All by my self (-practice)

Life after a yoga teacher training course: that mixture of relief and fear as the gruelling early morning schedule is abandoned and the work of maintaining it one’s self begins.

Of course, this is not the first time I have experienced this feeling of aloneness – singleness and independence. Only a month ago I was in precisely the same position: four weeks of 5:30am wake up calls over, with the intention of rising every day at 6/6:30 to meditate and practice asana by myself very much in mind. In mind, that is, and body until I arrived in Hong Kong, jet lagged and exhausted and thankful for every bit of sleep I could get. And then? Well, then the next course started and I went back to the alarm clock, grateful for every day in seven when I did not have to set it.

As I have mentioned previously, however, there is a big difference between waking up in India at 5:30 and strolling five minutes down a quiet dusty street to the shala with only the occasional cow hanging out, munching leftover watermelon rind, and waking up at 5:30 in Hong Kong to walk 30 minutes through dirty, litter and vomit strewn streets, the taxis already circling like sharks and the buses picking up the first bleary-eyed children to take to school. There is quite a difference between happily dreaming your way into meditation, still warm from your bed, and having to down coffee just to wake-up enough to make it in one piece (i.e. without tripping all the way down the escalators!) to meditation.

But, now? No more. Not for five long weeks. And whatever (lazy?) part of me was looking forward to this, is now suddenly scared into staying firmly hidden under the covers, ignoring the 7 o’clock alarm, the 7:10 snooze and finally awaking, slightly annoyed at oneself at 7:50am.  But while this is an accurate reflection of what happened this morning – DAY TWO – the feelings are not. I was not scared but tired, and not annoyed but grateful. I needed sleep – present tense: need!!

Yesterday – DAY THE FIRST – I woke briefly at 7am, went to the bathroom and prayed that when I got back in bed I would be able to go back to sleep, and thankfully I did, until just before my alarm at 8:30am, and boy did I feel better for those 10 hours of sleep. A quick shower and a dreamy breakfast before going upstairs to teach the little twin three-year-old boys, I really wished for more time: more time to dream, more time to eat. But c’est la vie. I am living here rent free, the least I can do is go and spend an hour helping the boys with their English!

Yet the moment I sat down with the boys, Tat – the fractionally older and smarter (and hence generally ‘naughtier’) one – started pointing to the veins standing out on my too-skinny arms, saying “ugly, ugly, ugly.” I looked down to see what he was looking at and could feel myself flushing with embarrassment, but I didn’t tell him off or even tell him to stop. After all, is it his fault? He’s only a child. Clearly no one’s told him that Victoria Beckham skin-and-bones is beautiful, that you will only be successful and admired if you weigh less than the sticks of celery you live off, if you never even look at a bread roll for fear of the guilt that will ensue. But he’s only young, he’ll learn. And growing up with their mother, who already worries that the youngest daughter will grow up to be as “fat” as the eldest, while the middle daughter (competitive as ever she was when I used to teach them four or five years ago in Shanghai) consciously exercises and calorie counts more than I ever have (or any 13 year old, to my mind, ever should!), he’ll learn that lesson quite quickly and come to have much more respect for his ugly duckling/beautiful swan of a teacher.

I jest, of course. Part of me is very grateful to the child for his honesty, sad though it made me, and hence why I did not tell him off but instead redirected his attention to the work of the day. Because children are like that: they say it as they see it. Sometimes, yes, they know – as Tat did – that it is cruel and hurtful; they are purposefully winding you up, exercising their power over you, and then…? I would say it is the adult’s role to step in and socialise them, not let them get away with teasing and hurting other people. But as teachers it is also important to stand apart and not allow them to hurt you – perhaps not allow anyone, young or old, to hurt you with words. As our yoga and mindfulness teacher has been telling us, they are just concepts and one person’s concept can be very different from your own, but it does not make it either right or wrong. Tat is simply telling it how he sees it. You might say his concept are limited – he does not understand why I look like this – but essentially, I would agree with him: it is “ugly”, but more than that – for me, it is sad, a sign that I am overworked and underfed, still under-loving myself. But I will not let his comments or anyone else’s hurt me and bring me down. I will only allow his words to inspire me towards better health, not drag me down into a circle of self-criticism and self-hatred. For I know only too well where that will keep me: in unhappiness, in “ugliness.”

