The Art of Zen

With stress, physical ailments and mental health all at risk in such turbulent times, Features Editor Leanne Waters treads into the world of yoga to find some much-needed reliefI’ve never been a carefree person. You know those friends we all have that just seem to take life with ease and in tremendous stride? That’s not me. Indeed, when stress and anxieties start to climax, we each have our own individual rituals that take us to that holy and seemingly mythical state known as nirvana.For me, said nirvana comes in the form of a Marlboro Lights pack and a hot cup of tea. And so when it was suggested to me that I should try to find some sense of calm in my life, via the route of yoga, I laughed and put it to the back of my mind.Nevertheless, I recently found myself caught up in an apparently holistic and altogether traumatising experience. When debating which yoga class to undertake for this piece, my thoughts ventured to beginners’ courses and what I envisaged as breathing in and out for thirty minutes at a time. I even considered a fake pregnancy and/or child to qualify for post-natal yoga; a little extreme, I know. As it happens, all considerations were ultimately in vain.In the midst of what were to become fruitless deliberations, I landed myself in a conversation with a doctor. An advocate of the yoga-inspired life of Zen, I almost instantly qualified this doctor in my head as a modern Miyagi. This association having thus been established, when the now suitably-named Miyagi invited me to a yoga class, I thought, how hard could it be? If the Karate Kid could do it, so could I.A quick drive home to get changed into suitable clothing and I was rearing to go. Having been advised not to eat anything before the class, I ticked over on two litres of water and two sneaky cigarettes – something I knew I’d regret later. One final trip to Harold’s Cross in Dublin and I had made it to the Bikram Yoga studio.Bikram Yoga was founded by a man from Calcutta, Bikram Choudhury, who began his spirtitual endeavours at the age of five when he was taught Hatha yoga by Bishnu Rajashree. According to the Bikram Yoga website: “At twelve years of age he was the youngest ever National Yoga Champion of India, holding the title for three consecutive years. Bikram went on to pursue an athletic career as a marathon runner and to compete in Olympic-style weight lifting. He (now) oversees more than 700 affiliated Bikram yoga schools worldwide.”And yet despite having previously researched all this information, all I could think about was that Miyagi had mentioned something of extreme sweating. I wished I had paid more attention to that detail. After turning up late (always an ominous omen) and rushing to my spot in front of a full-length mirror, I realised something; it was very hot. So hot, in fact, that I began sweating before I even attempted movement. The classes were held in extraordinarily high temperatures – picture a sauna void of gushing steam sounds. I felt instantly sick.Several positions – or asanas – into it and I had long since regretted what I believed to be a spur-of-the-moment and terrific decision to attend. I was perspiring beyond what I deemed humanly possible and my stomach was in an argument with my head as regards whether or not it should jump through my throat. My aching muscles were starting to spasm and, inevitably, I was incredibly short of breath.I recalled being a child in P.E. class and how there was always one slightly plump classmate who would go red and struggle in great angst with the class. On this occasion, I was that kid. Only 60 minutes into it and I had to pack it in. Visions of looking at a ceiling and hearing the words, “She fainted!” were too much to bear. And so, with my tail between my legs and the back-of-the-neck glare from an extremely unimpressed instructor, I took some air and finally, relished in a Marlboro reliable. My career in yoga was over.However, even with what turned out to be a terrifically dismal experience, I certainly would not encourage anyone to turn their nose up at the concept of yoga. Though personally catastrophic, I couldn’t help but notice my surrounding yoga-yoyos, as well as Miyagi himself. There I found utter determination and what later seemed like genuinely deep satisfaction. Yoga, I discovered, is more than a class taken by fad-addicts such as myself. Rather it is a lifestyle and a devout commitment; one that even I believe can have momentous benefits in time.