Some people laugh when I tell them I do yoga. These are people who do not do yoga, people who think yoga is standing on one hand and pedalling the air. And this type of yoga is best imagined with someone slim, someone tall, someone whose buttocks you can crack walnuts on. As I score a “(d) none of the above,” the image of me doing yoga makes people laugh. And then I tell them yoga can be those things, but it can also just be stretching. Breathe in, lift your hands up, breathe out, bring your hands down. There, you’ve done some yoga. Then they’ll ask why do it? Clearly, no calories are being burnt. Sweat beads aren’t popping out. Isn’t that the point of exercise? Look at all those runners, running away, exhaling like a choo-choo train as they make tracks across the city. That’s exercise.
When I started yoga, I don’t know what I was looking for. I think I just liked the thought of doing yoga. It sounds so cool. Oh, today’s yoga session was so amazing. I’d get to say things like this to the chip-munching colleague at work. And so I began. Face east, my instructor told me. It was already beginning to sound mystical. I’d absorb the sun’s energy or something. But slowly the novelty wore off and some kind of routine began. Lift. Bend. Stretch. Repeat. And remember not to wear very loose T-shirts because they’ll slide down during the downward-dog stance and expose your quivering mid-section.
The first few months I didn’t really see much change. I looked the same. I felt the same. Maybe there was some difference in flexibility, but that’s really not that big a win in my career, in which all the action happens between the ESC and ENTER keys, roughly two pinky-to-thumb spans. But something was happening and I wasn’t aware of it. I was becoming calmer. I was no longer panicking about deadlines. I was hammering away on a piece till it was done, without an eye on the clock, without worrying about the next piece. I was beginning to savour time, time that had begun to go by in slightly slower motion, like in a movie. I started thinking things like, It’s okay if I don’t get this done today. It’ll get done when it gets done. To me, this was almost a DNA realignment.
Earlier, I’d be having a series of mini heart attacks about finishing things. Now, I was only concerned about doing them, doing them well. Even my writing has changed. Earlier, there was a desperate desire to impress – not that that’s wrong. Now, I sense a quieter kind of flamboyance. And I’m kinder to myself if a piece doesn’t come out the way I wanted it to. Even outside of work, things changed. My hair didn’t exactly grow back, but I wasn’t panicking about being late, about not finishing my reading quota for the day, about being available, about being forgetful, about being perfect. I started doing yoga in early 2009. There are times, today, I hardly recognise myself.
At some point, I began to ask myself if this was all due to yoga, or was it something else? Was all that rhythmic breathing – what a great name for a band; and now, ladies and gentlemen, a number by Rhythmic Breathing – reconfiguring my innards? Was I getting one step closer to shopping for hemp underwear? Or was it just part of getting older. Maybe the realisation that the road ahead isn’t all that long anymore makes you want to stop and smell the rosemary and thyme. But I like to think it’s yoga. I like to think it’s the slow pace of the postures, the two seconds spent holding a stance, the gradual change from the upper-body exercises to the ones that work on the lower body, the gradual shift from standing to lying down, the gradual passage from stretching to stillness. It’s as if you’re reminding yourself, after you wake up, to slow down, slow down, slow down.
What I’m working on now is meditation. I’m trying to blank things out for a few minutes. I close my eyes tight and I see burnt orange. I try to focus on that colour and do nothing else. But other sights come in, with sounds. Someone’s doing something in another room. A car is going by, an angry blender is being switched on, someone on the floor above is calling out to the watchman. A loud snatch of song is floating in from a neighbour’s radio, which I complain about now but really miss when I’m in a First World country, where the silence makes you think you’re Matt Damon on Mars. A friend claims that there is no right way to meditate, the fact that you are sitting down to do it is meditation. I don’t know. I want to do it right. I want to see the light, and all I’m seeing now is how all that yoga isn’t helping me when it comes to sitting still and thinking about nothing.
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