Yay! Yoga day. You know how I love my yoga, right? Now I fully accept that not everyone shares my enthusiasm and, truly, I was the same for many years. My mother got into yoga in the sixties – she used to wander around the house in her black footless tights and long-sleeved, scoop-necked, full-bottomed leotard with some kind of symbol on the front (no, not the Om, some kind of star).
|Sort of a bit like this...|
Anyhow, when my mother embraced something, she saw it as her divine duty to get everyone else on board. I, naturally enough, rebelled, and wanted nothing to do with yoga for years. I whined that it was ‘boring’ – I preferred high octane aerobic classes and squash. Actually I’m kicking myself now because, if I’d got into yoga younger, I’m pretty sure I’d be levitating by now. My mother was still as bendy as a reed and as beautiful as a lotus flower in her eighties. Nutty as a fruit cake as well, but hey…
I was reminded of my old attitude while I was out in Greece, doing a week’s fitness retreat with Hellenic Healthy Holidays. * There were eleven of us on the trip and, while everyone had some kind of fitness regime going on at home, very few had tried yoga. They felt (like young me) that it was boring. They said they were put off by the idea of po-faced purity of the Paltrow variety. Or that they felt sure everyone would be pretzelling themselves while they could barely touch their toes.
|She'd do a downward dog anywhere - even on top of a cliff!|
‘Oh, the hell with that,’ said our yoga teacher, the sublime Jacqui Porjes. ‘There’s a yoga for everyone, even those who hate yoga.’ She paused and then narrowed her eyes and curled her lip. ‘Om Shanti!’ she snarled, and we all gave grateful Namaste to the goddess of ‘Hell yeah yoga’ before collapsing in giggles. Jacqui has taught yoga all over the world but now mainly works in London as a personal trainer using a killer combo of cardio, yoga and Pilates. Blissfully irreverent, with a dirty laugh, a big wide smile and the kindest heart, she makes yoga fun, so much fun. Actually almost too much fun – it’s darn hard floating in plank when you’re laughing your head off.
‘Bandhas! Bandhas, my darlinks,’ she crooned in a cod Jewish mother accent. Jacqui’s big on bandhas. These are the yogic body locks said to create inner strength, hold the spine in alignment and release tension in the body – at least on a basic physical level. There are all kinds of more esoteric purposes behind your basic bandha but let’s keep it simple, Jacqui style.
|So, I went looking for a good bandha pic and found this chap. Yeah. Nice kit, fella.|
So it’s a case of contracting and holding the muscles around the anus; contracting and holding the muscles that stop you peeing and contracting the muscles of the lower abdomen (pulling navel to spine as you would in Pilates). Yup, all three at the same time. And…hold. Throughout the entire yoga flow. Ye Gods! Om hell! This is supposed to release tension??
|'Bandhas, darlinks, bandhas...'|
But Jacqui was insistent. ‘If you don’t have your bandhas engaged, everything is just so difficult,’ she insisted. Then turned, fixed me with a beady gaze and hissed, ‘Bandhas!’ Truly, the woman was psychic – every time I forgot and let it all hang out, she’d turn round, raise an eyebrow and mouth the word.
And, by heck, she was right. If you keep it all tucked in, asanas do become easier. In fact, everything becomes easier. So I’m sitting here, at my desk, focusing on my posture, tucking in my bandhas. Because, if I don’t, I’m willing to bet my phone will bleep and there’ll be a text from Jacqui hissing, ‘Bandhas, darlink! Bandhas!’
Om Shanti? F**k yeah!
If you live in London and want a kick-ass personal trainer or to overcome your yoga fear, check out Jacqui’s website.
* Don’t let the name Hellenic Healthy Holidays put you off – honestly it’s not some kind of Saga-esque rambling around ancient monuments trip. I absolutely loved it, every last bit of it (yes, even the bandhas) – I’ll be writing it up for Queen of Retreats so you’ll be able to read the full report there.