It's only recently I've realized my yoga practice goes a lot deeper than I first thought, because although I've been practicing for about five years, it's only in the last year that I've started to question what it really means to me and the impact it has on my life.
I took up yoga in early 2010 when I was pregnant. I wanted to exercise but without the cardio stress, and I knew the breathing would help me stay focused and calm on the big day. Soon after the birth I discovered Ashtanga and was completely hooked. Before I knew it, I'd booked myself into a wonderful teacher training course with YogaLondon, left behind my career in fashion recruitment, and with a six-month-old, launched myself into a brand new way of living and working, without a second thought.
I didn't want to admit that my connection with yoga was mostly physical.
I remember a conversation at a summer wedding in 2014; an old friend was there who's also a yoga teacher. During our catch-up she was impassioned that she didn't respect teachers who solely taught for the physical benefits rather than delving deeper into the philosophy and meditation aspects. Up until now this was me. This struck a chord because I didn't want to admit that my connection with yoga was mostly physical. I taught power yoga and attracted those who were solely interested in the power aspect over the yoga; mostly because their knowledge of yoga was limited and at the time I didn't offer them anything further. So I casually agreed but came away from the conversation questioning my relationship with yoga and wondering if I had room for a little soul searching.
So now a few months later, here I find myself in unusual territory, suddenly feeling a little (dare I say) enlightened. Something has clicked for me and I've begun to realize that yoga is a way of living. Looking back, my click went unnoticed until early 2014. I was in the midst of a break-up after ten years, with a child in the middle, and I was more focused and determined than ever to keep our lives calm and peaceful.
Not an easy task day to day, let alone coping with the fallout of a ten-year relationship ending. But by working together we've kept our daughter the main focus. If we get distracted by negative thoughts or emotions we come back to her and always find something positive. It's helped us not to look back with regret or judgment, but instead with a grateful heart and happy memories.
This life-changing situation has made me realize this is how I want to live my life every day. Not in the past, not judging or being critical, just accepting and moving forward with my eyes wide open and trusting in what lies ahead. A word to encompass all of this is mindfulness.
This life-changing situation has made me realize this is how I want to live my life every day.
Yoga is very much about being present, on and off the mat. By leading a more mindful life, the aim is to change the way we think about our experiences; being more aware of each moment, more accepting and less judgmental.
I'm still not the classic spiritual yoga teacher. I don't offer chanting or ring bells (although if I'm in a class that offers this I absolutely get involved because I love to experience something different), but I teach in a way that is real for me. In my class you can expect a practice that will challenge you mentally and physically, but it's lighthearted too—a reminder not to take things too seriously. As my life absorbs this newfound mindfulness, it's weaving its way into my teaching, and hopefully encouraging my students to recognize the freedom of being present and to realize that the physical practice plays a small part in the yogic way of living.
Do you enjoy the spiritual aspects of yoga, or do you practice solely for the physical benefits? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.
This piece originally appeared at The Huffington Post.