My heels hover above the ground in downward dog, I wobble in tree and tortoise looks like a distant dream, yet in a few days time I start a month-long yoga teacher training course. This might sound akin to someone rubbish at gymnastics becoming a gym coach, but there are a few differences.
Firstly, I’m not doing it to be a teacher. Perhaps one day I will be, but for now I feel like I have a lot more of my own practice to do before I can really pass that on. I’m doing this course to deepen my understanding of yoga – and that goes way beyond the asanas (physical yoga postures).
Unlike gymnastics and many sports, yoga isn’t all about the physical body and competition. It’s a way of life. In countries like the UK and US, yoga has often been stripped of its philosophy and reduced to mere acrobatics. Its practitioners often use it purely as vehicle to a more attractive body, rather than a path to understanding and bettering themselves and the world.
This isn’t the yoga I’m looking for. Nor am I looking for yoga that has been subsumed by the New Age. I want to know where it came from, how it works and what it’s all about. I’ve chosen an Ashtanga Vinyasa course and the little I do know about it excites me and rings true. I don’t yet know exactly what yoga means to me, and I imagine I’ll struggle with parts of it and be enamored by others, but I’m willing and excited to learn.
Why did I choose yoga?
But why yoga? What’s drawn me to it? Initially, it was because of the way it made me feel. Every time I’ve been diligent and practiced regularly, I’ve noticed the benefits both in mind and body. The frustrations and tensions you feel on the mat tend to mirror your everyday life. Despite this, I find it hard to keep the habit. As soon as I break it, I struggle to get going again. I become lazy and laissez faire, and I’m hoping that this intense month-long learning will kick-start and cement a lifelong practice.
I’ll also attracted to the philosophy of yoga. Asanas are only one of the eight ‘limbs’ of yoga. The others are more concerned with mental and spiritual well-being. For example, being vegetarian is part of a yogic lifestyle, and the first two limbs deal entirely with your behavior towards yourself and others – being truthful, non-violent, not stealing etc. They have similarities to Christianity’s ten commandments and Buddhism’s eight-fold path – basic ideas on ethical living.
Is yoga a religion?
But yoga isn’t a religion in itself. It uses a lot of the language of Hinduism so is sometimes confused with that – and it has similarities to religion such as its ethical code and study of ancient texts, but it doesn’t dictate the nature of a God to be worshipped. Instead that God is left open to interpretation. This suits me as I have no firm ideas on the subject and struggle with anything dogmatic. (As an aside, I was told the other day that in Quecha, there is no satisfactory translation for the word ‘religion’. Nature is their religion/God as there’s no bigger mystery than that.)
Despite my aversion to dogma, there is one thing I truly do believe in and that is mindfulness. Through studying and being in psychotherapy, I came to learn the benefits and importance of being mindful of your actions – learning to respond rather than react. It saves countless suffering, but is much easier said than done. Things like yoga and meditation are ways to practice being mindful. It’s not an easy path as you are constantly faced with yourself and your own responsibility for your actions rather than the fault of others, but ultimately, I believe it’s more rewarding.
These are all things that play as a backing track to my life, but don’t always get the attention I’d like to give them. I’ve wanted to do a course like this for years – to really absorb myself in the practice and learn about it properly rather than dipping in and out of books and lessons. But the time has never been right, mainly due to work commitments. Even when this opportunity came up, I nearly let it go, worried that I should be working instead – but eventually, I decided to go for it. The Vegetarian Travel Guide will launch soon and my workload will increase. If I don’t do it now, I may never do it and I think I’d surely regret that.
So, as I said at the start, I begin my course in a few days time. My teachers at Drishti Yoga seem awesome and it’s all taking place in a gorgeous-looking place called Tailwind Jungle Lodge on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. The whole saga of the mole means I’m a lot less prepared physically than I would like to be, but I do I feel ready for the challenge.
Who knows where this adventure will take me, but I couldn’t be more excited to find out.
I’m only going to have the internet once or twice a week for the duration of the course, but will check in occasionally to let you know how it’s going.
The photos of Tailwind are from tailwindjunglelodge.com