Yoga, originating in ancient India, is a collection of spiritual, physical and mental disciplines and practices that at least one person in your office is obsessed with. Supposedly dating as far back as the fifth century, adopted as part of Hindu philosophy and since hijacked by people holding beer bottles and combining it with brunch, it is one of the world’s most popular forms of physical activity.
I arrive at Sankhya Yoga in Pudong – situated in a secluded residential compound about ten minutes walk south of Fangdian Lu metro station on Line 9 – very conscious of the fact that I’ve never tried yoga before. I consider myself to be reasonably fit and at high school I was classed as an elite athlete – although all you had to do to earn that status at my school was run one lap of the track without stopping for a cigarette.
My teacher is Ankit Verma, an incredibly bendy man with a spine I can only assume is made out of Flubber. Verma has been practising yoga for over a decade and teaching for four years, and he’s going to need all his experience to turn me into a passable yogi. While in India yoga is very much a spiritual practice, in China it is much more superficial, he tells me. In the West, yoga clothing is much more popular than yoga itself; sort of like how taking a picture of your food is more important than eating.
Verma talks me through the basic health benefits of yoga (stress relief, building muscle, preventing injury, improving flexibility, etc) before teaching me a collection of poses. According to a study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, yoga can significantly enhance women’s sexual experience due to it strengthening muscles in the pelvic floor, while for men it can speed up the release of hormones that are important in arousal. I'm talking about after yoga classes, not during, by the way…
My main obstacle is my lack of bendiness – I’m about as flexible as Trump’s immigration policies, my hamstrings are tighter than the squeeze to get on the metro at People’s Square during rush hour and the only way I could touch my toes without bending my knees is if you were to chop them off and hand them to me.
Verma, on the other hand, is almost a contortionist, pulling off incredibly uncomfortable-looking advanced back bends like Chakrasana and Kapotasana, positions I would only come close to ending up in if I fell down the stairs.
With my back creaking like an old wooden ship sailing down the Huangpu, I learn how to teach basic poses such as Mountain (Tadasana) and Tree (Vrksasana) before being asked to attempt some more challenging and unrealistic poses for a beginner, including the Bow Pose (Dhanurasana) where your body ends up looking like an archer’s bow, and something I don’t even know the name of that involved me using my head for balance.
I leave the studio not quite having achieved zen, but more a mild level of discomfort due to some over ambitious posing, but I can definitely see that yoga has an appeal way beyond comfortable pants. I’m confident that I can make a damn good Tree or Mountain out of anyone who asks, but I’ll leave the more advanced stuff to the professionals.