In part 1 of Mind, Body and Soul with Aisha Chapra, I discussed that yoga is a way to “wake up to who you are.” In this second installment of the series, I want to describe how yoga and I met.
My first memory of yoga is in sunny Karachi with my mother in an exercise studio that my aunt owned, when I was 6 or 7 years old (late 1980’s). I was young and I loved it. In my summer dress, a strange kind of child, I would play and relax quietly around women who were practicing yoga and distinctly remember being soothed by the calm voice of the yoga instructor during relaxation at the end of the yoga class.
How Yoga & I Met
The next time I came across yoga was around 17 years later in 2005. My roommate, also a childhood friend, insisted I try yoga to help me to cope with an incredible amount of work stress. I found myself at a small yoga studio on U Street, called Boundless Yoga, in Washington D.C. I had been very scared to go and not interested for years to move my body. I had put on weight, tired eyes, and was emotionally unstable. Luckily I quickly found a class I really loved. Truly. That was the teacher’s name. She was beautiful, kind and made us feel like we were goddesses/gods by the end of class.
That’s the yoga that first spoke to me. I just loved the slow stretches and flowing movements. I started to attend the yoga classes regularly and my favorite class was on Friday evenings after a challenging week at work and I remember being rejuvenated for the weekend.
I moved to Toronto in 2006 with the kind of ambition that leads one to do everything and anything to make something of myself. I worked more than I can imagine now and did not make the time to continue my yoga practice which I had developed in Washington DC. But fortunately two years later when I was at my wit’s end, soul crying, body hurting, and mind-madness of all kinds yoga came back. This time I was forced to go to yoga class by that same friend, got there, took a stretch and cried. I promised myself that I would come to this class every week, at Yoga Sanctuary, on Sundays at 1:30 with Senem. Those classes are imprinted in my heart. For the first time in my life I received glimpses of what it would be like to be free from my mind! My pain-full emotions!
Thankfully, yoga has not left me since and with the grace of God I have been dedicated to my practice through the good and bad times. There is no prescription to this relationship but it continues to do its magic on me. It unravels me and puts me back together. Yoga makes reality a journey, a process, an experience that is right now and nowhere else. This gift has unfolded into a life that can experience abundance and gratitude even in times of deep constriction. It has led me to teachers and friends for me to see what a real community offers: spirit, safety and loving-kindness. After moving back to Karachi in 2009, I completed my first yoga teachers training in 2010 and today my life continues to be enriched with my practice.
When I reflect on my story with yoga it is evident to me that yoga showed up whenever I was suffering from mental, emotional and physical stress. And I needed to be woken up. When you’re in deep sleep, and you’re lucky, something will happen to shake you out of your numbness. Though I did not have the ability to see the benefit in difficult experiences in my past, today I can see the exquisite design of my life with awe and gratitude.
In the Quran it says that the whole universe cannot contain God, but the heart of a believer can. It is that potential in all of us that awakens when we realize suffering is not our natural state and that escaping suffering through our usual distractions (too much work, intoxicants, etc) leads to more pain. There’s no escape, just a delaying of what is inevitable. So if we get the chance, which we do in every moment, we commit to waking up. We commit to integrate internally, to be the free bird and the rooted tree all at once, to be in love with our own humanness, and humanity.