A year and a half ago as I cautiously uttered my first timid ‘om’ I never envisaged where the yoga class I was attending would lead me. Alas, today I start my training to become a yoga teacher…
I’ve split this blog into two sections (The Journey, and Why Love Yoga) in case anyone would prefer to go straight to the latter section. The first is about how I went from non-yogi to embarking on my teacher training, whereas in the second I express why yoga means so much to me.
My yoga journey started back in 2012 as a means of injury prevention, having had persisting back and groin issues. After seeing an advert for their introductory offer I decided to try something different and go to a Bikram yoga class at Hot Bikram Yoga.
As someone who loves the heat and getting a good sweat on (I was more than happy going on 2pm runs when out in Ibiza on retreat last year) I instantly took to the practice. More than this though was how physically and mentally challenging that first class was, as well as how fun and thought-provoking it was thanks to the teacher, which is a really important aspect when it comes to yoga (at least for me, anyway).
Those introductory offer classes had such a positive effect on my injuries that before I knew it I’d become a regular, attending on average one 90 minute class a week, though probably would have gone more had it not been for time and financial constraints. I went, relatively consistently, for about two years, during which time I even started leading a Run Club for the studio one evening a week (after which we did a 90 minute class), as the manager and I thought it would be a nice complement to the practice. Then, one evening upon arriving for Run Club I met two people – an encounter that, it turns out, would change my life…
These two lovely people, Adrianna and Cassandra, worked for the sports clothing brand lululemon – a Canadian-based company looking to break into Europe via London – and were there to exhibit some products. Instantly I was hit by their positive energy, and within a minute of meeting we were hugging and laughing…and I LOVED IT! I hadn’t experienced this kind of positivity either at work (the majority of city workers aren’t known for their hugging), nor from people through Bikram (I’ll elaborate on this in a subsequent paragraph), or just generally in life from complete strangers – it was so amazing and refreshing. I quickly realised I’d stumbled upon something that struck a chord with my personality and knew I wanted more of this in my life.
I’d recently taken to Twitter as a way of promoting the Run Club so was able to connect with these two happy people and lululemon via this platform. This is where I saw the company promoting their launch event marking the opening of their first European store in Covent Garden – a free yoga class and after-party at the Royal Opera House.
The class, made all the more special by the location, was fantastic; the savasana was, to this day, the best savasana I’ve ever experienced thanks to the live music from London’s Philharmonia Orchestra; and the post-yoga festivities were so much fun and provided the perfect opportunity to meet even more amazing people. This was my first proper experience of what the world of yoga had to offer, and I was 100% sold.
It was so different to what I’d experienced through Bikram, both in the sense of the physical practice and the people. And, honestly, it was the people and this sense of community that enticed and encouraged me to explore the yoga scene more. lululemon offer free community classes in their stores (usually on Sunday mornings) so I decided to start taking myself along when I could. I quickly found some fantastic teachers who I’ve subsequently gone on to practice with more regularly, as well as connecting with so many like-minded people, but also began to connect with and discover things about myself. I soon realised I’d found something that was meant to be in my life, and an environment I believe I was supposed to be a part of, but both of which, unbeknown to me, had been missing from my life.
Fast-forward a year and a half and I’m about to embark on my teacher training with The Yoga People (TYP). Don’t worry, I haven’t chucked-in the day job…just yet. I’m not ready to take that step in life, nor do I know if I ever will. But I wanted to advance my practice significantly, and be able to share my passion and knowledge with others – something I’ve enjoyed so far when offered the opportunity – so I’d like to have the option to do a bit of teaching on the side at some point when possible. I’d love to be able to go away to India or somewhere for a month and do an intensive, immersive training, but with a full-time city job that’s little more than wishful thinking. So, I decided to do TYP’s 200 hour Ashtanga Vinyasa London course, which comprises of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday sessions every weekend for two months, as well as 25 hours of additional practice in classes with TYP graduate teachers. Add a 40 hour working week, as well as all of the other things in my life I don’t want to compromise entirely, then it becomes apparent how serious a decision this is I’ve made. I guess the obvious question is ‘Why; what’s so great about yoga?’.
