I haven’t yet mentioned my favourite obsession, have I? Bloody hell, that’s very remiss of me! It’s what my friend calls my “special interest”. Apparently lots of autistics have one, something which takes precedence over everything else, including all other obsessions. Well mine is yoga. And ‘Katy’ is Katy Appleton, the yoga teacher whose books I follow, and whose web-site, words, personality, and life in general I have varyingly tried to emulate – which is not such a good idea ‘cos she’s not autistic, and her life is nothing like mine. But try impressing that upon me when I’m in the middle of an obsession.
For one thing she was a ballet dancer before she became a yoga teacher. I’m neither, but I decided I’d like to be both when I discovered Katy and her book. Never one to let reality interfere with my obsessions, I pointed to the fact that, as an adolescent at secondary school, I’d done ballet and enjoyed it. Who cared that we’d only had about half a dozen lessons before the whole thing was abandoned (my school not exactly being a hotbed of artistic excellence), or that I am now in my forties? I concluded that this must mean that I would love it now, because Katy did, and I share with her the love of yoga. Stands to reason.
Well, actually, no it doesn’t. For example, my friend Dee and I have quite a number of things in common that we both like, but strangely enough she has absolutely no interest in yoga whatsoever, a fact which I find completely bewildering considering that she is a very spiritual person. I assume that every spiritual person will take to yoga the way that I did, and that it’s only on account of not having had the opportunity to try it yet that keeps them from doing so. And with that in mind I have taken it to be part of my duty to spread the word about the wonders of yoga - with over-zealous enthusiasm, and an obsessive desire to talk about it at every opportunity. I have probably bored people out of any interest in it that they may once have had, thus diminishing, rather than increasing, the number of possible convertees.
So back to Katy, whose own enthusiasm fortunately did not deter me. On the contrary, it served to re-kindle the fire which had waned somewhat after an inauspicious start to my yoga journey. I’d tried a couple of other books – one of them made it so difficult and boring I lost interest after about a month; the other neglected to include specific warnings with regard to possible dangers, and left me crippled with back pain. I took the motto, “No pain, no gain” rather literally – but then I would do, wouldn’t I? I’m autistic.
But then I found Katy. Well, not literally. She wasn’t standing there, in the library, just hanging about waiting for me to come across her and take her home with me. But her book was. ‘Introducing Yoga’ (in case you’re interested!) – a beginner’s guide to yoga. I’d seen it before and decided it wasn’t for me. I don’t do beginners’ anything: I like to launch myself straight in at the deep end, believing that I don’t really need a gentle introduction, plus I haven’t got the time to waste on it. It probably accounts for why I’ve spent most of my life feeling as if I’m drowning in a sea of confusing ideas and free-floating bits of information which are anchored to nothing in particular, but which have an annoying habit of clonking me in the head every so often. It also explains why I never seem to get very far very quickly, because in the end I have to go back to the beginning any way in order to make sense of it all!
I took it home, and so discovered what has turned out to be one of the greatest gifts I have been given in helping me to live with being autistic (and all my other attendant conditions), before I even knew I was one. I’ve learned lots of interesting and useful things – like discipline (my least favourite thing in the world), and how to breathe properly. It doesn’t half help, especially when you suffer from anxiety and a mind that’s prone to thinking at a rate faster than the speed of light, which can leave you feeling as if you’ve just been dragged across the cosmos by a comet.
But of course, as with everything that I latch onto, I have gone through the inevitable obsessional period, which involves submerging myself not only in the practice of yoga itself by simply following the book, but also in making everything in my life revolve around yoga, and trying to become more like Katy. So Katy loves ballet – I love ballet (I’ve had a fleeting interest in it at various times in my life, which could hardly be called love); Katy likes listening to Cafe del Mar – I like Cafe del Mar (no I don’t: it bored the arse off of me); Katy loves Shiva Rea – I love Shiva Rea (she’s another yogi, and I find her very annoying ‘cos she speaks in a kind of code that is total twaddle); Katy eats salads, soups, and raw fish – I decide that’s what I should eat (though fortunately I don’t like any of them so that scuppers that plan).
“Copying” is the only word I can think of to describe it, though it doesn’t really fit what it is that happens. It’s like I try to emulate people I admire but then, for some reason, I start to lose everything that is me and begin to take on, wholesale, their identity. All or nothing again. And, the thing is, it isn’t a conscious decision or action. I’m not setting out to copy, I just end up believing that they must be right about everything, so how they live must be the right way to live.
Plus, of course, I then decide I have to adopt everything connected with yoga; which means getting obsessed with following ayurvedic principles around food and health, reading the Bhagavad Gita and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, compulsively reading not only Katy’s web-site but any others to do with yoga, adopting the Hindu God Shiva as my higher power, buying a statue of Buddha to help with meditation, and deciding I really must have ‘proper’ yoga clothes in which to do my practice. In short I complicate it all, which is generally what I do with most things. I think it’s also known as ‘overkill’!
I am pleased, and relieved, to report that I have come through all of this unscathed, and with my love of yoga still intact – only now I have got it down to the essence of what works for me, which is the practice. I still follow Katy’s books, but not Katy any more. She’s very fortunate that I don’t live in London, where she is based, and that I suffer social anxiety, otherwise I might well have ended up literally following her - to see What Katy Did Next.
"Do you believe in Magic?" asked Colin.
"That I do, lad," she answered. "I never knowed it by that name, but what does th' name matter? I warrant they call it a different name i' France an' a different one i' Germany. Th' same thing as set th' seeds swellin' an' th' sun shinin' made thee well lad an' it's th' Good Thing. It isn't like us poor fools as think it matters if us is called out of our names. Th' Big Good Thing doesn't stop to worrit, bless thee. It goes on makin' worlds by th' million - worlds like us. Never thee stop believin' in th' Big Good Thing an' knowin' th' world's full of it - an call it what tha' likes. Eh! lad, lad - what's names to th' Joy Maker."
From 'The Secret Garden', by Frances Hodgson Burnett
"There is no way to happiness - happiness is the way."
The Dalai Lama
"If you don't stand for something you will fall for anything."