Yoga for Cynics

Despite its surge in popularity, what yoga actually IS remains relatively unknown.  The connections to India, a whiff of hippy travellers or the assumption that it is something middle class housewives do to fill up their time keep it from moving from the fringe activity into the mainstream of health services where it so definitely belongs. But, as fab yoga therapist Iris explains, even yoga teachers who practise every day, are not safe from prejudices...

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I have a confession: I have always been very sceptical about Bikram Yoga. A huge stinky room heated to almost unbearable levels, with a military-style instructor sitting on a towering stool yelling at me, whilst around me my fellow yogis slide in puddles of sweat? That doesn't quite sound like my kind of thing...

Nevertheless, when a friend invited me to join her in seeing Bikram himself speak, I was intrigued. Given that so many people love hot yoga, if I'm going to have an opinion, it should at least be an educated one.

To cut a long story short, Mr Bikram (who has since faced multiple rape claims and been sentenced to pay millions of pounds in punitive damages) taught me nothing in his almost 4 hour speech. He stumbled through the yamas and nyamas, the most basic ethical rules of personal and social conduct, without seemingly remembering all of them, and name dropped celebrities (Shirley Temple, President Nixon, Sophia Loren to name but a few), taking credit for every single one of their achievements and bragging about his wealth.

But one thing struck me: the audience, about 1500 people hanging on his every word, looked fantastic. Every single person in that room, regardless of age, background and gender was lean and fit, with glowing skin and radiated general health.

In a time where a quarter of the entire population is considered obese (more as we approach 60), this was remarkable indeed and deserved looking into.

I spend a lot of time with yogis – in my own classes, yoga centres, schools and festivals. And, yes, compared with the general population they tend to be healthier, happier in themselves and living a fuller life.

This feels like a rather big statement to make.

However, initially, most people who choose to try yoga have a greater than average interest in their physical and mental health. There are those who changed their lives due to a traumatic event. Others just decided that they had enough of feeling unhealthy.

As we approach January, a whole army of people with New Year’s resolutions will descend on studios nationwide and marvel at how wonderful yoga makes them feel. But then, as life continues to interfere, most of them will stop within a couple of months. Yoga deals with misalignments in our body and mind, and teaches awareness on who we really are. This is completely not what most people have set out to find out when trying to become fit. Who really wants to know that it is entirely their own fault that they are breathless, overweight, lonely, in constant pain, when it is so much easier to blame being over-worked, not having enough money or time or a decent kitchen to cook healthy food?

“I used to go to a class on Fridays at 12noon, that suited me great, but then she changed it to 2pm, and it just wasn’t right”

“I feel too exhausted in the evening when I come home, I just want to have a glass of wine and watch TV”

“I did not like the teacher very much, he never looked out for me when I was struggling”

“There just aren’t any classes where I live”

(When researching this particular argument, it took me 5 minutes to find 120 yoga classes per week within a mile from where I live, and I stopped looking there. When someone told me that it is different in London, I typed in a random small town - Sleaford in Lincolnshire if you must know - and on one website alone I found 38 teachers, who presumably all teach more than one class.)

I have heard all the excuses. The most common one, “I am not flexible enough to do yoga” makes as much sense as saying “I am too dirty to take a bath”.

We have all been given 24 hours per day. It is up to us how we fill those. Is 12 noon on Fridays really the only time you can set aside for your health? Wouldn’t pulling yourself together and going to that 2pm class really work just as well? And if it's attention you're looking for, are you sure that you are not expecting too much from a class with 15 beginners who are all at the same level than you, albeit some of them happen to be able to touch their toes?  Wouldn't you be better trying an individual session?

Whether you like a good work-out, want to calm your mind, recover from an accident or become fit after pregnancy, there truly is a style and teacher out there for everyone. You can embrace Doga (yoga with your dog), Yoga and Beer (WTF?), Sexy, Slim and Sassy Sessions (yes, really).

If you stick with it, your body and mind align, you become aware of your unhealthy habits, and ultimately become more interested in a healthier diet, and lifestyle. To get started, all you have to do is to contact a studio and get advice on what type of yoga would be suitable for you. Why not give us a call or click the button below? Yoga is the perfect opportunity to be curious about who you are – you may surprise yourself.

Nell Mead