Why Love Yoga
Well, most obviously, it’s a fantastic form of fitness, with countless benefits. And no, it’s not just gentle stretching, the allusion under which some people find themselves. Yes, stretching is a big part of it, but it’s got so much more to offer if you’re willing to look. There’s a plethora of postures and flows requiring unbelievable levels of strength and balance (just check out my Instagram to see but a few I’ve managed to accomplish so far). As someone into fitness and being active I was initially drawn to the physical practice of the asanas (postures) and was surprised how challenging some things that appeared so seemingly simple actually turned out to be.
It actually took me a while to realise how much more yoga is than just the physical practice of moving ones body into a number of postures; and it was this revelation that really made me fall in love with it. The word ‘yoga’ is Sanskrit, with the literal translation ‘to add/join/unite/attach’. But its most apt meaning to me is ‘union’; the union of body, mind, and breath. I often describe yoga to people as ‘breathing with movement’, as I believe that if you’re neglecting the breathing aspect of the practice then you’re really missing the point, and it becomes a workout rather than yoga.
I no longer see it as exercise – that’s just a byproduct now (a very handy one though, nonetheless). To me it’s about self-mastery – union of self, physically and mentally. It’s a never-ending journey of discovery – about who you are, who you want to be, and how to get there. The focus may be on the movement and breathing, but the intention is beyond the physical and into the mental, and for some even spiritual. Each practice is a meditation, using the focus of body and breath in an attempt to discover and master the mind. Whatever is going on in my life, whether I’m annoyed, happy, sad, run-down, etc, the practice offers me the opportunity to escape the world and find my focus. But it’s also then taking this practice off the mat and applying it to your everyday life – yoga isn’t confined to the parameters of the mat you’re on or the space in which you practice.
Ok, to some it might sound like I’m possibly taking it a bit too seriously, but here’s a little example to help you see where I’m coming from: try and balance on one leg…now, whilst on that one leg, pat your head with one hand and rub your belly with the other…and if that’s too easy then try it with your eyes closed. Not necessarily as easy as it might sound. Chances are a lot of you will lose your balance at some stage of that sequence. But how did you react? Did you get annoyed with yourself for not being able to do it, or did you just laugh it off and let it go? Which of those two people would you prefer to be? Take it up a notch: you’re in a situation where it’s easy to get annoyed – perhaps you’re out driving and someone thoughtlessly cuts you up. Do you get a little/a lot of that dreaded road-rage, or are you able to stay calm, deal with it, and let it go. My point is, if you can learn to master yourself, your emotions, and your reactions on the mat, then you can endeavor to take that mindset with you off of it. I’ve definitely been guilty of being the first person, and sometimes still am, but through my practice I’ve become a lot more mindful, and am more often than not the latter these days, making for a much happier me.
As well as union of self, it’s the opportunity to connect with, learn from, and be inspired by so many amazing people. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of the most fantastic beings on my journey so far, and they are a huge part of why I practice. Their positivity, chilledness, and happiness constantly encourage me to be a better, happier person not only for myself, but for those I know and meet as well.
I’d encourage anyone to try yoga, as I truly believe it has something to offer everyone. And the great thing about it is that anyone can do it – it doesn’t matter what level you’re at, how strong or flexible you might be, or how deep you want to take the yoga concept, it will benefit you in some way. I’ve had friends of mine say that they’re “too inflexible to try yoga” – don’t be ridiculous! That’s like saying “I’m too thirsty to drink that refreshing glass of water”. There are no prerequisites for ability if you want to try it – just leave ego and self-consciousness at the door – everyone else in a class is so focused on their own practice they’re not paying any attention to what you may or may not be able to do, so don’t worry. Embrace what it has to offer, and drink in the goodness.
As someone who is trying to encourage people to move, in a society where it’s seen more as a chore than a gift, I’d suggest yoga as it’s so easy to get involved – all you need is you, and maybe a mat or towel (though most places provide these for you anyway). And there is so much out there to try! I’ve had people say to me they’ve tried a class and thought it just wasn’t for them. That’s fair enough, but all I’d say is not to let one bad (or just not good) experience taint the whole idea of it for you; yoga is like music – if you listen to one song you don’t like you don’t let that turn you off the whole concept of music. Give another style, teacher, studio, mindset a second or third chance, you never know what you might discover.
Yoga may be physically demanding, and have all those serious and deep aspects, but most of all for me it’s the opportunity to play. So whatever you do, just remember to try and keep a smile on your face, an openness in your mind, and just have fun!