Better than a meaningless story of a thousand words is a single word of deep meaning which, when heard, produces peace.
-From the Dhammapada (Sayings of the Buddha)
My yoga journey began indirectly many years ago when, as a student of Asian and European languages, I became fascinated with religious iconography. The one particular image that has traveled beside me all throughout my life and now dominates much of my living space today is that of the Buddha. Through my readings on all things eastern I became accustomed to recurring references to yoga and all its associated physical and spiritual benefits but never really thought to incorporate it into my wellness regime. When I finally arrived in Taipei 8 years ago, all that changed, as most things seem to do in life, by chance.
A dear friend’s discovery of a hand- printed, discarded pamphlet led us both to attend meditation classes at a local temple. The Buddhist monk was British of origin and his meditation sessions were a revelation for me as I have always struggled to stop the inner chatter. At one session he talked about the links between yoga and meditation and immediately a seed was planted. Several years later, the wife of our school’s former superintendent started informal yoga classes and I was hooked. She was later joined by another teacher and between these two gentle souls, a solid group of yoga devotees formed at our workplace. Unfortunately both of our teachers left within weeks of each other and we were left wondering what to do next. Of course, we had no need to worry really for as a good friend would say “relax and allow the universe to do its work”. Within months Space Yoga had opened in Tien Mu and the rest is history.
My love of yoga is in itself a complex thing. There are days when no matter how much I know that at the end of the class I will feel transformed, I still find it challenging. I suppose that’s the point really; that life is itself a challenge and that it this constant sense of challenge that reminds us that we are alive in the moment. However, my commitment to yoga as part of my life’s routine has developed out of a set of clear observations about how yoga has directly impacted me and those around me.
The first and most powerful observation I made about any form of yoga practice was the mind- body connection. I simply could not conceive how for so many years I had treated both aspects of my life as separate entities. I had intellectually thought about what was good for my body and soul but never once sat in the moment and breathed in and out and listened for that connection. The extension to that was to listen truly to the world around you. I still find this hard about yoga practice but I hope I am getting better. The struggle to master this inner peace has led me to make other observations about yoga practice as a way of being in this world. For a start, the notion of time and its distortion never fails to amaze me. Time seems to pass so quickly in class and I have never experienced that in other forms of wellness practice. The sense of inner calm that descends on you during and after your yoga practice is one of those indefinables in life. It is hard to explain to people who don’t practice yoga but it is something that sometimes I wish I could bottle and hand to those people who remain skeptical.
One of the greatest gifts I have received from yoga practice has been the sense of perspective that the meditative aspect of yoga affords you. For me this means perspective on life and your place in it regarding all other sentient beings. The setting of one’s intention and more importantly, the offering of one’s practice to another at the start of a yoga class encourages us one and all to tap into a sense of universal compassion and altruism that is, sadly, missing from many sectors of society today. Yoga doesn’t do this in any brash, arrogant manner. It is not self promoting in the way in which media is. It works from the individual out whilst still focusing on what is within each of us. And this leads me to yet another of my greatest pleasures in having embraced yoga.
The community of yoga students and teachers is such a force for good that I can but look around me in awe at those who practice yoga with pure intention. The teachers I have had and have now infuse me with sense of purpose and joy. They model the types of attitudes and behaviours that promote well being in the broadest sense of the word. For their efforts and patience I am eternally grateful. My fellow students motivate me to continue to practice and to see the benefits in challenging oneself. Oh yes, and we laugh a lot together and isn’t that after all, the best of medicines? As the French painter Matisse reflected, we should surround ourselves with people who make of life a dance.
So, in conclusion, I suppose I can say my yoga journey is now well underway but I am ever mindful that, as in all things, I will always be a beginner.