Im 23 years old and have cerebral palsy, which affects my movement, how I view the world and how it views me. It puts an edge on my life that at times challenges me and results in great satisfaction. Im a creature of extremes and I like to test myself. This has often got me into trouble but has also taken me to many different places and given me many challenging experiences in life. I have competed at international level cycling, and represented Britain at the 2000 Para-Olympics in Sydney. I was placed sixth in the trials for the 2004 Para-Olympics in Athens. Ive travelled both on and off my bike around different countries. But best of all Ive tasted some of the sweet fruits available through practising yoga!
Ive been practising yoga since I was little and have stayed in the ashram in Wales. Years ago I said I would go to stay in Ganga Darshan, Munger. Finally, after five years without any yoga practice at all, I had my first taste of ashram life.
After my initial visit to Ganga Darshan in 2002, I became excited about using my yoga practices to go deeper into myself and about learning to play with yoga to break through some difficulties I was facing in my life. When I first arrived I had given up on finding a more rewarding way of living, of finding an alternative to living on the materialistic plane. All I had learnt on my travels were ways to escape and suppress my desires, apart from the one that constantly lurks within: to live in a cave at the top of a mountain away from everything. I had become isolated and was very negative about myself. However, during my ashram stay I was slowly introduced to the tools on offer in yoga, and discovered that I couldnt get enough of it; it felt as though every practice I learned lifted me up out of my old self.
Staying in the ashram for a month or more at a time and participating in all the daily activities, I began to like myself more and more. In adolescence I had been looking for acceptance. I had wanted to be independent and liked. I had wanted to be accepted by society, by people. I still do. In those years, I couldnt get those needs satisfied, so I searched desperately for ways to escape.
Fortunately, yoga became my foremost means of escape. Now I see that what I had previously been looking for outside of myself was actually to be found inside. Over recent years, as I have progressed through my yoga sadhana and become more aware of myself, I have found a satisfyingly new experience of acceptance; I have found a security and a comfort within myself. I now feel more positive about myself and find that people respond to me more positively.
The ashram has been a safe and secure environment where I feel I have been able to explore my personality and become more accepting of my body and my intense emotions. The activities and the environment have allowed me a space in which this could happen.
I really put effort into my karma yoga and found that it helped me move through my difficulties of relating to things and to people. It was a very big learning for me when I saw that if I wanted to do something, I could put a lot of myself into it. If I am open to a situation, then everything happens, it flows. If I dont want to do things, then I straight away go into defence mode. Im fortunate to be open to yoga!
My experiences during karma yoga have helped me to let go, not to get so attached. My desires to escape from the hardness of life have been replaced by a desire to live and progress through life. I sense a feeling of something deeper in my life, something beyond my difficulties.
Participating in karma yoga has helped me face myself. I now find I can move through my everyday life more spontaneously, instead of constantly getting stuck. And, I do not need the external escapes so badly. (When I stayed for a while in Rikhia I didnt have any chocolate bars to help me escape! That time was a very powerful experience. I saw how I coped without the chocolate and how I developed as a result of facing myself.)
On my second visit to Ganga Darshan I joined the BYB 2002 Certificate Course. I wanted more karma yoga and to get an overview of yoga philosophy. I also wanted to learn some more postures because I have found that the effect of the yoga practices acts like an anchor so that I can go out and explore more of life and gain more independence. In fact, the most useful tools I have learned for coping with my life outside the security of ashram walls have been gained through my experiences in both Ganga Darshan and Rikhia ashrams. I have been able to help myself mentally, physically and emotionally.
Participating in that course gave me the confidence to apply to the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK. I have just finished my first year of study in Social Work.
In the past I had tried to control my anger and that usually led to a great explosion; through my practice of yoga I have learned to be more aware of this emotion and to be more accepting of it. I have become brave enough to begin to use my yoga practices to look for the source of my anger, and am learning how to use the tremendous force of it in a positive way. I can now admit that a lot of my anger came from my having a disability, and from feeling not accepted in the world. My difficulties with anger do not grow so big anymore. Now I can use mantra or some other practice to break the intensity of it.
It feels soooo good to be able to stretch and bend it! Postures, of course, are excellent for my body; especially backward bends and any postures that exercise my spine. The effect of regular asana practice has been very practical and most encouraging, not only for myself, but also for everyone who watched me take up the discipline. I have gained more control over my body and have attained a greater sense of body posture and balance, so that now I am walking with a straighter posture and better balance. I have learnt postures to help induce deep physical relaxation and relieve muscular spasms. One of my major achievements is that Im now able to carry cups of hot liquids without spilling the contents and burning myself. This has led to an appreciation of both tea and coffee, and Im also able to eat my meals more easily.
