My yoga story

20160806_113018I’ve been around the block with yoga. Many of us have. We’ve dabbled in hatha, and branched out into vinyasa flow or anusara, and we may well have found our ‘one’ and have studiously dedicated ourself to that path.

It’s a bit like being a backpacker, looking for the country that feels most like home. But just as one person prefers India and another Iceland, not all countries are right for all people, and no single style of yoga is the right one. Some are lead straight to their yoga style – it’s the first class they experience. For others, it takes a little (joyful!) searching before they find the right fit.

And as we evolve on our journey through life, sometimes a style of yoga that we used to love is exchanged gracefully for another that fits our new self a little better.

trolley-dollyTrolley dolly days

I used to be an air hostess. Hair slicked back in a bun, eyes piled high with shimmer, pearl earrings, manicured nails, the works. I peddled chicken or beef on long-haul flights between Europe and Japan, with a dabbling of India and Australia on the side. Think 12-hour shifts, lurching between timezones and the sprawling expanse of Siberia being as common a view as the one from my bedroom window. The jetlag was accumulating. My sleep patterns were jangled beyond recognition.

I wasn’t the only air hostess who was suffering sleepless nights. Insomnia was one of the main topics of discussion in the crew lounge. The running favourite was a swig of Night Nurse cough mixture before sleep – less addictive than sleeping pills. Until on one trip, a fellow air hostess – the lovely Mamiko – recommended yoga as a substitute for the cough syrup.

When I got back from the trip, sleep deprived with eye bags to rival Mexican donkey panniers, I booked into an ambiguous hatha beginners class – and fell deeply in love. And while restful nights were a secondary bonus from those weekly classes, the primary one was the gentle magic of yoga urged me to eventually ditch the exhausting world of cabin crewdom for the sparkles and insanity of India.

Gemma BlissI stayed for a year, spending most of that time in my favourite spot, Kulu Manali in the Himalayas. I visited the (now late) advaita vedanta guru, Ramesh Balsekar and studied Ayurveda.

Big into Bikram

When I returned to London, having transformed from trolley dolly to hippy, I must have missed the searing heat of that crazy, undiluted subcontinent, because that was when my Bikram yoga phase began. I delved right in, and, despite wanting to throw up in my first class, I went every day for two months.

In each session, I’d look for a sense of ‘realisation’. I was yearning for it. I wasn’t sure what that ‘realisation’ was, but I would do anything to find it… including sweat myself silly in a box full of yogis in bikinis! But I didn’t find it in the intense poses, or the searing heat, or the sweaty sivasana; even less so after the class when, in typical perfunctory London style, everyone avoided eye contact or comment… Ok, ok, so Bikram yoga gets a bad rep – you’re encouraged to push yourself beyond what your body feels comfortable with – but Bikram forms a pebble on the path of my yoga journey, and for that, I’m grateful.

After Bikram, I inhaled a bouquet of different styles – Iyengar, Hatha, Vinyasa, Jivamukti. I fancied all of it, and it all sang to me, but nothing really grabbed my hand and pulled me in until I ventured to an ashtanga class. Not one for the treadmill or spin classes, I’d found an actual exercise that I loved doing, and fulfilled my spiritual leanings, too. I travelled to India for Ashtanga yoga retreats at Purple Valley in Goa and did my teacher training foundation course.

gb-2-2Kundalini rising

And then, quite by chance, I happened upon kundalini yoga. A local class with a wonderful teacher, Siri Atma, it was unlike any yoga I’d ever experienced. It included completely bonkers postures, one of which was to sit cross-legged and dance with your upper body for three minutes. We started and finished by chanting a mantra, and the whole class was done with our eyes closed – like a meditation. I was blown away, and felt the thrill of finally happening upon what I had been looking for. Needless to say, I have held a dedicated practice ever since, and, without sounding trite, it has completely transformed my life.

Some people get kundalini yoga and some people don’t. When there are new students in my class, I’m interested to see if that lightbulb will go off for them as it did for me. And when it does, those are my happiest moments as a teacher, because I know just how they feel – it truly is a wonderful experience of expansiveness, connectedness and ‘realisation’ that goes beyond the limits of language.

My wish is that everyone who’s interested in yoga finds the style that sings with them!

Sat nam and namaste x