My way to yoga

As the title suggests, this short piece recounts the events that led me to start practicing yoga. Initially, it was supposed to be a mere introduction to a longer text on the benefits I reaped from the practice, but as it grew out of proportion, I decided to deal the topic in parts.

A stone in the neck

When I think about it now, I guess that my quest for yoga began as early as at the end of my adolescence. Until then, I had been a competition-level swimmer, but by the time I graduated from high school, I got tired of the ‘mechanical’ approach to training that competition requires.

As a consequence, I completely gave up sport for about 15 years. And, having missed out on many joys of life until then, I swung to the other extreme by picking up the classical trinity of bad habits: I smoked, drank and overate.

Since I reveled in my habits as a pig wallowing in shit, or more accurately like the devil in hell, I can’t honestly say that I regret those years of hedonism. Besides, having regrets is a thing for assholes.

But in retrospect, I see how fucking mistaken I was. As every transgression deserves its reckoning, mine crept in furtively at the end of 2019, like a thief on a cold winter night. And it manifested itself as long spells of awful, unexplained episodes of vertigo.

Just as things began to slip out of control, my doctors managed to find the culprit. It was a 5 centimeter-long tumor called the pleomorphic adenoma. Sounds exotic, doesn’t it? This foreign mass had nested itself deep inside my neck, blossoming in my right salivary gland like a pretty poisonous flower.

Now, don’t get all worked up! Because even though they could potentially become malignant, pleomorphic adenomas start off as benign tumors. And, it turns out that there is no research available as to precisely conclude what causes them. Talk about the wonders of modern fucking medicine! If a thing isn’t dangerous enough, they don’t even bother glancing at it. But they pride themselves to know how to treat it.

That is why I cannot tell you with absolute certainty that my lifestyle change of fifteen years ago is to blame for what had happened to me. My problem might very well have been genetic, or even completely random. After all, not every smoking motherfucker gets a tumor.

But that is completely besides the point. Because my ways of the last fifteen years have fucking redefined unhealthy, and that is a fact. The important thing to consider here though is what this diagnosis gave me: a big enough kick in the nuts for me to fucking wake up.

So, after a successful surgical removal of the tumour, I decided to take care of myself once again.

A sport with meaning

Noticed how I wrote ‘myself’?

Fifteen years ago, I’d surely have written ‘my body‘ instead. Fortunately, I wised up to healthy living since then. Not by fucking much, unfortunately, but enough to at least know not to treat my body like a mere machine anymore.

If my vertigo spells taught me anything, it was that the body isn’t a separate construct from the mind at all. Both body and mind are in fact one and the same. And even though what it produces is beyond the physical realm, the mind itself remains firmly grounded in the material domain. It’s a fucking oddity, a combination of organs, if you prefer, the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. That’s why a mind cannot function when unconnected from the body hosting it. At least, that’s how I see it. Take thoughts, for example. The fact that they are non-material does not mean that they exist in a void. Without the body, there can be no thoughts.

Knowing this, it seemed clear that if I wanted my efforts to have lasting effects this time around, I would need to find a sport that could harmonize mind and body.

But frankly, I had no idea where to even start looking. And yoga, sure as shit, wasn’t on my mind. In fact, it didn’t even make it to my brainstorming research list. No wonder, because back then, I saw yoga as nothing more than a semi-spiritual mumbo jumbo improperly imported from India by immature Western hippies. Moreover, I’m too much of a loner to even entertain the thought of going to a class full of enlightenment seekers with some bullshit George Harrison or Enya-type music playing in the background.

As time went by, I became increasingly desperate to find a ‘sport with meaning’, as I called it. I considered archery, fencing and kendo, but I didn’t like the idea of having to rely on an object in my practice. Also, even though these sports seemed great for concentration, I found them to be way too focused on specific body parts and technique. Like in swimming, they had that ‘mechanical’ aspect to them that I tried hard to avoid.

A few weeks into my search, I realized what I sought leant more towards art than towards sport. After reading this last sentence, I am sure some assholes will probably argue that all sports are art forms in their own right. That is unadulterated horseshit. But, I’ll leave assholes to their jobs. Let me explain myself, dear readers. While ice-skating or ballet undoubtedly have artistic elements to them, having eleven dudes run after a ball cheered by beer-drinking, swearing crowds cannot be construed as art in any fucking way. What it can be likened to, at its very best, is a modern parody of the ancient Roman circus, sans the courage of course. So no, all sports are not arts, only a few are. And I don’t care how well one can perform the v-pull.

But let’s leave the glamour of soccer behind and get back on topic. I still didn’t know what my recourse should be. I didn’t even have the beginning of a clue. And then, just when I was about to give up, I stumbled upon a book that would change everything. A book about India.

The eternal flow of the Ganges

Let me explain. Ever since I first heard about her in primary school, I’ve had the weirdest fascination with India. Even though I’ve never had the privilege to travel to this immense country, she’s always held the strongest pull over my soul.

Somehow, I felt a deep, almost filial connection to her. It’s as though India was my adoptive mother. So much so that I would like nothing better than to spend my last days on earth with her. To die looking upon the waters of the Ganges would be a singular privilege for me. But I am not done yet.

Over the years, this childhood fancy grew into something of an obsession. Quite naturally, I fed it by reading whatever I could get my hands on about India. And by the time I’d reached the sport conundrum we just discussed, I was devouring a wonderful introduction to Indian philosophy by the French Scholar, Emile Gathier.

To describe the all-encompassing scope of Indian thought, Mr. Gathier used a stunning metaphor. He compared its innumerable speculations to the never-ending flow of the Ganges. As I read on, I found his logic compelling.

But what I found most striking was how much Indian thinking, although highly intellectual, was also tangible. Many Indian thinkers didn’t seem to distinguish ideas from material objects as their Western counterparts did. On almost every page of Gathier’s well-researched work, I got a taste of what I would now deem Eastern practicality.

And that was enough. Even though yoga was only mentioned in passing by Gathier, I was convinced that if Indian philosophy could be so practical, maybe the physical discipline it imposed would have a strong mental aspect to it.

Given my prejudices, this was quite a leap of faith. At the same time, it made perfect sense both to my head and, perhaps more importantly, my heart. I guess my inclination to favour intuition suits me.

Flaming whirlpools

About two weeks later, I took my first private yoga lesson with a local Japanese mistress. In order to confirm my theory, however, I told her nothing about my reasons for taking up yoga.

She didn’t disappoint. The ninety-minute-long session was basic, but still proved a considerable challenge for my undisciplined body. As I went through the breathing exercises and my first few poses, I felt jolted by how weak I had allowed myself to become.

But, unlike when I was into swimming so many years earlier, I felt absolutely no frustration with my physical limitations, nor did I feel a compulsion to perform, either. Despite the pain I experienced, I felt an incredible wave of warmth curling everywhere on my skin, as if to signal a tide churning underneath.

By the time the physical part of the session ended, the warmth had become heat. And then, as my teacher induced me into a meditative state, I felt an army of flaming whirlpools rise to my head. And even though the heat was blazing my body, the light of its fire shone inside my head.

With the cold winter rain falling on the pavement outside, albeit for the faintest of moments, I understood with perfect clarity that my warm body, the icy raindrops, and even my racing thoughts were one and the same.

That was the day I adopted yoga as my new god. And the worship has been true pleasure ever since.