Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Leotards, leggings & ‘the cobra

Like many women, author VG Lee felt spring was the right time to take up some exercise. Something nice and relaxing. Like yoga. Little did she know how competitive it could be…

Written by VG Lee
All you'll need is a mat,' the tutor told me when I rang to ask to join a local yoga class. 'You can get one from the sports shop down in town', she advised. 'Would you recommend any particular sort of clothing?' I asked.

'Something you're comfortable in. Probably a couple of leotards and a pair of jogging bottoms.'


'Warm socks and a blanket.'


'You might need leggings under your joggers, the centralheating can be pretty erratic.'


'Don't forget bottled water or an energy drink. Nothing too gassy.'

ladyvgleeyoga-mainI'd always envied the surprising amount of friends who drawled out, with very little encouragement from me, sentences such as, 'Of course my Thursday yoga class is sacrosanct.' Who would have thought a non-sporty person like myself would soon be able to join in yoga conversations? I headed for the sports shop.

'A yoga mat, please.'

The assistant disappeared into a back room returning five minutes later with a turquoise blue mat. With a flourish he unrolled it, as if displaying a fine Bokhara rug.

'Et voilà,' he said. '£12.'

'I'll take it.' At home I had a rather attractive quasileotard in almost the same shade. Teamed with leggings and ballet slippers I would look exactly like Jennifer Lopez only fatter, older, and with short frizzy hair.

That evening I showed the mat to my neighbour, Deirdre – an advanced yoga practitioner and the author of Approaching Feng Shui With A Quiet Mind – as yet unpublished.

She frowned. 'You opted for turquoise.' (Deirdre always opts.)

'Shouldn't I have?'

'It shrieks novice.'

'But I am a novice.'

I'd enrolled in a mixed class which I've realised since is almost exactly the same as a 'women only' class, except there is a token male with a beard and toes to match, who sidles in each week and spreads out in the darkest corner of the room. He wears brown sandals all year round and looks as if yoga on the upper reaches of K2 would be no problem at all.

That first week as I set off to my local church hall, it poured with rain. I'd wrapped a bin liner around my mat and in my sports bag (£27 from the sports shop) I'd packed a blanket, extra socks, my energy drink and a notebook made from recycled paper, plus a pencil. I fondly imagined these last two items would create an excellent impression, ie, my green credentials.

'Shoes off and leave them in lobby, PLEASE,' someone called out as I entered the hall.

Ten women and one man looked at me accusingly as if I'd brought in a deadly virus. In my socks I crept out and back in. I found an empty space near the window, unrolled my mat and looked round. Black was the most popular mat colour, then purple. A young woman who I assumed to be an artist, a potter or something in vaudeville, had a mat woven from coloured strips. Token Man's mat was a green and khaki camouflage pattern. Three others in turquoise.

I began well. Was excellent at clenching and unclenching my buttocks, shoulder blades and face. I tried the Cobra: Drop down on to your front, flatten your body against the mat, then raise yourself using your arms. All I could raise was my chin.

I attempted the Warrior position: Legs apart, arms up and stare fiercely at a fixed point while imagining a source of great power is building up in your stomach area.

The tutor came over. She tapped my thighs, 'These need to be much further apart.'

'I'll fall over.'

'Trust me.'

I fell over.

'That shouldn't happen,' she said.

At the end of the class she lit scented tea lights and put on a relaxing CD of someone moaning in a spiritual fashion while we lay down on our mats and welcomed white light into our bodies. I fell asleep.

When I first began going to classes in 2005 my neighbour, Deirdre, informed me that with due commitment to all things yoga, my face would come to resemble an 'illuminated beacon.' This image stayed with me even though Deirdre's face after decades of commitment in no way resembles said beacon. I still have hope. I still have that original turquoise mat. I'm particularly happy with my present class because it's not too energetic and there's quite a bit of lying down covered with a blanket involved.

There is definitely an unacknowledged competitive element; Bridget who can contort her body into any yogic position and every week announces, 'I've never regretted being double-jointed,' is annoying. Joan, an athletic-looking older woman who insists we do headstands just because she's good at them, knowing full well that most of us worry about dislocating our necks or worse, is very annoying and is a health and safety hazard.

Then there's the sock dilemma. Yoga veterans storm into the hall each week and rip off their socks as if socks are a detestable weakness. Older women come in diffidently, chatting quietly to their special friend about recent visits to hospital, dentist and foot clinic and – as if by mutual agreement – they remove their socks halfway through the hour. Finally, there are the women like me, who have opted for turquoise yoga mats. We rarely take off our socks while knowing that to keep them on implies some lack in the free spirit department – eternally shrieking, 'novice'!

VG Lee's new novel Always You, Edina, will be published by Ward Wood Publishing, priced £9.99, in April. For further information visit www.vglee.co.uk

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