I opened last week’s email with the grim origin story of what I call my ‘yoga’ habit.
I’ve never been under any illusion that what I’m doing is proper yoga, but a table tennis talk with a friend (and reader 👋) has put my misuse of the term to bed.
This is the dictionary definition of yoga that I have to hand:
Discipline aimed at training the consciousness for a state of perfect spiritual insight and tranquility that is achieved through the three paths of actions and knowledge and devotion.
Even by that cursory definition, eight minutes of stretches before bed while listening to an audiobook is not yoga — no, not even if that audiobook is Marcel Proust.
Calling what I do ‘yoga’ is like an American coming over to a village green in Oxfordshire and calling what they do with the wickets, whites and willow ‘baseball’.
My friend recommended I watch this short video by Blair Imani about yoga and cultural appropriation:
And, to be honest, I’m not bothered about learning the deep roots of yoga — I’m sure it’s a worthwhile world of study, but it’s not why I’m here.
I’m here to improve my flexibility to the point where I can poo comfortably in the wild. In other words (literally): I’m here to stretch.
Yes, I got a lot of my stretch moves from what were called yoga books, classes or videos, but, if I’m honest, my main justification for using the term is because it’s a short word that fits into a narrow spreadsheet column.
So I’ll add five characters and call it by its name: stretching.
1a. The English Language And Cultural Appropriation
This is not going to turn into a story about cultural appropriation, but it’s worth noting that the English language holds a special place in global culture.
This comes with an astonishing array of benefits for native speakers, but also a few things that we need to look out for.
To stick with the cricket example, imagine if Indian cricketers adopted new rules that meant you got eight points for a six (but it was still called a six for reasons that everyone else has forgotten), you had to hit the ball with a hammer and there was no afternoon tea break. 😱
The England and Wales Cricket Board would be appalled — cricket is our sport, first played on our lawns over five hundred years ago, with the first laws of the game written down by our Grace the Duke of Richmond and the Second Viscount Midleton for two matches played in Surrey and Sussex in July 1727.
I mean — how much more English can you get?
But there are more than 100 million cricketers in India, compared to only 229,100 in England. People from the Indian subcontinent, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, make up 90 percent of the world’s billion cricket fans.
It wouldn’t matter how many cute videos the ECB posted about cultural appropriation: whatever India calls cricket, well, that’s basically what everyone else is going to have to call cricket.
And what India is to world cricket, English is to world language.
2. You Don’t Need Anything But Your Body To Stretch
A few people picked up on my stretching anecdote and asked me for suggestions of videos they could follow along with at home.
But I couldn’t be particularly helpful because the follow along approach never worked for me, not books, not apps, not videos and not even in-person classes.
Stretching this way always ended up feeling like a chore, being asked to do things that my body couldn’t do, with no support into poses that could hurt me.
It was far too easy to feel like a failure.
Stretching only clicked into place for me when:
- I realised that one minute of stretching was better than none.
- I made it a permanent home in my bedtime routine, usually while listening to something — dribbling through Proust in this way was a transporting delight.
In the first seven months, I missed only three days.
I’ve never had a habit that solid before and the success came from having rock bottom expectations (one minute, that’s all) combined with something I already enjoyed (modernist French literature!)
You simply don’t get that level of kindness, generosity and forgiveness from a follow-along video.
If you don’t know any stretching moves, then my suggestion is:
- Follow how your body wants to move.
- Flick through a book in the library for ten minutes. You’ll get the idea.
Having said all that, a friend (and reader 👋) recently recommended Do Yoga With Me. I haven’t used it, but I’m sure it’s great.
Before the 1 minute thing landed, I used an app called Down Dog, which puts together a customisable playlist of videos for you. It didn’t stick as a habit, but it did teach me some cool moves.