These are my thoughts and the interpretation of my yoga experience. Yoga is widely open to interpretation, and the moment where you think you understand it is most likely the moment where you don’t. A yogi is an eternal student on a lifelong path, along that path your perception of yoga and the philosophy surrounding it will likely evolve and change as you do.
I first started practicing yoga when I was 23 and living in London, Bikram yoga had just become popular and I was taking hot yoga classes to burn as many calories as possible and even doing back-to-back sessions. At this point my eating disorder was ruling my life and dictated how I spent my spare time.
I now realise how much this particular practice was actually driving me further out of balance at a very unbalanced time in my life. I still think that it isn’t widely understood when a yoga style should be adopted to see the optimal benefits to the mind and body. Just because you’re turning up to yoga class doesn’t mean it’s creating balance within you.
I started practicing Sivananda and that created a big shift in my practice. Sivananda is a form of Hatha yoga, it is taught as one set sequence and it’s the perfect well rounded sequence to start a home self-practice.
Having a self-practice is where the yoga discipline really begins. Yoga is a journey of introspection, you have to move inwards to move forward. Through your mental ability to control your physical body and commit to a daily practice you will start to uncover the tendencies in your mind determining your practice and most probably all other parts of your life. Yoga is not just about achieving every pose, it’s about how you talk to yourself when you can’t, cultivating self-awareness of your body’s limitations and acceptance. Learning to love yourself and what your body does for you everyday; honouring the life inside of you and building a home for it to live in.
Yoga poses (asana) are only one part of the yoga practice, and I believe an integral part. Asana brings your consciousness into the present moment, bridging the physical and non-physical parts of you. When asana is carried out under the umbrella of the yamas (social conduct) and niyamas (self-conduct), this is the real work.
The yamas and niyamas brought many questions to my mind, about my behaviour and the person I am, how I am interacting with the world and the people in my life. It brought up things I didn’t want to confront about myself. At the core of all people is good intention but that doesn’t mean that intention doesn’t get lost and mistranslated through life experiences shaping our actions. If we don’t reflect on who we really are and what values are important in life we may never be able to redirect ourselves.
My travels allowed me to start to let go of my physical possessions but also the non-materialistic parts of my persona that I thought defined me. Non-attachment is relative to what you’ve been attached to. Some are more attached to their possessions, the safety net of home, friends, partner, money, job title, body image, popularity or status in society.
I didn’t know where life was taking me and I stopped planning. I let my heart and intuition guide me, this journey rebuilt my trust in people and life. Whatever happens in your life you must never stop believing in people, trust the world you live in.
I stopped working for money or for very little where I needed to but I still focused on doing the best job I could and carrying out those actions with love and that taught me the most, it humbled me the most. When you truly give something from your heart without expectation then you receive. When somebody tries to give you something, honour it, learning how to receive something is a part of giving. They are fundamentally the same principle. Love can be given and received in many different ways outside of having a partner or family, it is the same love.
I started to learn how to express myself, to begin I could barely string a sentence together about my experiences. I’ve practiced expressing what is true for me without worrying whether others will understand, the more open I have become I see the same experiences mirrored in others. We are all the same, nobody is unaffected by life.
Yoga isn’t about feeling the pressure to be a perfect person. We will all go through life situations that are testing and that’s where your discipline steps in to bring you back to your practice, there is no right and wrong but just self-awareness. Yes this work on yourself is difficult, but if you are not self-aware how can you even begin to make positive changes to your life?
You have to be open to interpret the lessons life is giving you, and live and breathe the teachings of yoga on and off the mat to understand them.
You have to strip everything back to get to the core of who you are, then you are starting to practice yoga.