September 21, 2010

Interview: special guest Lucy Edge: “Yoga School Dropout.”

(Since this interview Lucy has become a regular contributor to Elephant. See her blogs,
including several excerpts for Yoga School Dropout at 
her Elephant page.)

I’m very pleased to welcome special guest Lucy Edge,  author of Yoga School Dropout, to Elephant Journal.

Yoga School Dropout is a book you’re going to want to read, particularly if you’re into Yoga, but even if your not.  This book is entertaining on many different levels.  Try it, you’ll like it!

Lucy has agreed to answer your questions
in the comment section below.

Lucy Edge worked in advertising as a strategist for more than twenty years. Her campaigns for Marks & Spencer, Yellow Pages and Johnnie Walker were awarded the top prizes in the business and she built a reputation for creative and effective solutions to her clients’ business problems, a talent that was rewarded with board positions at three top ten agencies.

One day she decided to give it all up in favour of a quest for life’s deeper meaning in the five star ashrams, utopian villages and yoga schools of India. Yoga School Dropout her highly acclaimed account of this journey, records her encounters with Gucci clad gurus, hugging mothers and swoony swamis as she searches, ever more desperately, for mystic Indians, Tantric bliss and a boyfriend.

Named by The Independent as one of their books of the year, and a consistent bestseller on Amazon’s Yoga and Travel Writing rankings, Yoga School Dropout has become a traveller’s classic – inspiring hundreds of disenchanted workers to follow her yoga trail around India in search of a more meaningful life.

Lucy contributes to a wide variety of newspapers, books and magazines including Tatler, The Daily Express, Yoga Journal, Body & Soul Escapes and BA’s High Life magazine.  See her website, follow her on Twitter, read her blog, and join her Facebook page.

Bob: First of all, I’ve got to tell you I loved your book.  It is so vivid, I feel I was right there alongside you the whole time.

Lucy: Thank you – I wish you had been there! I would’ve loved some kindred spirits travelling alongside me.

Bob: Why did you decide to go on a yoga school pilgrimage to India?

Lucy: I’d spent more than a decade in advertising – working eighty hour weeks debating whether the Green Giant should extend his vocabulary beyond ‘ho ho ho.’ These hours would have been completely understandable had we been working for world peace but debating what song a sunflower should sing surely shouldn’t have kept us in the office so long? I had no time to go out and play, only time to stay in and recover before the next ludicrous deadline flew across my desk like a cruise missile. Guaranteed to seek, find and destroy all chance of finding a man before I hit the retirement home.

Clearly I needed to make some changes – find a different way of seeing the world and living in it, discover a more balanced way of life. The only things that sustained me during the singing sunflower years were clothes shopping, Pinot Grigio and yoga. I had found the answers to life’s biggest questions in the bottom of a bottle several times but, sadly, I had woken up in the morning unable to recall what they were, and despite many years of heavy investment, even I had to concede that lasting happiness probably didn’t lie in another pretty dress. That left yoga.

Leaving the singing sunflowers to make their own way in the world, I decided that I would take a six-month career break and go on a yoga school pilgrimage to India.

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 I knew that it might not turn out this way, but it had to be better than looking for meaning in a tub of marge.

Bob: Tell me what led you to write Yoga School Dropout?

Lucy: Needless to say things didn’t work out as planned and I had a lot of trouble gaining acceptance amongst my fellow yoga students. I was lacking the required number of spiritual epiphanies, I hadn’t read the Bhagavad Gita at thirteen and a holy man from Dharamsala hadn’t colour matched a pashmina to my aura. I felt like a fish out of water and my diary became my confidante – the place I went to smile, and cry, over the day’s happenings. By the time I left India I had amassed several volumes and from these emerged the divine comedy that is the Western obsession with India.

When I got home I wrote some chapters and a synopsis and then I went on a travel writing course where I shared the first few chapters with the group. The man who was running it liked my work and put me in touch with his agent – from there I got a deal with Ebury who were incredibly brave in putting out a yoga journey book that had no predecessors – lovely Liz Gilbert had yet to fall for Felipe when Yoga School Dropout came out.

Bob: Of all the experiences you had in India, which ones have stuck with you the most and affected your life today?

Lucy: I loved Rishikesh, the self-proclaimed yoga centre of the world. It didn’t start out too well – I had timed my trip to arrive mid January for the annual International Yoga Festival, only to find that it had been postponed for a month. It poured with rain for the four weeks I was there and I struggled to find a decent ashram or yoga teacher and eventually settled on a harsh regime of Iyengar yoga as some kind of penance for all the fun I’d been having at the Swoony Swami’s ashram in Kerala.

