Sanctuary Living by THE YOGA SCHOOL

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“A Place I’ve Never Been”

By The Yoga School / February 1, 2020

The transformative power of yoga has often been demonstrated to help long-term practitioners shift patterns, build a better sense of awareness, and live with intention. Here’s how it changed one woman’s life

“Slowly. Move your fingers. Move your toes,” he said. In a silence so still and pristine, the yoga instructor’s baritone pulls me back from the edge of sleep. For the first time in a decade, I feel truly rested. Calm. With neither the need to evaluate the past nor the impulse to strategise for the future. I am happy to just be.

This state of mind – free of fear or anxiety – is so foreign to me that I barely have the vocabulary for it. As a journalist, this is a curious position to be in. How do I even begin to map out in words these roads that have no names? Others have come before me, their wisdom buried in Sanskrit, only to be unearthed and contemplated by yogis today. My professional instincts drive me to approach these ancient texts with scepticism, question its provenance, test its claims.

But if I were to begin with the tangible, the outcome of my completely unclinical trial has already yielded a promising prognosis.

When I was 18, I was involved in a car accident that caused my right knee to sustain an anterior cruciate ligament sprain. I never completely recovered from it. There was a chance that I might spend my twilight years in a wheelchair. After a decade of climbing mountains and playing competitive sports at a national level, I had to avoid high-impact sports altogether. I couldn’t wear high heels as my right knee would begin to swell after an evening out in them. In a convoluted attempt to prolong my mobility into old age, I spent the next decade of my life avoiding any physical activity.

It was a yogi who first suggested that yoga might help to strengthen the muscles around my knee and pull it into place. And she was right. After two years on the mat, my knee gained a new-found strength and stability that has enabled me to lead a more active lifestyle. Once again, I remember what it’s like to feel the surge of adrenaline and muted happiness brought about by a satisfying release of endorphins.

But beyond this raw, primal physicality, the sensations I felt on the mat were more subtle: the tips of my toes pressed into the ground; how incredibly strong my fingers felt when they fanned out on the mat, lifting my body as my tailbone drew skyward in downward dog; that utter sense of release when I fold into child’s pose.

Even the act of breathing was suddenly made new. It sounds like such a simple thing, barely worth mentioning, until you think of how your breath has been your constant companion since the day you were born. To suddenly regard it, breath by breath–especially when it drives the rhythm of a vinyasa flow – is in and of itself, a kind of rebirth.

Indeed, the genesis of yoga encompassed spiritual development practices intended to awaken the body and mind to its own nature. More than a physical exertion of the flesh, the cultivating of discernment, awareness, and self-regulation frames the practice beyond the realm of asanas.

While my relationship with yoga started out on a heavy asana-driven foot, my new-found sense of awareness stayed with me long after savasana, and it wasn’t long before my mind began to settle on more spiritual and philosophical landings.

It was around this time where I began to forge deeper connections with friends who were contemplating similar questions:

Who am I? Where am I right now? What am I supposed to do right now?

In our search for answers, we found each other again.

In the same way I had held space for myself to embark on a regular yoga practice, I began to hold space for those around me – be it a friend going through a divorce, or a colleague who suddenly found himself retrenched. The act of simply showing up and being present for another without distraction or judgment, was a deeply healing process.

Our conversations no longer revolved solely around work, where we had been, where we were going. We talked about books that deepened our inner journeys, battling fear and anxiety, responding with compassion instead of anger, and maintaining equanimity in a world paralysed by modern malaise.

In the process of learning to hold space for others, a small happy thing happened – I met the man who is today my life partner. Back then, we were practising at different yoga studios, but we connected at a time where I was curious to find out more about meditation, a practice he had already been building for four years.

He gifted me a book, Why Meditate? by Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, and patiently fielded a whole slew of questions from me. In that space of inquiry, free of chatter or clutter, love began to grow.

Three years ago, if you told me about yogic arcs of transformation – of loss and renewal, redemption, liberation – I would have dismissed them as tales of new-age wellness.

But to personally experience these tectonic shifts in my mind and body, is perhaps proof that holds more weight than empirical evidence. Who would have thought that a yoga mat no larger than 24 by 68 inches would transport me to a place I’ve never been? Today, I still don’t know its name. But it is a good place to be. And I plan to stay awhile.

*Editor’s note: Thanks to Denise Kok for sharing her story with The Yoga School.
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