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On Yoga, Veganism and Wellness, part 2

Updated: Nov 11, 2021

Not long after my son’s birth, I left the studio that had been both my ‘spiritual home’ and a place of toxicity and dysfunction. I began to practice other methods of yoga that placed more emphasis on asana and pranayama practice than spiritual activism/veganism, and involved myself intimately with another studio’s opening. But as I started to mingle into the wider yoga community of London, I observed behaviour that made me yearn for the spiritual depth and discipline that included lifestyle, so inherent at the source of yoga. I felt I needed to somehow learn how to integrate those teachings into a sustainable balance for myself.

At the new studio I saw teachers coming in wearing fur coats; scarfing down plastic wrapped, meat sandwiches; an increase in botox and lip fillers; and the use of opiates and other substances all in a handicapped bathroom turned 'teachers lounge'. For me, yoga had always been about shedding layers - about becoming more authentic and accepting of the natural state - and I sought out others who also were on a path to being more comfortable in their own skin. I began to get the feeling that everyone and anyone could slap a teaching label on this thing that was coming collectively to be understood as ‘yoga’. There seemed to be a disconnection, and as much as I tried to mind my own business and withhold judgement on what was happening around me, I wasn’t there yet. I was affected by a loneliness within a community that existed, but which I didn't feel a part.

Over that same time period, I went into liver failure. I was unable to eat, and spent many months juicing vegetables to survive. After 8 months living on the edge, in, and out of hospital, I finally did get the call. Due to all kinds of complications, it took several months before things were stabile enough to go home. It was an intense period of practice for me, and I was hell-bent on continuing with veganism and practicing yoga asana to the best of my ability, even in hospital gown and iv drip. But during that time I intensified my understanding of other ways to practice. There was pranayama, meditation, and mantra. I am forever grateful to my teacher for taking time with me then, teaching me how to pray and chant to myself during this time; for recieving teachings on the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita; for staying connected. I was equally bowled over by the yoga community’s support; the community of which I didn’t really feel a part surrounded me with love. Unexpected visitors arrived almost daily. It was a beautiful moment of my life where I felt safe, connected, and protected.

Life outside the hospital, though, was waiting for me, an when I got there, the real challenges of healing began.

For many reasons, leaving the hospital was the catalyst for a new relationship with fear. The scaffolding of support that seemed ever present at the hospital dissipated while I rushed to try to return all aspects of my life to normal. A part of this was starting back to teaching and practicing before my wounds had even healed, not giving myself time to grieve or to connect with my adapted self to listen and understand what I needed. Instead, I was forcing myself into an old container that no longer fit. Moreover, my belief was that this was expected of me.

I did not realise it, but I was caught up in the net of Spiritual Bypassing, and had been for years. Not only this, but in retrospect I realise that the frameworks of yoga that I had revered and practiced with such earnestness seemed to almost support this notion of casting aside individuality and acknowledgement of painful experiences, in favour of showing up and doing the practice, regardless of what was going on inside.

Through all the years of practice and teaching, the term had never found its way to me, nor had I ever met anyone that challenged the idea that yoga could serve as a sidestepping of unresolved emotional issues and psychological wounds. Of course, as a teacher I observed students attending multiple highly physical classes a day, getting hurt, and continuing anyway. My early days of yoga were not so different, when I was using yoga much like the marathon running of my past - as an escape.

Spiritual bypassing is a way of hiding behind spirituality or spiritual practices. It prevents people from acknowledging what they are feeling and distances them from both themselves and others. Some examples of spiritual bypassing include avoiding feelings of anger, feeling disconnected or detached from the essential, intuitive self and being brainwashed into a belief system that masks authenticity.

Time ticked forward, and even while my practice was deepening and I was addressing the PTSD I had been left with post-surgery, life presented new challenges. My son was diagnosed with Autism four years after my transplant. This was an instense period of introspection, leading to a major upheaval, including a change in environment, to Surrey. Within a few months of the move, Covid broke out, and again there was a sweeping change in lifestyle, practice and before too long, an overhaul in diet (and the point behind how I came to write this).

part three (and conclusion) coming soon...

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