ON THE ELEMENTS + LIVING IN SINGAPORE
How has what you offer through Satsanga evolved over the years?
My work has shifted a lot. In these last six years, having this beautiful community at Satsanga, as much as it has been in service for them, they have provided service for me and we have learned from each other, and they have been a mirror to me. They reflect to me who I am – what is important to me and what my values are.
Through this time, I have started to rise in my own vocation, in addition to sharing meditation and yoga. I am going into a more individualized approach, where I am working one-on-one with people and pulling together all these modalities and tools that I have been collecting in my pocket all these years.
In addition to running Satsanga, as well as developing some beautiful collaborations with my beloved, Daniel, now I am offering Elemental Wellness.
That pulls in the elements which are also part of Ayurveda. You pull in yoga. I did a consultation with you and you gave me dietary suggestions, yoga practice, and meditation…
Yes, that’s it. It’s an integrative approach, tailored to the individual. I try to be a guideline for the person in front of me to become more aware of who they are, on every level.
Some people are very aware of what they eat but maybe not so much of what they do with their body. Or they are very aware of their thoughts but have no way to manage their emotions.
Exactly. We have so many components and it is easy to overlook one. What I would like to do is to mirror to people the wisdom they already have, in how to balance holistically. We can do it symbolically though the elements. Once you connect with the elements in nature, then you can easily start to connect to your own constitution, how the elements appear in you. And so I work with an elemental perspective. We first look at a person’s constitution and then how to bring this dynamic system into harmony. The tools I use are yoga, yoga therapy, diet, meditation, breathwork, Reiki, visualization…
The elements are always in a dance, like you said in one yoga class. Living in Singapore, the fire element, with the heat, is so strong. What would you suggest for people living here because for many, it is pretty tough?
Once you connect with the elements in nature, then you can easily start to connect to your own constitution, how the elements appear in you.
It is really tough. If we are looking at it through Ayurveda, so looking at it through the doshas, these intelligent forces that are moving in our environment and in us, Singapore is primarily Pitta dosha which means the elements are fire and water. It is very prominent in the hot and humid climate, which has an effect on the fire and water within each person here. What ends up happening is that we have an ongoing summer, all the time. It is always outgoing, extroverted, on-the-go…It can be playful or it can be stressful but it is always extroverted. There is not a natural slowing down. There are cycles here but you just have to be more sensitive.
For people who are not very mindful of this, it would be harder to naturally relax and let go because the environment is not supportive of that.
Yes. If you live in a place with seasons, even if you are not a very aware person, you can’t help but entrain with the seasons and the changes.
When winter comes, there is an automatic slowing down. It is too cold to be outside so you naturally slow down and your activity and diet change. Your appetite changes. Your digestion changes. Everything changes.
And then in spring time, there is a natural growth and energy and newness. There is this ability subconsciously to understand this concept of letting go and re-birth.
Whereas when we are in a place where we don’t see the seasonal changes, when nature is not reflected in such a big way, it is very challenging. First of all, your energy is always outwardly going so there is no rest. You get burned out, and you see a lot of this here. Even emotionally, when you don’t experience seasons or have that input to let go, I think there develops a lot of fear about letting go and you may want to stay attached to the stories or the emotions that are there.
What do you suggest?
Find a way to balance the fire. Cool yourself. Eat more cooling food. Be mindful of the hottest part of the day. Find your own cycles, especially for women, with the lunar cycle. Put more emphasis there. Find your daily cycles – put your routines along with when the sun rises and when the sun sets. There are ways to stay balanced but I think it takes a little bit more of awareness when you are living here.
So look at how you eat, how you breathe, at your cycles…
Why tune into ourselves? It’s not just to be selfish and self-centered but it is actually self-love, and when we have self-love then we can love other people, other animals, other beings, other plants, other trees. We connect to everything around us so it has a higher aim.
