PC 93 Hot Yoga Thoughts – To the end!

I had imagined scribbling the other half of ‘Hot Yoga Thoughts’, to cover the floor series, very shortly after PC 84. In fact I got distracted by other adventures and thoughts, in fact eight PCs in all, so now I should finish this!

The Floor series ……..

Of course Bikram Choudhury, the man who put this Hot Yoga series together, has not exactly covered himself in glory. Having created a specific sequence of Hatha yoga positions to be practised in a hot room, it was rumoured he took advantage of one or two of the female students training to be its teachers. And he didn’t see the conflict between preaching a way of being a good human based on a spiritual tradition going back thousands of years, and using his position to abuse others ….. as well as raking in money for his aggrandizement. Bit like those TV evangelistic preachers on American television you might think? Nothing was proven until the beginning of 2016 when his lawyer won $600,000 for sexual harassment. At that moment ‘Bikram’ studios all over the world made a rapid exit, rebadging and reinventing themselves and whilst I acknowledge that Mr Choudhury’s sequence is extremely beneficial, I don’t have to like the man who created it, do I? Such a scumbag! And if you thought yoga is not for you, try the ‘yoga for beginners’ asana.


So …… onto your mat, quick sip of water, ‘savasana’, dead body or corpse pose. One teacher suggested you should feel like being in a coffin ……. then she said closed coffin and I didn’t like the sound of that! You’re meant to let go of all the thoughts in your mind, forget all the efforts of the last 60 minutes, just relax …. at last ….. peace. But my mind exclaims! What? I busted a gut to make a passable attempt at such-and-such pose and now I’m told to forget the recollection? “Just be in the moment”…. that sort of yoga thing ….. yes ….but what am I having for lunch, monkey mind asks?  …. I want to think of anything but lying like a dead body. But when I really really try, I visualize my prone body floating on warm water – and then I make the water extremely shallow and imagine that underneath me is golden sand – about 5 cms away. I relax – my body drops further …. completely!

For those of you aghast that I should be so flippant about this ancient art, I really must apologise; this is just the way it is ….. for me …. and I hope I don’t disappoint you?  And I am not some imitation of an Indian ascetic, spending their days at the top of some pole trying not to fart. An ascetic is characterized by ‘severe self-discipline and an abstention from all sorts of indulgence’ – what? No chocolate or sex huh? (note the order of these two indulgences!)

Of course Celina and I moved to Hove because there were two studios offering hot yoga locally. On the south coast the only other one was in Bournemouth – too far from London. And by the way, I hope you don’t think anyone who does yoga is a bit of a woof? In the western world I suspect more women do yoga than men – in fact our class ratio must be about 80:20 – but I challenge any man to do 90 minutes of hot yoga without ‘feeling it’!!

Now we’re off again. Knee to chest, other knee to chest, both knees to chest – back of the head on the floor – what? Not possible! This is known as wind removing pose ….. the right knee ‘massages’ the ascending colon, the left knee the descending colon, then when both knees are raised ……. the potential to fart is enormous.


Onto tummies, arms like the Sphinx, lift up into ‘Cobra pose’ ….. never felt less like a snake, legs together to suggest the one snake tail, thorax off the floor. Can’t breathe …. collapse . We then do one of many situps, firstly trying to touch one’s toes and then try and get the head to knee ….. in sync with the breath  ……  of course!


We’ve all imagined ‘yogis’ in Lotus pose, sitting serenely with not a care in the world, but Bikram’s Locust pose is something else. Hands underneath your prone body, like playing beach volleyball, …… then raise your legs. Er? OK!

Another posture … the dialogue continues …… ‘arms out to the side, legs together blah blah blah …..  ‘lift off like a 747’ (sort of dates the dialogue doesn’t it?) ……. but it’s a bit like trying to levitate! And I am not very successful at either! Eventually we move on from the ‘back strengthening’ series of postures to ‘Fixed Firm pose’ – Oh! Go on then …..Supta-Vajrasana. You kneel on the floor and with your knees quite close together, put you bum on the ground and fold over backwards, until your shoulders are on the floor. Yum! Never thought I could do and it took a while – it’s all about relaxing. Most men find this difficult initially, especially those with knee injuries from playing football.


