‘Yoga Shmoga’! It was usually something like these words that would come out of my mouth when someone referenced yoga, or worse still, suggested I attended a class with them. But that was then…
My on again/ off again love affair with yoga started little over a year ago when I attended a surf and yoga retreat in Bali. In an effort to take full advantage of my time there, I donned my cropped leggings and baggy t-shirt and sheepishly made my way to my first class.
I won’t lie, at first I felt like an uncoordinated giraffe, both looking and feeling clumsy and stiff. But even a clumsy giraffe was able to feel the benefits of an hour and a half of dedicated practice. To begin with I could barely touch my toes – I possibly have the tightest hamstrings known to man, and hips that Shakira would wince at. But it’s amazing what you are physically capable of when mind, body and spirit start to work in sync. What started out feeling like a good stretch for my achy muscles became much more than that. Over the course of the class and indeed my week of daily yoga classes, I felt intensely challenged. As someone who goes to the gym several times a week, I’m no stranger to breaking a sweat, so you can imagine my surprise at just how tough this yoga thing was… I was sweating buckets and ‘feeling it’ in places I didn’t even know existed. Mentally it’s no walk in the park either. If you’re anything like me, you want everything yesterday. Yoga doesn’t work like that, it’s a long game… you’ve just got to show up, again and again, and slowly, eventually, you start to notice subtle changes in body and mind. Stick to it for long enough and the rewards are really quite amazing.
After my one week foray into this thing called yoga, I decided I liked the way it made me feel, so the next step of course, was getting myself properly kitted out and attending some classes when I got home, after all, now I had the basics…or did I? Apparently not! It’s hard to shift the mentality that you need to be as good as everyone else. Looking around in class, I quickly realised that no matter how well kitted out I was, I was the second worst person in the room. I know now that doesn’t matter, but at the time, I made the decision to take some private lessons to better understand the asanas and to develop a good foundation before exploring group classes further.
I enlisted the help of Ashtanga teacher Laura Farrier. Over the course of many months, Laura patiently took me through the Primary Ashtanga Series again and again. Walking me through every step, gently giving me adjustments and pushing me to my full potential each time. Why Ashtanga? I’m not really sure, but that is what Laura taught, and both as a person and as a teacher, I believed Laura lived her philosophy and I wanted some part of that. It was a wise decision and has not only improved my practice and my strength but has indeed given me a good foundation with which to build my practice. Now whenever I do an Ashtanga class, I feel like I’ve come home.
There are other yoga journeys I have taken in this year of discovery that I should mention. I returned to Bali where it all began and to my teacher there, Jess Kamell for 10 straight days of privates (and for some more surfing). Jess’ teaching has an Anusara background and is a celebration of the heart. Her playful nature and strict alignment principles make for fun, but balanced and intensely challenging classes. Jess’ teaching has definitely been responsible for some ‘wow’ moments in my practice. This lady takes no prisoners. Let me give you an example. I’ve always been quite athletic, but I have never been able to do the Wheel pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana). I couldn’t do it at school and I still couldn’t do it after all my months of yoga. During one of our private lessons, we came to back bending and I was asked to come into wheel pose. My answer was “are you kidding? I can’t even get off the ground” I fully expected to move on, but she told me to just try, which I did, before collapsing into a heap on my mat. Again, fully expecting to move on now that I had ‘tried’, I was met instead with stern words. Jess explained that if I believed I couldn’t do it, then I wouldn’t be able to do it. No matter what my limitations, I should always just push myself to my very edge, even if it means barely coming off the ground – each time I will improve. I was then asked to try it again. Maybe it was the belief I finally had in doing it, the warm spiritual energy of the island, the inspirational music Jess always plays, or the strength I’d built up over time, but this time something was different, it just clicked – I went straight up with virtually no effort at all, my heart open to the sky! It was such a sense of achievement and one I will never forget. It’s also a great lesson for life in general and one that I will always try to remind myself of. Thank you Jess!
Then…there’s nothing quite like practicing yoga in the surroundings of India… breathtaking Jodhpur to be more precise. Here my teacher was to be Justine Rowan, my yoga, to take place in the great outdoors (and anywhere else I could strike a pose amongst the beautiful Rajasthani architecture and Instagram it). It takes some dedication to get on your mat at 6.30am, it takes more to get on your mat at 5, which is just what Justine did before each class. To say she is dedicated to her yoga is something of an understatement. Whilst I indulged in all that Jodhpur had to offer including mouth-watering laal mass and kebabs, late nights, more than a few beverages and anything sweet I could get my hands on, Justine’s example of enjoying most of those things in moderation is still a lesson I am trying to learn. Justine’s part in my yoga journey is one of support and encouragement and one that reminded me to catch myself and concentrate on the basics. When your foundation is solid, the rest will follow. It is easy to get carried away, get ahead of yourself and shoot for only the stars. I arrived in Jodhpur feeling vulnerable, with stitches to my forehead, embarrassingly caused by getting over-enthusiastic with a handstand in yoga class. One week with Justine and some very individual attention, and I found my footing and gained back my mental strength and confidence in my practice.
More recently, two intense weeks of yoga with our amazing yoga teacher at A-Zen Retreats, Saffron Fitton has given me yet more insight into the beautiful practice of yoga. Saffron has further reminded me that yoga is not just about asana, but is a way of life. It is about mind, body and spirit all working in perfect harmony. What you put in, you get out…in all sorts of ways. Her gentle, safe and fun approach has given me the confidence not only to try, but to achieve postures I never thought possible. It’s also got me doing things I never thought possible – oil pulling every day and religiously drinking super smoothies with unpronounceable things in them. But mostly, she’s given me inspiration – this tall clumsy giraffe lives in the hope of one day being as graceful and gazelle like in her practice.
So to conclude… yoga shmoga? No way, not a bit of it. There’s so much more to yoga than I first imagined and so many teachings to take away. And whilst I still struggle with my ‘on again, off again’ relationship with it, my goal is for us to eventually be together and live happily ever after.
“Keep showing up, over and over, even if nothing appears to be happening. Have patience and faith that life is unfolding in perfect time.”