I had three distinct, interconnected objectives in entering a 21-day yoga challenge. First, I wanted to find equanimity and a fine balance with the push and pull of work and my private life. I also wanted to be more mindful and fully present in my daily engagements and pursuits that are at risk of so rife with distractions. Finally, and on a more immediate, if prosaic note, I wanted both make weight and survive my first international jiujitsu tournament. It was a big , multi-pronged task, but I felt yoga would make it all happen.
Having been educated at 2 Jesuit institutions, I’ve been ingrained with these pegs, if you will — cura personalis, or care for the whole person; mens sana in corpore sano, a healthy mind in a healthy body, and mentis vita pro vita mundi, or the life of the mind for the life of the world.
Mid-way into the Challenge, these came to life with guided, gentle movements all connected with the breath, and the mostly calming presence of our instructors — each with their own style and affirmation, and this helped me through a progressive spectrum of disciplines. This spanned the FNR classes that eased me into the body of asanas, to the more challenging vinyasa classes, and in between, the restorative sessions that were an oasis between them and the every other daily jiujitsu drills and sparring to forge me into competition – or at least face-saving – shape.
What resonated with me and connected both seemingly disparate practice is what are at both their core, the optimal use of the body, mind, and breath. It is no coincidence nor red herring that jiujitsu is called the “gentle art”, and that it has more in common with yoga than the warrior poses and arcane movements. Both envision the empowerment of each limb and organic chain of movements. Both harness the breath for optimal movement and endurance. In my amateur’s opinion and layman’s observation, yoga’s fulfillment begins and ends in the self, while jiujitsu completes its arc in engaging another. It’s no boast either that commentators describe this martial art as the equivalent of human chess — where strategy and technique, beyond strength and conditioning, decide the outcome. And in deference to its roots, as a true art the goal is to end conflict and make peace — where matches end with a tap, after control, position, and submission are achieved.
That mindfulness of movement, that rhythm of breathing and thinking and choice found its way to work and my relationships with colleagues and loved ones. That hour or so each of those 21 days – shorn of an electronic leash, noise, and rabbit holes of distraction – seared this self-awareness that helps me reason to position, both mind and body – a starting point for better decisions and outcomes. Paired with the quiet, almost refined battles on the dojo mats, that forged a greater self-awareness, and greater respect of the other, the environment I moved in and sought to better in my work as an energy executive, literacy advocate, and broadcaster. At the very least, my sisters would take notice and no longer PM me to sit up straight and speak more slowly, a milestone that is no small feat for those who know me well.
Did I attain the things I set our to do? Yes, and then some. I made competition weight a week ahead of schedule (a feat equally important in terms of outcomes, given a higher weight meant certain and more painful defeat); I lasted longer in rolling (sparring) on the mats (which, more than a yoga studio, even the bikram ones, are virtual saunas); and, I became more deliberate with each movement —- seeing each technique as a part of a union of others — that helped me take each engagement where I willed it too, more often than not. My Coach saw the difference, and as opposed to the previous years where injuries would have their way at the 11th hour, deemed me fit enough – mentally and physically — to fight and represent my dojo.
In the end, after nerves and a few lost opportunities, I came away with a bronze medal, and the respect of my gracious opponents and team mates. But what I took away with me that I carry with me to this day now that I prepare for another, larger competition, is that mindfulness — the contemplation in action that the Jesuits also loved to impart — now a growing part of me especially as I weave my work, with these two beautiful and essential arts, and enabling a more fulfilling life.
Quintin Jose Pastrana has worked for Bloomberg and is now an anchor for ANC 24/7. He is also President of WEnergy Power Pilipinas, a leading renewable energy firm in the country and founder of the Library Renewal Partnership, a coalition that helps build libraries and community education centres around the Philippines and is set to build 200 libraries by 2020. He practices jiujitsu and is also part of the Philippine rowing team.