The conversation continues from where it left off. After recognising the best thing she could do was to let the NGO she founded go by putting a new structure in place, Myriam steps on a new path of sharing what is most dear to her heart. We (Karen Tsui, Where My Heart Leads and Myriam Bartu) chat about tips when it comes to meditation, what Yoga Nidra is and life.
I realised the impact of meditation was so powerful for me, I felt this is what I want to share personally, because it’s what had the greatest effect on me.Myriam Bartu
- Dipping into peace
- Heart meditation resolving anxiety
- What is yoga nidra and sound healing
- Awareness, an empowering place to be
- A six week Yoga Nidra Journey
- In our lives we need a balance of both
- Let go
- Wisdom eternal
- Postscript: The Rebel
Myriam Bartu: For me when I started meditating, one of the first things that happened is that I found I had less desires, I think I genuinely have not had a lot of desires for consumption compared to people around me. But I had even less, I felt more confident about not buying anything new.
So I was like, I’m only going to get secondhand clothes, as much as I can, my son for the first 10 years of his life, we pretty much only bought second hand clothes and toys for him and tried not to have anything new. And still today, we try as much as possible, even though he’s becoming a teenager. At home, we all try not to buy any new items, no new furniture, as far as possible. It’s just the desire to buy new stuff kind of disappeared.
Something I think that’s never been very strong in me, I’ve never had much desire for stuff. But meditating really helped me build more confidence and realise that this is all not necessary, it’s causing overconsumption, it’s causing many environmental problems and not bringing us closer to happiness.
So I think that’s why I wanted to share meditation to help people come back to what’s important to them. It’s not about my values, it’s just about coming back to what’s important to you. For me, it was, reducing consumption is one, for others, it can be something else.
When we don’t have so much inner pain, and desires, then budgeting is kind of secondary, because you just don’t have this problem with overconsumption.
At Enrich, we did impact evaluations with participants that had attended our workshops. Several asked for help with depression and anxiety.
This resonated with me, because I shared this struggle with anxiety. Anxiety really impacted my life and in a way that made my personal relationships hard, my work hard. Meditation helped me reduce anxiety and my personal relationships became easier.
I realised the impact of meditation was so powerful for me, I felt this is what I want to share personally, because it’s what had the greatest effect on me.
Of course, there’s a place for all kinds of workshops and budgeting will always be something that’s very important to certain groups. But I think it needs to be matched with inside work as well and actually Enrich is doing more now for wellness as well because there’s also this realisation. Especially during Covid, there’s been so much mental health struggle. Mental health is actually the number one issue for most communities in Hong Kong right now.
2. Dipping into peace
How many years have you been teaching meditation, yoga nidra now?
Actually, I started a little bit before I even did my teacher training just for friends and some small groups. I did my first teacher training in 2016, so that’s when I started teaching meditation. I began with meditation, and then the year after, yoga nidra. (Nidra in Sanskrit means sleep.)
For me personally, meditation has been the most helpful, but yoga nidra is so much more accessible.
It’s not easy, particularly today in Hong Kong to get people to sit and meditate. And they often have this perception that they can’t. And especially if they’re coming from work, I’m generally getting people coming from a workday.
Yoga nidra is much more accessible, you just lie down, and you don’t need to do anything, you can even sleep and you still get the benefits. It’s the first entry point. So generally, the first thing I share is yoga nidra. People are so exhausted, and they need help with sleep.
Yoga nidra everyone can practise.
You can’t do it wrong.
You just lie down.
And you see the change. You know, people come in stressed, anxious, they come in angry sometimes. You feel their tense energy and then after we practise yoga nidra, they are transformed.
At the end, it just feels like we’ve got a room of sleeping babies! The energy shift is so beautifully strong.
That I always feel at the end – Wow!
People come back to this place of peace. Sound healing also very powerful for this.
The combination of sound healing and yoga nidra just makes it much easier come back to peace.
Those are my first tools, singing bowls, and yoga nidra.
