In my early twenties, I was a troubled young woman. Growing up in the depths of communism in Czechoslovakia with an angry, abusive and unpredictable father, left me with a lot of post – traumatic stress. But, at the time, I had no idea why I felt the way I did.
I suffered from anxiety and debilitating panic attacks, I had zero confidence and rounded shoulders to express it. I was very quiet and I didn’t make friends easily. My back often hurt and my knees were weak. I was emotionally withdrawn and numb a lot of the time. But I had inner resilience and a strong survival instinct. I was a searcher. I was latching on to all things spiritual. I read Sartre.. then I discovered Osho. I wanted to go to India and meet a guru. I wanted to reach ‘enlightenment’.
At 22, I packed my backpack and the little English I had, and I embarked on my first ever flight. Australia was the destination. And then, a year later – my dream – India and Nepal. Backpacking around India was one of the best experiences of my life. But, it was one of the most humbling ones, too. It was not the experience I imagined. There was no guru waiting for me. Instead, I realized what a real poverty looked like. And that people can be happy under any external conditions. In fact, I have never met more genuinely joyous human beings than in India. I also reached my physical limit a few times. I got ill and I suffered from insomnia. I lost a lot of weight. I was quite the mess. I remember my mother bursting out crying, when she saw my frail figure standing at the door on my return!
But most importantly, while traveling, I got a taste of freedom. I no longer felt constricted to a place, or a job, or other people’s ideas of what I should be doing with my life. I understood that we all share a common humanity, no matter which part of the world we come from, or what conditions we are born into.
On my travels, I tried a few yoga classes here and there. While in Sydney, I signed up for my first yoga course (I think it was ashtanga). All I remember from it is that the teacher was a muscle-bound, topless guy. I don’t think I lasted more than 4 weeks! In India I met few ‘gurus’ but I was no closer to enlightenment. Yoga seemed to be something ‘out there’ that I could not grasp or understand.
It was in London in 1999, where I was selling jewellery at Camden Lock Market at the time, that I met my future. I will never forget the beautiful Victorian building in New Cross. Gold letters on the front of it read ‘Iyengar Yoga Institute of South London’. There was a phone number in the window. I used to change for a bus right opposite to it. One day, while waiting at the bus stop, I scribbled the number on a piece of paper. It turned out to be the contact for my first Iyengar Yoga Teacher – Glenys Shepperd. She was the founder and the teacher there. Glenys was a fierce lady and a larger than life character. She was a disciple of B.K.S. Iyengar of three decades.
The yoga Glenys taught wasn’t ‘out there’. There was no music or a candle in sight – quite the opposite. It was a very raw and grounding experience. It involved lots of hard work, sweat, determination, and the good kind of pain. It started to awaken muscles that I had probably never used before. It made me learn to inhabit my imperfect shape and shaky nerves. It made me breathe through all of it. It was asking of me to be fully present and aware of how I place my hands and feet.
I felt myself changing from class to class and I was totally hooked. I used to have a lot of nervous energy. Then one day, I noticed that my leg was no longer hopping up and down mindlessly, while sitting at a table. I started to discover stillness, and it felt so delicious. My nerves were strengthening along with my muscles and tendons. I started to become more confident and content in my own skin. Panic attacks disappeared.
Four years later, in Ireland, I become a yoga teacher of the Iyengar method. Unlike other aspects of my life, this happened quite naturally. It felt like it was meant to be. For somebody who was shy and terrified to speak in public, this was quite an achievement. As David Whyte says:
“We make choices in life until we have no more choice. That’s how we know that we have found the one life meant for us.”
And, that is exactly what Yoga and Yoga Teaching is to me. It is my health, my sanity, my livelihood, my future, my life. The depths of gratitude I feel towards BKS Iyengar and his method of yoga only keep growing with time. I am not enlightened in a way I imagined in my twenties, but I have greater capacity to feel. I am much more grounded to this earth. I have more generosity. My body is stronger and supple now in my 40s, than ever before. Yoga got me through two pregnancies, two miscarriages, divorce, bancruptsy, grief, and heartbreak.
I continue to share the practice of yoga with others, because it has been a life-saver and a life-giver to me. I passionately want others to feel the benefits too, and it feels like I have no choice, but to keep going. Enlightenment now means finding joy in every moment – to be present and equanimous through anything that life throws at us. I am a work in progress but it is a fascinating journey. Life is a wonder.