As published here in The Arbuturian.
I have a problem with reconciling a yogic outlook with life in London. I generally find the chasm between the overcrowded and unpleasant journey to the spiritual centres which have been cropping up all over town and the atmosphere in said centres a little large to bridge.
The problem is the teachers. They either want you to focus on your breathing, or on your ‘chi’, or something else equally unfathomable to me. The final lot of teachers, which I really struggle with, is those who advocate group meditation for what seems like hours just before the end of the class.
The reason I take umbrage with this last lot of yoga teachers is because I stumble out of the room filled with calm and goodwill towards fellow humans, and then am elbowed in the changing room, ushered through the exit and hustled on the tube. No, I was done with all that mumbo jumbo and traded my yoga membership for a gym pass instead. At least in the gym the purpose was to hurry to excess and work up a sweat while listening to angry hip hop – it seemed more honest, more quintessentially what London is about.
That was all, of course, until I attended a private yoga session with Chris James, the renowned yoga instructor. As you can imagine, given my earlier diatribe, the word ‘renowned’ filled me with more than a little trepidation. This was only augmented when I saw that he has featured in quite a few glossy magazines and newspapers as, dare I whisper it, a guru. That’s right, the sort of person who would expect a level of fitness I didn’t have to offer and would force me to wind myself into strange shapes never to walk straight again.
It was booked, and the lovely people at Body Works West (my favourite west London gym – the loos have Aromatherapy Associates goodies in them, need I say more?) were lending us a private room for it. I was going. I could do nothing but arm myself with four of my most trusty friends and accept the challenge.
To say we were of varying levels of fitness is something of an understatement. While one of our team has run marathons, the other would feel out of place wearing a pair of trainers at all, so adverse is he to exertion. Some of us were bendy, others brittle as old driftwood. When my turn to describe my bodily injuries prior to the class came, Chris asked me how old I was, so decrepit was my description of my form. He could not have asked for a more diversely physically inept cross-section of society.
The first difference between Chris and other teachers I’ve previously met is that he came into the class without any clue as to what he was going to teach us. There was no set series of poses – when he asked about our injuries, he listened attentively, and then suggested a class. That’s right – the teacher-guru man suggested. I already felt better.
The poses we started with were pretty elementary, a little neck bending and downwards dogging but, all the while, with Chris telling us when we could implement these moves into daily life to maximise the benefits. When he mentioned that a little series would be perfect for those who sit at their desk for long periods, I was all ears (and bent arms and legs, at that point). The crucial thing about Chris’ method of teaching is that he didn’t make us feel too much like naughty school children following unfathomable instructions and, as we are all exceptionally immature, that was quite a feat. It wasn’t too difficult to get into the rhythm of the class and throughout the postures I felt I was able to do them with just a little bit of effort on my part, and much patience on Chris’.
Don’t get me wrong – there was a bit of Zen going on during this class. It was yoga, after all. I think we all struggled to keep a straight face during the chanting part of the session but, as I said, we really are extraordinarily unenlightened.
After the class we left feeling a little less stiff and a little less burdened by our bodies which, as Chris pointed out, is the whole point of yoga. Today, however, I am exceptionally bothered by my body – what felt like a little stretch and bend seems to have had a deep impact on my poor muscles. They feel as if they have been tenderised, even typing is tricky. I am positively delighted. If what was seemingly so little exertion during the class should have such extraordinary results, I may consider my anti-yoga stance and book another session with Chris. Or a workshop. Or a retreat. Before you know it, I’ll be ashram bound. Watch this space.