Like most people I had tried the odd class at the gym but had bought into the myth that there were 2 types of yoga:
1. A boring class for older ladies to gently stretch.
2. The kind for gymnasts, contortionists and the super flexible.
3 years ago a studio opened up right next to the office I was working in, colleagues convinced me to give yoga one more try. I am so grateful that they did because I couldn't have imagined the impact it would have on my life.
I didn't go to yoga classes to learn about spirituality or with the intention of finding myself.
To start with I went for the silence. Silence from the constant stream of thoughts, constantly replaying the past (how a meeting went, what I could have done better, what I should do next time). It was my first taste of freedom. For the first time my mind, the inner critic, was quiet and still, on that mat, I was present. That was my first Jivamukti class. The instructor ended his class with a Sanskrit mantra: Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
Without even knowing the meaning of this, it somehow resonated with me. It gave me goosebumps, I felt joy and deep sadness all at once. I was so confused! Yet still, I felt such a strong pull, a sense of connection. Given that I had no clue what it meant this strong reaction piqued my curiosity. Before leaving the class I had to know what the Sanskrit meant.
(I guess maybe I was finally able to set my ego aside and be open to the spiritual and philosophical teachings.)
'May all beings be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and freedom for all.'
This has been etched in my heart and mind since the moment I heard it. It has become my intention with each day contribute in some way to that happiness and freedom for all.
I have experienced the freedom that practising yoga, meditation and awareness can offer. Freedom from the fiction of the mind. Those around me have noted the difference in me; happier, calmer, more confident, healthy and inspired!
The link was pretty clear, yoga was helping me to gain some perspective, to get to know myself. The more I went the more motivated I became to make changes and the easier it became to hear my inner truth.
I found that the more challenging the class the easier it was to find that inner peace. I skipped the beginner's classes and went straight for the physically demanding yang classes. (Not advisable - spoiler alert- without the foundation of basic alignment and strength building I ended up injuring myself).
You could say I was hooked, I started going daily. As is typical in human nature my ego got in the way, making even this pure practice a competition. I started comparing myself to those in class around me (uh yes, the inner critic – why aren't you as flexible/strong/graceful as her? Ummm, maybe because she has been practising for 10 years and used to be a gymnast). It's hard to find inner peace when you are beating yourself up for not being someone else, but I didn't have the awareness just yet to realise. So, instead, I pushed harder. I pushed my body...too hard. As a result, I tore the cartilage in my hip, which I can tell you is agony... I learned the hard and rather painful way that we are not all carbon copies, each of us is unique in every way including the way we are built and yoga is a personal journey.
The Bhagavad Gita says: "Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self."
The comparison is pointless, each of us is on a different leg of our journey and no journey is the same. We are each navigating our own paths, physically, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually. The first thing I learned on this journey was that yoga was so much more than a way to tone up and get flexible as many westerners perceive it.
The hardest lesson to put into practice, however, was to listen to my body. To hold a compassionate and grateful space, only practising what is available at that moment.
1. Don’t compare yourself to yesterday or the person beside you.
2. Listen to your own breath, its the bridge between body and mind. It speaks volumes about your practice- if it is broken it tells us the body and mind are no longer working in harmony.
3. Let your breath unite your mind and body and become your anchor, ground your practice.
My injury as painful as it was forcing me to learn and grow - being unable to practice the physical aspect of yoga (Asana) for several months I started to focus on the subtle practices, deepening my understanding of the 8 limbs of yoga. Changing the way I think, talk and act. Becoming more aware and in tune with my body and my impact on those around me.
Yoga means union and has many interpretations. From the union of breath and movement to the union of your consciousness with the universal oneness
Union also means to come together, and this became a huge part of my journey, finding a connection or more specifically reconnecting. With myself, loved ones, nature and opening myself to connect with other strangers who became my community.
Yoga was the catalyst for change. It empowered me to learn to be vulnerable again and inspired me to connect:
- with my inner self and all the emotions, I tried to suppress or hide from with distractions.
- with others, family, friends and strangers.
Out of fear I had been keeping the world at arm's length, reacting from past hurt or negative projections of what could go wrong and choosing to remain ignorant and lonely.
Yoga practice opened my heart and my eyes, it taught me to observe and with that awareness, make changes.
As I deepen my practice, I begin to understand it as a union of the mind, body and spirit. This is no longer limited to the 4 corners of the mat. I try to practice awareness in all aspects of life.
My injury forced me to take a step back but it also inspired me, along with the amazing yogis I met along the way to share what I had learned. I decided to leave my career in marketing, my heart was never in it. I booked a yoga teacher training (after months of researching) and I gave my work notice.
It was an emotional rollercoaster. I knew I was doing the right thing but I had also just said goodbye to financial stability and security. At first, I struggled with anxiety and self-doubt but I didn't give up. Partially because I had booked my training in Bali and if nothing else I would get to deepen my own understanding and yoga practice in paradise.
And I did... but the more I learned, the more I learned there is still to learn. Yes, this was an overwhelming realisation but an exciting one too.
I graduated with my 200hr Yoga Alliance certification in November and have been teaching beginner yoga in Sumatra since. Every class I feel like I learn from each person as much as I teach them. I have no idea what's next but I am happier than I have ever been... Everyone I have met along the way has been so encouraging and supportive, my heart is full of love and joy and the faith that it will all unfold as it should.
- Renee Jones
You can follow Renne on Instagram @reneeshaye.yoga