You might say, however, that this is easier said than done, and I would agree. I know only too well what it is to have negative personal comments and looks directed your way each and every day. When I returned from India last year, a shadow of my former self, I had to put up with people every day saying something about my weight, even one bizarre time congratulating me on my diet and wanting to know how I did it!? “Are you crazy?!” I wanted to scream. “Do you think I want to be like this? Do you think it’s fun to be collapsing in the middle of the night with diarrhea? To be stuck in the middle of nowhere in a monsoon that is killing hundreds of people and infecting our drinking water? To be cut off from all contact with friends and family? To be so weak with hunger you fear you are going to die?” Well, I didn’t say this either. I just shrugged, smiled and walked away, keeping my tears, my sadness for myself to learn from, to deal with. That time I knew better; I knew it was not my fault. But with anorexia it is harder, and it is lonelier, partly because you feel it is your fault, that you have no one else but yourself to blame. All by yourself, with yourself, killing yourself each and every day. But I don’t want to think like this. I know I have to rise above playing the victim and rise above playing the bully or judge. The first rule of being alone, all by myself – in one’s yoga practice as in life – is about cultivating compassion. It’s about love.

And this is what transpired yesterday. For after teaching the boys and leaving the Peak, I went to Central, tired though I was, for a gentle hour of yoga. Sometimes, for me, it is as much about taking yourself to a clean, neutral space and being around familiar and un-familiar people. But as it was, the bus was running late and by the time I arrived the only person in the changing room was Carol. Carol, aiya! How can I describe Carol? She’s the Cruella Devil, Devil Wears Prada, Know It All of Hong Kong high society who happens to patronise the same gym and yoga classes as I and who, over the years, has taken great delight in prying into my affairs – health, wealth, relationships, career, soul – causing possibly more hurt than any three-year-old could and yet with a sort of blindness and insensitivity that suggests she does not intend it and would be mortified if she knew she’d offended you, as I one time had to suggest to her that she had. So it was only Carol, finishing up and getting ready for her usual Sunday brunch at the yacht club with her mother, asking me – as I hurried in and hurriedly undressed – how I was and where I was living, and basically (so it felt) trying get a few more scraps of information to add to her file on me. But bleary-headed and late as I was I answered everything wrong – not at all to her satisfaction – and before I knew it I was stressed, trying to explain how the estate I lived on (next door to hers as it happens) was “far away” when she affirmed it was not. Aiya!

So, by the time I arrived in Arno’s class of only three other people I was grateful for the silence and simplicity of yoga: a few gentle sun salutations, a couple of standing poses, a headstand or three, and some floor stretches… I wanted to cry. Sometimes the sadness and emotion that’s been raising up in us through the weeks – sparked by little or big things – comes out in a deep seated forward bend, hip opener or groin stretch. (Or, at least in my experience. For others, I appreciate, it could just be more physical pain that is being felt.) A number of things, not least my run in with Carol and Tat that morning, was coming out: the dream I had had the previous night involving my ex, the exercises we had done on the yoga course the couple of days before…

The exercise on Friday had been to look deeply into the eyes of the person opposite you for two whole minutes, just observing their features, your thoughts, their breath and whatever else came up. The partner I had was someone I had spoken to a few times, someone shy on the outside but as I knew quite sociable and friendly, warm and caring on the inside; someone, perhaps, seeking greater confidence, greater love, greater acceptance from the world. But, as I looked into her eyes and saw all this – the sadness, the plea “Don’t judge me” – I suddenly wondered how much of what I was seeing was a reflection of myself. Was she looking so sad and earnest because she was seeing the same things in me? Was I only reading in her expression my own feelings of low self-worth, fear of judgement, desire for love, friendship and acceptance? It was powerful stuff, and the next exercise was no less so.

