The Alchemy of a Dirty Yogini

Posted on October 8th, 2012 by in Yoga

Dirt · y [adj.] Appearing as if soiled; dark-colored; dingy; murky.

Pu · ri · fied [verb] 1. To rid of impurities; cleanse. 2. To rid of foreign of objectionable elements. 3. To free from sin, guilt, or other defilement.

Mud surrounded the house where I grew up in a small village in Singapore. I spent many hours walking, playing, and daydreaming along dirt roads. My mom used to make me wash my hands and feet before I could eat or sleep and often yelled when I got myself dirty again. So at a young age, I began to form a judgment about being dirty and clean. Later, in my adult life, that judgment transformed into an invisible quest to be pure, to be good, and to be rid of stains in character.

I was always fascinated with martial arts. Growing up with two brothers and three other cousin-brothers, I watched a lot of kung fu films from Hong Kong where heroes and heroines flew through the trees, defeating villains and restoring justice. I loved seeing how the body could quickly assume delicate yet powerful postures and defy gravity with leaps and somersaults. I especially admired the power and beauty that the women possessed. It seemed as though their diligent practices purified their characters—from weakness and doubt to strength and confidence.

When I was 14, I stumbled across a book filled with yoga poses. Fascinated by how flexible the people in the pictures looked, I began imitating them. Fusing martial arts and yoga, I improvised movement flows to demonstrate the sharpness and flexibility of my body. Through the flow, I would relive the feelings that I had when I watched kung fu movies—a sense of accomplishment, transformation, and purification.

Many years later, while living in New York City, I was fortunate to meet a world-renowned Shotokan Karate sensei, an incredible practitioner and teacher who became my mentor I experienced while practicing regularly at his dojo. I loved the disciplined power and the pursuit of precision. It was the perfect practice for me at that time. Through the precision and attention, I could channel my frustrations, stressors, and disappointments outside the dojo. I was often reminded of the childhood feeling of purification through movement. After each dynamic practice, my body would be spent, but I would feel as if justice were restored in my life and all bad and negative thoughts were obliterated.

I became more and more willful in my practice, and my love for karate gradually became an obsession, my only affirmation of self-worth, and I often worked through bruises and injuries. My practice magnified my masculine, yang, and sun energy—I was determined to will myself to stay strong! Even though my physical body was in great shape, my emotional body was a mess. Life’s churnings gradually led me to depression. In despair, I spiraled into helplessness. There was a dreadful sense of being defeated and, for the first time, I understood hopelessness.

I eventually moved out of New York and found myself arriving at Kripalu in 2007 for a two-year yoga internship. It was the beginning of an incredible inner journey that brought me to tears, joy, salvation, union, wisdom, awe, curiosity, sorrow, and deep love. When I left New York, my will to live had shattered, but that exhaustion became the elixir to soften and surrender. I finally let go of wanting to be pure, good, and strong. Instead of endlessly chasing those attributes, I embraced the mess I got myself into and began to embark on a journey to know the true self, the unique movement of my soul.

Martial arts taught me the inner integrity to show up for practice, no matter what. The transformative spark was already working from outside to inside. Immersion into yoga became the next natural step for my journey. I slowly dissolved into yielding and flowing and from this arose my feminine, yin, and moon energy. Through practicing Kripalu Yoga, I dove into the experience of moving toward what is without the need to change or fix.

Liberation is accepting the “dirty” parts of myself—i.e., my shadows, the failures, and the weaknesses—those judgments that had lingered since I was a kid. Soil and mud are not bad things but important natural earth elements that are necessary for growth, just like the lotus blossoming one petal at a time from the mud. I realized that as soon as I dropped my judgments, I became open to experiencing life as it is, a constant dance of darkness and light. Without labels of “good” or “bad,” I see that life is a continuous movement toward the truth.

Reprinted with kind permission from ORIGIN Magazine.



About Jovinna Chan, E-RYT 500

Jovinna teaches yoga, dance, theater, and meditation, and is a presenter for many guest yoga programs. She spent 10 years as an actress and dancer in New York City, and her teaching is influenced by Martha Graham, Soul Motion, karate, and traditional Korean dance.
  • Holly Hungett

    Jovinna, thanks for your inspiring and moving account of your jouney..