I first found my way into Surinder Singh’s class in 2012 at the Rajdeep Hotel in Rishikesh, India. Somehow I had ended up at the front of the class and he was directly in front of me as we started the sun salutations.
Lifting my arms up over my head on the inhale, I was aware of him smiling at me. His eyes were kind with a cheeky twinkle of amusement. I wasn’t sure what was so funny at the time but I can guess that my eyes were wide with a ‘I probably shouldn’t be here’ expression.
It was a tough first class. Really tough. I still had CFS fatigue. I was weak. My arms shook in downward facing dog. My heart thumped throughout the sun salutations. I struggled to balance. I struggled to breathe. Sweat was on free flow and I was surrounded by sickeningly proficient yogis, victoriously flowing through their practice.
Impostor syndrome kicked in. I thought that I shouldn’t be there at all. I was struck by how unfair it all was. Why was I finding it so hard? I’d been practising for a couple of years at this point – albeit at a level dictated by illness. Why was the illness still holding me back? I dropped down into child’s pose, which turned out to be the perfect pose to sulk in.
I meditated on my general uselessness until I wanted to cry. Thankfully a shred of self-respect and resolve kicked in before I did actually metamorphose into a child. I got back off the floor and into my practice. Surinder checked that I was ok and gave me a pat on the back, his eyes shining with compassion, the light dancing around his eyes.
I started to learn. He directed me to lift my toes in standing forward bend. They were clamped to the floor and determined to stay there. I was convinced that uprooting them would result in me toppling forward.
I was intrigued though and managed to lift them long enough to notice the weight coming firmly onto the mound of my foot and that I was able to fold further forward. This was strange and miraculous to me and his other adjustments were just as intriguing, as was the way he communicated them.
Rather than pushing you into the correct position he communicates what movements are needed to get you there. His fingers might trace the part of the spine that needs to straighten. His thumbs might press forward on the side ribs, encouraging them to slide forward, allowing the chest to open.
Although I didn’t fully appreciate what was happening on that first day, I did realise that this kind, smiling man knew the poses inside out – literally. I was yet to realise that the way he was adjusting was empowering us to put ourselves in the correct position, by feeling our way from the inside out.
His class was full but he managed to be everywhere. It felt like there were 10 Surinders gliding around the room, ready to adjust, to encourage, to give someone exactly the adjustment they needed for their level. He went without pause between beginners and advanced practitioners, giving both equal attention. It seemed like the whole room was electric with people working, bringing their bodies into balance, their minds into focus.
I ended the class on a high, knowing that I had found my teacher. I went to his class every day for the rest of my time in Rishikesh, learning so much about the postures, learning ‘how to breathe nicely’ instead of going bright red and shaking.
The only thing that dragged me away was the chance to spend Christmas in Varkala with my best friend. I expected to be back in the New Year.
Life intervened and it was two years until I was back again. But this time it was to do my yoga teacher training with Surinder Singh.