London and Brighton based yoga teacher Jo Stevens describes her personal journey to becoming a yoga teacher.
I woke up one day and my fiancé at the time just told me he ‘wasn’t sure’ if he wanted to be with me anymore then packed up his things and left.
It came totally out of the blue. We had only been engaged around 6 months and I had everything all mapped out for our lives together. We had our own place and the wedding plans had begun. All the things I thought I wanted and had begun ticking off my list. Boom, sorted, achieved.
I went into work that week in a haze, filled with anxiety, but knowing I would be busy (I worked in events and we had a biggie coming up) so I could distract myself from feeling so awful.
This time I thought f**k it, I have nothing to lose at this point
One of my colleagues had mentioned the Thursday yoga class and how amazing it was. She had said this a few times before but I never thought to go, having got the giggles last time I tried yoga years earlier. This time I thought f**k it, I have nothing to lose at this point, my life is already in ‘shambles’ so I might as well have a laugh!
I went to the class with the feeling that ‘I don’t have a clue what I’m doing’ however the teacher made me feel so welcome. He asked if I’d done yoga previously and before I had a chance to get embarrassed, made me feel like it didn’t matter and to just try.
This time I was going to come back
He led us through a moving meditation, Sivananda Hatha practice. I remember lying in Savasana afterwards, knowing that this time, I was going to come back.
Each week, I could feel my body getting stronger and more mobile. After some months, I could even touch my toes (something I had never been able to do!). I had strength in my upper body after having always been the person to say ‘Oh I just don’t have any strength in my arms’!
Every time I stepped on the mat
But as the months, years of practice continued I noticed I began to learn something new about myself every time I stepped on the mat. I started to enquire more as to how my body would feel in each Asana, and what my mind (which was extremely hard on myself at the time) was chatting. This began to weave its way into my life off of the mat.
Each time those negative thought patterns would begin to swirl around my head, I began to recognise them and notice them for what they were. Initially, this could have been hours after getting wrapped up in my stories but over time I could catch them sooner.
Questioning my unconscious choices
I began to start thinking about what I really wanted in my life and not what society expected of me, or the corporate ladder I ‘should’ be climbing or the way I ‘should’ present myself to the world. I began to question all the unconscious choices I had been making in my life up until that point. Was I happy in that relationship? Did I really want to get married? What made me feel alive?
I tied a safari weekend onto a work trip to Johannesburg. Something I had always wanted to do. I later sold my engagement ring to get me to Sri Lanka and the exploring continued.
I was enough
I no longer felt that I needed to have someone else with me to do the things I wanted. I started to realise that I was enough. I could see how I had been trying so hard to control my life, to steer it to the ‘happy ending’ of the career, marriage, kids etc that I had never stopped to ask myself if this was what I really wanted.
Yoga created the space in my body and mind to allow me to connect with myself on a soul level. To de-layer from traditions, conditioning and ask which of these were ‘me’ and which weren’t ‘me’.
Wholeness and richness of life
I felt like I had escaped from my own prison of limiting beliefs and let go of the resentment I had held towards others for feeling like I didn’t have a choice. This felt amazing and as my practice deepened (and continues to deepen) I began to experience the wholeness and richness of life.
The profound effects my practice had (and has!) on me led me to want to guide others, to help them connect to their truths and take that forward into their own lives. I began speaking to my teachers, asking for recommendations for training and thinking about really doing it myself.
I remember vividly sitting in the garden with my boyfriend, crying my eyes out saying I wanted to leave my career and become a yoga teacher. Repeating ‘I’m scared, I’m so scared’ over and over.
Although I knew deep down I wanted to do it, on a human level everything was telling me not to. ‘What if this? What if that?’ The support I received from my boyfriend, who had built his own successful business out of passion, was exactly what I needed.
Throw-away an 8-year career
The chat didn’t go so well with the parents. My mum was just worried and my dad thought I was barking mad to ‘throw-away’ an 8-year career!
I made the choice, started saving and later booked my tickets to India. And not being one to do things by halves I also threw in 3 months of travel. The ‘old’ me would not have dared to dream of this. Ever.
3 months of travel
Travelling around the beautiful country with all its colours, smells, sounds, traditions, community, food, everything, showed me another way of living. A dedication to something bigger than us – a trust in a higher power and a clear intention to look after each other as a community.
My training was at a traditional Hatha school in Rishikesh recommended by one of my lovely teachers in London. I went through a 3 hours a day military-style asana practice alongside anatomy, pranayama, mantra, meditation and philosophy classes.
Something just clicked
Philosophy was my favourite class. Every time I went in, sat in Sukhasana (cross-legged) with ‘spine straight’, my mind was blown. I had begun to study before the training but Nalin was an awe-inspiring teacher. He was full of wisdom and as we moved through the yoga sutras and discussed the Bhagavad Gita something just clicked. All these wonderful sacred texts are the essence of what we know today as ‘mindfulness’, all these teachings were guides to truth.
As we worked towards our final Asana class I knew that I wanted to weave this knowledge, in my own way, to inspire and motivate others. The last day came and as I moved through the cues and watched my colleagues – now friends – move their bodies so freely and fluidly, I felt like I was observing myself with tears of pride in my eyes.
This was it
As they rested in savasana, calm and with an amazing energy floating around them, I knew this was it. I wanted to bring what I’d learnt and continue to learn home to share. To guide people through a moving meditation, stilling the mind and quietening the chatter even if for only one minute more.
Jo Stevens is a 200 hours registered yoga teacher based in London and Brighton. Jo came to yoga from the perspective of a physical practice to distract herself from a breakup and escape her busy events job.
After experiencing the many positive changes that yoga has brought her life Jo has been inspired to try new things, explore the world and open up her eyes to a more conscious way of living. She started to study the depth behind the practice and knew that this was the path she wanted to follow. Jo is passionate about guiding people beyond a physical practice through sharing her experiences.
Photo credits @fulltangvisual