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Health & Fitness

Tales From the Mat: Rachel’s Story


“I never thought I was a yoga person. I associated it with lithe, bronzed women or perhaps with a slightly shady kind of Westernised mysticism. I was unfit, lazy and definitely cynical – cynical, above all, about any prospect of my body being able to twist itself into the outlandish shapes required by a yoga class, let alone about the possibility of me enjoying the process. And as for my mind: I’m a novelist, used to being absorbed by what’s going on around me – to describing, analysing, speculating.

But an annual review at the GP convinced me that I needed to make some changes to my life. The question had to be faced: what was the most painless and effective way of getting fitter and stronger?

The first time I walked into the yoga studio I had a terrible feeling that I was about to be humiliated. There was nowhere to hide. I sidled up to Joy, at the front of the room, and mumbled apologetically that I’d never done any yoga before and was bound to be hopeless. She smiled, and said I should give it a go, just do what I could, but that yoga wasn’t about being good or bad. I found myself a mat, and a space at the back, and sat down.

That first class was harder than I expected. By the end I was sweaty and my muscles ached. I was proud of myself – and I was very surprised. I liked yoga. I wasn’t as terrible at it as I expected. After that class I stopped looking at what anyone else was doing. I tried not to look in the mirror, either. Instead I started paying attention to what was going on inside me. To the edge, the challenge, the stretch and balance and freedom and constraint I felt in different poses.

It didn’t take long for me to be become a yoga junkie. Soon I was going twice or three times a week to Joy’s classes. I kept going because it was fun, and I looked forward to it, but slowly it began to change me. It’s hard to distentangle the physical and psychological effects, but a year or so into my yoga journey, I’m increasingly aware that that’s the whole point.”

Rachel Hancox, author of The Shadow Child, a story of love, relationships and family trauma (Penguin, 2022).


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