Give (Up) and You Shall Receive – #2 by Mario Toon

Four weekends of YTT flew by, just like that.

In this past weekend we learned about the Four Paths and the Eight Limbs of Yoga, and after class last night while waiting for the final Gameweek of the Premier League to start, I reflected about how I might have applied the Paths and Limbs of Yoga to my daily life unknowingly.

Even before I started practicing yoga, when I read or hear about people discussing “philosophies” and “theories” of yoga, they were often delivered in an off-putting manner. “Becoming a vegan for yoga is the best thing I’ve ever done, it helps me achieve my zen” was one of the most common things I’ve heard. A lot of that noise deterred me from having a deeper understanding of the topic, for fear of being sucked in to what I deemed pretentious.

This weekend, however, I learned that that could not have been farther from the truth: Yoga, in its essence, is about how to become a better person, in body and in soul.

In this post I’ll share another story of my yoga journey, about how the meaning of yoga changed for me over the little time I have spent practicing yoga.

In the first few months of my yoga journey I considered my interest in yoga was just an infatuation. I’ll get bored of yoga eventually, I thought, and I’ll go back to just playing competitive sports without looking back.

Imagine my surprise when I realised how wrong I was.

At this point of time my spinal issue has gotten much better, but I still had difficulty doing fundamental poses properly. Couldn’t touch my toes, couldn’t do simple backbends, couldn’t do any arm balances or inversions. As much as I constantly told myself that my yoga was just a personal tool for physical recovery, I couldn’t help but feel envious of my peers improving by leaps and bounds.

Jess suggested that I stopped participating in any form of sports for the time being, as my back condition needed time to improve. “Give it up, for now at least. It’ll be worth it,” she said, “Sometimes you have to give up something to gain even more of it.” At that time none of that made any sense to me, but I reluctantly obliged. I gave up my routine of playing football and basketball 2-3 times a week, and started attending more yoga classes. It just sounded so contradictory to me; how was I going to get more of the sports I love by giving them up?

A few months after Jess and I had that conversation, I got invited for a game of football. A short 2-3 hour game wouldn’t hurt, I thought, so I went for it. By then it has been probably 4 months since I started doing yoga regularly, and although I have noticed changes in my body, I didn’t expect how drastic the change was. I could run faster, jump higher, kick the ball harder, and was able to keep up with the intensity throughout the whole game without taking extended breaks. Yoga actually helped me become a much better (amateur) athlete.

I started doing research on the benefits of yoga for professional athletes, and it turns out that yoga is a big part of the training regimes for top football players: Ryan Giggs practices yoga to prolong his professional career, and Cristiano Ronaldo does it as part of his post-match cooldown ritual, which also includes hydrotherapy and massages.

What Jess said finally made sense: My body was recovering from all the past injuries, but I had to stop causing more wear and tear for it to heal faster. That was when I started becoming genuinely interested in yoga, as I started going for as many as four classes a week, and even toyed with the idea of enrolling for YTT. I was in a yoga frenzy.

But it was not to be, as my overzealousness for yoga finally reached a tipping point. It was a time where I stopped enjoying my job as professional commercial artist, and sought yoga as a way to make the days pass better. One Saturday morning I attended class, still bothered by problems at work from earlier in the week and not in the right state of mind to practice yoga. Halfway through the class I lost focus and my balance, broke my thumb and hurt my wrist pretty badly. Things got worse as when found out I needed cataract surgery done, probably due to constantly getting hit in the head by footballs. I had to give up practicing yoga for an extended period of time.

Everything got better eventually as my thumb and eyes healed well after surgeries. I started practicing yoga again, this time with much more self-awareness and self-love.

My return to practicing yoga was when I first learned about Love: Love for Self, and Love for Others. I slowly learnt to let go of ego and pride. I started devoting every yoga practice to myself. It became a time where I shut out everything else in my life and focused on myself, how I felt physically and mentally, and how to better aspects of myself. By learning to love myself, I’ve also learnt to love others through patience and empathy. Sometimes when the going gets tough I still slip back to old habits, but I think I’ve been getting much better at self-awareness.

Eventually I hope to share the love with others through yoga, and help them find self love and love for others too. But for now, there is still much for me to learn.