17 Sep My Journey to ‘My Kinda Yoga’
I’m afraid it wasn’t a desire for enlightenment that got me into yoga, but a much more superficial desire to get back in shape after having my first baby, and to grab some me time from the same! I came in via the sweaty, boot camp version – Bikram – that left me drained and exhausted, but toned. I wouldn’t even stay for the ‘relaxation bit at the end’ (we were given a choice), which is now my favorite pose of all.
But even though, as my mum (who’s done yoga for almost 50 years), said repeatedly “it’s not real yoga”, I’m really grateful to those very physical forms of yoga, because it was a gateway for me to find ‘my kind’. If anyone had suggested at the time that I should ‘pause and tune in’ I would have run a mile – so it was likely the only route I would have taken!
And for a while, that was my kind of yoga. I tended to push myself in everything I did, back then, with a need to prove myself (I’m not sure who I thought might care whether I could do ‘standing forehead to knee pose’ or not – I couldn’t then and still can’t now!) and struggle, likely in line with the rather harsh and self-critical voice in my head. But this pushing and striving would lead me to burn out, to ‘pendulum swing’ from pushing myself, eventually feeling exhausted, to avoiding it and doing nothing, or worse, lots of things that weren’t good for me. I would say I was ‘too busy’ to fit in anything more relaxing. This pattern is fairly common amongst the young(ish) I guess, and those of us that are used to being competitive for instance in work environments and with very busy lives. For me though, it led to a try hard, push, push, push ‘beyond your flexibility!’( as the Bikram teachers used to say!), burn out/ get sick, berate myself for not doing anything, try harder…… You get the picture.
Then I discovered Vinyasa Flow, via a beautiful teacher, Janine, after I moved to Australia. At home with another young child, in a new suburb in a new country, I was struggling a bit with isolation and loneliness. Janine’s classes gave me a place to start to feel strong and confident again, physically and emotionally, some precious time for myself, and a connection with some beautiful, loving people (Yoga is so good for that!). It was during the ‘relaxation bit at the end’, Shavasana, that I first had what I might now describe as a bit of a spiritual experience (the ‘S word’ wasn’t in my vocabulary at all back then!); picturing myself lying underneath a beautiful starry sky and feeling at once tiny and insignificant, and completely connected to this vastness. I remember it brought tears to my eyes.
This experience led me to start exploring the more meditative aspects of yoga, the kinds that require more stillness, such as Yin, with some other beautiful teachers along the way. After about a year of only doing the more still forms of yoga, and recognising that I was actually getting a bit lazy in life in general, and feeling tired and lethargic, I began to seek out, and be more open to the idea of being ‘mindful’ in any class I did, whether more physical as with Vinyasa Flow, or quieter and restorative like Yin, tuning into the thinking patterns of my mind, then refocussing on my breath, as suggested by my teachers.
And this, I noticed became a practice ground for life. Recognising my patterns of thinking, my resistance and struggle with discomfort (whether from the burning muscle contraction in active postures like ‘chair’, or the dull wailing of my hips in ‘pigeon’) led me to realise my resistance to and avoidance of any form of discomfort, including strong emotions. Recognising these thinking patterns and my well warn reactions, gave me the space to see that I had a choice as to whether to listen and respond to my thoughts, or not; I began to learn to ‘stay with’ the sensations in my hips, to try to ‘relax into it’ and ‘make space for it’ instead of adding struggle and resistance, and when I’d start to complain in my head about my thighs burning in ‘chair pose’ I’d replace it with ‘I’m making a choice to stay’ or ‘I need to back out a bit today’ instead of having an angry struggle with an imagined external ‘other’, ‘making’ me do something.
In the same way, I began to be able to choose to sit with emotions (which were easier to spot now that I was more tuned in to my body, where we really feel emotion – think of the descriptions of emotional states that litter our language, for instance ‘ it was a heart sink moment’, ‘ I had butterflies in tummy’, and you’ll see how physical our emotions are!) with the same attitude of ‘lets have a look at you’, and of ‘making space for’, that I’d practiced with physical discomfort in classes. I also noticed that moving my body in yoga could change my state of mind. It turns out this isn’t just me – there is a growing body of research that acknowledges how our minds impact our bodies, for instance we ‘curl up’ when hurt, but also describes how moving our bodies in to certain shapes has an impact on our minds, so that when we stand with shoulders back, and chin up, and raise our hands to the sky, we release serotonin, the happy hormone!.
And the strange (though not to yogi types who have known this science of the mind and body stuff for thousands of years!) thing was, that I noticed that as I sat with emotion, or moved my body, or both, the emotion passed, changed, and I felt better. I began to notice that I had a more compassionate ‘voice’ in my head (there was a transition period where I would notice an old ‘critical voice’ start up and say – sometimes out loud “Oh leave her alone!!!”, but that’s between us, ok?!). I started to listen to myself like a good friend might, instead of blocking any difficult stuff out in any way I could. It’s hard to talk about this ‘relationship with ourselves’ stuff without sounding cheesy, but there it is, and I’m so much happier for it.
For the first time I became more likely to attend classes regularly, and more ‘disciplined’ in this, purely because it no longer felt like ‘hard work’, as it had in my ‘push through!!!’ days. I now had choice and as a result freedom!
So what’s my kind of yoga now? Seeing as you asked, I’ll tell you. Now, it’s based on tuning in to how I’m feeling, what I need right now. I still love a Vinyasa Flow to strengthen and energise, and I also love Yin and Restorative, for getting deeper into relaxation, into my joints, ligaments and mind. It’s kind of strange that I didn’t know that I’ve always had this choice, this range of options. But hey, better late than never!
Where will your journey take you…….?