Every time someone asks me how many tattoos I have, I have to pause and count. For some reason, I can never quite remember how many I have. Even as I sit here, I’m not really sure — and to be honest, the number changes quite rapidly.
When I decided at 17 years old that I wanted to get a tattoo, I knew it wasn’t going to roll well with my parents. It’s not that they’re traditional people, but they definitely have strong opinions when it comes to decisions that are seemingly quite permanent.
I don’t believe every tattoo needs a heart-wrenching tale, but there’s, of course, a story behind each one and since people always seem so curious, well… here they are:
Om mani padme hum (along the spine)
This mantra is so important to me. As a child, whenever I was worried or scared, my mother would tell me to chant these words as a way to overcome my fears.
This six-syllabled Sanskrit mantra is associated with the four-armed Shadakshari form of Avalokiteshvara — the bodhisattva of compassion.
In easy terms: it’s a condensed form of all Buddhist teachings.
Om, or aum, is a sacred syllable found in Indian religions.
Mani translates as “jewel” or “bead.”
Padme is the lotus flower, a sacred flower in Buddhism.
Hum represents the spirit of enlightenment.
The infinity symbol ∞ (back of right elbow)
Sometimes referred to as the “lemniscate,” or ribbon, the infinity symbol is a mathematical symbol representing infinity.
I love that it is a symbol of perfection, duality and empowerment. The word comes from the Latin infinitas or “unboundedness.”
Just Breathe (right shoulder blade)
I was born with a lung infection and so, breathing has always been something I’ve had trouble with.
Walking down the street on a stuffy, hot day — or alternatively, on a frigid, cold day — and I would have to pause, desperate to catch my breath.
It’s actually one of the things that brought me to yoga in the first place — the promise of a better, more conscious breath.
I went to see an amazing Ayurvedic practitioner recently (more on that later) and she explained to me that I hold a lot of stress in my heart and throat chakras.
She taught me that the lungs are associated with feelings of sadness, grief, anxiety and depression — something I’ve been meditating on recently (probably more on this later too…)
A fun aside: during our Modo Yoga teacher training, a lot of students told me this tattoo reminded them to stay present during the many, many asanas we did each day.
Kuan Yin (back of left arm)
Kuan Yin is the Buddhist bodhisattva of compassion. She is often known as the Goddess of Mercy and has many names, depending on which spiritual path you follow.
Many look to her as the protector of women and children, and so she’s often referred to as the fertility goddess.
On my mother’s side, Kuan Yin is a significant name. My great grand-mother, having trouble conceiving, worshipped her in the hopes of one day having a child.
She prayed, went to the temple, gave offerings and eventually, was blessed with my grandmother. Our family continues to pray to her in thanks and each household has at least one statue of Kuan Yin up high on a shelf, looking over us.
I got this tattoo after our Modo Yoga teacher training. It’s one I’ve thought about for years — and I did actually reach out to a few artists to have it done, but it never really went anywhere. The timing, now, I think, was perfect.
Tender is the Night (inner left bicep)
“It was only a sunny smile, and little it cost in giving, but like the morning light it scattered the night and made the day worth living.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night.
To me, Fitzgerald has, and will always be, one of the most prolific, poetic authors.
Feather (inner right bicep)
I don’t remember my reasoning behind this one. I think I just liked the idea and the artist who did it — a friend from a past life working retail at H&M — did an amazing job and tracing it along my bicep.
He’s the only person I allow to tattoo me now. Check out his profile.
Sunflower (inner right forearm)
Sunflowers are my mother’s favourite flowers, so as I grew up, they became my favourite flower also.
I got this tattoo with my friend, Heide, as both of us were going through hard times at the same time. It brought us together. She’s still one of the best people in my life.
Star ☆ (right wrist)
Never let your 17-year-old friend tattoo you just because she’s an “artist” and has a job as a tattoo apprentice.
It’s a fun story now, but I’m definitely shaking my head at teenage me thinking it was a good idea to let an inexperienced artist mark my body. I’ve since gone to have the lines adjusted and fixed.
Also, we’re not friends anymore.
Roses + Sabrina (left wrist)
This one actually started as a cover-up for another tattoo my “tattoo artist” friend did at the same time she did the star.
Whatever she had done looked truly awful, so I went to a tattoo parlour to have it covered up.
They asked what I wanted, and I said something along the lines of “no clue, do what you want.” The artist chose to cover it up with roses, a symbol of new beginnings.
I added “Sabrina,” my sister’s name, last minute because we were fighting a lot at the time and I felt like I needed a way to reconnect with her and remind myself how important our relationship is.
Promise peace (left foot)
When my grandfather passed away in 2008, I was in the thick of assignments and exams.
I was studying cinema at Dawson College in Montreal, Que. He was in Sydney, Aus., where I grew up.
As a family, we decided that it did not make sense for my sister and I to remove ourselves from school for a month to take the 32-hour flight back to Sydney for his funeral. My father went alone.
My Yeh Yeh wasn’t the warmest person, but he did love to sit and tell us stories about how he built the Singapore skyline.
When he passed away, I felt guilty for having not given him more of my time — I was a teenager and was selfish, self-centred…aren’t we all at that age?
I wrote a letter, a copy of which which I have since lost, and folded it into tiny squares for my father to tuck into my grandfather’s left suit pocket just before he was cremated.
At the end of the letter, I signed it “I love and miss you. Promise peace, Rachel.”
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