Someone recently asked me what Yoga is to me. I realised that I had an answer but it also struck me that there was definitely some more digging to be done to reveal the roots of my relationship to it and what it has come to mean to me since my first ever class.
It might sound odd for there to be a need to dig for the truth but memory is a funny thing. Without even realising, digestible versions of a truth can form, which then get repeated and become engrained. Realising I was probably repeating a few of these I got my metaphorical shovel and I started digging, a process that ended up being really cathartic and so I decided to write about it.
I don’t know if Yoga and grief will ever not be intertwined for me. It wasn’t that I got into yoga because of grief, it was that it started to mean something very different to me during a time when I was in the throws of deep loss.
I did my first yoga class at university in 2009. I was never really into team sports and having done gymnastics as a kid I was flexible and yoga felt really natural to me. If I’m honest I felt ‘good’ at it and that initially drew me in. After uni I carried on practicing here and there until I joined a Hot Yoga studio near where I lived in Brixton. Me and my close friend would go together. We had a shared love of the workout and post yoga euphoria. We’d both leave dripping in sweat and ready to take on the world.
Then on the evening of Sunday 15th December 2013, whilst I was painting my nails in preparation for my work Christmas party the next day, I got a call from my Dad. He was calling to say that my brother Chris had been killed. He’d been hit by a car as he walked back from his own Christmas party in a country pub back home in Suffolk. It’s hard to describe the feeling when you hear that someone who is so knitted in your identity, the identities of your family members, and such a humungous part of your life is suddenly gone in an instant. I’ve never experienced such a feeling of loss of control or pure helplessness. Unsurprisingly everything changed from this point. The landscape that was so familiar to me vanished and suddenly I was dropped in an environment where nothing was as it had once been. The things I’d worried about before seemed laughable. All structure, routine, concerns, responsibilities just dropped away. So many of the things that mattered suddenly didn’t.
When I finally got back to London after over a month at home I carried on going to the same yoga studio. It became somewhere for me to go, something for me to do when I didn’t know what the hell to do with myself apart from cry and stare at the ceiling whilst laying on my bed in a daze. It offered me a place to exist that felt hopeful and good. I did my fair share of destructive things after Chris’ death in tandem with yoga, desperately looking for solace in going out and spending money. However, during all of this, Yoga was still there in the background and I continued to be called back to it.
I distinctly remember a point a few months after Chris’ death where I felt like I had two paths in front of me; the rabbit hole of self-destruction, or the one that yoga offered me; self-healing, hope. This is the same reason why I eventually decided to become a teacher. I knew that if I committed myself to yoga I’d always be on a path to somewhere good, this I felt in my gut.
As I continued with my yoga practice in this new landscape, I slowly began to feel less at the hands of an anxiety that I can’t actually remember not having. I’m a natural worrier, I thought it was just part of my DNA, but yoga has made me feel braver, calmer, freer. It’s also motivated me to look after myself with a care that I hadn’t offered myself so far in my life. My body, having been a battleground for so many years, began to feel like home. It was somewhere I could go to find peace, grounding, a feeling that it was all going to be okay. This was a huge revelation to me. I started to become much more accepting of who I was and more determined to be as me as possible, not a carefully curated version of myself (still a WIP of course).
Yoga, for me, continues to be a way of healing from the inside out. I know myself better and can listen in with a more sensitive ear; when do I need to rest, what is my intuition saying to me, what is truly important? I’m still regularly lured towards that oh so easy to tread path of self-sabotage but I see it for what it is now, and I always end up finding my way back to what I know is healing for me. In a nutshell Yoga is medicine. Sometimes there's movement, other times not. Most crucially it’s a massive inward dose of love and care – a dedication to serve myself with what will nourish, heal and help me to feel more connected to who I am.