I didn’t exactly hit it off with yoga at the beginning.
The first yoga class I attended was over 10 years ago; it was a beginner Hatha class at the gym where I was a member. The experience didn’t really leave an impression on me and I never went back. The second yoga class I attended was a couple of years later – it was Bikram. I can’t remember a single asana we performed, the insane heat probably distracted me. I hated the entire experience and I recall how relieved I was to walk out to the frigid British winter after class, thinking Mr. Bikram was nuts. Needless to say, I never returned to that class either.
5 years later, during my rehabilitation period after knee surgery (ACL rebuild and removal part of the medial meniscus), that something finally clicked with yoga and me. Six months after the surgery, I still wasn’t confident to return to sports but I was really frustrated with the lack of exercise for the best part of a year. One early morning I attended my third ever yoga class; Power Yoga with a teacher called Mark Kan, who studied under Sri Dharma Mittra. I figured that yoga would be low-impact on my knee joint and a mild form of exercise I could do until I was fully recovered. The class ended up being so hard! We performed vinyasa after vinyasa, arm balances, twists and inversions. Clearly the other students in the class practiced regularly, they were all so competent and in great shape. I was way out of my depth, but I left the class knowing something amazing had been revealed to me. I felt utterly inspired to take up the challenge yoga presented to me and my yoga journey began that day. I attended Mark’s classes regularly and I started to gain more awareness of how my body moved with my breath. Mental barriers I had built up about my physical limitations started to lift. He was a tough teacher but his teaching style made me try harder and push myself beyond what I thought I was capable of – for this I am grateful.
Moving to Singapore 3 years ago, a place that has a really strong yoga community, and frequent visits to nearby Bali exposed me to other yoga styles that I wasn’t even aware of when I lived in London. I started to read more around the subject, the sutras and researching different yogic lineages and teachers. My practice became more regular and I chose to focus on the Ashtanga method, attending both led and Mysore sessions, as well as practicing at home.
I’m still practicing the Primary Series, I really enjoy having a fixed sequence to focus on and aim to perfect. I appreciate the way the sequence moves from asana to asana, preparing the body for the next. I love how much of a challenge it is to move with the breath and keep the mind focused and inward. I love the way the practice forces me to dig deep to find discipline and grit. I love the sweat that pours out and the exhaustion at the end. Most of all I love the collective energy generated by my teachers and the other students I practice with.
There is still so much (so much!) I must learn still, I’m really just an infant in yoga years. During this 200hr teacher training, one of the things that I’ve come to realise is that you must surrender yourself to the practice and you must be humble enough to do the work – that is the only way. In the words of Guruji K. Pattabhi Jois, “Practice and all is coming.”
– Alex Ottignon