I’ve always believed that if you can deal with yourself, you can deal with anyone. Your mind is usually your best friend or worst enemy.
This is why after completing my business degree, I started studying introductory units in psychology, and signed up for a three-month course in clinical hypnosis.
I began to truly appreciate how our thought patterns affect how we see ourselves and the world around us. The mind is an amazing thing.
We all have so much inner power but it’s a matter of knowing how to “access” it. This is why I find meditation so powerful.
I put this to the test when I was doing my yoga teacher training in Rishikesh, India.
One of the most memorable things I did there was to show up on the banks of the holy river that ran through Rishikesh, on one of the most auspicious days of the Indian calendar.
It was going to take guts to do this but I really wanted to immerse myself into the freezing waters of “Mother Ganga”, the sacred Ganges river.
From ancient times, this has been considered the holiest of rivers and it is believed that bathing in the Ganges will cleanse your soul of all its sins and impurities.
I’m not greatly superstitious but I loved the idea of getting rid of any emotional baggage I might be carrying because it was the start of a new year for me, and a new chapter was unfolding in my life.
I was feeling adventurous and I wanted this act to mark the letting go of my past to welcome a brand new present.
However, the problem was the temperature of the water. I had seen some students put their feet into the river and they were shaking their heads.
They said there was no way they were going in any further. January is the coldest month of the year in Rishikesh and the water is icy cold.
The holy swamis were not in the least bit concerned about these conditions. In fact, our ashtanga teacher said he would be doing 108 dips in the Ganges where he would dunk his head underwater.
Apparently, 108 is an auspicious number and he was going to be doing this on this very sacred day.
We asked how he was going to cope with the cold and he said, “It’s all in your breathing. If you do the same breathing we do in our class, you won’t feel the cold.”
He sounded so sure about this that I was absolutely fascinated and I wanted to do it.
I convinced a few of my friends who were feeling brave to do it with me and so there we were, standing on the banks of “Mother Ganga”.
Our yoga teacher was already in the water with a huge smile on his face. From the 36 students in my course, we were actually the only ones that were going to attempt what yogis have been doing for thousands of years.
Entering the river in winter is a profound experience I’m never going to forget. It was so cold, it was a shock to the senses.
I immediately started doing the ujjayi breathing technique we had learnt with such complete focus that a warmth started to spread in my upper chest.
This breathing exercise draws oxygen into the body so I felt energized. In fact, it’s used by Olympians to increase their respiratory efficiency.
Incredibly, just like what my teacher said, I was not cold at all. I managed to do all 108 dips in the river and it was one of the most rejuvenating, soulfully refreshing and memorable things I’ve ever done in my life.
Looking back, the entire trip probably did change my life. I returned to Kuala Lumpur, surrounded by all things familiar from my creature comforts to the way I lived my life but I felt a subtle shift within.
I was longing for more meaning in my life. I did not have a holy river to offer anyone in Kuala Lumpur, but I could offer my time and a place for those who felt they needed a safe space to retreat from their daily stress.
This is the humble beginning of opening my own space for people to practice, to learn how breathing can help with their anxiety whether it is through yoga, meditation, or a sound healing session.
To me, yoga is a great metaphor for life, because the battle that we always fight is with the self.
As mentioned, if you can deal with yourself and your own thoughts, you can deal with anything. When we master the breath and our minds, we master ourselves.
Jojo Struys is a regional TV host, speaker & wellness personality. She is also the founder of OhanaJo Studio, which is Malaysia’s largest yoga & sound healing space.