One of my New Year’s resolutions (actually, if I’m being honest, a regular, unsatisfied customer on the list) is to do yoga. But this time, I’ve tried to make the resolution a bit more specific and quantifiable: I have to complete 8 weeks of consecutive once-a-week classes of ashtanga yoga. The rules are that only unavoidable excuses can permit missing a class, and will in any case result in two more weeks of classes being added to the sequence.
Stupid? Possibly. Attainable? Certainly; readers will know how (obsessively) seriously I take my NY resolutions. I’m off to a good start, and last night was my third class. It’s quite clear that I am the worst in the class, both in terms of technique, flexibility and, apparently, breathing. (Never before now did I know I was so terrible at breathing – I would have thought this would be something I’d mastered after 30 years and approximately 355,765,000* single practices to date. But alas.)
Nonetheless, I’m sticking with it. It’s quite a workout, despite being a slow-paced 75 minutes of posture-holding. I’m enjoying the stretches and I’m sure my complaining body will thank me one day.
But there’s one part of yoga that I just can’t get. Try as I might to open my mind, some of the more allegorical aspects are just too far advanced for my caged economist’s brain. In fact, many of the common phrases of vinyasa yoga seem to supersede the figurative and almost border on the metaphysical. I’m still flummoxed by several of the instructions our charismatic yoga instructor commanded me to perform – and unfortunately, Google Translate is yet to include “Yogi” in its list of languages to help me out. Things already got off to a strange start when the instructor announced that we really shouldn’t have been practising yoga last night because it was a full moon, “…so, you know, just keep that in mind.” But then the emblematic orders began, and I was not only lost without shoes but also without a yogi dictionary. Any advice or suggested renderings for these pearls of flexible directives from last night’s class would be most welcome.
- “Look to the tip of your nose [so far so good, but…] and then shift your gaze to your third eye in between your eyebrows.” – (…am sure I did this one wrong, as I looked like I was about to be carried away by men in white coats)
- “Create space within yourself” – (…conjures up several unfortunate images, most appropriately from my ill-fated 2007 trip to yoga’s birthplace in New Delhi)
- “Allow yourself to be” – (…because without this permission, presumably, I would not have been. Really wished Descartes was in the class beside me for this one.)
- “Make your breath like the sound of the ocean” – (…in principle, this one was less ambiguous. But I guess the sounds of Surfers Paradise beach on a Saturday night were probably not what they were after.)
- “Make your muscles strong, but soft” – (…like a hard-boiled egg.)
- “Breathe through your spine” – (…it’s been a while since high-school biology, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works.)
- “Be at this point, at this time” – (…according to Einstein, I fulfilled this one by definition.
It begs the question (doesn’t it always): what would Gandhi think? Fortunately, the internet provides the answer.
Looking forward to the next class – another week, another point of the space-time continuum.
*I got this estimate from CalculatorPro’s ‘Beats and Breaths’ calculator. the Indian medical side MedIndia.net estimated 223,715,000 – that is, 37% (or a whopping 132 MILLION) fewer breaths in my life. However, it came with the bizarre disclaimer that its estimates “are not 100% accurate”. Mind-blowing.