Once upon a time in the North-West of somewhere there was a young man called Ernest Yogi, and despite Ernest having the world at his feet he would walk around town with a permanent rain cloud above his head. He felt that he had more problems than anyone else in the world.
One day whilst pounding the pavements of Ancoats on the way to a yoga class he chanced upon a very beautiful golden lamp…a Magic Lamp no less. ( Ok you’ll need to suspend your belief here about the chance of finding a magic lamp on a pavement in Ancoats, but for the sake of continuity of the story just go with it for now) Our young depressed hero picked the lamp up and gave it a bit of a wipe as it was covered in cigarette butts and car oil and KERPOW out popped Patanjali the Genie of the Magic Lamp. Young Ernest staggered back and had to pinch himself to make sure this was all really happening and not the after effects of his medicinal ‘herbal’ cigarettes.
‘I can grant you one wish and one wish only’ Patanjali said to Ernest.
‘Oh thank-you Mr. Genie, could you please, please get rid of all my problems’ came Ernest’s reply.
Patanjali the Genie raised an eyebrow and spoke ‘Are you sure you don’t want a million pounds or a big mansion or perhaps a decent leg behind head?’
Patanjali knew that young Ernest was struggling with lots of things including poor hip flexors on the right side.
‘It’s tempting to go for a decent leg behind head, but I just want all my problems to be gone’ Ernest was firm with what he thought would make him happier.
‘So be it’ Patanjali said. ‘Ok I want you to find a big box and put all your problems in it and then meet me here at the same time tomorrow’.
(More suspension of belief necessary here about being able to put problems in a box)(Cheers).
The next day Ernest Yogi arrived at the very same spot that Patanjali the Genie had appeared, he had with him a massive box (the big wooden ones that you get from Unicorn in Chorlton) with all his problems inside. KERPOW Patanjali appeared once more out of the Magic Lamp and spoke to Ernest..
‘Ok sunny Jim follow me and let’s see if we can sort out this problem, problem’.
Ernest Yogi set off behind the Genie down the back streets of Ancoats. After 5 minutes of dodging crazy barking stray dogs and strange gaunt looking men asking to lend 50 pence for their ‘bus fare’ they arrived at a big warehouse – a warehouse big enough to fit in boxes of problems from everyone in the whole world.
‘Ok Ernest Yogi inside this big warehouse is boxes of problems from everyone in the whole world, you have exactly one hour to go inside and swap your box of problems for someone else’s’.
‘YES!’ shrieked Ernest ‘That’s absolutely brilliant, I’ll just go find David Beckham’s box or maybe even The Dalai Lamas, they’ll both be bloody empty’! And off he went into the warehouse.
Patanjali waited patiently outside and within only a few minutes the door burst open and our unhappy hero came scurrying out carrying the very same box that he went in with shouting ‘No way, no way, I’ll keep my own box of problems thanks very much’ And off he went into sunset with his own big box of problems, perhaps not weighing as heavy on his mind as he once thought.
‘Ah’ sighed Patanjali ‘That one works every time’!
Me dad (RIP) told me that story years and years ago, before I even started Yoga. The hero in his story wasn’t called Ernest Yogi and neither was the Genie called Patanjali but apart from that it’s pretty much the same way he used to tell it. Quite recently I passed it on to my own son.
Of course it’s a very simple story straight out of kinder garden, but that doesn’t lessen the power of the message. It’s hard to see the way out sometimes when we are stuck in a dark space. There’s a brilliant Eckhart Toll quote from his The Power of Now book. He says something along the lines of ‘Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be a way out, but there’s always a way through’! How pretty fricken radical is that – there’s always a way through. It’s so easy to think that people like the Dalai Lama and Posh n Becks don’t have any problems. But of course – we ALL have problems, every single one of us. The problems are not so much the problem, but how we deal with them.
So the above fable is perhaps only half the story. Ok we can acknowledge we are not alone in having problems and we can find some solace in that fact but what next. This is where my yoga practice comes in. There’s some amazing health benefits to be had from taking a regular yoga practice, including a strong fit flexible body but personally it’s the mental health benefits I’m after baby! Yes life is tough and I’ve got a ton of problems ( who hasn’t) but I do my practice and well the problems don’t exactly disappear but their firm grip on my mind becomes more like a gentle squeeze.
June 21 was declared as the International Day of Yoga by the United Nations General Assembly after Indian Prime Minister, addressed the United Nations General Assembly last year. What’s App Doc ponders the potential impact of this intervention. Casually surfing through calendars of national events reveals a perplexing mix of days to be celebrated. For instance Diabetes week and National Picnic Week take place in the run up to our inaugural International Yoga Day on the summer Solstice, which is shared with Fathers’ Day. Following this we have Wrong Trousers Day. So much to enthuse about here but I will try not to lose focus.
What interests me is that India is embracing yoga again in a way that celebrates and promotes it in a social and holistic manner. "Yoga embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfilment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being", says Narendra Modi when addressing the UN. Shripad Yesso Naik has become India's first minister for yoga, with plans to reclaim the practice as "India's gift to the West". Indian officials plan to reintroduce yoga into all facets of civic life, including more than 600,000 schools, thousands of hospitals and police training centres. This demonstrates that yoga is so much more than just a physical practice and has potential to improve well-being at a societal and population level as well as for individuals.
