Yogilates. Yogi-lates. Say (and spell) it how you will, I would hazard a guess that the average Oxford student would draw a blank when asked to describe what this ‘sport’ involves. When I informed a handful of my close acquaintances that my Christmas vacation would involve weekly attendance at my local health club for lessons in this discipline, I was (unsurprisingly) faced with a sea of scepticism. A few individuals even went as far as to question whether I had myself invented this activity in a (somewhat poor) pretence of improving my fitness levels during the break.
Indeed, I must confess that at that point my only familiarity with yogilates came from a distant memory of Julie Cooper employing the hobby as a mask for her affair with a significantly younger man: a solid recommendation by all accounts…
I imagined that my first class would be populated by a sea of ‘Julie Coopers’ – a haze of middle-aged minxes twisting themselves effortlessly into a myriad of positions unseen outside a Thai ping-pong show, under the husky instruction of one particularly loose-limbed creature named Isabella.
When the hallowed day for my introductory lesson eventually arrived, the scene was somewhat different. As expected, my eyes met with a host of lycra-clad middle-aged women, but I had not fully appreciated the effect of witnessing people of a similar age to one’s parents twisting themselves into a multitude of shapes, all of which should surely have been banned long ago for anyone approaching thirty. Our instructor was indeed ‘loose of limb’ but also optimistic beyond the norm, determined for every participant to achieve each exercise. Her methods ranged from the encouraging to the slightly more alarming.
After a mere ten minutes the real life version of Isabella (Carol) loomed over my reclined limbs as she encouraged me to mentally ‘zip-up’ and extend my pelvis. When I hesitated (this manoeuvre would require said body part to end up alarmingly close to her chin) she asked me my age, before explaining ‘I just wanted to see what level of body awareness you had. Wanted to make sure that you were not twelve or anything! Girls come so tall these days.’
Overlooking the questionable accuracy of her statement; my level of ‘body awareness’ cannot have pleased her often critical eye. Pelvis thrusts aside, the classes often left me bemused. Carol took to regularly enquiring as to how hard my ‘core’ was working. In all honesty I was unsure as to whether I was in possession of this mysterious ‘core,’ never mind ensuring that this entity was working to a suitably strenuous level. And the breathing; no-one had ever attempted to correct my levels of respiration before. I was told to ‘breathe out when exerting and inhale when relaxing.’ Sounds ludicrously simple. Except for one complication: in my eyes the entire hour fell under the label of ‘exertion.’ And that would surely be an excessive level of exhalation, even by Carol’s standards.
As the classes flew by my initial confusion began to fade. I located my core, attempted ‘the hundred’ (a strenuous sit-up exercise that feels far far longer than 100 beats) and even realised that I was doing ‘the’ breathing without constant reminders. Incidents of a bizarre nature of course continued to occur; perhaps reaching a climax when I was informed by one instructor that I had a ‘sticky back.’ My first thought sprang (somewhat alarmingly) to the infamous lyrics of Soulja Boy, until she thankfully explained that this term in fact meant that I had a small segment of my back that did not touch the floor when in the process of slowly lowering my body to the mat. To this day I remain confused as to the significance of this fact. However, I relished the very real effects of the classes as the flexibility of my limbs increased and I encountered the relaxed version of myself who (albeit briefly) made an appearance as the final chimes of the class music reached my ears.
I still feel very much like a novice, more like a tangled relative of Mr Tickle than contortionist Irina Kazakova (seriously worth your time on Google images…) And I never quite managed to harmonize my ‘mind, body and soul’ in the manner that was reverently described in the first lesson. In many ways, my feelings concerning yogilates resemble the tale of a classic (-ally cheesy) American infomercial. The levels of cynicism that I first held when facing the seemingly comedic advert: ‘Looking for a gentle way to shift those Christmas pounds? Try yogilates’) cannot be forgotten. But the level of scorn that I once held has faded somewhat into the depths of my memory, particularly during a recent holiday abroad. I found myself subconsciously attempting the ‘lotus position’ as I sat on a beach in the Canary Islands, balanced and relaxed, as close to locating my synchronized ‘harmony’ as I (realistically) expect I will ever be. Although upon my return to the UK I may happen to find myself perusing the web for the Pilates classes closest to my Jericho abode…