I write this blog post squashed in a middle seat on a packed aeroplane from Kuala Lumpa to Melbourne. It’s an eight hour flight and there is no screen on the back of the seat in front to provide entertainment options, no food trolley coming around with the delicious smell of free aeroplane mush, the a/c is cranked so high that I have my jacket and scarf wrapped around as if I were heading out on a winter’s day and there’s a funny sort of smell in the air, could be b/o who knows … I’ve already been travelling for 15 hours since leaving the hotel around 7pm last night and have just inhaled an entire tube of foreign Pringles to substitute for the breakfast and lunch that I’m going to miss. But, I sit here very grateful, and settled. The reason being is due to my experience of the last 32 days.
I have just completed a Yoga teacher training course in Rishikesh, India. While I have plenty of stories to tell about India, and all the wonders/terrors of living in that country, I wanted to first take a moment to talk about the course, the teachers and most importantly, the other students in my group that made the journey what it was.
This was much more then learning how to string a bunch of postures together and call it a yoga class. The promise was there of course, that was the bait that lured us all in. We turned up, naïvely thinking we were going to get a good workout every day, learn a few new postures, maybe perfect a couple of impressive moves to show off back home and ultimately walk away with a certificate to allow us to stand in front of a class and pretend we know what we’re talking about. But, it was oh so much more than that.
We were really about to embark on a journey of self-discovery, that would force us to look deep within ourselves and see what was really there. To be vulnerable, be brave, embrace being sad and learn how to love properly. One of our first few classes taught us that yoga is a union. It is a balance of everything, it isn’t just asana (poses) practice. It’s about connecting the mind, body and soul. In the western world, we go to yoga classes to get the ‘yoga bod’, to look great in our skinny jeans and give us an excuse to walk around in LuLu lemon leggings all day. But that is all just our ego, yoga is about stripping that away, it’s about embracing who you are and teaching you how to devote yourself. Not for showing off, but so that you can develop and grow your true self and ultimately live a life that brings you peace and happiness. Even after this lesson, we were still a little oblivious to what was in store for us over the next few weeks.
The group consisted of 29 of us, including myself. We were split into two groups for our asana classes. One group participated in Vinyasa Yoga classes in the morning, Hatha Yoga in the evening and the other group did the opposite. During the day however, the two groups came together for our pranayama, philosophy, yoga therapy and anatomy classes, and for our meditation class at night. For those of you that are like me, a little under educated in the world of yoga, Vinyasa yoga is the most common type people practice in the western world. It’s the ‘flow’ yoga, so one asana usually flows into another to create a sequence. They include all your warrior ones, twos and threes, the things we typically associated with ‘Yoga’. It can be pretty fast paced, but still can be slowed down to focus on form and strength. Hatha is more traditional yoga, it’s a lot slower pace and the focus is more on the relaxation side of the class. Still can be very challenging however, as we learned when we practiced the wrist exercises while holding our arms straight up at shoulder height for about 5-10 minutes. Pranayama is breathing exercises, each with their own benefits ranging from helping with high blood pressure, to constipation or liver problems and so much more. Apparently breathing can be a very effective healing process.
Those classes tested us physically, allowed us to really push our bodies to see what we could do or how far we could go, but it was the middle of the day classes that gave us more strength than any number of asana classes could ever give. We would have three classes during the day, either pranayama or yoga therapy, then philosophy and lastly anatomy. Sounds pretty straight forward, I just assumed we’d be learning different techniques and information to create a safe class, effective class, didn’t think too much of them really. Didn’t realise that these weren’t just about us learning how to teach others, they were also us learning about ourselves.
One of the first therapy classes sticks out in my mind, it was simple in concept but powerful in action. We had been talking about the power of a positive mind, and positive actions. Towards the end of class, we were told to stand up, on either side of the room, facing inwards with our eyes closed. The instruction was to then walk slowly across and around the room, and anyone you bumped into, you had to hug. Again, very simple gesture, very powerful result. We had no idea who we were hugging, but even if we could see the person we had all only met a few days ago, so were still basically strangers. Yet every hug was filled with warmth and love. No hug was awkward, everyone put all their emotion into that hug.
