I AM WHAT YOU CALL AN ALPHA…
By Natasha Benson
I’ve always been this way for as long as I can remember. My drive and determination were what pushed me forward and allowed me to achieve a lot.
As a child, I was extremely competitive, swimming and winning at national level meets in the United Kingdom. As a student, I was driven as well. I believed that hard work and determination would enable me to fulfil my ambitions. I studied hard to get the best job possible.
When I found a job, it was in the fast-paced world of investment banking at one of Wall Street’s biggest names, where I spent fifteen frenetic, stressful years.
Then came 2008 and the financial crisis which economists have likened to the Depression of the 1930s. I was one of the casualties of that crisis which saw stock markets collapse globally, financial institutions melt down and sadly many people lose their homes and fortunes.
To say I was stressed was an understatement. I recall a banking colleague of mine saying, “Just breathe” when we were in the throes of sorting out some hedging swaps with Lehman Brothers following its default, and trying to minimize the bank’s exposure. At that time, I was clueless – Breathe? I really did not get what he meant. But now I see this in clients that I work with. The first thing that goes when you are stressed is your breath. Our fight or flight responses shut down non-essential organs which for me manifested in stomach issues, food intolerance and infertility. I spent so much time running on stress hormones that I had no idea what it felt like to be relaxed and healthy.
My health took a nosedive and I found myself exhausted, unable to sleep and with a constant fog in my mind. But the silver lining for me, in the midst of this chaos, was that it brought for me, my first real, profound experience with yoga.
Prior to 2008, I had dabbled in it, but true to the Alpha nature, had always put a tough cardio workout ahead of something “relaxing” like yoga. But with my health hanging in the balance, I started pursuing yoga with a passion.
My journey was a bit hit-and-miss initially as I went through the gamut of yoga disciplines available to us in the 21st century.
I tried Ashtanga. That was considered the hardest yoga so of course appealed to the Alpha in me, but my ego didn’t like the fact I wasn’t able to do most of the poses. So I abandoned that after a few sessions.
I then tried Hatha, which was too slow for me. I persisted and tried Power Yoga – Bingo! That was my Goldilocks moment. I was hooked. Baptiste Power Yoga, in particular, had just the right balance of physical rigour to appeal to the striving Alpha, but also challenged me mentally to start examining areas of my life that were imbalanced.
I’ve learnt so much on my yoga journey which started gently with 1 or 2 classes per week and then led to me completing my teacher training in 2013. Initially I didn’t think
I would teach, but as I started to teach to share my own experiences, I realised how many people had a similar story and how my style of yoga (a combination of strength and balance, with focus on all elements of yoga) would appeal to them. I started Alpha Balance with my friend Serene Leijdekkers, who had also experienced a similar journey. After two years we are now operating at five locations in Singapore with our CBD studio opening in December.
I love the fact that despite having spent eight years doing yoga and moving from taking classes to teaching them, with yoga, I will always be a student. It is sufficiently humbling to keep my Alpha in check.
From my practice I learnt that both strength and softness are needed. That whilst I am strong, it is important not to dump all my power onto the mat. That it is important to open up my heart and be vulnerable and to breathe through the difficult times. That a pause and a breath makes a massive difference to the outcome in any situation, on or off the mat.
I believe everyone finds yoga in a different way. Different styles appeal to different people, and we need to explore what works for us. We should not give up if our first time on the mat doesn’t seem to suit us. As a teacher, I love to work with creating balance through a range of techniques, particularly with the alphas, like myself. This might mean a tough workout to start off with, but over time the Alphas calm down and it’s not uncommon to see them doing Yin Yoga and meditation.