The Reluctant Yogi
I thought yoga was something other people did. Yeah, you know the type, those other people with the healthy year round glow and the ability to stand on their heads, those wheat grass enthusiasts with liberal attitudes to body hair. Those other people. Certainly not me. I mean I didn’t have time for all that slow, self-reflective business, all that self -indulgent relaxation. My life was so fast paced and I moved so quickly, if you blinked, you would literally miss me.
My job in PR working for an international fashion label was more of a way of life. I travelled, I partied, I networked. Stillness was something other people did and relaxation of any sort made me feel positively guilty. I had to be moving, had to be achieving, I didn’t quite understand the value or see the merit in not-doing. Downtime was never an option. I was a whirling dervish of caffeine and sugar. My life was a constant blur of canapés and cocktails, late nights and early flights. And if you asked me, I’d tell you I was fine, that everything was great. No really I was absolutely perfectly fine.
Then one day the wheels well and truly came off the party bus. The warning signs may well have been there but I was far too busy rushing from one drama to the next, that I didn’t even notice, such was the disconnect between my body and mind. But things slowly started to unravel. I couldn’t sleep. My appetite diminished. I started developing palpitations and having panic attacks and visual migraines that were so intense, it was as if someone had dropped me a hallucinogenic.
I withdrew from family and friends, made excuses where possible and avoided contact with people I loved, terrified they might ask me how I was feeling, and even more terrified of my response. I was in a constant state of high alert and was petrified that if this was the way I was going to feel for the rest of my life, well, then I’d actually rather be someone else.
‘Have you ever thought about yoga?’ A friend asked over her de-caff latte as I skulled my third espresso of the day. ‘What you mean become one of those other people.’ I sniffed, trying to steady my shaking hands. ‘One of those other people with the rolled up mats and the lithe limbs and the calm and sunny dispositions?’
‘And your point is?’ She challenged.
Okay. So I didn’t actually have a point. My opinion was based on poorly judged pre-conceptions and stereotypes based loosely on a ropey yoga-cise DVD I was given as a teenager by a baby-sitter who was really into tie-die and crystals. I just didn’t feel spiritual enough. The closest I ever got to spirituality was owning a mood ring as a teenager. The truth was I had a whole gym bag full of excuses about why I shouldn’t try yoga; the classes were too long, I’d probably get bored, it wouldn’t be a hard enough work-out, I hate incense, I’d be too embarrassed to um, ohm.
But the truth was I was scared. Scared of what I might find if I sat still and looked inside, what might be unearthed if I took the time to just sit and listen to what was really up, and let’s face it, something was most definitely up.
It took another full month and trip to a doctor before I decided to take the yoga plunge, having literally exhausted every other possible route and having ruled out various medications I was offered by my GP on numerous occasions. Not to say that route is a bad one. It just wasn’t the one for me. Besides which I had spent the last ten years feeding my body and brain stimulants in one form or another, so the thought of taking anything else, prescribed or not, just felt wrong. My central nervous system was in protest and I couldn’t ignore it any longer. It was time to get regain control of my breath, my body and my life. And so my journey began. Yup. The time had come. I was ready to become one of those other people.
I arrived late to my first class, having deliberated outside the hall for a full ten minutes. Hoping to go unnoticed, I tip-toed into the back of the room and placed my mat next to a very Zen looking older woman who gave me a wide and welcoming smile. So far, so good, I felt rather pleased with the fact I had managed to escape any awkward admissions of newby-ness and also position myself inconspicuously at the back of the room. But then much to my obvious panic, the teacher decided to move and position herself right in front of me, thus magically turning the back of the room to the front of the room in one swift move. The old yogi room switch-a-roo! Didn’t see that one coming.
Needless to say my first lesson didn’t quite go as smoothly as I’d hoped. I felt a little awkward and exposed, having no one in front of me to copy and unable to follow the Sanskrit names of the asanas she liked to throw out there. It was a class that was taught by voice as opposed to movement, which in my obvious novice-ness, didn’t really help at all, as I genuinely thought a downward dog was something you’d find in a kennel.
