We are fortunate that Lucy Edge has agreed to publish selected excerpts from Yoga School Dropout here on Elephant. Lucy’s book is already a best seller in the U.K., but it is brand new in the U.S. See my Elephant interview with Lucy from , and the first two hilarious excerpts, Lucy Arrives in India, and Exasperated by Her Career and Love Life, Lucy Turns to Yoga.
“In My Dreams I Returned a Yoga Goddess”
by Lucy Edge
Back home in London, my tan down the plughole, the noise of traffic outside my door and my bikini in the washing machine, I lost any glimmer of cosmic certainty but I made some headway with the continuing battle to unite breath and body, if not mind.
In my now thrice weekly yoga classes, I stopped wobbling when both my feet were still firmly on the ground, reserving feelings of unsteadiness for those times I was clutching a foot to my forehead. I touched my toes for the first time in my adult life (day three hundred and sixty six). I lay down on the ground and got my feet to touch the floor behind my head in halasana or ‘plough’ (day eight hundred and seventy two). I got stronger and managed to stay in poses for more than one breath before collapsing on my mat. My stamina improved so that I was able to make it to the end of the class without needing to spend half of it resting on my knees, head to the ground, in ‘child’s pose’ – though it remain to this day my favourite pose. Even my co-ordination improved – though I knew I would never make it as a synchronised swimmer I was no longer an embarrassment to myself, or the rest of the class. I felt more balanced – I could stand on one leg for at least ten seconds before I fell over and occasionally I caught a glimpse, in the far distance, of some much needed equilibrium.
Unfortunately these glimpses were rare and stilling the activities of my mind presented a continuing challenge. Resting in savasana or ‘corpse pose’ at the end of class, I was a heaving mass of chitta vritti. Was the handsome man on the next mat single? Should I try to make conversation as we put our yoga mats away? Would anyone want to go for a glass of wine after class?
The answer to this last question was always yes, and it normally turned into more than one glass. By the time we hit the second bottle my classmates were freely admitting the contents of their chitta vritti. It wasn’t always about the person on the next mat. Chitta vritti could also concern what to wear to a party, whether to ask the boss for a raise, what to have for dinner tomorrow night, or whether the iron had been left on. These were the thoughts that stood between us and cosmic bliss.
Several years passed. My classmates went on yoga world tours and came back with lofty ideals: giving up their high-powered jobs in favour of running yoga centres, or becoming yoga teachers and selling yoga clothes made from organic Peruvian cotton. They told me stories of ‘deepening their practice’ under the strict tutelage of exotic-sounding gurus – T.K.V. Desikachar, Pattabhi Jois (known, I discovered later, as ‘Guruji’) and B.K.S. Iyengar. The schools didn’t sound as glamorous as those of London – instead of fluffy white towels, incense sticks and candles there were concrete floors and bars on the windows. Elasticated-waist trousers and baggy T-shirts replaced Nuala and Prana yoga clothes, certainly as far as Desikachar and Iyengar were concerned. But no matter – these schools got results. Caroline told us that she’d had a spiritual epiphany whilst cleaning the toilet at the Sivananda Ashram, a twelve-acre ‘Garden of Eden’ in Kerala. Jim and Jessie, who had also been on that Turkish holiday, had met a girl who’d been to the Bihar School of Yoga where she’d worn white pyjamas, surrendered her passport and shaved her head as a symbol of her lack of ego and worldly thoughts.
Shaven heads notwithstanding, my fascination with the five-thousand-year-old traditions of yoga grew. I began to have dreams about going to India. This land of mountains and sages. This land of shrines and saints. This land in which everything – the air, the trees, the ground you walked on – could apparently help you find yourself, and cosmic bliss.
Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, the book Kate was reading in Tobago, was peppered with stories of masters equipped with extraordinary powers over matter. Vishudhananda – ‘The Perfume Saint’ – could rearrange the structure of ‘lifetrons’, particles smaller than atoms, to create whatever perfume or piece of fruit you desired. ‘The Tiger Swami’ used his mind power to focus energy and had a bet with the Prince of Cooch Behar that he could use his bare hands to resist and bind the newly caught tiger Raja Begum and depart the tiger’s cage in a conscious manner. He won the bet and trumped it by putting his head in the mouth of the tiger, although he did then spend six months in bed with blood poisoning as the enraged tiger had dug his claws in at this piece of effrontery. Then there was Swami Pranabanada, ‘The Saint with Two Bodies’, who could talk to a friend on the shores of the Ganges at the same time as he spoke at home to the twelve-year-old Paramahansa Yogananda.
