The Angelic Yogi

I stifled a scream; Gulped down a sob.

“What have I done to deserve this…this incredible PAIN?” I appealed to the heavens.

“I think you know the answer to that question very well”, said the torturer.

“But this is unendurable!”

“We’ve only just started”,  she laughed.

Above me the sky was blue and bright green leaves jittered in the breeze. Nature has no mercy. It can be beautiful and inspiring amidst even the vilest agony.

“Now try to relax the muscles of the face”, she said. “And breathe”

“But I have a deadline.”

The parallel invasion of Old Street by the two tribes of startups and yoga is  a Manichean battle of opposing world views. It’s a binary tussle, to speak in a language more familiar to tech startups. 

On the one side are the startuppers who believe in working like dogs and sacrificing their today to build a better future either for the world or at least themselves. The Summer sun may shine in Shoreditch’s parks and outdoor cafes but the world can only be changed at your desk, away from the reflections, distractions and poor wifi of the outside world. Besides, the sun will shine again next year and by then your startup will have made it.

On the other side are the yogis who believe that the only thing that matters is the present and worrying about the past or the future brings only cravings and suffering. All you have is now. 

During the Summer I had noticed yoga classes taking place in the various green spaces in Shoreditch. Human nature being what it is,  I noticed this not when I was perambulating with time on my hands  but when I was power walking to a meeting whose start time was imminent. The disconnect between the stress of my adrelanalin-fuelled, Olympian-quality striding and, on the other side of the fence, these lazy good-for-nothings lying on their yoga mats gurning at the mackerel sky felt ever more unfair. One tribe was getting life all wrong. The question was who: the hard-working start-uppers or the lazy free-loading yogis? I approached this matter with an open mind.

One morning, after briskly sinking a couple of turbo coffees from an artisanal coffee shop (whose side are they on – the startuppers or the yogis?) I marched to a park to investigate the question.  In fact I booked a private class with someone whose yoga business (or “non-business”)  went by the name of Angelik Yoga, a name I was hopeful ought to bring bliss or at least hold some sympathy for my laptop-wrecked posture. 

We met in a small park at the top of Pitfield Street and as I lay on a mat and stared up at the branches of the birches and elms all seemed fine in the environ of Silicon Roundabout. After ten minutes or so of gazing at the sky, breathing and simply just “being”  I felt pretty good and only a little anxious at the self-indulgent frittering away of time.  Maybe yoga has something to recommend it after all…

The Angelik Yogi coughed. “You’re snoring”,  she said. “Shall we start?”

I won’t go into detail. It’s enough to know that decades spent hunched  over a keyboard and many years leaning into a smart phone have not been kind. This was the merciless Spanish inquisition of physical therapy. And despite every injunction and straining every sinew I could not relax the muscles of my face. Besides I had work to do.

And this it seemed was the problem. How can you reconcile the priority of living in the moment with living in the future as every startup necessarily does. One culture has to assume priority.  As I headed off to a co-working space I did feel taller and lighter, not to mention smug,  but I also felt a little relieved to be slipping back into work mode.

Back in the office, pods of desks summoned workers whose various companies attacked the future with ravenous appetite.  It was beyond evident that these people have no time for gazing at clouds… except that here and there yoga mats poked out of bags or nestled next to coat racks. I went fact-finding.

“Do you believe in now or the future?” I asked and learned two things: 

The first is that people ask the same question on Tinder. 

The second is that the answer is frequently “both”.  The worker yoginis  earnestly do their now-based yoga at the crack of dawn before switching their electric fluoro yoga pants for work clothes and flying to the office. At some point between the mat and the desk they switch heads and transition their emotional orientation from today to tomorrow. One brings peace and one brings purpose.  The relationship between the two is empowering and symbiotic.  Old Street never seems like  place of balance, so intense is the ambition of its denizens, but it may, in fact, be its secret.