I started yoga at 17 because I was obsessed with exercise and the Power Yoga VHS I used pushed me hard and kept me out of my body. I exercised obsessively from 16 to 29. I used to do sit ups whilst cleaning my teeth, do workout videos, go to the gym, run, do yoga and then go and run up and down the stairs at my waitressing job from the restaurant to the kitchen over 100 times (we kept a tally one night to see how mental the number would actually be).
My first diary entry about food and weight was age 11 but took my world falling apart for things to get really bad. Without even noticing I was anorexic with bingeing tendencies.
At my worst the only thing I ‘ate’ all day was a Frappuccino from Starbucks. Somehow I was still obsessively exercising during this time. Fuck knows how I had the energy. I starved myself to reclaim control and numb my intense emotions. I binged in rebellion to the control in secret and again to numb and sedate myself with food.
Then I lost myself to alcoholism for a few years. At my worst I was drinking wine at 11am daily and getting blackout drunk every day. Somehow I still held down a job AND exercised obsessively.
I got sober at 23 and found my way back to yoga. A daily practice helped to keep me away from alcohol and able to eat. But the way I practiced and who I chose to practice with changed. I practiced for my mind and to reconnect to my body. I knew I needed to stop disassociating, I wanted to stop running but I had no idea how. I took teacher training, discovered I was emotionally illiterate, broke over and over again, cried for 2 years straight and found teachers, friends and a community who guided me back to my body, my feelings, to nature, to something greater than myself, something beyond my physical form.
I found teachers who actively guided me down the long dark tunnels to all the things I’d been running from, who showed me the subtleties of sensation beyond the strong poses, showed me how to use my breath to calm my mind, how to feel into the chaos and somehow emerge with language for my inner experience.
There have been many break throughs along the way and one of them was on retreat with Naz 2017. We did gentle, subtle, somatic yoga with her retreat co-creator Val every morning and it drove me CRAZY. I had to go outside in the afternoons to do press-ups and pull-ups on the trees. Then one day Val pulled me to one side and said: ‘Don’t let your practice be another way to control your body, it’s already been controlled enough’. BOOM. Everything changed again. I returned back to letting my practice be a way to connect to the needs of my body rather than to control it. I tried to remember how to enjoy movement for pleasure rather than as a method of sculpting my body like marble.
Yoga is one of my ways of connecting to my body and my emotions from which I have spent so many years incredibly detached. And when I find teachers who line up with this intention it's like magic.
I am drawn to different teachers for different things but for this particular purpose, that of connecting to my body and emotions I need a down to earth, honest, real approach which invites interoception, embodiment & careful exploration of softening into resistance together with permissive language and an inclusive approach.
When this magical combination comes together I am always cracked open. I am inspired by these teachers every day to always keep working towards being the kind of teacher I need and needed in my darkest hour.
I’m not everybody’s teacher and my biggest role models helped me to see how important it was to be completely ok with that. Not to compromise what I’m passionate about to meet the needs of those who don’t resonate with what I’m offering in the first place. And for sure I fall down left, right and centre and that’s ok too because if I didn’t I wouldn’t be a human.
Everyone has their own very personal reasons for practicing yoga and no one reason or approach is better or more right than the other. It's intensely personal and it's so important that there are a variety of teachers teaching in lots of different ways to meet the needs of the huge variety of humans out there looking for their teacher.
I live in a place where there are hundreds of yoga teachers and more coming out of the schools every year but for me this isn't a concern because the way I see it this means that Milton Keynes is like the rainforest in terms of yoga. In the rainforest there is so much life that each creature has to diversify in order to survive and this is what makes the rainforest one of the most biodiverse places on the planet.
This diversification is one of the things I ADORE about living here, there is a teacher (or many teachers!) for everyone!! Whatever you want you'll probably be able to find it here and how magic is that?
If I don't practice in an embodied way then I disconnect from what I’m feeling and that can lead to pushing through rather than yielding to the needs of my body. If I get too caught up in yoga as a ‘workout’ then I can slip down the dangerous path to obsession and lose connection to myself. Once I’ve lost connection it’s easier to ignore the needs of my body and slip into old patterns. Oh hi hunger as a coping strategy!
I also know this is a domesticated issue. The times when I feel completely at peace with myself and my body are when I’m in nature; camping, wild swimming, walking, exploring, using my body the way it was intended to be used. In captivity I can easily slip into obsessing, worrying and trying to control that which cannot be controlled.
I’m so bloody grateful to Naseem Khakoo for helping me learn to love myself, to Lizzie Bourdon for helping me to heal, to Yoga Christine for helping me believe I can do anything, to Lisa for helping me become emotionally literate, to Uma Dinsmore Tuli for her commitment to agency and autonomy in yoga practice, to Sally for being real and finally bringing Rock Yoga to us in MK, so overdue, to Deborah Berryman for the best teacher training experience I could possibly ever have dreamed, to Robyn Leonie Lambert for making me cry after a beautiful savasana that reminded me what yoga really means to me and to my menstrual cycle for always guiding me back home.
The premenstrual phase is always a time of review and reflection for me and I’ve been able to get really honest with myself and make some much needed changes in behaviours and perceptions.