First there were tears, then came the YOGA
After qualifying as a Yoga teacher last year, I seem to be having a lot more yoga-based conversations. Whilst I’ll admit, it’s probably due to me trying to sell downward dogs to most people I meet and persuade all my friends to come to my classes, I do get a sense that there’s genuine intrigue. Several of my new students who are experiencing yoga for the first time are curious about this ancient practice, the poses, the Sanskrit, the funny chanting and have often asked me why it is I practice.
With this is mind, I have attempted to answer that question: why do I practice Yoga? In addressing this question I realised the reasons run deep and in writing it down it is much a much a letter to myself as a reminder to continue my practice as it is to anyone reading who is already practicing yoga or might be thinking about starting.
The story starts around 16 years ago; as young girl aged 15 I developed an eating disorder. I had bulimia. I was also addicted to laxatives. Although at the time I thought that it was the relationship I had with food that was unhealthy, I now know that it was the relationship with myself that wasn’t quite right.
Without going into the details, looking back there was a lot of pain going on. Don’t get me wrong I also had some of the happiest times of my life, travelling to Thailand to teach English, immersing myself in my art a-level but at the same time I had this very deep rooted disgust for myself. The bulimia was a way of punishing myself for this, like I deserved the pain for being how I was. I remember at the time how dirty and ashamed I felt but at the same time there was a weird sense of achievement; the bulimia gave me a sense of control in my life, it seemed like the only way to make things better. Looking back, I felt like I was running a dual life, happy, smiley, funny Becky on the outside yet desperately lonely and in pain on the inside. No-body knew what was going on, I was too ashamed to let anyone know.
After several years eventually the pain got too much, I remember sitting in the bath and crying and crying until all the bubbles had gone away. At that point I decided to stop purging, even if I got fatter, the pain just wasn’t worth it anymore.
It would be a great story if at this point I said that I jumped onto my yoga mat and healed myself from all the suffering, unfortunately I didn’t. In many ways, even though I’d stopped the bulimia the relationship with myself got worse. I went through a break-up that really knocked my confidence, looking back I was at an all time low. I didn’t believe I was worthy of anyone loving me.
Interestingly, around about this time I started running. I got really into running, ran a couple of half marathons, several 10ks. I loved the endorphin hit, the natural high from running out in the fresh air along the canals. Although looking back it was clear that was running away from my emotions, how I was feeling and most likely running away from myself.
So despite outwardly putting a pause on the bulimia, I had never quite processed the pain and this just manifested itself in anxiety and depression in my late twenties.
I started Yoga whilst I was still at University and mainly to compliment the running to stretch off the hamstrings, I then continued practicing when I moved to London and am in fact still friends with my first yoga teacher the lovely Adele Simor. I went to her weekly classes that were full of warmth and fun, I was introduced to chakra meditation too which started my curiosity of the relationship we can have with the mind. Although I had a regular yoga practice, I was also still partying, dating, working hard, travelling doing all the things you do in your twenties and it wasn’t until I hit 28 that the turning point really came.
I had changed jobs, it was stressful. It was a case of “out of the frying pan, into the fire”, everything felt out of control including how I was feeling. I started getting anxiety attacks and having really intense emotions and incontrollable crying fits. I felt desperately unhappy and didn’t know where to go. It was at this point that I picked up my Yoga practice, there was a new studio opened on Brick Lane and I stumbled across some amazing teachers. I remember this class so clearly; the teacher had been encouraging us to be kind to our bodies throughout the practice, not to push our bodies too far, to be gentle to ourselves. She was so kind and caring and so full of wisdom. Savasana came and the tears came rolling through, once I started I couldn’t stop, it had hit me. After all of these years of punishing myself, hating how I was, I suddenly realised in this moment just how unkind I had been to myself.
This was the point that my life started changing direction . I had for a moment in this class, connected with my inner sparkle, the heart inside of me that was waiting and ready to shine. However, although I picked up my yoga practice, it took another couple of years, a few more break-ups and job departures before Yoga and also my meditation practice became a priority.
Turning 30 was another key milestone in the path, I’d become tired of the partying, tired of the casual relationships and after a traumatic freak accident happened in my East London flat to my next door neighbour, I’d reached breaking point. The tears were endless, the depression had hit. I was so disconnected from my heart it was painful.
After advice from my dearest friend, I started therapy. At the same time my desire to practice yoga and meditation become stronger. For years I had run away from myself and now through these practices I was literally re-discovering myself, re-connecting to my heart and finally starting to realise how much beauty I had within. For the first time in my life, I had started to free feel, it was liberating.
After wanting to teach after all these years, the force within took over and I finally took the plunge and signed up for my teacher training. It was the most incredible experience of my life, it shifted and deepened my understanding of yoga and led to an acceptance of my body but also life around me that I had never experienced before. And what’s amazing is I feel like this is only the beginning.
So as I continue along the Yoga road, my answer to the “Why do you practice Yoga?” question is this:
It does not matter if you are “good” at yoga, or how flexible you are, it does not matter what you look like in the pose or how many likes you get on Instagram. What matters is the relationship you are cultivating with yourself. Through practicing Yoga I have learned to love myself, to accept myself, to be kind to myself and to let go of old “stuff” that isn’t helping me anymore. It is by learning to love myself that I am also able to be more open in my relationships with those around me and also see the beauty on the planet that surrounds us every day.
The work does not happen overnight though, it takes dedication, focus and patience. It is a daily practice, a daily commitment to myself to live a kind, more content, positive life.
So this is my personal path and my story, Yoga can bring different benefits for different people. If you are thinking of starting yoga for the first time, perhaps you just want to de-stress from work, move your body a bit more, chill out whatever it is, I’d encourage you to try it out and jump on the mat. And I’ll leave you with this:
“The theory of Yoga is very simple… There is nothing to be overwhelmed by and nothing to fail at…The ultimate reality is always inside of you and is perfect just as it is. You just need to realise it”