Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Delhi yoga isn't for wusses

Settled. Finally. After six weeks of being an itinerant, I am now happily ensconced in my top-floor flat in Delhi. It hasn't been without its struggles though: getting a gas bottle was a whole world of pain that remains too raw to write about; temperatures hover around the mid-40s (although the rains came today!) and trying to negotiate with rickshawallahs in pidgin Bambaiya Hindi is far less fun to experience than to watch.

Now, however, things have settled. I can finally cook - hurrah! We can turn off the ACs and open up all the windows and let the post-rain air drift through! We have a driver - albeit a temporary loan - who is extraordinarily helpful, and not just in terms of driving us around. He also speaks English - a lot. On day one I heard about his family, his family's sleeping arrangements, the cost of school fees and his decision to name his baby son Harry - after Prince Harry. "Because my son too is a prince."

I have also started yoga again after a long break. My preference is for Iyengar yoga, because I like messing around with all the props and hanging upside down from the ropes, but I ruled out the local Iyengar studio because they charge a whopping 1000 rupees ($A33) per casual class - "but only 700 rupees if you're not a foreigner, madam."

So I managed to get into a beginner's course at the nearby Sivananda Yoga centre, which runs for two weeks. At the start I had to sign a code of conduct stating, amongst other points:

- I must not wear tight or revealing clothing
- I must not carry a mobile phone into the class
- I must not bring water into the class

Sod that, I thought. When it's 40 degrees Celsius outside it is inhuman to disallow water when you are engaging in physical activity in a room with no air conditioning. So from the outset I opted to be a rulebreaker.

I also broke another rule by wearing a top with a baggy neckline to the first class. The European man in front of me politely looked elsewhere during the downward dog pose rather than down my thoroughly exposed top.

Now, halfway through week two, I can say that I am really enjoying the yoga. I'm not a good yoga practitioner: I am twitchy and incapable of sitting still, instead of meditating I look at everyone else and wonder about their lives, and am not spiritual in any way. I like yoga for exercise and relaxation, and to help open up my diaphragm and vocal chords, but I don't view it as some kind of pathway to spiritual fulfillment.

Sivananda yoga is not really strenuous; the first half an hour is taken up with breathing exercises, followed by a number of slow sun salutes, followed by various other poses, interspersed and ending with long periods of relaxation. Of course, in the heat, anything more would be far too taxing. It is perfect for this weather and the strong focus on the breath has already made a difference.

Yogamaster is a one, though. He is this wiry, petite man who could be any age between 25 and 45. During the breathing, he sings: "Inhaaaale! Ex-haaale!" over and over, getting increasingly nasal. When he gives the last syllable of "Ex-haaale!" a steep upward inflection, you know you're moving on to something new.

Yogamaster is also strict. I got told off three times today. The first time, because I slackened off during sun salutes. Second, because I rolled out of the shoulder stand earlier than everyone else. I tried to explain that my thyroid gland was way overstimulated but he was having none of it. And thirdly, because he'd noted my melting ice-cube of a water bottle and informed me that only room temperature water, if any, was permissible.

Still, after my efforts later on in headstand, I think I redeemed myself.

I haven't been this bossed around at yoga since I tried bikram in Melbourne and they restrained me from leaving the room, and later told me I shouldn't fan myself in class "because it just reminds the others of how hot they are."

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