No need for nirvana in paradise

It?s the tenth set of squats that sends a ripple of rebellion through the class. There are murmurs and soft but indignant groans as people try to catch each other?s eyes before rolling them behind the teacher?s back.

?And in your own time, twenty more. Remember to breathe and keep those ankles on the ground,? the teacher says.

The students from his studio in the UK glide easily into and out of the pose, palms raised together above their heads, knees bending elegantly at just the right angle. They?re wearing the right clothes, have golden tans and they glisten rather than sweat in the humidity. We shoot envious glances in their direction.

?He?s got to be kidding,? says Irish Meg a little louder than she should have.

?I really can?t take much more of this,? her friend warns sharply.

It doesn?t matter that we?re standing on a near-deserted beach in southern Thailand. We don?t notice that the sun is dipping towards the horizon, leaving a sky streaked with baby pinks and blues behind, nor do we listen to the wind as it rustles through the palm trees swaying just behind us. We can?t smell the salt in that fresh seabreeze. And we certainly don?t care about those fish splashing offshore. We?re in pain. This yoga sala may as well be in the middle of Bangkok.

It wasn?t supposed to be this way, some of the students tell me later. They thought yoga would be fun, maybe a little spiritual and definitely relaxing. ?It?s boring, he?s making a lot of money, and I?m more stressed than when I arrived,? Meg summarises. ?Animals run around in the ceiling of my bungalow at night but I?m too sore to get out of bed and see what they are.?

I?m not quite in the same boat, being a ring-in from Bangkok staying on the island?s sole resort for a few days. The others are a group of fifteen travelling from the UK, attending yoga classes with the same teacher every morning and evening for ten days. I?ve joined them just as the reality of the squat-school of yoga they?ve chosen kicks in.

This is not how I was introduced to yoga in Thailand. I attended classes in a smaller sala on the much more developed Ko Samui. At a resort squeezed between two others on crowded Lamai Beach I learned what it is that draws people ? ordinary, non-Gwyneth and Madonna types ? to yoga.

The teacher, trained in a squat-free school, taught just one morning class to whoever turned up. She had a knack for picking up on what people?s personal physical problems were, and would run an entire class around them while keeping everyone else challenged too.

?Look at Carla!? she would cry when somebody was doing well in a pose. ?Carla, you?re really in your body today!?

It would have been laughable or corny from anyone else, but from this teacher, it meant something: Everyone could see that Carla was really ?in her body today?.

Some students undertook cleansing fasts at the resort running the classes; I read about their programme in a piece published in Australia later on, written by a sceptical journalist who trivialised the whole beads-in-the-hair health experience.

I stayed elsewhere and thought switching from coffee to tea was a sufficient dietary overhall, and I didn?t put any beads in my hair or cleanse my colon. But I?d still go back to my bungalow after class and fall into a deep sleep for an hour, awaking refreshed, energised and ready to commit to yoga for life.

?Practise,? the teacher told me. ?Practise. And have patience.?

Back in Bangkok, I undertook a search to find a teacher from that same school of yoga. Bangkok is a big, cosmopolitan city; I thought it would be easy. But there are few schools of any type here compared to many places much further from India, and it took weeks before I finally found someone.

This teacher?s studio, a five-minute walk from the BTS, has airconditioning rather than a seabreeze, and a view of the high-density neighbourhood rather than the ocean. Traffic and the occasional barking dog form the background hum, rather than the splash of waves on sand. But these classes are just what I need to avoid turning into a flabby, knotted-muscle, grouchy mess.

Despite a bad back and advice from doctors to exercise, My Man refused to come to a class. He persists in calling it yogo.

?What?s the point of doing yogo in a polluted city where you can?t breathe properly anyway?? he?d retort when I issued my almost-daily invitation to come along. ?What?s so spiritual about standing around in a sanitised, airconditioned box? Why fight living in Bangkok??

Then he conditionally relented. ?I might come for a class if we go back to Samui.?

We weren?t back on Samui, but this beach further south was prettier and the air even fresher. Things were looking promising. We sat in the restaurant and a hornbill flapped by while the sun made pretty patterns through the thatched roof. The yoga teacher pulled up a chair and started to chat.

?So you don?t practise yoga?? the teacher asked My Man.

?Maybe in a few years?when I?m seventy,? he smiled to someone who didn?t smile about yoga. ?Yogo?s not really my thing.?

?Well, that?s the beauty of yoga. You can start at any age,? the teacher replied soberly. ?But it would be better for you to start now.?

He serenely headed off towards the sala on his own with his practice mat tucked under his elbow as Irish Meg joined us for a sunset drink.

?I need to dull this pain,? she said. ?I?ll have a double gin and tonic.?

?So are you enjoying the yogo classes?? My Man had to ask.

?No,? she said. ?There?s too much squatting. I?ve had enough of squatting. I don?t want to squat anymore. And I?m sick of the people who can squat.?

Would she do such a trip again? ?Well, this place is alright. This place is beautiful,? she said. ?But I?d bloody well do a bit more research on the yoga next time.?

She was right; there was too much squatting. I didn?t even want to go back to class. I saw any hope of My Man picking up a yoga mat that weekend evaporate as quickly as Meg was downing her drink.

We ordered another round. And I looked forward to getting back to Bangkok for my next squat-free class.

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