I used to be afraid of it. Asana, that is.
My first knowledge of the existence of yoga was when I was eighteen or nineteen and a member of a children’s theatre troupe. We staged children’s shows (pantomime) in exchange for free lessons in performance, voice, movement, clown work, costuming, front of house management and so on. It was run by a curmudgeonly matron named Joy, which wasn’t too ironic because when she wasn’t being grumpy, she really was rather lovely.
One day in the dressing room as I applied my prosthetic pig nose (I was Mrs. Pig in The Three Little Pigs), I wondered aloud what form of exercise I should be doing. A fellow performer told me that yoga was all she needed for fitness and health. For some reason I didn’t press her for details, and she didn’t offer.
See, I’d been a synchronised swimmer and a dancer for much of my childhood/teen years. And I’d also caught on to the tail end of the flouro high-cut leotard aerobics fad. I was already flexible. What else could yoga do for me? That was my thinking back then, anyway.
Next time I heard the word yoga mentioned was when I was forced to take an indefinite break from belly dancing. I’d been performing all over Sydney for a couple of years but had a toe injury that forced me to stop, or have surgery (which I ended up having many years later anyway). I was probably about twenty-five. A friend of my then-fiancé suggested I try his yoga school in Newtown.
And that’s where I met my very first yoga teachers. They’re kinda famous these days: Simon Borg-Olivier and Bianca Machliss of Yoga Synergy. To be honest, even though I enjoyed their classes, I didn’t quite get the point of yoga. Any pose that called on my flexibility was fun, but I found the strength stuff a bit… meh. Or to say it another way, I found asana that required physical strength (of the upper body especially) very difficult and my ego didn’t like it!
Simon and Bianca are great teachers but it took me ages to listen to their verbal instructions properly (**note: this is not to call fault with their teaching at all – more, it’s just that I don’t think I was “awake” enough to be able to listen properly, if you understand what I’m saying). I clearly recall the moment when I realised what Simon was actually saying in a class, versus what I thought he’d been saying. It was a revelation really. I probably did yoga there for a year or two, but once I left my fiancé, I moved to the other side of Sydney and didn’t know of any local yoga classes. And I wasn’t in love with asana, not yet.
Til I met my Guru. Even then, I was way more focused on trying to understand Tantrik philosophy than anything else. We’d do some asana but then we’d be sitting to meditate, read or engage in long conversations on non-dualism, view or abhasavada (for example). But watching him do asana was thrilling. He was (and is) a big muscular man and yet his movements are impeccably graceful. And flexible and strong. It was… inspiring.
When I first met some of his American students, I felt very intimidated because they were so darn good at yoga, whereas I was clumsily inept. Guruji confirmed: Oh don’t worry about that – most of them are yoga teachers and they’ve been practicing for years. Uh huh… somehow, instead of feeling inspired by this, I wanted to crawl away in a corner. I thought I’d never be any good at yoga asana!
Then post-initiation, post-assault and post-toe surgery, we had our Bali retreat which was specifically focused on asana and for the first time I got it. It’s kinda easy to let it all sink in when you’re immersed in a traditional Hindu/Tantrik community. It was my first real understanding of working with yoga from the bones – inside out, not just relying on muscular strength or physical form.
Even after that and attending many more classes, I still felt like I didn’t know what I was doing with yoga asana. I felt silly. I tried doing yoga at home but would give up after a few poses simply because I had no confidence in myself or my abilities.
However by then I did understand the way to structure a yoga practice: standing poses, balancing poses, back bends, twists, forward bends and inversions. But I had no flow. No sense of how moving my body was connected to my mind, let alone anything bigger than that.