Some of Bikram Choudhury’s claims are a little far-fetched. In the next posture, one where you kneel with arms up together, and bend forward until your hands touch the ground, he reckons it’s as relaxing as 8 hours sleep –  but it’s over in 60 seconds – yes! OK! Bikram claims lots of benefits for his postures but if this one was true the world would sort of do it once a day and no one would go to sleep!

Camel, a master posture, comes next (see my little drawing below), then Rabbit, where you tuck your head to your knees and raise your bum. The penultimate posture requires your legs out in front and stretching forward. I twisted my ankle badly in battle PT in the army so a little bone sticks out making this uncomfortable.


This little cartoon was drawn by me as Tom, my gorgeous black Labrador, had this relaxed way of sleeping, showing his bits, not a care in the world. The connection with some of the yoga poses named after animals was obvious!

‘Final spinal’, a posture where you sit on your buttocks and twist your spine, always reminds me of a good teacher, Krystina Sedlakova, as her Czech-accented English made the pronouncing of ‘final spinal’ a delight!

One teacher used to rattle off the ‘Bikram’ dialogue as though he was a commentator on some horserace, as in ‘and they’re coming to the first fence and it’s Blue Sky in the lead from Hang Back and the favourite, Golden Boy, in third …… and they’re all safely over and …..’ His went something like (and you have to invent the appropriate voice in your head): “And bend to the right, reaching up and over, straighten your left arm, and change, and bend over to the left, straightening your left arm and now, reaching back drop your head relax    Not very ‘Yogic’ you might think …. although occasionally in a class of yoga we do have a ‘faller’!!

The final breathing exercise ……. and we’re done. Hot, exhausted, stretched ‘inside and out’ …… as Bikram Choudhury says ….. ‘bones to skin’. Try it! It’s addictive! You could always start with the beginners’ pose I offered earlier on!


Richard 26th March 2017







PC 92 If You’re Over 50, Read On


If you like writing, and I have to accept that for some people it’s not their bag of tricks, don’t you just love it when you dump all those relevant thoughts that have been running around inside your head, effortlessly and with delight, onto some medium or other – and for me this has become my iPad in preference to using pen and ink? And you sit back and scan what you’ve written, somewhat pleased with yourself (see note below), thinking you’ll add to it over a few days or weeks, maybe rephrase a little here or there. And then don’t you just hate it when you inadvertently delete it? And you don’t realise you’ve done so for a day or two, when you want to add that little bit …… but you can’t find it! And you tear your hair out wondering what happened, how could I be so stupid, how could I retrieve it, ……. and then you conclude you have to start again?

So here I am starting again …. but in the meantime Robert Crampton, writing in The Times, shared thoughts similar to those in my head with his readers, so maybe it’s good to pause occasionally! Crampton wrote: “At 52, I’ve passed the stage of thinking I’m immortal, but am yet to concern myself with the details of my dotage. Yes, the issue is lurking, not too far over the horizon, but not so close that I can take current advice remotely seriously. I’m far more bothered about not going bald (all tickety-boo so far, touch wood) and sustaining an erection (or securing swift, cheap, legal access to Viagra).” And this has occurred to him at 52? Good grief …… this is hardly middle-aged in my book. Of course the chance of my becoming bald is as likely as our discovering the moon really is made of Gorgonzola; and any comment on the latter would be too much information!

Life is endless, limitless, horizons go on forever …….. until you understand it isn’t and they don’t. Not sure exactly when this particular thought started bubbling to the surface of my brain, but maybe in the last few weeks of 2016, when I guess I was subconsciously reviewing the year …… and in my case a period of real highs and lows …… I found myself thinking about the finality of life and taking it rather personally! I have always taken a very positive view on my existence and tried, in every thing I’ve done, to inject that positivity into those within my compass, infect even! Well, I hope so! What triggered this rather morbid thought? Maybe a news item of an enormous future transport infrastructure project whose completion I might not witness or maybe a simple run-list of those of my friends whose lives have come to an end, often a little earlier than they or those they cared for had imagined.

