Something Like Peace (Or, My love affair with hot yoga).

Saturday, 16 September 2017

My love affair with hot yoga began the way many of my love affairs begin. That is to say it was harder than expected, I wavered for a long time between persevering and the self-preservation that comes with walking away, told all my friends it was brutal but even though I was terrible I was sort of maybe getting in to it, then one day realised I was absolutely smitten. 

For a long time, I believed that yoga teachers were liars who hated me. What other reason could there possibly be for their constant insistence that contorting my body in to shapes that left my abs so sore I couldn’t laugh for days was fulfilling, or fun? I found no peace in sun salutations, no strength in warrior pose, and couldn’t touch my toes (I still can’t). My early relationship with yoga was less than harmonious, and I was fine with that. I was a runner. I ran away from yoga, and kept in shape by sprinting laps of Peckham Rye instead. 

The yoga classes of my teens were focused almost entirely on relaxation. They were meditative in a way I found very hard to get on board with; I’m a person who enjoys thinking, and being told to stop did not come naturally. When I was told to let go; to give myself over, it wasn't that I couldn’t. More that I couldn’t see why I would want to. It probably wasn’t helped by the fact I was being constantly shown up by my own mother. That woman can bend. (Why are Mum’s so good at yoga?!)

I fell back in to the practice (eww) early this year, bloated from a Christmas of being almost constantly Champagne drunk and a January of eating scones for breakfast. I needed to sweat it out quickly, and found a studio in Crystal Palace that seemed to be offering the chance to do just that. (This is not a review or a description of their classes, but it’s called The Yoga Edge and is by far my favourite studio I’ve ever been to). My mindset had changed radically, I knew, but I still wasn’t thrilled by the idea of being told what I should be feeling; where the line between holding on and letting go was drawn; when I should be holding on; when I should be letting go. I was a hopeful cynic, ready to be proved wrong but not expecting it.

I was proved wrong.

Nobody told me I had to let go. Nobody told me what I should be feeling. Nobody tried to push my body further than it was ready to go (that’s a lie, one teacher did. I just didn’t go back to her class). The only guidance they gave was how to move; how to breathe; where in your bones you should be feeling it. The rest was up to us. 

And with the effort that was holding my body in a one handed side plank (who knew?!) came the stilling of my mind, at it’s own pace, without any outside instruction at all. And once it was still, it began to open.

The teachers I love most have this way of talking about yoga that sort of feels like they could be talking about life in general. They are funny, and sharp, and encourage us to laugh at ourselves when we fall out of a pose, and say things like “It doesn’t matter what you look like, as long as you feel it” and “The only intention you should set here is to do your best by you”.

And “There is such strength in just knowing when to… stop”.

That one was my favourite.

There is such strength in just knowing when to stop.

Stop holding on to the things that make you crazy. Stop wondering what you could have done for a different ending. Stop pushing your body further than it can go. Stop saying yes to things you don’t want to do. Stop saying no to things you do.

There is such strength. 

The satisfaction in knowing when you’ve reached your edge; knowing where the switch is. That is where letting go comes in.

The hour locked inside a sweatbox quickly became my favourite time of the week. It fixes even the worst of moods, and leaves me feeling virtuous (and my body feeling tight, which I know everyone says is not the point but which is the reason I started and not a benefit I can ignore!). Every week I am amazed, lying on our mats for final relaxation, to hear the buses, and sirens, and sounds of Crystal Palace existing beyond the locked door; to realise they must have been happening all along; that there is no way the past hour has been silent, as if the streets outside recognise the need for peace. It’s simply that we didn’t notice. 

But it isn't all change. I doubt I’ll ever call yoga “playing”, as some teachers do when they’re trying to convince you you’re having fun (by doubt I mean… I will not be doing that). There’s a guy who told every teacher for at least a month it was his first ever class so they all thought he was a genius. There are people who harmonise on Om’s. I know more yummy mummy gossip that I ever knew there was just from laying on my mat before the class starts. I still find most of these people inherently irritating, if I’m honest.

But when the heaters go on and the curtain is drawn, none of that matters. We don't talk, or even pay attention to each other. We lock in to a moment, stand up, and begin. Sometimes glory is quiet. Not quite silent, the sound of the breath a reminder that you’re alive, but quiet all the same. 

I got my waist back. I developed a serious workout-wear habit. I wrote the intro to this post laying on the floor over a yoga block. At the beginning of the year I didn’t even know what a yoga block was. 

I was wrong. This is for me. 

In yoga, as in all love affairs, there is strength in admitting that too.


She is moving in a way that bodies shouldn’t be able to move: bending backwards, twisting one side over the other, and on her face is effort and concentration and sweat. 

She folds forwards, like her body is an upside down V, and just when you think she can’t bend any lower, she bends. Lower. One leg lifts, then retreats. The other. 

The effort is melting away a bit now, but the concentration and sweat are still there as she lowers to her knees and stretches the whole front of her body forward on the sticky mat, and just before her forehead meets the floor, something else joins them on her face. Something like peace. 

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