This is a piece written by Jo, one of the trainees on the Yoga by Nature 200 hour Teacher Training Course. It was inspired by her assignment on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, one of the core texts on the 200 hour YTT in Weston. I share it here so it can be an inspiration to anyone struggling to find their way through bereavement or spiritual crisis.
1:21 For those who have an intense urge for Spirit and wisdom it sits near them waiting.
I believe that yoga found me in one of the darkest times of my life. My five year old son Jacob, had died the year before in 1997. My whole life had been utterly shattered. It was like my life was a complete jigsaw puzzle and someone had come along and thrown it into the air. The pieces had landed strewn across the floor and I knew I was never going to put the jigsaw back together, because some pieces were lost and some broken, so it would never be whole again. I was empty, there was a void, it felt as if there was a physical hole in my heart that was yearning to be filled. It was like trying to fill a bucket with water when there is a crack in it, the water seeps out. Everything felt futile, there was no meaning in anything. I struggled with the minutiae of life. I had become more aware of what was important in life.
I had already started to explore my spirituality early in my life after my mother had died when I was 7, contemplating the meaning of death and where she had gone. At this point I definitely had a belief in an inner soul. Now I had also witnessed something had left Jacob’s body when he died. I was realising yet again there was something more beyond the body and this world. So I feel that my experiences had been gradually drawing me to look more closely at the meaning of life and death.
I was driving somewhere in my car a few months after Jacob’s death when I heard an interview with a yoga teacher. She was talking about the benefits of yoga, the relaxation, the meditative aspects and the peace that could be found in the practice. I thought I definitely need some of this in my life so I immediately went into the local book shop and ordered her book and video. Yoga had found me. Little did I know this was the very beginning of the most important journey of my life.
My yoga journey began with asana practice at home. Initially I found a peace and calmness, I had no understanding of why. I just knew that it took me away from the constant repetitive traumatic thoughts surrounding Jacob’s death, so I kept going. It wasn’t until I started going to yoga classes that I realised there was so much more to this yoga thing! I started to experience pranayama practice and different little meditations and heard readings from yoga texts. I started to be aware that breath was a vital part of my practice, although I used this to be able to “get into” a posture so that I could “do” the pose well! I definitely had that inner competitive element where I would push myself harder to do a posture, and if that caused a bit of discomfort, then hey ho, that’s fine if it gets me into it! Props, who needs props?!! I was getting flexible and strong in my body, perfect! I was really enjoying my yoga and started a daily practice, either a class or doing yoga at home with a teacher on line. I began really listening to what was being taught to me, to not force my way into a pose but explore the pose, find ease and comfort in what I was doing, pull back, find what felt right in my body, seeing how my breath and body were telling me to stop! Letting go of expectations of myself. (This was tough, I was a bit of a perfectionist!) This was a revelation to me and my yoga asana practice became more flowing and meditational. Somehow, and I’m not quite sure how, maybe a process of osmosis of yoga, I began to realise that what happened on my yoga mat was a reflection of how I dealt with situations in life off the mat. I held my breath if I found something difficult, I tried to force outcomes in life sometimes, I had expectations of myself and others, giving up on things because they were difficult, I would run away from situations instead of facing them. I really started to witness myself on and off the yoga mat. I realised I could flow in life too, allow life to unfold, listen to what my body was telling me, listening to my intuition, that inner voice, the whispers of the universe. Realising that there was a force greater than little old me that knew better. A knowing deep within.
In my exploration of what life really meant, I read a lot of books and teachings from spiritual people. One of those was Deepak Chopra and he also began an on line 21 day meditation programme. This was the start of my daily meditation practice. I found it really helpful to have a mantra to anchor my mind to, and something to bring myself back to when the myriad of thoughts took over. I realised I didn’t have to sit cross legged on the floor and have no thoughts in my head, that little gap between my thoughts was a space where there were no thoughts for a nano second. This was my meditation, fabulous, I could do that! It started with 5 minutes of stillness so that was achievable too. It was a wonderful way to start my day, I started the day peaceful even if things went downhill from there! Gradually over time, I extended my stillness time and became aware that this stillness started to pervade into my day more and more. I also did other meditations with friends and groups so that helped me to continue to witness thoughts coming and going and not attaching to any of them, watching them pass by like clouds in the sky. Somehow, yet again I’m not sure how, maybe by keep meditating, I found that I didn’t need a mantra or a guided meditation of any sort. I started to sit in stillness and silence, resting in the emptiness. There I am no longer my thoughts, my body or even me, I seem to be unaware of it all and feel like I become one with something beyond this world.
