The Reluctant Yogi

I’ve just finished reading quite a funny book called ‘The Reluctant Yogi’ (by Carla McKay) after seeing it reviewed by a student I’d taught before at the Telegraph.  It’s quite a chuckle inducing book and charts the journey of a 50 something female who loves a glass or several of Chablis, a good chunk of steak and even the odd fag, into the world of yoga and all that it entails such as pranayama and meditation.  Part personal – one of her main objectives is to seek eternal youth through the practice and extols the virtues of headstand for instance, for it’s apparent ability to bring fresh blood into the wrinkles of the face to iron them out – it is also part factual, and she does a good job of giving an overview of the practice including everything from it’s historical roots, varying styles (everything from Ashtanga to Kundalini to Nude Yoga), health benefits (particularly anything that reverses the aging process), the big names (and associated scandals), and what it has become in today’s world – ie, the multibillion dollar industry that it is.

The book got me thinking about my own yoga practice and what I get from it.  I have practiced consistently from 2004, and before that dipped in and out due to a couple of year-long bouts of travelling, and I think it’s fair to say that my yoga practice is as much a part of my life as is brushing my teeth.  A former lover of the snooze button, and a particularly trigger happy one at that, I now think nothing of jumping straight out of bed when my alarm goes off at 5.30am, and even the same (OK, pretty much the same) on the couple of days a week where I wake up at the ungodly hour of 4.30am.  Before I risk getting slapped (or the internet equivalent) for sounding like a smug git, I have to say that things weren’t always that way and part of what was interesting when I began to think about my yogic timeline was how my practice has shifted and evolved over the last 13 years, from something that I started in a local gym that I went to for lower back pain (which incidentally went in a couple of weeks and gave me a taster of the numerous benefits of yoga), to something that gave me a new found bendiness to drunken dancing and various yogic party tricks also performed whilst drunk (surprisingly I only ended up in hospital once… and came out with a cast from my elbow to my thumb), to something nowadays that is an integral part of my life, that grounds me, keeps me sane, and acts as a therapist, a constant presence, a teacher.  That teacher is a mirror and the reflection of course, is me.  What I see in this mirror, on a physical level, are the asymmetries in my body, the tight bits here, the weak spots there, and nowadays moreso than before, the connected bits, the bits where it feels as though my muscle groups are actually communicating and acting in unison rather than squabbling, resisting and seemingly screaming for an answer as to why the hell I want to get my leg behind my head.

On an internal, mental level, the practice shows up my habits, my insecurities, my frustrations and annoyances.  How I deal with the trickier poses, particularly the tighter sides in the tricky poses, often reflects how I deal with challenging situations in my life – sometimes staying calm and breathing my way through them or burying my head in the sand, skipping through them and hoping that they’re soon over.  Needless to say I’m trying to cultivate the former in both my practice and my life.

The fascinating thing about having a five or six day a week practice is noticing the daily fluctuations, the difference in each and every practice, and the way in which I choose to respond – which is yoga in its truest sense of the word – yoking body and mind, observing the days where the unfortunate combination of being stiff, having no strength, and feeling like my body is made of lead occurs, and accepting that, being kind to myself and remaining grateful for the practice and the opportunity to move my body and lubricate my joints anyway.  As everything seems to be about balance, there are also the days where I have the focus, my ujayyi breath roars, my muscles stay strong, connected but still supple, and I flow from pose to pose.

There is more to this which I intend to write in a future post and more about what the practise means for me.  I’d also be curious to hear what it means for others.  For now, I’ll say that the second kind of practice I just described above can be nicely summed up in a German word, who you can always count on for having beautifully specific words for wonderfully precise situations and feelings… ‘Funktionslust’ – the pleasure experienced when one does something they truly enjoy.