My classes are only for people who are good at yoga.

Last weekend I was at a party at a friend’s flat in Balham, South London. A few years ago it was the venue for a weekly class I taught to a group of blokey triathletes. You can read about that entertaining experience here.

Over a glass of wine I was chatting to a girl and it was revealed that I taught yoga. She said, “I’ve done yoga but I’m not very good at it.”

“I’m not very good”

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we put ourselves down? We judge ourselves against others and against ourselves. We tell ourselves that we should or could be better.

We compare ourselves to before we had that injury or health condition. We compare ourselves with the body we had 20 years ago. We compare ourselves against someone who’s been doing yoga for years or against someone whose background is as a gymnast or dancer.

So much of our lives are lived as a competition. How much can we do before we have to pick the kids up from school? What can we achieve today? Can we improve our 10k personal best? We’re always striving.

netball trophy
This is a picture of a netball trophy. It isn’t mine.

The joy of yoga

For me, the great thing about yoga is that it isn’t competitive. PE was never my forte at school. I hated netball. I got motion sickness on a trampoline. I’ve got a funny running style. I always got picked last for any team.

But with yoga, you just move your body in a way that feels good for you. And some days it feels ok, and on other days you feel like you’ve got the body of Dorothy’s buddy the Tin Man… and that’s ok.

You become aware of what’s going on inside. Emotions come up. Sensations come up. You simply witness that stuff and you accept it.

To hell with the competition.*

“The renowned seventh century Zen master Seng-tsan taught that true freedom is being “without anxiety about imperfection.” This means accepting our human existence and all of life as it is. Imperfection is not our personal problem – it is a natural part of existing.

We all get caught in wants and fears, we all act unconsciously, we all get diseased and deteriorate. When we relax about imperfection, we no longer lose our life moments in the pursuit of being different and in the fear of what is wrong.”

Tara Brach

* But if you beat me at Scrabble, I’ll never forgive you.

Can the Kiwis’ Hakka be likened to Sanskrit chanting?

There is a perception out there that yoga is a bit flaky, only practiced by women and a bit ‘spiritual’ – whatever that might mean to people. I remember going to a friend’s party a while ago and being asked by this alpha male city boy, “so do you do any sport?” When I answered by saying that I didn’t really do any sport but I did exercise by practicing yoga, he soon wandered off to get himself another drink.

And so it was with great pleasure that I taught this very chap his first ever yoga class on Monday night. And how he groaned. “You expect us to be able to do THAT?” was his best line during the class.

The group comprised a bunch of predominantly very blokey rugby player types (now who’s stereotyping?), who had never done yoga before. They’d been coerced into taking the class by a mutual friend as they’re training to do their first Ironman. That night I learnt that an Ironman is an even harder version of a triathlon, with the running part alone being the length of a marathon. Apparently under 13 hours is a good time to complete the whole ordeal.

The focus of the class was on injury prevention – by stretching their muscles, the chance of injury during the cycle, swim and run would be much reduced for them.

I decided to pass on the chanting to open the class, mostly because I didn’t want them in stitches (from giggling) before we’d even started. We began by practising yogic breathing lying in savasana, and then moved onto some toe squats to open their toes and feet, strengthening their ankles, combined with gurmukhasana arms. I was also aware that these aren’t the most pleasant thing to do and I hoped it would make them take the class more seriously. Me? Mean? Never…

People performing a toe squat
Toe squat (from

The sun salutations indentified some very tight hamstrings and although they had strong shoulders, they were incredibly tight. Much giggling was had when they looked around at each other and realised who couldn’t touch their toes. I took the opportunity to mention about ego and yoga not being competitive.

Shoulderstand/sarvangasana allowed them to open their shoulders, followed by bridge/sethu bandhasana to open their chest. We focused on opening the hips and hamstrings by practicing butterfly/baddha konasana, baby cradle and then janu sirshasana (seated forward bend with the sole of one foot pressed into the thigh).

Crow/kakasana proved fun with a couple of the guys being able to come up into a headstand on their first attempt.

As the class progressed, the giggling and groaning subsided and they were ready for their well earned final relaxation. After the class, whilst putting their suit jackets on, feedback was positive and I’m teaching them again this coming week. Who knows, perhaps I’ll even introduce some chanting.

Hari om tat sat