We go into autumn unsure where the dice will land, but at the time of going to press, group exercise classes were still going ahead, with more than six people (so long as non-household groups are separate within them). Which means I am back in a yoga class, and that makes me anxious – not about the risk of infection, more the perpetual potential for faux pas; the constant sense that people with a better grip than you on the new rules are arching their eyebrows over the top of your head. Even when you’re not the object of the disapproval, you feel as though you must be because you can’t figure out what the crime was. Did I walk the wrong way through the one-way system? Was I supposed to spray my mat? Did I breathe too heavily in the heavy-breathing segment?
This is what led me to outdoor, or in the case of Yogarise, rooftop yoga, in south London. They’ve got a brilliant indoor setup as well: the largest studio I’ve seen in a builtup area, with everyone miles apart. But at the weekends they take to the roof for as long it’s warm enough (go soon). It has the slightly surreal, technicolour quality of an updated West Side Story production – an idealised urban skyscape, the city humming beneath you. Or maybe that sense of belonging is just what happens when you really concentrate on your breathing, alongside others, with the world’s best ventilation system.
Previous to coronamageddon, I was a hot-yoga enthusiast and somehow got it into my head that yoga at a regular temperature was easier. It is not: partly because I have not done it in a long time; partly because we were on the roof – but, I suspect, mainly because that’s the nature of the class. Everything happens quite fast: one minute you’re in a mini cobra, the next a downward dog, and half the class is in warrior three while you’re still trying to remember what you’re meant to be achieving with the angle of your tailbone. The fresh air makes all the warrior poses feel more authentic, which is to say that you feel more like a warrior (whoever heard of starting a war indoors?). I felt a little suspicious of the more challenging poses – dolphins and shoulder stands. A woman in front of me did the most magnificent headstand. Who knows what, but some primal instinct would put me off ever attempting one of those on a roof.
The main difference, though, is the ambient sound; I always associated the practice with whale music and nothingness, and interpreted the peace it brought as rooted in the aural tranquillity of your average studio. The roof isn’t all that peaceful – you can hear kids on souped-up mopeds, dogs, bustle. Yet I still came away feeling restored, slowed down in a good way. The stillness must have been coming from within after all. Who knew?
What I learned
Training in hot yoga temperatures, your body feels as though it’s working harder than it is. You feel it more afterwards, in your muscles, at room temperature.