It was 17 years ago. I was living in Cape Town and my heart had just been broken. It was following the advice of my trusted therapist, that I try yoga to help reduce the levels of anxiety I was experiencing.
Back then it was considered the domain of eccentric hippie folk and if you found it on the timetable of any popular gym, it came in only one variety. Fast track forward two decades and the smorgasbord of classes available can be overwhelming, everything from more traditional Ashtanga Vinyasa to Hot yoga and (even) gin yoga.
Having been a keen gymnast in my childhood and associating yoga (like many others) with something that only ‘bendy’ people can do, I was sure it was something at which I could excel.
My uncle happened to know of an instructor who was teaching from her living room and I signed up for my first class.
The first thing that struck me on arrival was the advanced age of my instructor. How would this individual teach me the acrobatic routine that I needed to master, to set me on the path of living my dream and running away with the circus as a trapeze artist? A quick glance around the room told me that I was the youngest participant and I gave myself a silent high five; I’d wipe the floor with these people.
As I prepared to move straight into a sequence of poses, I was asked to get into a comfortable seated position. This wasn’t getting off to a great start. And then it got worse: we were asked to close our eyes and start chanting some ridiculous, indecipherable phrase (in Sanskrit).
As I tried helplessly to mouth the words in sync with the others who were chanting in unison (smugly, I felt), my anxiety levels rose and I determined there and then that yoga was not for me.
We finally started getting into a flow of moves. My gaze wandered around the room and I became increasingly agitated as I noticed almost everyone in the room managing the poses with great poise while I stumbled around awkwardly, getting tangled in my strap and tripping over the blocks and bolsters. I looked up to see my instructor perfectly in position. I was humbled.
I later discovered that my instructor had been practising for thirty years and, to this day, she remains one of my inspirations.
I also got to experience my first Savasana (corpse pose) or for the non-cognoscenti – the part where you enjoy the fruits of your labour by lying down and relaxing (for 10 or so minutes) after the class. It’s bliss.
It took me years to shake off my western ways. I was obsessed with which poses I could conquer and how much more bendy I could become. My practice was all about pushing my body to its limit. But this is not the point of yoga. Mindfulness helped me out of the error of my ways by making me aware of the importance of breath. This may sound simplistic but it helped me to enjoy a more meditative practice.
I decided I wanted to broaden my knowledge and attended a 200-hour teacher training course in Bali, Indonesia. I learned about Indian philosophy and anatomy – learning what’s safe for the body and how to assist individuals with ailments – and, of course, about how to teach. Sixteen years later – I found myself translating those indecipherable mantras that I had struggled to chant years before. I went on to travel through Indonesia and Central America and taught fellow travellers along the way.
My greatest goal is not to help people get into the Scorpion pose (on a gymnastic scale, this has a difficulty level of 7.5 out of 10) but as corny as it sounds, to introduce people to a new way of life, and a chance to get into their bodies and their minds, no matter their ability.
If you’re already a yoga fan, I hope my guidance in this space will complement your current practice. If you’re not predisposed to practising yoga, I hope you will be more open to trying it out.
Important lessons I learnt on the mat that day:
- Yoga could help me become more flexible in both mind and body
- I should not judge individuals outside my mat, and
- Yoga could help me be more agile in my old.