God and the idea of worshipping an idol or a picture have never quite resonated with me. But I do very firmly believe that there is a higher power that works through us when we surrender completely and the practice of Yoga helps me experience this every single moment. Yoga to me is ‘who I am’ at the end of my practice – when I stand there with a sense of gratitude, after dropping all my inhibitions, prejudices, and ego.
So far, all my experiences, on and off the mat, have only solidified this belief further. I use to have a highly competitive mindset, and today, I see life as it is, perhaps with a little more clarity and with an attitude of self-acceptance, and I cherish this transformation every moment. It is no exaggeration to say that Yoga saved me. Yoga saved my soul.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had to spend sleepless nights planning and preparing for UPSC exams (Civil services). Since I was in 9th grade I’d believed that my sole purpose in life is to become an IAS officer. My father, Dr.Rakesh Pathak is a very senior and well-known journalist, recognized and respected for his fearless journalism and high principles. He was well connected with the who’s who of politics and individuals holding highest offices.
I thus grew up in an environment influenced by political and bureaucratic culture, buzzing with power, respect, status, security, glamour and the various perks that came with the respectable position. This had led to a lot of conditioning, especially when it came down to making career choices. I grew up believing that the only ‘work’ or ‘job’ worthy of respect is becoming an IAS officer. I believed that it is the only accomplishment that will bring me validation from the ‘society’.
Interestingly, these beliefs got so deep-rooted in my system that it took me a long time to break free from them and think of doing something that gives me true bliss. Subjects like Political Science and Social Studies have always fascinated me and hence I wanted to take Humanities after 10th. However, I went ahead and opted for Science in my 11th grade anyway. And I am glad I did.
There was much pressure from everyone, except my father, to take up Engineering in college. But I chose to do a bachelors in Political Science Honors from Delhi University and my father supported my decision. I fell head-over-heels in love with Political Science and spent most of my time studying.
When life has a different plan
But life had other plans. It was around the end of the first year that we got the news that my mother was diagnosed with blood cancer. This was a big blow to all of us and turned our world upside down. I did manage to continue with my studies and joined the best coaching center for UPSC exam preparations and gave it my all to prepare well for the final examinations.
All this while, my family was going through immense emotional turmoil, especially my Mom, whose health was fast deteriorating. AIIMS (hospital) had become our second home and there was a constant sense of panic as we looked for blood donors and traveled between Gwalior (our hometown) and Delhi.
My father, who looked after my Mother and all of us went through this difficult time with much courage and faith. I don’t remember him complaining even once or showing his disappointment and worry about anything, be it coaching fees, medical expenses, accommodation and travel arrangements for all of us … he managed everything for us. As they say, hard times will always reveal one’s true mettle.
My mother’s 5 year-long fight with cancer had changed the course of our lives. She left us and our lives changed in a way we couldn’t understand or explain. We had to learn all over again, to surrender, to accept and move ahead in our lives. All of us thought that we were prepared for this. But the truth is, one can never really be prepared for something like this. Isn’t it?
Listening to myself
Even after dedicating all my time and studying whole-heartedly, every time I failed by a whisker, it only made me more miserable from the inside. I was suppressing the grief, the frustration of failure, anger, negativity, and kept ignoring that feeble voice within that kept telling ME to find something that made ME happy.
All along, I was planning for and working towards goals that I thought will make others happy. I was working towards making their expectations and dreams come true, not mine. When I started to speak up and explain that I do not want to become any government official or appear for anymore Civil Service examinations, I got responses like “you are just running away from hard work and failure“, “this is the only thing that is worthy of doing”, “nobody will respect you if you do anything except this”.
Deep down you already know the truth.
All these responses made me realize how uncomfortable people can get with you when you stop living life according to them. However, I was becoming more and more comfortable with my inner voice. Around March 2017, the opportunity finally knocked at my door. I had given an exam in December which I was extremely sure I would clear and the results were due in March. You can imagine my utter disbelief when I couldn’t find my name in the merit list. I looked for it over ten times!