3. Heart meditation resolving anxiety
Once people have been coming to some sessions, I then go into heart meditation.
For me, what helped me most is actually loving kindness meditation, heart opening.
That was the personal practice that most helped to resolve my anxiety. And it is one I share as well.
But not necessarily when people first arrived. Some people are not ready for it. It really depends. I get some people who can just sit there and it feels like they’ve been doing it all their life, maybe they’ve been doing it in previous lives.
Loving Kindness is a very beautiful practice I’d like to share more. But I think the first thing people need today in Hong Kong especially is to relax.
4. What is yoga nidra and sound healing
What is yoga nidra in your words? And sound healing?
Yoga nidra is really about dropping from the headspace to the heart.
You can say sound healing is the same. It’s about helping you come back to that peace within.
Sound healing – It’s the vibrations of the bowls that come to places within you that you can’t reach otherwise, bringing you to this deep, deep relaxation. The singing bowls are really quite magical.
But actually I share yoga nidra more because it’s more empowering I feel. With yoga nidra you can practise yourself with a recording. Sound healing you need to come in person. A lot of my work is also online on Zoom, or in bigger groups where it’s not so easy to bring singing bowls. So if you can access singing bowls, it’s very beautiful and can be very deep and very therapeutic. But it’s not necessary.
Yoga nidra on its own works well. You might need a few more sessions compared to singing bowls to get to that place of peace but it’s very restorative. And the beautiful thing with yoga nidra is you practise on your own.
Listen to a recording in bed or on a yoga mat, on a sofa, you can even practise in quarantine. You can practise anywhere really, you just need a time when you’re not disturbed. You can do it in the middle of the night.
I share recordings with yoga nidra and encourage people to use the recordings in their own time. Yoga nidra is a deep relaxation. The practice stems from yoga, it’s a part of yoga, but it’s the part of yoga that’s actually been relatively neglected compared to physical yoga at least in Hong Kong.
People know Yoga as the physical asanas, but actually Yoga nidra is a very powerful yogic practice that can bring a very deep peace and relaxation such that the body heals itself.
Whether you’re using sound healing or yoga nidra really you’re bringing your body to a deeper brainwave state, to a place of relaxation. Your heartbeat slows, and your blood pressure regulates. And your body also releases hormones, like serotonin or melatonin that produces relaxation in the body so that the body naturally gets to a state where it heals itself.
Actually, everything you need you have within you to heal. You’re just bringing your body to a place where self-healing is possible, and happens with ease.
Meditation is also a physical restoration. When I began practising mindfulness, the first thing that changed was actually my digestion, which is not what I expected.
With both yoga nidra and sound healing, you get physical benefits, and of course, mental and emotional benefits.
5. Awareness, an empowering place to be
Yoga nidra and sound healing help us take distance from the intensity of our emotions and thoughts. Getting us to realise that we are actually Awareness. We’re beyond all that – we’re not our thoughts, we’re not our emotions, we’re not our body, we’re the unchanging awareness that is aware of all this.
When you come to that space. In sound healing, you go deep very quickly, and maybe you’re not as aware.
With yoga nidra, you stay more aware of being that presence, this peaceful presence that observes all these experiences that come and go.
It’s a very empowering place to be because you realise that whatever happens in life, your stress, thoughts and emotions are not who you truly are, you are the observer of all this, you can come back to a deep peace that’s always present no matter what. And even when life throws challenges, it’s always possible to some extent, to come back, and it’s empowering to know that you have this deep peace within. This, this greater awareness. So that’s what I like to share, that’s what yoga nidra is.
Karen: Very beautiful. And it seems like total clarity.
Myriam: Clarity. Yeah, (and knowing…)
M: Connecting to yourself, you can see this as clarity in the sense that it’s connecting to who you are, under all the noise of the world.
6. A Nidra Journey
Do you currently teach people these practices regularly where they progress?
Yes, I do both. I have drop-in sessions where people can just come.
