When it comes to yoga, I have never really been convinced. If I’m entirely honest, I had always thought it was nothing more than some fancy stretching done by those lucky enough to have the surplus time and money to do fancy stretching. Here in the Western hemisphere, perceptions of the practice are often skewed by the kind of nauseating marketing that paints a picture of yoga as some kind of plinky-plonky, wind-chimes & scented candles affair; a hippy-ish pretentious fitness-fad masquerading as a mystical and exotic philosophy from far off lands – a distorted version of the original. From my uninformed (and, admittedly, blinkered) perspective, it was all a bit too cliché, with far too much emphasis on ‘being at one with yourself’ – preferably whilst sitting/standing/posing next to a large body of water. The fact that countless celebrities have, for some time, taken to spouting on about how yoga has worked wonders for their body/mind/life in general, has made me even more reluctant to try it.
I first tried yoga a couple of years ago, in the comfort of my own home, using a highly-recommended DVD. Whilst the workout was very good (and tough – certainly made me sweat), I must admit that I never really got to the point where I was feeling totally relaxed – mainly because the whole thing moved very quickly (poses were done in a sequence, the purpose being that you do a ‘circuit’ of poses in quick succession) and didn’t really leave much time for relaxation. I have since learned that I was, in fact, doing what the yogis call Ashtanga Yoga and, as it turns out, Ashtanga Yoga is not for me. Saying that, matters were hardly helped by the overall DVD experience: a yoga pro + unnamed celeb getting their stretch on surrounded by a truly tacky and cringe-worthy set: utopian Himalayan hideaway, strewn with lots of bamboo and greenery – because, you know, it’s all about being at one with life, nature, the earth, and everything. Or something like that. The plinky-plonky music that played throughout served no other purpose but to piss me off – I was trying so hard to get my relax on, but all I could hear were the whistles of the windpipes. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good windpipe, and I love a bit of Enya when I’m feeling particularly Bronte-esque, but I have my limits. And when I am desperately trying to clear my mind of the toxicities that make up modern life, the last thing I want is to listen to what can only be described as Now That’s What I Call Windpipes – on repeat. To sum up, I found the whole thing a trifle irritating and a smidge up its own arse. So I decided then and there that yoga really wasn’t for me after all.
Fast forward to a couple of years ago when I did the Insanity programme for the first time (if you haven’t done it, do it, I maintain that it is one of the best purchases of my life); I was surprised to find that the programme incorporates quite a few yoga poses, especially in the warm up/warm down sections. There is even an entire week of yoga/stretching sessions midway through the programme. If you’ve been lucky enough to try out Insanity, or any of Shaun T’s workout programmes, you will know that Shaun T is a fitness machine. Seriously, if I was rich and famous enough, I would hire him as my personal trainer, he is that good. So the fact that he seemed to be wholeheartedly flying the flag for yogis everywhere did make me a bit curious, and I began to wonder if I had judged Yogadom a bit too harshly. Perhaps it wasn’t all headstands by a waterfall after all?
The final push that saw me take the yoga plunge was, in fact, a bad back. I have had back problems, on and off, since I was a teenager. This past year or so my back problems have been most definitely ON. Each morning, upon waking, I am unable to just get out of bed in the normal way (ie. sit up and get up). Instead, to avoid painful jabbing sensations, I am forced to do a very bizarre kind of tuck-and-roll movement to propel me out of the bed. As you can imagine, it’s totally elegant and dignified. This is invariably followed by the gentle hobble down the stairs as my back slowly wakes up, one vertebra at a time; all the while I am tentatively taking the softest of steps so as not to suddenly jar my spine. It’s just not a good look for me. Crucially, the whole thing prevents me from being able to get my Beyoncé swag on when I walk down the street, strutting to ***Flawless.
So to get to the point, I eventually sign up for a yoga class here in Nottingham and find myself sitting on a mat of a cold Wednesday evening in March, doing all kinds of wonderful things to lengthen my spine – and that was just for starters. There were standing poses, crouching poses, lying-on-the-floor poses, all kinds of poses! It was fantastic! And, whilst I have limited (read zero-to-none) flexibility at the moment, there were modified versions of each of the poses for those of us who were just starting out and/or carrying an injury. It helped a great deal that the instructor, Emma, is amazing. She has an incredibly visual way of describing what each pose entails, taking time to correct the smallest things, so that every person in the room can get the maximum benefit from their one and half hour slot. She encourages you work to your own level and within your comfort zone; there is no goal but your own, and that in itself is a big relief. Emma’s teaching style means that we have the time to really observe what is happening to our body with each pose, to be in tune with our body in a way that does not require windpipes or mountain scenery or a lake. It’s about finding the calm in your own body, in your own time, and that is pretty cool.
The class ended with five minutes of pure relaxation and I’m not in the least bit ashamed to confess that I was close to nodding off, I was just so fricking relaxed. I walked home feeling wonderful, feeling positive and feeling just really quite alive. I’d go so far as to say that I felt lifted – in an awesome, Lighthouse Family kind of way. My back had a looseness to it that I have not felt for months and, as a result, I felt relaxed all over, and could even walk a little taller. When I got home I fired up Denzel (my laptop, not THE Denzel) and started reading up on Iyengar yoga (the type of yoga that Emma teaches) and even started sifting through some books so that I might get into my yoga zone at home from time to time. I was hooked – after 90 mins! The best bit? When I woke up the next day, there was no tuck-and-roll sequence, no tip-toeing down the stairs; I bounced out of bed with a spring in my step and felt not one iota of pain, for the first time in well over a year – and I cannot even begin to explain how happy that made me! 🙂
Conclusion: to do yoga you do not need windpipes or bamboo, you don’t need to be perched on a mountain or meditating by a river. It’s not about that, it’s about you and your body and your time. You just need to find the right type of yoga for you, and the right instructor – what are you waiting for?