Hate yoga? Have a go at Slowwwga
For many people, yoga means pain and embarrassment. Slowwwga aims to remove all this and make it sensual, delicious and delightful . . . almost sinful
Victoria Mary Clarke practises Slowwwga. Photograph: Eric Luke
It is a sunny Sunday morning and the cat is stretching herself on the warmest, brightest bit of the carpet. She sinks her claws deep, and reaches forward with her chest all the way down, while sticking her bum in the air in a way that can only be considered sensual, but looks downright decadent. She seems to sense this, because she smiles, an almost insolent smile that suggests a level of pleasure that ought not be allowed.
On Sundays I also used to stretch. But not in a way that suggested pleasure. I got myself up at an ungodly hour and got dressed up in tight, revealing clothing. Then I drove to a yoga studio, where lots of other people who were also dressed in tight clothing queued up to pay and then scrambled to get the best space (somewhere near the back, out of the eyeline of the instructor) while simultaneously comparing biceps, butts, yoga mats and fancy water bottles.
There followed 1½ hours of gritting teeth, aching arms and cursing whomever invented downward dog, interspersed with the occasional moment of showing off how incredibly flexible I was. This would be followed by pain from the muscle I had pulled when attempting an inappropriate contortion. While all this was going on, I would besmiling serenely and trying to look very, very Zen.
My eureka moment
Then, one day, while watching the cat stretching in her lazy, sensual and rather self-satisfied manner, I had a eureka moment that changed everything. This must have been what inventing the Dyson felt like, or discovering shellac for nails.I realised two things.
One: animals all do some form of yoga. In fact, yoga poses are named after animals, so they probably invented yoga.
Two: all the animals I have ever seen stretching appeared to be enjoying it. They do not appear to be gritting their teeth and trying to look cool while doing it. Neither do they wear special clothes or have a deep desire to do it better than the other animals.
On the day that I had the epiphany, I called a friend and asked her if she was coming to yoga. “Oh, God,” she said mournfully. “I feel really guilty. I know I should go, I really should, but I’m just too knackered and I feel really fat. Can you go without me? I just need a rest.”
Hearing my friend say that was not unusual. It was what most people said when I asked them why they didn’t do yoga with me. They were too knackered, they needed a rest and they didn’t feel thin enough, bendy enough or sufficiently attractive in their yoga gear. The thought of yoga for most people did not suggest a simple, sensual, easy, relaxing, pleasurable experience. It suggested pain and effort and embarrassment and not being good enough and being judged and a lot of stress.
In that moment, I knew I had a mission. That mission was to do for yoga what Nigella Lawson did for cooking: to make it sensual, delicious, delightful, almost sinful. To make it animal.
With this mission in mind, I designed a thing called Slowwwga: a type of yoga that takes all of the really nice bits and kicks out all of the painful bits and makes it all really easy and delicious, so you find yourself drawn to doing it whenever and wherever you happen to be, just because you can and it feels really nice. And it doesn’t involve Sanskrit.
Aha, I hear you say. That’s all very well. But what about “no pain, no gain”? And what about “nothing worth doing is ever easy”? And what about “struggle maketh the man”? And all those other semi-religious sayings that suggest that things can’t possibly be nice and also good.
I cannot deny that the hard bits of yoga can have very useful benefits, not the least of which are attractive biceps and triceps, and super-tight buns. But leaving that aside for the moment, let me explain what the benefits of Slowwwga are.
The first and most obvious benefit is that it is easy and pleasant to do, and requires no previous experience, no particular body shape or type, no bendiness, no tight clothing and almost no energy because most of it is done lying down.
The second is that, because the emphasis is on smooth, deep breathing with simultaneous slow movement and stretching, it creates a state of deep relaxation and calm, which benefits the nervous system and allows the mind to slow down and become focused in the present moment. This results in a delicious feeling of wellbeing, peace and even bliss, which can translate into a change in attitude and a more compassionate, congenial and even generous approach to oneself and one’s fellow beings.
Thirdly, in Slowwwga we move all of our moving parts and we slowly stretch our muscles. Because this is done mindfully, sensitively and with the breath, it is gentle and yet still highly effective at increasing flexibility. This means we can surprise ourselves and others with rather sexy dance moves, when necessary.
Lastly, because the system is so easy and so obvious, in no time at all you will find yourself doing it at home on the floor on a sunny Sunday morning, without any need to drive to a studio. You might even find yourself choosing to do it because you are knackered and you need a rest.
- Slowwwga classes start at Init Yoga Centre, 48 Ringsend Road, Dublin 4, on Wednesday, October 7th, at 7pm. See victoriamaryclarke.com for booking details
CHANGING POSITIONS: MY YOGA JOURNEY
I began practising yoga in London when I was 18. I signed up for a Pilates class and accidentally went to a Iyengar yoga class.
The Iyengar style, named after BKS Iyengar, places tremendous emphasis on proper alignment and on getting the poses exactly right. To this end they use a lot of props such as belts, blocks and ropes. This taught me that there is a world of difference between the feeling of doing a wonky triangle pose and the feeling of doing a perfect one.
I then discovered the Sivananda organisation, named after Swami Sivananda, an Indian yogi. They were especially keen on chanting and meditation, both of which I loved, even though I had to lean against a wall to sit up straight. They also introduced me to karma yoga, or the yoga of selfless service, which often meant cleaning toilets and chopping vegetables.
In the 1990s, I began doing Bikram yoga, named after Bikram Choudhury, also Indian. His sequence doesn’t vary and is prescribed, and the studios are heated so that you sweat, which makes you stretch farther. I found it especially great in winter when my house never got properly warm.
Later on, I began to do Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga, the style popularised by K Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India. This style also involves prescribed sequences, which flow from one posture to the next, linked by sun salutations. If you practise this style for long enough, you are almost guaranteed to have great biceps and abs.
I trained as a yoga teacher with Ganga White at the White Lotus Foundation in Santa Barbara, California, in 2008. Ganga taught Sting and Madonna, and he also ran the Sivananda organisation in the US and trained with BKS Iyengar and Pattabi Jois. Ganga taught me to find my own style of teaching and to always have a sense of humour about yoga and to enjoy it.