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

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

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?