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Yoga changed my life.
Yes, I’m going to say the cliché thing that you read on pamphlets outside of your local yoga studio. Someone with a fake name did yoga once and felt spiritually, physically, and mentally enlightened. Yoga changed my life. Except my story is slightly different.
I used to think that yoga was a pretentious activity that allowed hipsters to pretend they were working out while discussing vegan diets and hemp flip flops. I felt that it was neither physically challenging nor a true form of exercise.
Around four years ago, an event that devastated me could have sent me in one of two directions: into a painful downward spiral, or onto a better, cleaner path headed the opposite way. Though it was probably the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with, I chose to separate myself from the devastation and work on my own life. During the worst of it, I slept all day and cried all night. I decided to leave the country for a few months, throw myself into work, spend time with friends, and get healthy to leave the bad behind me. I don’t know if this is how a lot of people discover yoga, but it is how it came to me.
Before this trip I had only ever done one yoga class—it was my mother’s regular class and she constantly raved about it. One week she couldn’t go, but as it was paid for, she asked me if I wanted to go in her place. I hated it. It was everything I thought of yoga—pretentious, uncomfortable, and I felt like I had wasted an hour of my time.
Try, and Then Try Again
When I arrived in LA for my month of cleansing, I began training with an amazing woman. She was recommended to me by a friend, and she fit into my life perfectly. The whole point of this excursion was to get myself fit, healthy, and happy again. I trained with her once a week and began attending some of her classes—she taught spin, pilates, and yoga. I was addicted to her spin class but standoffish about yoga. When I finally gave in and attended a class, I could not believe what I had been missing. It was nothing like the humiliating gym class I had taken in place of my mother. It was calming, energizing, and rejuvenating. I left feeling relaxed but also worked out.
A large problem I have with classes of any kind (not just fitness) is that if I can’t engage with or relate to the teacher, or I feel no positive energy from them, I simply switch off. My attention span is drastically short, so for someone to grab me for an hour and keep me engaged is a miracle. She set the groundwork for all the yoga teachers that I would have in the future—she got me hooked. I cannot stress to you enough how much of a difference the environment and the teacher make as to whether you actually get anything out of a class. If you have a bad experience your first time, much like I did, chances are you will write yoga off. PLEASE give it another try somewhere else, and with a different teacher.
When I got back to London, I started regularly attending yoga classes. I took everything from Kundalini, to Ashtanga, to Bikram, and Vinyasa Flow. My addiction grew, and with it my anxiety shrunk. While I still struggle with anxiety, yoga has made it a more manageable part of my life.
If you live a busy and stressful lifestyle, the best thing you can do for yourself is take some time out—and that is hard. I have a career that is all-encompassing. As a self-employed woman, I’m on set or in a club DJing while engaging with other people constantly. Whenever I'm not on set or at a club, I'm traveling, which is even more exhausting. When I have those blessed days or evenings off, I’m probably on my computer or phone trying to sort out my social media, my diary, or my bookings for the next week. My brain never switches off—I am constantly worried or overthinking. In an age where we rely on our phones and live such fast-paced lives with bills and everyday stresses, I know I am not alone.
Yoga as a Cure-All
I’m the kind of person that leaves the house and instantly has a panic attack that I’ve left the tap running or the oven on, or too many things plugged into one extension cable. What if they overheat and burn my house down and kill my dog? My levels of OCD, anxiety, and generally psychotic behavior are slightly above average. I know there are drugs for these things, but here's the problem—taking said drugs gives me anxiety. I don’t like anything that has the power to alter my hormones, mood, or weight without my control. I need to know that if I gained a couple of pounds, it's because I chose to eat badly and not go to the gym—not because I took a pill to fix one part of me and, in turn, did damage elsewhere.
This has been a constant struggle I have dealt with for a long time. When I realized that doing yoga gave me this release, I couldn’t get enough. It is one hour of my day where I do not have my phone, I do not have to talk to other people, and I do not have to think. It is my time to switch off. I understand that for a lot of people, making the time to travel to and do a yoga class every day is nearly impossible. We have jobs and boyfriends and kids and pets and deadlines and our favorite TV shows (God forbid we miss any of Keeping Up with the Kardashians—how will we live?).
On days when I absolutely cannot find the time to get on the train to my nearest yoga studio and take a class, days when I wake up at 5:00 AM to shower and feed the dog and leave for work at 6:00 AM, be on set for 10-12 hours and get back at midnight, I like to practice my yogic breath in bed. It is now the only way I fall asleep.
On days where I am LESS busy, but still pretty swamped, I take my yoga mat out in my bedroom, lock the dog in the other room, and do 15-20 minutes of poses. If you absolutely can’t get away from the house, YouTube is AMAZING for instant tutorials. There are hundreds of videos that talk you through yoga poses and sequences—it’s just like taking a class.
The Student Becomes the Teacher
I found yoga had such a positive impact on my life that I ended up going to school and training to be an instructor. I studied anatomy, physiology, and nutrition alongside the history and physical aspects of yoga. My assessment was the first class I ever taught, and it was possibly the most nerve-wracking experience of my life. The class also happened to include my mother, my partner's mother, and one of my best friends. I spent the entire time desperately trying to avoid the proud, beaming smiles from the two mothers and the ridiculous, off-putting faces my friend was making.
Now a fully-qualified yogi, I experienced a full 180-degree turn from when I thought yoga was a pretentious, pointless excuse for hipsters to exchange comments on their designer leggings in East London (where I am about to move, with my designer leggings in tow). I urge everyone that suffers from any sort of stress or anxiety to consider giving yoga a try. This also goes for men—I see more and more men getting into yoga, and I fully applaud them for it. You might not be able to do a headstand—you might not even be able to do a downward facing dog, and I can almost guarantee you won’t find enlightenment like the ancient texts claim. But you will find a moment of calm—just for you.