But if I’m really honest with myself, it was probably the start of a new personal decade that had something to do with it …… that and the little spots on the back of your hand, age spots, liver spots, sun spots ….. they just appear gradually without much of a by-your-leave…. and then you realise you’ve got quite a few, and you remember them on your mother’s hands, those and the increasingly noticeable veins, darker in colour. Signs of ageing huh? No, not me, I’m indestructible, I’m going on for ever and …….. er! no you’re not, you might buck the bell shaped standard distribution and come out the far side of the actuarial life expectancy mid point …. but sooner or later…… Me? I’ve got too much still to do, still to enjoy, still to experience …… I want to travel on the HS2 (Britain’s High Speed rail link that may open around 2026 for phase one and phase two 2032). I want to keep up with developments that the increasingly rapid pace of change through the application of digital technology can produce, I want to ………

When I was younger I just got up and completed the three ‘s’s (s ………., shaved and shampoo’d (you can guess the first!) …… and went off to work. Now additionally I have to take some pills ……… pills for this and pills for that, ‘but at your age you should certainly take Q10, multivitamins galore and, if you can afford it, extract of Amazonian Frog and ……..” “Afford it?” The irony is you stop earning money and suddenly your bills go up because you’re advised to take supplements! I used to watch Michael Douglas films; now I tend to be drawn to Michael Mosely documentaries about statins or heathy eating or the history of pain relief.

Not a great ‘user’ of Facebook (probably a little passé already? OK! I get it) I do occasionally post a photo or three, and skim the postings of others of my ‘friends’. “Good grief! Haven’t seen him/her for twenty years; they look old.” But it’s just the process of ageing. I remember a film where an old lady told her granddaughter: “I have always thought of myself as 17, but the other day I looked in the bathroom mirror and this wrinkled old face looked back at me. Where did my life go? Make the most of it …… seize the day!” Surprisingly, a few weeks ago it was announced that life expectancy in Scotland had actually fallen, which is quite a shock after decades of increasing: “live to 100?” – maybe not! And of course there is virtually nothing that you or I can do about it. I say ‘virtually’ because we all believe if we eat healthily, exercise moderately, drink alcohol occasionally, and don’t smoke we’ll all live cancer-free and heart-attack free; and that is definitely not the case! Some of course never exercise, never eat healthily, smoke and drink to excess ….. and live to 100! Or George Michael who died of ‘natural causes’ according to the coroner at 53; a little liver damage, a little disease here and there, maybe, but 53! Eek!. Who said life was fair?

I wrote in PC 55 (Nov 2015) about male waistlines and the advance of ‘middle aged spread’. Well I think I can do the ‘spread’ quite well although I do not accept that the ‘middle age’ moniker is appropriate. Then there’s that delightful quote from Groucho Marx, his take on the adage ‘you’re only as old as you feel’: “You’re only as old as the woman you feel.” So in my case I’m ……..

Then you go away …… in our case off to SE Asia and beyond …… and all the personal introspection is erased by the visible  onslaught and audio excitement of somewhere different …….. change of scene, change of pace being that very invigorating drug that enlivens our lives. That, and love.

Now, why was I writing this? I forget ….

Richard 14th March 2017

PS Robert Crampton finished his article by saying, “in terms of happiness, 60-plus, I’ll settle for being above ground.” Nice turn of phrase huh. Except of course if you are Jewish, when you would hope to remain above ground in this life and the next.

Note: Being a real optimist, I scribble that I’m ‘pleased’ with what I’ve written. If I had simply said that I wasn’t pleased there would be no point in saying it, as it’s a negative …… and emotionally uplifting as a wet brown paper bag. Know what I mean?

PC 91 Japanese São Paulo

Back in February 2014 I scribbled about my experiences of a first visit to São Paulo, the largest city in Brazil (PC 5). That trip included a visit to Cananéia, a sleepy town on the coast some 300 kms south west of SP. Three years later that 30km stretch of road works I mentioned is still not complete and on this trip we decided to avoid the traffic snarl-ups and simply take time to enjoy São Paulo itself.


