The UK Labour party’s existential crisis continues. Despite the party have fully endorsed Mr Jeremy Corbyn as leader, allegations about his links to fringe activist and even extremist groups continue to fly about. The latest allegation is that Mr Corbyn is suspected to have “Bikramist” associations. To some this may seem to be just a regular attendance at hot yoga classes. To others in the yoga world there are connotations of “Heat Extremism” which could be considered to be much less innocuous. The new Labour leader is thought to have deflected criticism by admitting that he has been to just one hot yoga session but that he did not wear any lyrca and that he kept his T shirt on.
Being the Arch politician that he is, Mr Corbyn is reported to have played the yoga card to his advantage in the selection of his shadow cabinet. Yvette Cooper did not make the cut as she is reported to be committed to Power Yoga, or is that just committed to Power… ? Andy Burham is thought to have just made it in to the shadow cabinet by signing up for a local Vinyasa flow class. He rocked out with a Made-in-Manchester mix tape.
Onion Bhaji has heard on the grapevine that yoga and mindfulness will be employed as tools to help heal the rifts in the party. A source close to the Labour leadership revealed that some blue-skies thinking has put unorthodox concepts centre stage. Google, Apple, McKinsey, and Goldman Sachs are among the many corporate fans of mindfulness and meditation. So why not use such techniques for the Labour party during this unsettled, conflicted and unfocused time in its history? No details have been confirmed, but grass-roots party members have been wildly speculating about the how the shadow cabinet meetings will be run to help achieve consensus. It was agreed that being seated in full lotus position on a zafu cushion for 30 minutes of zazen mediation was probably currently beyond any member of the party. However to be able to sit still for 20 minutes and not bicker would be a good antidote to the mindlessness of recent political turmoil.
Mr Cameron was quick to jump on the political bandwagon. International yoga day earlier this summer revealed huge numbers of potential voters that he wanted to align himself with, in an Iyengar fashion.
My name is Jenks and I am a Bikramoholic. It’s been 14 months 3 weeks and 2 days since my last Bikram class. I relished the highs Bikram was giving me and I ignored the down sides; until they caught up with me. Abstinence has been tough but I’m making progress.
Seductively the Bikram style fitted around my timetable and my lifestyle: the studio was high spec with plush sofas and state of the art shoe racks. The colour scheme even exceeded expectations. The rubric on the heating system with stats about temperature control, CO2 to oxygen ratios with humidity sensitivity blew my inner geek brain. The challenge of just staying in the hot room wooed my overachieving personality traits. Then there were the mirrors, oh the mirrors..! Initially I came to class just now and then; classes felt wholesome and healthy. It’s just yoga right? I thought I could handle it. But it was not long before the marketing strategies took hold. Once a week practice turned into the 30-day challenge and I was sweating almost as much out of class at the thought I might miss a day. Realisation was dawning that things were not quite as squeaky-clean as they first seemed.
Getting hot and sweaty became a guilty pleasure. Reality being suspended for the duration of a Bikram class, I cheated on my white-collar world and was hiding from life (stripped naked to the waist drenched in perspiration) rather than enhancing my life. Progress in my postures arrested. Aggressively pushing, pulling and overreaching was causing grumbling injuries and frustration rather than the deepening connection of mind and body facilitated by the breath, that yoga had promised.
Several things conspired to tip the scales and help me kick the habit. I was feeling one-dimensional after class. Bikram was just exercise; yoga-lite with none of the other elements of yoga that my mind and body craved. There was a complete lack of balance. Man I badly needed to do a headstand to restore that balance; no go in Bikram. Why was I even going to class? I could have just gone to the gym and done the same workout day in and day out. Self-loathing burgeoned as I began to check out yoga bodies with furtive glances at reflections in those mirrors, oh the mirrors! What was going on with the throne thing up on a little dais? Was I enjoying being dominated on some level? The final straw was when I caught myself mulling over whether to show up for class in a skimpy figure hugging bathing costume, perhaps with a little gold detailing running through it. Holy crap the whole programme had me turning into Mr B himself! My head was becoming more messed up than before. I needed a different approach other than Bikram and I knew it was time to bail.
So now I am back on track with an 8-limbed recovery program. My daily practice has balance; headstands as often as required with breath mind and body back in sync. My new teacher does not judge me. I hope you don’t judge me either.
Guruji Pattabhis Jois would comment that students needed a strong body before they could consider making their mind strong to help them practice the other limbs of Ashtanga Yoga , and his quote of ‘Do your practice and all is coming’ became a personal mantra for the Ashtanga Yoga community worldwide . And as humans with a fundamental need to be loved us Ashtangis are not averse to a bit of ego stroking when we bust out a few bad ass asanas in front of class. There’s been a lot of blood sweat and tears gone into that bit of showboating..
2. I’ve started reading the sutras.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are widely believed to be the Ashtanga Yoga bible (even Guruji would call his Ashtanga Yoga ‘Patanjali Yoga’) so when a student rocks up to class with a sutra commentary clearly on display for all to see in their yoga mat bag expect a tear or two of joy from the teacher. But do be aware, make sure you’ve got a spare couple of hours if you ever ask your teacher to elaborate on a particular sutra. We do love the sound of our pontificating voices : )
3. Can we do the chant today?
As much as Ashtangis like to show their prowess in asana we love just as much to lead our classes through a rousing chorus of ‘Vande Gurunam’. Usually the chant is a call and response affair with the ‘teach’ up front busting through each line in a pitch perfect (they think) stylee with a real mixed bag of styles & keys coming back at them from the class. Put it this way when Guruji said ‘Do your practice and all is coming’ he meant you must practice your scales too.