Yes. I also wanted to mention that in Singapore, because we don’t have so much nature surrounding us and also we don’t see the power of nature, with hurricanes, typhoons, tornadoes, and earthquakes, for someone who’s lived here for a long time or their entire life, they never experience that. I have a feeling that if we don’t know the power of nature, then it is harder for us to have reverence for nature. When we don’t have reverence for nature, we most likely don’t have a connection to nature. I see that if we don’t have a connection to nature, it is very difficult to have a deep connection to our own nature.
That has been a bit of a challenge, being here and I would hope that for all people living here in Singapore, we can find more ways to connect to nature, even if it’s going to the Botanic Gardens, or just standing outside. Putting your feet on the ground and it’ll be easier to tune into ourselves. Why tune into ourselves? It’s not just to be selfish and self-centered but it is actually self-love, and when we have self-love then we can love other people, other animals, other beings, other plants, other trees. We connect to everything around us so it has a higher aim.
You grew up with seasons. How has living in Singapore affected you? At least in the beginning.
Ayurveda, the ancient healing system of India, is one of the great healing traditions of the world. Ayurveda is a holistic medical system grounded in comprehensive philosophical/spiritual view of life. Ayurvedic treatment incorporates a wide range of methods, including dietary changes, herbal therapy, exercise, massage, meditation, and numerous special procedures such as cleansing of the nasal passages.
Dr Steve Bratman, Complementary + Alternative Health
It’s been hard. By nature, I have a lot of fire anyway and so I really elevated my fire element. I saw the effect of it. High heat, high fire, my job was high stress, I had a lot of stress in my relationship, and I wanted to practice hot yoga at that time! What did that look like? I was stressed, irritable, frustrated, angry… I had digestive problems. I had breakouts in my skin. I had recurring styes in my eyes, from recurring infection. All classic signs.
It took me a while to realize what was the problem. I moved here in 2006 and it wasn’t until 2008 that I realized what was happening, because that is when I started to study with the Ayurvedic practitioner. As I was studying Ayurveda more, I was bringing those practices into my life more. It worked immediately and I started coming back into balance. And now what I try to do is to find cycles, adjusting my lifestyle – getting up with the sun, getting unplugged when the sun goes down, slowing down, and getting to bed at a decent time. Tuning into how I nourish my body and mind.
Inflammation and infections are part of the fire element. Is this why mycoplasma is so common?
Yes, definitely could be. Same for things like heartburn, gastric, acidity, and conjunctivitis. I hear about these symptoms everywhere in Singapore.
[Momo comes out for a visit]
The elemental approach is such an important practice to put into place. It’s maybe hard for people to understand it is important especially when we only have hot, hotter, wet, wetter kind of weather here.
Focusing only on the mind and heart and forgetting the body also leaves us in imbalance and so that was part of the reason why I wanted to go into this holistic approach.
Yes…as I was doing more and more work with Satsanga where we focus a lot on meditation and working with the mind, and with the heart also – it’s a very heart-oriented place here – I started to realize that this is only one part of the recipe for wholeness. Just as much as we don’t want to focus on the body and forget about the mind, heart, and spirit, the reverse is true too. Focusing only on the mind and heart and forgetting the body also leaves us in imbalance and so that was part of the reason why I wanted to go into this holistic approach.
If we are going to have a right mind, a right heart, a right consciousness, we need to spread that consciousness to everything, to our body, our food, to our relationships. The elements are such a beautiful way to do this because they capture everything. You can see and understand the elements everywhere, through nature all around us, reflecting into us as well. It is an easy way for people to connect and understand.
ON YOGA + MEDITATION
The meditations you offer here are active meditations.
Yes, it very much uses the body. I like that a lot. We are using everything we have and not neglecting any part. We use our own movement, sounds, and breath to connect to ourselves.
It is quite dangerous to think meditation is leaving your body.
Well it is definitely a misconception about meditation.
Now you also offer courses, like in Ayurveda.
