiritual one.
Moreover, by this time, I've already resigned from Gold's Gym and was teaching Barre3. It is this new group class from Portland that is a fusion of yoga, Pilates, and ballet. My training here was a big help and it prepared me for teaching yoga.
When did you start teaching yoga?
Right after the teacher training course, I joined some of my YTTC classmates in offering donation-based Mysore classes at a dojo in Cubao. Like Allen, I also started practice-teaching with my friends. And since I already have a client base in Barre3, they asked me to give them private yoga lessons as well.
At the beginning, I was very insecure in teaching yoga. I didn't know how to start. Even though I'm confident in teaching other classes such as Barre3, I found that teaching yoga is such a big responsibility. Not only should I be knowledgeable about the physicality of it, but I felt that I should also "master" and imbibe the philosophy and spiritual teachings to have depth and integrity in my teaching.
To gain more knowledge, I attended a lot of workshops and seminars from visiting teachers like John Scott, Manuel Ferreira, Govinda Kai, and Jovan Nikolic among others. I joined other Ashtanga teachers' classes, did some sort of apprenticeship by assisting them in their classes. I kept reading a lot of books to gain more knowledge, watched and followed videos of senior Ashtanga teachers such as David Swenson, Richard Freeman, Lino Miele, and John Scott to get some pointers. I was voracious in getting information so I can further develop my teaching style and eventually find my voice.
In my experience, I found that the best teachers are my students and my own practice. Learning this way gave me sensitivity and authenticity. I am able to give more meaningful and successful classes, and my students felt and saw this, therefore, they appreciated the experience more.
What is your personal teaching philosophy when it comes to yoga?
I believe in simplicity, authenticity, and integrity. My approach is very straightforward. If I cannot break down or simplify a concept or an instruction, it means that I haven't really understood what I am talking about. So, I keep studying and finding ways to keep things simple. In that way, it becomes easier for my students to learn as well, and we both feel more successful.
I also try to give lessons or teachings one at a time then let my students explore them on their own, see if it works for them because, ultimately, we are our own teachers. I don't teach everything I know all at once. Yoga is a lifelong commitment and needs to be taught and learned at the right pace.
I also care about my students and try to form a good student-teacher relationship. I make sure that they can reach me if they need my help or if they have questions. Only by knowing them well and by being available to them can I help them.
Moreover, I strive to practice what I teach. I try to be mindful. It is easy to show off with yoga and many teachers fall into this trap. I am focused on being myself, being a person of integrity, and treating everyone and everything with respect—from my teachers' teachings, the Ashtanga and Vipassana System, and all of my students.
Tell us more about Aquanimous Yoga. What are your core yoga programs and classes like?
Aquanimous Yoga is about creating balance in the mind and body so that we may realize our wholeness.
To do this, we practice awareness, equanimity, and compassion while doing yoga postures or while meditating either on the mat, the balance board or the stand-up paddle board.
- The mat yoga classes are Ashtanga and Yin-Insight Yoga. Vipassana is also called Insight Meditation in the west, so it is incorporated in the Yin class. These 2 systems are the root foundation of Aquanimous Yoga for they have become my blueprint for developing strength, balance, self-awareness, equanimity, and compassion.
- My SUP Yoga program is a progressive series of hatha yoga practices done on a Stand-Up Paddleboard. With the board as the mat, the water brings new challenges and develops one's practice. It takes the practitioner out of a controlled environment and into an ever-changing environment where the setting is sometimes calm and sometimes rocky. Familiar postures and sequences are explored with an inspiring and new approach. Each class encourages the student to systematically investigate each aspect of the yoga practice with some depth so it has a chance to take root in their body and nervous system, therefore, becoming an integrated part of who they are.
- Aqua Firma is done on a balance board. It is a fun class that gives serious benefits. It incorporates Yoga and Pilates movements, and is set to music with deep beats and a rhythmic groove. It is like doing SUP Yoga but without the water.
Since we get waves here in Surf Town almost year-round, we are not able to hold SUP Yoga classes regularly. I decided to add the Aqua Firma class, which is also great because a lot of people are still intimidated by the water, and mimicking SUP Yoga on land is a great way to develop their confidence and balance. By adding Pilates movements, we further develop their core strength, which is important for balance and stability. Moreover, the instability of the balance board is more "predictable" compared to when you are on the water on a SUP so it's a great platform to prepare for SUP Yoga.