All this while I was in complete denial about the deeper state of shock I was in. My mother’s demise had shaken me up and the repetitive pattern of trying and failing had broken me down completely. I fell into, what I now understand as, a state of severe clinical depression.
I had spent days and nights crying and sobbing. I was scared of the setting sun because I was scared of being alone in my room. I remember talking to my best friend about “less painful ways to kill oneself”. We laughed it off then, but today I realize how close I was to end my life just because I couldn’t get through a few exams.
Yoga saved my life
As they say, the night is darkest just before the dawn. One fine day I suddenly decided that I want to do a course in Yoga. A Teacher’s Training Course, to be more precise. It wasn’t an easy task to convince MY family to send me to Mumbai for this course. My family knew nothing about Yoga practice as such, let alone the possibility of learning how to teach Yoga!
I was told that I have lost my mental balance and was on a path to self-destruction because I am choosing Yoga over something I have spent years preparing for. But I was now sure about what I didn’t want. Having said that, I had absolutely no idea about what the course will be like, how will I be spending my day at the institute and when it is all over, how will I be making a living out of it?
“The practice of Yoga brings us face to face with the extraordinary complexity of our own being.” – Sri Aurobindo
I wasn’t even very clear about the course itself. But the realization was pretty strong and this time, I chose to listen to that faint cry of my soul, I somehow knew that this is what I need and this is what will make me happy.
And I stepped into, what was going to be my refuge, my home, my rehabilitation center, The Yoga Institute, Mumbai. It is the oldest organized institute in the world. My journey towards healing, towards coming face to face with my fears and suppressed emotions, and peeling off the layers to find my true-self had begun on 1 August 2017 with my three months Advanced Teacher’s Training Course at this institute.
Yoga heals, Yoga transforms …
Three months. 900 hours. The institute changed my entire life. It changed me. I cannot even count how many times I cried like a baby during the whole course. Sometimes, in a theory class, our teachers would teach things that would hit you right in the feels. I could confront with emotions that I had kept locked away for so long.
The practice helped me come face to face with my fears, insecurities, disappointments … I remember waking up at 2 AM and knocking at my friend’s door. She was going through a similar inner transformation and both of us just cried for hours. As time went by, I realized that it was all a part of my healing.
My emotional wounds were releasing all the toxins that had scarred my soul. Slowly, I began to let go of all the baggage I was carrying around. As my body grew more flexible and as I continued to find my balance on the mat, I had also begun to feel lighter emotionally.
“You will find that it is necessary to let things go; simply for the reason that they are heavy. So let them go, let go of them. I tie no weights to my ankles.” — C. JoyBell C
Acceptance and letting go have always been the hardest thing to do for me. All my time in the Institute, be it struggling with the asanas or being scared to keep the eyes closed in meditation class, slowly taught me that life is much easier when you let go of the negative energy that weighs you down by accepting it and finally releasing it.
I was not angry anymore at my mother for leaving us.
I understood that power, money, and authority don’t make a successful man. They only reveal him.
I understood that not everyone has the same life goals and that’s perfectly okay!
I understood that wanting a simple, normal and peaceful life, and having no desire of accumulating wealth and other “luxuries”, doesn’t make you an underachiever.
I realized that people carry their own stories and struggles and each person is fighting their own battle. The key is to be kind, to yourself and to everyone…always.
I am still learning. Growing. Trying to imbibe all that I learned in the Institute.
But what I know is this is the real ME. And this is what I love doing.
I listened and I did exactly what my heart said. And everything worked out just fine.
My motive for sharing this story was to tell you that all I had to do is … accept my fears, let go of them and embrace and fight for my dreams, even if it means standing alone. And if I can do it, so can you.
Soumya Pathak, Bhopal, India
900 hours YTT, QCI certificate Level 2, RYT 200 Ashtanga Yoga