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Twists and turns: At a stretch

June 06, 2010

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“Sit cross-legged, close your eyes, block all thoughts out of your head and meditate for a minute,” said the yoga instructor at a session I took recently. I looked around and saw women sitting with their forefinger and thumb in a circle on their knees; I tried the same but didn't feel any spiritual magic flowing through me as I half-expected. I closed my eyes. I could hear the fan that blew air in the room. I could even hear Dick Dale's Misirlou (from the soundtrack of Pulp Fiction) playing in my head as it had been for the entire day. I did not achieve the (expected) feeling of nirvana. I felt nothing.

I opened my eyes to see if everyone else felt as disconnected as I was. I was confronted by a line of women on their yoga mats, of all ages, sizes and backgrounds, with their eyes closed and concentrating heavily. The instructor caught me peeking and frowned at me. I decided that henceforth, if nirvana didn't come to me, I would fake it. I now wonder if everyone else did the same.

Yoga has been practiced for the past 5,000 years and originated as a mental and physical discipline predominant in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. It is an intense meditative practice and is part of one of the six orthodox schools of philosophy in the Hindu religion. In practice it is a series of flexible body postures and breathing exercises that help in boosting the practitioner's health and level of concentration. A type of yoga known as Hatha yoga is extremely popular nowadays as it is equated to a weight-loss exercise regimen.

“I want everybody to do the lion posture,” said the instructor, “for newcomers that means opening your eyes and mouth, sticking out your tongue and stretching your face as much as you can. Then I want you to make a sound like a lion”. “Make a sound like a lion?” I mentally questioned myself, “like what? A roar?” I saw all of the women turn and face the wall, and feeling slightly disappointed that I wouldn't be able to see the wild feline in all of them, I did the same. At the instructor's count, I did all that she'd asked and right when I thought I'd gotten my tongue out as far as it could possibly go, seconds away from the moment of delivering the lion's roar, I heard the class collectively and abruptly yell, “HA!” (In the manner of 'ah HA! I caught you!'). Let me just say one thing over here hearing approximately 20 women make a 'Ha!' sound from the depths of their being was quite shocking; it sounded very primal, and it was nothing like the sound a lion makes.

“Now take your right leg up, up close to your cheek and touch it”, said the instructor. Most of the women easily lifted their leg up with one hand into that position. I began to do the same till I discovered it wasn't so easy. Therefore I used both my hands... and when that didn't work, I twisted and crouched and finally got my foot to about nose-level. That's when I realised my socks were not exactly in pristine condition, so I pulled them off and tossed them to the side. I never saw them again.

At the end of the session, the instructor asked us to lie down on our backs, close our eyes, meditate and count to a hundred. I heard a familiar click and I peeked out of one eye to see her close the lights. That could only mean one of three things a) that it was nap time, b) we were going to practice some covert yoga position that worked best in the dark or c) like a cult, a clandestine initiation process was about to take place and I'd be asked to do something strange. Hopefully, it wouldn't be swallowing a goldfish; that was too clichéd and more appropriate for admission in a college fraternity. I forgot to count. When I opened my eyes and was confronted with darkness I vaguely wondered whether the instructor had taken into account people who suffered from Achluophobia (fear of darkness).

Pretty soon the lights came on and we were asked whether we felt “relaxed and rejuvenated”. As women added 'oohs' and 'aahs' to their affirmative responses, I couldn't help but feel slightly cheated I felt no 'awakening of the soul', my spirit did not feel enlightened, and I felt exactly the same as I did when I came in. Nirvana or no nirvana, I was to realise the toll an intensive yoga lesson has on a newbie by the next day, it hurt every muscle in my body to make even the slightest movement.