What have Pakistan, Canada, Australia, Japan and Hong Kong all got in common? - Interview with Nasci Lobo
Where do you come from?
Well, it is a bit of complicated background...my family origin is from Goa, India...I was born in Karachi, Pakistan. Then we moved to Toronto, Canada when I was 7 and grew up there. I have lived in Australia for a little bit and then Japan for a lot - 16 years - and now Hong Kong.
Where would you call home?
Good question. It depends on which aspects we are talking about. If it is where I was growing up, then it is Canada. If it is a place of permanence or a sense of permanence, I would say that it is between Canada and Japan. Hong Kong is a temporary home for now.
What is Hong Kong to you?
Tell me about your time in Japan...what took you there?
In university, I studied a bit about Japanese culture, sociology and economics. When I was in Australia, I had the opportunity to move to Japan under a government-run programme where I could teach English in local schools in Japan. And there I was for 16 years - for a combination of reasons, including family, the love of Japanese culture and martial arts, and eventually translating and interpreting. . I studied Aikido for 6-7 years and got my black-belt in that.
You have a black-belt in Aikido. So what is Aikido?
It is a form of martial art, started in around lat 1930s. In Kanji, Aikido is made up of "Ai" (合) meaning join and harmony, "Ki" (氣) meaning chi or energy and "Do" (道) meaning the path. In short, it is to join the energy of the other person's energy or Ki, so that you are joining the momentum of their energy and to use that to your advantage. There is no punching or kicking. It has to do with turning the joints, wrists and shoulders, say, to immobilise them using different pressure points on the arms or shoulders. Sometimes you may use a wooden sword for practice. It is mostly to do with using the other person's Chi and breath control to execute whatever you have to do.
You mentioned that you started to practice mediation in Japan. Was it due to Aikido?
Practicing meditation was definitely an extension of Aikido. In martial arts, mental discipline is developed. However, the origin of my meditation practice in Japan was with Zen meditation. I used to go to a Buddhist temple near my house. The meditation classes were free - or you just need to make some donations to the temple and the monks would teach you Zen meditation. Then we used to have tea and chat about Zen practice afterwards. I have continued that practice as much as I can now, maybe once a week.
Do you practice walking meditation?
No. I have tried it in Japan but have never taken to it. I am active and enjoy various sports like rock climbing, hiking and scuba diving. When it comes to meditation, I still prefer the silent and sitting version of meditation. Perhaps, it has something to do with martial arts practice - because I enjoy the quite time after practicing martial arts.
How did you then start practicing mindfulness as it is a different type of discipline and mental exercise?
Mindfulness started through an extension of yoga, which I started to get into in 2004 in Japan. I started to practice more, including Yin yoga, which was how I started to move towards mindfulness. At the Canadian International School of Hong Kong where I work, it started with the request from a programme coordinator to introduce a course to the students, focusing on concentration / mindfulness and relaxation. As a counsellor, she saw the stress that students would be subject to, and felt that such practices could provide them with a tool to manage the stress. As a result, we started with Grade 11 students. It began with a once-a-year session, then expanded to twice-a-year and then to multiple grades (grades 9 - 12).
What is the mindfulness training at the school like?
This is considered as pastoral care for the students, instead of part of regular curriculum. So it is not yet a frequent and regular practice, like weekly or monthly practice. There are now 3 people teaching mindfulness, which can be a combination of breathing practice, body-scan and concentration. The focus is on stress management. We don't teach meditation.
What transformations that you have seen in the students?
I also teach the students yoga sometimes. So with a combination of yoga and mindfulness, we have received a lot good feedback from them. Many of the students have said that they didn't expect much before doing it because they thought it was something that was unfounded or unrelated to what they were doing at school. But after the session, even with just a 30-minute session, they found that they enjoyed it because it has made them feel calmer. "Calmer" is the description most frequently provided by them. One of the students came to me the day after a session and told me, "I have not slept well for a long time but I slept very well last night after the session". Others were also saying that although the techniques, like breathing, were simple, they were effective and made them feel more relaxed than they originally expected. They could see how they could apply it, say, during exam period. As a result, we also started a yoga club for the students for some time . Many of them are athletes and have found the yoga practice to be very beneficial.
Quote from a student, “Coming out of yoga nidra specifically, I find that it alleviates literally all of my stress and gives me a good night's sleep. I have a habit of overwhelming myself with so much work that I can just barely manage, but after going through those exercises as well as others that relate to breathing, it helps with calming me down. It gives me a moment to not only reconnect with myself, but also repair my body and psyche.”
What's you comfort food?
What book are you reading now?
I just finished reading Anatomy Trains by Thomas Myers. It is about fascia, how your body is connected by fascia, instead of muscles and bones, and how it relates to the movements in yoga.
When was last time you got drunk?
At a wedding of my friends recently.
We know that you also teach on a popular online yoga platform. What's the most memorable moment when teaching online?
It was probably my second online yoga class. A group of my friends got together to have a hot-pot party (which I was invited to but had to step out of to teach this particular class). They then signed on to join the class live - where I could see on my screen that they were having the hot pot as well as getting into some asana poses. I think they were impressed by how well composed I was!
What's your least favourite food in Japan?
It took me a while to get use to natto (fermented soya beans) but now I love it. The one thing that I am still not used to is takuwan (Japanese pickle daikon)
You travel to Taiwan quite a bit, mostly for rock climbing. Have you braved your way through the local stinky tofu yet?
No, I think it may need to take another 10 years or more!
On your next trip to Taiwan, what will be the first food you look for?
What's your favourite yoga pose?
Eka pada bakasana^
(^One-legged Crane pose, a pose that strikes a chord of fear in the heart of all arm-balancing yogis.)
To follow Nasci's yoga classes and other activities, please joint "Small Group Yoga Hong Kong" on Facebook.