Although I think there are similarities between the experience of reading books and of practicing yoga, there are of course significant differences which means they can complement each other. If you are a literary, highly verbal person, you probably spend a lot of time with language fizzing through your head. Yoga provides a break from this; an hour or two where the focus is on the breath and the body instead. Your creativity, brilliant ideas, sparkling connections – they will all still be there when you come back to them.
Sitting down reading a book may seem like a physically relaxing experience, however if you stop to notice what you’re doing with your body, you may find something very different. Are you on the edge of your seat in excitement? Are you wedged somewhere awkwardly? Is your back hunched, putting pressure on your spine? Is your jaw tensed? Is your butt clenched? Are you frowning? Are you tightly gripping a pencil to make those insightful margin notes? Are you trying to balance an ipad in one hand while standing up on a packed, swaying tube train?
The round-shouldered reader, writer or academic is a cliché, but if you spend hours every day in a tense, uncomfortable, physically unaware position, over the years it can begin to cause really significant problems and pains. Any exercise, of course, would be beneficial, but more than doing sports, yoga really focuses on length, balance and connection to the body; it’s not competitive and teaches you to abandon your ego – for a little while at least – before you go back to your high-achieving intellectual life after class. It uses all of the body; not just big powerful muscles as running might, but the little niggly ones we don’t know we’re tensing.
Surely to even the most skeptical of book-readers, the basic principle of stretching out after being hunched-up, must seem beneficial, but I’m sure that when readers start practicing yoga they might come to find that it is the mental stillness they come to value the most.