I’ve been thinking a lot about how I discovered yoga and how grateful I am for the positive effect it’s having on my life at the moment. I’ve been practicing it, alone or in classes, almost every day since coming on this trip, and intend to continue doing so. In fact I want to make every effort to make it an integral part of my life and am strongly considering doing a Yoga Teacher Training Course at some point in the not too distant future. I think that in itself speaks volumes for how much I believe in its healing powers.
For sure I never really understood yoga’s real purpose and effects until I went on the Chaya Yoga retreat in January (If you haven’t read my blog about that please do! It’s here.) The escape from ‘reality’, the peaceful setting and supportive environment created by the girls there all helped me come to the practice with a far more open mind, and heart, than I’d ever done before. Beyond the environment though, it was Annabel’s beautiful teaching, delivered with her warm and generous spirit, which really enabled me to take from the practice what I needed – on an emotional, not just physical, level. The effects of that, coupled with Selina’s insightful and intuitive coaching and just the positive energy that constantly emanates from her, really put me on the right path to my own emotional healing.
Before the retreat I had tried yoga many times, but usually in gyms, which I found to be overtly body image focused (lose weight, tone up, be more bendy). Although I loved the stretching, balancing, physical exertion and feeling of relaxation that came afterwards, I realise now that those experiences only scratched the surface of what yoga can do for me. Later I discovered yoga centres and there I came a little closer to feeling a benefit from mind as well as body through the practice. But I found the classes rushed (one hour being the norm) and the teachers varied in skill. I never found a teacher who I particularly connected with, and I for sure never came close to experiencing the level of peace and clarity that I found in Goa.
Annabel does teach in London by the way – a group class at London Fields Yoga on Tuesday evenings (7.30 – 9pm) – and private classes. I attended her weekly class religiously after getting back from the retreat, which was a saving grace as the last few weeks at work were mentally very challenging. Her class is, of course, wonderful. Apart from being a great teacher, I really think the extra half an hour is important, as in an hour it’s near impossible in my opinion to really bring yourself into the room, relax and leave the outside world, thoughts and stresses behind, then do a thorough class, and end in restful savasana… one just hour doesn’t cut it for me. But perhaps that’s because I now realise I want to take more than a physical workout away from yoga. Anyway, I can’t recommend Annabel highly enough. She really has a gift – her energy, her voice, her gracefulness – you can’t help leaving feeling like you are walking on air.
While on the subject of teachers in London, there is one other recommendation I will make – Sasha Bates – who my mother introduced me to. She teaches private classes from her West London home and I would definitely recommend her, especially if you are a beginner wanting to learn in your own time and at your own pace, or more advanced and would just prefer a comfortable private setting and a empathetic teacher. Sasha is really warm, welcoming and intuitive. She’ll always ask how you’re feeling when you first arrive and tailor the class to your needs, both on that day, and longer term. I’ve had three one-on-one sessions with her (thanks Mum!) and really loved it. She has even gotten my sister into yoga, which is quite an accomplishment, as I really didn’t think it was something she’d have been open to before.
In terms of yoga centres, The Happiness Centre in Shepherds Bush has some good teachers and the staff that run it are lovely. It always smells of incense and has a very peaceful and welcoming, honest vibe. I have to say I was unimpressed by Tri Yoga however. I only did two classes at their Kings Road branch with two different teachers, neither of whom I liked. The first class I actually wanted to walk out of minutes after it started as found the neurotic energy of the teacher the total opposite of what I was looking for. The second was better, but it was too fast and furious for me. I also don’t really like the aesthetic of the place. It felt very commercial and Americanised – pristine white walls with ‘profound’ quotes from Gandhi and Buddha framed on the walls and an overpriced juice bar…all a bit faux Zen in my opinion. But, saying that, they offer a £20 week pass for non-members to try as many classes as you like, so that is certainly worth doing. There are so many classes and teachers you may just find a gem.
So, that is a bit about my experience so far of how I came to yoga. And what about its effects?
Well, first, the physical effects are really quite amazing. After just a few days practicing daily, I can see my body change quite significantly – looking stronger, slimmer and more toned. But what is amazing is how I feel in my body: more balanced, more rooted to the ground, more aware of my muscles and skeleton – noticing any aches or pains – which usually I can then work on correcting through my practice. I sit straighter, walk taller (and more gracefully I think) and I feel strong. The more I learn, the more I want to learn, especially to understand how to tailor the practice to my own needs. Sometimes I can do this intuitively, for example I have a lot of tension in my shoulders and neck, especially in the mornings, and know a few postures already that are great for loosening and opening up that area. There is so much more to learn though about the Asanas (postures), the breathing and meditation, which I’m eager to know and be able to apply to everyday life (and perhaps also to share with others one day).
Then, there’s the mental / emotional benefits, which as I explained above, continue to reveal themselves to me. And I don’t believe there’s a final destination on this journey: I believe the practice will only continue to help me grow as a person as time goes on. After each class or lone ‘session’, I finish feeling lighter and more centred, which I think is because that I’ve finally found something that totally takes my mind away from the outside world and all the thoughts, fears and anxieties that can run through my head associated with that. When I’m on the mat, I try to turn inward and only think about my breathing and what I’m asking my body to do. Of course the mind wanders sometimes, but the more I practice the more I can be really present in each moment, and it is such a liberating escape from the world.
I realise that I was trapped inside my mind for a long time – unable to turn off the sometimes near-constant niggling chatter articulating insecurities and fears in the form of guilt, jealousy, worry and self-deprecation. But the more I free my body, the more I free my mind. After each practice I feel at peace, like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I am no longer burdened with my own real and imagined ‘problems’… I am free.
While yoga may not be for everyone, I hope there is a way for everyone to experience that feeling of peace, through whatever method is right for you. Please do share your healing practices in the comments! I would love to learn about your journey as I continue mine.