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My Transformation

“Within us lives the most calm, serene lake of wisdom, the most beautiful, powerful pond of kindness, compassion and clarity. Let us understand and let us dive into it within ourselves.” ~ Yogi Bhajan

Who am I? This question has occupied my mind very strongly after my age of 35, at a time that I felt deeply alienated from the world around me - both in emotional & intellectual level. Everything & everyone was unfamiliar, was standing far in distance, cold, threatening and not charming at all. I had no interest or curiosity to discover them anymore, neither to accept them, to approach them, to love them or to understand them. I was very much in a defence mode and became selfish for my own needs and for my family. I was also in need of to be accepted, to be loved, to be approved, to be seen and to be understood more than ever. With this conflicting state of mind, I suffered A LOT! The more I tried to protect myself from harm, danger & nonsense around me by wearing my shield of a firm & "strong" woman, the more I became a vulnerable person.

Life is not always fair, so it gets and pulls us to the deep by leaving scars in our minds & hearts many times since we were born. Sometimes we find the bottom, sometimes we rise up, but mostly life allows us to float. In this ocean of ups & downs, I am a survivor of a horrifying mental health battle which trapped me years ago in my last work place. I ended up with a long term sick-leave from this office job due to PTSD caused by organised work-place harassment, bullying & discrimination of my employer (the CEO and few of his managers). It was one of the darkest times that I ever could experience. It was a time that I lost my faith in humanity completely. Then one day, I chose the ancient wisdom of yoga as my only inspiration, as an absolute and the only way of life. I started to practise yoga & meditation almost every day not just on the mat but also by reading its main texts (Svadyaya) again and again, chapter by chapter until I became able to LET GO with no attachment & fear. I completed my yoga teaching diploma training with a greater focus, and I created an amazing yoga community (a Sangha) in my local area where its members could find a refuge for transforming their own lives. Yoga saved my life, would save many more!

Since my first-ever yoga class, yoga has always been a great “life ring” for me in this hectic, stressful and busy world. I benefit from the yogic life style every single day to maintain my good health & happiness, to find physical, mental and emotional flexibility, resilience and harmony and to cope with everyday situations. Because of its holistic approach to the human body & mind, it gradually helped me to develop a better understanding about myself and a better relationship with the people around me. It also completely changed my perception of Nature and has helped me to grow within. Yoga’s ancient philosophy and its practices (breathing and posture practices, mindfulness, meditation, special forms of active resting, restorative yoga, yoga nidra, mantras, chanting, using mudras etc.) keep me always on track and allow me to come back to my factory settings whenever I feel blue, confused or imbalance in my body, mind and heart. It aids and supports my total wellbeing so much when the contemporary western medicine & pharmacy fall short or not helpful enough to regulate and maintain a high quality of life in my body. I feel more energetic as well as well rested, younger but wiser, connected, calmer and more fun.

Today, I still ask the same question to myself though: Who am I? But the difference is, I stopped seeking the answer from others or trying to define myself according to the given identifications. Today, I know that “Within us lives the most calm, serene lake of wisdom, the most beautiful, powerful pond of kindness, compassion & clarity..." and I merrily dive into this beauty to find the answers!

Catherine's Transformation

"Just notice how you feel, without judgement..." ~ the Hatha Teacher

Having a regular yoga practice has definitely changed my life. It’s difficult to sum up exactly how, but I’m grateful that the task was to write about this in words, because I don’t think a picture would do it. There isn’t a dramatic ‘before and after’ yoga photo, in which I can now get my legs behind my head, or have visible abs. My asana practice has definitely progressed, and I feel stronger and more flexible. But that’s only part of the story. Physical fitness would improve with consistency in any sport or practice. What makes yoga different? Well, it’s the inner world where the magic really happens.

Yoga is so much more than just another fitness class, or something to add to your regime to work on your flexibility, though it absolutely can do that as well. The most significant thing I’ve gained from yoga is increased awareness. Like many people who ‘find’ yoga, I started going to regular classes during a pretty rough patch in my life. It was a little oasis of time, an hour a week when I could just forget the pain and stress I was feeling, and take some time out for me. I always felt so much better after a class. The practice of synchronising breath to movement, noticing patterns in the body and mind, and relaxing at the end felt like it was somehow healing me or, to be more accurate, empowering me to begin to heal myself.

I can even pinpoint a bit of a lightbulb moment. The Hatha teacher asked us to bring our attention to how our bodies felt in a particular pose. ‘Just notice how you feel, without judgement,’ she said. I was floored by that simple cue. As I followed her direction, I realised just how much I was judging myself all the time, and in so many ways. This became the first practice I took off the mat and into my everyday life. The next time something triggered me, I thought of her calm instruction. I tried it. Notice how I felt? Easy enough, I felt pretty awful. Without judgement? That was harder. I took a deep breath and tried to let go. I can’t say it worked instantly, but the seed of awareness had been planted, and it was this that slowly began to change me.

