Authentic Faces on a Path – Part 3

Millions of people are practising this thing called Hatha Yoga, whereby a mat, postures, and breathing are a popular gateway to this sense of feeling the body here and now. Without a magic formula needed, the focus on the body and breath works to soften the edges of the most erratic minds, creating, perhaps, an unprecedented space in which the ‘Now’ is experienced.

The glimpse of this ever-present stillness stands out like a beacon amongst the overwhelming act of ‘doing’, and for some, becomes the motivating reason to embark on a path to feeling a little more whole, fulfilled, and ‘complete’. Yet ‘complete’ entails all, including the heady heights of joy and the plummeting depths of sadness, whereby circles are walked, and loved ones say “This yoga stuff is making you worse.”

What was left when my mind became still was not quietude but discomfort – and the discomfort certainly didn’t feel like oneness.

It was reading above sentence from Michael Stone’s Awake in the World that motivated me to conduct interviews with some dear friends in the yoga community about why we walk this path. Whilst there’s an element of doing this as a sanity check that I’m not the only one going crazy (half-joke), the motivating factor is to share the experiences of how the immersion into yoga is not about wearing more happy faces, but the ability to be an authentic face more often.

In Part 3, Sheila McVitty, founder of Yoga for Athletes, writes about what brought her from the world of marketing into the self-described ‘choppy sea’ of yoga. A dear friend, Sheila teaches yoga classes in Manchester, and is also owner of Didsbury Theatre School so it’s not hard to say she’s passionate about helping everyone feel great whether it’s through the medium of dance, yoga, or/and sport – a truly amazing woman!

‘In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes Yoga as ‘chitta vrtta nirodhah’, a quietening of the mind.

‘Ironically, parts of the yoga journey can feel like wading through mud. The deeper we go, the more questions we stir up and confusion can prevail.

‘When I first started practising yoga I was living life to the full, with a busy job and an equally busy social life. My brain didn’t stop. I remember a secondment to London where I worked so many hours and felt so stressed that when I finally came home and went to the gym to relax, I fainted on the changing room floor.

‘I have no idea what took me to my first Yoga class. Perhaps spontaneity and inquisitiveness more than pursuit of enlightenment or a calmer mind. I loved the challenging postures, but after a few sessions I started to notice something profoundly different for me. My crazy, busy, non-stop mind would, for a few moments, be completely still. I went to class with a mind like a busy swimming pool and as I practised, the pool gradually emptied and the water became perfectly calm. This experience was like a re-set button for my mind. I had a feeling that I had discovered something that was hugely beneficial for my physical and mental well-being, and I wanted more!

‘So, off I went on my Yoga journey: practising various forms, drinking in the philosophy and developing more self-compassion and love for other living beings along the way. A regular practice also cured my chronic lower back pain.

‘My body felt stronger, and so did my mind.

‘But what does that statement actually mean?

‘A strong body is outwardly visible, but what is a strong mind?

‘This is where the wading through mud begins.

‘So my thoughts are not really me. Something else is me. Something that I have glimpsed while practising Yoga and something that feels so peaceful and special and unique, it is almost impossible to describe. It is a oneness, a connectedness with something much greater than me, but at the same time, it is me. And with this new found knowledge, many of life’s trivial events pale into insignificance. If we are all connected, why would one person harm another living being? It’s like harming yourself. Why do people place such importance on inanimate objects, when they can experience the sheer joy of connecting with another being? Why do we believe that we are all entitled to a long and healthy life, when the reality is, our mortal bodies are continually deteriorating and the universe is a chaotic environment where accidents happen regularly? Why are people so territorial when we all belong to the same universe with the same purpose?

‘Yoga has stirred up all these questions for me and I don’t have the definitive answers. The Yoga journey and the questions it evokes can indeed feel like wading through mud, but the Yoga practice, the momentary experience of bliss, of oneness and of stillness, is a gift, and one that is attainable to all. That’s why I teach Yoga and that’s why I will continue to practise Yoga until my body finally packs up and my spirit moves on.’

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