I make no secret of my struggle with cancerphobia, a house guest I had hated yet harboured for the past few years since my aunt's passing. For too long, I dodged him in the house of my mind, hiding behind pillars when he stepped out of his room, stealthily drawing a bath only when he stepped out to run an errand. From throwing smoke bombs to denying him food and drink — I exhausted all creative ways to make him leave, only to look on in dismay every time he stepped back in through the door. Only then did I realise — why didn't I lock the door?
So I spent all of last year fixing the door, and by that I mean tending to my mind and recommitting to my spiritual practice with fervour. The pinnacle in my healing journey was studying with Tantric Hatha teacher Octavio Salvado, who inspired me to clean up my act — out went the attitude of rolling out my mat and moving however way I felt like (more often than not I ended up working through a sequence I planned to teach later that day), and of choosing, among many, which meditation technique I would practise that morning. A yoga sadhana, his way, is necessarily single-minded and old-school — postures (asana) support breath work (pranayama) to contain the mind (meditation).
Under his wing, I embarked on 40-day sadhanas (spiritual practices) where I repeated the same sequence of postures, breath work and meditation techniques day after day. I expected to be bored, but instead, I was changed. The rigour of sadhana awakened me to a deep-seated steadiness in my Self — a steadiness that stems from Source, whose power is independent of my iron will, which I had for many years leaned into in times of hardship. Difficult as it would have been to imagine, I am more at ease in myself now than before my cancerphobia episode. It also awakened me to how effective or ineffective the act of stepping onto the yoga mat can be.
In Octavio's words: "I'm sorry, it's not Yoga if there is no meditation." Having experienced the truth behind his words, I wholly agree. A substantial sitting practice is a luxury we don't often get in modern studio settings, but it is a necessity I deeply believe in, and one I no longer want to bypass for your comfort, or mine.
Let's not dilute the wisdom tradition of Yoga by calling it a workout — it was never meant to be one, so I implore you to leave aside any expectations of "sweating it out". Our practice of postures is meant to empower us to refine our breath, which in turn prepares us to contain our mind for meditation. How would we ever get closer to knowing our Self without sitting with ourselves?
A dear friend, who has really leaned into her daily meditation practice in the past year, shared that it is possibly the most vulnerable thing she's done, because there's nothing scarier than sitting with and looking at herself. But because of that, she has also found the most inextinguishable source of strength and courage — her Self. And you know what? Her journey is not a miracle, but a well mapped-out route for all travellers willing to embark on it. The system of Yoga, which has been passed down from the sages and ages, is still available to us all. If we wish it.
See you on the mats.
With all my love,