New Year, New Me. I've spent the past four months immersing myself in self-growth. Yoga, meditation, and all that powerful stuff. Welcome back to another installment of Gas & Gander.
It's exactly three years since I made that incredibly random and rash decision to pack up a suitcase and fly to Northern India. I wasn't getting what I needed from life in the West. In fact I didn't really know what I needed. I was going full speed on the highway to a mental breakdown. Thanks to Liz Gilbert and Eat, Pray, Love, I stumbled upon a three month intense yoga & meditation course at an institute buried away in the Himalayan Mountains in a spiritual place called Rishikesh. Here's the thing about me, when I get a notion of doing something, I'll do just about everything to make it happen. It was only about 3 weeks after India first came into my head that I boarded a flight to Indira Gandhi Airport in Delhi. I didn't know it at the time but this trip was to change everything for me.
Rewind to February 2014, it's 1am and I've just arrived to Delhi. There must be about 10,000 people in the arrivals terminal, each of them holding name cards. I'm flustered, jet lagged, and incredibly anxious. It takes about 45 minutes until I finally locate my driver in the outside carpark, which also appears to be home to several cows. Once I find him he tells me he's been patiently waiting 12 hours for my arrival. We drive to a nearby hotel to pick up a connection of mine who is also taking part in the course in Rishikesh. Emma and I bond over masala chai and lots of laughs on a slightly terrifying trip to Rishikesh. We're inseparable for the next three months.
Arriving to the Association of Yoga & Meditation, we unpack, explore, and within a few days we're living like the locals. It's exactly what I hoped it would be. Our days start with meditation in the wee hours of the morning which is then followed by the Ashtanga Primary Series. I can't even touch my toes when I arrive in India and have absolutely no prior experience with yoga. I look around in envy as my fellow students bend themselves into shapes I can only dream of. I thought I was preparing by doing daily spin classes at my local gym back home... huge no no I later found out. However, what I later learned, yoga is not just about asana. Asana (posture) is just one limb of an eight limbed system in Ashtanga.
Other academic activities included learning Sanskrit, mantras, philosophy, biology, and yoga therapy. We spent our free time exploring the town, running from monkeys, and tasting the food at almost every restaurant. Eating at the restaurants is a great experience, until it's not, and you find yourself stuck in your room for 24 hours. Saying no more on that subject.
The time in Rishikesh flies by and before I know it I'm hugging goodbye to some truly incredible people and boarding a flight back to Northern Ireland. I feel changed from the inside out and I'm so grateful to my parents for supporting what seemed like an absurd idea three months prior.
Fast forward to August last year, I haven't been to a yoga class in almost two years. I feel spiritually and mentally lost. I have no idea what direction my life is taking. My experience of India has stuck with me almost everyday since I left however I wasn't prepared to return to a chaotic work schedule and had other priorities when I moved to Toronto & I somehow lost my passion for spirituality. It took me some time after moving to Vancouver in 2016 to ground myself, but I'm luckily in a position now where I can devote more time to myself.
I initially was inspired to return to my practice after reading a story by Paige Williams on Oprah. Paige devoted herself to 60 classes of Bikram yoga in 60 days. After reading about her experience, and many others who have undergone transformations with a 60 day bikram challenge, I decided to sign up for classes at Bikram Yoga Commerical Drive. Once I set my mind to something, especially a challenge, I'm determined to see it through. I figured it would be difficult with my work schedule, however I made it work. At the end of 60 days, I felt like a new person. I had quit smoking, I didn't drink alcohol, I was eating a much healthier diet, and my body had been transformed. I felt stronger, more flexible, happier, and more grounded. I didn't miss one class throughout the entire challenge, no matter how I felt, I saw it through, and I'm pretty damn proud of myself.
After my Bikram challenge, I wanted to keep going to class, however I found that the practice wasn't taking me where I wanted to go. I felt I couldn't progress past where I was after 60 days, I couldn't go deeper with my pranayama practice (breathing) and meditation. Physically, the practice was everything I wanted but mentally, it wasn't.
It was just a few days after completing my challenge that I found Ashtanga Yoga Vancouver. I called Fiona Stang, certified Ashtanga teacher, and owner of the AYV shala that I now practice at six days a week. I've been at AYV for just over two months now and find I've gone deeper in my practice than I ever could have imagined. This practice has again transformed me from the inside out. I've started making more conscious decisions and feel like an entirely new person. I feel devoted and determined. Ashtanga is a life long practice, and one I hope to be doing for many years. Finally, I feel as though I've found my Guru, the teacher who is taking me from darkness to light.
Everything in my life now revolves around my yoga practice. I've made it my number one priority, and in ways I'm lucky that I have no other main responsibilities aside from an incredible and enjoyable job. My passion for this practice takes me to new places everyday and I'm never really prepared for what will happen. I'm sucking up every single bit of information that I possibly can surrounding this practice and spirituality. I've recently transitioned to vegetarian, I'm still off cigarettes, I don't enjoy drinking alcohol, I avoid drugs, and I'm happy to say that I haven't been sick or run down since beginning my practice again. I'm in the best place I've been mentally in a long time. What I've learnt is that it's ok to fall out of practice for a while, and it may take some time, but you'll find your way back to your mat again. I'm also learning that showing up on my mat everyday is all it takes to deepen my practice, I may be less flexible than I was yesterday, I may feel weaker, I may be in pain, but I'm doing my practice. I'm not getting discouraged by how I perform the asana everyday because I know that by just showing up every morning at 5:30am is good enough and that I'm transforming myself each and everyday regardless. I feel blessed.
I've also been reading some incredible books lately which I'll share in another post.