ARTICLE: ‘Others often think I’m good at yoga because I am flexible and strong. Fact is, my flexibility and strength came from practising Ashtanga yoga.’ (SUNDAY MAIL, June 1st 2014)
PETALING JAYA, June 1 — Yoga teacher Ninie Ahmad’s studio, Upward Yoga, was a wedding gift from her husband. She says, “Ten days before our wedding, he took me to view an empty space near our new home. At the time, I had taken a year off teaching. He told me that the space was perfect for me to resume my classes. ‘It’s time,’ he said.”
Opened in 2011, Upward Yoga is a pristine, open space. There are many photographs of New York city and I Love NYC posters. Ninie says, “I modelled Upward Yoga after my favourite studios in New York city.
Those yoga studios don’t use mirrors so I find students will correct their poses based on what they feel within rather than checking their reflections.”
Smiling, the petite yoga guru adds, “Most serious yoga practitioners seem to find their enlightenment in India. I found mine in New York, and now here in my own studio.”
Upward Yoga offers students the use of high-performance, slip-resistant Manduka mats, which are made from a blend of polyester and eco-certified PVC. Ninie says, “Serious yoga practitioners swear by this mat as it supposedly never gets damaged and has a lifetime warranty. The idea is it should last long enough to pass down to your children.”
2. Yoga books
One of Ninie’s favourite yoga books is Ashtanga Yoga As It Is by Matthew Sweeney, one of the most advanced practitioners of Ashtanga yoga in the world. She says, “I started yoga in 1999 but only began my Ashtanga practice in 2008. This book is an indispensable step-by-step guide, complete with what to do and how to eat.”
Ashtanga yoga requires serious discipline and commitment as it requires six days of two-hour practices per week. Ninie says, “It is not for everyone but I enjoy this, what I consider to be the most challenging form of yoga. Others often think I’m good at yoga because I am flexible and strong. In fact, my flexibility and strength came from practising Ashtanga yoga.”
3. Ashtanga Yoga poses poster
A framed poster on the studio wall displays the poses and sequence of the first and easiest series of Ashtanga yoga. For Ninie, it’s both an easy reference and a source of motivation. She says, “I used to wake up at 4am to practice for a couple of hours before breakfast. For example, the Chaturanga (or yoga push-up pose) turns up 84 times in this sequence alone. Imagine doing that number of triceps push-ups!”
Ninie admits that initially she didn’t like Ashtanga yoga because being unable to do all the poses frustrated the perfectionist in her. It took her five years to complete all the poses in sequence. She says, “Ashtanga humbles me.”
4. Peacock feathers
Two tall vases of peacock feathers have an important place in Ninie’s studio and in her heart. She explains, “My mother-in-law gave me these feathers as she knew I loved feathers. My favourite pose is also called the Feather Peacock Pose or Pincha Mayurasana.”
When Ninie was pregnant with her daughter, she found that the Pincha Mayurasana pose, previously difficult for her, was now easy. When it came time to name her newborn child, it was a no-brainer. She says, “Pincha chose her own name.”
5. Bronze yogini figurines
Ninie first saw these brass figurines of yoginis (female master practitioners of yoga) at a shop in Bangsar. However, as they were very expensive, she decided to save up to buy them. She recalls, “I was pleasantly surprised when my husband bought me one for my studio opening.”
When Ninie returned to the shop to buy the rest, the shop owner told her someone had bought the rest. She was disappointed till she received another figurine from her husband for her birthday, and then a third for their wedding anniversary. She says, “They are a beautiful reminder of devotion to my practice as well as my husband’s love.”
6. Scrabble tile display
Upward Yoga’s feature wall used to be covered with numerous framed magazine interviews from Ninie’s early years. She later removed them to remind herself not to hold on to the past as well as not to distract her students from their practice.
In their place, she has put up a mural made from giant Scrabble tiles. She explains, “I used to be a big Scrabble player. I had bought some of these tiles as decorations for my daughter’s first birthday and then decided to recycle them into a new focal point for yoga practice – to breathe, stretch, and heal.”
7. Candles and essential oils
The calm, steady glow of a candle’s flame and the fragrance wafting from essential oil invigorate the minds and bodies that enter the Upward Yoga studio. Ninie says, “Each essential oil has a different healing attribute. My favourites are citrusy oils such as orange, tangerine, lemongrass and mandarin. These really help to refresh the studio and everyone within.”
During her classes, Ninie plays a musical accompaniment for Ashtanga Yoga’s Primary Series titled Learn to Float. Created by David Robson, the music leads practitioners through the sequence of poses to the steady, hypnotic beat of a drum. She says, “This helps deepen the focus on breathing during the practice. Also, I find the repetitive beats a form of meditation on its own.”