And I have A Nidra Journey, which is six sessions.
So we first begin with body sensing. And then we go into breath, awareness, then noticing emotions, and being aware of my emotions, thoughts, and then heart energy.
Then we come to sensing ourselves as pure awareness.
Actually any yoga nidra practice will take you through all this, this is really going through the koshas in yogic terms these layers, these sheaves we have.
I like to bring people on a journey where they also consciously think about each level that we have, so that we can observe. So much of the time the problem is we’re not even aware about our emotions, or even our thoughts, and we believe them. But when we can take time to observe, and notice, okay, this is anxiety, I feel it, where do I feel it? Be aware where in the body, we feel it? How does it feel? What is the name of the emotion we feel? What’s the intensity?
I encourage people to join several sessions, and even if they don’t come in person, really what I want is for people to practise.
We also do the Nidra Journey on WhatsApp. Even if participants are not able to come in person, they can still practise.
In the Nidra Journey, I share a different nidra every week and encourage participants to practise daily. And those who have had the most profound positive benefits, are those who’ve had a regular personal practice, it doesn’t matter so much whether they come in person to my sessions, what matters is that they practise.
Sometimes a WhatsApp group is enough just to encourage people to practise. Others need to come in person. A lot of people feel they need to come in person because they’re not motivated, or they don’t have the discipline, or the space in their life to practise themselves. So that really depends, particularly people who are working full time and have families and kids at home, then it’s helpful to come in person.
7. In our lives we need a balance of both
Is there anything related to the masculine and feminine energy in terms of … How should I put it. I feel like the world is in the place that it is because in general, people are quite out with that balance. And also, perhaps, again, not in touch with themselves, therefore, they’re out of balance.
And for sure in developed countries, there’s a lot of, I would say, kind of aggression, or like, kind of masculine energy, maybe that’s too general a term. The reason I’m throwing it out is because I feel like I have friends around me where they feel like they are not in touch with their feminine side. Because they’ve grown up, been trained to be, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, even though they’re female in person, but they need to be in control because that’s the mode of operation. So I wonder, in the realm of what you do now, do you see that in the people that you work with? If you have any thoughts on that.
Myriam: Well, it’s absolutely feminine energies in yogic terms. The relaxation is the Ida, it is the feminine, our feminine side, whereas the Pingala is the active, masculine side.
So it’s funny that the yoga that we generally know of is just exercise.
Generally it is more of the masculine energy, which is why it’s very important to have yoga nidra and relaxation in yoga.
There are some postures that are more relaxing in yoga, but you do need to have a balance. Whether it’s in yoga, or in your life otherwise.
My nidra teacher Uma (Dinsmore-Tuli) talks about Nidra Shakti being a feminine energy. So, that certainly is what’s missing. Feminine or masculine, in yogic terms, you call it that way. The masculine energy is the doing and the feminine energy is considered to be the more reflective, relaxing energy.
Yes, absolutely. That’s what Hong Kong needs. That’s what we need in the world, right now we have too much action, we need more reflection, more relaxation, more healing, more quiet time. And that’s what I am passionate about sharing.
At the same time, we need Balance, I think I went through a period where personally I was doing yoga nidra and sound healing, perhaps too much. Doing more energising yoga practices helped me uplift my energy.
For some people potentially, especially introverts and people with depression, it’s especially important to have uplifting practices as well.
(Karen : Bring out the gong!) Yes or something more energetic.
Yes, like running, sports, yoga that’s physical, or it could be something else. In our lives, we do need to have a balance of both. But generally, right now in our world, there is not enough relaxation, not enough feminine energy and too much overdoing. Yes. And so that’s why yoga nidra is very needed right now, and sound healing.
And then the meditation practice that you teach, or that kind of brought you to the aha moment or like to recognise the root of your anxiety. What was that experience like?
How would you suggest your students approach meditation?
I think being open really with what’s there.
A lot of people say they can’t meditate.
I don’t think that’s ever true.