Yes, that dream finally manifested. I didn’t become an Ayurvedic doctor but I have now done about 1400 hours of training and studies of various kinds within the field of Ayurveda. I am qualified as an Ayurvedic Lifestyle Consultant, and through that I added the elemental work that I do.
I also started teaching a 6-week Introductory Course on Ayurveda. I have taught level one, six times now. This year I hope to start sharing level two. And I would love to integrate Ayurveda into the retreats that we host through Satsanga and in the upcoming work that I will be sharing with my beloved, Daniel. I would also love to tag onto some of the yoga teacher trainings in this area, because Ayurveda is a sister science of Yoga and so important to its unfolding. I started doing that with Hom Yoga.
You have been part of that training since the beginning, starting with Leah Kim’s.
Yes that was a lot of fun, teaching yoga philosophy and subtle anatomy and meditation. I’ve added Ayurveda into that curriculum as well.
That is great. People who come into yoga are often focused on the body, initially anyway. The real meaning of yoga is later discovered.
If there is one word to describe everything that is happening in my life right now, it is yoga. Yoga means union. It’s a freedom that is taking place That is how I see my life, living yoga.
Many relationships are dissolving or taking unexpected turns and shapes, it seems. As a previously single woman in Singapore, what would you say to other women going through a similar experience? How do you find that courage and that faith you can stand on your own two feet?
I wish I could take each of these women and give them a huge hug and tell them again and again how beautiful and how strong they are and how much life and light they have inside. Because we each have it. We have this potential. This is what I would say, to any single woman or man, but more to women because I know we are prone to insecurities and fears.
No doubt, it is challenging to be a single woman in Singapore. A lot of people living here relocated with partners or families or are from here and doing their own thing. So it can be difficult to meet other available persons!
Many expat women are trailing spouses who don’t have paid jobs.
Yes, and then they might find themselves in this position…you can be full of uncertainties when the foundation has been pulled out from under you.
What I would say is to deeply, truly, and authentically love yourself. Learn how to love yourself. For a lot of us, we don’t love ourselves. Fully. I am still working on that. I would say that, first and foremost, use this opportunity to direct all your attention to your beautiful self and fall in love with you. Once that starts taking place, the vibrations within you rise so high that, and like attracts like, you start to bring in the same vibrations into your life. Everything will be taken care of.
It’s quite scientific; it is entrainment. Whatever vibrations we are of, we are going to create that resonance around us. All we have to do is be present, be aware, and be love. Open our heart and start to love ourselves. That could be many things. Take care of yourself, eat beautiful food, nurture yourself, be in nature, relax, find things you like, take a bath, light candles, dress up in your best outfit and go for a beautiful dinner, date yourself, and fall in love with you. Everything will happen and it will happen in the right time.
So many of us put our self-worth in the hands of other people.
Yes, just in the same way that I put my self-worth into the label of my job as a scientist. We easily do that in our relationships. We find our self-worth based on whether our partner loves us or how they speak to us or interact with us. It’s also our family or the outside community. I think it is a natural human tendency.
Somehow, if we can redirect our attention inward and find the strength from inside, that would give us real stability. There are so many ways to do that. I think it is a matter of finding out what resonates with each person and that is the beauty of having so many practices available. There is something for everyone.
For me, personally, I found meditation was so incredibly helpful. My recipe for healing was active meditation using sound or movement, cathartic meditation – so actively working on cleaning and clearing emotions, cleaning up my diet, and putting in lots of high-prana food, getting out into nature, exercising, finding creative joys again and allowing myself some comfort at that time….
With all your tools it still took two years for you so for those without any…
Yeah it can be very challenging if you don’t know where to start or feel alone, so it would be good to be in a community, or start with some classes that share on these topics. Find a teacher or someone to help guide you. Having a spiritual practice or a mindful practice or a heart practice, you can nurture the spirit at the same time. That is incredibly important. I came to understand our spirit is untouchable. It’s our connection to it that is weakened, or broken sometimes.
