The week before my 29th birthday, my mum took me to India.
Perhaps she could sense my low-level anxiety that my ‘dirty thirties’ were on the horizon and, unlike most of my closest friends, I did not as of yet possess my own home – or my own man to share it with.
Having been single for just under a year by this point, I’d grown accustomed to being without regular interaction and attention from men.
This was a miraculous milestone in itself – especially considering I’d just survived four whole months without so much as a wily wink from a potential suitor.
After a quick hop, skip and a jump through the-nice-bits-only-of New Delhi, the worst of our jet lag had subsided by the time we reached our main destination – and my mother’s favourite place on earth (aside from Chanel on Bond Street):
The Vana retreat in the Himalayas.
Vana - which translates as ‘forest’ - is set atop a hill surrounded by lush woodland, and a two hour drive from yoga capital of the world, Rishikesh. Guests are required to stay for seven days minimum, and are provided with a bespoke wellness plan from leading Ayurveda, Chinese and Tibetan traditional medicine practitioners upon arrival.
I’d been to a similar retreat in this part of India several times before with my family, and so was familiar with the set-up and general vibe of the experience that lay ahead.
There’d be sunrise and evening yoga with meditation, multiple massages and treatments, as well as endless cups of jasmine tea to wash down the nutritious organic cuisine that had been grown locally. (Of course it had).
The eternal achiever that I am, I viewed our week here as an opportunity to get me an imaginary A* in wellness and everything associated with it, rather than as the well-deserved rest I clearly needed after a hectic few months.
“You don’t have to do everything, darling,” mum had said as I hastily knocked back a green juice between two different exercise classes one morning.
Oh, but I did. Otherwise – wellness FOMO.
(Yes, it is a thing).
A couple of months prior to our trip, I’d asked Santa for an advanced yoga book containing pictures of all the asanas.
Most mornings, I’d try out a few of the more challenging poses from the book, adamant I’d have them nailed by the time summer rolled around.
Whilst I’d felt more drawn to yoga than most other forms of exercise - having been practicing on and off since my late teens when my parents first took my siblings and I to India – I had to admit, it wasn’t always for the most honorable (or spiritual) of reasons.
In other words, I mainly wanted to practice in order to impress people with my bendy moves, rather than to connect to the divine oneness within.
On this particular trip, though, yoga had the last laugh.
A few hours after breakfast on the second day of our stay, I’d turned up to my first 1:1 yoga session, my advanced yoga book in hand.
Having said our hellos, Sumit, my personal yogi for the week, eyed the book suspiciously.
“Oh, I wanted to show you some of the yoga poses I’d like to work on with you,” I explained as I fumbled through the dog-eared pages of the book.
There were three poses I was certain I could master by the time I returned to London:
Bird of Paradise, Tortoise and Side Crane.
(Just Google them – you’ll understand why Sumit looked at me with such incredulity).
“OK, Miss Persia,” he said, “show me Surya Namaskara A first, and then we see…”
Fuckin SUN salutations?! I thought. Piece. Of. Piss.
I did a round on each side, and then looked back to my teacher, eagerly awaiting his praise.
Instead, I was greeted with a look that can only be described as decidedly… unimpressed.
Sumit then spent the next HOUR AND A HALF helping me perfect each of the twelve (very simple) poses that make up one round of a sun salutation.
He pressed and pulled my limbs and torso at every turn, insisting on the importance of proper alignment and posture throughout the sequence.
The next day, I was in more physical pain than I’d ever experienced after a yoga class – even after the classes where we’d taken on much more obviously challenging yoga poses.
Despite this, I still held high hope that in our second and third sessions, Sumit might indulge me with at least a few poses that were more visually remarkable than a basic sun salutation.
Alas, the most advanced pose he allowed me to attempt throughout the entire four and a half hours we spent together was Trikonasana – boring old triangle pose.
As I was rolling up my mat at the end of our final class, feeling somewhat
duped that my yoga practice appeared to be re-gressing rather than pro-gressing, Sumit called to me from over by the door.
“Miss Persia,” he said gently, “I really enjoy our classes and it’s very nice to me you want to improve your yoga so much.”
I smiled weakly, aware that he probably wouldn’t be so approving, had he known the extent of my yogi-narcissism.
“But, one thing – may I…?” he continued. “Most important of all in yoga is we get foundation right. No run before we walk. We can do great, hard pose one day, yes, but must to have right foundation first and earn our great, hard pose in right way - otherwise we fall out of great, hard pose because not ready for it. Understand?’
For the first time in my life, I really did.
Sometimes, we have to hear a particular lesson, in a particular way, from a particular person, in order to fully grasp it.
Sumit was that person for me, and the lesson he shared impacted far more than my yoga practice.
Since that day, I’ve been considerably more aware of my impulse to leap frog the fundamental basics of a thing in order to fast-track my way to the shinier, more exciting prize that lies on the horizon.
Nowhere was this more evident than in my love life.
I’d picture myself walking down the aisle towards the man I was now sat across from in a bar (on a first date, might I add), before I even knew how he took his morning coffee.
I longed to attract the relationship of my dreams in to my reality, without first having understood why the last relationship ‘of my dreams’ hadn’t worked out.
I spent what felt like a lifetime trying to run before I could even crawl – never mind walk – when it came to romance.
And the faster I tried to run towards what I was in no way ready for, the more rapidly the walls of my unresolved trauma came tumbling down around me.
Because you can never, ever outrun grief or trauma. You must feel it to heal it, and heal it to be free of it.
Us humans are a funny bunch;
We invest so much time, money and energy in to making elements of our lives go faster and faster (our broadband, our productivity, our orgasms) that we don’t stop to consider whether speeding things up or getting to an imaginary finish line quicker always serves us.
I, for one, have come to realise that getting married, having kids or making good money in my career at the start of my twenties, for example, would not have done me any favours.
In fact, if I’d gotten most of the things I wanted when I wanted them, I don’t even know if I’d still be here to tell the tale, in all honesty.
It took me four and a half years from the day I started working through my many, many relationship-based issues before I met the man I now share my life with.
Because that’s how long I personally needed in order to learn the lessons I needed to learn, to heal the wounds I needed to heal, and to become the person I needed to become if I wanted to get (and to keep) the kind of healthy, soulful and sustainable relationship I’d always longed for, but didn’t know how to be inside of.
Like yoga, romance is a journey – not towards getting the moves right and gaining status amongst our peers, but towards knowing, accepting and healing ourselves more deeply than we ever thought possible.
A journey that’s not about searching outside of ourselves for the partner we want to have, but searching inside of ourselves for the partner we want to be.
And that, my friend, is a journey that takes tremendous courage – which is why it’s so often referred to as ‘the road less travelled’.
I hope to see you on it someday ;)
I’D LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU:
Have you ever struggled with feeling like you should be ‘further ahead’ in life than you are?
Can you see that, if you’d gotten all you wanted when you wanted it, it may not have worked out so well?
Let me know below – can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this topic :)
All my love,