I don’t think anyone can’t meditate.
But I do see that people that have very busy minds find that they keep getting thoughts.
But the fact that you keep having thoughts doesn’t mean you can’t meditate. It just means you will be constantly bringing your thoughts back to your breath, or to whatever focus point you’ve chosen.
For me, it was mindfulness initially in the MBSR, that brought me back to this deep peace and body scans, which are a big component of yoga nidra. And loving kindness; already in the MBSR we practised some loving kindness meditation.
I was very drawn to imagining a light in your heart.
For me, loving kindness is the most powerful practice.
Because when we come back to our heart, we dissolve so much of the problems that have been created in our mind. So that’s my suggestion actually, is to come back to the heart.
How you do that, and when are you ready, in what/where you’re ready to do that differs a lot.
Some people will come for the first time, and they will just rest in the heart space and send out love energy. And it’s just natural, just like they’ve been doing it all their life, or maybe in previous lives.
For others, months and months of practice. They’re not comfortable resting in that space, and something else will resonate. Or they can practise in a more subtle way.
Everyone’s wired very differently, and I really don’t believe there’s one practice that works for everyone.
“For me, loving kindness is the most powerful practice. Because when we come back to our heart, we dissolve so much of the problems that we have been creating in our mind.— Myriam Bartu, Bathing in Love
8. Let go
So I share what worked for me; I have a lot of people with anxiety come, and sleep issues. Yoga Nidra is definitely helpful. Health issues as well. And who isn’t anxious to some extent, in 2021, right, with everything we’ve been through… Frustrations, people in quarantine as well.
I think what I’d share is to find a practice that works for you and let go of expectations.
One of the hardest times is the second time you do a practice, particularly in yoga nidra because often the first time people have this blissful experience, and then they come back and they want to go back to that.
With people coming for the second time, I give them a warning, Be open to whatever you experience, whatever you experience is right for you. Because if you want to go back to that first time, it’s not going to happen. Every practice is different.
Also if you’ve been meditating for some time, and then you suddenly find you’re stuck, maybe you can try a different practice or try something else and then come back. It’s never going to be the same.
You listen to the same recording even – two times, three times, as many times you listen to it; you get as many different experiences of it. So you need to let go of the striving.
(Karen: And just be.) Yeah, just be open to what is. Just be – just be with what is.
9. Wisdom eternal
You said you love the concept of Where My Heart Leads because that so well describes the way many things are created. So certainly for you, your journey kind of followed your heart and how were you able to do so?
I think one obvious thing is not having pressure to do anything for financial gain. Otherwise that would have been another dimension. Partly because I’m trying to live only with secondhand and not buying new and I have this ethos of reducing consumption. And of course mainly because my husband is in the financial industry and is providing what I feel is more than what we need.
I have never in my work life made earning money a target, an aim.
It’s not all easy either not having that because having that, because having money as a way of measuring success also gives you something to work for.
But not having that means sometimes it has put me in a place where I felt quite lost, like, what do I do? Money doesn’t motivate me. So what do I do? Well, then I listen to my heart, that’s what’s left. Then I need to do what resonates. And serve. Try to help people. That’s what makes sense.
So I think everybody listens to their heart, but when you don’t need to be providing financially, then you have to listen, if you want to lead a meaningful life. That’s all that’s left.
So that’s, I think, why as well.
I mean, I did early on, before we were married. But increasingly, through meditation as well, I became more connected to what’s important for me personally, I think.
I’ve been very, very privileged, I feel also with great privilege comes great responsibility. So I have, I feel a responsibility to share, and to share, especially with people who have less access to resources.
And I feel right now, everybody needs support with mental health, we all need time to pause, time to connect back, time to relax, to restore. And since there are many groups that have very little time and few resources, I try especially to reach out to them.
But also I’ve come to the point where I also know that I can’t choose who I work with entirely. And whoever comes is who resonates with what I offer. Sometimes those I can help or help the most are not those who I am necessarily seeking to help. So I’m trying to let go a bit of choosing who I work with.
