I’m just back from a weekend in the metropolis. As usual, as I exited the train, I felt cumbersome and pastoral; like an ungainly cow blundering bewildered through the sleek, high-speed crowds. However, I was fuelled onwards by the knowledge that I was headed to one of the coolest addresses in town: the newly conceived Kingly Court in Soho. I decided to walk there from Marylebone, using a print-out map and instructions (errrr…hello – the geography geek strikes again) taken from the amazing Walkit website – anyone sick of sweating profusely twenty metres below ground with a stranger’s elbow up their nose should definitely check this out. Not only does the route factor in crowds (I walked along the street adjacent to Oxford Street at rush hour for a large part of the journey and it was incredibly serene – I was even accompanied some of the way by a tweed-clad eccentric man, who, on seeing my mat, wanted to tell me all about his recent forays into yoga at the age of 62), but it also tells you how many calories you’ll burn. Smug-tastic.
Anyway, my purpose for being in the too-cool-for-fashion-school Soho was to attend an intensive weekend workshop with one of the few internationally renowned female ashtanga yoga teachers, Kino Macgregor, at the Triyoga Centre. If you want to see irrefutable evidence that women can be as strong as men, then check out her insane skills on her you-tube channel. I had been intrigued to see her in action for a while, having always being unusually strong for a girl, myself (my nick-name at school was Butch Beck for a while, following a rather unfeminine series of victories against the boys in an arm-wrestling tournament during a particularly dull physics class… by the way, one of my most formidable arm-wrestling opponents since then has been my mum – it’s clearly in the genes).
However, when I booked onto the course I didn’t foresee that, during the intervening weeks, I would be besieged by injury; firstly, a torn adductor muscle, closely followed by a torn pectoralis minor, both caused by doing yoga. I am sure anyone would agree that injuries are immensely frustrating, especially when you are used to a very active lifestyle, and even more so when they are ‘self-afflicted’ (i.e. I blatantly over-did it during my yoga practice). I have been attempting to face my ailments with patience and grace, seeing them as an opportunity to learn from my mistakes and to rest from physical practice in order to concentrate on other endeavours but, frankly, I’ve rather failed. Instead, the whole thing seems to have sent me into a bit of a self-critical tailspin about my relationship with yoga. Am I working my body too hard? Am I letting my ego get in the way of mindful practice? Why does this keep happening to me? Is yoga even for me? I’ve been in a right old yoga tizzwaz…
So, having only decided at the last minute that I would still attend the workshop, it was with mixed feelings that I approached the shiny, new yoga studio in the achingly cool Kingly Court complex, which showcases the latest in cutting-edge lifestyle fads through its boutiques and cafes (e.g. pop-up vintage shops, a vegan cafe, a traditional tea-house… oh, and, obviously, flat whites feature on all of the coffee menus here – see, I predicted that one…). My injuries had clearly knocked my confidence and I felt a strange sense of inadequacy as I entered the crowded reception area. With my negative attitude, all I took in were serious, unwelcoming faces, impossibly lithe, slim bodies and yoga-chic London fashion, contrasting with my faded old bumpkin togs. The receptionists seemed rude and disinterested and I felt flat, invisible and out-of-place.
I reluctantly shuffled into the huge yoga studio and found an apologetic-looking mat on the back row in the far corner – not like me at all. When Kino entered the room amidst a sudden reverent hush, the emotion I felt was not the excited anticipation that was otherwise palpable across the room. Instead, I felt an irrational irritability at the celebrity-awe that even the yoga world can’t escape. I could barely disguise my sneer at all the keenies on the front row who, in my self-absorbed suffering, seemed to smile sychopantically at Kino, vie for her attention with their earnest yogic accomplishments, laugh at all her jokes as if on a first date, and hang on her every word, taking avid notes like, I imagined, brain-washed cult victims. I had a weird out-of-body experience where I looked down upon the whole room with a strange sense of distaste – I saw fanatacism and ego-jostling, vanity and neuroses, an almost religious fervour, and a bondage to the unending pursuit of a perfect body. Basically, I saw all of the negative associations that are often hurled at ashtanga yoga, as if seeing them for the first time, in lurid clarity. It was as though all the injury-induced negativity towards yoga that I had been battling against for the past two months flowed out of me in one, ugly torrent.