This time we had to sit in groups of four or five, looking at one group at a time as they went to stand at the front of the class. Again, we did this in complete silence, observing the people standing up, observing our thoughts, feelings, breathing. And as the second group stood up to take their turn, I caught myself thinking “Oh yes, I like all these people,” as if I hadn’t liked everyone in the previous group, had been able to find some fault with each of them, but luckily this group would be spared that. “How awful!” the next thought came. “You are judging everyone, trying to find something to say or think about each one – this one’s pretty, that one’s good at yoga, I like her clothes, I don’t know her so much, she’s shortest in the group, etc etc etc. How exhausting! Can’t you just stop thinking for a bit? Can’t you just stop judging?” And that’s when I started to cry, when I realised how much time I spent, how much of my life was being wasted, judging – not really others, but myself.

Then there was the dream: I was back with my boyfriend, though I am not sure I wanted to be or that we were properly together, not like before. (Dreams are annoying like that: kind of vague – but then, some relationships are like that too.) And I remember I wanted to catch a train; I was going to see Alan, the yoga guy in India. But we were sitting in the waiting room and just kept missing the train, or the bus, or anything that came by, and finally I was getting so frustrated that I just went out of the waiting room into the snowy street platform and hailed a passing taxi. There were already quite a few people in it, so my ex and I had to squeeze in, when I suddenly realised that it was going in completely the wrong direction and I just wanted to get out. We paid our share of the fare and as I got out of the car I turned to my ex and said something to the effect that I didn’t want to be with him anymore, that I wasn’t going anywhere the whole time I was with him, that it felt as if he didn’t really want to be going anywhere and was cursing – jinxing – every plan for foreign travel I made, every plan for us, our future. It would be better, I said, to go on alone, by myself. I’d get there quicker, I said, without him. And I think we left each other, or at least, the dream ended there, the scene – the relationship – dissolved. But as with all those heavy, involved dreams, it had lingered – through my shower, through breakfast and into teaching the twins, finally to come out in all its sadness during that yoga class, so that by the time I left the gym to meet my friends, I really did not feel good company at all, just sad and introspective. I just felt I wanted and would be better off being alone.

Added to this, the weather that we’d been counting on to stay dry for our walk up to the Peak to take photos had failed us, starting to rain (again) just at the crucial moment. IFC mall and all its coffee shops were crowded and when I met them I could tell we were all a bit fed up. Talk of the weather – English and Hong Kong – was dragging us down, barely disguising our ennui and disappointment: what were we going to do with ourselves now that all our best laid, most looked forward to plans had failed?

Yet, arriving at Agnes B – pregnant friend, Jacky, was starving – we were lucky to take the last vacant table and were able to hover in front of the menu board for a good ten minutes trying to decide between designer cafe lattes, before finally enjoying a rambling, lighthearted and reviving conversation about photography-art-literature-film-children-writing-etc-etc-etc. Within minutes of sitting still, slurping some warm gingery soya coffee, and relaxing while Lloyd took the pressure of “how does your new camera work” off me and went to work finding out himself, I felt better. All that melancholy, bluesy stuff of wanting to be alone was behind me. I realised I was alone. Of course I was. I was meeting up with my married, happily expectant friends for “coffee” (Jacky is off caffeine and Lloyd seemed to be keeping her company with an iced tea and a shared panini) alone, by myself, no boyfriend in tow. But that was how I wanted it, that was my choice. Because in terms of A relationship, it was not going to make me happy – not right now. The dream was all too symbolic of how I felt, of my conceptions about the relationship – whether he would agree or not, whether objectively valid or not, it was how I felt, how I saw it, and I wanted more than anything to be free, to come and go, to be myself, to choose my own role rather than feel it was dictated by someone else, their needs, their expectations. So I was alone, but for now not sad, not lonely. I had myself and I had these, my friends and their best intentions to help me while I was here – not only take photos without the lens cap still on, my finger over the lens etc etc – but to get better, to help myself get better.DSC_0008

