Becoming A Human Pretzel

I gaze towards our guru – a blonde, bright blue-eyed version of Hugh Grant with the accent to match and beautifully bronzed skin. Perched peacefully on his mat, legs comfortably intertwined like a pretzel, he speaks words of affirmations.

“Choose a positive word to focus your practice on today,” he soothes.

“Confidence. Joy. Love. Peace. Whatever the word, keep coming back to this focus throughout your practice.”

And so begins the best yoga experience of my life.

Surveying the room, I am surrounded by glowing yoga gods and goddesses. All with radiant sun-kissed skin, lean limbs and muscles so sculpted I wouldn’t be surprised if they had all stepped off the set of a photoshoot straight into the joglo. With perfect posture and rhythmic breathing, they effortlessly flow from downward dog gracefully into half-plank with as much ease as I walk. Every movement is fluid, agile and elegant.

Meanwhile, shaky legs and twitching muscles accompany every clumsy position I attempt. Sometimes I forget to breathe and my mind wanders to what I am going to eat for lunch. Salty sweat trickles down my nose and drops onto my mat. I look to my left. There’s an Amazonian-like beauty next to me performing callisthenic type movements, her skin glistening with perspiration. Then here I am. My clothing saturated with sweat and my rigid knees hinged in protest.

“… And forward fold. Exhale,” blonde Hugh Grant instructs us with a voice as tranquil as trickling water.

“Now remember to come back to that positive feeling.”

I had started the yoga practice with the word ‘enjoyment’ in my mind. Part of my genius plan to fool my subconscious into believing I was loving every minute of contorting my inflexible body into positions I deem are only possible for those with double-jointed limbs. Now my focus had shift to ‘determination’. Determined to enjoy the class. Determined to keep my thoughts from wandering. Determined to one day become as ridiculously nimble, tanned and exceptionally good-looking as the yogis neighbouring me.

It’s safe to say, I am no seasoned yogi. It’s not a practice I have ever excelled in, nor truthfully enjoyed. I have stretched (and I use that term loosely) my way through various classes here and there in attempt to discover my inner Zen. I even signed up for a whole month of Bikram Yoga once – because exercising in a dark, windowless, 40-degree room is always a great idea. Regardless of these previous attempts, I have always found the gradual, smooth (yet surprisingly difficult) movements of yoga very unpleasant and somewhat monotonous. When I am meant to be meditating, my conscious-mind seizes the quiet as an opportunity to entertain disruptive thoughts. More experienced at fast-paced cardio workouts and interval weight training, the slow speed of yoga has always bored me.

Until now.

With ‘determination’ as my guiding light, I silence my mind of distraction and hone in on the singsong of the birds chirping their morning melodies. Positioned in tree pose, with my eyes closed softly, hands in prayer position over my heart chakra, I return back to the present moment, remembering where I am and how lucky I am to be here. I am practicing yoga in a traditional joglo in Bali. There are lush green gardens surrounding me – the smell of morning dew on the grass still fragrant. My stiff shoulders tremble as I unfold my arms but I still feel at peace. I am starting to respect the movements of my body.

Inhale. Exhale.

Spending the month of January in Bali, quite possibly the number one Yoga hub of the southern hemisphere, has coincided perfectly with my 2016 goal of practicing yoga once a week. Within the first 18 days I had given Yoga four opportunities to convert me from a hater to Eloise ‘yogi’ Smith. Four different classes with four different teachers in four different settings. After the first experience in which mosquitos irritatingly buzzed by my ears and attacked me persistently, all whilst I dripped with sweat in the 35-degree heat, I am surprised I even gave Yoga another shot.

Guru Hugh with his turquoise eyes and soothing voice (I don’t even like English accents usually) may be partially to thank for this sudden rise in enthusiasm, but I do think the credit can be extended further than that. This Yoga class, which by the way was 90 minutes but felt like 45, was the most peaceful and serene I have ever experienced. Despite being out-bended by supple women twice my age balancing on their heads while I remained in child’s pose, I was able to let go and be in the moment. I relished in the beauty of nature and focused my mind back to my positive feeling every time it wandered off. I even managed to progress my pigeon pose from dying bird to something more reminiscent of a graceful swan.

Unlike my attempt to become a gnarly surfer chick, the longevity of which failed to surpass just one lesson (but that’s a whole other story), I am persisting with Yoga. Acknowledging how out of my element I am with this whole Namaste thing, I’ve realized the only way to become the sexy, flexible yogi I have always dreamed of, is to continue feeling uncomfortable until it becomes comfortable. To sound totally and utterly cliché, nothing ever starts out easy. It is with continued practice, patience and consistency that success comes.

I still have a lot bending to do until I too become a human pretzel, but I am opening up my heart chakra to the possibility of falling in love. Yoga, I am willing and ready to be wooed!

Love Eloise x