Saturday, 1 August 2009

Story time.

"Yoga is about letting go of your own story of yourself", so says my wonderful teacher J.
True as that may be, everybody has a story, and more precisely, every yogi has the story of how they began. Often when you read the website of a great teacher, they will talk about how they were working in this industry or that industry (usually film/music/advertising - the more hectic and less spiritual the better) when this practice "found them". That may be dismissed as bunkum by the general population, but the further I go with my journey on this path, the more I begin to think that there is a design, and that it cannot be mere chance that led to where I am now.
So how did I come to be throwing myself so whole-heartedly into this new lifestyle aged 31? It's not like yoga is completely new to me. I took my first class at 18, and for the year between finishing school and starting University my best friend and I met in the local leisure centre on a Wednesday night for an hour and a half of stretching. The best part was the final relaxation (a luxurious half an hour) where the un-yogicly named Debbie (who also had rather un-yogic spikey hair from what I remember) would talk us into a state of complete bliss, so much so that I feared for my friend having to drive me and then herself home. The teacher explained the meaning of the greeting "Namaste" and every practice finished with this exchange, and a deep bow to the ground which I took with me into every class I attended ever since.

I tried and failed through the years that followed to find a class that I liked. There was the man in my University city who made me feel uncomfortable from the second I arrived (I think I was a minute late and he crucified me in front of the whole class - bad manners yes, but hardly the appropriate response); the lady at the sports centre near my first London flat who talked about nothing but ovaries and fertility, and then about two years ago I started going to a class at my local gym. It was a fairly easy hatha class, the type that probably the majority of once-a-weekers would experience in church halls and gyms around the country: some light stretching, nothing too challenging, with a final relaxation before you floated home feeling sleepy and relaxed, all to the back-drop of some spiritual sounding music (though this may have been there to drown out the pumping R&B and sound of grown men grunting in weight-lifting-effort that floated in from the gym). In the time I took that class there were four different teachers with varying styles along the same theme, but I tried to go every week and I enjoyed the new feeling I got when I bent to pick something up, a new opening around my hips, as well as it helping me to feel more relaxed. And I loved downward dog with a passion, I'd have happily stayed in it all day (I still feel the same - this is the special treat to reward for your efforts in Suryanamaskara A & B).
I enjoyed the class so much I wanted to try doing more that once a week, so I started going to a weekend class also at my gym, and found a much tougher, more dynamic class - ashtanga, or so I thought (I later discovered it was actually a dynamic hatha class - but possibly from the Sivananda school). After a few false starts something clicked with the weekend class, and at a time when my life was in great turmoil, I had a eureka moment one Sunday afternoon. This teacher was more spiritual, it was clear that yoga was his life, not just something nice he thought he might teach. After our final relaxation we would sit cross legged, eyes closed, heads bowed, and at that moment of great peace he said "If you can keep this feeling inside you, nothing can touch you". Click - I have no idea why, but this was it. I had an overwhelming sensation of peace, I felt unstoppable, I was incredibly relaxed but felt powerful too - and the feeling lasted for days. I became a regular at both classes, though the midweek class then changed to Iyengar which I really struggled to enjoy - now it was all about the "ashtanga". Life continued to throw some bumps into my road, but I carried on going to classes when I could, and as I lay on the floor in my relaxation I remember thinking I always want to be doing this. I could picture this being the start of my life including yoga: pre and during pregnancy, with children, as an old lady, I always want to be taking classes and giving myself this time to devote to yoga. It's hard to look back on how I felt without colouring it with what I know now, but I do remember feeling this very strong desire to have a lifelong relationship with asana, and the deeper I go with my practice, this feeling has just grown and grown.

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