Finding peace on a yoga mat


Today is International Yoga Day, which gives me the perfect excuse for some reflection.

A friend got me to attend my first yoga class at Pacific Plaza in 2010.

At that time, I was just about to turn 40 years old. I was no longer a spring chicken. I had given up the battle of attempting to get fit after my second child was born and, like most despairing mothers across the globe, had convinced myself that my pear-shaped body was here to stay.

I reconciled myself with my body shape by drinking more white wine and munching on more curry puffs.

Before attending the yoga class, friends had extolled the benefits of yoga to me. "Life changer," I was told.

As a journalist, I think I was curious to see if all the global yoga hype was justified. During the first class, the postures were not too complex, yet I could barely stretch. Yet even when my body was at its most inflexible, the yoga teacher had me hooked from the word go.

In Yoga: The Science Of Living, Indian spiritual teacher Osho writes: "Remember, nobody can start it for you. You have to start it for yourself. Yoga teaches you to trust yourself; yoga teaches you to become confident of yourself. Yoga teaches you that the journey is alone. A master can indicate the way, but you have to follow it."

My cynical, questioning self opened up to that possibility - of a master indicating the way and making the choice to follow it.

After many false starts in getting fit and after a series of trainers who had given up on me, I finally found what I was seeking in a simple yoga mat.

The tonal variations, the range of poses. In just 60 minutes, I went from a gentle meditative state to an intense Surya Namaskar workout. My heart pumped like it rarely had before and then my body relaxed as it slipped into Shava Asana (The Corpse Pose). It was a physical and emotional release like no other.

There was a line I heard in 2010, which I would hear many times again in the classes I started attending. "No ego, no comparison, no competition."

It seemed too good to be true - this six-word mantra. It seemed too idealistic to try, but try I did. I started fitting at least three yoga classes each week into my busy work schedule. During holidays, I did more.

At some point, while I was not looking, I began looking different and, well, feeling different. I remember that moment when I could fit into a size 10 H&M dress my daughter had picked for me.

But my yoga journey has not simply been about the challenges of losing weight and keeping fit.

Yoga has taught me how to cut out the surround sound, to stay singularly focused. I am an inherently restless soul who gets bored easily. I am constantly seeking new things to do, yet yoga has kept me rooted. It has allowed me to channel moments of stillness which I never knew existed. It is in those very moments that new beginnings showed up.

In 2013, I went on a sabbatical to write my debut novel, The Red Helmet, about love and loss against the backdrop of 1980s India. I do not think that I could have finished the novel if not for the sheer discipline I had learnt from doing yoga.

Yoga has taught me to focus my mind, to cut out the chatter, to put my cellphone on silent and not give in to the temptation to touch it for the next 60 minutes.

Doing yoga is like going on a journey. Because once you start, there is always a second and a third time.

You see, once you are on a mat, you simply stop counting. You learn to go with the flow.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 21, 2015, with the headline 'Finding peace on a yoga mat'. Print Edition | Subscribe