Meditation and yoga have always been there as useful tools in my life and have kept me in balance. However, my relationship to them has always been complex, as I have never truly understood why I get so much from them. As I turned 30 I decided to take this further and I signed up for a yoga teacher training.
The year of my training I felt so connected to my body, to a deeper sense of purpose, and part of a community with my fellow students. It was in many other ways a very difficult year for me, but I was buffeted from the external storm by my focus on my yoga practice.
During the last half of the Teacher Training (TT), I started teaching small intimate groups of friends. I felt like I was sharing my learning with them, it felt beautiful and life-affirming. Then my TT came to an end. I wanted to learn more but had already been away so much on training. I needed to earn money not to spend it. Going from student to teacher overnight, the weight of responsibility was stifling.
Then a local physiotherapist came along to one of my classes. I had really enjoyed the anatomy part of the teacher training and liked bringing awareness of this into my classes. As I stood there with the physiotherapist in front of me, I suddenly felt like a fraud. How did I know what I was saying was right?. I started to question the things I was readily spouting during the class ‘It is soothing to place your forehead on the mat during child’s pose, because you have lots of nerve endings in your forehead….’ Do you? Had I seen them? No. Did I know this without any doubt? No. I realised any reasons I had for why yoga worked were simply regurgitated opinions.
Doubt rarely trickles, it floods. I began to feel overly self-aware of the image attached to yoga, and what people might think of me. People started to talk to me about all things esoteric as if being a yogi automatically meant I was a fully signed up believer in crystal healing, vision quests, and conspiracy theories. I freaked out. And I quit. In a wild pendulum swing, with no space to breathe in-between I set off on a quest for hard fact.
A return to study.
I signed up for a health science degree with The Open University, wanting to understand how my body worked. I wanted to know what was happening in my lungs when I was Ujjayi breathing. Why my legs effortlessly glided into the air when I reached a certain angle during the assent to headstand. By the end of the first year, I realised that (to me anyway) science is wild and bonkers and not at all rational. I found myself crying at the romance of Ionic bonds. And saying allot of ‘Uh-huh. That’s what you do is it body? O.K well that makes a whole lot of sense, you crazy loon’. I accepted that, whether I could explain it or not the body was a mysterious and wonderous thing. And I made my peace with not fully understanding the science of my body and moved on to the mind.
I switched degrees to Psychology. I wanted to understand the psychology of religious beliefs and practices, and why I got so much from my yoga practice. But I found I felt uncomfortable with the superiority that pyschologists like Freud held themselves in. Particularly when explaining the irrational behaviour of seemingly lesser humans who needed such vices as religion or spirituality. Again after a year, I had seen enough to realise that psychology didn’t have all the answers. Relieved that I was freed from the endless loop of spell checking psychology I decided to look again at the subject list. I let myself choose a subject that I felt truly connected with, rather than one I felt I should understand to justify my actions.
Finding my way.
I made my final move onto the new Religion, Philosophy, and Ethics degree with The Open University. I am halfway through and have so far been focusing on Religious Studies (RS).
What I love about the method of study in RS is that it comes from a place of acceptance of what societies, cultures, and individuals do. Instead of picking at how a person, society, or culture ‘should’ behave, it seeks to build empathy and understanding. Within the discipline of RS, there is an acceptance that relationship with religion, spirituality, cultural practices, rituals, and actions is messy and complex. Yet scholars of religion are not scared of delving into a subject deeply private and often taboo to talk about, instead, they delicately seek to gain and spread cultural understanding and to celebrate diversity. Religion is sensory, it is experiential, it is not something easy to rationalise, and in Religious Studies, there is, it seems to me no attempt to do so, only ever a quest for a deeper understanding.
After my first year of studying RS, I feel more connected to global affairs, to other traditions and cultures. And I feel that ultimately, I have made peace with some aspects of myself. I have accepted that I have an affinity with yoga. I feel at peace with the world when I am moving my body to the rhythm of my breath or sitting cross-legged and connecting to a sense of something greater than myself. RS has taught me that its O.K, that I can be softer with myself and see myself as something worth trying to build understanding with, rather than always trying to justify my actions.
I do however know that the questioning voice of reason and logic inside my head is not going anywhere. And that I will never be truly comfortable with anything unless I have examined it from all angles. My hope is that the philosophy module I am starting in October (alongside another RS module) will help me to find a balance between these facets of my nature.
I am really comfortable returning to being a student and I am loving my studies with The Open University. Finally, I feel like I have found my way, or at least the first step on the path.