So, as we all look back on 2020 – many would say ‘WORST YEAR EVER’. All of the challenges we faced, the separation from family, friends, loved ones. All of our daily norms, our coffee dates and trips away – gone.
It meant, all of our external factors – things outside of ourselves that we believe ‘make us happy’ were gone. We had time to take a long hard look at ourselves and be in our own head, company and presence. For many, this was really tough.
But that right there, IS you. It’s us. And 2020 gave us an opportunity to help ourselves to be a better version of us. I’m not saying I loved every moment. There were some days that were awful. Unbearable. But overall, lockdown came at the point in my life so far that I needed it most. I needed a wakeup call – big time.
Saying all that, my flight and trip to India went ahead. I took off, leaving England unsure whether I should wear a mask, no real cases of COVID in India and it was still very much in the early stages, so I was kind of going without any knowledge or what to expect.
The main scare was the travel. When I arrived in India, no one was overly concerned as it was hot enough to kill the virus anyway. Plus, their approach on life is very much ‘each day as it comes’ in comparison to our Western 24hr approach. But this didn’t take away or stop the anxiety that was to come.
My second trip to India was so very different from the first. I was unhappy, depressed and probably the most I have ever felt emotionally disconnected from myself. I had had the dark, suicidal thoughts but this was so different. I was heavy, dark and had no joy in the little things. I couldn’t see the positives. I barely expressed any emotion or had a passion for anything. I believed India could help me – but the truth was only to be found in me.
I arrived and met Orsi and Dr Upendra. We spoke about Magda (another one of my teachers who sadly passed in 2019) and Orsi told me what she knew of why she was no longer with us. I missed Magda’s presence on the course, but I still felt so grateful that I could continue.
Just me. One student. Two weeks. I couldn’t believe it – I was excited to learn again, but also petrified as I hadn’t done enough self-practice over the year. I wasn’t in the best mental state and I had no one or nothing to hide behind. I was honest and told them both.
I was anxious, and this time was different knowing I had my exams at the end. But I was determined to make the most of my two weeks no matter what. I had to heal. But I didn’t know what I was healing from or why.
The first week was very intense on philosophy and meditation. I had barely done any pranayama/breath work practice and little to no meditation. I thought ‘How can I be a yoga teacher and not apply these things to my life?’ I was a full-time manager now of the gym I had been at for two years and I was struggling to keep my head above water. I loved the place, the people.
I had support. I had a well-paid job – but I found no joy in life. I lost myself completely.
India has a way of highlighting everything you’ve hidden away. Yoga teacher trainings are not a holiday. But they are life changing.
I woke up early everyday – class 7am but I often turned up at 6:30am, swept the Shala for Orsi before Upendra and his assistant arrived.
The first day, we did 45 minutes meditation and I couldn’t even sit for 10 minutes without feeling pain somewhere. I felt so embarrassed and ashamed. Last year I was fine, why can’t I now?
Each day became more intense, day four was the least anxious I had been. I started to settle into a routine – not travelling too far and Orsi lent me her scooter for the two weeks so I could drive around if I wanted to. I must have looked the typical Brit abroad compared to the drivers in India… I was definitely not as nippy as them!
Anyway – time was passing. Anxiety began to heighten as the virus exploded in Italy and the exam was creeping closer. I was behind on my homework but Orsi was very patient and understanding.
I tried to walk along the beach everyday – Upendra walked with me on my first night and he took me for dinner on his last night.
Every word he spoke was so beautiful. He said, to see the beauty in everything. Life is so beautiful. I believed him – but I still couldn’t feel it. WHY?
I had meditation and pranayama for 1 hour and a half every morning, a short break and then asana practice. I remember leaving one of Orsi’s classes saying ‘My heart, chest feels so heavy.’ ‘That’s grief’ Orsi said.
Of course. I look back now and understand what that grief was – then, I still wasn’t completely sure. My Grandy passed away in July 2019 and his funeral in the August. I had been promoted around the same time before I then became manager in October 2019. I busied myself up so I didn’t have to deal with the loss.
I had guilt for not being there as he passed. He was such a positive man, always walking… and when I say walking, I don’t mean an hour. 8 miles was probably his shortest distance! He was fit, healthy but suffering with some signs of dementia. He died of a stroke/bleed on the brain. Out of nowhere. He’d had a scare earlier in the year but recovered well. This time, it was too far.
I hadn’t seen him for over a year before he died. I’m welling up as a type this – I kept trying to remember the last time I saw him, our conversations. Did I hug him tightly enough when we said bye? I miss him and my Granny Beau so much. I think of them nearly every day.
So, I believe this was the grief I felt. But I believe he’s with me whenever I travel. And when I walk. I know not everyone may agree, but I really feel them with me. Stronger now than ever. I’ve learnt to see the beauty in grief and sadness – and for many 2020 has been filled with these emotions. Yoga can help to unlock and release these emotions. Bringing healing.
Don’t get me wrong – yoga isn’t a magic thing that stops us ever feeling pain or suffering. It’s an incredible gift that we have to help us deal with life in a healthier, more balanced way. Helps us with how we respond to the things that life throws at us – our reactions to events, happenings. It’s important not to only do yoga in times of trouble too – it should be part of a lifestyle. Not just when things get bad and hoping yoga will fix it.
So, as it got closer to my exams, COVID was also getting so much more serious. Italy was at its worst, no travel allowed going into or out of Italy and a girl in the hut opposite had her flight cancelled. Palolem was strangely quiet compared to the last time I visited – again, due to COVID but I was also there at a slightly later, hotter time than the year before.
