Yoga, for many people, is a bit like marmite. You either love it or hate it.
For some, a yoga class is to be treasured, whatever form it takes, whether it is a fast-paced dynamic vinyasa flow composed of a sweaty sequence of fluid movements, or a slower and more soulful stillness instead that allows for stretching and relaxation of both body and mind that a yin or hatha class might offer.
For others, it’s all a bit odd. A series of bizarre and sometimes uncomfortable poses combined with mumblings regarding chakras and bandhis. A quasi-spiritual aspect that can, at times, as my sister pointed out to me the other day, feel perilously close to cultural appropriation, a twisting of an ancient spirituality to fit the modern times and trends, taught by some-one sufficiently ‘woke’, and of course, suitably priced. My sister, incidentally, prefers pilates, something she feels provides all the physical benefits that yoga offers, but without any nonsense, a purely physical and functional practice. For me, however, it is the meditative quality of yoga that is so appealing. Although pilates certainly emphasises a connection with and awareness of your body, enhancing posture etc, yoga, for me at least, provides that, but combined with the heightened awareness of simple things such as your breath, it also helps quiet your mind and create a sense of peace that is so needed in the constant motion and need for improvement in the modern world.
But what I first loved about yoga was how surreal the whole situation is. In no other circumstance will you find a room full of people gathered together upside down, butts in the air and intently staring at their belly button in downward facing dog, or wobbling precariously on the battered black mats of the local gym, legs twisted and knees crossed, arms twirled together in Eagle pose. There is a curious lack of dignity in yoga which I find completely endearing. Admittedly, there are the more picturesque elements of a yoga practice which adorn the squares of Instagram with neat streamlined poses such as dancer’s pose, half moon, handstands, the deliberation and purpose of a warrior position and still balanced trees alongside many impressive feats of flexibility. But there are also the poses that seem somewhat more grounded like child’s pose where you literally mirror the actions of an infant with all their lack of self-consciousness as you lie clutching the inner arches of your feet and rock from side to side. If you walked into a room, having never heard of the concept of yoga, and saw a group of people in child’s pose, wouldn’t you want to laugh out of sheer incredulity? Yoga is weird due to the paradoxical combination of intense focus and concentration whilst also emptying your mind and abandoning all self-consciousness. And that is also what makes it wonderful.
art by Quinn Fagersten