A beginner’s guide to yoga

Recently I moved to Hackney and much to the surprise of anyone over the age of forty, its not the inhabitable shanty town brimming with criminals that they seem to speak of. In fact, it’s the antithesis of that; Hackney is East London gentrification at its finest.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m very much the stereotype this borough boasts. For me the weekend doesn’t start until I’ve devoured a perfectly ripened avocado, artistically placed on a slice of freshly baked sourdough loaf. When I’m not wandering through London Fields park donning an electric blue backpack, you’ll probably find me looking pensive while ordering a large soy latte (one sugar) from a barista with a septum piercing on Broadway Market.

But what is it that makes you a true East Londoner these days? It used to be a cockney accent and a hereditary ability to flog vegetables at your local market, but soon after Tesco introduced spiralised courgetti into its grocery aisles, the mark of an East Londoner became distinct: yoga pants.

If, like me, you live in an overpriced flat anywhere between Bethnal Green and Stoke Newington, you’re no doubt aware that practicing yoga may as well be an unofficial requirement in your lease.

Know your ‘bird of paradise‘ from your ‘chaturanga‘? Congratulations – you’re fast-becoming one of us.

Although you probably can’t tell from my not-so-svelte physique, I also attend yoga classes. And just for hipster-continuity’s sake, you’ll find me downward-dogging in a viaduct somewhere underneath London Fields station, conveniently converted into a gym.

Yet as predictable as my life seems, the truth is, I have no idea what’s going on in a yoga class. Note that I previously used the term ‘attend’, as practicing yoga is something entirely different.

If you’re new to the ‘practice’, one of the first things you’ll realise about yoga is the impressive level of seriousness it exudes; dare to walk in a minute late and you will be berated by a passive-aggressive yogi for interrupting the class “zen”.

The second thing you’ll fastly grasp is that your instructor has no qualms in leaving the weak ones behind. They’ll ask if you’re new to yoga and proceed to give zero f*cks / assistance, as you regret every life decision that brought you to this point, mid-vinyasa flow. There’s nothing equally satisfying as it is mortifying than watching a virgin to the game attempt to mimic the movements of their neighbour, with a look of utter despair and self-loathing in their eyes.

But we’ve all been there, right? Wrong. Giving bedroom gymnastics a whole new meaning, I strongly suggest you rehearse via YouTube in anticipation of your first enlightening experience. And talking of gymnastics, to clarify, yoga is not gymnastics. But as an ex-gymnast, I beg to differ.

Which leads us nicely to the next yogi inevitability: middle-class competitiveness.

For a brief few months, I lived in Melbourne (Australia, not the council estate in Chelmsford). Whilst there I went to so many yoga classes, I even bought my own mat! But it wasn’t the health benefits that kept me coming, nor a smoking-hot instructor, but an extremely competitive yoga veteran.

As someone whose blessed with an ability to lick their own elbow (among other things), the Aussie and I struck up a fascinating rapport. The further I stuck my leg behind my head, the further hers went. The more I touched my toes, the more she jutted over until she was practically sucking hers. She became so competitive that she would predict the teacher’s next instruction and start before the rest of us even had a chance to collapse into a sweaty mess on the floor from the previous move.

She was a bit like that child in the school playground who you could always rely on to do something weird in honour of one-upping a classmate – like the boy who ate stones at my primary school. It became a game to me, and her foreseeable personality never ceased to be entertaining.

Before your class, your yoga instructor might ask you to think of something you’re thankful for, to “keep with you during your practice”. You know what I’m thankful for? Surviving Friday night’s resultant hangover and managing to crawl to Tesco for more avocados, let alone put on a sports bra for a 12.30pm yoga class.

They’ll tell you the aim of yoga is to increase body-awareness, to grasp true midfullness, to practice meditation through “breathing techniques” (bla, bla, bla).

And how do you achieve a state of pure enlightenment? Apparently, breathing through your nose for extended periods of time.

Have you ever tried to inhale for five seconds, to the count of an uber-spiritual yogi who probably smoked a massive joint before the class? I have, and it definitely exceeds average lung capacity.

It’s not just length and breadth either, it’s also about the “deepness”. Welcome, ‘lion pose‘. Perhaps the highlight of any yoga session, lion pose is when a room full of yummy-mummies and men with man-buns form a shoddy excuse for a KISS tribute band, by protruding their tongues as far out of their mouths as possible, while exhaling all their negative zen. And there always has to be one who groans the loudest and hardest, leaving you unsure if they’re just extremely enlightened or in the midst of an orgasm (I’m looking at you, Aussie).

I bet you’re asking, “why does she even go to classes if she hates it so much?”. Well, other than the fact that being placed in compromising positions is a strangely effective workout, it also gives me the perfect opportunity to share photos of myself on Instagram.




Images via Giphy.


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Relationships, controversial ramblings and ongoing internal feuds - this is an uncensored account of a twenty-something's mind.

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