I’ve always believed that your inside life reflects on your face and body. To look and feel good, it’s essential to constantly work towards balancing body, mind, and spirit to optimize productivity, quality of life, and to maintain sanity. It hasn’t been a walk in the park these last few years. Life is fragile and recalibrating to deal with an ever-morphing world is important work which requires consistent investigation and effort. Mr Feelgood was born out of a desire to push back against the negativity and lean into what helps support and strengthen us individually and collectively, both mentally and physically, each essential sides of the same coin.
For me personally, I’ve toyed with a variety of modalities to keep me going along my way. (Damn, am I really that broken or merely just curious?) I’d say a big part of my life has been wishing to get to know and access all aspects of my character and indeed expose and deal with patterns that diminish my basic intention to live a good and happy life. I’m blessed with a wonderful family, with raising kids into young, caring and interesting adults, and a partner who continues to inspire and never shies away from conflict or entertains hopelessness.
Along the way I have practiced TM meditation, running, cycling, journalling, cognitive therapy, and devoured a multitude of self-help books. I’ve read the great stoic works of philosophy and fiction, the latter that interestingly seemed to have had a more impactful effect on me than the books stocked in the personal growth section. I’ve experimented with CBD, mushrooms, have ceased drinking, amused myself with ‘tapping’, and grunted and groaned through hours at the gym. I’ve even gotten into chanting Sanskrit mantras, slept with crystals under my pillow, dabbled in astrology, and spoken to those who claim to converse with our beloved deceased relatives. And yes, I’ve also scrolled Instagram into the early hours until my fingers have numbed and my brain has fried, searching for pearls of wisdom. Please don’t judge me! I’m tirelessly inquisitive and determined to self-realize and make the absolute most of my time on earth.
That’s a laundry list that perhaps an Englishman in Los Angeles can just about get away with admitting to. If I were in Yorkshire, where I grew up, I’m not sure I’d feel so comfortable admitting such, even though the piss taking and laughter may indeed end up being just the remedy the doctor ordered! What was it that Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz? “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard.” (I’ve always had a notion to establish a therapy anchored in laughter — cranking the endorphins by laughing us back to sanity.) But as I age, it seems the lesson that I haven’t consciously chosen, but rather has revealed itself, is that I don’t care so much anymore about what other people think of me — so long as I’m good with me and continue to show up and do my best. Like all of us, I’m an ever-evolving work in progress, subject to the challenges and gifts that color my character.
This constant desire to really explore and get to know all aspects of who I am brings me to some progress I wished to share with you today, my recent growth in hot yoga, where lately I’ve experienced a true shift on multiple levels — something palpable and real, that has proven to be of substantial benefit. Not only in my body, but even more so for my mind, my spirit, my concentration, and the discovery in my own ability to persevere. Back in Yorkshire, there’s a saying that goes, “You don’t get owt’ for nowt.” This simply means what you put in you get out, and there’s great truth in that. It can sometimes seem that modern life has adopted the quick fix, the short cut, as the chosen way to go about achieving something. But the truth is, at the end of the day, it’s about the journey and what you gave.
I took my first class in hot yoga 26+2 on October 27, 2015. A dear friend invited me, excited to share that the instructor was a marvelously inspiring and agile 62-year-old Rastafarian lady from Manchester, England. I had no idea what I was in for, or the time it would take to get anywhere half-decent. I had little expectations but was simply drawn to checking it out. Prior to this, I knew little about the practice of yoga, hot or cold, other than clearly remembering the laughs my elder sisters and I used to have during the mid ’70s when we came across my mum’s book ‘Yoga 28 Day Exercise Plan’ by Richard Hittleman. I remember us being transfixed with one particular photograph of a strange facial exercise — basically, you mimicked growling like a hyena, which titillated our wee minds, always causing the giggles to stream.
More than 5,000 years old and developed in India where the atmosphere was hotter than in Europe and the west, the 26+2 sequence is designed to systematically flush out the inner organs and strengthen the joints, improve circulation and slow down the aging process, all the while working on balance, breath, fitness, and muscularity. Consisting of 26 postures (asanas) and two breathing exercises (pranayama), performed twice in sequential order, the heat warms up the entire body, allowing you to work safer and deeper into your muscles, tendons, and ligaments. This particular yoga practice works on the principles of maximum compression, extension, and relaxation in each pose to create optimal health. (Think of a hose pipe flowing with water and you bend it to stem that flow, and then when you straighten it again the water flushes out — that’s sort of what’s happening with your blood.)
