Seasonal Yoga and the Practice of Gratitude – Joanna Cole-Hamilton
On Thursday, I left the library to walk across town to teach a yoga class. An autumn chill had crept into the air and the Edinburgh breeze was blowing. I checked my phone and found an email from a yoga student to say she’d like to attend the Autumn Equinox workshop on Saturday. Pure joy radiated through my heart.
“This joy won’t last,” my mind told me.
“It doesn’t matter,” I replied, “because I get to be with the joy that is here right now.” Joy, I am only able to experience because of the work I have done over the last year in living intentionally.
A little over a year ago, Sara and I sat on the bus home from work on a warm, sunny summer’s evening and bonded over our shared wish to do more to mark the turning of the seasons. We wanted to live more out of intention and create a space where we could do that work with others. The equinox and solstice seemed like natural times in the year to stop and reflect on what was happening in our lives, what we had achieved and what we’d like to achieve over the next three months.
As the seasons changed and the light of the summer turned into the balance of the autumn, the rhythm of life slowed and our focus shifted inwards. We ran our very first yoga, meditation and intention setting workshop at Santosa Edinburgh. Autumn Equinox is a time of harvest and abundance so we chose gratitude as our theme.
As someone who doesn’t like to preach what I don’t practice, I started to practice gratitude. Each evening when I sat down to do my meditation I gave thanks for something – anything – but always something which I was sincerely grateful for in my life.
Winter arrived and with it the darkness which cloaks the world for months on end. For the Winter Solstice we decided to “Embrace the darkness”. But who on earth would come to such a workshop, I wondered? I found the answer, people who have the courage to look within and make space for the parts of themselves they don’t want to see. What did this mean for me? I hardly needed to ask the question, because I already knew the answer.
There’s a part of me that doesn’t believe I am enough if I don’t have a “proper” job. I needed to embrace the part of me that was hiding behind what others wanted me to be – a person with a “proper” job. The part of me that wanted to escape the confines imposed from outside and held tightly within, what did that part want?
Winter, with its 4pm nights and 8am sunrises, finally broke. Spring, with its daylight and the blossoming of life, arrived. My life, lived intentionally, was taking on a new creativity I hadn’t know before, a freedom to engage with those parts of myself I knew but hadn’t embraced. Creativity became the theme for spring, and dare I say, it was fun!
Creative living started to get in the way of my job. There were so many things to do they couldn’t be fitted into the day. Then the 9-5 started to get in the way of my life. I took part in a workshop with Donna Farhi about living from the core. “Better to fail at your own Dharma, than succeed at someone elses,” she said. What was my Dharma? The answer was clear: not this.
I wanted to create, I wanted to teach, I wanted to study the things that fascinate me, I wanted to explore new ideas and talk until the wee small hours about what it means to be human, about what inspires me, about what it feels like to be alive.
Summer solstice with its high energy and endless daylight was upon us. Life and all it had to offer needed to be embraced. We danced with Lakshmi and took on her invitation to taste the sweetness of this life and live it to it’s fullest potential.
Fear of failure, fear of not meeting other people’s expectations, fear of not having enough money, none of these controlled me any more. The fear of not living my life to my full potential was far more scary.
The weakest link in my life had to go.
I quit my 9-5.
I applied to university.
They accepted me.
As I walked down The Mound on Thursday, my heart overflowed with gratitude for everything that was alive in me at that moment. I was coming from the library where I’d read a paper which filled me with happiness to know that others were questioning life the way I did. I was walking through my favourite city, a place I get to call home. The sky was blue and the sun was winking down at me. And I was walking to a yoga class that I got to teach. Because I get to call myself a yoga teacher. And being a yoga teacher is a “proper” job.
None of this happened by accident. And not every moment of my life is great. But in those stressful moments, when I’m trying to finish all the reading I’m supposed to have done for class, half an hour before the class actually starts and the fear of failure looms large in my mind, I remind myself – I chose this. I, unlike many people, get to do something I love. Something that sustains me from the inside, something that makes life seem not only worth living but enjoyable, exciting and fun. I am so unbelievably lucky.
It won’t last forever. Life will change, my fortunate circumstances will disappear. But I get to have this joy in my life. And if I can be with the joy that is present right now, then I know I will be able to be with the joy that arises in the future. For that, I am grateful.
Today, we marked the one year anniversary of our seasonal yoga, meditation and intention setting workshops. We returned to our theme of gratitude, because gratitude is the doorway to joy. As David Steindl-Rast says, “It is not joy that makes us grateful, it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”
For all of this – the tough moments which shaped me over the last year, the joyful moments I now am able to experience – I am incredibly grateful. Especially to the people who have shared these workshops with me and Sara, over the last year. It has been wonderful to create a space together which is dedicated to setting intentions and celebrating what we have. Thank you
And to those who would like to join us in the future, welcome!