I discovered chanting in my exploration of meditation and through one of my yoga classes. This practice resonated with me immediately and I loved it! I didn’t seem to have to learn the chants, they just seemed to emerge from somewhere within me, there was no effort needed. I found a local kirtan group and would go regularly on a Sunday evening for an hour and a half. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven while I was there. I now chant daily every morning and most evenings. The mantras resonate within my being during the day. I have chanted the Gayatri mantra every day since lockdown began and it has become a part of me now, I feel it radiating in my heart and soul. I seem to merge with the chants, and I feel like this effulgent light emanates from me and within me. Words are totally insufficient to express what I feel - it’s way beyond words.
I know that all of these practices have led me to be able to witness not only sensations in my body but also my thoughts and feelings. This is what yoga does. By witnessing sensations in the body, having a conversation with myself, witnessing thoughts in meditation, really listening - these bring me all the wisdom I need. I am now able to sit with what arises, look at it, witness it, follow the wisdom of intuition or let feelings and emotions be there and wait for them to pass when they are ready. It’s the wisdom of the universe talking to me. Guiding me when I tune in and listen.
After 10-15 years, with so much encouragement from others and deciding to stop listening to the self-deprecating thoughts in my head, I finally decided to follow a deep calling that kept coming back, to embark on my yoga teacher training. I visited a yoga ashram in Wales that I was connected with and spoke to the Swami who was in charge of the course. I loved the syllabus they were offering and I was set to apply for the next course. Then Covid came and everything at the ashram got delayed and the course was not going to start until 2023. I had no idea where my life was going to be then, so I decided maybe the universe didn’t want me to do a YTT after all! So, I absolutely know I totally and utterly let go with all my heart (I actually really felt it physically within me) and said “ok, I’m open and ready to receive whatever the universe has in store for me”. About a month later I saw an advert pop up about Yoga by Nature, I read the course content and knew intuitively I resonated with it deeply. I witnessed the fear and anxiety within my body when I made enquiries about it but the whispers of the universe were stronger, and I listened! I applied and got accepted. I had finally honoured the calling within me which kept coming back, the whispers becoming a shouting in my ear!
I knew the moment I signed up for my YTT that I had stepped into something much greater than myself. I felt it in the whole of my heart and soul. I realised and recognised I had stepped into my dharma. (As I write this it makes me so emotional, tears immediately well up!) I feel that I am now being handed the tools to explore my journey further. I have embraced the course with my whole heart, with love and devotion and I am loving totally immersing myself in that exploration and deepening of my practice and knowledge. Although I had been reading yoga texts for the last year in preparation for doing my YTT at the ashram, I feel that I have now taken them into my heart and am really beginning to understand them and that the broken jigsaw I had, is now becoming whole again in a different way. I know that a major shift has taken place even since November. I feel that I am surrendering totally to that greater force, it rests within me, guiding me at all times.
I feel that through all of this practice I have touched on something that I can hardly articulate, but will try to. It’s a power and a love that is blissful and all encompassing, way beyond me and this world, and words do not come close to expressing what it is. I do know that it is always there within me, nothing can hurt or impinge on it. I carry it within me, always aware of it, it comes with me wherever I go. I know it is a part of something greater than me and that that part will go back home when I die. I know this because about 2 years after Jacob died I had a series of what I call “dreams” because I don’t know what else to call them. I went somewhere and visited Jacob, there were no words between us, only soul to soul communication and the love we shared in that place is something that I can’t explain. Again I find words totally inadequate for expressing what happened. What I do know is that what I carry and experience within me now is the same thing.
I absolutely know that all I have talked about is within everyone, waiting patiently by their side, whether they recognise it or not. My hope and intention is to help people coming to my classes to find stillness within themselves, even if it’s for a few minutes in Savasana. To offer an invitation within their practice to start to look within, and just maybe to start their journey back home to that light within them. What an honour and a privilege that will be.
This is what yoga is for me, journeying back home to that part of me that is the essence of the universe, that sat within me waiting to emerge from its cocoon.
I feel light, guiding our way home
I see light, essence of my soul
I am light, in my heart I know
We are light, together we are whole.
(words: Sam Garrett, Light of your Grace)
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali - Mukunda Stiles:
1:2 Yoga is experienced in that mind which has ceased to identify itself with its vacillating waves of perception.
1:3 When this happens then the Seer is revealed, resting in its own essential nature, and one realises the True Self.
1:21 For those who have an intense urge for Spirit and wisdom it sits near them waiting.
1:22 for those who have an urge of varying degrees - mild, moderate, or intense - due to these differences, there also arise distinctions in their sense of closeness to spirit.
1:23 the end of spiritual practice is only attained by placing oneself in the Lord