I wished that I could be ‘The Ad Girl with Two Bodies’ – leaving one of me to earn good money for talking about marge while the other me went off to have adventures with these masters.
Yoga became the perfect antidote to the demands of life in advertising. My expenditure on Triyoga and Life Centre classes, Nuala tank tops and Calmia Meditation Mist began to outstrip the amount spent in Joseph, but I felt that I had to keep this growing attachment to myself. One of the Account Directors, on seeing a note pinned to my desk with Gandhi’s words, ‘We must be the change in the world we want to see’, looked at me suspiciously and took me out for lunch. He told me, over his duck on a bed of green lentils, that he didn’t think yoga and a career in advertising were really compatible – his girlfriend came home from yoga class rather spaced out, and with some strange notions concerning a merger with cosmic bliss. He was considering his future with her. I got the message.
I started to lead a double life. I would pretend I had to leave early to get ready for a hot date rather than admitting I was going to a yoga class. A week at Ibiza Yoga was cunningly disguised as a week of heavy clubbing action. If I came into the office stiff from a particularly gruelling class I would blame my walk on muscles pickled in alcohol. Sometimes they actually were so I wasn’t lying all the time.
I would probably still be leading this double life were it not for the final straw. I woke up one day to find myself the victim of a power coup in which I would have to work for a man with a ponytail.
Shortly after Ponytail received his promotion, he came to my office to talk me through his plans for the department. I must admit that I drifted in and out of much of his forty-chart presentation but I did catch the occasional snippet:
‘… Planning needs to believe in itself … If we believe in ourselves others will too … we can’t be strong until we know where our strength must lie.’
Many charts followed. An hour later I tuned in again to hear the wrap.
‘… So we’ll work in groups and simplify… By the way, your hair looks nice– did you do something to it?’
I decided in that moment that I would be unable to cope with Ponytail’s hair issues over the short, medium or long term. It was time to move on.
Leaving the singing sunflowers to make their own way in the world, I would follow in my friends’ footsteps and escape to India. I would take a six-month career break and go on a yoga school pilgrimage.
I would find a guru, someone to lead me from gu, darkness, to ru, light. Someone to help me unite body, breath and mind, and strip away the layers of ego. He would direct me in my search for deeper meaning, a fulfilling way of life. He would help me find my purpose, my place in the world. Perhaps that place would be up a mountain – where I would, like others before me, merge my Eternal Self with the big pool of cosmic bliss that is the universe.
In my dreams I returned a Yoga Goddess, the embodiment of feminine perfection – peaceful, happy, loving, wise, endlessly compassionate towards a suffering world – and a magnetic babe attracting strong and sweaty, yet emotionally vulnerable men. We would share profound moments, wrapped in hammocks debating the teachings of The Bhagavad Gita, the spiritual struggle of the human soul.
In my dreams not only had my purpose in life been revealed but also a pretzel-like body – light on fat, flexible yet strong. I would sit in the lotus position, or stand on my head, effortlessly performing advanced postures in designer clothes for a Sunday Telegraph feature on Yoga Babes. Vogue would photograph me in my favourite organic juice bar and designer friends would choose me to model their size eight scented knickers. In these dreams the lack of money didn’t matter because I was beyond materialism, and anyway I got free holidays when Sting invited me to his Italian villa to give him personal tuition.
Of course, in discussion with the Cappuccino Gurus, I recognized that it might not turn out this way, but it had to be better than working for a man with a ponytail or looking for meaning in a tub of marge.
I decided to approach the yoga school selection process in the same way I worked through complex strategic problems in advertising – with methodical research. I went to W.H. Smith and bought a pink file and ten plastic wallets.
There was a bewildering array of yogic paths. Which way to go? It was very confusing – the royal and scientific path of Raja yoga with Desikachar in Chennai? The path of self-knowledge – Jnana yoga – at Tiruvannamalai? Bhakti yoga – the path of love and devotion – with a Hugging Mother on the Keralan backwaters? Sri Aurobindo’s Integral yoga at Auroville? Tantra – worshipping the body as a temple of the Divine – with Osho in Pune or the precision of Iyengar yoga, also in Pune? Ashtanga in Mysore or Sivananda in Kerala? These places occupied the four corners of India – should I go north, south, east or west?
I decided to take the Pink File, by now so fat with yogic possibility that I could hardly close it, on a yoga holiday in the south of France, where I could mull things over.
The villa was home to the bohemian Ted and Cat, sculptor and muse. During the summer they lived in Ted’s studio and rented out the cool, shuttered bedrooms of their farmhouse. They spent lunchtime on their terrace and, after a couple of jugs of lesser-known Luberon wine, they would move to Ted’s studio. I think this was the time when Cat fulfilled her role as Ted’s muse most effectively – I could hear his gratitude from my place by the pool.
