Author: Joanne Stewart
I have never thought of myself as a hippy chick so I was probably more surprised than most when I became a yoga teacher. I had always been too much of a cynic to believe that “everything happens for a reason” or been much into aligning my chakras. However I had always thought that yoga was a great form of exercise and had practised it with varying levels of regularity for about 15 years, so when I had some free time and was moving back to Scotland from Asia, I took a wee detour to India for an intensive yoga teacher training course.
The actual course was serious and rigorous training which comprised 3 hours of strenuous yoga practice per day, 1 hour of meditation, 1 hour pranayama (breathing techniques) and daily lectures in yoga philosophy, anatomy and body alignment (i.e. how to ensure peoples bodies are in the correct position when practising yoga). The surprising thing for me was that it was the parts of the course that I was more suspicious of as being too happy clappy and out there that I found the most interesting and beneficial. For me, the best bits, the most revelatory parts were the pranayama (breathing) and the meditation components of the course. These classes showed me how breathing and meditation can be an incredibly useful tool in improving mental wellbeing. When you get stressed or angry your breathing becomes faster and less controlled. It works in reverse too. By slowing and controlling your breath you can actually control your emotions as well.
The course was held in an ashram in Rishikesh, Northern India and had a guru (teacher) so I was a bit worried that it was going to be a bit too culty for me. Sufficiently worried that I took the precaution of prearranging a code phrase with a friend of mine who was going to be in India at the same time. If ever he was to receive a communication from me containing this code phrase, he was to come pronto all guns blazing and break me out. This was arranged with much hilarity over a few beers, however I must admit to actually being quite comforted by the arrangement (for those who are sufficiently interested the code phrase will be revealed at the end of this article). When I arrived at the centre, despite being called the World Peace Yoga School, it seemed legit. Full disclosure, there was a bit of dancing around in white clothes, burning petals and incense and chanting but this was only on the first and last days.
As you can probably tell, the course did manage to convert me somewhat. I have to admit that since the end of the course I have not been practising every day as I had promised myself while in the midst of the discipline of the course. Nevertheless I am practising much more regularly than before, so at least I am heading in the right direction. I reckon I should get extra points here for not adding “on my journey”. Despite being a yoga teacher, any mention of personal journeys makes me want to throw a downward dog at someone. I definitely am able to state that I discovered if I regularly practise mediation and breathing techniques I can calm myself down, make myself more able to focus and actually make my mood happier.
I was keen to spread the message when I got back to Darvel so I started teaching a weekly class which incorporates both the physical yoga movements and poses as well as breathing and relaxation practises. People come to yoga for a wide variety of reasons, fitness, mobility, flexibility, strength, mental health reasons and also people come with a wide variety of experience of yoga, from complete beginner to very bendy. But I have found that the parts of class which everyone loves are the breathing, mediation and relaxation parts. I firmly believe that everyone can benefit from finding some peace and relaxation in their lives. There are so many people battling with depression, lack of confidence or just general dissatisfaction with life. And I have found through personal experience that, for me at least, controlling my emotions and finding some calm by taking some time to clear my mind through mediation or focussing on the breath, quite simply makes my life happier and better. Joining a yoga class is one way of starting to do this, and learning how to incorporate this daily into your own life is even better. And as I have previously admitted I am not there yet, but what can I say, I am a work in progress.
For those of you who persevered to the end of the article, thank you! And the safe phrase was, completely randomly, which is the entire point of a code phrase – yellow lampshade.