ON FOOD + EATING
What were some of your comfort foods during that healing period? They probably aren’t the same now.
[Amber laughs] Yes they aren’t the same anymore. At the time of going through my divorce, I remember my comfort foods included a bowl of cereal, I really loved – must have brought me back to my childhood days. Kaya toast. Teh C! But slowly I came out of those too. I see that it was important to allow my comforts and to organically come out of them when I realized they were not serving my healing so effectively.
What are some of your comfort foods now?
I love almond butter. I make it myself, when I am not being too lazy. I love a fresh coconut. I love mangoes and kiwis, fresh fruits basically. I love sprouts, green juices, smoothies, and lots of green. High prana foods.
What are high-prana foods?
One definition is that prana, life force, is still vibrant in food that hasn’t been cooked over a certain temperature. Food that is live, like fresh veggies, fruits, soaked & sprouted nuts and seeds, fermented veggies, superfoods.
One of my favorite foods is sprouts, mung bean sprouts. You know there is prana in it because there is a seed and you can literally put that seedling into soil and it will grow into a plant. It has life force inside.
I cannot always digest these foods very well and that’s where I love to integrate Ayurveda because constitutionally some people have difficulty with raw foods. So as much as I love raw food, I have to adapt a little bit and make some modifications.
To get my dose of high-prana food, I love to have a green juice in the morning. That’s the best way for me to get a lot of prana and it is easier for me to digest. It is just juice. I create the juice and blend it with the greens so it is a hybrid. As far as some of the other modifications, for living soups, where you just blend the vegetables, I add warm water to it, so it will be warmer and more grounding.
Spices is another way. Ginger, black pepper, cardamon. Give it more agni or fire so that will help it get digested better. As much as possible, I make sure if I can get organic, that will be ideal and whole foods, so taking out all the refined and processed foods.
Does that mean no sugar?
Yeah, no sugars but I do occasionally use honey or coconut palm sugar..
You are mostly vegan now.
Mostly but not purely. I’ve been vegetarian for the last 16 years. It was a gradual process becoming mostly vegan and part of it was moving to Singapore. I had a difficult time finding free-range products – free-range eggs and organic dairy – that were not super super expensive, so in the end I found it easier just not to eat that. And I love the way my body felt as I removed eggs & dairy and eventually even gluten. But now, being pregnant, I notice that my body wants eggs again!
I also eat warmed or cooked foods like porridge, kitcharee, and quinoa stir frys when I feel the need. That’s the other thing – I am actively working on eliminating labels in my identity, wherever I can, living more by intuition and trying it for myself, and that goes for my diet, for my exercise, the activities I do. Im trying to live more intuitively and without rules or labels for how I have to be.
What mindfulness practice do you have with your food?
I bless my food and give gratitude. Whenever I am going to eat, I love to pause and think about everything that’s involved in getting that food onto my plate so starting with the sun, the sunlight, the earth, all the hands that harvested the food or prepared the food, all the beings who brought it here, not to forget all the insects that were also involved working with the soil. And then I love to eat while being completely present, savoring the tastes and feelings of the food. My preference is to not talk while eating! This way I can be fully present with each bite. The same goes for preparing the food, too.
ON LABELS +BOUNDARIES
You want to remove labels. How do you introduce yourself now?
That is so hard. I still don’t have an answer to that. I don’t want to say I am a teacher.
So you don’t call yourself a guru?
No, never. I don’t use these words.
Has anyone called you their guru?
Yes. A few people have called me that and it was really difficult because I didn’t know the right way to respond to them. How I responded was that I said I thank you for your appreciation and love but I am not your guru. Your guru is inside of you and your heart. I am just reflecting that to you and I see the guru within you as well. We are all gurus together. Someone asked me once if I would do an initiation for them.
I don’t know. That’s what I asked – into what? They just said they had this feeling that they needed to be initiated by me. That’s only come up a few times but it made me look at this whole paradigm – teacher/student, guru/disciple and it’s an old paradigm and very deep-rooted, especially in the East.
