Bring on Inner Peace


Posted by in October's Magazine

Vikki Graves would have us believe standing on your head is relaxing. Those of you who are already familiar with my work for The Leither would probably not place me high on a list of people likely to sit on the floor with my legs crossed chanting ‘Hari Om’. However I am something of a dedicated yoga student and recently, having been forced to skip a few classes, I have found myself missing it. Really missing it, in fact.

I am a student of the school of yoga written down by one Mr B. K. S. Iyengar, or ‘Guruji’ depending on your levels of devotion. Light On Yoga, his illustrated guide to over two hundred yoga postures and the order in which to perform them was first published in the Sixties. Now, at the ripe old age of 91, Mr Iyengar, although probably still able to perform contortions of inhuman proportions, is taking a slightly more backseat role in the promotion of the discipline. There are, however, Iyengar centres all over the world, including our very own in Bruntsfield.

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So what is it that makes a hardened cynic like me want to sit cross-legged on solid wooden bricks, join the palms of my hands together and pay my inward respects to Patañjali, the father of yoga? Am I nothing more than a show off who thinks standing on her head will impress my friends, or am I part way on my journey towards inner peace?

Believe it or not, standing on your head is surprisingly relaxing. Admittedly I am not yet quite brave enough to perform this manoeuvre too far away from a supporting wall. But there is something calming and also empowering about suspending your body upside down with only your own strength, balance and determination keeping you from falling.

All the slow, serene movements could lead you to believe yoga is simply a means of purging a few calories among ladies who lunch. But don’t be fooled by the quietness of it all – trust me, standing on one leg while contorting both arms behind your back is trickier than it looks.

Over the course of a two-hour class it can feel as though each and every muscle is being gently stretched over a rack. Yet this is a strangely pleasant sensation, as if your limbs have been awakened from an extended slumber. Excess air is forced from your joints with a satisfying ‘pop’ and every bit of your body feels somehow realigned into its proper place, ready to perform your brain’s next command.

Relaxation comes in the form of Śavāsana, or ‘corpse’ pose. The posture consists of lying on your back, feet flopping out to the sides, with your palms facing the ceiling. Easy? I wish. The point of keeping your body completely motionless is to enable you to concentrate on the stillness of your mind. Yes, that does sound a tiny bit silly and I must confess I have on occasion used the mental stillness and solitude of Śavāsana as an opportune moment in which to compose my shopping list. But it does make me wonder what a state of relaxation really is, and whether it is even possible. So, concentrating on relaxing is probably not the strongest element of my practice, but maybe this is the point. As I mentioned earlier, yoga is genuinely pretty hard, honest. Not just because it stretches the parts that other exercises cannot reach, but also because to do it, you have to watch, listen and think without letting yourself get distracted. Corpse pose shopping list compilations aside, there is something refreshing about setting aside a couple of hours to concentrate on something that is entirely directed towards you, be it inner peace, or inner groin strain.

Perhaps I am more philosophical about yoga than I thought. In the preface to Light On Yoga Mr Iyengar writes briefly about the Western scepticism sometimes directed at its spiritual elements. He does not pour scorn upon the amorality of the West, but he does remind his readers that back in ancient times, all man’s great achievements were believed to have happened as a result of spiritual assistance.

Although those spirits might not necessarily have been standing on their heads with their legs crossed behind their necks, he does have a point, and it is maybe this accepting approach to our values along with the clarity of his descriptions that has made his book endure for over forty years.

And now I am lost for words – I have found a topic about which I cannot bring myself to be cutting. I had thought up some wisecracks about middle class lunching ladies in leggings and carpet-headed, stoned hippies on the beaches of Goa, but strangely they seem inappropriate. Bring on inner peace.

For more information about Iyengar Yoga visit eastscotlandyoga.org. For details of classes at the Edinburgh Iyengar Yoga Centre in Bruntsfield visit yoga-edinburgh.com

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