My Yoga Journey (so far...)

I was not a sporty child. Even now the mention of organised sport conjures up images not of sun-spotted post-BBQ kick-arounds but of jogging sullenly around a damp running track in my school sports kit or the vicious Hunger Games-style arena that was Wednesday afternoon inter-house netball matches. I did love books though. And it was this love of book learning that allowed me to cerebrally jostle my way to the front of the UCAS-crowd, to land a place at university.

I remember the acceptance letter arriving in the post and it might as well have been from Hogwarts. I hugged it to my chest, months of expectation melting away and I just knew everything would be ok.

Then October 2005 rolled around and with it the academic whirlwind of ambition, library dust and spinning deadlines swooshing by that determine the life of any overwhelmed undergraduate. Something had to be done.

Knowing that university is a time for casual experimentation and needing some serious distraction from those books that I had once clung to so dearly, I decided to dabble in the unthinkable.

Under the watchful eye of my hall-mate Athena, I bought my first pair of non-charity-shop trainers in about a decade and started turning up to sporting events. Suddenly I was on the college football team, I rowed three times a week and had become a snack-bearing regular at Ultimate Frisbee tournaments.

I had tried to dabble and had instead dived straight into the deepend, sparkly new trainers first. My once shiny trainers had got pretty muddy by the time I found Sarah’s yoga class. Back in the Dark Ages where things were advertised in paper-format rather than solely on Facebook, I’d seen a poster pinned to a board in the Junior Common Room.

It was a simple photocopied sheet informing us of time, location and price. The yoga didn’t have a catchy or dynamic name it was, simply, ‘yoga’. You were invited simply to come and try it out, free for your first class. “What do we wear?” I asked over the phone. “Oh, just wear your pyjamas. It’s not like we’re doing exercise.”

From then on dreams of boating trophies and soccerly success sloughed away and twice a week, blinking and bleary-eyed, I would find my way to the Trinity College Anson rooms. The room was beautiful in the way that all Oxford college rooms are beautiful; shiny wooden parquet floor, a few portraits of austere academic elders and a dreamy view of the spires peaking through the large neatly-framed windows, a subtle and consistent reminder of both the beauty present in the world and equally of our own relative insignificance within it. It was very yoga.

The majority of the other students there were senior citizens and would treat me a little like a visiting grandchild; checking that I was eating well (I was not eating well), was enjoying my studies (I was enjoying my studies), that I was doing my homework (I was not doing my homework).

I would roll around slowly on a borrowed mat in what would indeed best be described as pyjamas, and gently my problems would melt from my muscles and slide off my bones. I would float back to my paper-strewn dorm room on a fluffy, meditative, yoga-stoned cloud. I had tried to bust the stress by exhausting myself, but in yoga I had found a more time-efficient stress management system. This was a space to be safe, to be centered, and in an environment that constantly drove you to be the best, it was a rare hour free of competition and the desire to achieve. In those first few years of rolling around on my mat I did not think in my wildest meditation-induced dreams that I would become a yoga teacher. Even if I’d known it was a viable option, that was absolutely not my career plan. No, I was going to go down a much more sensible route — I was going to be a professor, or an archaeologist or maybe some kind of Indiana Jones-inspired professor/archaeologist/explorer super-combo.

10 years later, 5 of which were spent living in Asia and a good few were in fact spent as an archaeology student, Indiana Jones is still my hero and I have actually become (no one is more surprised than) a yoga teacher (well, yogi/writer super combo).

4 years ago Bristol welcomed me, like it does so many people, with open arms. I've forged lasting friendships with this city and the gorgeous yogi folk that it holds, and have been lucky enough to find willing collaborators to a few crazy schemes.

One is a writing/yoga co-lab called The Body Creative with wonderful writer Alison Powell, details of our January Retreat can be found HERE.

Another is acrobat Gabrielle Parker, whose friendship, sound advice and wicked handstand skills gave rise to our book The Handstanding Yogi: The Hows, Whys and WTFs of Being Upside Down which you can purchase HERE. 

I am forever grateful to Bristol, to my students and to my fellow teachers for the home that I have found here... and I know this is only the beginning of the journey...

Extract from 'The Handstanding Yogi'.