a contorted view of india
Immersing yourself in the culture and traditions of a country can lead to a much more enriching experience, but as Intrepid traveller Hannah Cartmel discovered, it can also lead to some of life’s challenging twists…
“My smiley Indian teacher asked how much yoga experience I had, and when I said “some”, he replied “oh, great, so you can do headstands, handstands, lotus.” Um, not really, no, definitely not!
Everyone else in the class twisted themselves into lotus with relative ease – the one where you’re sitting cross-legged but with your feet all tucked up. But when Mr Yogi made me try, I floundered about like a tippy-top for awhile before looking around the class and wishing my fairy godmother would save me. The brave man then proceeded to grab my legs for me and try to twist them round himself. He was a strong guy, but still couldn’t make my stubborn legs budge. Finally I said “I’ll work on it”, and he was willing to leave it at that.
It wasn’t too long, however, until I was calling on my fairy godmother again. After some salutes to the sun, backbends, twists, the stuff I was pretty used to, we got to the crow. The crow. Not a particularly nice bird, and probably my least favourite of all yoga poses (or at least the ones I have attempted thus far, I’m sure they get worse from here on in). In Crow, you squat down, then stick your bum way in the air and put your knees onto your elbows, then you’re supposed to lean forward and lift your feet off the ground and balance on your arms. Not a chance. I could get one foot off for maybe a second or two at a time, I could balance right up on my tippy toes and hang out fairly comfortably, but I could not for the life of me get both feet off.
It was at this point that I realised just how different yoga can be when you’re actually in India. At home we do some relatively advanced asanas (or so I thought), but concentrate on breathing and relaxing and visualising and all that lovely fluffy stuff. Here, in a real India yoga studio overlooking the Ganges, the focus was more on just doing it. Looks like Nike’s message got across pretty well here.
The class crowded around me, making vaguely encouraging noises, but their stares only made the situation worse. Mr Yogi seemed annoyed with himself that he’d let me get away with the lotus thing, so he was utterly determined that I would do Crow. It didn’t help that he kept on saying that I have long arms so it should be easy for me. Pah! Long, flabby, muscle-less arms – they don’t help!
A kindly French yoga-teacher-in-training offered some suggestions, which helped a bit, but not enough. Mr Yogi just shook his head and told me to keep trying.
On my bum for at least the hundredth time, I felt the tears start to well in my eyes. The other students in the class were starting to get sick of waiting and had gone back to their mats to practice other impossible contortions. The teacher stood steadfastly in front of me, just waiting for me to get up and try again, just waiting for that second toe to leave the ground for even a instant.
At that moment I missed my breathing, I missed my visualising, I missed my lovely hippy-trippy teacher back home who says yoga is all about listening to your body and only doing what you’re comfortable with. But I tried again. I fell over again.
That was it. Mr Yogi finally realised that by this point my shaking arms weren’t going to hold me up any time soon. He resumed the class. Shamed but overjoyed, I moved on and spent the next hour doing every asana perfectly. See! I can do some things well!
The next day, I awoke with dread. Could I face it all again? Maybe this yoga in India thing just wasn’t for me. Maybe I could spend my morning drinking chai and wandering the markets instead?
But I got up, put on my comfy clothes and headed down to the yoga studio.
I didn’t get Crow that day, or the next. I didn’t manage Crow at all during my stay, but not for lack of trying. So, no, this isn’t one of those inspiring tales of finally doing the impossible. I still can’t do Crow. But thanks to the people, sense of place and magic of India, I sure do want to get back to this amazing country and study some more yoga!”
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* photo by Yvette Thompson