But, even more strangely, I then felt calm, as though the raging negativity that had been steadily building behind my precarious dam of mental restraint had flowed away, leaving me in peace finally, and with the ability to take a step back and see it for what it was. I was then able to tune into Kino properly, and found her to be intelligent, down-to-earth, humble, funny and inspiring. Gradually my view of the class shifted, as though the sun had come out and turned tinted lenses to clear. The girl on the mat next to me, who I had previously judged as being a self-absorbed Chelsea yummy-mummy, noticed I wasn’t doing all the postures and, on hearing about my injury, offered me some of her ‘miracle cure gel’. Suddenly the laughter and smiles rippling across the room seemed genuine, the faces appeared open and friendly and I saw the reality of a room full of all shapes and sizes, and felt the underlying positivity of people motivated to be here to improve themselves on a whole variety of levels – spiritual, physical, intellectual, probably a combination. I felt sheepish that I had so recently had the audacity to pass judgement on the complex diversity of the tiny sliver of the human spectrum that was present in the room.
I decided there and then to get over myself and approach the rest of the course with a positive attitude. Happily and predictably, my weekend improved dramatically from that moment onwards – I made lots of friends for the weekend, had lots of laughs, decided that the receptionists were friendly and helpful after all, learnt loads and felt inspired. At one point on the second day, Kino encouraged me to take a bind with my hands that I had been studiously ignoring for the last few weeks in order to guard my torn pec. Miraculously, I found I was able to do it without any discomfort and, weirdly, from that moment onwards I seemed to turn a corner with my injuries too, and found myself able to participate in many more of the postures than I had previously thought would be possible. It made me realise that, alongside the physical healing, I had neglected to address the psychological healing. If you feel negativity, then you inevitably hold onto more stress and tension, which can’t help but manifest physically. It was a beautiful reminder to me of one of the most important aspects of yoga – the inseparability of mind and body.
So, fortunately for my friend who I was staying with for the weekend, I soon turned from grumpy Becky into happy, excited and motivated Becky. I also realised, once the grey waters of grump had receded, that, ordinarily, I would probably have been one of those keenies near the front, mainly because I don’t wear glasses for yoga so am as blind as a bat but also because, if you’re paying that much money for a course, then you want to see the teacher and engage with him/her as much as possible and, if brutally honest, also because of the really hard to suppress and very human egotistical need to be seen. Through judging others with negative eyes I had failed to acknowledge my own part amidst the scene that I was observing. I realised that, if it hadn’t been for my injuries, I probably wouldn’t have experienced the supportive camaraderie and bawdy humour of the back row, and that it really doesn’t matter where you lay your mat. Every spot will have its own story to tell at the end of the weekend, and it’s up to the incumbent to determine how that story goes (e.g. light-hearted romp versus woeful tear-jerker).
As for my take on Kino, she is clearly a deeply knowledgeable and experienced yogini, both spiritually and physically, but who also very much ‘keeps it real’, of which I am in full support. At a first glance, she’s an attractive, all-American beauty: bronzed, toned, wearing nigh invisible shorts and luminous yellow leg-warmers, with a fast-paced chatter and ready giggle. She clearly finds time to have pedicures, straighten her hair and put make-up on in a way that I imagine is close to her Miami roots, despite dedicating a life to the pursuit of yoga. The only overt hint at a more spiritual side are the prayer beads that she wears whilst teaching. She is an excellent, under-stated teacher, tackling very subtle aspects of the practice in great detail yet in a very accessible way. She also builds up the physical postures from the anatomical fundamentals incrementally and logically, with matter-of-fact encouragement, until you find yourself doing postures you thought would be beyond you.
So, despite my initial misgivings about the course, I have come away with a fresh perspective on my injuries and a renewed inspiration to develop my own practice and teaching. Kino has also renewed my faith that it’s possible to follow the yoga path, yet retain a fun, light-hearted and down-to-earth approach to life; to keep it real, indeed.
A few shots of Kingly Street, Soho, to finish (phew!):
This oriel (?) window presides over the entrance to Kingly Street. I loved the message: ‘No minute gone comes ever back again. Take heed and see you do nothing in vain.‘ Sound advice indeed.
Uber-cool Kingly Court, with the shiny purpleness of Triyoga at the far end.
I loved the way this flag caught the evening light. (Has anyone made it to the end of this record-breakingly long post?!)