Home' Australian Yoga Life : sample issue Contents Notes from a Yoga Teacher
pPrior to yoga I was the aerobics queen of
bayside Melbourne. Just name the gym
or community aerobics class and I'd
been there done that. And whereas most
20-somethings haunted nightclubs, my
regular haunts were clubs like
Recreation, Body World, or Kicks.
Any venue, in fact, with a room large
enough to hold a crowd of high-kicking
side-stepping Jane Fonda wannabes.
Like a malingerer who doctor
shops, I shopped with reckless abandon
for the hardest, fastest, busiest class in
town. None of this wimpy low impact
stuff! I was a high-energy fuchsia-
leotard kind of gal! And having intoned
Oliva Newton John's 80s mantra, this
was solely about getting physical.
It's perhaps not surprising that the
intoxication derived from my first ever
yoga class was its sheer physicality. For
someone who'd grape-vined their way
around Canberra, Melbourne and
London, the wow factor of a total body
workout in a sphere as long as a lunge
and as wide as a wingspan was pretty
IN THAT FIRST EVER YOGA CLASS, IN
typical type-A style, I resolved to teach
this thing called yoga. Like a co-
dependent lover I simply transferred my
passion to the new object of my desire.
"Away with the queen," I declared,
"come forward the guru within."
Transferring the vigour and obsession of
aerobics, I regularly attended five yoga
classes a week. Within 18 months I'd
signed up for teacher training.
Unfortunately I was naturally
flexible and long of limb, propensities
which allowed me to slip into stretches
and arch into asanas for which I was
neither mentally nor emotionally
prepared. My practice I treated like an
opportune friendship: more than happy
to participate, but on my terms, when I
demanded, and most often to pass time.
Busyness and doing yoga were antidotes
to the feelings of loneliness, unworthiness
and lack that threatened to engulf me -- if
ever I dared be still long enough to listen
to their plaintive pangs and clangs.
AS LIFE WILL HAVE IT, A LESSON NOT
heeded at the physical level will
inevitably etch itself more deeply upon
our being. And occasionally, if we're
really pigheaded --- or deeply afraid ---
it'll settle upon your soul.
Four years into my yoga journey,
twelve months into my teacher training,
my amazingly healthy, beautiful, flexible
young body disappeared. What I got
instead was one riddled with muscular
pain (fibromyalgia) and laden with
fatigue (chronic fatigue). Ironically, at the
peak of my aerobics obsession I used to
wonder what on earth I'd do if I couldn't
exercise. And I'd chant to friends,
"Why don't people with chronic fatigue
just rest?". At times I've wondered if
my health issues are simply the
repressed feelings making their mark.
I've contemplated too that the chronic
aspect might be some kind of karmic
retribution for half a lifetime of spiritual
and inner disregard. But mostly now I see
my body as a barometer for equilibrium;
with pain and fatigue levels indicating
how well or how poorly I've balanced my
life in the previous few days. Old habits,
you see, really do die hard.
When I trained to teach yoga the
focus was strongly physical with
headstands, handstands, scorpion, pigeon
and full lotus being positions we aspired
to achieve. I practise none of these now,
appreciative that the real magic of yoga
lies in its subtlety. Or as my husband
remarked leading up to the purchase of
my wedding dress, "Perfection is reached
not when there is nothing left to add, but
when there is nothing left to take away."
Nowadays I can feel the perfection
inherent in a simple spinal twist
performed with concentration. I can
observe the innate benefits of a few cat
stretches properly attuned to the breath.
I can receive neck release from five
minutes in Child's Pose and
simultaneously comprehend the
posture's (and my own) humility. And I
can fully grasp the difference between
yoga practice performed with and
without conscious intent.
FORTUNATELY, IN AN ERA OF SUSTAINABILITY,
my pain body forced me to stop teaching
in an unsustainable way. My pain body
also forced me to stop doing, to stop
trying, to stop wanting, and to stop being
someone other than me. In so doing, it
forced me to simply be.
Being is what really lies at the heart
of yoga. Through the physical aspects we
are led toward being our best possible
healthy self. Through the mental aspects
we are guided toward being ever more
mindful and aware. Through the breath
we are stirred toward being at one with
the ebb and flow of life. And through our
spiritual practice we are steered toward
being more completely, more absolutely,
more functionally, and more irrevocably
our own true self.
Peggy Hailstone is a Melbourne
freelance writer and a (currently
non-practising) yoga teacher.
She can be contacted at:
australian yoga life • december-february 2010 19
of a Yogaholic
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