- I am not flexible. I was very disappointed when, after dropping 4 dress sizes last year, I found I STILL couldn’t touch my toes. No matter how hard I try my fingertips are always closer to my knees than my feet. My arms are no better. I often rush through the house to find Jim because I have an itch on my back that I can’t reach – when he’s not around I just have to rub myself on trees (As Morgan Freeman would say ‘When I itches, I scratches‘)
- My joints make clicky clunky noises. This is fine when I’m bending down to feed the cat (although she does give me a knowing look that I take to mean ‘someone’s not been doing much exercise recently’) but becomes more of an issue when other people are within hearing distance. I imagined moving into a position only to find people turning and staring, gasping even, as my various joints popped and crackled like a firework display.
- I fart often. I know the girl handbook says that we shouldn’t admit to this in public but it’s an actual issue here. Numerous people have said to me that the positions and stretches in yoga can cause people to trumpet alarmingly and without prior warning. For someone, already expelling more than the average amount of gas, the idea of this is enough to keep you out of the yogarena.
However, following on from my recent decision to focus on my own wellbeing and my new found penchant for self-reflection, I thought it was worth taking the risk. Some of my friends swear by it as a means for dealing with anxiety and insomnia and, even if it didn’t help me with those issues it might set me on the path to one day touching my own toes. Ever the cautious planner, I didn’t eat dairy for 2 days prior just in case. Armed with my yoga mat and a blanket (for comfort during meditation)
Kundalini yoga (sometimes called the Yoga of Awareness) was developed over 50,000 years ago and was first taught publicly by Yogi Bhajan in 1969. The ‘Kundalini’ of the title is said to be an enormous reserve of untapped potential within each of us – depicted in pictures as a sleeping serpent (Shakti) coiled at the bass of the spine. Through a series of linked postures (Kriyas), breathing exercises (Pranayama), hand and finger gestures (Mudras), chanting (Mantras) and meditation – you seek to awaken the snake (not like that!) and become more self aware and to improve spiritual strength. The kriyas vary as to the focus of the session – each one linked to a particular outcome; i.e. conquering negative emotions or improving self concept.
When I arrived at the school where the class was held, I’m happy to say it felt exactly as I expected it to. Wind chimes singing in the porch, statues of Hindu gods adorning window sills, the smell of incense in the air and, sure enough, actual pan pipe music playing. The classroom itself was different though. Painted a light blue it felt crisp and clean with shining wooden floors. Dotted around the room were people on yoga mats, some lying, some stretching, others just sat waiting. There was no music or noise except the sound of the wind chimes coming through the open french doors.
The teacher, Ram, gestured for me to find a space on the floor and get myself comfortable. I settled on a spot near the french doors (it was a beautiful day and the class, at 4pm, was taking place in the last of the day’s sunshine) and sat myself down. Over the next five minutes, more people arrived until there were around 20 of us. We were close enough that we could all hear the teacher, but far enough away that it would’ve made for a tricky game of ‘The floor is hot lava’.
Ram chimed a bell and started the session. He explained that we should take part in whichever activities we felt able to and to follow his lead. We spent some time making sure we were sitting properly (either cross legged or in lotus position) and that our posture was good. Then, in a round with Ram, the class started to chant. As the chant went on certain members of the class started harmonising and the sound became fuller. Ram chimed his bell again and the singing stopped.
Next came warm up exercises. A series of stretches mostly focused on flexibility in the lower back and shoulders. Unlike other classes I have been to, no one was looking around to see what anyone else was doing (some people even had their mats facing away from everyone else) so I didn’t feel the slightest embarrassment when, as always, my fingers failed to reach even my ankles.
Following this we started a series of kriyas – all of which involved some element of focusing on your breathing. Kundalini uses alternate nostril breathing (in through the left, out through the right) which I got nowhere near managing. How does one chose which nostril to breath out of? Mostly I failed to breath because I was concentrating too hard. The most unusual of the kriyas was called ‘Breath of Fire’ which involved using your stomach muscles to pull your naval in sharply thereby expelling the air from your lungs. Basically, we were all panting. Together. Some people made groaning noises (like off of lady tennis) and for the first time I was distracted from my own progress; I managed to refocus.
Ram chimed his bell again and we sat on our mats wrapped in blankets for the closing meditation. This time I chose not to sing, enjoying the atmosphere and the harmonies. Soon enough it was time to go.
Overall, I really enjoyed the class – much more than I expected to. I did struggle to get into some of the positions and, even more so, to hold them for the required amount of time. My knees did crack and pop and, at one point, make a strange squeaky noise. Despite these facts, I was not self conscious at all, neither was I anxious that I wasn’t doing it right or that other people were judging me. The room was so pretty, the sunlight so warm and Ram so calm that these things all went from my mind. If I can find a class like this at home, I’d definitely consider taking it up as a regular thing. I left the class feeling content and relaxed, got into my car… and farted all the way home.
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