13) Yoga

Yoga’s on my to-do list. I’ve been sporadically practising for a little over a year, and would call myself a beginner. Yoga is hard.

Ashiyana has four hours of yoga a day, split out into two, two-hour classes. There were a few different teachers, each with slightly different styles. I discovered a new favourite – Yin Yoga.

This is a style of yoga which targets the deep connective tissues of the body, involving holding passive poses – mostly on the floor. These poses stretch, but don’t actively hurt, and we hold them for about five minutes. It’s a long time; you get into a kind of meditative state, and when you finally release the pose, you’re surprised at how relaxed it feels.

It embodies the aspect of yoga that I love the most – the individual focus on your body and your individual journey. ‘There is no ego in yoga’, as described by a teacher I had a year ago. I love that so much; in a life full of competition and progress markers and social media-related stress, it’s almost unbearably lovely to focus on yourself independently of anyone else. Everyone has a different body, and everyone finds different stretches difficult. There’s just no point comparing yourself to other people, so eventually – you don’t. It’s only you.

We practice in these beautiful shalas – rooms. Mostly outside, they’re open and beautiful and deeply calming.

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My view, lying down in my favourite shala.

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This next excerpt I wrote earlier, straight after a yoga session. It truly reflects my feels at the time; not sure I completely agree now, but in the moment – this is how I felt.

I feel… light. Today I had a private session with a lovely woman named Arianne. We’d had one a couple days before, where we’d talked for an hour and half about my life. My mother had signed us up for these extra classes, one-on-one tuition for tailoring your yoga experience. I expected a masterclass in yoga poses; which ones worked best for my body type, where I hold my stress, where I’m less flexible etc. Instead, this was about unblocking the inner channels; releasing psychic energy to enable clarity, mindfulness and a true yogic flow.

I’m sceptical on these; my interest in yoga extends beyond the physical toning and stretching muscles, but only as far as stress-relieving and relaxation techniques. Basically, a shorter (and more environmentally-friendly) equivalent to a hot bath.

This was different. This was powerful, and meaningful. It felt like a step in a necessary evolution; my physical state is here, but the potential for my enlightened self is close. And this was a stepping stone towards being that person.

As mentioned, we’d already had a 90 minute chat about my life. It had gotten oddly emotional; I came away feeling fractured and completely disjoined with my sense of reality. I went on a long, lovely walk on the beach – at first, I listened to music so I wouldn’t think about anything at all. On the way back, when I was in a more peaceful mindframe, I considered the session, and what came out of it.

My last session broke me down, and this one made me feel complete.

Not to say that it was any less emotional. I thought that we’d continue with the sitting down and talking structure, but instead Arianne suggested that we try neurogenic yoga – a practice which releases stress and tension from the body, using natural energy-release pathways.

I started by warming up the muscles; stretched my feet, my hamstrings, arms etc. Then I lay down on the floor, with the soles of my feet pressed together and my knees open towards the floor. Arianne pressed on my thighs, and asked me to close my legs. Fighting the pressure of her hands, I started to bring my knees together. I did this a few times, until my legs began to shake. That feeling, where your muscles move independently of your intentions, and you’re almost vibrating with these shakes. I kept my legs held like that, whilst Arianne moved towards my head. My eyes were closed the whole time, so I’m not entirely sure what she did – but lots of pressing down on various parts of my head and abdomen. My legs continued to shake. At this point, I was still in the soles pressed together, knees spread position – so there was actual tension that was keeping the shaking going. Soon after, though, she asked me to place my feet flat down on the ground, with my knees together. A relaxed position, one I’m actually sitting in now.

My legs kept shaking. The muscles were not at all engaged, I was performing no activity – but my legs continued to quiver for at least half an hour. It reverberated throughout my body; my stomach, arms, chest and head. Everything about me was in motion, was shivering and quaking and moving completely independently. At a couple points, I genuinely tried to stop it. I thought – that’s enough, pack it in Jen. I couldn’t. I bloody couldn’t. I could no more have stopped my body from moving, than I could have requested it to levitate in the air. I was in action zone and this was not changing.

This whole – release – was a fairly emotional experience for me. A lot of things went through my mind with no real connection, but the constant emotion through all of them was grief. It felt like all the sadness in my life was taking metaphysical form; was an energy that was forced up and out through my body to the surface. Like throwing a stone out over calm water, watching it skip across the surface and cause ripples in the water; vibrations which stretch out further than could possibly be contemplated.

When the shaking finally subsided, Arianne and I talked a little of how it went. By her request, I’d brought with me a physical token of something that I’d like to release from my life. I’d brought a dead leaf. We talked about the leaf, about its significance to me. She asked me to hold it in my hand, and picture lightness and emptiness there. We went over to the window, and I let it go.

I’m writing this less than two hours after this all happened, so I’m not sure how long this feeling will last, or whether it has changed my thinking at all. Right now, I feel peaceful. I feel physically lighter; my head feels cleaner and brighter and I’m smiling as I write this. In beautiful Goa, with the sun and the trees and my new-found sense of peace – happiness has never seemed easier.

Writing this now a few days after I’ve left the retreat – reading back over my memories, it all seems so positive. To next steps.

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