Stretch Your Body and Spirit,
Change Your Life
Yoga has given Amma so much confidence and depth in perception that she is able to view the world in a whole new light, says Vijayaletchumy Vellasamy
Imagine a woman who has spent most of her life toiling to be a good, loyal, dutiful wife and mother — always setting aside her own needs — discovering that she is able to make her worldly cares melt away. Imagine, she is finally getting the opportunity to explore her own potential, and to be herself again.
And the change, indeed a transformation, has in a most profound way not only benefited her but also people close to her.
Yes, that’s mum, and her secret is yoga.
Not all children get to see their mothers literally standing on their heads, and be hit like a thunderbolt with the recognition that mothers do have needs.
Yoga has given Amma Visvasamany, so much confidence and depth in perception that she is able to view the world in a whole new light.
“Even simple asanas like the Shavasana, or corpse posture, bring great relief to the mind,” she says.
Amma is 53 years old and she took up yoga about five years ago, but I still watch in awe when she does the headstand or the Sirsasana with such poise and ease.
It makes me wonder if this is the same woman I have known all my life, and whom I have taken for granted more often than not.
Imagine being married when you’re still a dreamy growing child yourself, and taken hundreds of miles from home — which was Singapore — to be harshly introduced to the hardships of estate living; this, at a time when in a far off land people were plotting to conquer the moon.
In your new home, there’s no trace of Shakespeare — or lines of Keats’ poetry hanging on the walls — only poverty, inadequate facilities, at least 10 others sharing the same roof, and where people’s day begins well before 5am.
And you are just 19.
Before you know it, the children arrive, one after another, and any thought of seeing to your own needs have simply to be set aside.
That’s how life was for my mother, when she first came to Malaysia. In Singapore, it was no bed of roses either, but at least she had her Shakespeare, and dreams about a certain Mr Kennedy.
But then, with my mother, the rules are very clear. The family comes first, and no compromise.
She has been teaching in the estate kindergarten for the past 25 years now and she had also conducted tuition classes at home for as long as my brother, sisters and I were in school.
Ouch! I still remember the ruler sessions when we brought home report cards with red marks. And of course there were the unending exchanges with Paati (our paternal grandmother) which always ended with us being chided, even though you know who’s the queen in picking fights.
And even at 17, when I was sadly still not wise to the ways and wiles required of a young lady, I would usually go to school in a grumpy mood as Amma had to forcefully tame my long and stubbornly unkempt hair into a pair of stiff plaits, before knocking my head a couple of times for good measure.
I now wish that like my hair, I hadn’t been so stubborn then, and tried harder to understand the hardship she was enduring, with four school-going children and my father who was badly injured in an accident two years earlier that left him partly paralysed.
She barely earned RM350 a month, fees from the tuition classes included.
For my younger brother and sisters, there were no extra classes, and no shopping sprees or lavish dinners.
Her unflinching quest was to ensure that everyone one of us would at least have tertiary education, and we did.
My brother is working and studying overseas, my younger sister has completed her Master’s, I have my BA and my baby sister is pursuing studies in IT at Unitem.
As grown-ups, we have come to appreciate and love Amma so much that we cringe and crumple inside when we see her in pain — be it from old age ailments, or the cumulative effects of the mental pressures from just being a mother.
Amma has never been one to simply accept whatever adversities she faces though. She would seek ways to overcome them.
As such, it was no surprise that for her pains and aches, she turned to yoga for relief. What was a surprise was the emergence of a new person.
She has not one, but multiple health predicaments, that include asthma, high blood pressure, anaemia, cataracts in both eyes, severe pain at the knee joints and diabetes.
We had watched a strong-willed woman slowly giving in to the ailments. There were the groans of pain, complaints of discomfort and constant irritability.
Then came Mr Rajarethenam, a yoga master, who patiently helped and guided her with the appropriate methods to counter her maladies.
Today, she can even bend backwards to touch the floor in a wheel pose, or the Chakrasana, and she is also no longer afraid to take those late night baths.
Occasionally, after travelling or continuous hard work, the earlier ailments still do peek back but unlike before she is confident that she could overcome them by taking full control of her mental powers, synchronise them with her physical and spiritual nature (through specific asanas, pranayama and meditation), and quickly return to being a vibrant and happy mum again.
Amma had this to say when I asked her about her new-found or rather rediscovered self.
“Yoga is a discipline that helps keep my body, mind and soul healthy. I know only a minimum of Yoga but I have experienced its benefits to the maximum. The breathing exercises and meditation bring harmony and I experience an inner peace that helps me live a balanced life in the midst of a chaotic daily one.”
Doubt whether your stiff bones could survive the scorpion posture or the half -spinal twist? Consider this. My mother was 48 years old when she first started on the regime.
According to her, Mr Raja does not force his students to do difficult postures but allows them to acquire the skills at their own pace. Each step is tackled slowly and consistently, and students are not advised to go on to the next one unless they are fully comfortable with the preceding one.
Mr Raja, made popular by TV3’s Jaga Badan series, has more than 20 years of experience as a yoga instructor. He claims that his three-month intensive course, among others, guarantees self-healing, increase of intellectual/memory power, mental stability, an end to bad habits, blood purification, disease prevention as well as cure and relief from insomnia, vision impairment and hypertension.
The exercises, mediation methods and continuous coaching from a good guide ensure personal and physical benefits as well as mental, psychological and spiritual enhancement.
He holds regular classes at the Sunway Lagoon, Desa Sri Hartamas, Puchong and various other locations in the Klang Valley.
A three-month intensive course will be held from June to August 2003. If you are interested, drop a line to [email protected] to get Mr Raja’s contact number.
Nuance (New Sunday Times), 18 May 2003
Kavya, June 2003