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Yoga ... 15 Years Later!

It’s now over 15 years since I took my first class in astanga yoga. The setting was wild as a group of us consisting mainly of ‘first timers’ had travelled to the Sinai desert with our teacher Granville to take our first steps ...... Although an impulse decision to go, I had been reading about how people like Sting and Madonna practiced religiously and were clearly looking good from it and thought ‘What the hell? What’s the worst that could happen? !!....”

Ground Zero

I was about to turn 49 years old, pretty fit at the time with weekly circuit training, jogging and gym work, and thought that I had the strength if not the necessary flexibility to tackle the astanga sequence. WRONG!

I hadn’t anticipated the ‘shakes’ on opening my legs for prasarita padottanasana, the tightness of my hips in virtually all twists nor the shallowness of my breath in trying to ‘force’ certain asanas on the basis of strength alone!! I came back from the desert glad to have escaped this daily torture and to get back to my old and trusted fitness routines. At the same time, I had a sneaking feeling that I had ‘gained’ something over there in Egypt that somehow I didn’t want to give up......a new feeling of ease and loosed shoulders and neck (probably because I hadn’t been to the gym for a couple of weeks...!)

So I bought a video - pre-DVDs and YouTube – of David Swenson’s short forms and started his 30 minute routine in the living room which was do-able and didn’t take too long. After a few weeks, I started to notice real changes both physically and mentally; my feet seemed more part of me, my arms had a different type of strength and my right knee joint was sore....BUT the feeling of relaxation gave me new enthusiasm and greater creativity of thought ...

My Path of Progress

Fast forward 2 years and a trip to Kovalam in Kerala, South India where Lino Miele holds his annual astanga yoga workshop.....The right knee problem had long gone - cured - now it was my hip twists as I found marichyasana on the left hand side very hard work indeed.........I realised then that yoga is actually healing the weaker parts of my body.....first the knees, then more leg strength and broader shoulders.....I was beginning to recognise that throughout the practice, my body is ‘speaking’ to me and I’m learning how to listen and respond accordingly.

Practice, practice, practice all is coming”.....the famous phrase of SK Pattabhi Jois .....really started to have meaning to me and I continued to practice 2 or 3 times a week. I graduated first from led classes in London’s TriYoga to Mysore-style self-practice with a great teacher in Ware and then with Melanie at Clarity Yoga Studio in St Albans (Melanie is a great teacher too but I must also declare my interests here – she is also my wife and we met on that fateful Sinai trip!) Then, after 10 years of practice, I discovered pranayama ..............THE BREATH......

Pranayama and the Third Way

Melanie and I spent 5 weeks in an ashram near Pune learning the techniques of pranayama or energy breathing from Sri OP Twariji who had also taught BKS Iyengar going back a mere 40 years or so! I won’t go into the detail of our daily routine at Kaivalyadhama with Twariji but the effects were immediate and sustained with subsequent daily practice. My sitting pulse has dropped by about 10%, my stamina has improved by about 10%, eyesight clearer, and sense of smell, well, roasting coffee just smells divine... I now see that pranayama as the ‘third way’; yoga stretches and detoxes at a cellular level and helps develop lean muscle, gym tones muscles from the outside-in, and pranayama acts somewhere in between. Simply put, pranayama enables more awareness and more control of the breath which leads to better uddiyana bandha locks which makes the practice of yoga easier and more energising as it becomes breath-led rather than a muscular stretch.......

Finally, the Spine

In the last year or two, I have finally found my spine! I now realise that ‘you are as old as your spine’, so when I do a back bend or attempt vrischikasana (scorpion), I can feel my breath, ribs and my spine responding with a ‘mmmm, this feels good!” 15 years to discover how important spine mobility and flexibility is in daily living, how deep breathing can help keep me calm whilst all around are rushing, texting and talking on their mobiles, and why asanas help tone my body in a very subtle and strengthening way.

In the last year or so, I have finally returned to the gym for 30 minute sessions, mainly to stretch my spine by hanging from my arms and to tone arm and leg muscles as I still have a streak of vanity there for summer shorts and tee-shirts despite my advancing age.....

All in All

Although asana really does build the immune system. Since starting pranayama 5 years ago, I’ve not really had a cold nor lost any days though being under the weather. Every day is pretty much like the day before “Healthy, alert, ‘good-to-go’!”

So my current mantra is.....asana for strength, pranayama for big breath and stillness, and gym for toning. As I now only work part-time, I am one of the lucky ones who have the luxury of time to indulge in this sort of schedule week by week. But here’s a thought. I have a theory that an hour of yoga is an hour saved from illness ie it’s a zero sum game through the year, and that my ultimate reward will be an extra 1 hour of life near the end...... Although I cannot ‘prove’ either aspect of this theory but when I reach 100 and I’m still on the mat, I’ll let you know!

Written by Simon Knox, Professor Emeritus of Cranfield School of Management and International Business Coach to Senior Management, June 2014

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