Published on the Relais & Châteaux Africa blog.
There have been two significant moments on my yoga journey. Two occasions that made my myriad attempts to stand on one leg, one arm, one toe, a journey at all. There have been two teachers and two destinations.
After those moments, that was it, my body and mind found the rhythm, entered the flow. After years of falling around, of furious shaking (ok, I still shake), and having teachers give me that look, I finally, simply, instantly, understood what all the fuss was about.
Perhaps all those former failures weren’t failures, but rather the first cobblestones of my yoga path. Perhaps, I just hadn’t found the right teacher.
It happened first in a quiet corner of the lawn, beneath trees that hid the sky, at AtholPlace Hotel & Villa in Johannesburg. I sat beside Julia Geffers, a yogi much further along on her journey, but a runner, like myself. We had a connection. It was just the two of us. And not once did she give me that look.
As the air cooled around us on the September afternoon, Julia guided me through the positions, focusing on opening the hips, something runners cannot focus enough on. We closed our eyes and perhaps it was the serenity of the hotel’s gardens or the fact that neither of us had been able to go for a run in days and were aching to stretch and move, but my body, my hips, my joints, my toes found a new strength and breath. And they flowed. Simply, beautifully, and even with a little co-ordination. I felt the stillness for the first time. The quiet sense of presence that all the mat-carrying enthusiasts I had met in my life had talked about.
But I know that it also had a lot to do with my teacher. With her lack of judgement, her gentleness, her patience, her own comfort within herself, and an enviable strength that at once called on my own to take to the mat.
As Julia turned upside down and proceeded to stand on her head, I contentedly sat back and watched. One day, I said.
And I’ve been practicing ever since.
In the meantime, Julia sends me images of her doing headstands wherever in the world she finds herself. Wherever there is a flat, quiet piece of earth, she rolls out her mat and tinkles her toes at the sky.
I started to see the accessibility of yoga. While I couldn’t run everywhere in the world, for instance not alone down foreign streets at night, or while in big cat country, I could do yoga anywhere. In my hotel room, in the garden, on the pool deck.
So when I found myself a couple thousand kilometres further north, at ol Donyo Lodge in Kenya, I saw a yoga mat in the closet and a printout of a few yoga poses and I leapt. Every free moment I had, I felt a great draw to pick up the mat and roll it out in front of my villa, looking out over the vast plains, at the zebra and giraffe moving slowly, slowly.
I sat the instructions down in front of my feet and let myself take over as teacher, reconnecting with that quietness, that ease, that strength, that patience and that kindness that Julia had shown me.
During each session I felt a space of quiet enter the excitement that being on safari in a new land brings. A stillness between the busyness of having so much to do and to see. A silence between the many conversations. A belonging amid the strangeness, a sense of control amid the unknown. And a home while away.
Now at home in Cape Town, I have, without effort, held onto the practice. I feel the same gravitation to hug the earth and bend my body to salute the sun every time I see a quiet piece of ground (whether carpet, gravel, tile, grass, or wood) that Julia probably does.
And while I have a goal – that elusive headstand – I also have something much more, something that I can always access. I have a sense of peace, no matter where in the world I am. I have the secret to travelling and travelling well, to remaining present and fully feeling and enjoying the moment, whether on a lawn in Johannesburg or at a pool overlooking a waterhole in Kenya.