And so I did leave them to have cake, but with the intention of going home, making a vegetable green curry, chatting to my mum on Skype and catching up with some reading. The sun now annoying shining and the weather was perfect for a walk, so I stopped on my way through the park to take some terrible photos of the carp in the lake, thinking of my friends and grateful to them for their company that had lifted me out of my blues and brought me back to the present moment.





Grounding down and growing on up

I woke up this morning in something of a funk, the impression of last night’s Skype conversation with my mum still churning around inside my head.

It had been quite unintentional, quite unthinking that I’d mentioned that perhaps I’d get work and stick around in HK for the summer – more like wishful financial thinking than anything else.

“Err, hang on a minute,” my mother had replied, “can I just stop you there…” before going on to remind me that, not only had I left England at a time when she needed our practical and emotional support, but that I’d left my adorable but rather highly-strung, OCD cat with her, and my 1001 book collection which, even in my absence has been growing thanks to wifi on the beach and Amazon’s universal shipping service. Poor Mum!

“No, of course!” I reassured her, instantly filled with guilt and remorse, “of course I’m coming back and picking up Audrey, of course I’ll help you sell the house, and I’ll learn to drive and…”

And the conversation we had only the other day, and the conversations we’ve been having over the past few months came flooding back – conversations in which rather than planning a life of international jet-set travel, no worries, no responsibilities, no cares, I’ve actually been yearning for, fantasizing about and starting to logistically plan having a home, a space where I can take care of Audrey, myself and my mum if she needs it, where I can teach yoga, hold art and dance classes, a place with enough room for a garden to grow vegetables and a kitchen to cook them in. This has been the dream, growing slowly from a tiny wishful seed into a ‘why the blooming hell can’t I not?!’ flower, but a dream that, in my insecurity – my need for money in the bank, the illusion of deep, fixed, sustaining roots – I turned my back on, reverting to the old-habit-dies-hard of “Hong Kong is the answer, go where the money is.”

However, I know that is merely the ego talking and, after upsetting my mum last night – giving her the impression that I was thinking of abandoning her and my pussy cat, going abroad indefinitely once again – and thereby upsetting myself, I gave a good talking to.

Like most crazy people, I can often be found talking to myself, or rather writing to myself. She’s quite sensible is that other self, most rational, very reassuring and rather sweet and loving. So by the time we went to sleep, singing bowl reverberating on my abdomen in an attempt to open up my manipura and heart chakras, we’d made peace with ourselves, quietened our insecurities and reawakened our faith in my best, most earnest dreams for myself, Audrey and my mother.

Yet still I awoke this morning, around 6:30am as usual, with the stink of last night hanging over me, berating myself for being irresponsible, flightly, immature, selfish…. Wow, how unkind we can be to ourselves and no wonder that with such a rude awakening – no “good morning beautiful!” for me – I was tempted to roll straight back over and go to sleep! But I didn’t. Or okay, I think sleep claimed me for 10 minutes, then I was back awake and mindful of my intention to walk down the beach to the shala and get in some self-practice before breakfast. Because it has been many days since I’ve seriously given myself to meditation or yoga, and yesterday I found myself feeling most ungracious and increasingly hostile towards the half a dozen flies that kept landing on my breakfast; but I was sure that an hour and a half of Mysore-style practice would see me right, put me back in touch with the Oneness of the universe. And I was right.

