Thinking of taking your brand spanking new (and probably a bit strange-smelling) yoga mat to a class this Bank Holiday weekend? Here’s 5 reasons why you really shouldn’t…
1.) It makes you angry
Thoughts I have had on a fairly regular basis whilst in class (and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one):
“How can I be fighting with my own body? It’s mine! I’m inside it, for God’s sake. I’m like one of those mental dogs you see on YouTube biting its own back leg.”
“I could totally do this when I was 5. That’s only 32 frickin’ years ago. Why the hell can’t I do it now?”
“How can my own feet suddenly be that far away from me? I’m only 5’4” and heaven knows I haven’t got freakishly long legs (which is the only reason I never made it as a catwalk model…that and the fact I can’t survive on Marlboro Lights and Diet Coke) so why can’t my hands touch my toes?”
“I don’t know who he/she is but they’re making this whole thing look like a walk in the park and I automatically HATE THEM AND EVERYTHING THEY STAND FOR. Namaste my arse.”
“I am pretty sure that I control my mind. At least most of the time. But now all I have to think about is one thing – my breath. But nope – I’m thinking about buying groceries/elephants/what I should put on Facebook after this class.”
“I HATE THIS. I AM RUBBISH AT THIS AND THEREFORE RUBBISH AT EVERYTHING IN LIFE. AAARGGH.”
(That last one has been a particular favourite.)
2.) You discover that people make weird noises. And don’t seem to care.
Is it a groan of pleasure or pain? Did it come from their mouth? Sometimes it’s difficult to tell. And who exactly did it come out of? The acoustics in these places make it particularly tricky to pin it on anyone.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not always wind (although with all that bending and twisting it is inevitable that the occasional bottom burp will get squeezed out at some point) either. Sometimes you’ll find yourself in a class with an Audible Stretcher. With a tone that’s almost impossible to describe; sometimes it’s just a hefty sigh, other times a guttural appreciation of the teacher’s adjustment or suggestion of how to go ‘deeper’.
For a start, we’re British. If someone tells us to “sigh it out”, you don’t expect anyone to actually do it. That whole ujjayi breath thing is weird for a start, before you even get on to the moans, groans, and animal noises.
And don’t even think about asking me to ‘Omm’.
3.) You see total strangers from angles you’ve never seen another human being from.
Of course, during your practice you’re focussing on your drishti for every pose. In traditional teachings, this is never the alarmingly low-cut top of the woman in front of you, the hole in the gusset of the shorts worn by the bloke on her left, or the incredibly distracting VPL of the girl in the front row. Yet these are the places our gaze will inevitably drift to. You’re getting an eye-full of folks you’ve never even smiled at, from angles you may not have experienced in even your most ‘intimate’ encounters.
Plus, of course, if it’s a busy class then you are going to be uncomfortably close to each other too. If you thought seeing a gentleman’s private area covered in clingy lycra is bad, just wait until the lycra has gone transparent with sweat AND it’s just a few inches away from your face (moral of the story – take any forward bend whilst facing the long side of your mat VERY carefully).
4.) It’s painful.
And not just emotionally (see #3). You’re suddenly using bits of your body that haven’t been woken from a sleepy, cosy slumber, nestling under layers of what are effectively layers of Pinot Grigio and crisps, for years. As much as your smiling (smug? Possibly) teacher helpfully reminds you to “work with your breath” and “don’t fight your body”, it’s going to do it regardless.
Your hamstrings, your back, your shoulders, your arms – they’re all going to be giving you more ‘feedback’ than you possibly know what to do with. But you want to be challenged, right? You want to push through your perceived limitations, to really find out what your body is capable of. And if that is a bit uncomfortable, then that’s fine – right?
No. Actually it’s not. You want to be sitting on a lovely comfy bolster, with wafts of incense, sitting and thinking and then having a little lie down. You want to be glowing not glowering.
Instead you’re still in a pose which you began approximately 3 weeks ago, you feel like your osteopath is going to be the only one to profit from this experience, and you’re rapidly finding out you have no flexibility in bits you didn’t even know could be flexible. And it all hurts.
5.) It brings up your shit.
Not literally (unless #2 has taken a terrible turn for the worst). But if you think looking at yourself in Top Shop’s changing room mirror was traumatic, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
First of all it feels like you’re finding out all the physical stuff that’s “wrong” with you (e.g. belly gets in the way, arms are too short, legs are too long, torso is too sideways, thighs are too…..much like thighs, etc.)
Then you get impatient. “I want to be able to do this. Everyone else can. Why can’t I? I knew I shouldn’t have wasted my time. I am totally rubbish at this. I shouldn’t be here. Everyone is looking at me. They know I’m rubbish too….”
Then you start to notice patterns in what you can’t do with your body that match what you can’t do in life. Wobbling around on one leg? Probably because your life is all out of balance too. Not able to reach your toes because you refuse to bend your knees? What else is your ego getting in the way of? Can’t even get one foot off the ground in handstand? Wow – you’re really scared of trying new things, aren’t you?
After a while you get quite good at powering on through the poses. Sometimes, by focussing on your breathing and really staring at the things you’re supposed to be looking at (see #3) you can even forget all that self-enquiry stuff coming up.
But then there’s the worst bit. The torture of final relaxation at the end. Nothing but you and your mind. Just lying there. Doing NOTHING but thinking. And to think this is the bit that some people look forward to the most. Weirdos.
Yoga is amazing and despite all this stuff you should keep doing it. If you’re brave enough to stick with it, yoga will pay you back with more good stuff than you know what to do with. Here’s the funny thing, all that anger will lead you to start practicing with acceptance. You’ll realise that tearing yourself up with all those thoughts is useless. You’ve got no choice but to start where you are.
Those noises? Well, they don’t necessarily get any less funny (yes – I am that easily entertained). But there is an immense amount of freedom to be found in not caring what anyone else thinks of you. When it’s just you and your practice, release can come in all different forms. And an occasional massive sigh can be very liberating.
Then there’s the shock of seeing someone’s asana from all sorts of angles. Hard to believe, but after a while you genuinely don’t see it all. Just like you begin to not see a whole host of other distracting stuff going on around you. You practice with respect for the other people around you, but all that matters is what happens on your mat. And they’re all thinking the same. So everyone’s happy!
I admit the pain thing is a tricky one to get your head around. And, of course, I should make it clear that your practice should be challenging but not so painful that you’re actually doing yourself harm. But once you start to work with those tricky bits of your body, you might begin to see that discomfort as strength and flexibility coming in, and weakness going out.
We all know the analogy of the caterpillar turning into a butterfly. It could be said that it’s not a pretty process – just as it is when our yoga practice is holding up a massive magnifying glass to all that “stuff” we’d rather not deal with, thanks very much. But it’s exactly that – a process. Good ole’ Gandhi said we should ‘be the change we want to see in the world’. That change has to start with us.
Maybe that’s why everyone doesn’t know all this stuff about yoga. I mean, who’d want everyone to go around being like Gandhi. That would make for a terrible world, wouldn’t it…..?!