I was first introduced to Yoga 13 years ago.
I found myself in Kerela completely out of the blue after I finished university. I had signed up to a commercial modelling agency to earn some extra cash, and a job had come up for me to model for a hotel company’s promotional video. Sometimes the best invites are the ones you didn’t ask for, and the ones you never thought you were looking for. I ended up staying at Kalari Kovilakom in Kerela, a 200 year old palace for Ayurvedic practices with extensive spaces for yoga. For some reason, part of the travel video featured identical twins doing a yoga sequence together and in a pre-Instagram world, I had no idea what they were doing or what I was seeing. Somehow I felt the practice was for them- these two very serious women mirroring each other’s movements- and not for me. I never once imagined learning this practice.
Flash forward to London. When most people might have chosen to seek out a Hatha or flow class, for some strange reason my first experience of doing started with Bikram. It was pre-recession- before the Bikram Choudhury scandal had come out and before the London wellness boom, and- along with Soya milk sales and MySpace- Bikram’s studios were alive and kicking. The feeling after was addictive, and found it one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, but after some time I fell out of the rhythm with it. A 90-minute class once a week felt too much of a commitment for me between parties and the formation of my career.
After a few years break, I tried with some regular flow classes before discovering Power Yoga. Here’s where things got interesting. Power Yoga was the thrill and fire I was seeking at the time, and I loved my two regular teachers. Press ups, handstands, crazy inversions… the fast-paced action drama of the yoga world. I longed to push myself as far into advanced poses and threw myself into them. I often got frustrated when I couldn’t get myself into them, or felt like I hadn’t got into many of the poses after the end of a practice. I deemed these a ‘bad class’. Then something happened where the two teachers started drifting away to other countries, and I was left flailing with substitute teacher’s who didn’t run such a hard game. I longed to be challenged.
So this took me on a journey to seeking out where the challenging Rocket and Power teachers were. I couldn’t find them or at least if I did, their classes didn’t fit into my schedule. Then a friend took me to a Restorative yoga class, and it was from there that I became aware of a deeper practice, of the fascia, of tiny movements. I wanted to explore more, so explored Yin classes and other gentler practices that opened up the body instead of firing it up. Yoga is very much more about the subtler stuff, which create building blocks to reach the bigger picture.
In learning that softness can open the gateways to our higher selves changed everything. I have stopped pushing, grasping or trying to reach my goal in each pose. I have let go of goals. I listen to my body. I close my eyes and breathe through resistance, feeling instead of looking in the mirror. Less is more. As I write this, I’m fresh from leaving a yoga class where we simply leaned over the chair in various poses for an hour… moving inch by inch.
I’m also beginning to notice some patterns to how I approach my practice these days. This year I am really committed to trying out different studios and be open to them, without knowing much about the style, the teacher or even noting down the length of the class. I also love not being the regular as it nourishes the element of surprise that keeps me so vital. It also means my list of ‘favourite yoga teachers’ keeps getting longer. I really enjoy the feeling of dropping onto my same old mat wherever I am in the world.
I now fully believe the notion that yoga is anything you want it to be. I was always ‘doing yoga’ across this whole journey and I am doing yoga now as I breathe the air in the coffee shop I’m sitting in. Yoga is mine and yours.