Back in the Nineties and Noughties, I was a bit of a yoga bunny. In those days, you see, it was quite the thing. All my friends were doing it, attending classes at the Life Centre in Kensington, raving about TriYoga, heading off on retreats and fighting over teachers. All the competitive skinny girls did Ashtanga; the rest of us did Iyengar, or "normal" yoga.
Then, at the recommendation of one especially fanatical friend, I took a Bikram class. A combination of the extreme heat of the studio and my own natural bendiness led to disaster: I overstretched and did something terrible to my back. As I left, I knew something wasn't right; by the time I arrived home I could barely walk.
After that, yoga became too painful. No amount of anything seemed able to fix it; at one point there was even talk of an operation. It wasn't until I met David Higgins, who now runs his own mini empire, Ten Pilates , but who back then was an absurdly young man with a dream, that things began to improve. Higgins introduced me to muscles I never even knew existed, not only showing me where they were, but also how to work them. Gradually, my core moved back into place and strengthened. But I never went back to yoga.
Until, that is, last week, when after years away from the mat, I took a class. With Jane Kersel .
Kersel is one of those annoyingly together women who has managed to turn her passion into her livelihood. To describe her as a yoga teacher is a bit like saying that Galileo liked to draw. It's not just her string of qualifications, or her other interests (including hypnotherapy and naturopathy), or her passion for art; it's the fact that she views yoga not simply as a means to an end, but as a form of mental and physical nourishment every bit as vital as food or water. Although she is not keen on labelling different forms of yoga, she nevertheless holds certificates in Vinyasa yoga, Iyengar yoga, Yin yoga, restorative yoga and Kundalini yoga.
From the basement of her house in Notting Hill, she teaches yoga to a group of fiercely loyal and devoted students. A class with Kersel is the yoga equivalent of having Mary Berry show you how to bake a cake: an extraordinary learning experience and a valuable insight into the true nature and purpose of yoga.
In my case, it also felt a little like learning to walk again. In the 90 or so minutes we spent together, I think I managed perhaps half a dozen positions, and most were distinctly wobbly; but in each one I was fully engaged and conscious of the purpose of the movement. I was also suddenly acutely aware of the many tensions in my body, and of where stubborn blockages lay in the elasticity and responsiveness of my muscles and tissue. I was barely moving, and yet the sweat was pouring off me; even my eyeballs felt hot.
Kersel herself was, of course, as cool as a cucumber as she gently nudged me this way and that. I felt like an ancient engine slowly and sporadically spluttering into life. It will be a long while before I'm once again firing on all cylinders; but with Kersel at the wheel, I have little doubt I shall get there in the end.
For more information visit www.janekersel.com