History

 -- Born in Yorkshire and whisked down south before I was two, I was brought up in Marlow, educated at Wycombe High School. My parents were schoolteachers and I am the oldest of three children. In my schooldays I kept horses, rowed boats, ran cross country races (loved running, hated racing) and wrote some pretty mediocre poetry. Higher education consisted of being pickled in lager at Leeds University, from which I emerged at the age of twenty with the usual 2.2 in English literature and a strong desire to travel.

It was the end of the seventies and I began by going overland to India. I was one of the very last handful of overlanders to believe it was possible to escape anything by jumping on a Magic Bus. As it was, I rode the Tragic Bus through the beginning of the revolution in Iran and into Kabul, where the Russians were already waiting and watching on every street corner. In the sunset of Afghanistan’s golden visions I abandoned the bus, and went north to ride on a skinny horse up the valley to the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan. I was one of the last would-be hippies to sit in the burnt Sienna hot springs of Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush. Signs of things to come were plain to see in the AK47s slung over the shoulders of our Afghani escorts, who had placed red rugs on the rusty rocks and puffed the smoke of cigarettes stuffed with Mazaar-i-Sharif into a Prussian-grey sky. They were nice guys. I ignored the guns. Two weeks later, all the overlanders were thrown out of Afghanistan. The rest is history - a more important one than my own.

Still living out the confusion of middle-class English angst (I could read Hunter S. Thomson but not live it), I went on to drink unboiled water in Pakistan, and three weeks later in Goa welcomed in the dawn of 1979 by coming down with hepatits. Still, at least I’d been able to slot in the all-night full moon party the night before. As I unravelled, the world began to change. India was six months’ Sartori, followed by a Sartorial spell upon England returning. The following Christmas the television screen revealed the Russians marching into Kabul. Culture shock mingled with post-hepatic depression, and the recognition that there was no escape produced a suicidal streak.

Doctors seemed strangely inept: the best they could come up with was the advice to rest and eat no fat. One doctor told me if I went to strange countries I could expect strange diseases. True, but unhelpful. However, hepatitis was the best thing that ever happened to me.

I took up Yoga, beginning with a very strong Pranayama practice - one of the Pancha Sahitas designed to strengthen the liver (4:4:16:8). It was taught to me by Mrs Walker, a neighbour and friend's mother, who had been taught it by Danielle Arin (then Lessware) who had been taught it by Malcolm Strutt ... the English middle classes have their own way of doing things - a sort of lateral tradition. Whatever - it worked. The effect was electric: optimism and energy returned a thousand fold. I went to a regular Iyengar yoga class, put on as part of the local adult education programme, and was lucky enough to have John Hawkins as my teacher. The experience and development of prana and pranayama informed my asana practice, and Yoga has been a sustaining and integral part of my life ever since. Much better than lager!

Newly energised but still naive, I went on to spray Dioxin (Agent Orange, the active ingredient sprayed on the jungles of Vietnam) on the weeds of Welsh railways, highways and byways in order to finance a post-graduate TEFL course in Hastings, where I ended up teaching deposed members of the Iranian government in exile. Knowing there was no escape, that in the world of illusion we’re all in exile from our selves, but that nonetheless a certain amount of belief in the pragmatic world of going and getting is necessary to hold body and soul together, I went on to teach English as a Foreign language in assorted countries, from Mexico to Japan. This went on for the next fourteen years.

The TEFL teaching sustained a penchant for walking in remote mountainous regions, from Peru to the Pyrenees. I always travelled with a copy of the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads in my rucksack, and periodically ended up in India and Nepal, back in the Himalayas - the home of Shiva, patron of Yoga. The Himalayas were not an intellectual choice, but an instinctive one. Mount Kailash in western Tibet is Shiva’s particularly favourite meditation spot, and it became a dream to walk there.

 -- In those days, before sticky mats were available in every branch of Boots, I carried a succession of straw mats. They disintegrated regularly, but they were cheap and light, and their disintegration released a lovely light scent. I studied yoga with BKS Iyengar in Poona, and continued to practise yoga every day wherever I was.

I arrived in Hong Kong on December 6th 1986, the day after the governor, Sir Edward Youde, had been found dead in a hotel outside Beijing. Hong Kong became my base for the next seven years; I taught English at the British Council, nipped into China and geared up to go to Tibet. The riots of October 1987 delayed entry initially, but I eventually entered Tibet in June 1988.

