Yoga: the sailing forth

After starting yoga to ease backpain, the ancient practice opened new doors and possibilities in life for Greg Ormson. Here, he shares his story with OM in his own words

A day after moving to an apartment in Hawaii, I was on the floor with back pain. It led me to yoga in a desperate attempt to fix my damaged back. I had endured many injuries: first when I was bounced from a trampoline at 10, another while weightlifting, and again when I fell from a high roof.

In Hawaii, I saw yoga studios everywhere and I started thinking about claims I’d heard regarding yoga and healing for back pain. One day, with no background and little knowledge of yoga, I decided to try it hoping to find something to make me strong in the broken places. I feared collapsing in the hot yoga room but was also confident that if my back held up I would too.

I planned to try it for 30 days and then decide if I would continue. I made it through 24 classes that month. My resolve was galvanised and my hope for healing ignited. In my journal entry I wrote, Yoga is the way to go for healing back pain. It’s so simple, why don’t more people do it? But my transformation from injury to healing went beyond my back as yoga steered me into deeper waters. In ‘Passage to India’, American poet Walt Whitman wrote:
“Sail forth – steer for the deep waters only / Reckless O soul, exploring, I with thee and thou with me.”

I continued with yoga and wrote about my experience because I thought yoga in a heated room would benefit me in other ways too. Soon, I was writing on everything that came to me during my classes: I numbered the sessions, made notes about the teachers and their style, chronicled my thoughts about the class experience, and penned other insights that arrived when I was on my mat. I kept at it and saw that I had taken notes on 300 classes in three years. Beyond the numbers, my notebook started filling up with yoga terms and my yoga study notes.

I kept track of the people I met and wrote their names; after a while, I had a list of 200 people that I considered friends and allies even if I didn’t know them. We shared something together and I respected each of my classmates for their courage, persistence, and will. I also watched them grow and marveled at what I saw, and as I talked with them, I heard stories like mine. I learned some of them took up yoga spurred on by a desire to heal emotional wounds.


“Yoga opened my heart. I listened and realised that I only want to serve. This is the great gift my yoga partner has given as it accompanied me through practice in the morning, in the afternoon, and through the midnight hour.”

In a couple of years I had constructed a personal story of self-recrimination balanced by absolution and inspiration. The arc of my story lifted like a rainbow and I sensed my discovery of yoga’s treasures would be at the end of a long struggle. Every moment of trial and endurance formed in me a deeper gratitude, and as I was lightening the vessel by letting go of what I didn’t need, yoga pushed me into deeper waters with my cargo of many emotions and I could not escape them. I started caring more deeply about the important things and less about the peripheral.

Early on, yoga was only a small part of the writing I was doing. Most of my writing was on family memories, alcohol, education, and the vocational path I had lived. I continued writing and doing yoga through the first year, and when I felt emptied by my personal project and spent of personal agitation, I began writing only on yoga and what its dynamic healing energy exchange meant for my being.

Side w bike


Yoga had become an augury of new life and perhaps a bringer of miracles. Day by day, centimetre by centimetre, my spine was flexed and strengthened as yoga met me in a generative engagement. Yoga taught me a reductive mathematic as I learned less is more. It offered a benevolent exchange as I gave what I had and received improved breath and life.

In the breath-centric expression of my practice, I began mining yoga’s treasures and translated them into my redefined biology. My emotional body was in union with my physical body as I peeled away superficial layers and put my life’s vocation and destiny under a microscope.

Leaning further into yoga, I experienced its work on me as a timeless process of self-discovery and redemption. Yoga became my transformational container where the inner fire of self-purification (tapas) delivered me to the deeper currents of its curriculum.

The yoga mat became my turf of tears, washing, and regeneration. This was my baptism in fire where I was confronted with my own life of selfishness and layers of hurt. At the end of class, I kneeled in puddles as sweat fell from my eyebrows dripping onto the towel.

Every tear was made of pain and sorrow for someone I’ve known and for my sorrow and suffering. I gave to yoga the joys and celebrations of my community; I gave my pain, I gave my heart, and yoga gave me what I needed for healing and redemption.


Do you want to practice yoga? Think twice, dear reader, because you may find yourself exploring the deeper waters of your soul where the discoveries of your foraging are unknown and unpredictable. In yoga, silence and heightened attention to self sends us on the way to earning a degree in self-awareness; and in yoga we come face to face with the vulnerabilities and jagged edges of our lives. We also grow into the humbling awareness that we are magnificent in every way.

I never practiced at midnight, but yoga delivered me to something that felt like the midnight hour. The term midnight hour has been used by theologians, seers, and mystics to describe a deep personal encounter where we face our inner shadow. It’s also sometimes called the dark night of the soul.

But I think of the midnight hour as the great collapse. The great collapse happened to me when I faced up to the awareness that many of my accomplishments had been driven by my illusions and fed by self-centredness. I now realise I was only ignorant. I did what I thought I should be doing, and while I was at it, I was a man pounding a square peg into a round universe.

I gave to yoga and it cracked me open to redemption. My dream life spoke when a man I knew, someone I hadn’t thought of or seen in 40 years appeared and said, “Something has changed.” It had, and while I was releasing layers of sorrow and failure I had more to learn, especially how to love myself with the burden of misguided ambitions and unfulfilled expectations I had endured.

Yoga led me to recall and celebrate who I was and from where I came. I learned how to accept myself for my mistakes, to celebrate my history, and to give thanks for it. When yoga took me to the midnight hour I sincerely felt my sorrow in broken family ties and anger in that history.

toe stand

I had been hard on myself, but as yoga led me past the midnight hour, and into newness found through relinquishment, I came to a different place. I was finally able to accept and be at peace with the unfulfilled expectations of my own life.

My yoga journey is not obsessive but I’m traveling deep in the waterline. Yoga a discipline that I enjoy and I move through my challenging asana practice with ease. I find sitting in meditation a difficult but regular part of life and I work to be true to my word. When resting in yoga, I am completely at peace, and in those moments of peace and relinquishment, there is nowhere I’d rather be.

Yoga opened my heart. I listened and realised that I only want to serve. This is the great gift my yoga partner has given as it accompanied me through practice in the morning, in the afternoon, and through the midnight hour.

Be brave and dive deep yogis. The revolution of soul that we willingly embody takes us to compassion which leads us to transform ourselves and the world. Your yoga partner invites you to continue the journey where it will take you, in time, through the morning, the afternoon, and the midnight hour. I fold my hands at my heart and salute you as you sail forth. Namaste.

Yoga Pause

Gregory Ormson is a writer, musician, motorcyclist and yoga teacher. Find out more at:

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