Exactly 20 years ago to the month I had my first monumental wake up call. At 26 I burnt out as a young corporate lawyer after years of pushing myself to the extreme at high school, university and then at a top tier law firm. Too many long hours, poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, pressure-cooker environment, little sleep, and binge drinking all culminated in finding myself lying flat on my back for 2 months with physical and emotional burnout. Every time I got up to go to work, the universe would raise its finger and strike me down. Bronchial pneumonia, an immune system that was completely shot, an osteo skeletal system that was so tight and ropey I felt like a wound up spinning top, and migraine headaches that made me want to jump off a cliff to end the pain. The universe was sending me clear messages that the way I was living wasn't sustainable. But I failed to heed to the warning bells my body was increasing screaming out until the sirens became so loud that one night I found myself in a hospital bed having wet myself from all the drugs I was pumped with and feeling poignantly the pain of (a wet) rock bottom.
As I lay in that bed staring at the ceiling I knew that my lifestyle was unsustainable and that big changes had to be made. I needed to learn the hard lessons and rewrite my life from scratch. But what would it look like and how would I do it?
While I knew I wasn’t happy in my job I didn’t know what else to do. I had no idea what my passion or purpose was back then other than a realisation that I was deeply unhappy and unhealthy and that I wanted something better for myself. It was a realisation that unless I turned my health around I couldn’t live a life of purpose and was only a fraction of who I could truly be.
I had no tools, no mentor, and no one holding my hand through the process. Podcasts, blogs and social media did not exist. No doctor I saw ever asked about my diet, my sleep, whether I was exercising, whether I enjoyed my work or was happy in my relationship, whether I was stressed out of my brain or whether I ever saw the light of day. All I knew is that I felt broken, lost, confused and alone.
Until I worked out the bigger picture and hence my next move, in the meantime I would have to stay the course as a banking and finance lawyer BUT I instinctively decided to make 2 changes immediately:
Firstly I decided I wanted to spend my weekends bushwalking as a way of immersing myself in nature and getting some exercise and fresh air. This started a life long passion of hiking and trekking taking me to numerous places around the globe.
Secondly I wanted to try yoga. Back in 1999 yoga was still very alternative. People had only just started talking about it in the west and there were literally only a handful of yoga studios to choose from. I remember one of the partners at the law firm responding with "Why on earth would you want to do THAT?!" when I told him I was off to try yoga after work.
I don't know why or how these 2 things came to me but somehow they felt intuitively right. It was though I instinctively knew that they would provide nourishment for my broken body and depleted soul. It was these 2 things that kick-started my journey into healing myself and then my life’s work in health and wellness. My passion for traditional wholefoods followed in the ensuing years as one door opened another and another....
I can’t say I loved my first Hatha yoga class but afterwards the teacher looked me in the eye and said "You have a lot of fire in you. I think you should try Iyengar yoga." I had never heard of that before. I found an Iyengar yoga school down the road from me in Melbourne where I lived and I was hooked after my first class. It was like a light bulb that went off inside me and I couldn’t get enough of it. Like a child starved of nourishment, I lapped up every instruction and found myself counting down the hours to the next class. It was dynamic, intense, precision focused, and deeply relaxing all at once. It was exactly what I needed physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Iyengar yoga is not trendy. You won't find flashy yoga studios. You won't see instructors and participants clad in the lasted active wear. There's no slick sexy marketing campaigns. There's no franchises and you won't get the feeling that you're in the latest "it" place. But there’s a deep well of rich instructions that form a strong foundation for the most rigorous practice I’ve come across.
From there started a passion and deep respect that has lasted 20 years to the month. I've tried many systems of yoga during that time but I keep coming back to Iyengar. Before I had my kids, I would average approx 10 hours of practice a week but since having children my practice has been very sporadic and, at times (for months or even years), non existent. But like a cherished friendship with a life long friend, yoga is now so deeply ingrained in the fabric of my DNA that I simply pick up from where I left off when life affords me the opportunity.
What has 20 years of yoga taught me? More than I can articulate but set out below are 7 of the most unexpected and potent ways that yoga has enriched my life:
1. I’ve learnt that it all starts with becoming more conscious about ourselves
The point of yoga is to raise one’s consciousness. Starting with becoming more conscious about myself, I learnt how I was so out of deeply out of touch with my physical (and hence emotional) being. Yoga took me to places I never knew existed in myself. I learnt how unbalanced the right and left side of my body were, how the reason for many of my osteo skeletal issues stemmed from a broken collar bone from birth, and how inflexible I had allowed my body to become. Just to name a few.