What brings you to yoga?
January 2009. I remember having seen the sign on Northcote Road several times before it actually registered. On my way one Saturday to have lunch with my friend Liz, finally something clicked and without any logical or obvious reason, I decided I wanted to do the advertised Beginners Yoga Course. Over lunch, Liz shared my enthusiasm (she wanted to be more flexible as she did a lot of sports) and we both went home and booked our spots for Tuesday nights.
I guess you could say it was the first time I was really aware of being drawn to something, which I couldn't articulate in words. And such is yoga: there would be many more times like this to come over the years. There was nothing in particular going on in my life that directed me to yoga. I had had back surgery just over two years previously, but my back was now fine. I had endured an unhappy relationship in the last four months of 2008, but I had walked away, and was now in a new relationship with a seemingly nice and supportive man. I was on a new project at work. I was getting on better with my flatmate. All was well.
But was it? Underneath the surface, everything was maybe not OK. I had repeated bouts of depression and I defined myself in relation to everyone else. (New boyfriend interested in the outdoors? OK, I am too!). Yoga was one of the few things I did for myself. Apart from Liz, I knew no one else at all who was practicing yoga.
So to the first class. 8pm on a cold January evening and Liz and I arrived at the hall where the classes were held. We waited in silence outside, whispering and smiling to the others also waiting. There was a pregnancy class just finishing and a large sign asking for silence. On entering the room, it was half dark, lit by soft lights and candles, with incense and mats arranged in a circle. There were 20 of us, all beginners. As I entered, I felt myself exhale (although I'm not sure I could have told you it was an exhale!) and something deep inside shifted.
I felt held and at home in that space. It wasn't always comfortable. I tensed up every time breathing was mentioned, and the first few weeks of Down Dog were hard. But something stayed with me. I wept silently through one class when I knew I had to break up with the lovely supportive new boyfriend whom it was increasingly clear I had nothing in common with - and who also had little emotional intelligence. Weeping in this space seemed to be perfectly fine and necessary. I felt better afterwards.
After the course finished, I signed up for the next term which was for Beginners Plus, as well as a yoga retreat that summer. Liz didn't continue but I was happy on my own. Over the next years, I would take breaks from yoga, but something always, always called me back. My yoga went from the physical practices into meditation, mindfulness and spiritual inquiry. Eventually I trained to teach other people.
Today 2018. What continues to bring me back to yoga? Firstly, there is the profound sense of ease and wellbeing I derive from my practice, whether it is meditation, physical practice or self inquiry. Everyone loves savasana and I am no exception. A lot of people like to go out drinking on a Saturday night - but you'll find me doing a Yin yoga session at home and using my therapy balls for some fascial release. Heavenly! Secondly, although uncomfortable, yoga brings a tremendous degree of self awareness and self knowledge. This is not always comfortable but I now know that it is truly necessary. This is what allows life to unfold fully, and for me to really know myself (remembering back to when I used to define myself in relation to everyone else!). Thirdly, it is just so nice to move and breathe. Especially first thing in the morning, when I am all stiff, and the mind is racing with To Dos and stories and whatever; just to get the mat out, and breathe long and deep, and allow the body, to move feels really good and calms my nervous system. It's not always for long - sometimes just 10-15 minutes if I am in a hurry or got up late. But put it this way - the rest of my day seems to go so much better when I do my practice!
It is always worth remembering that yoga evolved as a spiritual tradition. That is, it is about us as humans, how we relate to ourselves, each other and the universe we inhabit - and how these things relate to us. You will get from yoga what you intend to get from it, whether that's greater awareness, inner peace or a less achy back. But sometimes that intention, like with me, is hidden. We are drawn to yoga without really knowing why; it is only in the unfolding awareness and awakening that the original intention becomes clear. This is one of the reasons why I have chosen "Returning Home" as the theme of the Day Retreat in September; because yoga really does help us return home to who we really are.I took my Beginners Yoga Course Nadia Raafat and Battersea Yoga was my yoga home for over five years.