Grace Dent: You could argue that any form of exercise taken up after the age of 35 is cult-like

Putin shouldn't ban yoga. He should pull on some leggings and get stuck in.


Click to follow
The Independent Online

President Putin's people are cracking down on yoga. In order, they say, to "prevent the spread of new religious cults and movements", two municipal spaces filled with bendy, glassy-eyed, sun-saluting farters have been cleared out already. I say "glassy-eyed" because having hung about yogis for many years, there is an undeniable "nobody quite at home" aspect to any person who spends a vast percentage of life upside down, contemplating a gentle sort of nothingness.

As for the "farting" – well, that's yoga's whiffy secret. Anyone who waggles their ankles in the air with grand aplomb is going to let a bum-gale blow eventually. One of the most rewarding things I gained from my dabbles in Ashtanga was seeing women much slimmer, more elf-like and prettier than me really "let one go" mid-Warrior Pose. Farting is the great leveller. It is hard to stay beatific and aloof in Sweaty Betty Vinyasa Capris when your bum has just emitted a long, loud squeak oddly like the hook in Cher's vocoder-altered pop hit "Life After Love".

Many yoga obsessives reading of Putin's purge will be discombobulated by the term "cult". This is because no cult believes itself to be a cult. But I think Putin might have a point. Any activity which lures new recruits with introductory steps of a simple toe-touching exercises, then ups the ante until followers can twist themselves into a ball so compact that they would qualify as carry-on luggage on Ryanair – well, to me that's a cult.

Likewise, anyone who has ever enjoyed holidays in Alicante in air-conditioned, booze-filled villas with a private pool and then suddenly announces that they've spent £1,400 on a 10-day silent vegan-only retreat in the Kerala Western Ghats has, by my reckoning, joined a cult.

Still, yoga-heads are a peaceable and affable group. Putin wouldn't try this shit with Zumba. That's a different sort of cult entirely. I dare Putin to enter any municipal building worldwide, approach the stereo, turn off "It's My Life" by Dr. Alban, and tell that bunch of pumped-up, sexually aggressive divorcees that the fun is over. A gang of formidable-looking women with moist cleavages dressed in beaded skirt leggings would probably kick his head in.

Of course, there's a strong argument that any exercise taken up after the age of 35 will become cult-like. This sets in as all your other options for feeling free as a bird and completely off your head desert you. I'm not saying it's unfeasible past this age to pull on tight clothes, enter nightclubs and let go of one's inhibitions, but I warn you that for the first half of the evening young people will suspect you are CID, and for the latter half you will be at risk of being filmed and appearing on their Facebook page as an example of vast personal tragedy.

At this point a person tends to remember all the years of nagging they endured as a child from gym teachers and parents, and all those millions of pounds spent on NHS posters informing them that exercise would cheer them up. Suddenly, pulling on lycra and jogging out of a house full of crying babies, vomiting cats and utility bills starts to feel like a spiritual experience.

And when the endorphins kick in after a mile or two, accompanied with the right Spotify playlist, well you've got yourself quite a party here. Those needling posters on doctors' walls about sedentary lifestyles would be much more effective if they said honest things like: "Running – it's bloody awful for the first 20 minutes, but it will make you feel really smashed and euphoric like you've had a half of one of those good E's that were around in the 90s".

If you need evidence of what yoga, running, swimming or cycling does to the brain then pop on to social media at dawn on a July morning, where people will be pronouncing – in a wholly unself-conscious manner – that they "FEEL SO ALIVE! WOO!" They've been "checking out the glorious sunrise", and it's "time to get this day started! #positivevibes".

And inside the iPhone Notes app of every yoga shape-puller, long-distance runner and mountain biker is a list of really brilliant ideas hatched on the way home from a sweaty session. Things like: "Begin brilliant novel about cheeky anthropomorphised hamsters. Working title: HAMMY AND FRIENDS!" Or: "Look into lease prices for beach bars in Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba!" And often, smaller, simpler, important ideas like, "Call my father and tell him I love him". Or, "Send thank-you flowers to Sue for her support". Or, "Organise barbecue for college crowd – it's been four years!"

Because without that time in a downward-dog yoga position we often don't have the blankness of mind to acknowledge the important things right in front of our faces. Things like love, harmony, calmness, simplicity, togetherness. Putin shouldn't ban yoga. He should pull on some leggings and get stuck in. I'm not saying it would lead to world peace, but it would definitely cheer him up.