By Uttara Krishnadas Jun. 21, 2017
There’s nothing ancient about yoga any longer. In fact, it has become so severely hipster that pursuing it puts you in danger of ordering a low-fat pumpkin latte at Starbucks while wearing organic yoga pants.
My fitness fads have always been somewhat of a standing joke with my family.
With every birthday, which happens to be at the beginning of the year, nicely coinciding with all the New Year discount offers on Krav Maga and capoeira at every gym, I find myself signing up for boot camps with gusto and enthusiasm that fizzles out sooner than you can hold a plank.
After several years of splashing about in personal training, functional training, pilates, Bikram yoga, kick-boxing, HIIT QUAD (don’t even ask!), and a right knee that hurts every now and then, I decided enough is enough. It was time to follow the ancient wisdom of the woman who birthed me and made most fun of my fitness lapses. Good old mommy-sanctioned yoga it was to be.
But there was not much good or old left in the various classes I tried out. Yoga, it would appear, has been taken over by the Indian hipster, and class after class was turning out to be some hybrid, strange version, where “downward dog” was the rallying war cry over Adho Mukha Svanasana, which one poor, out-of-place soul tried to remind us.
The first class I went to was held at the same place as my earlier Zumba classes (fitness fad, 2015). The place had lovely wooden flooring and a nice picture window. I could imagine slowly stretching and taking in the view of the treetops, while exhaling in the middle of Surya Namaskar. Except that half way through my Surya Namaskar, while into the cobra pose (Bhujangasana, as my mother would say), the instructor asked us to halt and do push-ups. I fled before they asked us to start doing cartwheels in the middle of another asana.
It was turning out to be a great workout when suddenly, I felt someone touch my right earlobe. All thoughts of peace discarded, I yelped in fright.
Having learnt from my previous mistake (a class called “Vinyasa Flow” was obviously not born straight out of the Vedas), I signed up for a proper Hatha class. “Beginners welcome,” it proclaimed. I showed up a little late, and took the only empty spot that was available, only to find that I was standing right next to Bipasha Basu. The sight of her sent Shivas down my spine. It was a bit like going to your first Kathak class and finding yourself standing next to Saroj Khan.
“Have we practised our head stands,” asked the instructor. It should’ve prepared me for what transpired next: Asanas designed more for gymnasts training for the Olympics. I ended up sitting half the class out, while bulky ripped men and Bollywood actresses did splits and reverse arches. The instructor came up to me and asked, if I was okay. Okay? It took everything I had to nod mutely and then go directly to Savasana for the rest of the class.
Three weekends later, the only exercise I had gotten was from scrambling away from class. I was almost going to give up and buy a DVD to practise at home, when I chanced upon a meditative and breathing class. It seemed like a safe place to start. I went in and lay down on my mat, listening to recorded sounds of waves washing over an American drawl that recommended “live yourself through myself” and “find your inner peace”. I got a lot of exercise from holding the laughter in. It was turning out to be a great workout when suddenly, I felt someone touch my right earlobe. All thoughts of peace discarded, I yelped in fright. Standing next to me was the yoga instructor, looking as flustered as I was feeling. She was transferring her energy to me, she explained. Also in an American drawl.
That was the last of my trials. I didn’t have the courage to try out anti-gravity yoga, animal-flow yoga, yoga with your dog, yoga with a hula hoop, or even yoga with beer. I was done. There is nothing ancient about it any longer. In fact, it has become so severely hipster that if I continue my quest, I will be in danger of ordering a low-fat pumpkin latte at Starbucks while wearing organic yoga pants and saying namaste to the lady at the counter.
And then one day, it happened. Ancient wisdom was found in the by-lanes of a western suburb while I was no longer trying to find it. Here it was, the yoga class I’d been looking for. There were no signs of piercings or even yoga mats. There were no actresses waiting in full splits and no yogi muscles. There were only a bunch of genial women of the average age of 40, who recommended things like singing in the morning shower and getting eight hours of sleep. Nobody told me to find peace. Instead I was told to just, “drink chaas every day”. They fed you poha and herbal tea and cheerfully asked you to sit in Padmasana (lotus position, for those still trapped in Hipsterville) while listening.
I left with a sense of contentment that I never felt during any of my previous flirtations with fitness. The old-world charm of the place warmed me up instantly, and I finally found myself in a long-term relationship with exercise. Is it just me or have you noticed lately that everything nostalgic is slowly turning into a remixed version of itself? In an effort to revive the forgotten, are we polishing ancient gems to make them look brand new? I, for one, am not a big fan of the flashy, shiny wrapping.
There’s comfort to be derived from the familiar and the time-tested. Old, as they say, is gold.
Uttara Krishnadas is a Malyalee from Chennai who lived in Southeast Asia and London, before finding home in Bombay. She likes to sink her teeth into crime novels, black & white films and medium-rare meat. Her permanent muse is words which she usually uses to describe food.