For I have had too much of apple-picking (aka “please no more, yoga!”)


Let me explain – okay, admit: I really didn’t want to get up this morning. Like really. 

We’re into week three of the yoga course now, which is about 74 hours done and another 126 to go. And just so you know, it’s pretty much not stopped raining since we started.

Not that it’s outdoor yoga. This is Hong Kong after all. No open-sided shalas here, just your regular, bog-standard Hong Kong studio: tiny, arms almost reaching the ceiling and certainly touching my neighbours, heavily air-conditioned… So what am I complaining about? Oh I don’t know, only that to get to this wonderfully serene yoga sanctuary in the heart of Sheung Wan, opposite the towering Cooked Food Market, I have to abseil down from the Peak, navigating white-water torrents of gushing rain water, dodging umbrellas and slip sliding my way through the-morning-after-the-night-before Soho streets (eugh!) to finally arrive, ass-wet through, at morning meditation on my poor water-logged travel yoga mat. Sigh.

No wonder I didn’t want to get up this morning and that, even having gotten up at 5:38am and had a quick shower and sat slumped over a sad and sorry cup of chicory coffee, I still didn’t want to go but very nearly climbed straight back in bed (but woefully didn’t). And no wonder that, hiking the 2.7 kilometers back up the hill in the still-pouring rain, I was wishing that I had.

But it’s not just the rain. The rain I think I could live with. It’s worse than that: it’s the yoga.

“But I thought you loved yoga,” I hear you cry.

Yes, I do. I did. I thought I did. I think – no, I know – I still do. But everything has it’s limit and I think I am finally reaching mine with yoga. Not only am I practising the physical asanas for anything from 90 minutes to three, three and a half hours a day – which, to be honest, sometimes, when I have been really bored and had nothing else to do, have been known to relish – but I am now dreaming about it at night.

Again, to be honest, I have dreamt about yoga before too, but not like this, not sequencing, sequencing, sequencing, and not every single night!

You might think I am working too hard – an accusation I am used to accepting and often level against myself – and it is true we do have a 90-odd minute (depending how quick or slow you are, how many postures you leave out or how many vinyasas you throw in) routine to learn, a sequence devised by our teacher which we have to learn off my heart and be able to teach to the rest of the class at a moment’s notice. So you might think I am spending every waking moment memorising the warm-up, sun salutations, standing series, core section, balances, backbends, hip openers and closing segments. But I am not. Really. I have enough confidence (yes, both arrogance and faith) to know that the sequence will come naturally, with time; that I know most of it already from having gone through it the past two weeks and that, anyway, if you forget a bit or miss something out it doesn’t matter too much. So, no. For a change I am not being a complete control freak or grade-A geek and swotting up on my sequence night and day, but whether I like it or not it is working its way around me – body and mind – and I am practising it even in my sleep. Aiya.

What do they say about ‘no rest for the wicked’?!

So, I am seriously having to consider taking some time out from yoga – even from the yoga course itself. Maybe I should have stayed in bed this morning, shouldn’t have bothered spending an hour and a half hiking through the rain to get to and back from meditation and asana class. Maybe there is more to life than yoga. Maybe there is more to yoga than asana! Because while the arm balancing was fun (side crow into koundinyasana), hiking all the way back up here, with groceries (because even when there is not a single free taxi to be found a girl still needs her grapefruit and pineapple), was exhausting. Truly. And suddenly throwing ourselves around into strange half-upside positions, spending so much energy trying to get our legs a few inches off the floor, our asses higher than our heads etc etc, seems… Well, stupid. A big expense of spirit. A waste. A shame. (As Shakespeare might say.)

Okay, maybe that is taking it a bit far. I don’t really believe all this. It is merely an indication of how I am feeling about my energy – high, low, insufficient, surplus (I wish!)… And where I am coming to in terms of what I want to give that energy to. As I was saying to some good old friends over dumpling lunch yesterday, I am eating more now (as compared with five months ago), I am able to be less restrictive and I am careful to eat a fuller, more varied diet, but I am – thanks to the amount of exercise I am doing – still only the same weight I was five (and even nine – after a week’s enforced starvation in India!) months ago: drastically underweight for my height; and my periods are still only on prescription, courtesy of the contraceptive pill. I may be getting better in some ways, but I know it will still take time and self-care before I able to reach my ideal, healthy weight and be happy with and in myself, not suffering energy lows or blood sugar spikes; not having to worry, for example, about eating too much white rice or too many fried dumplings, cream cakes etc as even the nicest meal or most well-intentioned treat from a friend sends my system into freak out for several hours. And it’s hard making people believe that you’re avoiding cakes not because your crazy scared they’ll make you fat but because they actually make you crazy scary ill!

So I am having to make a decision: to continue pushing myself through the physical yoga training or not, to continue my aspirations to be a yoga teacher or not. Or perhaps I do not have to decide anything. Perhaps I let my body speak for itself, my heart, my soul.

Because I made a commitment – and it was the memory of this that got me walking through the rain to class this morning (I look up and through the window outside to see that, yup, it’s still raining) – I made a commitment to the course, to myself, to yoga… But yoga, what does that really mean?

I have had many conversations with many people over the past few weeks since arriving in Hong Kong, and even in the months in England prior to leaving for Goa, with people – dear friends and family members – who claim simply, or rather apologetically or nervously or defiantly, not to be able to do yoga.

“I’m like Iron Lady,” one friend said to me, “I don’t bend.”

Another: “I don’t believe in any form of exercise that has a name. Gardening, cooking, walking the dog…that is my idea of exercise,” she explained.

As I listened to my friends I did not think how wrong they were or to try to explain to them the importance of stretching their muscles or toning their body, or learning how to deepen their breath to Darth Veda levels so the people across the street can hear. I thought instead how perhaps for them they do not need to go to class to learn how to bend backwards or twist themselves into weird shapes to get at the deepest, most inaccessible layers of fascia known to man. Perhaps these people – the wonderful friends and family around me – are already bending over backwards in their daily lives, helping other people, helping themselves, walking their dogs, cooking for their friends, going shopping for baby clothes with their expectant wives, picking up the pieces whenever a colleague lets them down, being there to listen to the woes of others and only talking about their own with a smile that says “I’m coping.” Perhaps these people already live their days so mindfully, counting each breath, each moment and not wasting a single second, so that for them a yoga class would be “an expense of spirit in a waste of shame.” Perhaps for them the joy of handstand does not come after weeks and months clinging to and then trying to un-cling from a wall in a studio, but from the spontaneity of finding yourself alone on the beach at sunset with the energy and heart to leap up on to your hands and feel the grains of sand beneath you. Perhaps there are such people who are yogis already, without having matching pants and vest from Lulelemon. And perhaps I would like to be such a yogi, giving my time and energy to helping and healing others first, or even to helping and healing myself, rather than to getting up into an arm balance or headstand before breakfast. Perhaps…perhaps…perhaps….

But for now, I can’t give up. I did make a commitment and that includes to all the other people on the course, the people who do want to learn to be a teacher and do have the physical, mental and emotional energy to endure. Whatever feelings I am experiencing now, whatever thoughts or realisations I am coming to, can wait. To quit or back out would be selfish and would, I know, later be felt as a missed opportunity to learn about something  more than just asana. So for now my yoga is to keep going, even when part of me – for good and less good reasons – would like to give in, sleep in and dream about something else. I know I have other dreams, and if one of these dreams is to be a yoga therapist, then good: keep at the yoga! But if there are other dreams yet undiscovered or unfulfilled then let’s give more of our waking energy to them and save perfecting koundyasana for another day, another week, another lifetime. There will always be another of those, but there is only one of this.