In April 2011 I attended a yoga retreat in Portugal where I met a wonderful girl called Martha Heiland-Allen. She shined with light and beauty and had a deep passion for yoga. She was incredibly strong and flexible and could a great chaturanga :) She was training with Claire Missingham in London and after completing her course later that year, travelled to India where she continued her sadhana in Rishikesh, the Krisnamacharya Yoga Mandirim in Chennai and then down in Kerala. She came back and forged a full time career as a vinyasa flow teacher at many studios across London, including Tri Yoga. I was so inspired by Martha's strength and passion for the practice of yoga, we continued to email and she and her blog helped me to plan my own yoga sadhana in 2013. Below is the link to an extremely informative blog of her time in India, a must read for anyone wishing to travel India..
Martha in action
We tried to meet in the summer of 2013 to chat about both our impending travels, but unfortunately our busy schedules meant that didn't happen. I was in my bedroom at Stan's House in Mysore, India, December 2013 when I read that Martha had died suddenly. I was in complete shock and disbelief as I read the words and felt so sad that such a beautiful and caring person had been taken from this world, just 28 years old.
It wasn't until 2 weeks ago that I learned that in fact Martha had taken her own life, in the midst of a severe bout of depression and self-doubt. Yes, even yogis suffer depression. Even yogis suffer self doubt. It's not always 'namaste', 'light and love', even though that's what we sometimes show and try and want to believe. I came to yoga during a period of being lost. In western medicine they call it
depression, in the east it is translated as 'being lost', I prefer the latter. At least with the latter term, there's the hope of 'being found'. It's not a permanent state, like everything in life, its impermanent. 'Even this will pass…'
Many people come to yoga during difficult times in their lives. Yoga is known for its relaxing qualities, many students come just for the 'little lie down at the end' or 'savasana' as we know it :) A few minutes a week out of their busy daily lives to give themselves some peace and quiet and the space to let go, away from the demands of family, kids, husbands, work, life. It can make such a difference. When I teach I try to give the last 10 minutes of the class to this little bit of peace, this tiny taste of freedom. It means the world to many people.
But the loss of Martha just shows that even us who try and follow the path of yoga, to make our lives better, are not infallible. Trying to be happy all of the time, doesn't necessarily work. Well, it doesn't work. I wanted to say that being aware that even this, these feelings, will pass, well, even that doesn't sit well with me when it comes to thinking about Martha, because I'm almost positive that she would've been well aware of those words and their meaning. It just shows that we are all susceptible to mental health problems, no matter how hard we try to stay on the path.
So a year on, Martha, I'm so glad to have met you. You inspired me and gave me the courage to give up everything and go off on my own spiritual journey, for which I will always be indebted to you. I wish we had had the opportunity to 'catch up'. Maybe in the next life…
Claire Missingham has a scholarship fund for aspiring yoga teachers in need of financial support called 'Martha's Mat', which I find lovely. See here: http://claireyoga.com/marthas-mat-scholarship/