26+2 became very popular during the 1970s and was commonly known as Bikram yoga after its frontman in the US, Bikram Choudhury, who was later accused of a series of sexual assaults. The discipline is based on the teachings of BC Ghosh, who was the younger brother of the self-realization guru Paramahansa Yogananda, famous for penning the seminal book, ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’. Celebrities of the day rushed to practice this new form of exercise and it took off exponentially. Choudhury attempted to copyright the Bikram sequence but was ultimately unsuccessful. In 2016, facing lawsuits, harassment, and rape allegations, Choudhury fled to India leaving Bikram Yoga Inc to be run by others.
In everyday life, we humans bend our backs in mostly one direction, forward and then sometimes, backwards. In 26+2, we’re trained to improve the flexibility of our backs in seven directions, thus making it less likely that we’ll lose our balance and fall as we reach a ripe old age. There’s no high-tempo music nor any other motivational stimuli. And resting between postures, shavasana (which begin after the standing sequence), is an integral part of the practice. It’s a mini-recovery, allowing the integration of the posture. To enter a room with a temperature measuring about 105 degrees Fahrenheit, with 40% humidity, took some getting used to — it still does! To then practice these 26 postures and two breathing exercises can take you to a place of quitting and giving up — regularly! I’ve had to leave the room many times. But simply staying in the room, lying down whenever you feel you have to, is a good enough place to begin. Your body and mind needs time to become acclimated to the environment.
And so, between 2015 and going into lockdown, I was pretty much going once weekly, sometimes more when my schedule allowed. Like many of these things, I’d become obsessed for a while and then drop off, but there was something so simple, challenging, and singular about its design, perhaps an admiration for its ancient genesis, which kept drawing me back. I’d see men and women of all ages and shapes improve and struggle their way towards grace and excellence and be constantly inspired. There has never been a sense of showing off or keeping up with the others. I suppose you could look at it in a similar way to golf — you are working with yourself, with concentration, form, and pursuing a path of physical and mental self-mastery. I guarantee that no one in that room is there to dictate, we are all too engaged in surviving and perhaps surprising ourselves with improvement and breakthroughs.
When my sister Cathy died last November, I decided I wanted to get back into it wholeheartedly. By then I was up to 85 of the 90-minute sessions, even with sporadic gaps. I clearly remember getting to class 94 and feeling a slight shift, a new sensation that something I can’t really articulate had occurred. I’d managed all postures, 52 in total, not with any elegance and not for the full length of time (many of the asanas are a minute long) but I’d managed to complete the entire sequence and that gave me a huge lift. Class 95 was even better and I remember leaving that one close to tears. But then 96 set me back, nothing major, perhaps a new studio or not sleeping well the night before — who knows? It’s certainly true that we never step into the same stream twice. I began to realize that I’d actually stuck with something that I wasn’t particularly skilled in, but that something deeper had kept me persistent. Interestingly, since beginning in earnest again last November, I have noticed that my sleep is much improved and my dream life has become incredible, vivid, and very entertaining — so something has to be going on.
Like many of these practices, we are inspired to come back by the person that leads the class. 95% of my classes have been instructed by Francesca Asumah. Francesca teaches in a way that encompasses her own brand of spiritual insight — a very encouraging mix of guidance that never demands, but leads us to really give ourselves value, time, and yes, self-love. And watching this lady at age 70, witnessing her ability and seeing the results of her work on herself, is beyond inspiring. When I’m in the class, it’s me actually taking time for me, and I don’t feel guilty. My practice is absolutely reflective of my mood, my present life’s worries and events, and the less I think of such things, the more surprised I am by what I can do on the mat. As soon as I consciously detach from result, fear, self-judgement and criticism, I get into the flow. I have no expectation for the next class, just want to commit and get into the moment. The resulting improvements will come, they are already here because I’m simply putting myself through something challenging.
Only the other day did the gravitas of what I’ve been doing dawn on me. I’ve been practicing something all these years, and only very recently have I seen and felt the fundamental results of what I’ve been doing. It has been a grind but not one that I’m bored of. I’m proud to discover and acknowledge my own sense of persistence. Rome wasn’t built in a day — and nor has been my ability in hot yoga 26+2. And I doubt I’ll ever get ’there’, and achieve samadhi (enlightenment). But I tell you, it’s opened my heart, firmed my body, improved my sense of self, and given me a here and now gratitude for this physical vessel that houses my soul.
Francesca teaches at Hot 8 Yoga