Sensual, Slow and Unsupple…

At the beginning of this year, 2015, I took up an activity I never in my entire life intended or expected to dabble in; yoga. I’d always been dismissive in my fit, running and aerobics years, feeling that static activity such as Yoga or Pilates was both boring and pointless.

Nobody was more surprised than I. But there were a number of reasons for placing a tentative toe on the yoga mat, which were as follows:

1] I’d been diagnosed with a chronic disease during the latter stages of 2014, resulting in two months of exercise stagnation. I needed to make a start on some kind of return to fitness. Yoga, I thought might provide a slow way in.

2] During my enforced incarceration due to illness the gym I’d been attending closed down-an event that seemed grossly unfair. It shut when I wasn’t looking! I had to find somewhere new and something new to do.

3] I was also curious. Yoga began to develop over five thousand years ago in Northern India and since then has never gone away. Today more than thirty million people practice it, so I figured there must be a benefit to contorting your limbs into a tangle or placing your feet behind your ears.

The ideas I’d formed, as you can see were stereotypical and skewed. I’d considered that since I found it uncomfortable even to sit on the floor with my legs crossed I’d never accomplish that pose with feet on either knee-and I was correct! I haven’t.

But I have discovered benefits. For a start, it seems indulgent to lie down on the floor and think of nothing except your breathing and ‘how you feel today’. [This is how we start]. Many of the slow movements and the poses concentrate on flexibility. Others are designed to improve balance and stability-much like Pilates. Flexibility and balance are two abilities that have a tendency to deteriorate with age, so to me it makes sense to try and maintain them.

In the class we are all ages, sizes and levels of fitness. There is no element of competition. The teacher is a slim, supple sprite who is able to contort herself into any imaginable shape; but she has no expectations of her pupils. We follow as best we can and if our limbs fail us there are alternative ways we can arrange them. That very lack of rivalry, the slow, undemanding moves from one position to another is what provides the satisfaction and sense of wellbeing.

There must be something in it. At the very least, if I am walking on the beach and need to stop and empty my shoe of sand I am able to remove it, tip out the sand and replace it on to my foot while standing still unaided on the other foot. [Fit ex-footballer and rugby player and cycle-freak, Husband cannot do this!]. It is the result of practising numerous ‘tree’ poses.

‘Guler sharsener’ says the teacher, or ‘namastay’ or some such exotic sounding phrase. Who knows what it all means? And does it matter?

Nudity Laid Bare

                In the developed world the cult of worship of lean, youthful, beautiful bodies continues. The evidence is everywhere-on posters, adverts, TV, internet and on the street. Here in France there is a move to ban child beauty pageants, a move all our countries should be making. We should not be soaking our children in the idea that looks are the most valuable, the most important quality they can possess, neither should we be ‘hyper-sexualising’ them [to quote the French minister responsible for the action].

                Yet here in France, nudity is not only acceptable, but positively celebrated. I’d like to say that on the many naturist beaches, camp sites and resorts that exist in France the nudity is natural, innocent and innocuous, but when we’ve encountered them, traversing them during bike rides or walks [it is difficult not to in some areas], you cannot help but suspect there is an element of ‘display’ to the exposure. It is tricky, as a clothed person, not to look, when crossing a beach where everyone is unclothed. This is no discreet sunbathing amongst the sand dunes. Many [men especially] stand in the sea or at a vantage point, as much to be seen as to see.

                I was a teenager of the sixties and a young woman of the seventies, when hippie-dom, flower power and ‘free love’ were the mantra we all followed. In this era of what our elders termed the permissive society we became unleashed from the previous generation’s prudish attitudes. At music festivals kids frolicked naked in the mud, made love not war; anything went. There was an innocence to this behaviour. Then there was AIDS, conservatism, an end to free university education and ultimately the big recession.

                It is always said that in an era of boom hemlines rise, then plunge when times are tight. Nudity these days is not the innocent muddy frolicking of the early seventies, but a cynical exploitation seen in music videos or advertising. Outside of the media there has been a return, even on UK beaches, to the wearing of clothes, no ‘topless’ sunbathing, longer swimming shorts, more of what my mother, who was constantly shocked by the notion of ‘free love’ and all that accompanied it,  would have termed ‘modesty’. In the USA there has always been a more conservative approach to beach wear, ‘topless’ in my experience of US beaches, being against the law.

                Years ago I accompanied two friends on a 48 hour trip to Dieppe, the idea being to have a look round and collect some spoils from the supermarché. It was a warm day. We sat on the pebbly beach with ice creams. A large group of mixed middle aged singles and couples appeared and trudged down to the water’s edge, where they stripped off without the need for towels for concealment and donned swimwear. This was all undertaken without a scrap of self consciousness or awareness of anyone’s eyes. They then plunged into the sea as if no one else was there, simply to enjoy the swim; refreshing in more ways than one…