And just actually (Karen: Open the door wider) Yeah! I think some of those that I’ve met who’ve benefited most actually are more like me in some ways, that’s why they resonate with what I share. Because I can only share from my own experience. I tend to, I think, attract people who in some ways have something similar to me with their mental health or emotional life.
Postscript: The Rebel
Karen (K): I’m a little bit curious about your year backpacking, where you said, like, quite early on, as a young person, you already felt that the kind of the regimented ways of things is quite confining, and therefore you were seeking places or communities that don’t have that.
So now in retrospect, where do you see the two come together? Like the structure, the regimenting and the freedom. How do the two work hand in hand or do they work hand in hand?
Myriam (M): I think we need a lot less rules and structure than what we have, and I tend to rebel against it. At the same time as a parent, I’m the one imposing it! So, I do see that. And I get frustrated when my son’s completely up in the air.
I remember early on. One thing that was funny was when I was choosing universities at 17, I went around travelling in England. And my mom was always very strict, I felt, you know, you have to clean. Every time we have guests, you change the bedsheets, you clean the room, you have to … We had guests over a lot so we spent a lot of time cleaning sheets that had been barely used. I felt frustrated by that.
When I was visiting universities, at one university, the students were responsible for hosting me because I was an international student. I was coming from France to visit them in England. So I was going to spend the night and they put me in a bed where the bed sheets hadn’t been changed. There was another student staying there before me. And I was so excited by that!
I chose that university because I got to sleep in a bed that had used sheets. I just felt like that’s liberation. It made no sense to me to wash the bedsheet when someone slept just one night. I felt such a sense of liberation!
That’s actually how I chose that University. Eventually I only stayed in that university one year because I didn’t connect with the lifestyle of the students there, especially the drinking and the partying. I went to London afterwards.
But it was just an example of how stifled I felt by the rules we had at home and it’s not excessive by most people’s standards, changing the sheets between users is not excessive, but to me it was excessive.
And so the year I was travelling, I had my own sleeping bag but you couldn’t really wash very well. We stayed in simple places, dormitories, sleeping on the floor of railway stations, we slept in monasteries where we could stay for free. We stayed in an ashram where we did yoga. I just loved the idea that you could sleep in a dormitory with people you didn’t know where you would just sleep on a simple bed on a mattress on the floor.
Another highlight for me when I was travelling was the Camel Safari we did in the Rajasthani desert in India. We had just one man who took us on his camel and my friend and I each had a camel.
We rode through the desert for a few days, and he just had a sack of vegetables, and some water. Twice a day, we would stop in the desert. And he would peel the vegetables and we would help him because it was just us with him. Peel the vegetables, cook them in some water. And then hand-make chapatis, just with our hands and they were very, very rough and cooked them on the fire.
It was this liberation that you could cook just with your hands and a little metal pot and nothing else. No electricity, and just eat with your hands. And of course, we couldn’t wash your hands. You didn’t need all these things. You know, it’s so simple. And when I came back to France to see my family, that’s what I wanted to share with them.
And so to share my experience, I actually got my parents and my brothers to sit in the garage. Because I just love sitting on the floor. At home, we always had to have a proper table and set the table and we had to set the table, and that would just drive me crazy.
So I brought them to the garage. I put a mat on the floor, the cold garage floor in France, and I made this Camel Safari dinner with just a little stove, a camping stove, carrots and potatoes chopped just with my pen knife and some water we boiled in the garage, and I made them eat it all sitting on the floor, I still have this photo.
And for me that was – that’s happiness! Happiness is simplicity! And I think I just felt so misunderstood growing up with all these needs imposed on me. And that’s one example there’s many others.
So for me, liberation is liberation from this complicated way of living. That’s why I love camping and being alone, it’s just simple.
Of course with age, I also enjoy comfort and security more. But I think liberation from what is perceived as necessary is something that really resonated with me.
