In May 2015, I finished my 200 hour yoga teacher training. During our graduation ceremony, we were presented with a card, which had a photo of our group on the first night of our training back in October 2014. A lovely idea. Except when I saw the photo (it’s the one on the left in the picture!)
I didn’t even recognise myself to start with. Once I realised it was me, I had to fight the urge to confiscate the photo from every member of my group, and erase all evidence that I looked like that. I might be smiling but I look worn out. And the thing is, it’s not just a bad photo. I know that the way I look is reflective of how I was feeling at the time. But I’ve decided not to pretend that it never happened. I’m choosing to share it, along with the photo on the right taken on the last night of my yoga teacher training. I hope you can see the difference…
Back when the first photo was taken, I’d made the positive choice to do yoga teacher training, but other aspects of my life weren’t so great. I’d left teaching, and although I had a better work-life balance, I missed the sense of purpose in my new job. I’d also become a bit obsessive about food and exercise. Although it probably looked as if I was eating “normally”, I was over-exercising to justify eating at all, doing intensive cardio five times per week. Some days I’d run 10km and go to spinning. The week before I started the yoga teacher training, I badly hurt my back when I tried to add a CrossFit class into my already fairly manic exercise regime.
The initial 10 days of yoga teacher training were really tough. I lacked any real control over my diet and I missed running a lot. More than that, when doing yoga (unlike running), I wasn’t able to disconnect my mind from my body. Instead I was forced to notice how I much I was hurting and how tired I was. I realised what damage I’d been doing over the last few months. My muscles were tight and sore. Any attempts to achieve yoga teacher super-flexibility were laughable. Some days my back pain made it nearly impossible even to relax in child’s pose.
But despite these struggles, or maybe because of them, something in me changed during those 10 days. I noticed the pain I was in and sat with it. I found an inner stillness, a quietness that I had been drowning out. And I realised it was okay to relax and let go. I decided it was time to stop punishing my body and practise a bit of self-acceptance and love.
I promised myself that I wouldn’t start running again when I got back. Instead I committed to practising yoga every day, and channelled my physical and mental energy into that. I also relaxed my control over food and began to eat more intuitively (i.e. more!). On a trip to Bruges at Christmas I enjoyed hot chocolate, amaretto mulled wine and Belgian waffles. I remembered how good life can taste.
Later came my decision to travel, which was largely driven by my desire to focus fully on the yoga I was enjoying so much.
I could write some nice clichés here, about how I’ve never looked back, and it’s been all onwards and upwards since then, but that would be a lie. There have been incredibly challenging times – times when I yearned to go back to the familiarity of my old life. I’ve experienced volunteering disasters, dead chickens and nights I’ve been so hot and uncomfortable I haven’t slept at all. But I definitely don’t regret it.
I’m writing this while drinking fresh coconut water in a café in beautiful Chiang Mai, already planning my next trip. I’m wondering which friends to visit in Europe, and where to spend Christmas. I’m embracing the uncertainty because of the possibilities it brings. And if I ever do doubt whether I’m doing the right thing, I only have to look at that photo to know that going back is not an option.