One year ago today I had the surreal experience of landing at Heathrow Airport in the same terminal from which I had left the UK 6 months earlier. In June 2015, I left London with the Beast (my backpack) wearing a somewhat sophisticated light grey colour co-ordinated outfit – lightweight summer trousers, vest top, cardigan, brand new lightweight (and vegan!) pumps and a wicker sun hat al a The Del Monte man. I felt like a young Joanna Lumley (sponsored by GAP) off on my greatest adventure!
I returned home on 28 November 2015 to the sparkling mayhem of festive decorations, themed sandwiches and cheesy Christmas adverts. My return outfit was not quite so stylish… leggings under some fishermans trousers (braced for the winter chill), now battered and worn out vegan pumps, an alpaca jumper from the foothills of the Himalayas (which I still wear even though I can see from my mother’s eyes that it simply does nothing for me), an om necklace, a nose piercing and a slightly dirty looking complexion (I’d say 80% of that was a tan…). The grey trousers had been ditched at the earliest opportunity as had most of the original contents of the Beast – turns out that you all you really want over there is a pair of loose drop crotch fishermans pants in a variety of colours which you can buy practically for pennies. Who knew?! The hat made it back though and remains crumpled in the bottom of my wardrobe awaiting its next adventure.
I celebrated my return to home soil with a cheese and pickle Pret baguette (a firm lunchtime favourite during those legal years in London) and whilst waiting for my last flight home to Manchester I rang my mum. The whole family (not including Buster) were coming to the Airport to collect me and I’m pretty sure it was to guarantee I actually returned home! Back in June, they (and I!) thought I was only going away for 3 months but after a couple of lengthy emails and face time calls from Cambodia 6 weeks in to my trip it turned into 6 months. I’d never been so free, so far away and so unpredictable so I could appreciate the slight concern!
I remember sitting at Heathrow and how it all felt slightly out of body – to return home, to be surrounded by British people, and see the abundance of artificial light and wealth that’s around us all the time. It felt safe but also a little suffocating with its controlled style I suppose but I had just flown back from India, the maddest wildest country I have so far explored which puts this into context a little. I was ready to come home and see my family but the transition home over the following few weeks was rather bumpy. I missed India and my new friends who ‘understood’ me – who had made similar decisions to shake life up a little and who were also finding it difficult to come back down to reality. I remember feeling rather numb thinking: “well, what comes next?” “What on earth do I do next?” It was the first time I had no job, no reason to set an alarm to get up in the morning and nothing to while away the hours of the day when my friends were at work. I was (and remain) living with my parents and I remember feeling a little like a failure at life. I felt scared too because I knew I had to try something new, that this was healthier for me than going back to London and hiding again in the busyness and noise of my old life. But in those first few weeks back home last year I felt more lost than I had felt when I was aimlessly wandering around India and SE Asia.
The last few weeks have been slow and quiet for various reasons. My patience is being tested and I’ve also had the delightful tummy bug that’s going around too. So lots of enforced time of self-reflection and talking to Buster, the Dog. Yes, I talk to him. That’s normal, right? In my restless state I have realised that despite my yoga knowledge and practice, I am still struggling to learn how to rest and slow down after all those years of pushing myself with constant distraction, intellectual stimulation, social activities and enjoyment of alcohol. That despite the yoga, despite being happier and healthier, I still have those moments of worry and concern that I am without a long-term plan, and without a clear direction which really is just me still struggling to accept that I am not in control. That none of us really are. I used to focus on my career to guide me, to feel a sense of progression. It’s easy in the legal profession – they give you job titles and everything. I used to focus on my holidays too – something to work and get excited for, the countdown and something to plan. Undertake, and repeat. I used to shop and spend my hard earned money on dining out, on going out and on binge shopping in Mango but I can’t afford to live that way at present and in my heart I know I no longer really want to. Don’t get me wrong, I still love a good glass (or four) of red wine and a dance but I don’t find the same enjoyment I used to in spending money. And that was as unlikely a change as was the vegetarianism!