Even by the time I reached the shala I was in a better mood. The mornings here are cool and walking down the beach, so quiet now that the season is at an end, just the cows having their early morning dip with the crows, and a few well-seasoned expats taking their final strolls along the shore before they head elsewhere. Walking down the beach is a meditation in itself, a recognition of the power and peace of the ocean, its essential unchanging emptinessness. It has nowhere to go, nothing to do but enact its ceaseless assault upon the shifting shore. “Everything could have been anything else and would still have had the same meaning,” as Tennessee Williams said.

The Sampoorna Yoga shala above Fatima’s guest house is quiet now, the guest house itself shut up, all the doors to the once-occupied rooms boarded and padlocked; only in the  centre of the courtyard are piled the heaps of blankets, tables, chairs and discarded apparel as evidence of a once bustling hostelry. It is like this all over Agonda. One by one the restaurants, guest houses and shops have been closing, the shopkeepers desperately trying to sell off the last of their goods before they head for the cool hills of home, the love and longing in their eyes as they speak of the beauty of Nepal, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. Almost everyone here hails from somewhere else, and given the distances and hours travelled in India, I am almost more of a local than they are, it being a mere 9 hours for me to get back home… Or 7 to my adoptive home of Hong Kong.

(Eating peanut butter and banana on toast – it is breakfast time now as I write – is very satisfying, especially after waking so early and fitting in over 90 minutes of relaxing, invigorating, restorative, calming yoga practice; and it puts me in mind of my father, the reason I am a life-long vegetarian but who himself, after dabbling with both yoga and vegetarianism in the mid-80s has undergone many chameleonesque transformations and has been heard to say that vegetarianism is quite unhealthy and, no, he has no idea what is fuelling my brain – a comment which led me, during my Finals, to consume PB and banana on toast as a daily necessity.)

The asana worked its magic, as ever. Starting with some gentle Sivananda-style sun salutations I worked my poor aching hips open (all that walking up and down and up and down the beach?) before coming up into some Primary Series sun salutation Bs, through the standing poses (good old favourites especially: utthita trikonsana and parivrtta trikonasanas), incorporating some spontaneous heart-opening and back bends, and down to seated forward folds and the finishing sequence.

By the time I was done I didn’t want to leave, but stayed for a few more deep backbends (bow and locust), understanding now in this heat how it is the Indian yogis can contort themselves into all kinds of impossible positions, the heat and humidity literally melting you like plasticine, softening away all tension and stiffness so that, even if unlike me you were schooled pre-Thatcher and had all the benefits of free milk, your hardened bones are no obstacle to even the most esoteric of poses. 

As I came down to rest in pidgeon and baddha konasana, resting my third eye on the ground, gratitude was flooding my body, heart and mind. I could forgive myself for my momentary flightly selfishness, come back to the greater point and purpose of my sojourn here in the lovely Agonda – a world away from the tensions and responsibilities of life in England – and for my continued exile while I go to Hong Kong next week for three months. I could feel myself wishing to make the most of this gift of time to heal and reconnect with myself in the knowledge that this will help me heal and reconnect with others. For as Swami Rama writes: “non-attachment properly understood means love… When yogis speak of non-attachment they are not teaching indifference, but are teaching how to genuinely and selflessly love others.” 

We often take non-attachment to mean to objects, material possessions; but for the yogi, this includes people. Surely there can be no harder practice than non-attachment to those we love? How can we care when we so easily take ourselves away, half way around the world when they need us most? It is still something I am trying to reconcile myself to – possibly a deep hurt I have inflicted and continue to inflict on myself and others. But sometimes one knows – one feels – the weakness, the futility of holding on, and the greater strength of letting go, if only for a short time in order that you both may have the room, the air and light to grow.

Before our teacher and monk Kasheva left last week for the hills of Dharmasala, he performed reiki on me. It was an incredible experience in which many things came up – the floods in Uttarkashi last summer among them.; many tears followed and the message “LET GO” reverberated clearly: Let go of pain, let go of possessions, let go of attachments, let go of old habits, let go of fear. Accept life and death. Choose vitality, choose creativity, choose transformation, and attain transcendence. These were the words that came to me – promises of what I could achieve if I could just practice letting go, if I changed my old thought and emotional patterns, my samskaras, and started living in the now, for today, for bliss. 

