Yoga For Bodies That Don't Bend

James Combes             

James Combes doing yoga
Some people play team sports such as cricket or football. Others go running, even though buses are readily available. Still more indulge in swimming or gymnastics. Bendy, spiritual people do yoga. Unfortunately, I am about as bendy as a brick and as spiritually-minded as a badly-set blanc-mange.

I also have the tightest set of ham-strings known to man. It is not possible for me to touch my toes unless I am sitting down. This body was not built with bendiness in mind. A yoga studio is a strange place for me to be, given that I have never seen the benefit of being able to sit on the floor with both legs tucked behind my ears.

Turtle Yoga is an independent yoga company based in Westferry, east London in the UK. All abilities are catered for, from novice to expert. Run by Gary and Isabel Wilson, it is a simplistic set-up, located at the top of enough flights of stairs to make you out of breath before you even enter. Unless you use the lift.

Ashtanga yoga is taught here - a method developed by K. Pattabhi Jois. This is often known as “power yoga” and is extremely popular in South Africa. Like any other yoga, it is full of technical spiritual gobbledegook and an awful lot of very painful looking manoeuvres. Private classes are available but first-timers are encouraged to attend group sessions. I opt for the private lesson, taking a friend along for moral support.

A yoga tutor is known as a “yogi.” This means that they are smarter than the average fitness instructor. My yogi is a happy, half-mad, pig-tailed young lady called Kate. Self-deprecating and engaging, she sounds like a cross between Eddie Izzard and Yoda from Star Wars. But she is better looking.

She admits to a degree of schizophrenia: “I have this ethereal Yoga Person on the right hand. And on the left is Science Lady. They meet in the osteopathy these days. They are kind of coming together.”

Right Hand Yoga Person explains what Ashtanga is all about. Left Hand Science Lady says that she takes a “graphic design approach to yoga”:

There are only so many things that you can do with the human body, and so you take them all and copy and paste and develop different poses.”

Well, quite.Soon enough, I am being taught to breathe properly. The trick lies in inhaling as you raise your arms and exhaling as you bring them down. It sounds idiot-proof, but they have not counted on my level of idiocy.

We move into Sun Salute A. This starts off with the arms-stretching, breathing thing. It then moves into bending over double, and bringing oneself to the floor. After this it is customary to point one’s bottom in the air. This is particularly moving.

During these routines, various words such as pranayama, prana, asana, and bandha will be used. Do not worry about these. They are simply the ingredients that the tutor is planning to put in his or her casserole tonight. The last 10 minutes are spent lying on the floor and breathing. I like this bit. It is surprisingly calming. I make a mental note to do this more often. And so ends my brief flirtation with yoga. Or does it?

With summer upon us, we all want to get fit and look good. Yoga is ideal. So, if you find yourself not wanting to play football, and you have no urge to go running when you could get a bus, maybe you should contact Turtle Yoga. Gary, Isabel and Kate are the perfect hosts: professional, encouraging and relaxed. There is no better place to start. If you’re not bendy now, by the time Turtle Yoga have finished with you, you will be.

* Turtle Yoga is based at 154 Westferry Studios, 90 - 162 Milligan Street, London, E14 8AS. For more information, go to Alternatively text or phone 07832 116928