I need to confess that I’ve always been scathing about yoga obsessives. It became a family joke that, ‘mum just doesn’t trust yoga’, and I have to admit that some of this prejudice was perhaps built on my own mother’s enrolment in yoga classes during my teenage years. Believe me, it’s a challenge to know that your friends might come to call and be greeted by your mother, clad in a bright purple towelling leisure suit, using the airing cupboard door as support for her headstand practice – and, an even greater risk to my limited school street cred on the days that she decided to shun the yoga attire and just let it all hang out in her underwear.
Having battled with my weight all my life (not helped by my extremely tall and svelte older brother hilariously nicknaming me ‘Tubs’ or ‘Tubby’ at the age of 6), I’ve forged core strength in the mantra that, ‘pain is just weakness leaving your body,’ and that quite frankly, any exercise not involving sweat is not worth the investment in lycra or time. Hence my bootcamp membership and love of running.
However, when my marriage collapsed the first time, my husband took up yoga and -when we got back together for a couple of years – it felt churlish to ridicule his classes until I’d had a go myself. Don’t get me wrong, it still jarred with my christian beliefs, for my world has been informed by stories of church halls banning yoga classes through fear of devil infiltration and chanting, even though my Methodist mother had performed her own personal protest through the purple towelling years. More challenging still was my belief that yoga was only for bendy people. I was tight, tense and taut both physically and emotionally, so an unlikely candidate for any yogic morphing.
I told my friends at church that I’d taken up pilates and attended my first yoga class.
I was rubbish, naturally, but overjoyed that this didn’t matter. I was delighted to discover it was ‘no fluff’ yoga and it was absolutely non competitive. There was no sanskrit terminology, no chanting and the incense candles were rarely lit. When Favourite Daughter was on university holidays, she started coming along with us and my goodness was she bendy! I loved going to yoga classes; they were one of the few things that my husband and I were doing together and I thought this was progress.
Looking back, I realise that once my former husband had ridden the smugness of seeing my volte face on the topic of yoga, it perhaps started to niggle that I might come back from an additional class and try and show him a move or two. He always preferred to be Up Dog in our relationship and I missed the signs that he was unhappy that I might be taking yoga off the mat.
When Favourite Daughter hit the buffers during the wilderness years of completing a Masters degree, I rashly suggested that she enrolled on the centre’s yoga teacher training course as a means of funding her impending Gap Year and getting respite from an extremely dark dissertation. I offered to pay for the qualification but she wasn’t worried about the money, she was worried about doing it on her own. After months of classes I started to bend; I rashly said I’d train to become a yoga teacher too.
Doing that training with my daughter was one of the highlights of my life. We met great people, laughed and ate an awful lot of vegan food, coached by the most inspirational and modest teacher. Most importantly – giggling and stressing – we led our first class together, and my former husband was in the class. They even put our photo on the centre website, for it was unusual for a mother and daughter to lead a class with a father as a punter. His bright yellow t-shirt stood out on this photo and I read this – wrongly – as an affirming and positive sign.
That saying, ‘if you want to give God a laugh, tell him your plans’, turned out to be true, but he planned lots of positives for us. After our first class sadly I managed to wash that iconic bright yellow t-shirt in with my darks and it came out looking purplish. I should have taken note.
My marriage splintered for the second time and my husband let his yoga membership lapse.
I’m still doing yoga and it’s still about core strength. This month we’re working on Bird in Flight, and it’s really difficult to perform this unless you’ve built up some inner muscle; this takes time. God’s certainly laughing (with me), because he has me taking classes once a week at the yoga centre while my daughter enjoys the Philippines.
Through this I’ve learnt that as a yoga teacher, it’s ok if you can’t demonstrate all the poses – it’s not always like that in my day job as an English teacher. Each day your body is different and I’ve discovered there’s always someone in the class happy to demonstrate to the rest of the class if you can’t demonstrate a tricky pose. Just ask. I’ve gradually built the confidence to start offering yoga classes to staff at the school where I teach and have been overwhelmed to discover that they seemed to be popular. We took the class outside on the grass last night and ‘flowed’ in the sunshine. This week we ran our first student class, at the sixth formers’ request because they had felt left out. They giggled and flexed easily and it was joyful. I have a lot to learn from them.
In other news, my bird in flight is still staying grounded. Practising in the flat the other day, it briefly lifted itself, clumsily, off the floor. It’s not ready to fly in public yet, but that’s ok. I have a core belief that it will be launching off the mat sometime soon.