It has just turned six o’clock on the summer solstice – the longest lit day of the calendar year. It coincides with International Yoga Day. To celebrate it, a group of 25 sportswear-clad ladies and gents dominate the green area outside Deansgate’s Great Northern Warehouse. I am performing a sideways crow pose, wondering just how much a battering my spine is taking in order to accomplish this.
But I can’t complain too much at all. I’m getting back into a practice long neglected by men, and which has been led and instructed beautifully since the session commenced at five o’clock. Getting there, I note that I am one of about four men, surrounded by ladies long seasoned in the practice of yoga. This might be the most self-conscious I have felt during a yoga session. Not helped by the myriad of curious bystanders all eager to get a picture on Twitter as fast as possible.
We start. Andrea the instructor takes us through 15 minutes of what we’ll be doing, and we proceed to the ‘ommm’ mantra. It seems relatively stationary for the first quarter. After that, it speeds up…
For the most part, there are moves that I have coped with in the past. It is startling, though, to see how much toll yoga can take on one’s body. Especially the quads. After a sweeping procession of low cobra, then upward and downward dog, we move to warrior one, and two, a lunge stance with arms outstretched. I cringe, I grit, but I make it through them all. It’s a blessed relief to take the weight out of one’s quads by sending the pain into the hamstrings (as downward dog attributes), almost as collateral damage from one body part to another.
We press on. A sequence of poses involving the test of bendiness. 80% of those present imply they have skeletal structures made of rubber where others have bones. One eager lady to my left wastes no time in dropping into perfect splits, as I dig my knees and hips down as far as I dare before my hip flexors start shrieking in agony.
It’s going well, I think. No one has needed to correct me, and although I am being completely outperformed by the masses of ladies, I am enjoying myself. It’s a test. Yoga is a peaceful practice in itself, yet it shreds your muscles and questions your body endurance in a way no treadmill could do. We are constantly on the move; switching from warrior one, to two, to upward dog and downward dog, then onto half plank and then toe touch (the bent one). It keeps you thinking. You have to be mentally alert to keep up the pace of body movement. Perhaps the essential factor in the movement, even more than the physical strength required to perform the movement.
The last positions involve crow’s pose, sideways crow’s pose and finally, reverse bridges. This is where one takes “liftoff” during the pose. At first, I do not attempt the sideways pose. At the second opportunity, I do. I dig my north facing elbows into my west facing hips as far as they will go, and haul my feet off the ground. It’s painful, yet exhilarating to be able to achieve something quite airborne. I did get lost in the triumph until the pain barrier came calling.
But by far the biggest pain of the night was the reverse bridges. Put your palms on the ground behind your ears. Plant your feet on the floor. Now dig in and push your entire body upwards. Hurts? Thought so. I was convinced my spine would disintegrate under the sheer force I was putting it under. Even when I lifted a foot off the ground in an attempt at transcendence, it did not waver. Yay for calcium!
To summarise, is this: Men still don’t pay attention to yoga nearly as much as they should. The benefits of it are incredible, physically, and mentally. I was one of four men out there, one of whom was a co-instructor.
Second: The Life Centre’s yoga hurts. I was only under the eye of Andrea for an hour. But she made me earn my right to leave. I wouldn’t have it any other way really. It’s how yoga should be. Settling, stimulating and shredding all in one beautiful practice.