Magazine article The Spectator

Breathing Is Everything

Magazine article The Spectator

Breathing Is Everything

Article excerpt

Just six of us signed up for the three-- month intensive Astanga yoga course. (Astanga yoga is a sort of sweaty yoga, in which you change position with every breath.) We lined up on the wooden floor of the converted blacksmith's shop and faced the teacher, who looked like Jesus dressed for the 800 metres.

We were strangers to each other and to the teacher. He made us introduce ourselves and say why we wanted to learn Astanga yoga. Sandra said because she wanted to grow as a person; Vicky said because her guru had advised her to do it; Monica wanted to become more aware of her body; Bill had read a magazine article; Selwyn had had a dream about it. The teacher pulled sympathetic faces and made encouraging noises at each statement of faith, but his body language told us he had nothing but contempt for them. When it came to my turn I said a bloke at Alcoholics Anonymous had recommended Astanga yoga as a good way to meet women in leotards. The teacher started on a brief outline of the history of Astanga yoga.

It was started by a nude man in a cave, taken up by the Indian aristocracy and appropriated by the hippies. (There was also some mumbo-jumbo about an ancient manuscript describing the Astanga yoga sequences in unusual detail that miraculously appeared to a devotee in a Mysore public library then vanished mysteriously into thin air.) Learning the Astanga yoga sequences is always fiendishly difficult, the teacher warned us. We will experience four distinct psychological stages on the path to knowledge: unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence and unconscious competence. At present we were at the unconscious incompetence stage. But we mustn't despair. It was the same for him when he first started. The substance of the teacher's words advertised humility, but the mien was arrogant.

He took of his sweatshirt. I reckon you can gauge a man's strength more accurately by looking at the definition of his forearms rather than his biceps. The teacher's forearms looked weak. (He had no biceps at all.) But I was looking in the wrong place, apparently. The foundation of Astanga yoga, the teacher began, is a strong sphincter muscle. To kick off then, we all had to stand in a line tightening and relaxing our anuses. We did this for several minutes. There seemed to be a lot of slack to take up in mine and I was soon exhausted. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.