Way before Woolworths was founded a geezer out in India – Sage Patanjali – was credited with inventing Yoga. Trying to silence the mind and tie the body into self realised knots was the Sages’ gift to the world. Yoga, India’s greatest export apart from Patak’s Brinjal Pickle and Petroleum, is a discipline that is performed from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe, not to mention the village hall in Pratts Bottom. Now, more than ever, people are looking for something to stop them going mental
For thousands of years people have been bending, shaking, balancing and breathing through independent nostrils to stop them going mental. I have been part of that practice, so-called, because however long I do it I’m still rubbish and though practice does make perfect, in my case, perfection is hidden somewhere between my perineum and the Grafenberg spot.
But why Yoga, when there’s Tai Chi, Qi Gong, spinning and jogging to choose from? In my case Yoga came into my life after hearing about Mary Bagot Stack who birthed the Women’s League of Health & Beauty. Because I am particularly supple, putting my head on my knees and opening my legs as wide as a mat, is not too far a stretch, even though I’m crap at balancing and as an inverted snob standing on my head is a no no, Yoga has been part of my life for nigh on fifty years.
After leaving drama school ‘Watford Palace Theatre’ took a punt on me. After 40 weeks of apprenticeship I got my Equity card. Nowadays acting is no longer a closed shop which means that anybody with half a mind can act and mostly they do have half a mind. After a sabbatical at the ‘Phoenix Theatre’ in Leicester where I landed a boyfriend who wet the bed, I came back to Watford, finished a season then took off to Newcastle with two writers.
We lived in a small back to back house, in a street that had a corner shop. Whilst they created I made Shepherds Pie, chased the rats out of the pantry and used a yoga book to keep in shape. My flexibility improved but my patience dwindled. In the end, after a telegram from ‘The Leeds Playhouse’, I left Newcastle and the two scribes and abandoned the North East. They both became award winning writers and I ended up hammering nails up my nose and chasing ferrets down Sylvester McCoy’s trousers.
After years of touring, the old git and I set up home in Wapping, now more expensive than a bicycle rack in Belgravia. Back then we paid sixteen quid a week for a flat on the river which was but a short walk to Aldgate. I found a yoga class near `Tubby Isaacs’ jellied eel stall. It’s not there now, after 94 years of eating eels with white pepper whilst standing in the road, developers have built shite where it stood and ruined yet another institution. The Yoga teacher was a slender postman from India. He entreated us to practice every day and taught us how to control our butt-ocks.
Fifteen years later I was working at the BBC and whilst sitting in the back of a taxi I would have ideas. One such light bulb moment was making a series of little films called ‘Ancient and Modern’ where we found old-older-oldest characters who were still functioning. We interviewed a hundred year old motor bike enthusiast who went into his motorcycle showroom every day and we included a feller who taught yoga in Battle, near Hastings.
I’d had a flier through my letter-box inviting me to attend a class taught by Indira Nath. I sent my researcher down to the South Coast. She liked him, so off we drove with a cameraman, lighting man, sound man, PA and me. Now one person does it all. Indira lived in a little room, arose everyday at 5.00a.m, meditated, did his yoga, taught some classes, ate a bowl of lentils, meditated again then went to bed at sunset. He was in his 80’s. Indira was a Swami ( In Hinduism, a Swami is an honorific title given to an ascetic or yogi) We walked round the grounds of his home with me holding his arm. It occurred to me that physical contact was not allowed with a swami. I asked whether I should remove my arm, he nodded his fine head. ‘Do you remember me? I said shamefaced. ‘Of course I remember you’, he said smiling, for Mr. Nath was indeed the postman from Poplar. He was still exhorting his students to practice everyday and be mindful of their butt-ocks.
I’ve studied Yoga in sports halls, village halls and school halls. I’ve been on retreats where we drank green juice and practiced yoga first thing in the morning. I travelled to the ‘Optimum Health Institute’ in San Diego to flush my system with wheat grass and unholy pipes that were inserted into my anal canal, all done after an early morning yoga routine in the Californian sunshine where the butterflies nibbled on our shoulders to get the salt from our sweaty bodies. I’ve been to yoga classes in Chatham, Clapham and Tunbridge Wells. But my most favourite class was in Balham; loads of us crammed together, semi naked, sweating our cojonas off in a hot Bikram yoga studio. Actors, teachers, models and me, stretching and posturing as the qualified teacher shouted at us through a head mic – not a spiritual thought in our heads. When Bikram Choudhury faced lawsuits alleging sexual harassment, assault, racism and homophobia nobody was surprised. Hot Bikram yoga was a money spinning keep fit class for the monied spinners who wanted to keep fit.
When I moved back to the cottage parochial yoga took it’s place. At the gym I had three different teachers – the young one, the older one and the oldest. They were all good, in their own way. The young one walked between us, giggled and worked us hard, the older one concentrated on our fingers and toes and bending our spines up and down whilst the oldest, who had delicate tattoos on her hand, always gave us the option of doing it one way or the other in a voice so low I struggled to do it at all. Covid put pay to group classes and, as yet, I haven’t found a zoom meet. Tunbridge Wells had a brilliant hot yoga teacher; she taught from a studio built in her house. She’d been a ballet dancer, got arthritis, gave up ballet and turned to yoga. Ten of us, at most, parked our cars in the local car park then entered the quiet world of Nuremberg chanteuse Deva Premal singing Sanskrit mantras as we stood like trees – I was always the first to topple over like a felled banyan. After years of dedication the studio went into liquidation; another Corona casualty.
So now I do it in the comfort of my own sitting room on t’ internet with an American gal in Costa Rica, a Canadian gal and her dog in Colorado or, on DVD, with Dougie and his dad Sam, who do a class from Sam’s studio somewhere in London. Dougie is an actor who worked with the old git, he teaches us to pull in our butt-ocks and smile. Sam does upward and downward dog with us and I follow happily. The trouble is that I notice all the dusting that needs to be done whilst I’m upside down attempting me Trikonasana.
My latest teacher is Gloria Latham, a Lululemon Global Yoga Ambassador who gives us Kundalini yoga from somewhere in North America. There’s a good deal of clapping, slapping the floor, jumping up and down, swearing and shouting Ha Ha Harara. If the old git is grilling bacon and brewing coffee, the aroma makes Gloria’s work out fucking difficult.
Still I am able to bend forward and put my head on my knees or sit on my heels and bend backwards like a camel. I am able to curl up like a rabbit and pull my legs apart in happy baby pose. I am 72 in 49 days time, and I’m told that crossing my legs, as I do, is not bad for such an ancient old bugger. I want to be able to crouch like an Indian mummy who cooks on an open flame and makes Chana Dahl whilst squatting painlessly. Indira Nath would be proud of my butt-ocks and impressed at my Hanumanasana (Monkey Pose) or as we laygirls call it ‘The Splits.’ Wearing my furry leggings and a tight vest I can sweat it out like the best of them before settling down to ‘Bridgeton’ with a glass of brandy and orange, a big bowl of popcorn and not one ounce of guilt in sight.

1 thought on “Poseur”

  1. I have attempted yoga off and on over the years. Used to be very limber but since damaging the cartiledges, and shortly after developing osteoarthritis, in both knees, it is tough to do so I am now limited to chair yoga! As part of rejigging my sleep pattern, I shall again attempt a restart of chair yoga on a daily basis. Thanks for the prod …

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