My first forays into yoga asana were merely a means to manage injury. I had chronic frozen shoulder and for me, I discovered in a class that Lord of the Fishes pose – Ardha Matsyendrasana – offered me much relief. Noticing how much range one side of my body had over the other, this pose became one of my favourite poses to practice. The relief I felt lasted only a day, such was my injury, I realised then that I needed more, thus began my love for a regular and sustained self-practice.
At the time I was physically quite heavy, all around me my peers were pushing themselves to the limit with strong flows and incredible balances. This held no interest for me, all I wanted was to feel the warm and comforting glow of wholeness that I was noticing from the breathing exercises, movement and relaxation part at the end of each and every yoga class. I loved the switch off from the outside world as I brought my whole self, body, mind and breath to a yoga class.
As I grew in yoga, the physical heaviness was starting to fall away, I developed an awareness of what my body liked and didn’t like, and this naturally influenced what food and drink made me feel good and not so good. Most of the time I still tune into these influences and yet I still manage to have an enjoyable life.
My yoga teacher training gave me a great grounding on what ‘good’ should look like in asana, but as a latecomer to yoga, it was some years before I really grasped what ‘good’ should feel like in actual practice. Theoretically, I got the yoga principles and could cue and instruct with the best of them but it was only as I turned to try different traditions, as time went on, that I learned to really embody the yoga principles.
Like many before me, I felt sure that the more teacher training I undertook, the ‘better’ yogi I would become. The opposite proved to be true. Instead, the more I took my whole self to my own mat at home, breathed, moved around and rested in observation, the more ‘whole’ my practice actually felt.
Devouring every yoga, meditation, mindfulness and Pilates book I could find, I prized knowledge as the power that would make me the great yogi I aspired to be. It was all super information, which I continue to enjoy and share but the ease and comfort took some time to come.
I began attending one to one classes with a yoga teacher who had been teaching and practising for many years. I loved everything about how she spoke, lived and moved. I couldn’t get enough and drank in every word and cue from our sessions.
The clunkiness that had dogged my early days of yoga was very slowly shifting. I realised I had been using the knowledge and cues I had learned with the wrong type of effort for my movement and breathing, it had made my yoga practise into a huge deal that I at times dreaded. Yoga had seemed like a fight that only certain graceful and lithe people would have the joy of winning.
Over the course of a few years, I really grew to harness the breath effortlessly. Attending to my exhale as fully as I could so that my opening, lifting and lengthening was a natural and authentic reaction to good grounding and centring. When more senior teachers talked about sthira (strong yet relaxed) and sukha (comfortable and happy) in our asana, I could see the difference between willing myself into a pose with all my might and the beauty of breathing my way into the sweet spot and enjoying being there effortlessly.
Like many I am sure, I approached yoga with a sense of grasping and seeking (aparigraha). I ate up knowledge, I drank in the instructions of those I admired, and I took all the training I could possibly squeeze myself onto. For a while it felt fantastic, I was sure that I would turn into the yogi of the year.
What I discovered instead was how much of yoga is quite simply about letting go. Each breath and every moment is a chance to start a new life, or at least a new version of life, free from the stories of the ego. Every asana or posture is an opportunity to shuffle off those karmic and even current stains, those deeply embedded stories of the ego that try to trap us in a physical and mental cell. And most delightfully of all, each yoga nidra session is a real time-out to observe the fluctuations of the mind at play, as we sit on the watcher fence, seeing the stories play themselves out while we take a delicious rest.
Today, I still take my whole self to the mat. Yoga has been my saviour during the Covid pandemic. My mind is always busy, rooting around for new and creative ways to make me regret the past and worry about the future. The simple act of showing up on my mat on the floor gives shape to a routine that has vastly changed since this crisis. Feeling the floor underneath my limbs and feet quiets my mind. Attending to a full exhale brings me to my core for a few minutes as I settle into my physical body. The action of harnessing a nice natural inflow of breath into my body to support moving my spine and limbs brings me into the current moment. In this current moment, I have everything I could possibly need right now. Yoga is truly a gift, which helps keep the practitioner present.