Strong, Calm and Free by Nicola Jane Hobbs is a modern guide to yoga, meditation and mindful living and we are so honoured to share this exclusive piece from the author about her relationship with yoga, mental health and more.
Not long after my 18th birthday, I found myself sitting cross-legged on a yoga mat at the back of a local yoga studio. The smoky smell – a potent blend that reminded me of Christmas spices – was slowly diffusing around the room and there was gentle, uplifting music playing with lyrics in a language I didn’t understand. I had never practised yoga before.
I thought meditation was for monks. And mindfulness was yet to make it to the mainstream.
But I was finding the intense pressure and machine pace of modern life overwhelming and I was willing to try anything to take the edge off the ever-present anxiety that hummed beneath the surface of my life.
The yoga teacher instructed us to stand at the top of our mat and asked us to silently set a sankalpa, an intention for our practice: Why had we come to class today? Who would we like to dedicate our practice to? How could we make our time on the mat sacred? I felt awkward. Uncomfortable. Vulnerable. In my mind, yoga was like aerobics or spinning – a workout, a way to get fit and let off steam. I wasn’t interested in the spiritual stuff. But, by the end of the class, something deep within me had ever-so-slightly shifted – softened, opened, released
– and, after years of feeling anxious, overwhelmed and exhausted, I felt different. I felt strong, calm and free.
I glimpsed what it was like to be fully present, fully in my body instead of stuck in my head judging it from the outside. And, for a brief moment, the coppery voice of my inner critic faded and I touched an inner peace that I had forgotten existed. It was as if I had spent my whole life holding my breath and now I could finally exhale.
I went back to class every week after that. Learning how to breathe again. Learning the poses and their funny Sanskrit names. Learning how to be in my body in a way that was nourishing and not destructive. Learning how to be present instead of always striving towards the next goal. Learning how to be strong. And how to surrender.
A couple of years later, I booked a flight to Thailand to train as a yoga and meditation teacher. And I’ve been sharing the gift of yoga ever since. Both my practice and teaching have changed a lot over the last decade. In the early days, the advanced poses – the fancy arm balances and extreme backbends – were the goal of my practice. But, over the years, I have discovered the poses are just the beginning, an entry point to a practice that will, if you let it, transform your entire life.
I have written Strong, Calm and Free for anyone who feels called to explore the universe of yoga – for those of you who are totally new to yoga or new to teaching yoga and also for those of you who would like to deepen your practice and recommit to this spiritual adventure once more.
Whether you’ve never stepped foot on a yoga mat before or want to deepen your home practice, Strong, Calm and Free will gently guide you through a ten-week journey of yoga sequences, meditations and mindful living practices that will build strength, bring insight and offer a path to healing and freedom.
This is an extract from Strong, Calm and Free: A modern guide to yoga, meditation and mindful living by Nicola Jane Hobbs and is published by Green Tree and is out now (Paperback: £16.99).
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Nicola Jane Hobbs is a yoga, meditation and mindfulness teacher and psychospiritual counsellor specialising in mental health and peak performance. She has a master’s degree in sport psychology and integrates ancient spiritual practices with modern psychological techniques. She is also the author of Yoga Gym, Thrive Through Yoga, Fear-Free Food and Stay Young With Yoga.