I am standing, if you can call it that, weight distributed across one foot and its opposite hand, the other flailing blindly about behind in a bid to catch my other ankle as it (theoretically) stretches to meet it. The idea is that I will mimic Lucy Roberts, the willowy instructor of the two-and-a-half-hour yoga workshop I have signed up for at Zen Yoga’s Media City studio. Lucy has transformed her body into a graceful, pointed arch, her airborne leg pulled lithe and taut behind her head – like a human isosceles triangle with a little extra added value. I, on the other hand, look like a blind cat trying to claw its way out of a hessian sack. Then I fall over.
The session I am attending is called Opening The Gates Of The Heart, just one of a series of weekend workshops that Zen runs, in addition to its usual class timetable, each month. It promises to help participants to open themselves, physically and otherwise, through a progression of backbends and chest-opening poses. Cue lots of arching and stretching.
Yoga, traditionally associated with faith and mysticism in the East and hippies in the West, has, in the past few decades – thanks to the likes of first-name-only celebrity practitioners such as Madonna, Sting and Gwyneth – been re-appropriated as the complete mind, body and spirit workout. While this has contributed to its growing stature as an alternative activity for gym-shy exercise bunnies, it has also tended to push Western practitioners firmly into two camps – the enlightenment seekers ohm-ing in one corner, while in the other the hardcore fitness buffs employ ever more extreme versions of the technique (hot rooms, added weights, stringent practice timetables) to turn yoga into a competitive exercise.
But all this is to forget that yoga is also firm fun, something that seems to get lost in the respective debates about how, why and who should practice. Which brings us back to Zen. Workshops here, as in all their classes, are led by fully trained teachers who, I’m discovering, are less bothered by the rules and strictures of yoga’s many and various forms, and more concerned that you make the most of the session as best you can, working within your body’s current restrictions, encouraging joints and ligaments to move more freely. Lucy, for example, nods to Indian dance in her warm-up, before moving through a session that sees me and the 15 or so other students in the workshop stretch, turn and flex our bodies open.
I practised yoga slowly but surely a couple of times a week for about seven years until I came to Dubai 12 months ago. But it was one of those things that quickly fell away after I arrived here. Now, while hauling myself up from my ungainly collapse to the encouraging, knowing smiles of my fellow workshopees, I’m reminded that one of the things about practising yoga that I always used to enjoy (the ability to hook your ankle around your neck notwithstanding) was the bonds – some brief, some long lasting – that were formed over backward and forward bends. A solitary activity yoga might be, but it’s also one that, for me anyway, reaps most benefits when being practised in a group. I leave, stretched and satisfied. It may have taken me a year to get here, but I’m mighty glad I did.
For information about Zen Yoga’s workshops visit www.yoga.ae
Gulf Photo Plus
Do you consider yourself an Annie Leibovitz, or more of a Mario Testino? Or perhaps you’re one of those point-shoot-and-hope-for-the-best types? Either way, there’s plenty to learn at Gulf Photo Plus, which this year is running more than 50 workshops for budding photogs at Knowledge Village.
The event runs from March 30-April 4. Visit www.gulfphotoplus.com or telephone 04 360 2365. Now booking
Learn the fine art of furniture arranging with a Feng Shui workshop, run by acclaimed Feng Shui consultant Deana Wyland-Fries. She graduated under Grand Master Chan Kun Wah, which sounds impressive to us, even if we don’t really know what it means. The two-day workshop takes place on March 6 and 7 at the Monarch Hotel, Sheikh Zayed Road, 8.30am-4.30pm, Dhs1,860 per person. For bookings email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 050 915 5888
Yogilates in Safa Park
A fusion of Pilates, Yoga and Callanetics (admittedly, we had to Google those), Core Yogilates is a low-intensity session for those looking to ease their way back into fitness. Morning sessions every Sunday and Wednesday, 9am-10am, evening sessions every Monday and Wednesday, 7pm-8pm. Ten sessions (you can do both mornings and evenings) for Dhs650 Safa Park, Gate 2, www.coredirection.com