Why I do Yoga - By Pip Taverner
It seems logical on my first blog post to answer the question I’m asked so often, usually at the end of teaching a class, over a chai in India by fellow yogis, or by perplexed friends I haven’t seen in years..Why do you do yoga?
Everyone time I’m asked, I hesitate and stumble, because for me it’s a really big question. I feel it’s perhaps a little bit too personal to answer straight up and almost impossible to summarise in a few words. For me it’s a little bit like asking, why you are married to your husband or wife, or why have you been with your partner for 10 years?
You’re probably thinking how absurd that sounds, why would it be the same, yoga; its just exercise isn’t it? The answer you may be expecting as to why I started could be that I had a bad back, or it helped me to lose weight or perhaps I quite fancied re-inventing myself as a spiritual person.
Now those are almost all pretty valid reasons to start yoga, but if I’m honest, if you asked me why I started yoga I couldn’t really say. Not because I don’t want to say but because yoga, well it grew, like a seedling was planted, slowly it grew inside me, I didn’t even notice it was happening, and the answer to why I continue to “do” yoga is even more personal.
One thing I do know when I think back to my first experiences of yoga, if I’m totally honest, was that I wasn’t very bothered about it, I lived in London and had access to the most incredible teachers, but I didn’t know who they were back then. I went to a class in a gym because it was on the timetable and included in my membership. The class was full with everyone else seemingly knowing what to do, I just felt confused. I didn’t know what the poses were; I had no idea why she was calling out words like adho mukha svanasana...what the hell is that?? My body felt awkward, like it wasn’t mine to move around, my mind was busy with thoughts chattering away and it really hurt to sit on the floor.
I look back to those years and although I wasn’t happy all the time, I was relatively jolly when I needed to be. I had a good job and wasn’t particularly concerned that I was wasting most weekends regularly nursing an almighty hangover, life was fairly automatic.
After the gym class fiasco I started attending a beginner’s class, Hatha yoga, once a week in West London, because it was near my house, I liked the lie down bit at the end and I was bored of the gym. Something, most likely the teacher called Jenny, who was extremely kind and patient, kept me going back, every week, baby steps. I was terribly stiff and had no body awareness, yet soon I started going twice a week. Time and years passed and I changed yoga centres, I started Jivamukti, intrigued by this style I’d never heard of before and the main centre conveniently just a short walk from my house. This was something totally different, it was dynamic, strong, almost like a dance, the constant flows, twists and turns, all set to loud music, Drum&Bass or Techno interspersed with mantra chanting. I was slowly growing physically stronger even though I found it extremely tough and my breath was all over the place, yet I had found a place I loved to be. I couldn’t wait to get on my mat, quickly upping my attendance to four days a week , occasionally swapping my Friday nights in the local pub in favour of a late class at Jivamukti and a green tea. It was then with a regular yoga practice that slowly, I started to wake up...I woke up from an existence I’d created in London, of work hard play hard and I didn’t like what I could now see. This wasn’t a full on light bulb moment, the switch went back off for equally as often as it was on, light on equalled clarity and awareness of my true self, light off equalled “oh lets open another bottle of red I’ll deal with tomorrow when I have to.” But the light was there, I was aware of it and instead of feeling constantly blissed out, I actually entered periods of time feeling worse. The more I delved into yoga the more I became aware that I wanted my life to be something different to what it was. I could of stopped at any point, to turn the light back off but I knew I’d made a start on a different journey.
Fast forward a few years and I discovered my deepest connection to a yoga practice yet, the natural progression from Jivamukti for me was Ashtanga. Now there was no loud music, no jazzy moves or long chanting sessions. There was just my breath, the Sanskrit count in my head, my own practice, silence...and the battle was real. With no distractions on the mat and through literally tears and at times at first feeling like I disliked or wasn’t cut out for the demands of Mysore Style Ashtanga (the traditional Ashtanga way of practice), I became aware and awake, Ashtanga was finally pulling apart the veils of illusion. The term satya means truthfulness is Sanskrit, no longer hiding who I truly am to myself or others. When the veil was removed what was left was a lot of vulnerability but thank fully the seed of yoga had grown and now had branches in every vein supporting me, leaves wrapped around every muscle, flowers ready to emerge. With every trip to Mysore in India or Ashtanga full primary practice, it feels as if I’m pulled apart, exposed, but just like you prune a plant, with each practice I grow back stronger, taller, flowers are blooming. Guru Sri T. Krishnamacharya the father of modern Yoga is quoted as saying “Yoga is an awareness, a type of knowing. Yoga will end in awareness.”
So back to the original question...Why do you do yoga? so if I asked why are you married to your husband, your wife or are with your partner, the immediate response, (one would hope!) is “oh because he’s wonderful, I love him” The same answer could be applied to yoga.
But if I asked you again with the veil removed, vulnerability exposed, would you maybe answer;
Because he is there when I need him most, he shows me light where there once was darkness, she reveals my true self. He doesn’t judge me but helps me to accept myself for whoI am. When I felt all was lost and like I was on the brink of breaking into bits he helped me put all the pieces back together. We’re stronger together, I feel more whole, calm and solid, protected. Because I can’t imagine now, knowing what I know, life without her.
The path of yoga is so potent that it really can empower you to do, feel and see those things for yourself, if you allow it and practice. it’s not an easy ride, to heal yourself and to open your eyes with yoga. There are certainly other ways to get a quick fix, but I’d rather take the long road. The one with adventures along the way, showing me the true meaning of self awareness and compassion because I know that road won’t end short, there are trees all along it, sheltering me, showing me the way, standing tall, flourishing, it makes for one beautiful journey and that is why I do yoga.