I know that it is I who must put in the effort or nothing will happen. The more effort I put into life, the more I discover the sweet fruits within myself. In this way yoga never fails me. Yes, it never fails me! With my bike I hit the wall but with yoga I never hit the wall. I practise postures every morning and every afternoon. Thats my base. Its what I use to avoid getting caught up in everyday things, which produce the anxieties. I find that my regular yoga sadhana produces great self-discipline. Now I cannot bear to miss my practices; I must do them as they have become part of my day.
Yoga gives me a firmer base in the outside world. I see that when Im training for my cycling, doing two to three hours or more daily, I become mechanical; I only think, eat and sleep cycling. My yoga practices pull me back into reality, they put everything back into perspective and give me a proper space in which to move. Also, my yoga postures and breathing practices have helped me with my whole movement on my bike. Actually, after my first visit to Ganga Darshan, after practising yoga and living there, my breathing capacity increased a massive amount. I am not a scientist so I cant say the exact degree of the improvement, but the scientists who measured it were very impressed.
Its my greatest escape! Its MY form of relaxation. When the day has been too hard yoga nidra is there for me, for my body and for my emotions!
I have learnt practices that will eventually lead me into meditation and of these antar mouna appeals to me the most. It has helped me to let go of much confusion in my mind. Antar mouna has taught me how not to get caught up in my thoughts and imagination, how to watch this mental activity. It has taught me how to be aware, and how to pull my mind back before things send me absolutely berserk and result in my becoming isolated and entrapped in its play.
Yoga is playing with my mind in a positive way, and it feels good. I am using it to clean out the clutter in my mind and emotions and to give a positive direction to my life. For me, the purpose of yoga, of life, is to go to samadhi, to taste that, to find a peace within, to find independence, to find acceptance and comfort. Ive read the Gospel of Ramakrishna and that has inspired me very much. Ramakrishna wanted to find God and he got on with it. He did find God.
Actually, it was after learning the practice of antar mouna and receiving inspiration from stories about Ramakrishna that I read The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse. Well, my calculations told me that I would reach samadhi in two weeks! Two years later I still have not attained samadhi. However, the experiences during that time have taught me to appreciate myself more and I am gaining a deeper understanding of what life is.
The closest I have been to a deep spiritual experience was in Cuba during Christmas 2003 when I was training to be selected for the British cycling team to compete in the Athens Para-Olympics. I was spending 10 to 12 hours of my day riding, then meditation practice in the evening, followed by sleep. This continued for three weeks. I practised antar mouna as I cycled and it was a wonderful experience. I found the practice helped me when my body was hurting and my mind was telling me to stop and find a hotel to rest and sleep in.
It is a very fulfilling part of my existence. I find it developing more and more as he plays with me. I met my guru, Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati, in Wales in 1992 and asked him if he could levitate during the satsang. In response, he told me that he did not see levitation as an important goal in life, rather it would be more beneficial to learn to be able to stand on your own two feet. His words inspired me and I still hold onto them.
Throughout my life both my family and my close friends have encouraged me to get on with life and push through the conventional barriers that people who have a disability often face. I have always striven for independence and I feel Gurujis message echoes this.
My guru is teaching me to go with life, which I see as fair ground. The closer my bond with him develops, the more I learn to go with it and to let it flow. Oh, I have a big ego and I feel the pain of life very much! Now I see that when Im with my ego I miss Guruji, but then at other times when Im not caught or stuck in my mind he is with me on a higher level.
At the beginning of my discovery of yoga I was riding a roller coaster, always enjoying the amazing highs but hiding from the intense lows. Now I feel Im on a ghost train; the rides fairly smooth with just the occasional fright that I try to hide from. I am looking forward to letting go more and more and to eventually ride the smooth ups and downs of the carousel. I know this will happen when Ive learnt not to get caught up in what Im doing, to open up to whatever is going to happen. Then Ill be able to see every situation as a gift from which I can learn.
Yoga is the only thing I have found in my life that actually works for me. Yoga is the spiritual side of myself, it gives me a sense of something very deep within. The more I surrender to guru and to the effect of the practices, the more I am able to progress. All that I have discovered through my experiences of yoga has given me an acceptance of myself, and a confidence to strive forward in life.