I am here in this spiritual community, facilitating meditation and yoga, and very quickly if I am not keeping a watch on it, it is easy to be put into that position, from projections of people coming here and maybe even by the way I am carrying myself. I really had to start looking at that and I wanted to de-construct that. I realized it is allowing my humanness and vulnerability to be there. It’s hard to explain but it’s good to try to explain in words. [Amber pauses in thought.] I wanted to show my human side – I am not perfect and I am not an angel. That doesn’t mean showing my personal life to everyone either. I also wanted to have boundaries, running a centre.
So if you are not feeling well and can’t do a class, you don’t feel guilty about it.
Exactly. I can simply say that and ask someone to step in for me.
For instance, the greatest transformation was when I went through my divorce because I was emotionally struggling and it was hard to maintain Satsanga. I called together an inner circle. I didn’t expose to the whole community and that was for the boundary issue. We met and I just told them what I was going through and that I needed support. That was so incredible. It brought us very close to each other.
I think it helped a lot of people to see that I am also human and I am not anyone’s guru. I am a fellow sojourner on this path of self-discovery. We are in it together. If I can be a guide for someone then that is beautiful and if they can be a guide for me, that is also beautiful. Sometimes we are put into a position to hold space and I do that with humility and gratefulness and I do it to my best ability, but I always try to remind myself that it is space holding.
What does space holding mean for you?
It is stepping outside the ego, setting it aside, not banishing it or calling it bad names, and allowing another energy to run through me and coming into a space of open-heartedness and non-judgment. Anchoring it there and creating safety and a feeling of home, and a feeling of heart, and letting that feeling pervade the whole space so that everyone can feel it and be at ease and fall into a place of trust within themselves, with me, with each other. That is space holding for me so that magic can happen in a safe container.
So your inner circle held space for you.
Yes, in a wonderful way. For a long time and they still do.
You don’t want to call yourself a teacher so how do you introduce yourself?
Inevitably, I say I teach yoga and meditation. [Amber laughs]
At the start of the conversation, you said how uncomfortable you were after losing “credibility” as a scientist, now that you say you are a yoga teacher, how does it feel?
It feels like another label but this time, I have some distance from it. I know it is just a label and in that way, it makes it okay actually to use it. It helps people identify and function in this world, to have our place so I can play in that game, but with a knowing inside that I am not that. That label can change at any time. I am something that is beyond that. So now when I go through immigration and I have to fill out “occupation”, sometimes I sit and think hmmm what should I put there and sometimes I put sharer, facilitator, community friend. I put many different things and sometimes I put teacher.
It only took six years to make my business cards! I was trying to think what to put on there. I already have one label and that’s my name. It was really fun trying to think what to put and finally what I ended up with is Holistic Lifestyle Practitioner, Founder of Satsanga., Yoga, and Active Meditation. All my labels on one card.
ON BEING PREGNANT
And soon mother. How do you feel about being pregnant?
Very happy. Daniel and I are super excited about it. I feel running Satsanga has given me a little glimpse of being a mother. I feel Satsanga is my first baby and I’ve watched this baby grow into a beautiful and sweet adolescent. That has prepared me in many ways. It has brought out a very deep mothering aspect and I now am very excited to become a biological mother. I have no idea what it’s going to look like but I am really excited.
Have you done any journeys to connect with the soul of your baby?
We did a ceremony to welcome in the soul. It was something we wanted to do. Part of me right now feels the soul has not actually come yet [Editor’s note: the interview took place May 2015]. She’s taking a peek. I am getting myself ready, and in meditations, I sense her and communicate but I haven’t done anything formally.
So just for clarification. you call her a “she” but you actually don’t know yet.
No. The connection is definitely there. I am sensing her/him all the time. [Amber and Daniel have since found out that they are expecting a girl]
Now that you are pregnant how much has that changed your lifestyle?
