I have been told now for a long while that I should practice yoga. The cynic in me has put this off for 37 years, with images of people in Thai-pants snorting incense and mumbling mantras. Months of travelling through India, Nepal and throughout Southeast Asia has somewhat skewed my impressions of yoga. Virtually every female I met in India had a long tale about how someone they knew had been charmed by a particularly good yogi only to then find out that his motives were not in fact just about yoga. So it’s been an uphill struggle and I don’t think I can be blamed for my ignorance (?).
Casting my overzealous, unfounded assumptions aside, I decided to give it a shot. A friend had recommended I try Happiness Yoga in Allerton, Liverpool. It’s just down the road from my flat and I was impressed with their unassuming and welcoming website. I was drawn in by the simplicity and by the words “unwind, de-stress and relax…in just an hour, you’ll be completely revitalised, your mind will be calm, positive and filled with bliss”. This sounded incredible.
I tend to do things last minute, so booked an early evening class in three hours time. Unsure of what to wear, I donned the most flexible shorts I own and a gym t-shirt. After taking off my shoes at the entrance, I was welcomed by a friendly woman behind the desk. Explaining that I had never done anything like this before, she calmly went through the different payment options they have and I drew confidence from the fact that she didn’t flinch when I told her I was a complete newbie.
It was only then that I looked at the list of different classes on offer. Hot Vinyassa Flow, Hot Yoga, Funky Beats Hot Yoga, Hot Core Yoga, Ashtanga (non hot) and Pregnancy Yoga. I hadn’t realised how many types of yoga there are, but it was the Beginner Yoga that got me worried. If ever there was a yoga class that I needed to be doing, it was Beginner Yoga. I quickly checked with the receptionist which one I was booked onto.
“Hot Core Yoga” she explained.
I started wondering whether I’d made a hasty mistake.
I was given a complimentary mat and towel, filled my water bottle then wandered into the mirrored studio. A few people had already arrived, rolling their mats down throughout the room. I spotted a free spot right at the back in the corner – perfect I thought, I’ll slip in and no-one will even notice I’m here. I asked the guy next to me if he’d done this class before, he explained that it’s hard but gets easier once you know and learn the moves (of which I knew none).
Our instructor Gabby placed her mat at the front of the room and explained that we needed to use the space of the room better, so we shuffled around. This meant that several people were behind me which made me more nervous. The room began to heat up and I began to sweat before we’d moved a muscle.
Then the music started. We lay on our backs with our eyes closed as Gabby talked slowly and softly about focussing our breath. Not changing or controlling it, just acknowledging its’ presence. Then the movement began. She was giving directions but I was still focussing on breathing, “raise your right arm up and link it with the other…then feel your heart…lower your pelvis until you can’t lower it any more…”. I had to look at other people to make sure I was at least doing it slightly right. I then learned that everyone had their eyes open.
Some of the moves I was familiar with, like bicycle legs whilst on your back. But it was the intensity, heat and breathing that took the exercise to a different level. Gabby asked for us to bring our lower back up, squeezing everything tight to really maximise the impact. It wasn’t a shouty coach demanding you try harder, it was a few gentle words, calmingly telling us we had 5…4…3…2…1…and then downward dog.
We were 20 minutes in when my plan to stay unnoticed failed. As we entered a sequence of moves of twisting and contorting (that I should have remembered the names of), Gabby asked us to place one foot out front and lean forward onto our right foot, bending the right knee and sweeping the left left back and around our bodies. The end result was to end in the pigeon position. Still focussing on breathing and just remaining upright, I clumsily followed her instructions and got them hopelessly wrong. To my horror I then realised that the whole room were now in fact looking directly at me as I pretended just to be stretching and taking my time to get into the pigeon. I looked in the mirror at other’s poses and finally worked it out, after much embarrassment and fluster.
After repeating the sequence I could feel my confidence grow. At this point I was absolutely dripping with sweat which felt cleansing, my legs burned and my heart rate had been raised on numerous occasions. Focussing on breathing was a new concept for me but one that I could certainly feel the benefits almost immediately.
Once the second round of sequences had finished, Gabby instructed us to lie down or in whatever comfortable position we wished. I lay with my eyes closed, my legs splayed at the knees as the music continued. It was a quiet time, a time to reflect on the session, to focus wholeheartedly on our breathing, and to relax after the exercise. This was undoubtedly the most powerful part of the whole session for me. Rarely, if ever, do I just lie or sit still and do nothing. Once I’d focussed on my breathing and thought of nothing else, I noticed the pleasure of feeling drops of sweat run down my face. Normally I would have raised an arm to wipe it, but instead enjoyed every moment of the salty liquid slowly succumbing to gravity, creating a unique yet familiar tingly feeling across my skin.
I guess it perhaps would have helped going to a beginner yoga class, just to learn some of the more basic moves. But going in at the deep end was enjoyable and in many instances I felt strong and very comfortable. The whole experience was completely enlightening and I can’t wait to return for more.