So my yogic transformation has stretched so far that it has become more like a split personality! I have changed so much in the last few years that I barely recognise my new self as me! So much so that along the way I had trouble adjusting to whom I have become.
My good friend laughs lovingly at the two versions of me and calls them Laura and Vera. Laura was the highly sociable good time, out all night girl and Vera likes to drink herbal tea and wear warm clothes and sensible shoes and be in bed by 10 o’clock so she can practice Ashtanga Yoga every morning.
Everything that Laura loved, Vera has given up. Everything that Laura was, Vera is the polar opposite. Even everything that Laura would have said, Vera will contradict.
Vera is much happier and content, but Laura will not seem to die without a fight!
Yoga helps you to start looking at yourself more closely. They say it is like cleaning the self-reflective mirror that enables you to really see yourself. The cleaner it becomes the clearer you see everything. You see your own actions, you see the actions of others, you see intentions versus actions, you see old negative habits more clearly and you see the world through new eyes. You see a way to change.
I read an article recently, which reminded me that the more you practice the more sensitive you become. You see more, you feel more, you sense more, you are more. This means that you can feel hyper sensitive to certain stimuli around you.
I now have an aversion to noisy, busy places when I used to love the hustle and bustle of busy bars and nightclubs. Now they almost scare me and like a rabbit caught in the headlights I freeze and panic. And I want to escape. I feel as though I am somehow vibrating on a different frequency. A quieter, calmer frequency that doesn’t allow me to feel at ease in over crowded, noisy, loud and aggressive situations. I’d rather be chilling in a hammock, taking in the natural surroundings, watching the sunset and listening to the birds.
(seriously? My old self shouts – ‘just listen to yourself!’)
I started to recognise that all of my bad habits were a form of self-abuse. A way of drowning my sorrows: numbing myself to life. I would drink and smoke to disengage, to somehow become less present. You subconsciously ‘leave the room’ when the alcohol kicks in. It alters your state of mind and your whole being. Smoking too, damages your body making you weak from the inside. The sutra’s state that at first you smoke a cigarette and then slowly, it starts smoking you. Burning you away from the inside, distinguishing your self. You start to notice smokers coughs and splutters, the constant clearing of the throats, the harshness in their voices and the smell that lingers around them. Everyone hates a reformed smoker, so I found myself just pulling away from them rather than preaching to them. I am no angel, and I don’t profess to be. Smoking is a strong addiction and can take hold of you easily. I admit to sometimes smoking the occasional cigarette; and I no longer beat myself up when I do. But I don’t enjoy it anymore. I can taste it in my mouth, I can feel it in my lungs, I can feel it in the morning when I wake up and my liver has been detoxing the chemicals out of my system overnight. I quickly remember why I don’t do it anymore and knowing the damage that it is causing my body helps me to not start the daily habit again.
So why do we act in such a self-abusive way?
It basically comes down to self-love. If we really loved ourselves why would we chose to damage ourselves in that way? As an act of love would you give another a glass that contained a fluid that would nurture them or would you give a glass that would make them lose consciousness, vomit and black out? As an act of love….. really, which one would you chose?
So as an act of love to oneself, how would you treat yourself if you really loved yourself?
For me it was really hard becoming this new version of myself. I lost friends. I lost lovers. I lost my social life. I lost respect. I lost my identity. I lost touch of who I really was….. But then I started to realise what I had gained. I had gained self-discipline. I had gained self-respect. I had gained much better health and vitality. I had gained self worth. I had gained new friends with the same outlook to life. I had gained new eyes to see the world.
Yet, still my old self called.
Laura would want to party. Laura would want to dance. Laura would want to stay up late and be wild. Laura thought that Vera was boring and that nobody liked her. Everybody loved Laura! Laura didn’t want to die!
Laura and Vera were not friends. They didn’t even like each other very much. They fought. They argued. They didn’t speak for weeks. They would give each other disapproving looks and walk in opposite directions (see how a split personality can drive you crazy!).
Yet the more I practiced the more comfortable I became with my new self. The more I wanted to live in my new world. The more I wanted to practice. I wanted to continue walking down this path. I realised that the benefits far out weighed the alternatives. The positives outnumbered the negatives a million to one.
I had gone from waking up in the morning in Bristol UK, barely able to walk to the bathroom due to high levels of toxins in my system, to waking up bright and breezy, in Maui Hawaii, about to take on the second series of Ashtanga Yoga with some of the most senior practitoners in the world. People: who in the 60’s were still practicing daily and were fighting fit and strong. These people inspired me. They were full of life and vitality. Yoga was keeping them young. I want to be standing on my head at the age of 69 and balancing on my forearms in Pinchaymarasana. I want to be slipping into Karandasana like I was still in my teens and touching my toes to my head in vrishchikasana. I want to be strong enough to still complete the second series on my 70th birthday!
I started to find myself not missing my old life that much after all. I started finding it hard to socialise with people who were intoxicated. Repeating themselves over and over and shouting at each other. I started finding it hard to watch people treat themselves with such little care. Watching them damage themselves in more ways than one. I started to cringe and shudder as I watched people acting in the very way that Laura behaved for such a long time. I wanted to get them all to start doing Ashtanga and start to feel the benefits of this amazing practice, both mentally and physically. I wanted to give them a new lease of life. A new love of life.
A path to happiness.
But I know deep down that you can lead a horse to water….
A teacher’s job is to show people the door, but it is up to them to walk through it.
Laura will always be a part of me. I have learnt that Laura doesn’t have to die. Even though I wasn’t happy being her and didn’t like lots of things about her, she is still a part of my history. Through Yoga I have learnt how I can take the best bits of her and merge them with the best bits of Vera.
They aren’t really two – they are one. And neither of them are who I really am; they are part of my ego. Part of what I call I. And yoga destroys the “I”.
The Ashtanga process breaks us apart. It smashes our ego to smithereans. It breaks us so that we can take out all the bad bits and then put all the good bits back together again. After talking to other Ashtangi’s I realised that I was not alone. I was not the only person to go through this…. In fact it was all part of the purification process.
The hardest thing about loving yoga so much is not being able to get everyone to do it! At first I was a real yoga pusher, but now I have come to realise that people have to find their own way. People have to find their own path. People have to come to it due to a genuine yearning for something, a knowing that there is more to life and a desire to discover what that really is.
They have to have a genuine want for new eyes.
Nancy Gilgoff told me today that Gurji had once said that people that are drawn to yoga have done it before in a past life. People that dedicate their lives to it are firmly on the path to self-improvement and liberation. So if someone just hears the word ‘yoga’ or does one sun salutation in this lifetime, then in their next they will be drawn to it even more. So by sharing this wonderful practice and all its incredible benefits with as many people as I possibly can this lifetime, it will ensure even more dedicated yogi’s in the next round. So for every person that I get to teach even one sun salutation to, I can rest assured that it will make a difference. That was enough.
Pattahbi Jois said “Do your practice, teach, and all is coming”
And so I teach with humble pride and honour, knowing that I am sharing with others this wonderful gift.