Saturday, August 20, 2016

On being no good at Yoga

I have known for a long time that I should get serious about yoga. Apart from the obvious health benefits (both physical and spiritual) there's the aesthetic appeal of composing one’s body into all sorts of interesting, attractive and impressive postures. And if that isn’t enough, there is the tantalising prospect— for those willing to undertake a rigorous regime of self-discipline — of attaining an elevated state of consciousness and even bursting through to full-blown spiritual enlightenment.

What’s not to like about it ?

The trouble is, I'm hopeless at yoga. I can't touch my toes; I can't even sit on a flat floor with my legs outstretched without toppling backwards. At the last yoga class I attended — and I have attended many over the years — I considered asking if I might do my exercises in a little curtained-off area, visible only to the teacher and thereby sparing my fellow participants the half-glimpsed sight of my lumbering efforts.

Of course, given even a modicum of serious application, all this would undoubtedly improve. At the yoga class the teacher advises starting every day with 10 or 15 minutes practice but on the first morning there is invariably something more important that needs doing; on the second I forget completely; on the third, I do 3 minutes and realise that it is nowhere near enough and then it’s too late. Best try again next week. This goes on for a week or two, after which I decide that I won’t go back to the class until I have cracked the problem of daily practice. After that it all goes rapidly downhill until the whole cycle starts again.

I believe it boils down to a problem with self-discipline (towards which I have a stubborn and perverse resistance). If only it were possible to practice yoga in a similar way to those Michel Thomas language courses. There, the advice is that you should not try to remember any of the words you are learning and on no account should you revisit lessons or attempt to revise. Now that's the kind of discipline that appeals to me. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t seem to work when it comes to yoga.

And so —  though the day I have to ask someone to tie my shoelaces is still a little way off — I have come to accept that suppleness is a quality I am destined never to enjoy.

But then recently something interesting happened. As if reluctant to give up on the yoga business completely, I found myself wondering precisely why it is I am so bad at it. So for example, if I lie on my back with my arms out to the sides and let my knees fall to the right, I get a sense of tautness in my left upper arm. It’s a similar case with the other bits. It led me to develop a mental picture of my body as a complicated system of interlinked strings (frayed) and pulleys (seized-up) in which every part is linked in some strange and intriguing way to all the others.

These days, I find myself unable to resist spending a few minutes every morning on the matexploring the minute details of my incompetence.  


  1. Heh Dave, have a look at my blog on my website! Full of Yoga articles for you, and who do I have here looking over my shoulder at yours? Melissa!! And we agree, you have fallen into the heart of Yoga...exploring your incompetences! with love to you from us.

  2. "Those that don't discipline themselves will find themselves disciplines by others" Nietzsche. Said Owen on the sofar with a bottle of wine watching re-runs of Rising Damp.

  3. I heard a podcast, can't remember which one, which explained that the poses with strange names actually are recent addition from Swedish exercises. Google this:

    where did yoga poses come from? Sweden?

  4. I believe you are outlining previously important and undescribed source of inequality.
    Why should people who are flexible be the only people able to do yoga? Surely yoga should be re-formulated to suit everybody? Those of us who are stiffer than most types of industrial-grade cardboard are suffering heinous prejudice in the hands of yoga teachers.
    Our culture that tells us that well-being and quality of life are associated with a bodily flexibility, strength and balance. We are being written-off while yet alive. How can we believe in ourselves faced with such adversity.
    The answer is clear - we should join your movement and unite in contemplating our inability to do anything very much with our bodies while lying on yoga mats.

  5. Ebay are offering 4 shutter folding medical privacy screens on castors. These can easily tuck under one arm (avoid revolving doors) mat under the other. No shame in some privacy in your class ..... my teacher will accommodate....