Sometimes the old solutions are the best and most elegant. Our current technological revolution purports to enhance our lives in so many ways, but let’s look a little more closely at that assumption. Tablet computers, smart phones, internet TVs and now watches facilitate instant gratification. We can shop, chat, watch movies and work on the hoof twenty four hours a day. Agreed this is convenient, but does it make us happier and healthier? In my professional experience this is not the case; many people come through my consulting room struggling with the demands of modern living. They experience stress, anxiety, insomnia and physical ill health as a result of technological advances rather than these advances offering solutions. The ancient practice of Yoga is arguably a perfect counter balance to the intensity and pace of the silicon age. It encourages us to slow down, be mindful and seek grounding and balance. The goals are the journey itself and will be achieved over a lifetime of practice rather than at the click of a mouse.
I am no Luddite. I embrace smartphones, Apps and internet shopping. But Yoga helps me find a balance so that I am not overwhelmed by the pressure to move to 24 hour access to everything. I value the rhythm of the days, weeks, months and years. Yoga is my companion through these cycles.
So I for one will celebrate International Yoga day. For time management purposes I will have a healthy picnic on hand and dedicate my sun salutations to all yoga dads. I may need to borrow Matt Ryan’s fabulous trousers to cover all bases.
I am proud to be a GP settled in Manchester city centre after having trained and worked in Cambridge, London and Brussels. Being a family doctor is one of the best and most varied jobs. The world with all its problems can walk through my office door and I am invited to collaborate in helping out. In recent years yoga has become an increasingly significant feature of my life. As well as getting me in the best physical shape it has helped me through stresses and depression. I attend several Yoga Manchester classes on a weekly basis. More and more I share my experience of yoga with colleagues and patients. It has become a lifelong friend.
I tried a yoga class at the gym and i enjoyed it, not more than a good strong run on the treadmill so I could see the calories clocking up as id burnt them, but all the same the yoga felt good and i felt good so therefore it was an all-round enhancement to my work out schedule, so I added it in, every Thursday.
A few months had past, and on Thursdays I was starting to skip the gym but still do the yoga class, I was still getting a work-out so this was acceptable. A few more months passed i realised the only part of the gym i was enjoying was running and yoga, so by the time summer came i had now quit the gym and found a yoga class at my local church hall.
I was running outdoors with the sun shining on my face, much more appreciation and awareness of the beautiful surroundings, the tall trees & fresh air, and id substituted the mirrored walls of the gym yoga studio to attend a lovely local yoga class in my community hall; this in itself felt more organic, healthier- i couldn't put my finger on why, maybe instead of falling into a mould of a "healthy lifestyle" by saying I go the gym i work out" I was actually creating my own vision and values of what healthy was to me; my mind was becoming healthy.
After really starting to appreciate the benefits of yoga in the body and mind, I started to research a little into more yoga workshops/classes and found an early morning class 6am-8am. I like a challenge, and thought getting up at 6am for yoga was a good enough challenge- but boy was that just the start of it.
This early morning class was on all week Monday-Friday, it was called Mysore practice.
Stepping into the studio at 5.45am... it was dark, quiet, everyone else had been meditating for the previous 30 minutes before the practice- talk about challenge my mind was already saying "oh you don't belong here, you’re an amateur" but I was there now, everyone started to make their way to their yoga mats so I told myself "blend in ... is there any room at the back ... Oh yes a tiny space phew!"
After a daunting morning chant that I knew nothing about or what language it was in my doubt really started to creep in "I like this setting, I’d like to fit in here but I definitely don't right now"
Then those words "enjoy YOUR practice" the teacher said, my practice? It’s all of us right?.... everyone started moving, in silence, sun-salutations to be more specific, wait a minute nobody is in sync, she's in downward dog and he's still got his palms together? It was as though my mind had separated into a million pieces each piece a little shard of doubt.
After around 3 minutes the teacher approached me, he spoke gently and directly just to me, advising after 5 sun- salutations I should do these next 3 poses, that was great for the next 3 minutes I could fit in!! then slowly coming out of the 3rd pose my head lifted reaching to see where he was to tell me what to do next, he was with another student ahhh, panic i feel lost again? or do I? maybe I should just keep breathing... stand in this tall anatomical position and maybe just observe where I was in this present moment. I kept the pace of my breath as I re sighted the postures I had just learnt.
He came over again, another 3 poses, great! Now I know 6 postures; 5 sun-salutations and 6 postures remember remember remember don't forget them I told myself.
This continued for the duration of the class, and by the end I left feeling greatly energised as well as great achievement. I had pushed through the barrier of embarrassment of not knowing the routine (realising nobody was there to judge me anyway) and I had gained knowledge and learnt how to handle a new situation.
That was my first experience of a Mysore yoga class. It was the true seed of my lessons in yoga and life.
I always use yoga as the doorway into my inner world, it has taught me to be patient, to be understanding, to persevere, to laugh at myself, to forgive myself, and to take responsibility for my thoughts and my actions.
The next Mysore Style Intensive is April 6 - 10. Full details here