How can one integrate yoga into daily life?
Now that yoga has gone mainstream, it is more important for yoga teachers to communicate how postures, breathing techniques, and meditation are rooted in moral principles so that students can build a sturdy bridge between yoga on the mat and the yoga of daily life.
When we leave the sanctuary of our mat or a yoga studio and set ourselves to work in the world, we must be careful not to add to the confusion and violence that already exist. So we cast a wider net of our awareness, equanimity, and compassion to encompass, let's say, frustration with our temperamental car, or the argument we had with our friend, or washing the dishes, or our apprehension about an important meeting.
In other words, to integrate yoga into daily life is to pay attention to our whole life: our thoughts, our emotions, our bodily sensations, and our speech and other actions and reactions. As we do, we will discover that nothing is separate from anything else. Thoughts are the sensations of the mind just as sensations are the thoughts of the body. Each moment of our life is a moment of potential practice.
Practice, then, can be understood as a willingness to return to the reality of this very moment. That is, to observe with dispassion and clarity exactly what is, right now—good or bad. It is the consistent willingness to open to life in all of its joy and pain. Does this moment call for silence or for answers? Is the person in front of me asking for information or the reassurance of my love? Am I reacting from fear or from necessity?
I just want to clarify that by practicing being present with all the moments of our life does not mean that everything that happens is okay and that we just have to learn to accept it. I am also not asking anyone to change into something they think is better or more spiritual. Instead, I am asking the practitioner to consider removing the layers of doubt, fear, and denial that keep them from experiencing connection with their own wholeness.
Obviously, there is no guarantee that I am correct. But relying on paying attention to the thoughts and sensations of the moment will give us a chance to respond to life less from our habitual patterns of defense and more from integrity.
Moreover, yoga and meditation addresses the ethical life through a whole range of practices that encourages us to live in harmony with nature, making our actions conducive to both personal and planetary health. The great yoga teachers urge us to consider all aspects of our lives, to revere all living things, and to take no more than we need. Surely, a complete yoga practice must encompass a way of life that addresses the harm we inflict on ourselves and other living things, as well as doing our part to reduce pollution and to share the limited resources of our planet fairly with all other beings.
Yoga's healing practices provides us with a much-needed physical and psychological cleansing. Yoga gives us a sense of peace and expansion. Equally important, it gives us the awareness, inner strength, resiliency and grace needed to face the complexities of life in our society today.
What are the biggest lessons from practicing and teaching yoga?
In Aquanimous Yoga, we stay true to the yoga and meditation systems. Yoga and meditation are practices of investigative personal discovery. They tell us that in order to realize lasting happiness, we must discover our true, spiritual nature. This requires that we commit ourselves to nothing less than self-transformation and self-transcendence.
Even though it is always there, we cannot see our true nature or spiritual Self because our mind is obstructed or clouded by our conditioned thoughts, emotions and learned patterns of behavior. By practicing with awareness and equanimity, we remove all these obstructing (mental) clouds and we're able to see and enjoy the sunshine (wholeness) within.
This process of purification and transformation is not in the least glamorous. On the contrary, it is quite humbling for we must constantly, bravely, compassionately, and smilingly face our limitations in order to realize our unlimited potential as spiritual beings.
I know this to be true from my own experience. It is not easy. It will take time, grit, determination, patience, compassion... but it's worth it. Having the right understanding and gumption to do the practices correctly are what changed (and are still changing my life), so this is what I impart in Aquanimous Yoga today.
Lalah’s deep understanding of the role of yoga in one’s life makes her an excellent teacher. She speaks in clear tones. Her guidance is warm and effective. She also captures the intensely comprehensive and transcendental nature of self-discovery, whether on the mat or out in the sea, in the phrase: between ease and effort.
Or in a word: aquanimous.
Ready to book a class with Lalah? Follow any of these pages to know the weekly schedule.
Inabel Towels and Mat Sprays: http://aquanimousyoga.com/boutique/