My first yoga class was in 2002. I was living in London and worked for a knitwear design company. My role as senior production merchandiser & product developer was full-on. I lead a team of merchandisers and managed several (twelve at one stage!) key accounts. I worked long hours, it was non-stop & the pressure was constant. I was more stressed than I realised & prone to bouts of depression. In an effort to stay fit, mentally & physically, I went to the gym a couple of times a week. It wasn’t my favourite thing to do but after sitting at a desk for most of the day I had to do something! The gym was a two-minute walk from London Bridge tube & from there it was a ten-minute walk home. The location was key, knowing how good I was at making excuses not to go, I made it as painless as possible to get there.
An assault on the senses.
The gym was based under the railway arches, it had exposed brickwork & there was no natural light. Once inside it was impossible to know what time of the day it was. There was a huge room with all kinds of fancy-looking weight training equipment and a second smaller cardio room with running machines and cross-trainers. The cardio room was dark, there was a huge screen playing videos accompanying the loud music. I could feel the vibrations on the floor beneath me. The weight training room was brighter, the music was not as loud & there was the familiar sharp smell of bodies & metal. Both rooms were busy, it was commuter o’clock. Both rooms were an assault on the senses.
Often, I’d have to wait to use the machines, which was frustrating as I just wanted to finish up & go home! I remember one day, getting more & more wound up as I waited for someone to finish an umpteenth round of reps. I felt a tightness growing in my chest & my hands clenching into fists. I had an urge to punch the person who was holding me up! Thankfully, I resisted, and instead of waiting any longer, I decided to call it a day. Home, dinner & a glass of wine seemed like a much better idea. I was on my way to the locker room to grab my bag when I saw a notice about a yoga class. I can’t remember what exactly, but something about the poster piqued my interest. Before leaving the gym, I had booked myself in for a yoga class.
A new experience
My next visit to the gym was a totally different experience. Instead of heading to the cardio or weight room, I found myself in the brightly lit, quiet dance studio. The details are a bit of a blur, but I do remember that the teacher, Jen, had a gentle American lilt to her voice. The movements were new to me, but they were familiar, my body welcomed them, they felt ‘right’. Without sounding completely airy-fairy, I had a sense that I had arrived, it was where I was meant to be.
As I write I’m purposely trying not to use the yoga language, understanding, or experience that I have now. Back then I was a total novice, and I knew nothing about yoga. I knew that I enjoyed the class. I liked Jen and her easy-going, light-hearted approach. I noticed that I felt different during & after the class, but I couldn’t define what the difference was. Instead of leaving the gym feeling frazzled, I felt calmer, lighter, more settled in myself.
“Yoga is largely an experiential practice and its benefits are sometimes difficult to articulate. Of course, it is reasonably easy to explain that an ache or pain has disappeared. What is trickier to explain is the feeling of spaciousness in the body, or the clarity of mind that many people associate with yoga.” – Peter Blackaby, Intelligent Yoga –
And that’s how it all began. I now looked forward to my next yoga class. The pit stops at the gym en route home were no longer a chore. I bought a yoga mat which I carried with me on a crowded tube twice a week. It was cumbersome & a bit of a pain, but it was worth it. On those days, I made sure that I left work on time. I made sure that nothing was going to stop me from going to my yoga class. I knew that I felt better for it and I still do!
Recalling my story, I’m reminded of the concept in Zen Buddhism known as shoshin, which means “beginner’s mind”. The idea is that when you are a beginner you have an open mind. Your level of awareness is heightened by the newness of an experience or subject, you are curious to explore, to discover more. As we gain knowledge, we form opinions, our beliefs can become fixed or limited. We can be less open, less willing to learn which is why it is important to think back to my first yoga class. Bringing the quality of shoshin to yoga inspires me to be aware, to be curious & to keep on exploring.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few” –