Well meaning holistic folks had suggested what I needed was a review of my diet and a commitment to yoga. A a healthy diet was going to get in the way of my earlier commitment to ‘pink wafers for breakfast’ month so I three myself into yoga. Headstand first.
Things were bad. Real Bad. I needed a quick fix. Let’s not muck about here. Question: What’s going to give me ‘maximum relax’ in zero to sixty? The answer? Obviously it was Hot Yoga.
Undeterred by the then-recent allegations of founder Bikram Choudhury’s sex-pestiness, I borrowed some cash from a friend and blew it all on a session of ten classes at a local studio, confident my panic would be fixed before I could utter Namaste.
‘It’s doubtful you’ll enjoy the first session, but you must stick with it and come back again,’ said the studio owner.
I made some terrible, nervous joke about how glad I was I’d bought a series of ten classes then, while clocking the fact that I seemed to be the only person not strutting about in my underwear like a cunt.
‘Once you’re in the class, you’re not allowed to leave. If you start to feel sick or dizzy – and you definitely will – just sit on your heels or lay down. Under no circumstances are you to leave the room. It affects the practice of the others in the class. It’s literally the worst thing you can do.’
Sweet Jesus. This was not at all what I was expecting. I explained about my reasons for embarking on what was starting to feel more like a blood sport than a relaxation exercise and was met with a befuddled stare.
‘Just stay at the back, near the door. It’s slightly cooler up there, plus only experienced yogis get to practice at the front.’ Well la de dah!
A few poses into the twenty-six contortions that make up the practice it was hotter than the sun and I was trying not to stare at the frankly disconcerting array of thinly covered ball-bags in front of me. And the less said about each individual’s corrugated nut-sacks and sweaty front pockets, the better.
‘You! In the striped top!’ Me, of course. ‘No wiping!’
I’m a very open minded person, but I’m not at home to any recreational activity that forbids the casual wiping of fluids when deemed necessary by the individual. This was the final nail in my Hot Yoga coffin. I decided to break the pact and leave the class. I don’t know what happened to the other underpanted cult members as I walked away without a backward glance like an action hero departing a bacterial explosion. I can only imagine they all turned to salt pillars, such was the terrible power of my practus interruptus.
‘I can’t believe you thought Hot Yoga would be right for you!’ exclaimed another well meaning friend, whose opinion was arguably of the ‘dollar short and day late’ variety. ‘What you need is good old fashioned exercise.’
Like many Aussie kids I played a significant amount of sport as a child and when given the opportunity can still exhibit some top notch ball handling skills (wha-hey!). But somewhere around eighteen I stopped exercising regularly, so when I started to do so again at around forty I realised something profoundly shocking. Exercise is hard! Much like patting one’s head and rubbing one’s stomach at the same time, so breathing and moving about rigorously was for me.
I joined a gym in South East London, which somehow managed to match the moisture factor of the Hot Yoga studio with the air conditioning on full blast. It was full of big men in big belts grunting like some kind of mating ritual. The queasily named ‘wet areas’ were havens for bacteria; the hot tub was human consommé, and the pool one massive snot and band-aid smoothie. Be sure to wear your flip flops!
While I realise this description might make me seem a bit precious. I’m not. I’m a big fan of the five second rule and have chewed my fingernails (not proudly, I think it’s important to point out) my whole life. But I draw the line paying to play sweaty sardines with people pumice-stoning their grotty feet in a steam room and – bafflingly – rubbing their faces with lemon halves in the sauna. Possibly some arcane preparation for the Jacuzzi marinade? I didn’t stick around to find out.
Onward and upward. Quite literally; as the wet areas of the gym were deep in a miasma-filled, unventilated plague-basement. Off I trotted on my new verucas, ruminating on the latest additions to my list of worries: an expensive gym membership that I couldn’t afford and would never use, and the gauntlet of aerosolised microbes, through which I had just fled.
‘Don’t give up!’ my GP enthused, ignoring my pleas to test for tuberculosis. And then – somewhat rudely, I thought – ‘Is it possible you’re just making excuses not to exercise?’
It was becoming apparent that my issues were far more than physical. It was time to get well and truly mental. It was time for therapy.