In the Tibetan Book of the Dead, everyone is believed to have a predetermined number of breaths in a lifetime. Ninie says, “Therefore, the longer the breaths we take, the longer we live. I always tell my students to inhale the optimism around you and exhale all the stress.”
9. Singing bowl
Similarly borrowed from Tibetan lore is the singing bowl (also known as a standing bell or suzu gong). Ninie shares, “The Tibetans believe that when you hit the rim of the bowl with a handle, it produces a fundamental frequency that balances and rearranges the molecules in your body back to perfection again. At the end of my classes, I will ring the singing bowl to wake my students up from Savasana or the resting pose.”
Ninie’s singing bowl is a handmade bronze bowl from Ubud, Bali, where she attends the BaliSpirit Yoga Festival every year. She says, “As it’s handcrafted, the bowl is not perfectly smooth and therefore produces a more organic sound. It creates different energies that are healing and meditative.”
Full article at Sunday Mail, June 1st 2014
Over the years of blogging and my recent years of being a little more visible as a yoga personality in Malaysia, I had to reject over a dozen of either advertorials, sponsorship and endorsement deals as I am very fierce with choosing to represent and be the voice of only products that I believe in and do not cross over my personal values and yoga ethics.
- slimming products (for real? To a 40kg girl who works out everyday?) to
- animal essence drinks (I don’t eat chicken, how can I down the concoction of their entire anatomy?) to
- bad pizzas and instant noodles (please don’t get me started on how I won’t cook any wheat / pasta that are not labelled ‘organic’ in my house) to
- baby stemcell banking (I guess they missed the boat that that PJ’s lotusbirth was the first reported lotusbirth in Malaysian hospitals ever?) to
- formula milk for PJ (doesn’t I look like a smug proud breastfeeding momma enough? Isn’t that what my rack is really for?) and while we are at boobs,
- I was even offered to be the ambassador for a bust enlargement supplement before!
Well, that pretty much sums how much I have been banking as a has-been blogger and ‘celebrity’ yoga teacher recently. Heh..
So anyways, when UNIQLO Malaysia approached me to be a Friend of AIRism, I couldn’t believe my luck because I love UNIQLO (the best quality for not too much money) and I have been wearing their AIRism bra camisoles anyway as my innerwear and my breastfeeding singlet!
PJ snacking in Vasisthasana while I was resting in Savasana
post quick practice at my parents.
PJ and her grandma photobombing my stillness practice.
My mom was supposed to be babysitting while I tried to get some yoga!
And this was way back in November 2013.
So really, I love and have been swearing by AIRism bra camisoles long before this offer came through! You could check my wardrobe, I own eight of them since last year and I even have two in white and another two in black!
They are unbelievably airy, stretchy and gorgeously padded sewn that I can even do yoga, breastfeed PJ and wear it under a sweater, IN MALAYSIA (like in photos above) without feeling choked, balmy and here’s a secret, I have long stopped wearing bras (not even nursing bras) after I discovered these magical bra camisoles.
Not only I FINALLY get to endorse outfits I have been buying and wearing but just the thought of being in the same capacity with these famous Malaysians, makes me so humble yet proud and excited yet nervous.. Some of them have more than 150K Instagram followers!
So here is my love story not only with AIRism but also with yoga, Upward and motherhood.
Keep believing in what we are worth,
stay living the life we dream and
health and wealth should soon follow.
Err, any electric car company or vegan shoemakers want to be friends with me?
And so I haven’t been updating this space for almost half a year and PJ turned ONE a month ago.
How’s that for an update?
ARTICLE: ‘It took me a decade of practising physical yoga (asanas) daily to realise that it’s not all about the poses.’ (MALAY MAIL, Oct 3rd 2013)
(Picture by Choo Choy May)
By Kenny Mah
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 4 — There’s something about Ninie Ahmad: this petite, bubbly yoga instructor will make you smile within seconds of meeting her. She has taught yoga full-time for more than 10 years but still remembers what it’s like to be a beginner so her students feel safe and happy with her guiding them.
From starting her own yoga studio and yoga magazine to becoming the Malaysian yoga ambassador for an international fitness apparel brand, Ninie seems to have done it all. Yet her happiest experience may be giving birth to her baby girl in February this year, after teaching yoga during most of her pregnancy.
What’s life like now for this yoga mama?
What was teaching yoga during your pregnancy like?
Believe it or not, aside from not being physically able to demonstrate yoga poses that involve twists, nothing really changed about my teaching when I was pregnant.
Yoga is one of the rare exercises that are proven helpful for expecting mothers because of its relaxing, opening, strengthening and de-stressing properties. As for teaching yoga while pregnant, I was definitely more compassionate to my students and somehow blessed with greater intuition to feel “within” when my students needed gentler adjustments or healing touches.
