This morning, as I prepared for a day filled with nothing in particular, I watched a nubile young person on the television demonstrating some torturous poses which she dubbed as ‘Yoga’. Later, in the shower, I started thinking back – always a mistake when you’ve so many years to think back upon. Bathrooms do that – it must be all the steam. But I digress…
Do you recall those youthful ‘phases’ we all went through, when we sought ‘The True Path’? I tried a lot of ‘paths’, I remember, including quite a few that required pharmaceutical help. I also tried Yoga, mainly because at the time I was with a girlfriend who practised it. And I learned the thing about Yoga is, yes, you’re always practising it. You never get it absolutely right.
My unimpeachable source impressed upon me that to qualify as a true Yogi and to draw the benefits that entails requires a life of dedication, that the poses are there to help you achieve complete breathing and the Elysium of meditation that lie beyond. ‘The true Yogi drinks when he is thirsty, eats when he is hungry, sleeps when he is tired’ Incredible as it seems, I’m sure many of us can remember a time when we actually believed we could live life that way? I certainly did: I was in love, I suppose.
Of course, the truth soon dawns. Achieving a full lotus pose becomes impossible if your wife is impatient to be driven to the supermarket, or if your dog recognises that peculiar sitting position as a kind of game. The next thing you learn about the lotus pose, as with a number of other yogic distortions, is just how long it takes to un-achieve it, as well as the surgical procedures that may follow.
In such a direction Elysium does not lie. The attending physician in Accident and Emergency explains: “If God had intended your hip to go that way he would have put it on the other way up.” Doctors can be very cynical, at times. And very unsympathetic.
Then there are the daily penalties of ‘working life’; the pints of beer quaffed for social gain, the ten-minute lunchtime visits to McDonalds, the protracted sessions on an acutely uncomfortable, orthopaedically unpardonable office chair, the sleepless nights slaving over a hot infant, the arguments, the rows, the assault charges… ‘Sleep when you are tired’? Alas, no more: ‘Sleep no more, Macbeth (curious name for a child, you say? You haven’t met her) doth murder sleep’. ‘Eat when you are hungry’ – a slogan KFC would no doubt adopt with enthusiasm, but terrible for your waistline if practised as freely as the doctrine would recommend.
Plunging at last into retirement I may have wished my days of limitless freedom would return, that I might grab one of those vile bedroom curtains, fashion it into a dhoti, and take my true place as the Swami on the Hill. My years at the beck and call of the daily grind were behind me. I would be able to drink, eat and sleep to my heart’s content. The ‘True Path’ stretched out before me; Nirvana beckoned.
How wrong was I?
No sooner had the dust settled than I was apprised of my duties as ‘Parent in Residence’, I learned how a day filled with nothing in particular requires organisation, time management, responsibilities. Further, I discovered my vulnerabilities ‘in old age’ not only rendered the lotus pose physically impossible, but even to attempt it would earn a look from the attending physician in Accident and Emergency that could best be described as ‘withering pity’. Nor was settling for the ‘downward dog’ any sort of solution. Different dog, same game. Same supermarket, too.
The schedules, the plans and the commitments have not gone away. I am merely that much slower in fulfilling them. So, not only am I as busy in retirement as I was when I got paid, but I am also physically less equipped to keep up. Nowadays, to maintain the pace means resorting to ‘uppers’ of a very different kind to those I imbibed in my youth. All legal,if that is any consolation, but all essential, or so I’m told.
Takes the fun out of it, doesn’t it?
Well, at least I must finally concede that the Complete Yogi, as well as the ‘complete breath’ that is the gateway to perfect contemplation, lies somewhere beyond my reach. It will never be. It never was, truth be told, because the life of the true Yogi does not translate from that hilltop – does not fit into the modern world. Our posturing is just another form of exercise to be fitted into an appointed slot in our day. The elastic woman on the silver screen who demonstrates her ‘Yoga’ is guilty of a misnomer, because those extravagant poses are merely a form of exercise that might as well be aerobics, or weight training, or any number of alternatives far removed from the true prize sought in the Astika of a Hindu philosophy many thousands of years old.
I shall roll up my mat, restore the bedroom curtain, and let each incident-free negotiation of the staircase serve as my small victory. A Dhoti and a turban are rather too draughty for an English winter, as it goes.
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