I spent a week trying to raise my inner eyelashes only to be told by Mr Prasad that Westerners were the only ones bothering about their inner eyelashes. Apparently ordinary Indians don’t worry about their eyelashes over the age of twenty five; they meditate instead. The real yoga of Rishikesh, Mr Prasad told me was Bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion.

So I focused on trying to find someone to whom I could devote myself. I started by sitting at the feet of an enlightened ex park ranger from Oregon as hail stones rained upon the ashram’s tin roof. I enjoyed her ‘oceans of love’ philosophy, salmon pink and white robes, home spun homilies – ‘that’s just the way it is’ – and even the folksy sing alongs, but she got angry with a disciple one day and my faith was shaken.

I immersed myself in the Ganges to cleanse my sins and went in search of a Hidden Saint who chose to remain hidden. I even tried worshipping the money god at the five star Ananda Spa in the mountains above Rishikesh but everyone looked utterly miserable and I came back down to simple old fashioned Rishikesh realising that the Madras Café was my favourite temple and MP, the waiter, my chosen deity. I felt pleased with my level of devotion – I visited the Madras Café three times a day, rain or hail stones, for the duration of my stay.

It was from M.P. that I learnt that to the so-called ‘ordinary’ Indian yoga is a state of mind, an attitude to life, and the world is their school. For them yoga is ‘a harmonious way of living,’ not a one off physical goal. It’s something internal – a way of trying to increase the moments of seeing clearly, and choosing wisely in daily life – all they have to do is look within, to their own inner guru. It’s the shortest of journeys.

Bob: Have you been back to India?  If not, do you have plans to go again?

Lucy: I married an Indian man a couple of years ago and so we go back regularly; we both regard it as home. We want to retire there – the family own a ramshackle house in Goa which we’d love to renovate. I can see us now; sitting on the veranda drinking sundowners, watching the world go by.

Bob: I understand you have another book out now.  Could you tell us about that?

Lucy: I met my husband late, at forty one, and we started trying for a baby the following year. I really thought that it would be fine – after all I did a lot of yoga, I ate healthy food, and I’d read article after article in which forty something celebrities announced their ‘baby joy’. Two years later, with an FSH that warned of an approaching menopause, I was told that no fertility clinic would take me on with my own eggs, and that by the way, many of these ‘baby joy’ forty something celebrities had used egg donation and were not admitting it. 

The Handbag and Wellies Yoga Club is about that quest. It was a cathartic experience for me – I used writing it to come to terms with the fact that I would never have children of my own, and to let younger women know the facts about getting pregnant in later life.

According to some US research 89% of young successful women think that they will be able to get pregnant into their forties. Since this experience I have become something of an evangelist for twenty something pregnancies – it’s so important to make young women aware of the risks of leaving it later and letting them know that they may be successful career women who look young and feel young, but that means nothing to their ovaries – all of which are stamped with an indelible use-by-date.

Bob: How did you get through that experience?

Lucy: I just had to go with it. Yoga teaches you to accept things and that is what I did. I didn’t try to battle it, I just accepted it. I count my blessings every day. Although I don’t have children I have so many wonderful things in my life – including a lot of nephews and nieces, and the time to write.

Bob: What are you doing now and what’s next for you?

Lucy: I’ve just finished my third book – my first novel. Its feel-good fiction with substance; a heart-warming comedy of errors for any woman who’s dreamt of taking centre stage and ended up crying in the loo. It’s a commentary on our expectations of work, a timely examination of our obsession with quick fix solutions, with yoga, youth and self-perfection, and a meditation on self acceptance.

I have started a part-time job and I spend my spare time thinking about what I will write next; my experience of Auroville gave me a fascination with utopian communities and I’d love to write about seekers – what we look for and what we find when we get there. Maybe a something on the early travellers to Anjuna, Goa (so I can also renovate that house!) or maybe a novel set in Laurel Canyon in the late sixties/early seventies.

Anyway, these days what I do seems less important than who I’m being when I’m doing it. My life is no longer about what I have and what I can get. My life is about trying to be the best person I can be for everyone I meet along the way. Perhaps one day I will earn the honorary title ‘ordinary’ Indian – one with an enduring attachment to Pinot Grigio.

Bob: Thanks for being here at Elephant, Lucy.  It’s so much fun to be able to talk directly to the author of a book that is loved by so many readers.  I hope you will be doing a U.S. book tour soon.

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