‘ I am, I detect, a collecting of small aches .’ Photograph: Manuel Vazquez for the Guardian
A dozen years ago, I had an hour-long conference with a yoga teacher, and when I asked what sort of benefits I could expect, he promised that yoga would bring me pleasure. I hadn’t even considered this possibility, but I liked the voice of it. I will try this yoga, I guessed. And when I get my exhilaration, everybody else can go to hell.
Then I went to one of his classes in a London studio, full of supple people in leggings, and procured the whole experience nerve-racking and humiliating. It wasn’t relaxing at all. It was like auditioning for Cats.
So I’m done doing yoga in front of people, but a volume called The 10 Minute Yoga Solution raises the possibility that I could get my exhilaration in the privacy rights of my home, softly and rapidly. The writer, Ira Trivedi, makes a lot of bold asserts: she says that 10 minutes of yoga a day will not just build me calmer and more physically fit, it will improve my eyesight, control unhealthy eating habits and remedy a multitude of hair problems( it’s all about blood flow to the scalp ). She also mentions exhilaration, if only in passing.
The book itself has very few terms in it. It is simply a collection of illustrated poses- or asanas- with instructions, grouped into workouts tailored to specific requirements. Again, I find myself in a position to skip bits: yoga for women, for kids, for weight loss, for fasting, for binge-eating. I like the audio of” yoga for lazy people” and” yoga for hangovers”, but for the moment I am concentrating on yoga for novices: eight poses, 10 minutes in all.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from a basic, self-administered yoga programme, but I hadn’t expected it to hurt quite so much. Sitting cross-legged hurts. The seated spinal spin hurts. Even the shavasana, the so-called corpse pose- lying flat on your back, limbs and legs spread, palms up, toes pointing out- hurts. I am, I discover, a collect of small aches. As instructed, I contract the muscles in my feet and then relax them. My toes refuse to uncurl. Ten minutes begins to seem like an age.
There are, of course, a lot of self-improvement podcasts available- I found one titled simply You Suck: Be Better. Another, created by a former lawyer, suggested that I think of my time as if it were broken down into billable hours, so I learn to prize it more. I’d rather use my headphone time to acquire some actual information. I’ve got the happy book and the yoga routine already. What I genuinely necessitate is a little knowledge.
I’ve always resisted the idea of learning more about economics. It was a passive resistance- I just wasn’t that interested in the subject- but perhaps, armed with the right podcast and a decent define of headphones, I could enter into a new stage of passive learn. By common consent, NPR’s Planet Money is one of the best economics podcasts running. I haven’t listened to many- well, any- but Planet Money is entertaining, informative and aimed squarely at the layman. It’s not a primer, but more of a fun way to engage with what for many remains an off-putting subject. I encounter no mathematics.
But there’s a lot of it: two years’ worth, with a new episode posted every couple of days. Where to begin? What’s more, the average length of each instalment is close to 20 minutes, which, in today’s self-improvement environment, is positively leisurely. There is a answer: it turns out you can just speed a podcast up. At first I guessed: who would do this? But lots of people do it. My own children, it transpires, routinely listen to sped-up records of their university lectures in order to save period. I had to download a new app to acquire the facility, but I can now listen to Planet Money at three times the original speed. Actually, I can’t – it’s pretty well unintelligible at that clip- but I soon find that if I spend a few minutes trying to keep up with the podcast at doubled velocity, it then sounds perfectly normal at a more relaxed one-and-a-half days. Within a few days, I’ve worked my way up to 1.8 x. Over the course of a week, I grow increasingly impatient with the pace of actual human dialogue. Spew it out, I want to say.
A week in, I rise( 10 minutes) early and run through my yoga positions, beginning with some breathing: inhale the future, exhale the past, as the book tells. I move on to the spinal twisting and the shoulder stand. The corpse pose no longer hurts; in fact, my impersonation of a corpse is so convincing that I worry about my spouse walking in and detecting me. He succumbed doing what he loved, she would think. Express yoga.
I listen to a podcast about robots taking over our chores on my route to and from the stores; about 1.6 x attains it the right length for the journey. Back at home, I sit down to settle on my next 15 -minute happiness task. Deciding often takes longer than 15 minutes, because I reject a few out of hand. Going through Nicholls’ book, I come across the following passageway:” If we’re grateful for life then we can’t be fearful, which means that any nervousnes we experience get processed as exhilaration instead. If we’re grateful, then we act out of a sense that we have enough rather than out of a sense of dearth or bitternes .”
He goes on to suggest spending” 15 minutes writing about some positive things that have happened to you “. I am inordinately resistant to this idea. I merely like used to describe bad things that have happened to me, in part because I know I will never run out. At first, I can’t even think of any recent positive experiences, but after a few minutes, I recall a long and mostly tedious drive to Exeter the previous week.
I was thinking about nothing but my destination when I came upon Stonehenge at sunset, the stones glistening in the low, pink light. At that moment, traffic slowed to a crawling, enabling me to get a long looking. This is free, I supposed. A wondrous thing to marvel at, and I haven’t driven an inch out of my way. After 10 minutes, the traffic cleared and I was off again, feeling strangely moved. And then I forgot all about it.
The exercise takes 20 minutes from start to finish- too long. I recall that email from the life coach-and-four-” This is REAL WORK, isn’t it ?” I begin to think of my time in terms of billable hours.
Time is becoming an issue. Ten minutes of yoga is one thing, but when you add in a happiness exercise and the 12 minutes it takes me to listen to a 20 -minute podcast, you’re talking about almost a whole hour. It occurs to me that I might double up on some of this improvement.
There is a certain amount of natural overlap. Both 15 Minute To Happiness and The 10 Minute Yoga Solution stress the importance of breathing, and the exercises are not dissimilar. But concentrate is the key to both, and the focal points are different. It’s harder to mix mindfulness and stillness than it voices. Add in a podcast explaining what GDP is, and the whole thing becomes an exercise in annoyance. I am reminded, to my eternal letdown, that there are no quick fixes.
After a fortnight of this, I would have to say the improvements have been marginal: some extra flexibility here, a bit more gratitude there, a lot more to say when the subject of GDP next comes up at a dinner party. The Nicholls book is worth a read even if you do none of the exercises, if only to come away with the knowledge that the successful pursuit of happiness mainly involves not trying too hard.” It’s not unrealistic to think that in stopping trying to be happy, you can find that you’re happy enough already ,” he writes.” Paradoxically, it could be that the only reason for you being unhappy is your relentless attempt at trying not be .”
And I’ve learned the lesson I was always going to learn, merely faster: stop constructing New Year solvings. Again.
* Commenting on this piece? If you would like your remark to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s letters page in publish, please email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for publication ).