A more conscious approach gradually began to seep into other areas of my life. Yoga asana was like a starting point to inspire me to notice more and more. If I couldn’t get into the full extension of a pose, I asked myself why. Was it that my hips were tight? Did I need to strengthen my shoulder girdle more? And this curious, playful approach, coupled with the alien new practice of being kinder towards myself, spilled over into everything I did. Why did certain people respond to me in certain ways? Could I change that with my own energy, my own attitude? Did I need to protect myself more, or less, in different scenarios? Were my typical responses to situations serving me, or were they keeping me on a track I hadn’t truly chosen? I felt as if I was getting back in touch with myself after a period of unknowing dissociation.

At the outset of this post I said yoga had changed my life, but on the surface, my life itself is much the same. So I guess the real change is in my outlook. Yoga has equipped me with the tools to cope with the difficult times: breathing exercises for anxiety, meditation practice for calmness and clarity, strong vinyasa flows for fitness, yin classes for surrender and passive stretching. I couldn’t be without a regular yoga practice now.

In fact, I can’t quite believe this myself but I’m about to start yoga teacher training. It’s an uncertain time to be a yoga teacher and I can’t be sure where this journey will take me. But some deep instinct in that newly-awakened consciousness is telling me this is the path to be on. One day I hope to teach classes that welcome absolutely everybody to the yoga mat. We all deserve access to the knowledge that unravels when we begin to learn this ancient wisdom.

Gill's Transformation

"When the student is ready, the teacher will appear!" ~ Zen Quote

I am into my 4th year of my yoga journey and never for a minute did I realise where it would lead!!

I was an unfit 53 year old and had been looking for a while for ‘something’ that I could enjoy rather than just do. I had tried the usual … gym, running, aerobics, aqua classes, zumba, trampolining all with varying degrees of success/engagement. I was ‘over’ my current class and was looking for the next possible winner! I had always niggles - lower back pain, tight muscles in my neck and shoulders, creaky knees. I didn’t want to start "oohing" and "agghhing" as I got up, sat down, bent and knelt. I was still young (on the inside)!

Why did I look at yoga classes? I don’t know … it was one that I hadn't tried before and I’d heard it was good for flexibility. Give it a go!

Why did I pick Yoga with the Crow? Because it was in a church hall not in a fancy studio. I was self conscious, stiff and didn’t want to walk into a group of bendy ladies clad in Lycra!!!

I did not realise then how yoga would impact me at so many different levels. I have become interested in all the facets of yoga - the history, philosophy, the eight limbs (whats this you ask - well I’ll leave you to find out!). Aslihan has developed and grown her practice to include workshops, sound-baths and yoga retreats as well as classes. All of which I have embraced to learn, to continue to grow and develop and learn about myself. During classes Aslihan refers to and explains the philosophy. It’s another thread if it interests you; another tangent but not forced…no ‘hippy dippy’ here!!

Somethings I like, somethings are not for me (at the moment) but yoga is like a smorgasbord …you can try all the bits and see what you like! Through lockdown I’ve have had time to work on my practice of breathing exercises and meditation (which not only helps to calm and relax the mind and body but has real health benefits e.g. lowers blood pressure which improves heart health). I can see a definite improvement in the strength of my diaphragm and breathing. Not bad for someone who just wanted to be a bit more flexy!!!

On her website, Aslihan has a zen quote “when the student is ready the teacher will arrive” and this was so true for me. I walked into a warm. welcoming environment, no judgement, no pressure… and it still is today. The classes are made to be all encompassing - modifications for each posture to suit all abilities - gentle for new comers and stronger if you want to go deeper. There is a sense of community among the students - we chat and laugh but don’t judge or criticize. We even meet up socially!

Four years forward I am pain-free ….. my lower back pain has ceased completely and my knees no longer creak! I am still a work in progress and will continue to be and that's fine. However I am stronger and fitter…and have much more flexibility! I have learned how to look after my body. I respect how important the body is … as a whole. I discovered that my upper back pain came from tight hip muscles…who would have guessed???

I am looking forward to the next decade and enter it feeling at my current best. Not just physically but mentally and emotionally.

I’m so glad that I chose yoga and know that this has become a life change for me. My only regret? That I didn’t discover it years ago!

Breathe well, flow well, connect well!

With Peace, Love and Joy!

Aslihan (the Crow), Catherine S. & Gill Q.

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