One night I was having a meal and I was not only hot, but I thought I was on the verge of having a panic attack. I felt so on edge, and for the first time feeling pretty scared to be alone. I felt so out of my comfort zone. I was trying to eat, study and relax all in one. I messaged my teacher as all the lights were going out early at 9pm-2am honouring a night for the dark spirits to roam the streets. All women weren’t supposed to be on their own or out of their house during this time. No lights or electric on in order to make sure the dark spirits stayed away. I must remember the name of it. It was getting closer to the time and I messaged my teacher to make sure I had the times right – there was no one around except men in groups. I couldn’t wait to get back to my hut.
I had some evenings that were wonderful. On the last night Upendra was there – he took me and his assistant out for dinner. A vegetarian place that was traditional Indian food. Honestly – the food was just amazing. I never had a bad meal out there!
We had some wonderful conversations. He asked about my life and lifestyle back home, relationships etc. He told me a little of his life, his daughters and wife. He talked about his friend who had committed suicide. Depression. I was in denial but I was most definitely depressed.
I was almost so riddled with guilt for being depressed in the most beautiful place. I really didn’t understand how I could feel so differently this year to the last.
I remember looking up at the stars with him – he wished me a beautiful life. I welled up. I’ve never heard anyone speak so beautifully. I could listen to him all day.
I was getting up each morning, cleaning the Shala. Orsi had given me the keys as well as the keys to the scooter. I felt so trusted. They trusted me more than I did myself.
My prep for the exams was ok – but I started to panic about getting home. My mind was a little clearer but COVID was just being talked about constantly. I wanted to block it out – I remember talking very little. I just listened and tried to pretend I wasn’t panicking on the inside.
Despite everything – I passed my exams. Orsi had been amazing and listened to so many things. I felt so ungrateful. I just wanted to actually feel again. And now, I look back and although I see how tricky and uncertain life was, how uncertain I was – I am grateful for those feelings. Because I am so appreciative now of all I have.
I just wanted to get home. Which, being in Goa, sounds insane. But the borders were closing and I worried I wouldn’t be seeing my family for a long time. I wondered if I’d get home. The UK were hoarding and Goa was ridiculously chilled. They tried to persuade me to stay.
I know I’ll go back to Goa. And to India. I feel there is a part of me that always has to go back. And when I die, I want my ashes scattered in the ocean there. (to my future kids/family – start saving!)
Although India didn’t ‘bring me what I thought I wanted’ this time – it highlighted all my insecurities. My pain. All the stuff I was trying to block out. You can’t hide from yourself. You have to face the darkness to follow the light. So I am grateful for that pain.
I got to experience Holi Festival in India. This was also different due to COVID. No large group gatherings were really taking place so myself, the couple in the hut opposite me and one of the members of staff at the Kings Villa Resort did our own mini Holi celebration. Festival of colours, love. A time for starting fresh. I sent a photo to Orsi and her daughter Naina replied: ‘Kelsey can be happy now’. A young three year old could see right through me! Incredible. Orsi also took me to a traditional Indian house for a meal celebrating Holi. The best homemade poppadoms I’ve ever had!
Despite my anxiety and depression, there were still so many beautiful moments. The sunsets, the noises of the birds, the boat trip to butterfly beach. I was still so, so lucky.
I was blessed to arrive home safely with no flight cancellations, no delays. The journey home felt so long though. Everyone in Delhi was wearing masks now – but I thought they weren’t useful? Before I left, we didn’t need them.
I remember crying in the airport from exhaustion and the fact I couldn’t buy a mask as my card wasn’t being accepted. A lovely lady bought me one and one for my mum as I worried about her being vulnerable (she is actually exceptionally fit, but it was still really early days for the virus – no one really knew the severity).
It was the weirdest journey home. Constant handwashing, constant analysing, constant worry.
But I made it home. I passed my exam and I still loved it despite the high level of anxiety.
Nearly a year of this pandemic, a year since I was there and I’m in such a different place. I was lucky in a sense to be furloughed so I could apply all I learnt straight away. A long morning practice, we had glorious weather and I really reconnected with nature and getting outside.
Being gym bound for 3 years, I was in such a routine. COVID shuck it all up. Changed my whole and most people’s lives. But it meant we had to start looking within ourselves for answers – not external.
I don’t think 2020 was the worst year. I miss seeing all my family and friends together. I miss socialising. I miss people. But I’m grateful that we were given a time to stop. Sit and be with ourselves in order to see that happiness is self-made.
I am grateful for the darkness. My teachers were the glimmer of light in a dark time and now I feel I am out of the depths of depression and back to myself.
There is still more to discover and always more to learn. I will forever love being a student.
But my biggest lesson is that running away, doesn’t solve things. What you look like isn’t who you are and you are what you digest.
I have learnt to love myself more. It’s an ongoing journey. But I am much kinder to myself than I used to be. I try to practice gratitude every day.
And I hope I make my Grandy and Granny Beau proud.
I made a promise to him. And I hope as a student, teacher and person that I can help others along this journey. Support those in times of need and really embrace and enjoy this life and the next.
India, you are always my teacher. I love you; I miss you and I will return again to hopefully see more of your beauty, wisdom and peace.
I am so grateful to have seen a wonderful place in the world before our travel was and is still restricted.
Until we meet again…