Furthermore, I believe my baby girl Pincha is the calm, healthy and strong baby she is thanks to the hundreds of hours I spent practising asanas, stillness and meditation when I was pregnant.
In fact, I named her Pincha after my favourite peacock feather pose. It’s a very difficult balancing pose but I could perform it effortlessly when pregnant. So I believe she chose her own name!
Tell us more about how you’ve changed after having Pincha.
Honestly, I thought I was the most peaceful person I knew until I had a baby. I didn’t know that I could be more humble. You see, I always had what I wanted with my yoga journey. I like being in control about everything; not only my breath but my poses too.
But after giving birth, I realise now I have something I can’t control and I have to slow down. That there’s now a life that grew inside of me but I can’t control her always now that I’ve given birth to her – this humbles me greatly.
I used to tell people who say they had no time to do yoga that they can always wake up a little earlier to exercise; I would wake at 4am to do my Ashtanga practice. But now I allow myself to sleep in a bit more because I want to spend more time with my daughter when she is awake.
Thanks to Pincha, I’ve changed my perception about how to become a better yoga practitioner. It’s about being in the moment, and being compassionate. I think now that is my yoga. This is my new challenge, being a mother.
You were very athletic even before practising yoga. What is your definition of fitness?
I started doing yoga because I thought I was very fit when I was younger – I was playing hockey, rock-climbing, and even running marathons – but I knew I was not flexible. For me, back then, a fit person is someone who is strong, flexible and has endurance.
It was only after practising yoga that I realised a fit person also needs to be able to keep their centre of gravity whatever position they’re in, and to be healthy. For example, I know many gym-goers who can perform perfect handstands but if you remove the wall they are leaning against, they’ll fall down. Some can work out for hours but afterwards they still eat junk food and smoke. That’s not healthy.
As a mother, I have to watch what I eat, how much I sleep and keep healthy for my daughter. Staying fit is my responsibility.
You conceptualised Upward Yoga to be a yoga studio with no mirrors. Why?
All the yoga studios that I have taught at in Kuala Lumpur were mirrored. Most gym-oriented yoga practitioners prefer that. Being a perfectionist and a pretty vain person, I used to find myself adjusting my hair or my clothes unnecessarily, getting distracted by other people’s movements in trying to maintain my stillness, and judging myself (and sadly others) by the reflections I saw in the mirrors.
In 2010, I took a year break from teaching and travelled for a bit. My idea of a vacation is being able to wake every morning not having to teach and getting to practise at different yoga studios in my favourite cities in the world.
I had an epiphany in New York City where I noticed a significant difference in my practice. There, all of the studios were not mirrored. Inspired by the Kula Yoga Project and Dharma Mittra Yoga Centre in New York City, I vowed that my next yoga studio would not be mirrored. The less we see with our eyes, the more awareness we gain within.
In July 2011, Upward Yoga was born. My students here also find the non-mirrored practice space a breath of fresh air, with our open windows and trees outside as the background instead of superficial mirrors.
What is your biggest insight from your years of practising and teaching yoga?
It took me a decade of practising physical yoga (asanas) daily to realise that it’s not all about the poses. While I truly vouch for practising yoga as often as you can with experienced teachers to maintain general health and to keep fit, I have also come to terms with acceptance and realisation that being kind to others through our actions is actually more “yoga” than the complicated yoga poses most of the time.
These actions can include being respectful to our own bodies by feeding ourselves with only clean and nutritious food, and simply being content and grateful with what we already have. Signalling that you’re about to change lanes while driving also counts!
This story was first published in Crave in the print edition
of The Malay Mail on October 3, 2013.
It’s already October?
Where did 2013 go?
It felt like it was only yesterday I celebrated my 3oth birthday last October and I gave birth to the sweetest baby ever.
I still can’t believe my bundle of blessings has already been climbing up the stairs, drinking from a straw and READING?
My sweet angel baby, please don’t grow up so fast..
Our recent bump-into and star struck,
Yuna at BSC. She was in flats and really is that tall!
Amina (from Masterchef AUS S4) at The Gardens. She really is that sweet.
I don’t know how long can I keep my coolness before my groupie starts showing when I host this Ashtanga rockstar for two weeks next month.
‘Hujan lemon emas di negeri orang.’
Lululemon (Queen St), Toronto
Blue Mountain, Collingwood
‘Hujan batu di negeri sendiri.’
Pangkor Laut Resort, Perak
We wouldn’t trade wanna trade Malaysian food and raising a family with anything and anywhere else.
My neverending gratitude and blessings to get to live in such a peaceful and warm country where tropical fruits are cheap and roadside parking is aplenty.
With all my heart, happy 56th Independence Day, Malaysia - tanah tumpah darahku.