A few weeks ago I was walking through my local park at the innocuous time of 3:35 pm on a Tuesday afternoon. I work from home, our house is on the market and we had a viewing, so I headed to a cafe in the park to be out of the way.
Once in the park, I noticed a youngish man, dressed all in black with his hood up, walking towards me. I smiled at him in my usual friendly fashion and he suddenly moved towards me, lunged at my handbag, which was slung across my body and yelled, “Give me your wallet!” I initially shouted “No!” He then showed me a knife, and I swiftly changed my mind, ducking out of my handbag, and watching as he walked off on a path in the undergrowth. As he was taking my bag I yelled at him, “Why are you doing this?” – twice. I don’t know why I did, it was just instinctive. But I also genuinely wanted to know – it seemed like such a ridiculous thing to do.
A nearby jogger who had seen what just happened came over and stayed with me while a called the police – luckily I had my phone in my hand and he hadn’t taken it – and then began the job of dealing with the consequences of that ten seconds.
In the scheme of things, I was lucky. People get mugged all the time, and, having lived in London most of my life, this was the first time anything like this had happened to me. And although he showed me the knife, he didn’t use it. I wasn’t physically hurt at all.
The police were great. They arrived after ten minutes, drove me round looking for him, and took a detailed statement. There were four police cars in the area all looking for him. But in the end, there was no sign of him and no record of him on their database, so the case was closed.
My Life in my Handbag
We don’t realise how much stuff we have in our handbags and wallets. Little things, like I had photos of the kids and my auntie who died some years ago. I had membership cards, credit cards, stamps, loyalty cards and so on. I also had my house and car keys and (crucially) my driver’s license, which had my address on it. So, taking no chances, we had the house and car locks changed – at great expense.
It’s been a month since it happened and I’m still very much dealing with the practical fall-out of the decision my attacker made. A small example is that the debit card that was registered to automatically update my son’s travel card was taken. In the busy-ness of life, I forgot to update it in time, and he was given a £40 fine and has to buy a ticket every day while we wait for a new oyster card to arrive. This is just one of the numerous time-consuming and depressing incidents.
They seem small, but when you’re also trying to move house, those small things can feel like one more mountain to climb.
Where Yoga Comes in
Oh, yoga! When I needed you, there you were. My teacher trainer told me to have faith in yoga. This has been borne out over the last month.
Although I have been mainly been ‘fine’, there are moments when I haven’t been fine. When the sensation that anything we have can be taken at any time creeps up on me and I feel a sense of panic.
I have come to realise that a yoga practice is a precious habit. Let me reassure you that when you have those days that you don’t have the energy, but you fit it in, you will later be thankful for those times because it means that when you really need yoga, it’s there for you. The habit is ingrained, and your body can go to it.
As BKS Iyengar says in Light on Life:
By learning how to stretch and how to keep the nervous system elastic and lively through asana, you will be capable of bearing any load, and so stress will not occur at all.
Well, clearly I’m not quite at the ‘stress will not occur at all’ level yet, but there’s no doubt that being able to access your nervous system through yoga is a great gift.
I have practiced pranayama in the dark mornings, my breath slowly unwinding the knot in my solar plexus. I have breathed the phrase ‘I am safe, secure and loved’ into my subconscious. I have done asana practice, inverting my brain and lifting and opening my heart and through those repeated actions, rejected fear and bitterness.
Being a yoga teacher helps too
As an Iyengar yoga teacher, I start all my classes with the Invocation to Patanjali, a traditional Sanskrit chant. This has also been incredibly useful. The physical act of singing is a deeply calming action. The sounds are reassuring and familiar, and it gives me the time to focus my attention on the class to come.
The routine of teaching my yoga classes has been comforting, as has the ‘act’ that I have to perform as a yoga teacher. I am upbeat, energised, energising. I am calm, clear and soothing. When you are putting on these attributes, some of them rub off on you and stick.
My students have unknowingly helped too. By being funny, or kind, or complicated, they have distracted me from my anxious rumblings and helped me to focus on what is in front of me.
The other day one of them sent me an email saying she felt blessed to have found me and my class. And being blessed is just how I feel too.