The blue mats were already laid about the floor in rows of three. The younger girls were at the front, expertly flexing their arms and touching their toes. I stiffened.
“Ooh, Den, it’s yoga!” cried Shani excitedly, catching my hand and pulling me to the second row of mats.
“I think I’ll go further back,” I said.
“Aw, Denis, won’t you go by me?”
“Only if you come to the back,” I replied.
“Third row,” she bartered.
I gave in, and found myself standing in the centre of the room on a blue mat, surrounded by legging-ed girls and skinny boys.
“What I really love about yoga,” began the visiting instructor, “is that it’s not just a way to keep your body fit and healthy. It’s a whole way of life. The yogi believe that the slow stretching of muscles is far more beneficial than any violent motion.
"If you perform these exercises correctly, you will feel yourself growing more relaxed, and this is very good for your mental side. We live in a world which is very busy and always moving about us. We are pounded with information on all sides, but it’s good to set a little time aside each day to relax.
"Yoga helps you to gain control of your emotions though mindful activity, and the effects of this show themselves in all aspects of life. It is preventative against illness; modern-day medicine combats sickness—but how would it be if you never got sick in the first place? A few minutes of yoga every day is all it takes. You will also find yourself sleeping better and eating without the excess we all strive against.”
A rankling distaste brewed in my stomach. I’d never had trouble with food. I know people who find something nice to eat whenever they feel angry or upset, but me, I’ve never had the urge to do that. I drink instead—just water, mind. I figure it’s a healthier habit. As for this yoga lady, I wanted to remind her about those people with the opposite eating disorder: anorexia. Never thought of that one, did she?
“We’ll start with yoga breathing. This breathing is a fantastic way just to purge all that stress and annoyance and still your ever-racing mind. So if we all just try breathing in…and out…very slowly and very deeply. With every breath in, imagine you’re inhaling the essence of life, vitality, freshness. And with every breath out push just a little bit more air out of your lungs, so that you are breathing all the black sooty strain from your body. Breathe in for seven counts…and out for eleven.”
I tried, I honestly tried. I wanted so much to believe this yoga was going to help me.
But when it actually came to it, I was too afraid. I was scared, as my pair of cards from the memory game had told me. I was scared that if I dared to let go, even for the duration of this exercise, I would never get up again.
I could hear the breathing all about me; people breathing slowly and deeply. I couldn’t do it. I got to three counts of outbreath and my lungs began to panic. The air whooshed out in a swift rush, and I felt myself panting.
“Now we’ll start on some of the simpler exercises,” said the visiting instructor. “I must emphasise that yoga isn’t about who has the best balance or who is the most flexible. Yoga is about deep inner and outer peace. So we shall begin with the sequence ‘Salute to the Sun’, one which people who practise yoga will do perhaps six or eight times daily.”
I followed her through the sequence, trying my hardest to let her words melt my tension. Yet to watch the others all around me, bending to unnatural angles and effortlessly moulding their bodies to odd shapes, I only felt more discouraged than ever.
Even Shani, when I looked at her from a precarious tree pose, seemed to have morphed into a real tree trunk, her toes roots growing through the mat and into the ground, her eyelids dropped and dark-shaded like twin knots in the wood.
“These exercises have been very thoroughly thought out. They stretch every muscle and are very good for posture and physical wellbeing. The gentleness of your movements should not hurt in any way. Hurting nor pushing yourself is not the idea at all. Yoga is how you challenge yourself and your own capabilities.”
I swayed dangerously from my ‘tree’, my spine twisting unpleasantly. When would this torture be over?
“Finally,” said the instructor a few poses later, “we are going to wind right down with some progressive muscle relaxation.”
She guided us into the corpse pose; then began to name parts of the body that were ‘sinking into the floor’. My eyes followed the layout of the ceiling tiles. My body was not perfectly aligned with the long groove directly above my head. It bothered me.
I tried to close my eyes, but they kept sliding back open, like a spring that will not be compressed. And all the time while me eyes were open or close, I was horribly aware that my body was not straight in concurrence with the ceiling tiles.
I started to get angry again. Why were these people forcing me to do this? To lie in a room and listen to a woman telling me I was relaxing. I wasn’t relaxing. As she named parts of the body my muscles were tightening, not loosening. How could they try to do this to me: make me relax and de-stress and breathe and be quiet? How could they say ‘I don’t know anyone who is not ultimately relaxed by yoga’?
They were trying to change me.
And I didn’t like it.
They were trying to make me relax when I didn’t want to. Maybe I want to be tense and anxious and stressed. Maybe that’s just the way I want to be.
And then they come forcing me to lie down and believe things of which I’d prefer to be ignorant. Maybe I’m not over-excited with stress and in need of relaxation. Maybe I’m under-excited with boredom and I need a bit of stimulation. Maybe I’m desperate for a few hours of taxing violent movement; rugby, perhaps, or football.
Or weight-lifting. Not slowly. Quickly. I would hurl dumb-bells at the concrete wall down the end of the garden, and if I chipped the paint, I’d be satisfied.
I couldn’t speak till I was back in my bedroom.
I had thought I was okay. But if I was okay, how was I this angry?
I was still just as screwed up as ever I had been.
And I still had insomnia.