Thursday, 15 December 2011

Diary of a Yogi

I've had an incredible year, for a lot of reasons. I've had a lot of realisations about how I want to live my life. Made some life-changing decisions. The things that will shape my future - those seeds have been planted. But the most immediate and extraordinary thing which has happened is my re-discovery of Ashtanga yoga. I did my first sun salute 10 years ago, at the age of 16. I was attending a contemporary dance class taught by the late, great Sheryl Robinson, one of the most influential dance teachers in Christchurch, New Zealand. Her warm-up sequence borrowed heavily from the Ashtanga sun salute sequence B. She also loved Navasana (Boat pose) and would make us hold it until we were literally shaking. The yoga became my favorite part of the dance practice. I loved the depth of stretch, and the profound strength and challenge which came from the postures. One year later I found myself at contemporary dance school where we were lucky enough to be taught by two incredible yoga teachers. Every week we would study Iyengar with Felicity Malloy, and Ashtanga with Andre from the Ashtanga  Yoga Centre in Auckland.Both teachers were like gods to me. They could do things with their bodies that I could hardly understand, let alone emulate. They both traveled to India regularly for ongoing training. In many ways they convinced me that I could never be good at yoga - not that they would have said it, they were both encouraging and brilliant teachers. But from watching them, I felt so out of my depth, and most of all doubted that I would ever have the mental strength to do what they did. I admired and feared the resolution necessary for daily practice. In 2006 I attended my first ever Bikram class, in Wellington. It was challenging and eye-opening. The competitiveness of it was addictive, and it spurred me on. From then on I attended the occasional class whilst I was living in both Sydney and London. The great thing about Bikram is that it's like a MacDonalds, Starbucks or Pret; it's the same everywhere you go. And there's a great comfort in that. Even when I was far away from home I could turn up to a Bikram class and know exactly where I was. Once I even did the 30 day challenge - 30 classes in 30 days. The practice became as automatic as taking a shower. I noticed a lot of change in my practice, and the strength I gained through Bikram is still with me today. I would recommend anyone to try a Bikram class; it's certainly better than doing no yoga at all. But I always knew, deep down, that Bikram didn't sit well with me. For one thing it sucked all the energy out of me and left me useless afterwards. This is specific to me, as I have friends who find it very energizing. Also, the blatent commercialization, competitiveness and profiteering by Bikram himself seems a very long way from the essence of yoga, to me. I wanted to find a different yoga class, but the search was fruitless so I gave up for awhile and focused on contemporary dance. And then....
My boyfriend and I went on a surf and yoga holiday in Morocco. He likes surfing, I like yoga. Simple. I thought it would be a bit of fun, more active than your usual holiday, we'd get a tan and go home. I wasn't expecting it to change my life. But it did. We had two fantastic teachers, Emma and Louise. They taught a broad range of styles with Ashtanga and Bikram influences. They were warm, funny and genuine. They were also a bit like me. Late 20's, well traveled, always active but dabbling in a lot of different careers. Happy drifters. So they were similar to me, but they taught yoga for a living. And I though "Oh my god, I could do that". Suddenly, it didn't seem so out of reach at all. And I realised that my 10 years of on-and-off practice, a bit here and a bit there, had solidified into a well-rounded knowledge, and a body that knew what it was doing (or at least knew what it was trying to do). And on the day we left, Emma asked me "So, will you do your teacher training now?" and I said "Yeah, I think so!". It was a complete revelation to me, that something which had seemed so far was suddenly so near, like a game of creep-up I didn't know I was participating in. I came back to London and within a week had found a yoga centre which offered daily Ashtanga practice and signed myself up. I made a deal with myself that if I could practice Ashtanga every day for a year I would be ready to do a teacher training course. I'm now four months in, and my teacher just told me I could be ready to do the teacher training course tomorrow, if I wanted to, which is an incredible validation. But it's not just about the training course. Daily Ashtanga practice is now the focus of my life. It's the first thing I do when I get up in the morning. It's what I measure myself by. It's a great antidote to my 9-6 desk job, because it makes me feel whole again.

Yoga means "union". It creates a union between the mind, body and spirit. I think I'm realising what this means more and more every day. 

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