Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Sucking on Englightenment

I'm noticeably lacking in the yoga-photo department, so you'll have to live with the ribbon ladies

This is where I could be super obnoxious and be all 'I've been doing yoga since I was three years old, so take my enlightenment and suck on it, because clearly you are never ever going to catch up with me'. Luckily for both of us that would not be true, and I like to think that if I did write something like that, you all would smack me upside the head.

But there might be illumination. Just perhaps not the kind that you would think of first. And if there's not that then there's a story of sorts.

So, yoga take one:

When I was maybe about three or four my mum starting practising yoga, and obviously I had to join in. I like to think that I did this in an adorable, mother-daughter bonding type way, not in a making my mum wish she kept taking the pill type way.

It is fun, slightly mysterious and I got to spend time with my mummy, which to my three year old self equals sweet.

Yoga take two:

I start accompanying my mum to classes at a local yoga loft. Yoga is not fun, it is Very Serious. Also, pain equals good and you are meant to force yourself into a position, ignoring your body's warning screams of anguish. It is also super competitive: I still remember the outrage and extreme vexation of my self-created rivals in the class when I could do the lotus position and they couldn't. Being able to do more advanced poses made you superior, and how dare this whippersnapper come along and disrupt the hierarchy of who-can-do-what, especially when said whippersnapper isn't even that great at some of the basic poses.

As time went by, the levels of superiority and oddness just seemed to get more, well, odd. The superiority wasn't limited to whether or not you could become a human pretzel, it was all about the self-righteous vegetarianism too. It irritated me, and I was vegetarian at the time, so I'm surprised that no-one got bopped on the nose by an infuriated meat eater.

There was also the strange equation between neglecting your appearance, or flouting norms, and spirituality. I don't care whether or not you shave your armpits, but please stop waving them in my face and banging on about it. And no, I don't think not shaving them has any relation to how spiritual you are. Similarly, I also fail to see the link between tramp-like laxity with personal hygiene and spiritual elevation.

A new male teacher wore shorts that were so brief the mouse was truly out of the house when he demonstrated certain poses to his all female class. There were complaints, the owner spoke to him, he refused to wear anything more covering, and continued teaching. Then the owner started telling us about how you didn't need food and could live on light. It will probably not surprise you that this is the point I stopped going to classes and retreated with horror from anything yoga related.

Yoga take 3:

I'm now in China. I often go to the gym at lunch time, and whilst I work out watch the yoga classes taking place. They look like they'd be a good way to relax between my morning and afternoon classes, and although it takes me a few weeks to pluck up the courage, eventually I do.

I can't understand what the teachers or my classmates are saying, and they can't understand me, but I watch, and if I'm getting tangled up the wrong way or need an adjustment, the teacher will come and help me, without making me feel like I'm in danger of dislocating anything vital.

Beginners come clad in tight jeans and t-shirts with unintelligible English slogans and laugh with their friends because they can't do anything. Occasionally only one or two people can glide into postures that I'm sure are defying laws of physics, and possibly anatomy. Everyone else watches, tries to imitate the early steps, and then falls over or goes 'ouch', and we give each other 'omg, we must be crazy to be even trying this' looks.

In one class, the first ten minutes after the meditation is spent doing moving your head from side to side. My friends who are more into lifting weights don't understand how that can even be exercise. It is one of the most relaxing things I've ever done, and afterwards my back muscles ache in a good way.

The classes can be tough, but instead of holding one position for ages, we move fluidly through sets of different postures. And just when I thinking 'I'm done, is it not time for shavasana yet?' we repeat a set again, and I do it even though I think I'm spent, and somehow it still manages to be fun. But if you are spent and just want to sit it out, that's fine too.

Things in the class aren't perfect: sometimes you can hear the pop music from the work out area, or machines clanging, or weightlifting men grunting. Sometimes someone's phone goes off, or they have to leave before the end of class. But there was no hysteria, and neither did the God of Yoga smite us.

I cannot tell you how vexed I was when the gym replaced my favourite yoga teacher's class with some bizarre yoga-t'ai chi hybrid. Although at least I gave some passing entertainment as I flailed like someone suffering from a particularly uncoordinated case of St Vitus's Dance.

And now I've got the point where I think I'm supposed to draw a moral, but I'm assuming that you're more than capable of doing that yourselves. And besides, the drawing is always too easy, it's the living that's difficult...*

*Yes, I just realised I totally drew a moral there. Gah!


  1. I loved this post. I'm not a yoga enthusiast...but I've never tried it. I truly enjoyed your writing...

  2. I'm sure I'd throw something out of whack if I tried yoga, but your description of your yoga experiences are great!
    Love how you slipped that moral in there, too...

  3. I went to a wonderful, relaxed, sensible yoga class for a while - and tried (and left) two others which were more like work-outs; competitative and horrid.

    In the one I liked, everyone was encouraged to fulfill their own ability, in harmony with the rest of the class. The teacher sometimes even chose separate exercises for different members of the class according to their physique. He thought thick thighs got in the way of certain positions and, rather than be critical of those so unfortunately afflicted (like . . . erm . . . me) said people from different genetic backgrounds have differently arranged bodies and one simply has to take this into account. Oh, I wish there were more classes like the ones he taught!


  4. Lucy - I'm intrigued as to know what positions he thought were(not) suitable. It's a sensible idea though - for instance I just cannot do handstands, and if I'm forced into them find I can't breathe properly.

  5. Excellent. You've totally enlightened me to something I've been diametrically opposed to since whoever is practicing yoga that I know is always down my throat about it. It can never be enjoyment with them. It's always subscribing to a way of life that's supposed to be all hippie, but is still sometimes ultra competitive and way more conformist than they'd like to believe.

    Your writing is so great. I always feel like I'm sitting around with a friend drinking coffee and shooting the shit whenever I read your blog. It's always a great conversation.