"Umm...How Did I Get Here?"
After years of practicing yoga, my mind still often drifts to this thought - Just how the f*** did I get here?!
This wasn't my plan. Following my university graduation, I intended to get a coveted city job in my hometown - London, like most of my peers and friends. I expected that I would spend my weekday evenings networking in the city over some wine (complementary of my employer of course) or catching up with an old school friend at a riverside pub in South Bank. I would escape to a European city with my girlfriends once or twice a year - Ok, this sounds dreamy but really, I once got a return flight from London to Amsterdam for under £90...pre-Brexit when the UK was still playing nice with the rest of Europe (whoops!).
Anyway, these plans all went flying out of the f****** window.
My first introduction to yoga was in the form of a Christmas gift a few years ago; when my father bought an unlimited one-month yoga pass for my sisters and I. To be honest, I don't recall having known much at all about yoga except thinking that it was a spiritual practice that involved a lot of stretching (ha!). Infact, I distinctly remember my attitude and expectations of yoga prior to my first class - "What's the big deal? I'm an athlete. I know how to stretch". Charming wasn't I?
I wasn't expecting much except a deep stretch, maybe sore hamstrings and if I was lucky, after a few classes, pre-emptively shaving off an inch or two from my waist (it was Bikram's yoga...pre-scandal); to prepare for the inevitable over-eating that would take place over the holiday season.
I had never been humbled (and THANKFUL for it) more quickly or effectively than during that first yoga class. In short, I became hooked.
Me in Utkatasana - suffering, loving it and simultaneously realising that I must be crazy:
Although several aspects of that session caught my attention, what surprised me the most was not only how mentally challenging and physically demanding it was, but how incredible I felt afterwards!
Between you and me, my second class was ironically one of the worst classes to date (I ate too much spaghetti bolognese before class), but that's a story for another time...It didn't matter, the seeds had been sown and so began my journey into the ancient practice of yoga.
Since then, I have dedicated the majority of my practice to the hatha, vinyasa flow and power styles of yoga (with just a *pinch* of Ashtanga here and there). As my practice began to develop, my focus moved further away from the physical aspects of practice such as improving my flexibility or mastering a difficult pose and I became more curious about the 'invisible' benefits of my practice. I started to notice myself - I mean really looking inward - and began to strongly identify with my soul or inner self and less with my physical body.
"Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self." - The Bhagavad-Gita
I started to notice that my negative thoughts and emotional reactions were slower to manifest, less intense and lingered for a shorter period of time. I became more easy going and more trusting about life's plan for me. This is one of several reasons why I remain a dedicated yoga student up until today. I came for the arm-balances but stayed for the peace of mind. For the first time in a long time I felt...full...full of joy, love and gratitude. Full enough that I realised I had so much, I wanted to share some with others- so, almost 4 years after attending my very first yoga class I enrolled in a fantastic yoga teacher training program and studied with some of the most talented and accomplished teachers I have had the privilege of meeting. During my teacher training program, my practice significantly deepened, a new aspect of yoga began to transform my experience - meditation. Meditation is so vast and it's effect so powerful, it really requires a whole post of its own.
For me, things have come back full circle. Yoga was introduced to me as a gift and it has stayed true to form- proving that it's the gift that keeps on giving.