PC 84 Hot Yoga Thoughts – the beginning

So what is it about yoga that encourages you to make it part of your life? Come to that, what is it about anything that it becomes, dare I say it, an addiction?  I started Hatha Yoga, the basis for all forms of modern Yoga, in 2002 …… and enjoyed it enough to do it once or twice a week. Then I saw a photograph in some magazine of a chap doing yoga, but streaming with sweat! I asked a neighbour about it and she said it was ‘Bikram’ Yoga and she said she’d take me. Well, I’m now in my nth year of ‘Bikram’ yoga and I sense that some of you might shout ‘boring’ if you reflect on this single fascination I have with a physical series that challenges the mind, body and spirit. Would you have the same reaction if I played golf every day? Maybe!! So what follows is simply an amalgam of thoughts that have run around the inside of my skull during seven years of classes and, please, don’t read on if you don’t want to!!

I always find it interesting to go somewhere for the first time, not knowing what to expect, just curious …… and if I am honest a little anxious! Not a great one for research about anything really, I just have a gut feel about something and if it works for me that’s fine. So without knowing much about ‘Bikram Yoga’ I got my lift on Wednesday 11th March 2009 and arrived at the Balham studio for the 90 minute 5.30pm class. Wow! Busy place! Eventually the room was full, yoga mats touching each other, each mat with someone on it – 72 someones! A chum observed that the mats were so close that other people’s sweat dripped on yours in certain postures, indicating a measure of shared intimacy not usual unless you’re married!!

And it’s hot – 40°C and 50% humidity. Before we start, the teacher aka facilitator tells us there are 26 different postures, each repeated once, and that you start and end with a breathing exercise. They don’t demonstrate and at worst simply recite instructions known as ‘the dialogue’. The sequence and dialogue don’t change wherever you are in the world; you might think this makes the whole thing very boring and some people do find this …. I don’t …. I like the certainty….. although sometimes you can simply go through the motions without thinking about it as it’s too familiar.

I’ve heard the names for these 26 postures now over 2000 times and I couldn’t for the life of me recite them with any accuracy!! And if you heard Dandayamana-Dhanurasana or Ardha-Kurmasana or …….. I don’t think you would either …… and it doesn’t matter!

So we start with a breathing exercise. “Clench your hands under your chin, elbows down. Inhale ….. and lift your elbows as high as possible. Exhale and force your elbows out in front, with your head back.” One of my problems is my neck movement. Oh I’ve had physiotherapists tell me to do the ‘yes – no’ exercise as if I’m some crazy from the Indian subcontinent …….. but once you’ve got metromateriolsis ie the vertebrae start crumbling, you begin to lose neck flexibility …. and there ain’t much you can do, which is why I was so taken by the neck mobility of those dancers from Grupo Corpo. (PC 79)

Pull your tummy in!’ Ah! Yes! Well! That’s another problem!! You may recall my PC about expanding waistlines (N° 55); no matter what I do, it doesn’t go down. Maybe it’s my love of sugar or puddings or that irresistible afternoon piece of toast with jam? (And we’re still in the ‘warm up’….. and I come every day!)

The first ‘posture’ … “Reach up …. arms up…  bend sideways!” (to the right then to the left) ….. my spare tyre bulges out and not much more …. “backwards” …. . “Go back, more back, drop back.” ‘More back’? When I first heard this I thought it funny, now it just grates that Mr Bikram Choudhury’s grasp of English was so poor – hadn’t he heard of the word ‘further’ – although ‘more back’ fits the pose!! Then “bend forwards ……hook your hands under your heels”. Pulling my chest against my thighs makes breathing difficult as I attempt to bring my head to my shins ‘Like a Japanese ham sandwich ….no space for light or air’ – the dialogue says. Being British I am really not sure what this expression means. Obviously Los Angeles where Bikram started is nearer to Japan than the UK, and I know that a lot of Japanese live in The States but what? Are the Japanese mean with the thickness of the ham? Is the bread wafer thin? Why not ‘jam’ sandwich?  Most sandwiches don’t let in ‘light or air’ do they? What does he have against the Japanese as I suspect this is a slightly derogatory remark?

Awkward pose was obviously named by someone who thought it so. Actually once you can stand on top of your tootsies and bend your knees …. nothing awkward about it (Ed. Note: For me my feet take about 0.75kg per sq cm pressure. In this pose, on your tiptoes it increases to about 15kg per sq cm!)

By now for most people the sweat is beginning to moisten their skin …… or on my case it starts running in rivulets down my back. This series is not for those who don’t like sweating. One or two people, when they are new, wipe the sweat away – but it keeps coming back, as it’s the body’s way of cooling. I sweat about 1 ½ litres in 90 minutes but you probably didn’t need or even want to know this?

We all know how difficult it is to rub your tummy and pat your head at the same time, well swinging one arm under the other and the same side leg over the other then wrap it around the back of the other leg …. oh! Don’t bother. Meant to be good for all the joints, ankle/knee/hip/shoulder/elbow/wrist – sweat drips from your fingers onto your knees. This is Eagle pose, although at this precise moment I could no more soar like an eagle than twist …. ‘like a rope’. You will probably know that lots of yoga postures are named after animals, such is its cultural heritage. The most famous is probably ‘downward dog’. Funnily enough it’s not a posture for this series …..

Break to drink …… or not. ……..

And so it goes on …….

