It isn’t often that I find myself being ‘trendy’. To be honest, I have never been trendy. But when the hashtag #internationaldayofyoga starts trending on summer solstice each year, I find myself shaking my head at the phenomenon of a traditional practise from India that has now become a global movement.
As a lifelong bookish nerd, not particularly fond of large gatherings or swayed by current fads, I usually plod along on my journey knowing that it may not resonate with others. To my great surprise (and delight), I unwittingly became part of one world-wide trend/fashion/obsession – not sure what the right word is, thanks to a single step I took twenty-five years ago. The irony of it hit me when I entered a Lululemon store last month.
Once upon a time
When I returned to work eight weeks after giving birth, I was physically exhausted, mentally drained and emotionally unable to meet the demands of work-home-motherhood. Despite my mother’s support in the initial months, my life felt completely off-balance. I seriously considered quitting my job.
When my boss handed me a flier announcing a free trial yoga class at the office gym, I decided to give it a try for one simple reason. Location. The lunch time session wouldn’t add hours to my day or keep me away from my baby any longer than necessary.
The first class was a life-changer!
I felt lighter, sharper, and more energetic when I stepped out. I signed up right away and over the decades I have tried to incorporate yoga into my life to the extent possible.
How do I practise yoga – let me count the ways
After the initial years of lunchtime hatha yoga classes, I graduated to more intense Iyengar yoga sessions on Saturday mornings. I tried different teachers, styles and even different times of day.
Yet, when I returned to India, yoga became more distant. Finding a conveniently located class that accommodated my work hours and long commute was impossible. In the days before Youtube videos and online sessions, I was forced to switch to a solo morning practise.
Years later, I became a certified yoga teacher thanks to a good friend who encouraged me to sign up with her for a month-long session at an ashram in Kerala. The program was brutal, with a highly structured curriculum in the sultry summer of God’s own country. I fantasized about running away but somehow persisted. And uncovered hidden aspects of myself. It was a humbling experience that highlighted my misconceptions about my strengths and abilities.
When I moved to Singapore, I once again looked for a trained instructor. My wish was fulfilled almost instantly when the ladies in my condo got together and arranged for an experienced teacher to come over for a group class.
Practicing in an open area besides a large swimming pool as the sun set in the far distance was a wonderful experience of not just the flexibility of our bodies but also a lesson in how we live interdependently with each other and with nature. It may only be a slight exaggeration to say that settling into my new neighborhood in an unfamiliar country became easier, thanks to these weekly sessions.
As I look back at my decades-long relationship with yoga, I wonder what has kept me going. Long before yoga became a trendy buzzword and the UN declared 21st June as International Day of Yoga, the ancient practice was taught and tried by people in the privacy of their homes as well as in schools and ashrams. Today yoga is a multi-billion dollar global industry that keeps growing.
Most yoga instructors in India wear simple cotton kurtas and loose pants and use sustainable cane mats or thick cotton blankets for their classes. They do not endorse Lululemon leggings, Manduka mats, branded blocks and yoga-themed accessories. Temperature-controlled studios, soothing background music and a monogrammed water bottle aren’t necessary for a yoga class.
In fact, yoga is not merely a form of physical exercise. In the words of one of its most famous icons, the late B. K. S. Iyengar, “Yoga cultivates the ways of maintaining a balanced attitude in day-to-day life and endows skill in the performance of one’s actions.”
When I mention my long term association with yoga, I am often asked if I have become better at it. That’s a wrong question, because yoga is not about attaining perfect posture or contorting your body into a pretzel shape. It is not a vessel for your vanity. Yoga, in its simplest interpretation, means union. In today’s distracted world, yoga offers a way to unite all those disparate parts of yourself that tend to scatter in everyday life.
Across continents and countries, yoga has brought me physical benefits, mental peace and emotional equanimity. It has helped me make sense of my life, connect with others and find my place in a new environment. On difficult days, it has given me a familiar routine to adhere to and on easy ones, it has helped me soar.
I have become better – not necessarily at the asanas, but at being more in tune with myself and therefore kinder to myself, and by extension, to others.
At the height of the pandemic my daily home yoga routine became a source of comfort and support. Not surprisingly, I lost weight and became fitter during lockdown thanks to a more focused and consistent yoga practice.
I have no way of knowing whether yoga will continue to be trendy but I know that I will forever remember (and implement) the instructions of my first yoga teacher – five minutes of yoga a day is better than none.
In case you are wondering what I was doing in a Lululemon store – I was accompanying my daughter. Yes, the same child who sat on my back as I got into cobra pose and imitated my moves as a toddler is now a trainer yoga teacher. While she hasn’t clocked too many hours as a teacher, she has certainly acquired the trendy attire for it!