Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Yoga, and 'Self'

I realized recently that my life has become incredibly outward-looking; I've stopped making time for myself to breathe and be quiet and mindful, either because I'm lacking the creativity and inspiration needed to look for a way to do this, or because I'm scared of moving away from my current routine and comfort zone. After a contemplative walk home yesterday I realized it's the latter reason, and that this fear of discomfort is a new and threatening addition to my existence, so I did one of those things that you always have good intentions to do but never get round to for every poor reason in the book: I attended a local yoga class.

I've been practising yoga on-and-off since I was 18, and it's remained my own personal indulgence in being 'present', being still, being completely at one with myself. I have had a daily morning yoga routine for a long time, which disappeared and reappeared as my living situation changed around; since I first discovered yoga I've enjoyed it mostly on my own at home, occasionally taking part in classes at university or local gyms, but only once have I attended a regular class for an extended period of time.

This was while I was living in France when I was 20, an experience which shifted my 'self' completely from one place to another. I was living alone for the first time, in a different country, with a whole new lifestyle and the priviledge of being able to temporarily choose completely how I lived my life. All my previous priorities and routines remained in England; here I could build from scratch my day-to-day, and by doing so I learned a lot about my priorities, my interests and my 'self' in the abstract.

I was living in a tiny community with practically no public transport (the local bus ran twice daily to the nearest city - a 2 hour drive away); there was no cinema, no park, no university or even a college...but there was a regular yoga class; I jumped at the chance to take part. I climbed the three flights of stairs on that first Monday night with a real sense of adventure; I could have been on the Inca steps, those Mairie steps were just as exciting! The other attendees approached me with interest; I was known as l'Anglaise, the exciting young foreigner, speaking with un accent charmant (that was actually written about me in the local paper - my arrival was big news!). Every week I practised yoga with these people, revelling in my individuality, my solitude and my sense of seperation from everyone around me as well as the life I had left behind.

The thing that really enabled me to abstract myself away from everything in an incredibly existentialist sort of way was the language. French became my day-to-day tongue - almost everything I said, heard and wrote was in French, and after a few weeks I thought and even dreamt in French. I was aware even then that this allowed me a certain amount of freedom from myself; it was just enough to create a gap big enough for me to test out who I was, and I indulged in this completely. This was most apparent during the yoga classes. I was the youngest in the group by quite a way, seperating me even further from my surroundings. The middle-aged ladies used to smile at me politely and wish me bonsoir, while the older folk had more of an interest in what I was doing here and where I was from. Then there was Pierre, a curly-haired, sparkly-eyed man who I usually placed my mat next to, often flirted with, and once fell asleep next to during a particularly soothing session (all completely innocent, I assure you!).

Looking back, this was my 'wild year', the year of liberation. Not because of any real hedonism (though Germany in the second half of my year abroad taught me the joys of alcohol, the shame of the drunken stupour and the effects of drinking on an empty stomach), but all because of the wild abandonment I felt as I departed from my habits, routines and needs of UK life. This all started with the yoga class, with the urge to do something for myself; to let go, indulge (yoga in France is expensive!), and to revel in this new self confidence that I had discovered.

So it seemed a natural choice to make back here in York, when I was looking for something to pull me away from my routines. The odd thing was that I felt quite apprehensive as the class approached - I wasn't able to just let go and be in the class as I had done in France; I was the bumbling new kid, avoiding the eyes of everyone else, clumsily dropping all of my belongings and setting up my mat in an inappropriately loud manner. Without the mask of another language, I find that I approach such new situations too carefully - I've lost the reckless manner that I had in France. I've started caring about being judged, about standing out, about doing things 'wrong'. Odd, that. And something I must conquer if I am to retain the essence of wild purpose that I held on to for such a long time after returning from my time abroad.

I am approaching a time when I will, once again, be the new kid on the block. I'm grateful for this little reminder that it's not always an easy role to take on, and that when approached as a whole person in the abstract rather than simply part of the surroundings, it feels so much more exciting and much easier. I need to practise existentialism in my life a little more often, and yoga seems to be a great way to go about that.


  1. You've spurned me on to look for a yoga class again!

    I use to attend nearby classes every week - and religiously did it myself every morning.

    This was years ago - and since then I have become less fit, certainly less slim and less chilled!

    Time to restart maybe!?

  2. Yes, do it! Let's both venture out of our comfort zones :-)

    When I do yoga again after a break I'm always so shocked that I stopped doing it in the first place; it's like giving up tea or chocolate or something equally as wonderful!

  3. Catherine, I like the way you write. It seems like you take the time to find the right words and put your thoughts together in an interesting and honest way.
    Keep up the good work!