To an Englishman it’s a well-known fact that London has so many French inhabitants, some 300,000 according to the French consulate, that it classifies itself as the sixth biggest French city. They have come for a myriad of reasons and they obviously not only enjoy living in London but add much to the multicultural atmosphere so prevalent in the city. There are, of course, a number of major cities in the world where you will find a ‘China Town’, such has been the spread of this Asian race across the globe but here in Brazil there’s another story. Following the abolition of slavery in 1888 the coffee plantation owners needed workers and those based around São Paulo, wanting ‘white skin’, advertised for semi-skilled workers in Japan, which at the time was suffering high unemployment. The first 790 labourers arrived in 1908 on the ship The Kasato Maru and over the years, particularly 1917-1940, many thousands followed. Today São Paulo may be South America’s biggest city but it is also has the largest Japanese community outside of Japan and it’s estimated that there are some 1.6 million Brazilians of Japanese descent.

Like the German and Italian immigrants who colour the culture of the southern Brazilian states …… you might think when you arrive in the Liberdade district of São Paulo that you are actually in Japan!! Drop into the Marukai supermarket on Rua Galvao Bueno and one is confronted by all the sushi and sashimi in the fresh food cabinet you could possibly want. Japanese tableware? Not a problem. Finding somewhere for lunch is also not a problem, providing you like Japanese food!


To get to Liberdade we had walked up from Jardin Paulista, past some of the enormous houses where the rich shelter behind tall walls and obvious security, to the business district known as Paulista. Here in the throbbing heart of Brazil’s economic powerhouse, office blocks rise up into an already-crowded sky, each wanting to outdo each other.


Occasionally you see a building abandoned during its construction as the last economic cycle slowed; graffiti artists decorating one with unflattering sentiment about Dilma, the last President being investigated for corruption. (Donald Trump isn’t the only one who gets a bashing!) On a Sunday the Avenida Paulista is closed to traffic and it becomes a riot of inhabitants doing whatever they want to do, oblivious of anyone else. They cycle down the coned-off street, they walk in every direction, they sing, they act, they mime, they practise for the forth-coming Carnival, they chat, they beg, they exercise, on their own or by joining a group encouraged by a throat-miked, Lycra-clad fitness instructor, they pose, they shop, and they eat everywhere. Some are obviously completely oblivious to the world around them, ‘far away’ in some drug or alcohol induced world of their own.

Where do you look when you see ‘interesting’ people on the tube/metro/underground? Do you chance a quick glance, stare or look nonchalantly in their direction? On the way back from our lunch, having changed at Paraiso for the line to Paulista, we got in a carriage where a chap exhibited the most strange hair cut. Maybe he was high at the time of his cut, or just wanting to push the boundaries …. jet black hair cropped in the short back and sides style of modern Hipsters, but the top was like a thatch of yellow straw. The division between the two colours was a horizontal line which looked rather red but maybe one of the pigments in the yellow was too strong? Sunglasses, ear studs and the constant chewing of ‘gum’ completed the look. His male companion sported the same fashion, less for the yellow straw bonnet. Around us the normal eclectic mix you get in any public transport system, but my eyes kept coming back to this chap’s hair.

Some 40 minutes by car, to the west of São Paulo lies Embu des Artes, a town much loved by those seeking to furnish their apartment or house, searching amongst the bric-a-brac for the ‘very thing’. It also gives the rural economy a showcase for traditional ‘arts & crafts’ although in that PC 5 you may recall me finding ‘craft’ in the local Cananéia fish shop that had ‘Made in China’ stamped on the bottom and was as far from an example of native carvings as you could imagine.

We dropped into one shop after another, looking for something interesting and not tourist tat, trying to imagine how something would look back home, in an English environment and not in the hot sticky heat of a tropical Saturday. The plastic bags gradually filled up! After a couple of hours of desultory strolling, we had lunch in a restaurant that announced prominently everything, presumably even the table we ate off, was for sale. Fortunately we finished lunch before someone made an acceptable offer!!



Like all good times away the memories linger long than the flight back but I’ll always be excited to see the approach to the inner-city Santos Dumont airport of Rio de Janeiro.

Richard 3rd March 2017