We have all built up walls as humans, we live in our own little bubble, and we shy away from human contact for fear of what it might lead to. We live in a corrupt world where nothing is innocent anymore, we don’t believe in the pure, our views have been jaded by personal experience, media and the ones that strip us of our ability to trust. We lock away the people who abuse and damage others, yet we also lock ourselves away in our own prison, controlled by our emotional fears. These prison walls are harder to tear down then those made of stone and barbed wire. Taking that leap to trust someone, means to start breaking holes in that wall and allowing the outside to see the you that you’ve been hiding inside. It means opening ourselves up to that risk that we may not be liked, may not be accepted, and may not seem good enough. The backwards thing is though, the moment you start being real, is the moment everyone loves you the most. The insecurities we have of what others think of us are really mirror reflections of what they think of themselves. Judgement only comes by people who are judging themselves.
This exercise of embracing each person without critical eyes allowed all of us to remove a layer or more from our walls. Human contact is a lost concept within our world, even among friends. But a healing touch goes a long way. Connecting physically shares energy and strength. It says more than a thousand words, because it allows our souls to merge and understand that we are not alone. We opened our eyes at the end and looked around to see tears, laughter, happiness and everyone huddled by each other, because, even in darkness we gravitate towards others.
Another class we undertook was the ‘storytelling’ class. This happened every Saturday, and was a chance for each individual to get up a share a story of their past. Every single human is a unique specimen of stories and experiences that create who they are. But, again, we hide all this away from public eyes, ashamed of our past or too hurt to dig it back up. Life isn’t lived to be a closed book locked away in the back of a dusty library. It’s meant to be read and reread as many times as possible, because each time a story is told it’s received differently, it teaches more and it brings colour and depth to the person telling it, as well as the person listening. Behind every person’s eyes is a story wanting to be told. The pain within the soul screams out through the windows of our eyes begging for someone to listen, to understand, to accept.
It is terrifying however, getting up in front of a group of people and opening your door to them. One thing I noticed during these classes was that, as each person told their story, every single individual in that group had their eyes on them. Feeling their pain, embracing their story and allowing it to connect with their own personal experience. Realising that none of us our alone. We’ve all been through the storm, we’re all fighting our own battles, and we all have our scars. Life is hard, and it can be shit, it has a way of chewing you up and spitting you back out with no regard to how you land. However we endure and we fight back. We have the choice to make it beautiful or to let it destroy us. Every day that you wake up, and move forward you are fighting back. If you look around you’ll notice others doing the same. We may not be fighting the same battles but we’re on the same road, and together we will make it.
Reflecting now, this group opened my eyes and gave me the strength to understand. I’ve always tried to keep my book closed, to cover my pain with a joke and to not share myself with others. This group showed me that being sad doesn’t make you sad. Being hurt, doesn’t make you weak. That being mistreated is not a reflection of your self-worth. This group of individuals was unique and powerful in a way that I cannot explain, because together they were indescribable. Our teachers gave us the tools and understanding to take what they taught us back to a world which needs more love and happiness. The group embraced those tools and took full advantage of them. I believe that every individual on that course has the strength and ability to make change, because that ability is in all of us, we just need to start believing in it.
Now, I could probably write a entire book on all the different classes we had over the last month and everything we learned. But to keep it simple, I’ll just say, that, this course just made everything click into place. It pulled back the veil from our eyes and allowed us to start seeing clearly again. We had all been a little lost going in, whether we knew it or now, but leaving the course we had a bit more clarity. We may not have fought our way out of the woods, but we had at least found the path. That’s what the course did, made you realise you weren’t alone, and made you realise you had the strength to carry on. But getting there was an intense, emotional roller-coaster and completely draining. Some days you felt like you’d just been hit by a freight train, other days you felt like you were permanently living on cloud nine. Embracing and living those emotions is part of the lesson, not to hide away.
I’ll leave you with one of my favourite, simple memories. I was walking down the street with Courtney, another student of the course and one of my closest friends there. We had just bought coffees from the German bakery, the first real coffee we had of the whole trip, and we were wandering slowly down the street to prepare for our evening classes. As we sipped the smooth, silky goodness, warmth filled our bodies. Happiness engulfed us (possibly called caffeine) and we each felt on top of the world. This was it, we were in the moment, present and loving life. Two seconds later our gleeful stroll was interrupted by the sound of a metal, four-wheel drive rust box called a taxi, laying on its horn as it came roaring through the main street, warning us to get out of the way. We jumped to the side to avoid getting hit while also swerving the cow shit on the side of the road, and our moment on top of the world was ruined. But regardless we giggled our way back to the school. Because that’s life isn’t it. One moment your up and the second you’re crashing back down. All you can really do is laugh in the moment and keep moving forward.