I have put this essay off for months. It is part of my advanced yoga teacher training course and every time I have thought about writing it, I have backed away from it.
I am sure this is deep rooted in my insecurities I have about myself, but since I have committed more time to teaching yoga, I feel like I am perhaps ready to write the essay, at last!
Yoga has not always been in my life, far from it. When I did start practising yoga it was purely because I wanted to be more flexible. My yoga practise was wholly focused on asana (yoga posture practise).
I was also the furthest you could get from what most people picture when they think of a yoga teacher or even someone who practises yoga. I was always stressed, pushing myself too hard, never living for today, always worrying about tomorrow. In my younger years I suffered with depression and an eating disorder. I am very aware looking back that the younger me caused my family a lot of worry.
And perhaps it was the worry of what everyone else thinks that made me doubt myself in wanting to be a yoga teacher, especially the thoughts of those closest to me who have spent years accepting my chaos and trying to guide me through it.
I really wish I had found yoga sooner, much sooner. I believe wholeheartedly in the benefits of yoga and the changes it has made to me. Before yoga my therapy was reading, I still love to read and the escapism it provides. But yoga works so well for me, rather than distract me and allow me to escape, it creates a safe space that allows me to process, release and then find a sense of ease. There is nothing like the feeling at the end of a yoga practise, I often leave my mat feeling like a completely different person to the one that got on it.
I started to believe in myself as a yoga teacher when I taught yoga to my twin brother. We were deep in lockdown and he was struggling. If anyone knows me well, its him, he has seen it all from day one, so the thought of convincing him I could authentically teach yoga physically made me sweat.
But then, I guided him through a series of asana (I had put together a sequence to encourage better sleep as he wasn’t sleeping very well) then I showed a pranayama (breathing practise) called Nadi Shodhana, which is alternate nostril breathing and I closed the session with a few minutes of guided relaxation.
At the end of my teaching, I always ask students to rub their hands together and recognise the heat that this creates as the energy that flows through their body, then place their palms over their eyes and reabsorb the heat and energy back into their body. I did this with my brother. I watched him at the end keep his palms over his eyes a little longer, watched him slowly pull his hands away from his eyes, blink his eyes open, then he sleepily said “that was awesome mate, I loved that” and I could tell in that moment he felt a little better. And that was when I started to believe that I could guide people through a yoga practise and make a difference.
Long before teaching yoga had even occurred to me, I attended yoga classes each week with the goal of becoming more flexible. As a full-time desk worker who also has scoliosis (an S shaped spine) I was very stiff and often suffered lower back pain. Yoga has without any doubt given me a sense of ease and freedom within my body.
I can’t lie, I do love to work on the well know flexibility postures – the splits and full wheel, I love to see the progress and I enjoy focusing on what I need to do to get deeper in those postures. But that’s not really my yoga practise, that’s my flexibility training.
The yoga aspect in relation to my flexibility is that I have learnt to find a sense of ease within my body. I fully accept my scoliosis and no longer feel conscious of it. Yoga postures have opened my body up and unlocked tight muscles and created a sense of space and ease, where before there was tightness and discomfort.
My outlook on life is very changed from what it used to be. I think this part of the essay is the part that has put me off writing it. I can’t not write this section as it is very much fundamental to my journey, but it is hard to write.
Grief and loss have had a massive impact in my life, I can’t pretend that they aren’t part what’s changed me. But I find it hard to write about as I hate to sound as if I have self-pity, I don’t, or want people to feel sad for me, I don’t.
There aren’t many people I know that haven’t experienced loss of some description, and I never see my loss as any worse than anyone else’s, not ever, if you have loved someone and lost them, it hurts and it changes you. Even though I feel uncomfortable writing about it I can’t deny the changes it has brought about in my life, so I will do my best to write a little about it.
I lost my Dad very suddenly when I was 22. He was 49. He went out one day and dropped dead, and just like that, he was gone. That was 15 years ago. Jude my son came along just over a year later and I truly believe that boy was sent to save me from my grief – because he did.
