I’ve been practising yoga now for fifteen years, the last 8 or so of those being devoted to the practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga. Yoga was a revelation to me. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I had grown increasingly disconnected from my body, my self, and my emotional inner world as I was growing up. I was brought up as a moderate Hindu but found the Indian culture around me suffocating and oppressive. I knew I was gay at a young age and found it difficult to reconcile this with the culture I was born into, let alone dealing with the struggles I would face later of being gay in a straight world. Along with a childhood difficult in other ways, I see this as one of the roots of the disconnection – shutting down my emotions was far easier than actually having to feel them.
When I look back now, I see a drive in the younger me that tried to keep finding a way back to this lost self, trying to reclaim my birthright. I left home at 18 and found something of a solution – lots of drugs accompanied by endless hours of dancing in clubs and raves in the New Forest. Nights were literally spent with a mind blown to pieces and a body whose neurons were firing in the most incredible ways I had ever experienced.
Understandably, this wasn’t sustainable. I took up Muay Thai kickboxing and loved the training part of it, the first time I’d experienced a discipline that balanced both strength and flexibility. I was less fond of the sparring. I was learning in a particularly rough part of town and the men I was learning with seemed to conveniently forget we weren’t actually supposed to be hitting each other and made the most of their weekly opportunity to let off some steam. I left after eight months.
University ended and I moved back home to London. Apparently I was supposed to start thinking about a career and decide on what to do with my life. The part of me that knew physicality was as important to me as food and music joined a gym as that’s just what people did. I abhorred it. The dried sweat on machines. The ridiculous level of testosterone that filled the place. Row upon row of TVs on mute and a godawful soundtrack of monotonous house music with people pounding zombie-like on treadmill after treadmill. At some point I heard of a yoga class that ran there a couple of nights a week and checked it out. It felt like a homecoming. Finally I’d found a way of being in my body that wasn’t aggressive or competitive. I didn’t care that the rest of the class were pensioners three times my age and the same amount more flexible. Over the years, I explored several styles of yoga practice, eventually coming across Ashtanga Vinyasa which instantly made complete sense to me. Over time, my relationship with my practice and my understanding of it has changed and continues to, evolving in its own wonderfully organic way.
For someone who always thought they had a short attention span, three things have been constant in my adult life: practising yoga (now 15 years), working in the drug and alcohol sector (11 years) and teaching yoga (9 years). What initially seemed like disparate threads have, for the last several years, begun to weave into one much stronger thread. There is a beautiful synergy between them that keeps me endlessly inspired and keeps my ‘practice’ in all three areas alive and fresh. The way I work with people who have experienced difficulties with substance misuse mirrors my approach when I teach yoga, the roots of which I realise now, many years later, are ultimately connected to my own story.
Whether through trauma, dependency on drugs or alcohol or living in a world that increasingly reinforces disconnection, I see more and more people who don’t know who they are, who are numb inside, lost. My work, my teaching, and my practice are all about reconnecting to lost inner drives, instincts, emotions, and ultimately power. I want the people I work with to reconnect to what they were born to own. Yoga has been a constant in my life for almost half of my life. It has been a place to continually return for solace, nourishment and joy. It has made me face myself and continues to do so, and through that process I have learnt how to respond to myself and the world around me in healthier, more constructive ways, the lessons learned being applicable to my life as much off the mat as on it. It teaches me about the utter joy of being embodied and physical and present. The joy of being alive. If I am able to share even a fraction of what I receive from my practice in the short time I have on this earth, I will die a very happy man.
[Originally written for Ohmme Yoga]