The Last Yoga session?
And so to the next yoga teacher. This the one who’d replied to my web-message as she lay upon a beach in another country. We knocked on the door and were confronted by a yapping snapping dog which wouldn’t give up and the woman whose voice was powerful as she talked non-stop as she led us inside, as we avoided her dog's teeth, as she snapped at it ineffectually.
In a space more a lounge than a yoga studio, we sat to meditate. With the voice of an actor in a lively play, she spun us through a ten minute meditation session with hardly a pause for breath as she explained in full swing what to do with thoughts. Thoughts, me thought? I had none, so pounding and all consuming was her instruction. But what I did gain was a headache as her words bounced back from the plastered surfaces imprisoning us.
And this machine-gun rattle battle continued as she spoke us through each exercise in minute detail with countless asides asides to help us ingest what good it would have been doing us had she given us the mental and physical space to do, well, yoga. “Now stretch forwards, yes, forwards, reaching out to the far end of your reach, knowing that this enables the blood to flow over your shoulders and now bend that back as you….”
At each lift I hit the ceiling, with each reach striking the walls, each turn and twist quickly adjusted to avoid striking an all too close neighbour, confined in that unaired room, with hands scraping, arms bumping, bodies in a twirl of activity. To boot, the teacher and a lackey she was leading towards being a teacher, took up a quarter of the space we were paying for as they selfishly did the exercises with us rather than walk about correcting our postures. My mounting headache, my limbs struggling to keep up as she spun our bodies through fourteen, yes fourteen exercises in the one hour set aside for action at military speed.
It would have been comic if it wasn’t meant to be contemplative, regenerating.
On a day many years ago, my friend David and I tried to hide our polite laughter as we watched crack troops run from Plymouth Fort, around the impressive park called The Hoe and eventually, sweat pouring from their armpits, stood to attention before the medieval walls and did yoga at top speed to stretch their limbs.
And so, upon a dirty mat, trying not to think of the hairs and smell of dogs, I sunk, exhausted, into the final pose, The Corpse, yes, imagining myself as dead. In death one might have felt the zing that ought to be enjoyed at this stage, but I experienced only frustration. And not simply because our teacher was intentionally heavy-breathing by constricting the airflow through her throat. We rose, said goodbye. The teacher apologised for including only fourteen exercises. She missed my point when I retorted that I’d have preferred five, yes, only five postures done as Tai Chi.
Laughing in our vehicle, wondering if we’ll ever find a proper yoga teacher, one who takes you through four or five exercises in an hour after gentle warming stretches and with a decent calm-time afterwards. Does such a person exist in SW Britain? No powered exercises adapted to the modern age nor mini-stretches for 90 year olds, but those yoga postures developed over 5,000 years in all of their graceful simplicity.
Done properly, Haha Yoga trumps pilates, Tai Chi and meditation. Without effort you meditate mindfully on your body as it moves slowly through each posture. You feel the grace of each stance as you hold it. Your body gradually responds and learns and grows better as you get to grips with the interplay of breath and muscles. Done with attention, you gain joy and see your body as a living sculpture.