Lying there late one steamy afternoon, trying not to listen to Cat inspiring Ted, I got talking to fellow holidaymaker Richard. He had just resigned from his job as a computer programmer in Basingstoke and, like me, was planning to travel around the yoga schools of India.
We lay by day under Ted and Cat’s fig trees and contemplated our future beyond the fields of lavender and thyme. In fact, I was contemplating his strong arms and full swimming trunks, but I think I did it without him noticing. We mooched around the market buying tomatoes, Cavaillon melons and stoneground bread stuffed with olives. Our elbows touched. We shared spliffs and talk of yogic paths as we sat dangling our feet in the cool darkness of the two a.m. swimming pool:
‘I’ve been to India several times, you know, babe,’ said Richard, during one of these night-time conversations. ‘Spent a year in the Himalaya when I was eighteen – wow – almost rocked back home in orange robes – way too much chillum. But I learned some stuff when I was up the mountain. Had a kundalini experience, you know. Certainly woke up old Shakti the serpent. I could feel her blazing her way up my spine unlocking all of my chakras, and then she met Shiva right up at the crown of my head. Wow, man, it was like an explosion, cosmic bliss. I was the universe and the universe was me. We were one. I was in love with the whole fucking world, man. Boom Shiva!’
Had Richard had direct experience of samadhi, the enlightened world that Caroline had described to me under the stars in Turkey? Or was he just a stone-head?
‘Were you in India on your own?’ I asked.
‘I was alone in the Himalaya, just me and the crazy old guys together, smoking chillum and talking crazy stuff. I met a woman when I came down the mountain – at Osho’s place in Pune. Have you heard of him? He’s the so-called “Sex Guru”.’
I had actually. Jim and Jessie, whom I’d met on the Turkish holiday, had visited the resort for a few days after they’d met the girl who’d shaved her head – they’d warned me that I’d need some maroon and some white robes if I wanted to visit, and to be careful about sitting beneath the resort’s bamboo trees as they’d heard that people were prone to having sex in these picturesque spots, though they hadn’t seen it themselves. I had to admit to being intrigued but I wasn’t sure sex in a public place, with or without robes, would be my kind of thing.
Richard explained that he thought the press had sensationalized Osho’s message, suggesting that Osho believed in promiscuous sex, when what Osho had actually said was that sex can give be a meditative experience but only if you have mastery over it, not if your are a slave to it. ‘This older bird really helped me with understanding that. One night, it was like she was calling me. I got over to her room as fast as I could and there she was, in the darkness, sitting on the floor, naked except for a red scarf, waiting for me. I learned to control myself in those two days, you know, to achieve that mastery. I was arrested a couple of days later for having a kilo of weed in my bag. Boom Shiva! I had to give the police guy a huge bribe to get off. Left Pune sharpish after that.’
He looked at me intently. ‘So babe, let’s rock up in India together. It’ll be mad.’
Mad is what it will be I thought. Ah well, whatever else, it would be an adventure.
‘OK,’ I said, dipping my toes hesitantly back in the water. It was cold and I shivered.
We arranged to leave England for Mysore on the 17th of November. We’d both heard about Mr Venkatesh and wanted to do his six week Union course, and then we’d sail to the bone-white beaches of the remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands for a New Year mini-break.
Perhaps it would all work out. I allowed myself to dream. There were the two of us – wearing necklaces of shell and headbands of bark fibre in keeping with island tradition. We would practice early morning yoga on the beach, and afterwards we would swim – the slow pulse of the tropical waters would prove a welcome respite for our tired muscles, achingly stretched into limbs of lean goldenness. Perhaps we would breathe in perfect synchronicity, our sunbeds shaded by the mangrove trees, side by side in perfect alignment, a pleasing mirror of our unified souls. Perhaps not.
The day before we were due to leave, Richard sent me an email. Unwelcome news:
Babe! Broken boiler. Got to fix so I can rent out the flat. I’ll only be a week. Tops. Promise.
There were other rumours circulating in my Yahoo Inbox – one of the Cappuccino Gurus informed me that he’d fallen for a cocktail waitress dancing on a nightclub podium. What to do? Carry on as planned, that’s what.
(First published by in Great Britain in 2005 by Ebury Publishing, a division of the Random House Group Ltd / Text©Lucy Edge 2005 / Lucy Edge has asserted her right to be identified as the author of this work under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 /All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the copyright owners.)