My Yoga Origin Story [How Yoga And Meditation Became A Vital Part Of Life]
I am starting a year long yoga training, a year of focusing on myself and my practice, a year of enquiry and discovery. I first wanted to do a yoga training around 50 years ago—half a lifetime or more! I didn't! Instead I dived into my career in the theatre and eventually became a respected lighting designer.
My diving into yoga is about diving into myself, my career as a lighting designer was about diving outside of myself. As I struggled to deal with life I sought refuge in what I could achieve in the outside world, in the respect and praise of other people. I hid away from myself. I didn't hide away all the time, I kept touching back in to what I had always been avoiding, but I never stayed there.
Yoga In The 1970's
In the early 1970's I was working in Greenwich, in London, at The Greenwich Theatre. I was an electrician and was responsible for the lighting. I worked afternoons on maintenance and preparing for the next show and evenings on the performances. That left my mornings free. What to do with them?
I decided to spend some of my mornings going to a yoga class. Greenwich Council ran a weekly class at the old town hall nearby as part of their social education remit. I went once a week to a class run by an experienced teacher who taught the Iyengar method. I enjoyed the rigour of the classes, especially tadasana—pulling up the knee caps to strengthen the legs—and savasana where I found complete relaxation.
I went to several weekend retreats just outside London, but I found it difficult to connect with people there so I didn't make any friends or contacts in the yoga world. I did, however, love practicing it and became interested in taking it further. I thought about becoming a yoga teacher but didn't have the courage to give up my job and go for it. This was an apparent period of freedom, that inexorably drew me back to security. I wrote about this period in Living My Decade of Freedom—Then Middle Class Life Overtook Me. In the article I said,
For me freedom was about leaving home at the age of 18 and starting to live. I grew up under my father's dominance. Getting out was scary but released so much in me. My decade straddled the 60's and the 70's, a turning point in the post-war world.
I continued my career in the theatre and then in architectural lighting. During this long period I occasionally practiced yoga and meditation, but never managed to find the time to make it a regular practice. I tried to work through the training sequence in Light on Yoga but I found it completely overwhelming. Whenever I could I went to classes but my work completely absorbed me and always took precedence.
A Fascination For Spiritual Matters
Since childhood I always had a fascination for spiritual matters. This was mixed up with religion and confusing for me. My interest in yoga and meditation enabled me to clarify the difference in my head. However during these years of following my career there was a significant period when I was deeply involved in charismatic christianity. In Bristol and in Edinburgh I became involved with local evangelical churches. I found some solace in this very personal experience during what proved to be a difficult period for me.
During that period I was persuaded that yoga and meditation were unchristian and that I should turn my back on them. I burned all my yoga books and buddha statues. Sadly one of the books was an original edition of the famous book on Surya Namaskar—Surya Namaskars - For Health, Efficiency & Longevity by the Rajah of Aundh—that was originally my father-in-law's. I had found it an interesting book but did not realise then what a valuable book it was.
In time I moved on from my christian period and again found my interest in non-religious spiritual matters. My marriage and my design business fell apart so I moved into a period of self-reflection and personal development. I took a trip to India with Urmila, who is now my wife, to delve deeper into our spiritual journey. We spent time in the Osho Ashram in Pune and the Oneness University Campus near Chennai.
After we married we moved to south-east Spain, and decided to live there permanently. The area had a number of yoga studios, so with the time—now being retired—and availability I started a regular yoga practice. I discovered Sivananda Yoga and Integral Yoga by Swami Satchidananda.
Yoga And Masculinity
My local studio started classes for men that sparked my interest. I had been writing about Men and Masculinity on my website and this seemed a perfect synthesis for me. (I wrote an article about this experience—How Yoga Taught Me Stillness—A Masculine Spiritual Approach.) In it I said,
Through this I started to understand the background to Yoga as something more than physical exercise. For me it started to go deeper. I learned what it is for and what it is aiming to achieve. This is a controversial area because Yoga is not about achievement. It is not about competition or being better, but it is about challenge with yourself. The challenge is not to do more complex poses but to find the point at which you stop trying and just do it. This is where many men fall down in Yoga, they want to compete and be better than the next man.
I found that the stillness I achieved in yoga was essential for my meditation practice,
What I found was that when I started to explore this place of stillness I could look at myself in a more objective way. I needed to observe how I was inside and how my body was reacting as well as engage my logical brain in assessing what I was trying to do with the pose.
To do all this I had to step away from my ego and feel what was happening inside. It was no longer about competition and seeing how far I could go, it was about relaxing into the tension in my body and letting it just be.
Two events took my practice deeper to the point that I am now embarking on a year long yoga training.
Slow And Gentle Yoga
The first was twisting and damaging my knee, not doing yoga but working on my kitchen at home. This led me to find ways of healing my knee. I first of all found Yin Yoga as taught by Bernie Clark. This was revelation to me that you could work in a more considered way, As Bernie says,
We don't use the body to get into a pose. We use the pose to get into the body.
I then found the yoga of breathing and movement taught by J Brown,
Pursuing a quiet yoga revolution, based in healing, J Brown seeks to change the dialogue, and direction, of yoga practice in the west.
This took my yin practice more in the direction of Hatha Yoga but provided a more meditative approach that I loved.
The second event was Covid and the onset of lockdown. I spent a few months restricted to the house and had to re-think my approach to practice. I was already working with J's livestream classes and loving them. I stopped going to my local studio—they had to close during lockdown—and never re-joined, in part because of their lack of social distancing and their negative approach to the concept of lockdown and its subsequent restrictions.
A friend, who was an Advanced Integral Yoga teacher, started daily online meditations at the start of lockdown and is still doing them on a weekly basis, and I still take part every week. I used to go to her Intermediate Integral Class locally. She has now moved back to the UK and has re-started a weekly online class which I have started to attend again.
The combination of Yoga and Meditation is an essential part of my life now, it takes me into myself. I said in Yoga Mudra As A Practice Of Presence [Ground Yourself In The Present Moment],
When I practice yoga or meditation it is always in the present. It is always delving into what I feel and what my body is experiencing now. This experience is constantly changing and I have to adjust to that as I practice. Life around me is always changing and my body is constantly renewing itself at the same time as it is degrading through age. But it is where I am now.