Standing Head to Knee.  …. ‘Lock your knee….’ Lifting your knee towards your head. Balance on one leg …. easy huh …. Lift your other leg with the aid of a cupped hand forward until it’s horizontal …… or …… Standing Bow; Like Eros, you might imagine. Balance! Balance! …. or ….. T for Tommy or Tango. My Labrador was called Tommy and I can’t see him doing this posture any more than I can! Standing on one leg, lift the other behind you and both arms in front, until arms and legs are horizontal. Difficult for a four-legged creature huh!


Standing Separate Leg Stretching pose …. Depending on how you go into this pose, the distance of the floor from your head varies a lot!! But if you listen to the dialogue and apply the instructions ……. eventually you will see it is possible …..


Triangle – by this time I’m out of air and exhausted, sweat’s dripping off my head, and my breathing is labourious. OK! I know that yoga is all about the breath ……. and controlling the breath ….. and this is where the fights starts …. your body asking for one thing, your mind suggesting an alternative … and sometimes in the middle of triangle, a posture requiring balance, we hear the teacher ….. “and now sing ‘Happy Birthday’ as it’s Stephanie’s birthday today woo woo woo’.”

The next posture you essentially have to bend double and lick your knee …. or something like that. Then two more little postures and it’s the end of the end of standing series. Phew!

Onto the floor ………. (to be continued!)

Richard 30th November 2016

PS A little small, but here’s an idea of what the 26 postures should look like



PC 83 Godsons et al

You may have missed the fact that at the end of October I finished another decade ….. and started another ….. for such is the incessant nature of life. Until one dies, of course! Then it stops; the only certainty after birth!

Despite the fact I am not really a true believer in long term planning, I do recognize that in order to do anything, one has to make an effort, bring all the relevant issues into the mixing bowl, give it a good stir and …… make something. Decades need celebrating, don’t they? More than an ordinary run-of-the-mill birthday? I’ve scribbled before how lucky we are here in Western Europe in the C21st – with life expectancy well into the late 70s. It was not always so. Reading ‘Sextant’ by David Barrie, a wonderful book about a nautical instrument, and no I haven’t gone gaga, it truly is, I was struck by the fact that so many of the surveyors who mapped our oceans died quite young: comte de La Perouse disappeared aged 41, Matthew Flinders died at 40 as did his fellow navigator George Bass, as did George Vancouver who surveyed the western seaboard of Canada. James Cook made 60 and William Bligh 63; and here am I celebrating 70, my only major navigation racing a yacht from Tenerife to Bermuda!

Do you go away and spend a lot of money/a little on a very intimate personal celebration ……. or do you get all your chums together and have a good old-fashioned party?  Many years ago my lovely daughter asked if she could have a 21st party when she was at university in Cardiff. “How many people were you thinking of?” I asked, thinking not of her popularity but of my pocket. “Oh! About 300 and something – just my closest friends.” Before I went completely puce in the face she said she had found somewhere where they would do it for £1.75 a head or some such. She went ahead; it was a huge success but I often wonder how many of those ‘closest friends’ she is still in touch with? Friendships can be extremely transient! So a party at the Grand Hotel in Brighton for 100? I didn’t think so! But I like the intimacy of small groups ….. so we ended up with two dinner parties for 12, a Champagne & Cake get together for about 30 ……. and then the ‘Godsons’ dinner’.

Not sure how many God children you have, if any? I seem to have collected four that I am in touch with, still in touch with their parents, been to three of the weddings ….. that sort of thing, and one that I had completely lost contact with. How does that happen? So six months ago I looked for the lost soul, and invited all five and their other halves to dinner here in Hove. Even at six months’ notice we had to move the date to the weekend after my birthday, such is the busy lives they live.

We arrived at The Little Fish Market after bubbles here and had a really lovely meal. I had wondered whether I should say something after the obligatory rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ had rung out. Was it expected of ‘The Godfather’? On the afternoon of the dinner  I decided I needed to … but what? …. a recap of my life so far?….. but they probably knew all that and anyway it’s dull. A comment on their success in life, the number of children, the pressure to get married/divorced/change careers?

And what was expected of a Godparent, anyway? Aren’t we meant to serve as role models, demonstrating kindness, honesty, integrity, dedication to one’s family, and responsibility, and to provide spiritual guidance? No sure how much of that I had done, but two words had came to mind – ‘plan’ and ‘moral guidance’; well, three actually! We all think we need a plan. Ok! School ….. university …. in the old days it was deemed the right thing to do to stay with one company – something to do with loyalty and duty and all that stuff which was quite admirable but potentially stifling. Do you know that in Europe most people have three careers and five jobs within each career? That’s what actually happens.  .. but I had a plan! ….. I was on track! ….. OK along came a recession I hadn’t planned for …..there was a change of family circumstance I hadn’t dreamed of…..  so the plan goes by the board and you react to circumstance. How flexible one can be has more of a bearing on one’s success in life than having a plan.

I hope I was open to give advice and guidance, but with a moral twist? Some would argue that my own life is not exactly a great example of a moral life, but hey when the parents chose me maybe I was full of promise? I would like to think my life has been defined by certain values, a huge self-belief, and an understanding that if you want to do something, do it yourself. And when anyone wants to listen that’s what they get!

So after the pudding, I blew out a candle on another birthday cake, a rather ragged ‘Happy Birthday’ followed and I portioned out eleven pieces. The men around the table were not, apart from my son-in-law, family; just sons of friends from the 1970s. How lovely to be able to bring them all together at least once in their lives …… and in mine.


Richard 12th November 2016