Wow, it is so fascinating and beautiful to watch. I realize with pregnancy, you go into this abundance of earth and water. It’s so prominent. Physically and also, emotionally and mentally. It is such a beautiful mechanism of nature because that is our body preparing to create life and to support life and so you have to be grounded for that. You can’t be flighty or spacey.
I need earth and water for nurturing and nourishing and that gives me the softness, literally and figuratively, and energy to nurture not only the baby, but myself, and to bring this baby into a rich fertile environment where it can be unconditionally loved and supported. It is a beautiful balance of earth and water energy that is coming up.
You are really enjoying the pregnancy then.
Yes, very much and also I am learning. I am learning a lot because with the water element, emotions definitely run all over the place. I am watching a lot in myself and I am learning and it’s beautiful.
You talked about rhythms and cycles. Have you changed any, now that you are dealing with someone else’s?
Yes. This is due to the uprise of the earth and water elements. There is this natural impulse to slow down so I am taking more rests now and going to bed earlier.
I’m eating on a very different rhythm than before. I’m pretty much always eating!
It’s very juicy yin period, the kapha element is coming in. I want to rest and to nurture myself. But I’m still practicing yoga and I’m still teaching yoga. In fact I just signed up for another training, for prenatal and postnatal mindful birth.
You have been in Singapore since 2006 and you have been doing “this” for the last six years. How has Singapore changed?
It’s like these little pods of light that are starting to go off all over Singapore, and worldwide.
I love to watch the changes taking place. There is such a momentum of opening, of evolution, and awakening. When I first started with all of this type of work (what we practice at Satsanga), I went to a yoga studio to ask to rent a hall for a group meditation and at that time, the owner really had to think about it. No one had asked her to do this before. I am sure there was a lot of meditation going on in Singapore and I didn’t know about it at the time, but I do recall that it was new for them to think about renting out the space.
If you fast forward to now, there are so many facilitators and practitioners coming in and we are out of space, basically. Everyone is trying to find larger spaces for more events, more meditation or more yoga or more healing. More people have the vocabulary, even using sanskrit words, and being familiar with meditation, with yoga, with healing practices, and there are more organic vegetarian food possibilities. I would love to see it keep evolving and keep going. We are still several steps behind some places.
You mentioned Satsanga was a connection that helped you grow. It’s been six years now. What stories are there?
It’s such a beautiful community. It’s fluid and dynamic and there are always new people coming in. I would say it’s probably 60% Singaporeans and then foreigners from all around the world. It’s all ages. People bring their young babies and children. Men, also. And all the way up to more elderly.
It’s a real diverse community and there are people who have been with me from the very beginning. It’s been so incredible to watch their transformations, just as they have watched mine over the years. This diverse community has helped me to experience and touch the Oneness that connects us all.
It’s really inspiring to see so many people who have come through start their own Satsanga in their own place, whether it is in Singapore, opening up their own homes, or in other places in the world. There are people in New York and Utah and someone in London, someone in France and someone in Hong Kong who want to start.
To me that is the highest thing we can do here – to inspire each other and shine our lights. It’s like these little pods of light that are starting to go off all over Singapore, and worldwide. Singapore is such a transitory place and it’s like a learning field here too. We all come together here to learn and then we spread our light around the whole world, which is fantastic.
It is interesting how we are all in Singapore, this little city-state. We come from all over, and of course the community here already.
I feel a lot of us have a soul connection and that’s why we are here together. So many people who walk through Satsanga I feel such a deep familiarity with. It’s as if our souls have travelled together from a long time and one way I think about it, is that we are a soul family, clusters who have reincarnated together.
I love to contemplate that – that we have all reconvened here, at this time, in this lifetime, to exchange and sharpen ourselves and get a little brighter, so we can all disperse into the whole earth school, shining and sharing. To emerge as awakened beings.
Portraits of Amber and Momo at Satsanga by What Therapy and all other courtesy of Amber.