Here we are, in the midst of a pandemic, pushing the limits of our unexpectedly depleting optimism. As ever, it’s an unequal situation. The chronically flexible and unbearably superior appear to have achieved yogic bliss – the unmarried answer to all of life’s most nagging questions. The remainder of us, for whom the distance to one’s toes will perpetually remain unbridged by one’s outstretched arms, continue to look towards our yoga mats with a mix of fear and loathing. In our infinitely lenient books, just washing the mat and standing it up in a corner counts as high achievement.
Sin, Cos, Yoga
I don’t realize if it was once those early brushes with asanas in school that instilled a lifelong suspicion of the practice. The severe PT teacher would instruct us to contort our limbs, the use of her iron voice to great effect. From the intense cross-legged to the resolute sleeping bridge position, I be mindful a catalogue of poses I’ve (thankfully) never needed to replicate ever since. But the most memorable of these experiences involved shavasana, or the corpse pose, just the correct amount of morbid for puerile minds. I will still hear the teacher’s directions, asking us to shift our attention to our eyes and ears, legs and arms, releasing tension (like we knew what it felt like) and falling into a state of slumber (only ever achieved in post-lunch Chemistry classes). Until the electric bell rang out a couple of minutes later, of class lesson, causing everyone to hop up in a state of collective disorientation.
In our infinitely lenient books, just washing the mat and standing it up in a corner counts as a high achievement
More continuously than not, these few twisty moments were more stressful than restful, with either a maths test coming up in the next class, or a fiddly craft project to submit. Yoga was once approximately as calming as trigonometry was once enlightening; you just never knew what you were dealing with in either discipline. Decades later, I’m none the wiser on either count.
Take a deep breath
I see the dangers of avoiding a practice that has everyone and their life coach swearing by it. But therein lies the rub. There’s a perverse charm that makes you snigger in a corner when you wish to put your head down and sign up for in instead. Sign up for in what, you ask? Whatever popular wisdom decrees as really helpful. And the digital blitzkrieg doesn’t help. Lissome ladies perched precariously on hillsides, arching their backs in unspeakable ways. Gaunt lads of pectoral perfection, offering us glimpses of nirvanic bliss while standing on their head. Group sessions and personal classes. Sweaty spandex and ethereal smiles.
It can all get a little intimidating. And just when you start to believe it, there’s an “blameless” query from a concerned acquaintance: “Are you certain you’re breathing correct?” Never has a unmarried phrase reduced me to this kind of state of utter inadequacy. There’s a correct way to breathe? Could it be that I’ve been doing it all incorrect my whole life? How would I realize? And whether I did, consider confessing to it now; my life, as I understand it, would be exposed as a shallow-breathing fake.
Saving the most efficient for final
That jerky train of anxious thoughts will have to have amply proved what life is like on the margins of the Republic of Yoga. We don’t speak the language and don’t wear the clothes. We don’t even breathe like the remainder of you. So where does that leave us bad, missing souls, self-condemned to a life of muscular inflexibility and religious deformity? A-ha. It’s not so poor finally. We get by with our aches and niggles, insomnia and fatigue, secure in the knowledge that at some point we will be able to take up yoga, and life will change in impossible ways. We will be able to vanquish pain and listlessness, turning into exalted beings who say such things as: “Oooh, today’s yoga class actually took it out of me” while biting into hipster health food.
We’re holding on to the consoling thought of the silver bullet of yoga, which will pierce through the primal question approximately life’s meaning. Until then, we will drag out our yoga mats, lay them out on the sunlit floor, and contemplate their imaginable use for a couple of awkward moments. Then rolling them up and returning them to their resting spots, we will ogle pictures of impossibly beautiful yoga people, who’ve figured it all out already.
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From HT Brunch, September 6, 2020
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