Back when I wrote for gentlemen’s mags, some wag in the art department took a break from Photoshopping out ingrown pubes and assigned us all with superhero nicknames. Mine was Nicotina Stains, a mantle I accepted with some resignation.
Times have changed; I’m an upwardly mobile woman in her thirties with new teeth and a born-again liver, and I need a persona more befitting of a gracious lady.
Meeting K, a kundalini yoga teacher who wafts into the room dressed head to toe in radiant white, just reinforces this notion. Having grown up with a hippy mother outside Byron Bay, she’s practiced yoga from a young age and has gone on to learn from top yogis from across India. Unsurprisingly, she exudes calm.
Kundalini yoga was once the exclusive practice of royalty, before Yogi Bhajan (the master of ‘tantric energy’) brought it to the West in 1969. One of K’s specialties is gong healing, so she agrees to run me through an abbreviated session.
We sit in the lotus position while K talks me through some breathing and meditation, asking that I consider what my intention is. I’m supposed to focus on this intention throughout the gong bath, but I’m put on the spot, so I come up with the epically lame “to be good”.
That sorted, I lie flat on my back under a sheet while K stands at my feet and rhythmically bongs a 28-inch symphonic gong so that the sound waves shimmer and recede like the surf. It’s incredibly loud; I was feeling nice and relaxed up till that point. The gong, K tells me, aligns both the planets and the chakras and is infused with the spirit of the elephant god, Lord Ganesha – the remover of obstacles. I’m unsure, even after an explanation, of how the planets are aligning as a result of the activity in this room on Brunswick Street (I hope I’m not fucking anything up for the rest of you), but my chakras are feeling ace, so I let it through to the keeper.
I remember my intention, and try to imagine a bunch of typically vexed people in my life looking delighted with me. K tells me to rub first my hands and then feet together, to stimulate the nerve endings, and cup the base of my palms over my eyes sockets. She stands in front of me and crowns her hands on my head, asking me to imagine a gold sphere inside me, and shimmering gold around me. And then we’re done, and I’m feeling good. I’ve always had a thing for hands on heads, though – I used to have a terrible crush on the vicar.
In yoga classes I always find that my head says deliberately outrageous things to wind me up when I’m supposed to be focused, but there are plenty of other people – people with sinewy limbs and an omnipresent serenity – who credit yoga with changing their lives. I’m not under the impression I’m special – I think they’ve just had more practise at zoning out that wittering voice, which sounds like a plan.
“It’s a living philosophy,” K reckons. “The ‘yoga class’ isn’t at all what yoga is about. It’s about living in alignment with your truth, fulfilling your destiny, living in love and happiness.”
In other words, you get out what you put in.