Thursday, May 10, 2018

On Re-discovering Yoga

I did most of my schooling in a government school, where I had mandatory yoga classes as part of my syllabus for a few years.

Looking back now, it seems quaint. Who thought that kids would find yoga interesting? How did it get into the syllabus? Were there no left-liberals back then to protest its inclusion? Or was yoga seen as secular back then? I have no idea.

In my school, all non-academic subjects (Art, SUPW, Yoga) had classrooms of their room. The yoga teacher had a large and airy room to himself in what was called the Science block. We had yoga classes twice a week, and we would form our lines and go to the yoga room in crocodile fashion. The yoga room had a wooden desk and a wooden chair for the teacher, and coarse and ratty red carpets for the students to sit on in long lines. We had to leave our shoes outside the room,  and of course the boys had to sit on one side and the girls on the other.

Our yoga teacher was quite a specimen. He was tall and thin and pale yellow and almost bald. He had a voice that was one notch above Mute, and an air of otherworldliness, as if most of him lived on some spiritual plane from where he could scarcely be bothered visiting us mere mortals. He was timid, and sometimes blinked furiously when trying to explain things. None of this, of course, helped him control a room full of noisy tweens and teens.

His name was Something-or-the-Other Potti, which should have made his nickname obvious. But give us government school kids some credit - we didn't go for obvious nicknames. We named him Kokk (stork), in honour of his elongated neck. Over the years, many generations of kids must have called him that, and he must certainly have been aware of the nickname. Some daring kid had even scrawled the name (KOK) on the dusty window panes in his class room. That scrawl remained remained there for many years - it may still be there for all I know.

Mr Potti (I will call him that at least now, twenty years later) had, at some point or the other in his long career, given up on ever passing on any of his knowledge to his students. And I think that was a very good call on his part. Not only was he temperamentally unsuited to the task, his chosen subject was one that held very little interest for a bunch of kids.

You see, twenty years ago, yoga didn't have the glamour that it has now. Today, yoga can come clad in lycra and spandex if you want it to. But back then -- well, if it was clad in anything at all, it was probably boring saffron. Mr Potti didn't help matters by sometimes trying to read spiritual stuff aloud to us from his books. I say "trying to", because his breathy voice didn't carry far, and unless you were in the front row, it was unlikely that you would hear anything at all.

The class would become silent each time he started reading aloud. Gradually it would become clear that there was no point in listening because you could hear nothing anyway. And then one by one, the kids would start talking, until gradually the room would become so deafeningly loud that Mr Potti would break off from his reading and bang his arm on his wooden desk in ineffectual anger, and then we would become silent again. And on it would go. Yoga, in effect, was a free class for us, with very little actual practice.

I used to feel sorry for Mr Potti back then, I remember (even while calling him Kokk behind his back). But looking back now, I realize that it's probably because of those classes that I've always had an aversion to yoga. Even after it became fashionable, and everybody I knew was signing up for it, I stayed away, because I associated yoga with boredom and with being just a little bit pathetic.

But now, at long last, twenty years later, that curse has been broken. Thanks to an awesome app*, I've started doing yoga again, and it has been amazing. Yoga, I've discovered, need not be about spirituality. It can just be something you enjoy doing, something that challenges you, something that helps you understand your body better. Yoga can be accessible, it can be whatever you need it to be.

As for Mr Potti, I suppose he must have retired long ago. I hope more of his ex-students rediscover yoga and its life-changing benefits.

*The app is called Down Dog and it's available both on Google Play and App Store. I've been promoting it among all my friends like I'm being paid to do it, but unfortunately I'm not. :|
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