Shelina Zahra Janmohamed

Just for a Moment, I was Mistress of my Being

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This week I discovered yoga. Anybody who is a Somebody already does yoga, right? Yoga is for cool, chilled-out types, and since that obviously describes me, I figured I ought to become yoga-tastic.

I turned up at the class, attired in loose clothing, clutching my new yoga mat. Everyone else was already sitting on their gently worn mats, looking calm and beatific.

By contrast, I started a fight with my mat, which refused to flatten, instead curling up at either end, betraying my just-bought-fromthe-shop novice status. Eventually I turned it upside down and sat with a plonk at one end and stretched my legs out to keep it flat on the floor. I raised a knowing eyebrow at my neighbour and shrugged conspiratorially about errant mats and their non-compliance. She looked at me serenely as though such petty matters were of no consequence to her.

The class began, and we stood feet slightly apart, knees soft, crowns lifted towards the sky and chins up. Eyes were closed. We were instructed to concentrate on our breathing. “ Count four breaths in, and now six breaths out. Keep going,” the teacher whispered soothingly, “ Only recognising your breath.” Recognising your breath, eh? I recognise my breath. It keeps me alive.

“Breath, breath is air,” I thought. “Air. Must top up the car tyres, getting flat. Need good tyres, going on long drive. Must stock up on food before setting off. Need to go to supermarket to buy food. Hmm, should pick up dinner ingredients whilst there. And supplies for the weekend. Weekend, must visit relatives. Ooh, and that film we wanted to see, should book tickets in case they sell out. Not sure about having time to watch a film, have to organise spare room for guests. Too much to do.”

The instructor’s liquid-honey voice oozed gently across my thoughts. “Are you still concentrating on your breathing? Or,” she teased, “ has your mind wandered a bit?” I blushed. Wandered a bit? I’ve planned out the rest of my week. I felt smug in my high levels of productivity, but knew I had failed to be present just in the moment. Why was I here, if I was only going to be somewhere else?

While everyone else curled elegantly onto all fours for the next exercise, I scrambled clumsily to the floor, still mapping out my supermarket shopping list. Then we did more of that breathing stuff.

The instructor was a tease. “Raise your right leg,” she whispered lusciously. “Now,” she paused for dramatic effect, “this next move is for only very advanced practitioners.” She paused again and we waited expectantly. “In this position,” she continued, her voice as smooth as melted chocolate, “raise your left leg.”

The room stiffened to execute the move, and then realised its impossibility. The instructor chuckled. “ I could hear you all tensing with competitiveness,” she smiled. “ It’s not a competition, this is just about you. And finding who you are and recognising your own merit.”

The competition wasn’t against the shopping list, the supermarket or the weekend plans. The competition wasn’t even against myself, in order to score my yoga performance or my weekly productivity. There was no competition. The moment was just for the moment’s sake.

And then I did something I haven’t done for a long time. I appreciated that very moment, the wondrousness of my breath, and the stillness of everything being in exactly the right place at the right time.

Just for an instant, I was the mistress of the moment. And more importantly, just for an instant, I was the mistress of my entire being.

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