This is the second part of my yoga double bill. To read part one, click here.
I’m not going to lie to you. I’ve never been mistaken for an Olympian. Sgt Bilko, yes. An Olympian, no.
The closest I’ll ever get to the Olympics is either manning a pie stall outside the stadium or driving around in that little bumper car that picks up injured athletes. There are a number of factors contributing to my general podginess (General Podginess being, like Bilko, one of the great military leaders). Here are some of them in a neat list:
- I eat Pringles in bed
- I genuinely believe Jaffa Cakes are healthy
- I’m suspicious of any meat without breadcrumbs on it
- I eat Galaxy Minstrels in bed
- I genuinely believe Ribena is healthy
- I’m never more than seven yards away from a Twix
- I drink hot, sugary tea (in bed)
And lastly, I am physically lazy. There’s no point denying it. I realised recently that out of all my shoes and trainers, I only ever wear the ones that I can slip on without having to bend down; I don’t think I’ve tied a shoelace this side of the millennium. Pure indolence.
It wasn’t always like this. I was an active kid, playing out until dusk and drinking tap-water by the fathom. But the warning signs were there even then. There weren’t many luxury consumables in the house when I was younger (see tap-water reference above). The food cupboard was a barren, dusty landscape, punctuated by a box of Paxo and a jar of mincemeat. Also in there, stoically awaiting its moment, was a rusty tin of spinach.
‘One bite of this,’ I thought, during an endless summer holiday afternoon, ‘and I’ll be big and strong like Popeye.’
The ‘Best Before’ date on the lid was too faded to read, providing further evidence that the tin possibly went back as far as the Great War. So what? If I ate it, I could be Popeye. I could be a muscleman, a 20th Century Adonis in Woolworths dungarees.
‘Can I have this spinach, Mum?’ I shouted.
She didn’t reply; that was as good as a ‘Yes’ in Childtown. After a couple of hours of going at the lid with an axe and a blowtorch, I managed to split it open. Inside was a cool wet sludge of gelatinous green. It wobbled slightly. After all those decades, it was still alive. I prodded it with my index finger. It burped-up water. We looked at one another for a minute, maybe more. Then I put it in the dustbin.
Now, it’s likely you’re thinking that it was a good idea not to eat that spinach. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that I truly believed that just one mouthful would turn me into Popeye. But I didn’t eat it. And I’d eaten far worse as a kid, namely: a fuzzy-felt apple, a ball of plastercine, several Lego men and a handful of Kit-e-Kat (the latter causing a panic attack when my sister told me that I’d turn into a cat because she’d seen it happen to somebody else on Newsround). A mouthful of vintage spinach was nothing in comparison. So the thing is this: if I wasn’t willing to get healthy by eating one mouthful of greenery then, imagine how less likely I’m willing to get healthy by doing like, actual proper exercise now.
It was with some trepidation, then, that I signed up for a local yoga class. I knew the teacher, Emily. She said I should try it. She offered me ten free lessons. She must have considered me a desperate case. Ten free lessons is effectively NHS yoga. You’ll be great, she said. And yes, she added, of course there’ll be other men there…
On arrival, the first thing I noticed was that there were no men there. It was an all-female cast. As feared, I knew some of them. And, of course, they all knew each other through that mysterious extended network of womanhood that connects everybody to everybody: Oh, you teach my son! Oh, you work with my cousin! Oh, your ancestors used to help my ancestors kill mammoths! And so on. They talked and laughed as they laid out their mats. It was nice. I felt self-conscious, though, not part of the action. An extra. I didn’t know what to do so I did some ad-libbed stretches, pulling a face which suggested I was intentionally working some sort of sweet spot: Ah, that’s better. Yes, I really do need to do these stretches. I picked up a mat and laid it out at the back of the class, where the fewest number of people could see me. (It was also, I later realised, where a pervert would choose to put his mat, on account of the potential view.)