Why would we choose anything else? Why would we choose to live in unhappiness? Many would argue that we do not choose to, but that pain and suffering comes to find us. But who has not encountered troubles – a car crash, a divorce, bankruptcy, a tsunami, flood or famine? Who has not had a parent, sibling or child die, or if not yet, then will do – must do – one day?

There is a story of a woman who, grieving for the death of her child, went to Buddha entreating him to tell her why she should suffer in this way. He told her to take a bowl, fill it with rice, bring it back and he would tell her the answer; but, he said, she could not beg rice from any house that had been touched by grief. A week later the woman came back empty-handed. “I understand now,” she said. For every house had been touched with grief. The question then should not be ‘why do I suffer?’ but ‘why is there suffering?’ And if suffering is universal why can I not still be happy in spite of it? Or if happy is too trite a word, why can I not be accepting, peaceful, content?

Cultivating this state of santosha (contentment) is not easy. Like me with the flies at breakfast yesterday morning, we are all too easily irritated, too easily distracted, too easily angered. But yoga and meditation do help – for me, at least. They work to erase the ego, erase the sense of difference that separates me from the flies, from the restaurant owner, from the tuk tuk driver who is always trying to get an extra 50 rupees for his fare, and reveals to me the underlying sameness of ourselves, our existence. My true self is as kind of myself as it is to the tuk tuk driver, giving him the extra money he so desperately needs in this quiet end of the season and myself the extra slice of peanut butter and banana on toast my mind and body craves after a wonderful, energetic, life-enhancing asana practice.

I can’t claim – or even hope – to have reached Samadhi, but as I gaze at the henna tattoo making its way from the middle of my forearm to the tip of my middle finger, I am reminded of how far I have come and of where I hope to go. There may be many twists and turns, detours and diversions along the way, but these are all a part and parcel of the infinitely charming, mysteriously beautiful overall design – sometimes baffling, sometimes labyrinthine – but always always delightful. Forever a part of you.

How we are hungry

We are all thirsting, hankering, yearning for and craving one thing or another, whether it is time off from work and a holiday in the sun, or a new car to replace the one that keeps breaking down on us, that fabulous pair of shoes you saw in the shop window, or a lover to share our bed, breakfast and idle chatter with. We are all hungering for something. Me? I realise I am hungry simply for food.

This has been the persistent theme of morning meditation and yoga practise. Waking at 5:45 and under instructions not to eat or drink (too much) until breakfast time at 10am, my mind is already by 6:30am trying to figure out what to eat. Whether my tummy is ready for nourishment or not, my mind is moving in those old familiar circles, conjuring up enticing images of banana porridge drizzled with honey, omelettes with raita and roti, toast spread thick with homemade peanut butter and stacks of pancakes running with maple syrup, a pot of steaming hot coffee standing by. But I am meditating, I tell myself, and bring my myself back to the beam of clear white light emanating from the point between my eyebrows, my third eye or ‘ajna’ chakra. Sure enough, within minutes we are back there and with greater interest and attention: should I have the banana soya shake or the mango smoothie? The homemade muesli with nuts and coconut or the fruit salad and yogurt? If I had the muesli with curd then would I still want the shake? And so it goes on until I catch myself and bring my attention back, again and again and again to my third eye, a point of emptiness and peace, momentarily, from these cycles of samskara, the old familiar thought patterns that have become so enmeshed, so entrenched that I cannot distinguish them from myself – so loud and persistent are they that they seem to be all there is, all myself.

