From a health point of view, I’ve been very lucky. In my working life I’ve had to take very little time off for anything other than a dose of flu many years back and a severed achilles tendon – which, though highly unpleasant, doesn’t count because that was done playing tennis and can’t really be called a ‘health issue’ anyway. But I did have to take a week off once when I lived in a flat in Highgate in North London. To be honest I can’t really remember what was wrong with me. I do remember however that I was quite put out about it because I’d been directing TV commercials for only a year or two then and resented time off from the pursuit of that golden fleece – ‘the career’.
And the reason I write about it is because, having little to do during the days, I was forced to watch a certain amount of daytime television which was as dire generally then as it is now. But one afternoon program caught my attention. It was about yoga. Yoga was IN. It had not long arrived on the fashion scene and it was erupting all over the place. I knew practically nothing about it until I watched this program which featured a man who had published a very successful popular book in the subject – a man whose name I’m pretty sure was Richard Hitelman and whose name I’ve almost certainly spelled wrongly.
He demonstrated a series of yoga positions and went on to talk about the supposed benefits of each one. And I thought how is it that a man certainly no younger than me, can tie his body in the sort of knots which would utterly defeat me and just about everyone else I could think of short of a circus act? It was also a bit odd – in those days – to see a grown man so contort himself, even to the point of standing on his head, and claim both physical and psychological health benefits as a result. That was the province of the Hindu, wasn’t it? They did that sort of thing. Though what most of us realistically knew about Hindus could have been written on the back of a ten pence coin.
But Richard Hitelman had got to me. I tried to copy some of the positions on the floor of the flat as I watched his program. But reasonably fit though I was, my body would not go to places like that. Once I was back at work, I went round to Foyles Bookshop in Charing Cross Road one lunchtime and bought his book. I devoured it. I was hooked. And ever since that day – about five days a week on average – I have done half an hour’s yoga in the morning as soon as I get up.
It’s not easy at first. You have to concentrate, to take time and to think right into it. We haven’t got much time these days – or we think we haven’t. And never be in a hurry. If you’re in a hurry, don’t do it – wait till you’re not. Nothing is to be strained. Push a limb as far as it will go, apply just a gentle pressure, and hold it there for thirty seconds. Never push beyond that into discomfort. And gradually, over the weeks and months your limbs, your joints will adapt and become incredibly supple. You will develop a sense that your body is not something you push around from place to place, but a thing you are wearing and which is almost weightless.There comes from this a great sense of freedom and well-being. It also has many side-benefits including improved concentration and general physical efficiency. It will even improve your sex-life. Guaranteed.
There is more to it than that and this is not a manual on yoga – far be it from me to claim I could write one of those. But the psychological effects, if pursued with the same resolution, can also be profound. And it’s all there for free (apart from the one-off cost of a good, serious book in the subject) and the setting-aside of 3o minutes per day. Or half that if you really are that much in demand. Either way, it’s not a bad price to pay. Take a trip to a bookshop tomorrow.