Katherine Butler: Power and strength? It's all in the mind

Notebook

Share
Related Topics

As a Johnny-come-lately myself, I suppose I can hardly complain that the football legend Ryan Giggs has embraced my recent fixation. "Giggsy", it seems, after years of injury, now credits the healing powers of yoga with transforming his stiffened hamstrings, and is such a zealot that he has just released a DVD promising "power and strength". There is something disheartening about hearing that a celebrity has, late in his career, jumped on the bandwagon of an ancient tradition and wants to re-cast it in his image.

I've had a horrible thought too. His endorsement may inspire more football-loving men to flock to yoga classes. Some of the world's leading yoga gurus are of course men. Some of them command a worrying cult-like devotion among followers. But in the real world of weekend classes in local gyms and halls I advocate ruthless gender segregation. The man on the next mat to you will always do that bit too much showing off, omming too loudly and making what should be a personal endeavour into something needlessly competitive.

An item that somebody forwarded to my Twitter feed this week suggests that there are even men who attend yoga for the wrong reasons. "If you're a single guy and you're not going to a yoga class, you're either not trying or you're very stupid" went the advice from what must be the world's least-visited website, The Man's Guide to Love.

Of course, it is true that many women practise yoga for no other reason than because we wouldn't mind getting Michelle Obama arms for the summer. And for all the New Age talk about "harmony", "balance" and "calm" which seems to have proliferated to comedy levels even as yoga has shed its hippy image to become a slick multibillion-pound industry, the self-absorption it requires can often translate into shocking selfishness.

Last Sunday morning at my regular weekly class, there was as much stress and negative energy in the air as on the Piccadilly line at rush-hour. Too many newcomers showed up but the regulars were so anxious to guard their spaces there was almost a stampede. One woman shot her arms sideways for each sun salutation so aggressively it seemed we were very lucky to get through the hour without an injury.

Even in India, despite the idyllic setting and reverential vibe, most of those I shared classes with at a week-long retreat last year were uptight Manhattanites who would mentally beat themselves up every dawn as they strove to bend themselves into tougher postures than anyone else.

Yet this is a pity, because it is definitely not by balancing on one leg but rather via what Guru Giggs wrongly calls the "spiritual" side of yoga (which he assures his disciples he is not bothered about) that any real benefits will flow. It isn't about being "spiritual" anyway, rather it is about achieving a mental "letting go". If yoga doesn't involve that, then you might as well just go to the gym or run up and down a football pitch.

This I know thanks to a honey-voiced yoga devotee called Jon Kabat-Zinn, whom I heard interviewed on the BBC World Service the other day. A professor of medicine at the University of Massachussetts, he has pioneered the use of "mindfulness" in mainstream medicine, and explained so convincingly what his techniques can achieve for stress-reduction and healing, even for very sick people, that I found myself joining a workshop with him via the internet.

For the first 20 minutes or so, I struggled. I was trying to focus on my breathing but mentally I was picking up the dry cleaning, reminding myself to pay the phone bill, wondering how long it would take the average footballer to empty his mind. Then something extraordinary happened. Listening to Dr Kabat-Zinn with my eyes closed, I had a revelation: everything I'd previously understood about the meditative side of yoga was a complete waste of time. It's not about emptying your mind. It's about establishing awareness so that you learn to live each moment and face the world with calm. It sounds like mumbo-jumbo. But by the end of the session I was in a profoundly relaxed, almost transcendent state. You'll have to go online and try it yourself to get the full effect.

Professor Kabat-Zinn advocates that even in go-getting workplaces the boss preface meetings by sounding a bell, then everyone closes their eyes and meditates for a few moments. "You would," he says, "have a very different kind of meeting." I can't see that catching on outside of LA. But I'm now willing to believe in mindfulness. And if we're stressed and we're not going to the right kind of yoga class, then we're either not trying, or we're very stupid.





Much to learn from Pascale – and not just about baking



Lorraine Pascale, the stunningly beautiful model who swapped catwalks for cupcakes, has been trending with her new Baking Made Easy television show. Ms Pascale is a very unlikely purveyor of brownies, breads and baked things. She certainly doesn't look as if she stuffs herself with too many of her own calorific cream pies, not even the ones made from filo pastry and low-fat yogurt.

I'm very happy to take tips from her, given that the last time I brought some of my own home-made cupcakes into the office, my boss, a bit like Michel Roux judging one of the elimination rounds on Masterchef, observed that they had "the consistency of golf-balls".

Pascale's success story is an extraordinary one in another way. She was adopted by a white family when she was 18 months old, and said in an interview at the weekend that the ethnic difference had "never felt odd" as she was growing up. Perhaps she should speak to some of the local authorities who make black and Asian children in care wait three times as long as white children for adoption because they are so reluctant to let white couples adopt children from the "wrong" ethnic backgrounds.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
With an eye for strategy: Stephen Fry’s General Melchett and Rowan Atkinson’s Edmund Blackadder  

What Cameron really needs is to turn this into a khaki election

Matthew Norman
An Italian policeman stands guard as migrants eat while waiting at the port of Lampedusa to board a ferry bound for Porto Empedocle in Sicily. Authorities on the Italian island of Lampedusa struggled to cope with a huge influx of newly-arrived migrants as aid organisations warned the Libya crisis means thousands more could be on their way  

Migrant boat disaster: EU must commit funds to stop many more dying

Alistair Dawber
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own