Juxtaposed to the surrounding cicada-song and audible exhales of ujjayi breath from fellow practitioners, is the crashing and scraping of construction, the distant whirring of traffic, punctuated with car horns and the occasional soaring of a jumbo jet overhead. Although I'm focused on the asanas (yoga postures), I'm still able to zoom out momentarily and witness the intersection that is occurring between city and contemplative practice.
It's Saturday and I'm in the downtown core of KLCC with a group of expats participating in a monthly event called 'Yoga in the Park.' We are grouped in a circle formation, practicing postures on wet muddy ground in the lush central park of KLCC, and all around us are the towering sky scrapers of the CBD - some of the tallest in the world (see petronas). Against the cacophony of a churning city, I can feel my breath begin to settle, my body opening and receiving the intense morning sun, as sweat pools on my mat below. I settle into a seated posture and cross my legs, ready to be led through a guided meditation; I feel how my body, only recently buzzing from the busyness of the city centre, has soothed itself and I can trust in my ability to breathe again. As I follow my inhale and exhale, I think to myself, "perhaps this is harmonizing with the grit of the city?"
But what does that phrase even mean? It means that although I'm embedded in this urban chaos, full of distractions and electricity, I'm responding (or at least trying to) with a soft, centred heart, and a full breath - breath by breath. I'm using a centering or 'contemplative' practice to stop myself from bouncing off the concrete walls of consumer-driven insecurity, and instead, meeting the sharp edges of the city with a gentle and yielding state of mind. This is why, I personally need mindfulness practice in my daily life - for there's nothing wrong with city-living; in fact our cities need us more than ever. But, our cities need us to respond with a stable, creative, and loving state of mind; one that stops us from being devoured by our fast-paced consumer culture.
We finish up our class and head to Chinoz for good coffee and conversation. It so happens that on this same day, thousands of Malaysians have taken to the streets of downtown K.L to protest against the atrocious corruption existent in the current Malaysian government. The thousands that represent a suppressed political opposition - Bersih - are dressed in yellow-shirts and carry signs; as we sit drinking and chatting, I watch the mass ebb and flow their way past the KLCC fountain, emanating, to my surprise, not anger, but a non-violent call for radical change, delivered through smiles, lively music, and camaraderie between the old and young.
I'm fascinated, as I watch them: alive, awake and creating their very own 'pop up' sangha (contemplative community) right here in the middle of the city. And as I watch, I realize they too are practicing urban yoga on this hot, sunny morning - it's just their postures look a little different to ours.