However I left that class feeling good about myself, if nothing else I had taken the first step and had stayed for the duration. I may have even enjoyed a couple of the asanas, and had concentrated so hard that for that hour and a half my anxiety had decided to take a well-earned mini-vacation.
Over the next month I experimented with various classes and instructors, from Bikram to Jivamukti by way of Yin. I read articles and watched You Tube instructional videos, given by supermodels and women like looked like supermodels on exotic beach locations. I learnt how to breathe from my diaphragm and invested in my very own sticky mat to practice my chaturanga dandasana at home which for some reason I just couldn’t quite master. However, it wasn’t all plain sailing. There was the time at a hot yoga session where I woke up with my legs in the air and an instructor placing a dextrose energy sweet on my tongue to bring me around. Or the time at restorative class where I woke myself up snoring to a room full of sniggering yogis. There was also the time at Jivamukti where, not listening to my teacher I jumped too quickly into a handstand and landed on the person in front’s mat, causing what can only be described as some kind of yogic Jenga.
It was a good six months of these yogic ‘flings’ before I settled into my own rhythm and started to establish a firm routine -clicking with both a style and a couple of teachers I loved to
practice with and still do today. And slowly I started to feel better about myself; I got stronger physically and mentally. All the fears and preconceptions I had about yoga were very quickly diminished. I was never bored, no matter how long or slow the class there was just so much to learn! As for my worry about it not being a good enough work out, well I only had to attend a powerful vinyasa flow class or a hot yoga session to alleviate any doubt. And was that soft line in my arm the hint of a bicep? And was I holding myself a little taller? Quite possibly, yes. And as for the ohm business, as it turned out I actually quite enjoy it. I’m still not keen on incense, but you can’t win them all.
My yoga practice was like someone gradually turning the dimmer switch to full beam on my internal self. I became acutely aware of minute fluttering’s and areas of tension within my body. I learnt how to send my breath into tight spots and discovered that my hips were so tightly wound up, the first time I attempted ankle to knee pose I had to be helped up. I started to view my skeletal structure as a series of tectonic plates that were constantly shifting and that I was able to observe to influence through my practice.
Yoga has become not only part of my life, but part of who I am. I cannot ever imagine running to any gym class I might be late for, and yet time and time again I find myself running like the wind to yoga, not wanting to miss a single moment. I cannot ever imagine my life without my practice, and my only regret is that I wished I’d taken the leap sooner.
I often wondered why people often described their yoga practice in terms of journeys. But now I totally get it. It’s a journey without a final destination. A journey that takes you through yourself, via yourself, a journey you never want to end. It’s like having access to an internal poetry that I cannot wait to revisit. My own journey reminds me of a song I was taught at Primary school, a song that you probably were taught too, ‘I Can Sing A Rainbow.’
There’s a line in this song I never quite understood and to be quite honest used to annoy me, which went, ‘Listen with your eyes.’ I remember as a child having what the heck moment when I first heard this. I’m sorry, listen with your what? Did she say eyes? Does she not mean ears? I remember asking my music teacher what she thought this meant and her shrugging a response about it being some kind of metaphor and that one-day, when I was older and if I was lucky maybe I would understand, maybe it would all become clear. And okay, as new age as this sounds, now this phrase sort of makes sense. Listen with your eyes. It reminds me of my yoga practice and the journey I have taken and continue to take. It reminds me not to judge or make assumptions about things you don’t understand. It reminds me to be open to new experiences. It reminds me of those times on the mat when you feel something shift internally and you can’t explain it to anyone else no matter how hard you try, and you come away from class smiling or crying or laughing and part of you is transformed forever. And yes I understand that this probably doesn’t make sense, but as my teacher said all those years ago, it’s a metaphor and maybe one day if you’re lucky all of this will become clear.