By Gingi Lee, Founder of the Shala
Twenty one years ago I climbed the stairs in an old Victorian brewery in Battersea, opened a small door into a light filled room. It was like no other space I had been in, a room with energy, nurturing, exciting, full of potential. I had spent most of my life up until then with a very nomadic existence. Doing lots of martial arts and yoga and teaching on the road. The previous five years I had spent most of my time in India, learning yoga, smoking with sadhus, trying to solve the great mysteries of life and also worrying about coming back to the real world in the West. While back in the West, I would then go through a process of worrying about how I was going to escape back to the East! Saving money to get back to the sunsets of Rajasthan didn't seem like a great career move but I was living in the moment. The future was not a place I wanted to dwell.
Now here was a room. It had an innate energy. A potential. There was something very exciting standing there in the room as the sun streamed through the windows. I didn't know at the time how this space was going to shape my future as well as the future of others. I deliberated about taking the space on as a yoga studio. I even consulted the I-Ching or The Book of Changes, an ancient book of predictions to see if I was making the right choice in life. It was a chancy situation. I had very little money. Yoga was in its infancy in London. There were virtually no dedicated yoga centres London and certainly no dedicated Ashtanga centres. Yoga was still very underground. I was an unknown teacher of a little known Eastern physical practice. I was often met with suspicion.
I felt in my heart at the time that this space was special. It was now or never.
So I opened the centre (then known as The Sangam), put down roots and made the commitment. Teaching yoga was what I was determined to do. I had nothing to fall back against. I was totally committed.
At first I had a handful of students. Those early students were very dedicated and the gave me the support and inspiration to continue. From the very beginning a sense of community had started. A small family had blossomed.
These where exciting times. The air was buzzing with yoga energy in the room. It was fresh, unexplored and full of potential. You could feel it was going to get bigger.
And bigger it became. Yoga started to explode in London and the Sangam was at the centre of the expansion of its popularity in those early days. Classes were growing and I needed more room. I moved downstairs into a bigger space and for eight years the Sangam continued to grow.
Those eight years were potent with the spread of dramatically changing landscape of yoga. But what I have come to realise is that the yoga was only a vehicle for something more important than learning the physical postures, meditation or yogic breath. That real yoga brings a sense of community, belonging and support. After twenty one years of being together with so many souls, I am truly humbled. I have learned so much sharing these many journeys.
Now twenty one years have passed since standing in that light filled room. Dreaming.
I have had the honour and privilege to share the ups and downs of many student's lives. All the changes in life, everything between birth and death, the marriages, breakups, illnesses, career changes. It is truly beyond words to describe what it is like to go through the cycle of life with the many inspiring students I have been blessed with, some of whom are no longer here. It’s true to say that the postures themselves have played very little in it all really. It’s been twenty one years of life and love shared. True yoga. Twenty one years…thank you.