4. I’m thinking about making the jump from the led classes into the Mysore self-practice sessions.
Ahhh this one is sweet music to our ears. The true method of Ashtanga Yoga is in the ‘Mysore Style’ self-practice as first taught by Guruji and now by his grandson Sharath Jois in Mysore,South India. Students always feel a little daunted at first when they leave the comfort zone of their led class for the great unknown of self-practice, and when ‘personal space’ is invaded in an up close n personal adjustment from the teacher the student might feel they’ve made a wrong move. Slowly slowly the practice reveals it’s essence over time and students can stop hiding their cheat sheet under their mat and throw it in the bin.
5. I’ve quit my Bikram yoga practice.
No elaboration necessary ; )
Wondering what the 5 things to NEVER say to an Ashtanga Yoga teacher are ? Find out here.
The title basically sums up my yoga experience in Thailand, so feel free not to read on if you have short attention span, otherwise, happy reading!
The three week trip to Thailand has been six months in the making, with numerous changes to the itinerary but with the certainty I’ll be practising yoga on my jollies. So thank goodness I badgered my boyfriend Warren to bring a yoga mat because alongside my face cream and toothpaste, I left my treasured mat in Burnage and have had to make do with a second rate blue thing.
Yes, Warren’s mat has allowed me to keep a regular practice in Thailand but as it’s on the thin side I almost yelp every time I rest on a joint with Nirvasana eye-wateringly sore even with a thrice folded mat. But hey, it’s a mat.
Since beginning a daily asana practice nearly three years ago, I’ve taken my mat to places including Bali and India, so assumed I was prepared for the heat in Thailand. How wrong was I. Averaging at 35 degrees with 65 per cent humidity (weather forecast says it feels like 44 degrees), I only have to think of a sun salute and I break into a sweat – think Bikram but with Ashtanga postures and transitions and you get the picture (believe it or not there’s a Bikram studio in Bangkok!).
As an Ashtangi, I’m kind of used to practising alone and have done so for most of the trip. After a few days in Koh Phangan, I hankered for some companionship so headed to the nearby Yoga Retreat which holds morning Mysore-style classes. Led by KPJAYI Level 2 Certified teacher Elise Greenspoon, it was a lovely treat to spend my birthday with other practitioners in the lush jungle like setting, although I felt somewhat misled by our receptionist’s assertion that it was a five minute walk; an uphill 20 minute hike would be more accurate. Sweating profusely, I sneakily did four instead of five Sun As as I didn’t need to build any more heat. The yoga focus worked it’s magic though as I soon acclimatised and managed half Primary and half Intermediate – Garbha Pindhasana is child’s play with buckets of sweat!
Loving the companionship, I booked a taxi for the next day’s trip to the Retreat. Starting off a little cooler than the previous day, full Primary and half Intermediate felt right, and I made the downhill trip to the hotel feeling light, bouncy, and absolutely starving – I even jogged in order to get to breakfast those few vital seconds earlier.
Sitting at the beachside restaurant eating toast, eggs and a fruit salad, I’m sure I muttered the cliche sentence “this is the life”.
On the lovely island of Koh Lanta, I decided to drop by Oasis Yoga. Taught by a charismatic American called Mona, the vinyasa style class was a good antidote to the Ashtanga. Although it featured postures I was familiar with, the pace was a little slower but it was a nice change to yield to the instruction of the teacher and not to mention seizing the moment by using two mats – I think I would’ve paid 400 baht for this alone!
With ants coming from far and wide to crawl on the crazy person lying on the floor, the heat is a treat but I’d be lying if I said I’m not secretly looking forward to practising in the chilly Manchester climate when I return next week.
Ashtanga is a challenging practice and especially so when the environment we’re used to changes. On the flip side, the set sequences mean we can find that sense of continuity and stillness regardless of where we are in the world. By way of example, a few years ago I felt a little strange while staying with a Balinese family in the middle of nowhere, however, the moment I began to practise I felt ‘me’ again and any strangeness faded away. Such is efficacy of a regular Ashtanga practice.
So what would be my words of advice if thinking of practising whilst on holiday? Here are a few pointers:
Bring a thickish mat. Yes, travel mats may be light but if you have a bony bum you’ll be happy to make the trade off between added weight and yoga comfort.
Sample the local yoga. At home we can all be guilty of sticking to what we know, but whilst away we have no routine so can throw caution to the wind and try out something different.
Don’t underestimate the annoyance of ants and flies. These creatures can take you from a blissful standing leg lift to almost stumbling off the terrace.
Set your alarm. I know it’s a holiday but the morning is the best time to practice as it’s cool. Any later and you’ll be sweating cobs and spied on by fellow tourists.
Don’t allow your practice to get in the way of your holiday. Use the heat as an excuse to enjoy a shorter practice. This works a treat.
Since the first draft of this blog, I’ve returned home to my chilly Burnage yoga room – I can’t tell you how lovely the temperature and freshness felt! Come Matt’s monthly 6am Mysore sessions in over a week, I’ll no doubt I’ll be longing for the Thailand heat but without the flies…
Charlene teaches regular classes with Yoga Manchester and Yoga Express. Visit her teacher profile for more information.