I am not particularly ‘good at’ yoga. I can barely get into lotus position, I’ll probably never be able to properly do the splits, and I once pulled a muscle during an overenthusiastic attempt at the cardboard box game.
Nor am I the sort of person you might associate with yoga. Despite all the real life classes I’ve been to, a part of my brain still clings stubbornly to the stereotypes. Yoga is a gentle, reparative exercise for your nan to do in a church hall. Yoga is a means for earth mother types in flowing robes to commune with the spirit of the universe. Yoga helps you get extra likes on Instagram, particularly if you’re a supermodel on a #beach.
Considering that I’m, conspicuously, neither nan nor earth mother nor Instababe, I have always felt strangely vulnerable about admitting my yoga habit. There’s an episode of Black Books where Fran meets a friend, Eva, who’s gone over to the zen side. Eva is all about the carrot juice, the beatific glow, the rice-cake snarfing, the sanctimonious blether. Fran is, well, not.
“You just sit there cackling with a fag in your mouth like something out of a brothel,” says Eva. “And when you’re drunk, the way you eat and swear, suddenly crying, and then singing, and kissing terrible men. Sometimes I think you’re just going to end up with a head full of gold teeth, roaring and snorting over a vegetable stall someplace.”
Along with most of the people I like and admire, it’s pretty obvious I’m a Fran.
All this said, for the last few years, yoga has been calming me down, revving me up, and comprehensively kicking my arse. It has helped me in ways I couldn’t have predicted, which go far beyond improving my flexibility or increasing my tolerance to panpipes. And this autumn (deep breath) I’m going to take it to the next level by embarking on a 200-hour teacher training course.
The course is every Friday night, and every weekend day, between October and December. Because I typically work Monday to Friday, this means three months with no days off, which in turn means a high likelihood of going mental. Still, if you are in the throes of going mental, I guess there are worse things to do with your time than yoga.
I’ll be learning to teach an ashtanga / vinyasa flow style, a physically intense variation in which your movements are synced with your breath. Generally, at these classes there aren’t any cowbells or chanting. There’s all the sweating, shaking and high-octane playlists you’d associate with a normal exercise class. And yet you can turn up purely to feel the burn and walk out feeling… glowy.
There’s no talk here about ‘getting shredded for summer’. It’s not about ‘blitzing your bingo wings’, ‘melting your muffin top’, ‘renouncing your sinful, Satanic flesh’ or whatever coverlines Women’s Health is running this month. Fundamentally it’s a ‘moving meditation’ – a meditation for people who are too bad at meditating to do so while sitting still.
Let’s say you’ve had a hard day at work. Your mind is revving on all cylinders, and you arrive at your yoga class a sweaty mess. You glance at all the perfectly poised yogis around you, who look like stock photo models from a spa brochure. You’re fairly sure you’d fit in better in a moshpit.
And yet an hour later, you’re calm. You no longer care about the bitch on the sales floor who stole your stapler. You walk out with a lightness in your body and a spring in your step, able to look the world face on. As for the other yogis (assuming they really were as improbably poised as you imagined)– well, yoga is the great leveler. Spend an hour with your cheesy feet six inches from someone’s nose, and they’re probably not going to be quite so zen.
(It’s the Frans of the world who most need yoga, is my point.)
It’s also a surprisingly good workout, which can be tailored to whatever level you’re at. You can never get too complacent, as there’s always deeper you can go into every pose and always new poses to master. Just when I think I’m getting super advanced (boom, Astavakrasana into Eka Pada Koundinyasana transition!), I’ll realise my hips are misaligned in Warrior 1, or fall flat on my arse during a balance.
The flip side of this is probably harder: refusing to feel discouraged. There will be people in any class who can float up into forearm stand, and others who can’t touch their toes, and it’s not necessarily the case that the first lot are ‘better’. This isn’t an easy attitude to assume by… err, any stretch.
I’m not sure I’ll start teaching classes immediately. As it is for surgeons, so it is for yoga teachers: there’ll probably be an intermediary period where I practice on my mates.
That said, as a freelancer I like the idea of having another string to my bow. Freelance writing can be a great gig, but it is isolating, and one of the main reasons I want to branch out is to get me out the house. And well, if it does all go tits up? That’s probably a yoga pose in itself…
British freelance journalist living in the Netherlands