Listen to this article
In springtime a middle-aged beauty editor’s fancy (or any woman’s fancy, for that matter) turns to thoughts of fitness (or, in tabloid-speak, how to get a bikini body). And that means the Great Exercise Debate begins. The theory goes that if you start now, you might just be able to get your body into a bikini in time for summer, and if the amount of pictures of Lucas Hugh leggings and plates of kale making their appearance on beauty editors’ Instagram pages are anything to go by, this particular beauty editor has some catching up to do.
Everyone seems to be lining up in camps – be they boot, high intensity or SoulCycle spinning – and I’m not sure any of them appeal massively (although give it a month and I’ll be joining them all, I’m sure). To my overstressed multitasking mind, good old-fashioned yoga might be less immediate but it’s the best solution for both the short and the long term. Assuming you pick a dynamic sort (think Bikram, hot yoga, Ashtanga or Jivamukti), you not only get an intense workout but, in those few blissfully soothing moments at the end, you find yourself feeling mentally energised too.
As far as fat-burning and muscle-toning goes, yoga is the best. Want a quick thigh-slimmer? Try making frog’s legs while standing on tiptoes, heels off the ground. A yoga teacher at the wonderful Susanne Kaufmann spa in Bregenz, Austria, taught me that one. Repeat it 50 times a day and it will give you long, lean thigh muscles in no time at all. Need a flat stomach? Try inhaling and exhaling your way out of the boat pose (navasana), where you’re sitting upright with your feet in the air, arms outstretched. It’s an instant core-strengthener.
Yet yoga is far from perfect. Despite being about as supple as a plank of wood (they could have named the “plank” pose after my inflexible body), the hardest thing for me is not physically stretching but mentally switching off. The cod psychology dished out doesn’t always help – “When there are raindrops, there will be rain” is something I heard from one private yoga teacher many years ago. A more recent gem at another class: “50 per cent of the population lives their life in fear.” “Really?” I want to say, my head sticking up above the rows of downward dogs like a rabbit popping out of a burrow. Is that 50 per cent related to this country or to the global population, and was this a Mori survey or based on something the teacher read on the back of a cereal box? Yogis, so the proselytising continues, are trying to live harmoniously with each other, and with the Earth. Tell that to the ones who regularly claim dibs on the best yoga-mat spots before they have even changed into their kit, and glower at anyone who tries to squeeze in at the last minute. And would it really kill them to smile occasionally?
And this is to say nothing about the increasingly commercial nature of yoga. Recently, I arrived all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed only to be told the 11 classes I had paid for upfront had “expired”. I couldn’t even blame anyone, as class rules clearly stipulate you have to call to rebook classes before they expire, and I had forgotten. Then I realised I’d also forgotten my towel, without which I keep slipping, so I had to splash out £25 on a special yoga towel with rubberised non-slip pads. I spent the rest of the 90-minute class fuming about how forgetful I was, and how money-grabbing the new yoga had become. Every time I tried to “clear my mind, and channel my negative thoughts into a positive” I instead remembered that the only person who’d ever tried to entice me, albeit years ago, into a pyramid scheme was . . . a yoga teacher.
Ninety minutes of internal ranting later, I left the yoga class far more stressed than I had been all week, deciding I was through with yoga. Sure, there would be things I’d miss, things I’d wish I’d learnt. I’d never master the headstand – which is a shame because it’s very good for clearing the nose when you have a cold (and yoga veteran Kathy Phillips, a former beauty director of Vogue and co-founder of This Works, the aromatherapy and skincare company, swears it’s the best facial you could ever have as it massages your brain and calms all the neurological pathways along the spine). More importantly, I’d never get so used to yoga that it became a daily practice, with all the health and mental wellbeing benefits that entails – even just being able to sit still in the perfect lotus position, where both knees hover equally above the ground – (“Use a brick” they say, helpfully. “Do you have four?” I’d reply) would always elude me.
But I should have kept the faith: 24 hours later, the nice lady on reception emailed to say they had reinstated my yoga classes. Which is just as well, as I’ve grown rather partial to that yoga towel with the rubberised non-slip pads. My negative had, indeed, been turned into a positive, and all I can say is, Om shanti to that. See what nice people they are? And, if this morning’s super-energising class with Cat Alip-Douglas at Jivamukti in London is anything to go by, stand by Instagram: the pictures of Lucas Hugh leggings can’t be far behind.