Kat absolutely loves The Yoga Manifesto, the new book written by Nadia Gilani (AKA ‘The Yoga Dissident) . It’s beautifully written, a wonderful heart-felt story of how yoga saved Nadia’s life. The transformative powers of yoga. And a very real story of the real struggles of getting onto a yoga mat and practicing in this culture. The story of how yoga helped Nadia with her battles with addiction, and how the yoga space and yoga culture that Nadia found was sometimes far from easeful.
Nadia holds up a mirror to the culture of yoga in the west, which is often far from compassionate or healing, and tells us her story beautifully, mirrored through the rhythmic and disciplined lens of ashtanga yoga, of how yoga saved her life.
I stand at the top of the mat, feeling stiff, achy and heavy. Big toes touching, heels apart. I lift all ten toes off the floor, spread them and place them back down. I stand in Samasthiti, Equal Standing Pose, (commonly known as Mountain Posture).
Can I be bothered to practise now?
My body hurts.
What’s the point?
It’s the afternoon and I usually do this in the morning. But I’m anxious and jumpy so I stick with it. Everything begins with the Sun Salutation – the backbone of all postural practice. Even when there’s no time to practise, I always do this. Over and again until I am tired and feel I will be able to sit still. When I first learnt the Sun Salutation it reminded me of Namaz – the Muslim practice for performing prayer, which involves raising arms and bowing down. This familiarity, given my Muslim roots, gave me a fondness for this series of movements. I bring my palms together, thumbs to chest and quickly whisper the Ashtanga Yoga opening chant. Then, inhaling and reaching arms up, pressing palms together, I look at my thumbs, exhaling as I fold forwards and place palms flat on the floor.
Urgh, I’m tired, haven’t had enough sleep and my brain feels tight.
I inhale, extend my hurting heart forward, then exhale and jump into a plank position. I lower my body down, hovering above the mat in Chaturanga Dandasana or Four-legged Stick Pose. Inhaling again, I roll over the toes and lift into Upward Facing Dog, exhaling into Downward Facing Dog Pose. I notice that I’m holding my breath.
It’s hard to breathe. My hips are stuck. I feel the same way about life at the moment.
Still in Downward Facing Dog, I spread my fingers wide, shoulders away from the ears, tailbone to the sky, heels sinking towards the earth. I inhale one, exhale one. Inhale two, exhale two. I count five long jaggedy breaths like this. Then, inhaling, I jump feet to hands, lengthen forward and exhale to fold. Inhaling again, reaching arms up and exhale arms down, back to the Mountain.
I am solid as a mountain, I tell myself.
Firm as the earth.
A knot in my stomach tightens, telling me otherwise.
I must keep pushing through.
I start counting silently in Sanskrit, which sometimes helps block out the mental noise that never seems to stop. Ekam arms up, dve fold forward, trini lift heart, chatvari jump back and lower down. I keep going. My body’s weight is starting to spread more evenly in my feet, the oil in my hips starting to loosen things. Soon my brain might catch up. I take five breaths in Downward Dog again. I’m tired and distracted.
Maybe I’m hungry, I should stop, a voice in my head says.
Keep going, another one suggests.
I continue, inhaling then reaching up, exhaling and folding forward. Now the breath feels like it’s leading my movement. A lightness arrives in my body and my mind is narrowing its focus. The yoga is gaining momentum. This is what the physical part of the practice is for – preparing the body for meditation. I’m ready now.
Everything might turn out alright after all.