By Simi Melwani
My Yoga Journey
I grew up in a city of paradoxes; where the rich fill the apartment buildings lining the coast while the poor hustle for a living below, where both wealth and God are worshipped in equal measure and where the wilder the dreams, the better their chances are of becoming reality. Ask anyone who has visited Mumbai and they will tell you that the city is magical yet it is a nothing short of a sensory overload.
Add to that my confusing teenage hormones, my stressful struggle to survive in the glittering and cutthroat Bollywood industry, my search for love and stability, my quest for my own identity – and really that just about sums up the bulk of my teenage years.
Until I found Yoga. Or rather, Yoga found me. I still remember my first class. Like most people, I came to Yoga with the simple purpose of physical health and a good appearance. Being an actor and a model, it was a priority for me to turn my body into the most beautiful thing it could be. I remember enjoying that class and feeling like my body had gone through a good internal massage but what was more interesting rather than WHAT I felt was HOW I felt.
I walked away from that session feeling like I had met myself for the very first time. It was a high like I had never experienced before and it was a deeply personal, spiritual and emotional experience. As a matter of fact, the physicality of the session was a by-product of all else I experienced rather than the other way round.
I went back, again and again. The stress I had been battling within my hectic life was disappearing like a cloud and there was a spring in my step, a smile on my lips. I couldn’t explain it. The practice just made me happier. I couldn’t understand how something so physical could make me tune into myself so much.
I began devoting more and more time to Yoga and enjoyed it so much that I started my teacher training course. Before I knew it, my acting days were behind me. I became a full-time yoga instructor.
Yoga saved me. Not only the physical asanas but the meditation the pranayama (breathing exercises) completely changed my life. Being introduced to concepts such as Ishwar pranidhana (the power of surrender) and Santosha (contentment) made me look at life in a completely different way.
When I moved to London from Mumbai, I had to start afresh. I did love the city and there was no other place in the world I would have chosen to live but nevertheless, it came loaded with challenges. Other than my husband, I didn’t know very many people. I didn’t have a secure job. Winter came and that didn’t help. But the worse was the disconnect I felt with the yoga community back home.
I discovered studios close by and started attending classes. It wasn’t always easy. I didn’t have a driver’s license, I wasn’t familiar with the city and the weather would often turn on me. But I soldiered on, spending hours on my mat at home, making sure I never lost touch with the Yogi in me. But I missed both being a student and being a teacher.
One such day when the winds outside howled and the streets were covered in a blanket of white, I sat down with a mug of hot chocolate and began surfing online for home practice videos. That’s when I discovered UDAYA. It was a user-friendly website and had pretty much everything I needed. The biggest pull factor was I had actually attended the studio classes some of the teachers online. Being able to practice with them from the comfort of my home was like a dream come true.
Yoga is an ocean and no matter how much you take it from it, there is still more to learn. Every teacher comes to the mat with a different energy and I found that every online class was teaching me something new, inspiring me in a way it hadn’t been before.
Benefits of Home Practice
I cannot stress enough the benefits of having the discipline to practice at home. The greatest advantage is the absence of others. It is just you and you alone. Gone are the distractions that come with ten other people in the room. It is easier to tune into yourself and you will be surprised at how your relationship with yourself changes. Without any strangers in the room, you become aware of your mind and body in a more subtle, intimate way. You discover things about yourself you never knew and you clearly see your own thought patterns – both positive and negative. Armed with this clarity, you begin to go deeper into Dhyana (meditation) and Pranayama (breathing techniques). The mind becomes quieter, happier, centred.
Home practice also frees you from the confines of a set schedule. It will give you the flexibility to design your own space and time. You can work at your own pace, paying attention to your breath and muscles for as long as you need to in order to deepen the practice.
If you are one of those that worry about where they are with their practice and feel like they shouldn’t use aids like blocks or straps even if they need them, then at home practice will unshackle you from those notions as well. Because in the silence of your inner being wisdom will unfold and blossom. You will learn intuitively that Yoga is never about the perfect pose. Every practice is perfect and every pose is beautiful. You will find that even if you are working at a slower pace or if you are using aids for certain poses, what is most important is that you come to your mat every single day.
Daily practice is tapas – literally translated as fiery discipline or burning enthusiasm. Tapas is one of the five niyamas (observances) of the eight limbs of yoga in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. A strong home practice helps you cultivate tapas. Building discipline not only makes you feel a sense of achievement but generally builds self-confidence and gets those feel-good hormones flowing.
- Remember to try and practice at the same time every day and if possible, work in the same space with the same mat. The more the consistency, the less room for distraction.
- Choose a spot that is your own, that is free from disturbances and carries good energy. Your mat is sacred so make sure it is used by you alone and use it for nothing else but your Yoga.
- You may want to check out some of my collection at Melt Yoga. We make mats that are eco-friendly and recyclable. The idea behind the brand is for everyone to practice yoga with a clear conscience; with a true sense of dharma and a clean slate of karma. You can choose from a variety of colours and designs that reflect your own inner experience of the practice.
- I find that mornings are the best, at the crack of dawn if possible. But if you are not a morning person, anytime is fine. What is important is that you stay tuned and stay practising.
- It does not matter if you are a beginner or advanced. Start where you are. Don’t limit the experience of your practice with the aim of achievement of an external goal or an advanced pose. Let the internal and external alteration happen naturally and in their own time. Show up on the mat, stay with your breath and be compassionate with yourself as you discover yourself.
- Be consistent – Creating a practice is about finding a rhythm. Yogi Jigar Gor famously said, “Yoga is not about touching your toes, it’s about what you learn on the way down.”