I was about 15 years old when I came across a book on Yoga. I was drawn by the book cover, a picture of a man sitting cross-legged with his eyes closed. He had an expression of peacefulness and confidence on his face and a slim but strong-looking body. I read the book and was attracted to the combination of power and grace of the body positions the man assumed in the pictures, as well as by the claims regarding the benefits of Yoga on both physical and mental well being.
At the time I was spending long hours after school studying for the national exams in order to enter the University to study Psychology and my parents had just decided to separate. It was a particularly stressful time and I found that practicing yoga for half an hour every evening was very efficient in helping me relax. It also helped clear my mind and improve my concentration. The mother of a friend who is a Yoga teacher encouraged me to attend a few workshops and take a ‘Sadhana’, a personalised yoga practice, including body positions (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama) and meditation. This supported my development as a yogi and deepened my practice.
However it was years later that I realised what the most significant benefit of practicing Yoga had been for me. Having experienced physical and emotional abuse during childhood, I distanced myself significantly from my bodily and emotional experiencing, as a way to manage the pain and to deny the experience of being under threat of physical and psychological hurt by the very people who were supposed to protect and love me. So the solution I found was to dissociate, cutting myself off from my senses and feelings. This of course did not deal with the problem of the abuse itself and under the surface of a quiet and shy persona, I was always anxious and tense, which was in turn creating all sorts of psychosomatic symptoms such as tension headaches, nervous ticks and skin problems.
Yoga (and later therapy) helped alleviate some of the tension and allowed me to experience my body as a source of dignity, support and pleasure. It helped me gradually realise that it is safe to stay in touch with my bodily sensations and my feelings. It still helps me get better access to what I am sensing and feeling, which is so necessary in my work as a therapist, in my personal relationships, in making decisions and generally in being more present in the world. The word Yoga has been interpreted to mean ‘stillness of mind’ or ‘union’ and in my experience they both stand true. Yoga supported me to stay mentally stable in times of intense stress and anxiety and to improve the connection with my body, my soul and the world around me.