I’m a big bird, always have been always will be; built for strength not speed, so to speak. I’m all shoulders, back and legs. I’ve done weightlifting, running, kick boxing and nearly drowned teaching myself to swim. Suffice to say I’m not one to shy away from new experiences.
I had been looking for a new fitness angle- I realised as I was in my late thirties and everything I had done previously had knackered me one way or another- it was time for a gentler way, a slower pace.
Turned out Yoga was it.
Ironically I had bumped into Yoga Sweat during an alcohol infused evening out, noticing their ‘try us and see’ offer and decided to take them up on it. I won’t lie I walked into my first class full of scepticism and a raised eyebrow. I expected the mung bean posse, the smell of incense and fellow classmates wearing intricately woven ethically sourced hoodies and saying Om a lot (was proved right only on the incense). Everyone looked so. . lithe and spiritually sound. I could just about bend over to pick up 50p from the floor.
It was a chilled, calming and stress free environment. You really do leave your crap at the door. Raman greeted with smiles and a demeanour that would put any first time yogi at ease. She escorted me through the sunset hued studio- the frontage belies its size, this place is a tardis. I felt soothed already. I also was reassured to not expect to be doing pretzel shapes immediately and to just enjoy the class. I sat in the studio, took heart from the inspirational quotes on the wall, closed my eyes and waited for to the class start.
My first class with Belinda Botha nearly saw me never return. I stood at the back away from laughing eyes, sweating like I was being paid double to do so and it wasn’t even a hot class. Why were we doing so many of these downward dogs? They were sheer agony. Jump backs? Crow? Now that’s just masochism right there.
I fully expected to wake up the following morning as stiff as a board and cursing my stupidity for attempting this nonsense.
But I didn’t, I felt unnervingly great!
Steadily I researched- YouTube turned out to be my best friend. I saw the huge variety of people who enjoyed this amazing practice and began to feel encouraged, enlightened some may say, and developed a streak of confidence that has only grown. I resolved to go to class three times a week and practice at home when I could. I could only try, right?
I threw myself into every class they had and found Ashtanga, taught by Dave Glover. You were never still, you were moving parts of your body that seldom got used- Mula Bhanda anyone?- and the high afterwards was as addictive as when I bench pressed 180lbs. Very little had come close to that.
I haven’t found all aspects easy. I was arrogant enough to think Asanas would come to me in a few classes. My hips are still about as flexible as a steel encased brick and arm balances continue to turn their noses up at me, but it’s fun to feel my body slowly give in to time and pressure and determination.
When In class and I see a newbie dressed in black and looking unsure and scared, I am drawn to help them. I hand over my blocks, give subtle encouragement and tell them to take it easy. I know, concentrate on your own practice, but if I can see someone is about to give themselves a pulled muscle then I can only do what humans do which is assist and guide.
Check me out!
Please don’t think my time at Yoga Sweat has been all airy fairy fun, chanting and peaceful Savasana. I‘ve had persistent shoulder issues by over doing it- rotator cuff put me out for six weeks which was maddening. Over-enthusiastic handstand practice and bad placement when transitioning all gave me a tough lesson but one learned nonetheless.
I have the pleasure to be taught by some incredible teachers here, teachers who had been practicing for years if not decades- Dave, Richard, Ambra, Hannah, Zusi- their grace and ease and obvious hard work and dedication is an utter inspiration. They will be first to say they’re still learning, you never stop learning. Some are former dancers, some are body builders on the sly- all have a dedication to yoga that has changed my life.
Eighteen months in and this is the difference.
I had a chronic weak lower back and would happily swallow strong painkillers to see off my sciatica.
I now cannot describe the joy Urdvha Dhanurasana and Viparita Dandasana give me- backbends set me free.
I couldn’t hold downward dog at all as my wrists were so weak I would collapse.
I am now an inversion junkie- who knew being upside down could bring sense to everything?
I would stay in bed until the last possible minute until I had to get up to go to work.
I wake at 7am to practice for an hour before work 5 days a week and do a restorative practice on a Sunday.
I was too shy to do anything publicly out of a studio.
I have performed asana on a carpet in the centre of my city with 100 other people of all ages, sizes and abilities for World Yoga Day and regularly post progress on my Instagram page.
I was too scared to contemplate travelling abroad alone- no way. Nah-ah. Zero confidence.
I recently celebrated my 40th in New York where I went to the Dharma Yoga Centre. I can honestly say I felt the most wonderful peace.
I’m not a dancer, a gymnast or a contortionist. I’m not naturally bendy, lithe or supple. I have a dodgy shoulder questionable knees and toes. But I still do my best in my practice.
And my best is pretty damn good.