Friday, 18 October 2013

The Joy of Accidental Yoga

I want to like yoga.

I feel it is the kind of activity that a mature, sophisticated cultured man should embrace.

Modern renaissance men are meant to be well travelled, multi-lingual, be able to cook and at least once a week greet the dawn with a Sun Salutation.

But try as I might I have not been able to get into yoga. As someone who is not naturally flexible I do not find it enjoyable in the slightest. And before someone emails me and tells me that the flexibility will come with practice I have been trying to touch my toes all my life and haven't been able to do so since the age of 19!

I have not been able to enjoy the meditative calm that yoga is meant to provide, the quiet nirvana. Instead yoga has just meant sessions of discomfort and pain that can never be over quick enough.

But a year ago something happened.

I was running in New York in Central Park when all of a sudden I felt a shooting pain in my left knee, the pain eventually went and I was up and running again in a week. When I came back to the UK I went for a sports massage and told the masseur about the incident. She gave me a stretch to do that involved me lying face down on the floor with one leg straight out and the other bent underneath me.

Then a few months later my IT band felt tight and a physiotherapist gave me an exercise involving me lying on my back and then raising my backside to form an arch.

After that I did the Edinburgh marathon and created small but painful muscle tears in my lower stomach and another physio gave me another set of exercises.

By the end of this summer after every run I was doing a series of stretches I'd collected along the way. I was finding it a relaxing way to unwind after strenuous exercise and it was bringing me real calm.

But it wasn't until I was doing these stretches after a run with my wife that the penny dropped:

I was doing yoga and enjoying it.

The first "stretch" I'd learnt after NYC was a variation of the "pigeon pose" according to my wife, then she showed me how my sprinters stretch was a "half warrior", my "arch" stretch was a "bridge". Finally I was practically doing a sun salutation at the start of every session as I reached down to try and touch my toes and my stretch at the end was a "cobra"!

I now wonder why I've always hated yoga but found myself accidentally loving it at the same time.

My best guess is I'd always struggled with yoga because I was trying to get the "poses" right and feeling a failure as I couldn't contort my body into the correct forms. But when I'm stretching after I run I am just letting my body do whatever comes naturally. A stretch can feel good, but a pose for an inflexible person like myself can feel like torture.

And then there's the meditative yoga nirvana. As any buddhist I am sure will tell you, no one ever reached nirvana by trying to reach nirvana. By taking away the pressure to reach an inner and higher bliss I actually started to enjoy myself.

I might not be a yoga master (accidental or otherwise) as the title of this post suggests. But I did accidentally find myself discovering the joys of yoga. Oh and for all the runners reading this post it has made me a better runner as well.

(The picture today is of my wife and I doing a sun salutation before a 10k race)

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