What first brought you to yoga?
When I first started practicing yoga in the mid-1980’s it was strictly physical. Back then yoga was cross-training for me. Having dealt with an autoimmune disorder from the age of 13, yoga was just one piece of a training regimen I used in order to prove to myself that I could ‘master’ my illness. Being a sick teenager is heartbreaking and I was furious with my body. While most teenagers feel immortal, I felt fragile, like my body had let me down. Somewhere along the line, I decided that the best way to deal with this situation was to beat my body into submission through a routine of punishing workouts. It didn’t work.
Yoga didn’t have much significance for me until 1999 when I nearly died. My autoimmune disorder escalated to the point where I needed heart surgery, and 5 weeks later more surgery to remove my entire large intestine. I was wrecked, both physically and emotionally. I couldn’t even take a shower without getting out to lie down halfway through. A friend who was a yoga teacher offered to come to my house to work with me. My practice with her was to lie on the floor with my arms overhead and breathe. Lying flat was excruciating; the two surgeries had pretty much split me open from the top of my sternum to the top of my pubic bone. It was painful and scary, but this yoga was different to anything I had experienced before. I found that if I listened to my body, organised my position carefully, required myself to be present with the breathwork, and stay in the position my friend put me in, the pain eased and I felt clearer, brighter and more positive.
This was the first inkling I had of what yoga is really about. But even so, once I was well enough to do a more vigorous practice, I went straight to a style of yoga that was physically grueling and punishing even in its philosophy.
I had found a way to make yoga fit into my old paradigm of self-punishment. But this yoga wasn’t doing for me what those sessions on the floor of my bedroom did. In order to grow, I had to give up the struggle to stay the same. In 2001, through the most unlikely of channels, I met a teacher who could finally explain the difference.
I learned that my body wasn’t a problem, it wasn’t something that needed to be transcended, or dominated through my extreme practices. I learned that my body is not just a vessel for spirit, my body is spirit, and that by moving and breathing and opening my body energetically I could become better attuned to the condition of my soul. I learned that the ‘guru’ isn’t an external teacher but rather something that’s inside of me. It’s an inner wisdom, or whatever you choose to call that still, small voice inside that has your best interest at heart. I learned a philosophy that teaches that even though we all experience pain and heartbreak; at the heart of it, life is good. I learned that at their very core, the true nature of each person is good. Those sessions on my bedroom floor left me shifted for the better. They helped me to listen and gave me a tangible experience of how it feels to begin to open up.
The spiritual journey is one of constant discovery. At some point on the journey you might start to relax a bit. The distractions that occupy so much of your inner world begin to lose their significance and you are better able to listen and receive. You realise that ‘you’ have always been in there, and so has the still, small voice that continues to whisper intuitively, nudging you toward what heals. Practices that cultivate your connection to this inner source of wisdom (yoga is just one of many) can help nurture a more consistent awareness of the beauty of life, the impact we make, and the choices we have. With that awareness, we’re equipped to show up for all of it.