My ex-husband, whose opinion on yoga is that it’s boring and that it hurts, always used to say that everyone who is into yoga and meditation is unhappy. I used to disagree furiously. But actually he wasn’t entirely wrong.
If you are completely content, you will never seek change. You won’t look for a new job. You won’t end a relationship. Or actively look for new friends.
I have never felt like an unhappy person. But for as long as I can remember I have been searching for answers to the big questions. As a child the idea that the universe was endless frightened me. And when I found out that in that endlessness there also existed black holes; like pits of quicksand capable of swallowing entire planets, I was afraid to close my eyes to go to sleep. I always asked why. And I found that behind the answer to every why-question lurked yet another why question.
The idea that a God created the universe seemed ludicrous to me. But the Big Bang theory didn’t provide any satisfying answers either. I was surprised that these kinds of questions didn’t seem to concern many of my friends.
When I was in high school I had a sudden insight that my life was lived in the past and in the future, instead of NOW, as it was unfolding. About a year later I had another insight, that everything I did was done for selfish reasons. Even when the act seemed unselfish. That insight sent me to some pretty dark places. And now, looking in the rearview mirror, tracing my steps backwards, it was probably those two painful insights that inspired the path I am now walking along.
I was still in high school when a Hare Krishna devotee came by to speak to the class about his faith (as part of the religion curriculum). I was immediately fascinated and enchanted. I felt he had great answers (although I remember none of them now). Later, I went to the Hare Krishna temple in Stockholm, but that pissed me off. Women had to sit in the back, and on the altar were pictures of the founders along with flowers and trinkets. This sort of thing, the photos on the altar, is of course still very much part of the (Indian) yoga tradition today. You see it in many yoga shalas (even in the one I currently teach at). I don’t totally object any more, but I'm still not hundred percent comfortable with it either …
A year or so after finishing high school I traveled to India with two friends. I had barely heard of yoga, and my idea of it was quite vague. In my mind a yogi was some sort of sideshow circus freak, a guy with a long beard who could hang heavy weights from his nipples, who lays on beds of nails and can stay alive, submerged in waters for hours on end. A circus freak with magical powers. I wasn’t entirely wrong …
I had already had my first spiritual experience in London, when I dropped acid for the first time, and felt, with every bone, hair and pore, how everything in the universe was connected, knitted together with an invisible, yet strong yarn. And time stopped, as it does when you become fully present, and every moment revealed itself to be full of magic. I desperately wanted another taste of that. But because I was eighteen and not very wise but lazy, looking for shortcuts, I thought psychedelic drugs was where it was at. So as soon as my friends and I had arrived at our first Indian destination, The Osho ashram in Pune (were also Iyengar’s famous school is located, unbeknownst to me at that time), I started nagging them that we should go further south, to Goa, to drop acid and take E’s and rave on the beaches.
The Osho ashram for an eighteen-year old with no previous knowledge about Indian philosophy, other than what Hinduism basics I had picked up in high school and from the Hare Krishna, was a frustrating experience. I felt it cultish and fucked and I didn't want to subject to an HIV-test in India to fully be allowed to participate in the ashram activities.
I managed to convince my friends and after a few days we left for Goa. But we were such rookies that we didn’t manage to find neither raves nor drugs.
Later, after I had left my friends to travel alone, I met an Israeli guy who was on the run from the mandatory military service, and he taught me some yogic things. Like how to clean the nose with a neti pot, the tongue with a tongue scraper and a few basic stretches.
Fast forward another six or seven years, when I started practicing yoga on a regular basis in Brooklyn, New York. I came to the practice because I had heard it would be good for my back. I had recurring crippling back pain, and I knew I must do something about it.
It’s hard to tell whether yoga has made my back better or worse. Two summer’s ago, when I was diagnosed with three herniated disks, three (is a magic number) different doctors told me that it was surprising that I was even able to walk in that condition.
The Buddha said that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.
I have changed. But I am looking to change even more. I want to shed skin. Shake off unnecessary burdens. I want to see more clearly. I want to act rather than react.
In the meantime, I try to enjoy every step on the path.