But I know this is not true. I am learning (relearning really) slowly that I can turn these thoughts off and when I do….? That is the scary thing, and my mind will try to frighten me that without these same old thoughts I will be lost, I will have nothing, life will be even worse. But, as I say, I know this is not true. I remind myself that without these thoughts I still have my breath, so I tune into this. Ah, that’s nice, a nice soothing sound, a peaceful wordless rhythm. Or is it? No, not much. It is short, choppy. It starts and ends in my chest, around my heart. The months and years of restricted eating and low-weight have put a strain on my internal organs, shrinking them, making them work harder – making my heart beat faster – to stay alive. I focus all my attention, engaging my well-trained stomach muscles and literally forcing the breath to move down deeper into my abdomen, then up into my chest and back down, rolling in and out in a wave-like motion to the sound of the waves on the beach just a hundred metres away. Imagining it massaging me, filling me, expanding me from the inside out, and focus here, inhaling and exhaling until the voices intrude and I am carried away again, bring myself back and start all over.

In the twenty minutes of meditation practise we do (after pranayama) I must gain only about five minutes of respite, of peace and ease. Tranquility. But what is better than that – at least for now – is that I am learning about myself, starting to feel and sense myself, my needs, listen to them, really wake up them in a way I have never had to do before, or at least, not for a long time – possibly the three years since I last dedicated a couple of weeks to just yoga and meditation. And what I am realising is how hungry I am and how long I have been hungry. How long I have been denying myself, ignoring these signals from my body and overriding them with the noisy chatter, the absolute controlling nonsense of my mind.

It came to a head two mornings ago when, after waking up moderately hungry, I finished meditation already totally ready for breakfast. Quick cup of tea? A banana? I don’t really like to eat or drink right before asana; even a cup of masala chai can leave me feeling sickly as we start to inhale rise up, exhale fold forward, jump back, through, up-dog, down-dog for half a dozen rounds of sun salutation. But, trying to be wise, I took the tea and watched hungrily as my friend tucked into her fruit, feeling the the pain and suffering of hunger growing as we began our class and with it the desire to leave.

But it was Joanna’s class, a modified Ashtanga – the idea being to go gentle and easy on yourself, so I made a deal with myself: I’d stay, take it easy and move through the first  half, just give my body a warming up, then I’d leave and do myself the greater kindness of having breakfast. And this is what I did, moving mindfully, feeling my body, feeling my energy low but pacing myself and actually managing to stay until the end, even through the Savasana (ironically, Corpse’s Pose – just about how I felt!) that I thought would be just torture to lie through, the ache of emptiness in the pit of my stomach, the desire for food clawing at my throat. I stayed. Albeit in tears as I realised that the suffering, the hunger I was feeling so acutely that morning, was a hunger I’ve been ignoring for a dozen years; the pain that I was suffering, a pain I’ve been inflicting on myself since I was 17.

As I say, we are all hungry for something. I was, then, at that age, hungry for life, for its opportunities; ambitious for knowledge, for credit, achievement, recognition. But in seeking to gain the world, I paid dearly – with my health, my heart, my soul. I put myself through slow starvation, an act I repeatedly keep coming back to – an old habit, a samskara so powerful and so hard to break.

But I am breaking it. I am literally breaking – breaking my heart, breaking down in meditation and asana, breaking the need to push, push, push myself… And so I am glad I stayed to the end of the practice, the hardest practice (ironically, given how slow and gentle it was) that I, perhaps, have ever done. Because with it this realisation came and promise, once again, never to put myself through such torture, but to start feeding myself body, mind and soul, working on building up the strength of my heart that I may live for and love myself – as well as all those around me. Because, as in meditation this morning when we were asked to look forward, backwards and sideways at all the people in our lives (past present and future), I know there are many people around me that I would wish to share my life with, give my time to and even be a mother to, but until I can sit and breathe easy for myself, I cannot hope to spare a breath – be it a kind word, a smile or a kiss – for all these others. So I am working on my heart, drawing life to it that it may shed life and light back out into the world. And if you wish to help me, join me, I ask you simply to repeat these words:

Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu

May all the beings in the world be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and freedom for all.