The next few years were a combination of Jude and his little sister Amber and working hard. Really hard. I was a hairdresser and wanted a career change that I thought might provide a better life for us, so I went to night school for a lot of years and studied accounting qualifications. I made a good go at it too, I got a really good job and finally felt we were secure.
But my Mum died. And to make things even sadder, my cousin Mark also died. My cousin died on a Wednesday, my Mum died the same week on the Saturday. Both after a year long battle with cancer. My mum was 59, my cousin was 43.
I used to think it was so unfair that my Dad had died suddenly and I couldn’t say goodbye and neither could he, but actually, watching someone you love suffer for a year, knowing the outcome most likely won’t be good, is worse. The sadness of watching people who really don’t want to die face their own mortality is.. I don’t have a word for how sad that is.
I carried on. I took no time off to grieve, only for their funerals that were a week apart. I struggled with my kids for a while, I kept looking at them thinking one day I will die and your heart will hurt the way mine does, but in worrying about them I wasn’t processing my own grief about my parents being gone, or the unfairness that none of them, my parents or cousin would get older with us.
There is a limit for how long you can bury feelings.
Something will happen and your emotions will insist on being dealt with. Enter Lockdown.
Suddenly the whole world is faced with a virus that is said to be that deadly we have to stay at home. Will I get it? Will my husband? Oh god what about the kids? I wish I could talk to Mum.. What would Dad think of all this.. and there you have it.. the catalyst to review your whole life.
And what helped me with my big life review? Yoga. I was on my mat hours every day.
I worked very hard in lockdown, we had a skeleton staff working from home, working very hard. But all the time I was working I was thinking, in the grand scheme of things what good am I doing?
If I am honest that question never went away, after lockdown I returned to the office full time and expected to go back to normal, I never did, I questioned my purpose all the time. I couldn’t settle. The only time I felt I was doing any ‘good’ was when I taught my weekly yoga classes.
I had a great job, worked with people I really think a lot of, I was saving and planning for the future and my retirement. My husband thinks of none of that he lives very much for today, so I was always the sensible one. But I couldn’t shake this change that had happened in me. Every time I laid on my yoga mat the same thoughts came up, what good do I bring and why am I living a life focused solely on financial security and retirement AND not getting much time at all with my kids in the process.
The goal is not old age.
Not everyone gets old. There I was watching my pension pot grow knowing my parent’s pensions turned out to be pretty pointless to them. I am not saying be reckless, I still try to be sensible with money of course! But if you spend all of your days working for tomorrow, you are missing out on today.
I quit my career to be at home more, to do the school runs I had never done and see the kids more, because they are the main point of it all. And I started teaching more yoga.
The goal is to live for today.
That will mean a simpler life, but I am pretty sure simplicity breeds happiness.
Of course, I worry will people accept me as a yoga teacher, believe in my classes, trust that I can guide them through a yoga practise. But week after week they do. The most wonderful people come to my classes, and they keep coming back, I give my all to the classes but in return receive such wonderful energy back. I can’t explain how much I love teaching yoga.
Yoga makes space for the changes and transformations that need to take place in your life. Practising yoga has allowed me the space to process what I needed to, release what I didn’t need any more, accept what my heart was telling me, and to feel balanced enough to work toward and manifest the life I would truly like to live.
Losing yourself in movement, taking the time to breathe fully and deeply, then allowing your body to be completely still in meditation and relaxation so it can process and then reset.. that’s where the magic can happen, that’s the place where you will find the answers your heart really wants you to know.
And so, it is written, the essay I put off for 6 months. A description of my yoga journey, it may not be particularly exotic, I haven’t travelled to far away lands and studied with gurus, there is none of that, but now I have written this and read it back, I realise, my yoga journey is valid. In fact, I am proud of it and excited to continue it. May it be never ending.