So, one year on and where am I?
Well, I am still a vegetarian. And I am still happy with that choice. The lack of suitable dining options in Southport has not broken me! I still practice yoga just for me and I’ve found a deeper connection and importance to that routine, in making that physical and emotional space for myself in some way every day. I have been improving upon my headstand and a little with my crow pose but I still generally suck at meditation, unless using the time for planning and daydreaming counts… which I know it doesn’t.. Tsk.
I have taught over 350 hours of yoga to the general public in Southport and I have the deepest pleasure of continuing to share yoga with regular students of mine. I have taught many different types of people and had some intensely satisfying moments where I have felt that a student has connected more deeply with yoga and found something – that magic, that spark that I feel. That there’s more going on than just ab strengthening. I have helped mums to be through their journey through pregnancy, and I have held their little babies during my postnatal yoga classes where I continue to help mums to find some time for them.
I have seen and felt the busyness and stress in people I meet, as well as in myself (I am not cured – for most of this year I have tried to prove to myself and others that quitting law and teaching yoga was not a ridiculous thing to have done). I have felt that frenzy of energy in all of us to keep up, to justify your time and existence, and the fight to do it all, be it all and to then swallow the challenges and the hard times which come along too. That people (including myself) try to block or hide from pain and sadness rather than try to accept it, feel it and let it be. I have witnessed that most people do not take any real time for themselves, to care for themselves, to slow down and let themselves rest. I have watched those that choose to try yoga for the first time – some who dislike how unusual it feels to rest and be still, and some who come back for more. I have seen friends and family try yoga and for the most part fall away. Dear loved ones, please forgive my yoga cheerleading this past year and know that I am not arrogant enough to suggest that yoga is the right soothing tool for everyone.
I have finally begun to accept that the truth of yoga is to do it for you – and only you. That my enthusiasm and faith in yoga, and my feeling that it could really help my nearest and dearest is not to be furthered by nagging and forcing them under a lavender eye pillow. That the real power in yoga and meditation is discovering it for yourself, in your own time, in your own way and that I am there for those who wish to come to me, to help themselves, for their own reasons which I will never know as we are each on our own journey. I am learning, on and off the yoga mat, that I cannot help people help themselves and that when I try to do so I just divert my attention from the fact that I need my continued help, love and support.
It occurred to me that when I left the UK last year, I just left, I reacted. I had no real aim other than to get away from my life and feel free. It was the first time I listened to my gut instinct, stopped doing the right thing and took a leap of faith. It only struck me a few months ago that it was the start of the most powerful and beautiful journey of my life – my spiritual journey. One I had been blind to until then and one I obstinately never thought I would seek and continue to work on back in the UK. Part of that growth has involved developing my love and faith in myself. I have made myself do things that scare me like chanting Sanskrit in Southport – just my voice in front of other people. I have written in this blog and talked to many many people openly from my heart about stress and anxiety and that breakdown I had last year or breakthrough as I see it now. And I have opened my heart to love others even in the fear of getting hurt, and of being hurt. And I wasn’t open to that for many years.
After leaving India, leaving yoga teacher training, I have carried on making small changes and taking small steps forward with the odd stumble in between. It hasn’t been easy. I haven’t achieved what I thought I wanted in some ways and I still feel a little lost at times. But I have dreams. I have big dreams but I am learning to accept that I don’t know the path forward and that it’s more important to remain open to whatever comes your way than just focusing on achieving one goal which you think is best. And that, dear Readers, remains a rather hard pill for a stubborn Taurean to swallow!
Most importantly, I am learning that in order to change my life, to find deeper happiness and peace, each day must begin or involve an action of change in doing something positive for myself. That the choice I make is to set an alarm, to find my leggings and my yoga mat and chant Om. And from that follows the continued hope and faith that I have so much more to learn, to share and to love.
And when I stop to slow down, to catch my breath and think about all that has passed I realise that it’s not so shabby for 365 days! I remain ever so grateful to my teachers, near and far, and to everyone who has been part of my life this year. Here’s to another year on.