From the days at the gym, following a staple diet of sea-salted chicken breasts and chocolate protein shakes, to dropping in for my first class in Melbourne, yoga had always been in the peripheral. The chic, boutique studio that I stepped in at that time, with pristine white brick walls and smooth cemented floors, dappered with birchwood benches, had a novel glint to it. The marketing explosion of the fitness culture wave that included crossfit, mixed martial arts, HIIT, etc. had been massively successful in creating the perception that yoga was for women - or mine at least. I was reasonably physically active, had considered a career with the military, dabbled in a series of more rugged sports and endurance races such as triathlons and marathons throughout my school years.
The fact that I am trying to grasp after all these years, besides how I managed to convince myself to brave the yoga studio solo, was yoga becoming my life’s center and inspiration for profound change, born simply out of a wish to be a better person. I am neither flexible nor bestowed with superiorly-fit genes; it was simply an odd inclination, a kick I had gotten out of continually exploring the enclaves of my own physical body and mind.
I remembered returning from my first class before comatosing for a post yoga crash, musing how incredibly, physically hard that was. The unbelievable puddle of sweat on my mat. What peculiar names downward facing dog and chaturanga were. The saunter from the studio after the yoga wreck, stuffing myself silly with a humongous serve of pistachio gelato as self-reward. Love at first sweat - not at all. It was only several moons later in Singapore, having undergone a tumultuous period of my life, I decided I would pick up this abandoned ‘Primary Series’ video that was gifted to me, committed to wringing a good workout from it, with a tad more sincerity and self-respect.
The practice was built gradually from three to five times a week. Touching the toes was out of the question. I would fall out of headstands, fortunately without shattering anything in my room and certainly not myself. Wheel posture resembled anything but a wheel. Eventually, it became a month, a month became two, and it was one day due to a WiFi connectivity issue that I decided I would practice anyway, since I could remember the sequence of postures. I recalled that experience being paradigm shifting, following the breaths, the vinyasa, without fixation on Kino MacGregor guiding me on the screen.
Eventually, I was told that that was how ashtanga yoga should be practiced - mysore style. Ever since, the name that bore flinchingly-painful connotations had been my refuge of relief and comfort.
Over the course of that period, I had noticed changes to the physical and mental faculties. From a lifestyle of indulgence and destructive habits, my preferences shifted to more health conscious pursuits and a plant-based diet. I had unspeakably weeded out my social garden and while in solitude, felt an intrinsic sense of peace and joy blossoming from within. The external work had brought about a deep, internal shift, drawing me towards the asana practice and inquisition on the subject of yoga. I suppose that could be described as yoga makaranda, a term synonymous with Sri T. Krishnamacharya’s two-part treatise on the subject, otherwise translated as ‘nectar of yoga’.
The years fiddling with ashtanga yoga proved not to be a linear path but an undulating series of ups and downs, as with the ever changing nature of life and its seasons. For me, it was about coming back on the mat again and again, no matter where or how far I have gone.
In the literal sense, I would pick my travel destinations based on the availability of an ashtanga yoga shala. In cities and faces of unfamiliarity, my practice became the common language I could communicate in. My body, its instrument. My breath, its intonation. It is through movement and breath, I am connected back to the source, back to familiarity, back to the memory of my old room with the broken WiFi, back to myself. Practice is akin to coming home, no matter where or how far one has gone. It is the abode, the Nilaya that resides perpetually in the heart, standingunwaveringly and unconditionally for the ones who seek it.