Losing my identity in the jungle

I feel like I’ve been here in Costa Rica for months. In reality it’s only been 5.5 days, and only four of them have been at yoga school, which is where I am now, by a beautiful brook in the jungle inhabited by iguanas, geckos, dragonflies, monkeys, sloths and about a bazillion unseen noisy little fuckers.

The days go like this:

5.30am – roll out of bed, mumble sleepy greetings to 2 roomies, get ready.

5.55am – walk through ancient tropical forest, past monkeys, banana trees, fragrant citronella, lemongrass, marjuana, massive prehistoric plants and a beautiful babbling brook to the remote yoga deck.

6am – begin stretching body in ways it doesn’t want to stretch for yoga practice

7am – begin pranyama practice (learning the different kinds of breathing techniques so we can teach it in our own classes)

8am – walk back through the jungle and bless our breakfast by holding hands and singing a song about having happy cells, which obviously made me die a bit inside the first time, but which I quickly came to accept as a silly but sweet way of feeling thankful for the food and the women who prepared it for us. Every morning the food offering is a little different. Different fresh exotic fruit, different nuts, different juice, sometimes chia pudding, sometimes oatmeal. We are supposed to observe silence until 9am which is excellent for me, an awkward introvert who is instantly drained by small talk, so I take this time to slope off to a sunny patch on the decking to sit and write my diary and check my phone for messages from home and feel a bit more normal for a moment.

9am – yoga philosophy class, where we learn about what yoga is and all the ancient Indian concepts of life, the universe and everything. This is really interesting and enlightening but also hard, because every Sanskrit word sounds either like a violent sneeze or a drunk mumble, making them quite difficult to remember.

10.30am back to the jungle deck for asana workshop – our incredibly lean and flexible lead instructor takes us methodically through the most common poses, showing us how to transition into them correctly and teaching us how to identify misalignment and make hands-on adjustments to each other. This is really challenging because I’ve had 7 years of yoga practice and no-one has ever corrected my mistakes, meaning they’ve ingrained. It feels like learning from scratch.

12pm we hold hands, sing our happy cell song and eat lunch, which is an incredible variety of unidentifiable vegetables and salads. We are following a vegan, no refined sugar, gluten-free, low carb, locally sourced, organic diet here (pretentious, moi?) and everything is delicious. Not macaroni cheese delicious, but delicious in a light, fresh, healthy way. You know what I mean. Not everyone is getting on with the yogic diet. There’s an ex-soldier here who lives in the Canadian wilderness alone and routinely eats roadkill. The ladies in the kitchen cook him an egg with every meal to stop him going bonkers. I eat for half an hour and spend half an hour lying on my yoga mat in the sun.

1pm – anatomy class, learning how the body works on a very basic level. Even this very basic level challenges my mulchy, overheated brain.

2.30pm – teaching methodology, where we practice explaining poses to the rest of the class using the right words and cues. This is so much harder than I ever imagined.

4.30pm satsung – wisdom hour, finishing with a nice calm guided meditation.

5.30pm – hold hands and sing happy cell song, eat dinner and try to summon energy not to be antisocial bitch.

6pm – cold shower and attempt to do homework and reading before eyes start to close involuntarily.

8.30pm instant, deep sleep to the sounds of an apocalyptic jungle.

There are 8 days of this, 1 day off (which will be spent planning the 75 minute class we have to teach in front of people from the village), then another 7 days of back-to-back training before we graduate and I head off into the sunset for an unstructured solo adventure on the Caribbean coast.

I titled this post ‘losing my identity in the jungle’ because I’ve learnt that letting go of identity is an important concept in yoga. Let me explain it a little (and hopefully it’ll help me understand it myself)…

The whole point of yoga is to calm all the crazy moving, changing stuff in our minds so that we can become our true nature (brahman). The needs, desires, fears, worries, vanities, jealousies and insecurities we all feel only serve to limit us. We need to get rid of all that stuff in our heads that pipes up at inopportune moments like when we’re trying to sleep, or prepare for something daunting like public speaking, or travelling.

We tend to trap ourselves in these whirlpools (vritti) of thought (chitta). We believe our roles and attachments define us. For instance, when we get too attached to our jobs we value ourselves according to our success at work. We forget that we’re not just writers, police officers, nurses, mothers, male, gay, married, black, white, divorced, old, dying, fat, or all the other thousands of ways we define ourselves. We get attached to these identities, and this often causes us pain.

We are not the roles we play in life. What happens when you lose your job? When your children leave home, if your marriage breaks down? Who are you when your attachments break?

In order to be at peace, you have to calm the vritti and the chitta. Yogis describe this calming process as nirodah. It involves two things: ongoing practice, and healthy non-attachment.

The key to identifying the vritti in your life is to think about what gives you a bad feeling. What’s worrying you right now? To overcome this, we’re supposed to accept our thoughts. Don’t fight them or suppress them. Accept the anxieties you have and then let them go, like watching a car passing in the street. The future doesn’t exist. You are in this moment – there’s no point preempting anything because things change all the time. Your situation may change, your thoughts may change, people around you may change.

Take some deep belly breaths and focus on an object, or a calming vision like a beach or a tree house in a forest, or anywhere that relaxes you. Listen to a guided meditation to help. If you can relax your body, your mind will follow. Remember that you’re not defined by your roles and attachments. Accept them and let them go.

Everything changes. You’ve got to roll with the punches.

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