Emily said it was best to start with some basic manoeuvres. We laid on our backs; then our sides; then our fronts. Laying on my back came naturally, but the last time I’d laid on my front for any notable length of time was probably in pursuit of a Farley’s Rusk. Since early childhood, other than sticking an HDMI lead into the back of a Blu-Ray player, or putting presents under the tree, my belly and the floor have remained nothing more than pen-pals. Mind you, one benefit of laying on your front is that you can convince yourself that nobody is looking at you. When we laid on our sides there was no escape; I turned to face the lady next to me, adopting a pose last seen on the cover of Thriller. Michael Jackson, though, was lithe and sleek, and adequately clad in a designer suit. I had nothing to back up my bravado. The Thriller pose looks nowhere near as alluring when performed by a thirty-something English teacher who’s just been to Sports Direct.
And talking of those XXL Slazenger jogging bottoms, did they hold up? Did they balls. They were no better than the Primarks. The signs were there the moment I left the house. They’d barely stayed on during the walk to the hall. It was worse when the yoga started. With every bend, every stretch, they tugged themselves down an inch. The cool air tickled the top of my bum.
‘You should start to feel a tension,’ said Emily.
I could feel a tension. The tension of whether or not my rectum was on public display. I yanked the trousers back up for the fortieth time. As already touched upon, the assumption is that when a bloke goes to yoga class – and sits at the back – he’s after an eyeful of yummy mummy bummy. The fact was, if anyone was showing their wears, it was me. I’d never been so glad to be in front of a wall.
The session had started with a few jokes and laughs. I was comfortable with that. But within ten minutes, the laughter had stopped. Things were getting serious. It was the worst possible time to need a fart. There were still forty minutes to go. My previous lifetime record for holding a fart in was about three minutes. Something had to give. There was added dilemma with the fact my bottom was partly exposed. It would be a direct gas attack on civilians. An outright defiance of the Geneva Convention. The #PrayForSheringham hash-tag would be trending in minutes.
In my thirty-three years of experience, I’ve found that the best way to hold in a fart is to sit still and upright, keeping the tops of your legs firmly together whilst grimacing. It’s not pleasant, but it’s effective. Also, if it does pop out, your clenched thighs have created a natural silencer to subdue the fallout. There are other things you can do, like sit on a cushion, but the upright thigh-clencher is the king.
The worst way to hold in a fart, in case you were wondering, is to do yoga.
‘Ok, group, now we’re going to touch our toes… Ok, now we’re going to squat. Nice and slow. Relax every muscle… Ok, now we’re going to lift one leg in the air. Just one leg – for about ten or twenty minutes, possibly an hour…’
Maybe that’s the whole thing with yoga. Maybe it has an unspoken goal. It’s a test of your inner spirit: can you deny the flatulence and reach the sunlit uplands of spiritual enlightenment? It was a test I wasn’t ready to take; I hadn’t revised. I don’t like holding in farts. That’s the main reason why I’ve never visited a masseuse: I don’t want somebody pressing my body whilst I lay there trying not to blow my towel off. Some people spend their whole lives politely holding their flatulence in. Some couples, even after years of marriage, go into the toilet to do it. If I had to go to the toilet every time I needed to pass wind, my life wouldn’t be worth living; I might as well put my bed, cooker, sofa and telly in there and set up camp for the duration.
Unbelievably, the yoga ended and I’d managed to keep the Donald (trump) in. However, you’d have thought the building were on fire if you’d seen how quickly I made for the exit. Our final exercise had been to lay in the dark and feel our bodies responding. My bowels growled. But I did feel better. I walked home in the rain, happy, mainly due to the yoga but also due to the fact I could freely cock my leg and make the noise a Donald (duck) would make if you jumped out at it from a hedge.
I went back the following week. In another new pair of joggers. Apart from the perils of keeping my bottom quiet, I fully enjoyed the experience. It made me feel soft and floppy and free from reality. So why didn’t I go back anymore after that? Why did I stop? It’s the spinach in the tin all over again. As Popeye would say, ‘I yam what I yam.’