K: Do you feel that you’ve freed yourself and liberated yourself pretty early on?
M: Yeah, I think also…
K: You definitely gave your clothes away.
M: Yeah, and I don’t try to dress pretty, I never did the whole makeup and dressing up thing I never resonated with that. Now I can live a life where I don’t ever have to do that. I stopped trying that quite soon. My partner is not into all that. And he’s also from a different culture where a lot of the rules… He’s from Taiwan, right? A lot of the rules that were important in my home culture are not in his. Like his family has other things that are important, but not the same things. And I thought that was liberating as well to me that some of the things that were pushed on me as a child were not important in his family, like table manners are different in different countries.
K: But when you were in the garage with your family, you’re like, this is happiness and they’re like, this is such a cold floor! My butt is hurting.
M: Exactly. My brothers were really angry. To my parents they were like, why are you letting her do this to us?
K: It’s in a way it’s not only the simplicity of material possessions, it’s also the simplicity between people, right? Something that came up in a conversation yesterday was that, it seems like there’s just less trust in society for some reason. Lawyers and long legal documents and such have become like more than norm or like disclaimers and stuff. Versus before it’s like, handshake and that’s done kind of thing.
M: For sure. That’s something that changed as well.
I think with practice, I become more trusting with my meditation, in particular, the loving kindness practice, and able to connect better to people I do things with.
Now I co-organise retreats with others and in some cases we hardly meet. We can arrange things in just just a few messages. We trust that once we’ve worked together, we trust each other, we can run an event with minimal organisation, because we just flow and we trust that we both know what makes sense.
Whereas before, I used to over-prepare. I’ve changed the way I prepare things. Before, if I were to give a talk or have an event, I would really prepare the content of the talk or the event. Now I tend to just prepare myself, as long as I’ve meditated, and I’m well, I feel I can flow with whatever. (Wow)
I don’t need to over prepare my sessions or my events or workshops or retreats. As long as I’m well. Then I kind of channel, I don’t know if I use the word channel, but I’m connected to myself and I can share from a place of peace and wisdom.
Whereas before, I would do a lot of notes preparation. But you see, even if you have prepared a very good speech or a very good session, if I feel I’m not well, if I’m not calm myself, I’m not going to deliver very well.
You need both – I need to prepare the content and prepare myself, but if I have to choose if I have to choose just one, I’ll prioritise preparing myself, and then free flow, rather than over preparing the content.
I never read in my sessions. My meditations are never scripted. I don’t read them. That’s how I was taught to lead also, both in India and with my yoga nidra teachers in England. What we were taught was very much – empower yourself by connecting to yourself, practise, have your own strong self practice, and then just lead from the wisdom of your heart and the peace of your heart.
Rather than using the mind, I use my heart more than my mind when I teach. I feel that works better.
K: And how have you ‘reconciled’ you being kind of the odd one out in the family?
M: Well in some ways I’m not the odd one out because my whole family has a history of alternative healing. My mom’s an osteopath. She’s done acupuncture. She’s done a lot of alternative healing practices. And my brother also. One is an osteopath, and the other is a life coach. So a family of healers. In that sense, I have been continuing. In fact, when I went to share meditation, I felt closer to my mom because it’s closer to what she’s been doing. My family has also evolved in that way. They’re also quite environmentally conscious. And also avoid buying things new.
K: Must be your camping experience.
M: I think it was their own journey!
In Goa, my parents had their own experiences as well, their own realisations – I wouldn’t take credit for that. I think it’s also the teenage years I was rebelling because I felt different. Maybe I wasn’t actually that different.
“I wanted to share meditation to help people come back to what’s important to them. And it’s not about my values, it’s just about coming back to what’s important to you.”— Myriam Bartu
All images are from Myriam Bartu unless otherwise noted.
Date of interview: 5 October, 2021 at Singing Bowl Zentral, Hong Kong.
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“With great privilege comes great responsibility.” What comes to mind?