Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Article excerpt

Five of us, standing in a semi-circle on a varnished wooden floor facing the yoga teacher, breathing deeply in concert. In through the nose, hold, out through the mouth. Easter Sunday morning. Christ is risen. We slowly inhale and exhale to the sound of distant church bells and the cheeping of a pair of sparrows nesting somewhere in the eaves.

We're learning Kum Nye, a type of Tibetan yoga. An all-day beginners' 'workshop'. I feel guilty about learning Tibetan yoga on Easter Sunday morning. Raised a Baptist, as a youth I was warned strongly against yoga. It empties the mind, I was told, leaving it open and unprotected. Satan, a ravening lion always on the prowl, spots his opportunity and rushes in.

And once he's got in, it's the devil of a job to get him out again. Astrology the same. Also tarot, hypnotism, meditation and certain kinds of music. I can remember a charismatic church service in which a demon was evicted from one woman, and it flew immediately into another several rows back, from where it taunted the exorcisers most foully.

Early religious indoctrination irretrievably tempered my mind. If my behaviour today runs contrary to what I was taught, it is not because I no longer believe any of it. Worried still about Satan's desire to infiltrate my mind, I told myself I would go to the all-day yoga workshop, but in the thoughtful silences, if the practice of Tibetan yoga permitted any, I would ward him off by contemplating the significance of the crucifixion and the empty tomb.

Tibetan yoga was a new one on me. I'd seen the workshop advertised and had been excited and seduced by the juxtaposition of the words Tibetan and yoga, that's all. Knowing the Tibetans' reputation for esoteric religious knowledge, I imagined that Tibetan yoga would make ordinary yoga look like materialism. As we breathed slowly in and out, like a row of locomotives gently getting up steam, I glanced sideways at my fellow yogis.

To my left, three women, their slender frames and angular features patently cast from the same mould. A mother and her two daughters. The daughters' bodies showed the poise and limber grace of ballerinas and, when in motion, suppleness. They looked as if it would be possible to fold them in half, and then fold them in half again.

To my right, a middle-aged man wearing an old cotton T-shirt stretched over a gourmand's belly. …

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