A 10am Saturday morning beginners yoga class. A great idea. Stabilise and normalise. Find an alternative to just coping.
It goes well. Well, as well as it can, for a 50-something inflexible fool attempting movements and twists of a body that’s remained tense and taunt for, let’s face it, maybe 30 years? As long as I watch and learn and follow the supple bends and obscure angles of the lithe, lycra yoga for beginner’s teacher, I’m sort of fine.
So, after maybe the fifth or sixth session I’m still going, spurred on by a sense of near normalisation, and even, dare I say it, some new-found suppleness of limbs and straightening of posture. Bully for me. ‘Before our relaxation session’ our lycra yoga teacher announces in her tranquil tones ‘we’re going to focus on our breathing…’
This is Ujayi breathing, apparently. She explains and then demonstrates. Seems straight forward enough. Exhale, be aware of your breath, then inhale. Basically, its breathing. I’ll give that a go.
I settle into a well postured position and I take my first Ujayi breath in, and then out. In and then out. Then, a sudden flashing surge in my chest. A manic rush, a quickening pang. Not like I imagine a heart attack feels, but instead an instant physiological recall of Day 1, circa 11am. Hold it back. Shorten my breath. Hold it back. Don’t go deep, keep it shallow. Then a second wave shocks my system. I’m ice cold, shivering, my breath erratic, dysfunctional.
My eyes closed, I see blue, bluey green, white tips of frothy water. Crystal blue skies above, circling, what’s up and what’s down? Cold water, then bath warm water from the late afternoon Vietnamese sun.
They clutched at water, not air. They were thrust against rocks. They flailed. It took seconds. Please seconds, not minutes.
And then, I’m back. Sat on the wooden floor of a lukewarm church hall in suburban Sheffield. Hot tears are streaming down my face, sobs are emerging from the depths. I’m trying to mute, for the sake of the other 50-somethings in the class.
And then, I feel a welling presence in the room. A calming breeze of fresh air, breaking through the stale, ageing air of the church hall and its yoga trainees.
Beth and Izzy are right in front of me…
…I want to be there. I want to drown for them.
I want to hold their heads in my hands and keep them separate and safe from the rocks, cracks and fractures. I want to wrap my arms around them, hold them tight and take the knocks as they tumble and fall. I want to hold off the force of the water and calm the currents of the waterfall whirlpool. I want to lift them and push them up, push them out to the water’s surface. I want to watch from as they come up for air and swim and look at each other and laugh.