Here, like so many dreamers before and after me, I became fascinated by all things Tibetan: the landscape, the sky, the people, the tradition, the religion and the politics. Following an inner confluence, I went on a lone trek across western Tibet to the sacred mount Kailash. Walking to the Mountain, an account of my Kailash trek, was eventually published by Asia 2000 of Hong Kong in 1996.

By which time I’d visited Tibet a number of times, and had lived through many more stories of adventure, betrayal and realisation. I spent a few years hanging out on Lamma island in Hong Kong, teaching at the British Council, giving living yoga classes on the beach on Sundays - and returning periodically to Tibet.

Then I met my husband, Bradley Rowe. He was a photographer who specialised in the Tibetan environment. Mutual friends had decreed we must meet because we both liked wandering alone around Tibet, alone. I was soon pregnant, and when we first went to Tibet together I, who used to walk hundreds of miles with gusto, was suddenly reduced to a limp wisp of emotional undoing. It was the first trimester, and I had been caught off guard, and things did get better - but life changed again for all of us. Iyengar yoga was difficult during that first pregnancy. I was sick if I did a Dog pose, and on the beaches of Lamma Island in Hong Kong I developed a softer, more fluid and sensitive approach to my yoga practice.

We returned to England for the birth of the baby, and she now has two sisters. In Spring 1999 I had a book published by Gaia Books: Yoga for Pregnancy. We have been back to Tibet several times since, with one or two babies in tow - an account of which is to be found in various Rough Guide editions of Women Travel - but are now essentially grounded in Glastonbury.

In 1999 I qualified as a British Wheel of Yoga teacher. My core discipline continues to be Iyengar Yoga, and I have been back to the Iyengar Institute in India three times since the turn of the century for further insights and inspiration. My real inspiration however comes from observation of nature and the regular practice of Yoga.

The world has changed. Afghanistan has been to hell and back and the Taliban destroyed those beautiful Buddhas; Russia is no more, Tibet is a prisoner with only a tiny sklyight on hope, and as a mother I no longer practice indifference to drowning. I now have a whole collection of sticky yoga mats, in varying states of degradation, one for every situation, but the yoga practice goes on.

To say ‘I have been practising Yoga for thirty years’ sounds as ridiculous as the statement: ‘Iyengar yoga is only physical’. The yoga I have learnt from BKS Iyengar and his family forms a foundation to my practice, and the field of Yoga is so vast that every day brings new insights.

I enjoy linking the apparently physical aspects of yoga with the metaphysical and subtle, practising asana with an awareness of the energy body, using chakras, the elements, pranayama, mudras, bandhas and philosophy. Over the last ten years I have given workshops from Glastonbury to Gloucester, from Scotland to Hong Kong, on various subjects interwoven with the theme of ‘Heart of Light’.

A few years ago - without the help of Friends Reunited - I met some friends from the ‘A’ level era - Neil and Anne McDougall. They reminded me that they first got together at my eighteenth birthday party. That was twenty three years ago. Neil’s now gone well beyond bank manager, and was bemoaning the amount of time he spends on the plane to and from Scotland. Well, what are you doing now, Wendy? The news that I specialise in Pregnancy Yoga had them falling off their bar-stools.

It wasn’t in the life-plan, it is true, but I do spend more time than I would have thought possible teaching teachers to teach pregnancy yoga. Even the writing is channelled into pregnancy yoga, and a new edition of the book came out in August 2005 - it had to be re-done, as the models in the first one wore leggings which are now so dated that they're back in fashion. Yet another pregnancy yoga book, which addresses the energy body of pregnancy yoga, is currently gestating.

I have taught two Foundation courses and a Diploma course for the British Wheel of Yoga. Yet Yoga is such a vast and infinite topic that to claim to ‘know’ or ‘teach’ it is as absurd as holding a glass of water up to the stars and mistaking their reflection in the water for the real thing.

These days I hold together a mortgage - for the sake of my children’s root chakras. Every year we go east for a month - I and one, two or three of the children - so I can study Yoga and pursue the tributary interest of Asian art by visiting the museums, sites and ancient temples carved in stone. My children don’t seem to mind hanging out in the Buddhist ruins at dawn, watching golden monkeys playing in Ashoka’s dust, or cycling round the lily ponds and great Buddhas of Sukhothai. In fact, they seem to learn quite a lot.

As with all lives, there are many other stories hidden behind this superficial account. It has not been easy, but somehow the practice of Yoga has always dematerialised the concepts of ‘easy’ and ‘difficult’. It’s the only thing that makes sense.

Lotus
Lotus