Stretched to the limit

By Kirstin Buick
09 September 2013

Yoga - how hard can it be? Um, quite a lot harder than this new devotee bargained on.

Being competitive isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it ups the ante, keeps you on your toes and makes winning a heck of a lot more fun. 30 Seconds? I’ll kick your ass in less than 15 seconds, see if I won’t. Trivial Pursuit? Gimme my piece of pie. Scrabble? Sorry for you, but I have another seven-letter word here. Handstand contest in the pool? I’d rather drown than admit defeat, even if my opponent is a pre-schooler. Smirking idiot at the robot who thinks he can pull off faster than I can because he’s a bloke and his car has two exhausts and spinning hubcaps? Eat my dust, buster.

But it’s all good and well being competitive when you’re okay at stuff. It’s when you suck at something that it – well, sucks.

Recently, brimming with good intentions and determined to prove I can get through winter without morphing into the couch with the remote control and enough comfort food to see a grizzly bear through hibernation, I started yoga. Should be easy, I reasoned – I’ve always been able to touch my toes, I found the lotus position a doddle the last time I tried it and could pull a mean somersault when I was in primary school. And besides, my parents would always marvel at how I was the supple one among my stiff-limbed siblings, shame. But my foray into the yoga world has turned up several uncomfortable truths: 1) my parents were wrong, 2) somersaults have nothing to do with yoga, and 3) the lotus position is no longer a doddle. In fact, even sitting cross-legged for longer than five minutes is no walk in the park.

The only thing I do have going for me is my skill in the touch-your-toes department but the teacher has yet to compliment me on it – or even notice, for that matter. She’s too busy trying to coax other parts of my body into positions they don’t seem willing to attempt.

It would all be fine if I was the best of a bad bunch. But I’m not. I am, hard as it is to admit, probably the worst in the class. My back is so unbendy Teacher asked if I had scoliosis! And mortification can’t be appeased with a short, sharp blast of temper when you’re doing yoga – not like kickboxing (I would imagine) when you can kick the crap out of a hanging bag.

Making things worse is that all around me my fellow yogis are eliciting praise from Teacher. Looking good in your poses there, Samantha! You’re very supple, Martie! Oooh, you don’t need this block to rest your head on, Jane – you can go all the way down to the floor without any effort! Lovely, Annie – you’ve obviously done lots of yoga before! That’s how you do the Warrior, Helen!

It’s hard not to be resentful. And I know, I know, I know yoga is all about you, what you can do, pushing your body to its limits, exploring your connection to the Earth, being comfortable in your space. But feeling like a lump of solid lard when everyone else is mastering an ancient art isn’t great. And just when I start to think I’m maybe, kind of, sort of starting to get the hang of one thing, we’re introduced to something else and there I go again – wobbling all over the show, going left when everyone else goes right . . . Hoo boy. Not even the touching-toes bit is giving me much comfort any more. I now just think my arms are longer and my legs shorter than the majority of humanity’s.

Nevertheless, I am enjoying the classes. Really I am. Especially when it’s time to meditate at the end and I think of all the things I am good at. Underwater handstand contest, anyone?

- Nicola Whitfield

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