Yoga was something I started when a fitness friend told me about a local yoga studio in the town where I live. At the time, it was really the only one around and I didn’t know much about it. My thoughts on it were the usual breathing and stretching but I figured there was no harm in trying it out. So I went. The first thing I noticed when I walked up the stairs and into that the little studio was that it smelled like nag champa incense, such an alluring and inviting aroma. It was a different atmosphere being at the yoga studio compared to the gym. There were Himalayan salt lamps around, OM symbols, heaters and the incense was burning. It was quiet and really quite peaceful. Throughout the class, hearing the Sanskrit terms and breathing felt like a sort of homecoming. As far as the asana went, it was super fun, more challenging than I had expected and it reminded me of dance. I did some serious ballet dancing when I was younger and the whole feel of yoga, getting into the poses and using muscles I forgot were there was pretty awesome. My very first teacher ever was very charismatic, magnetic really…and it truly added to the burst of engaged enjoyment I experienced. She was a natural, a real yogi inside. The next day I was surprised to have some sore muscles but super excited because I had basically found “my thing”. I knew it was going to become part of my life on a permanent and influential scale.
Since that early time, my practice and life has changed dramatically. When I started, it was about fitness and it quickly shifted to a lifestyle. Even when it became a lifestyle, my appreciation for the space it creates in my mind has grown significantly as time passes and life changes. The layers of how I thought about yoga and use it in my life continued to revise as I began to learn more and more about the history and philosophy of Ashtanga Yoga. I wanted to live a clean life. Inside and outside of my body. When I had children, this desire included them too. As far as organic clean eating goes, I have been vegetarian now for more than ten years and even went vegan for two. It feels right for me. That was the first majour change that happened. I was eating a healthy diet prior to that time, it was the awareness of how food made me feel that became more attuned. But there was more…
I’ll never forget the first trip I went on to study yoga in Thailand. I was gone for a whole month. I observed that the way of life is spiritually focused and more natural in Thailand. Many things were in contrast to my life at home. A big one was the place where I spent my time, it was on an island and away from the big cities and towns. It was also extremely hot. Most of the time I don’t remember smelling anything too intense besides coffee and the ocean, both of which are quite welcome anytime:)
When I returned home, the most notable thing I remember was the intense bombardment of chemical odours when I went out to the mall. The perfume, the deodorant, hairsprays, make up, hand lotions, fabric softeners and who knows what, filling the air as people passed by me. I thought I was going to pass out from all the overwhelming nose stimulation and crazy chemical smells and the sudden headache I felt. We had to leave because I couldn’t focus on why we were there in the first place anymore. I was consumed by the chaotic trauma my nose was experiencing, LOL. I am pretty sure that most of us have become so desensitized to this onslaught of stinky-ness because we are exposed to it in such high frequency. Scientifically speaking, our noses and sense receptors are programmed to discontinue prompting our awareness to smells which are around for more than a few minutes. When we smell skunk, for example, the smell slowly dissipates shortly thereafter. Whether we are conscious of it or not, the chemicals are still there.
When I first began to learn about essential oils, a whole new understanding of how scent affects our physiology helped me to understand how oils can benefit our bodies and how these other fake and chemical fragrances can wreak havoc on our internal systems. The whole process helped explain my experiences when I returned home from Thailand. Here’s how it works- our olfactory system is closely linked to our brains, being in such close proximity to each other. Odours moving into the nose move up and bind with olfactory receptors. These are transmitted through to the the olfactory bulb via electrical impulse where smells are identified. The signal travels further to the thalamus to be directed to the orbitofrontal cortex and the limbic system. The limbic system is where we connect memories, emotion and learning. It’s no wonder that certain smells can bring back memories and feelings. The problem is that research has revealed that synthetic scents have endocrine disruptors in them which can be harmful to the function of your hormones and lead to various health problems. I could go on about phthalates, parabens, sodium lauryl sulphate and so many more hundreds of chemicals that are filling our shampoos, soaps, laundry detergents, deodorizers and more….but I won’t be that annoying:)
As I become more attuned to my body and how I experience the world around me, the more I can see how important it is to remove as many of the harmful products and constituents that are all around us. Yoga is a spiritual practice involving introspection of ourselves and it allows us to become more receptive to observing what affects us in our environment and what is happening inside our bodies and minds. The sense of gratitude I feel by discovering and embracing this path and gift of learning through yoga grows and radiates into more aspects of my life as time goes on. Such a beautiful thing.