In 2007 I volunteered in Nepal with the charity TravelAid. Bhola Yogi, the principal of the children’s home where we worked offered to teach us yoga in return for our volunteering. He didn’t have to ask twice. There was no way we were going to miss out on the opportunity to tell people we’d been taught yoga at 6am every morning on a rooftop in Nepal, by a man whose actual surname was “Yogi”.
6am yoga classes sound pretty hardcore, and in retelling the stories since, I’ve made them sound that way. But actually in true Nepali style, Bhola-ji’s approach was laid back. We would practise one posture, maybe two, and then Bhola would instruct us to, “Take rest.” Every minute of effort was followed by one of rest. We loved it. Yoga became an excuse to lie on our mats and gaze up at the sky as the sun rose each morning.
He had a similarly undemanding approach to postures that we found challenging. “If you can’t do the yoga, just think about doing the yoga. Same thing,” he would say with a dismissive wave of his hand. I’ve often wondered since whether this principle applies to other activities. When I can’t get out of bed on a bitterly cold January morning for my 6.45am spinning class, will just thinking about it have the same effect? I really hope so.
Bhola-ji did not shy away from directing us about the more personal details of our yoga practice. “Long toilet before yoga, so the stomach is free. Short toilet after,” was his euphemistic instruction. And he practised what he preached. Many a morning we sat shivering on the rooftop at 6am waiting for Bhola to finish his “long toilet” before he would come to teach us.
Our yoga practices like most aspects of our lives in Nepal were seemed hilarious. Perhaps we were giddy from the shortage of oxygen at altitude, or maybe from the sugar in all the mangoes we were eating, but most postures had us collapsed in fits of giggles. Bhola positively encouraged this – one of his all-time favourite postures was Happy Baby, which he urged us to laugh our way through. This wasn’t something I found difficult given that I was holding a position that made me feel ready for a gynaecological exam. It wasn’t elegant. When you add to that the fact that Bhola’s favourite instruction was to tell us all to “Relaaaaax,” you have a recipe for hysteria.
He had the last laugh. We’d been diligently practising our sun salutations for 4 weeks when Bhola admitted that the “Lion’s Roar” – an open-mouthed, claw-fisted posture that he’d encourage us to hold then loudly roar to release – was just something he included as a joke when he taught children. He never expected us to fall for it.
Being surrounded by such happy people with such an amazingly positive approach to life taught me not to