The Hell of Wellness

It was 7am on no particular day. Time had melted along with everything else. Outside, a gentle old man with a dot of red on his forehead sold loops of yellow and pink flowers to housewives with porridgy, unwrapped midriffs. Aloof, pedigree dogs pranced around palm trees as their owners slumped into half-hearted lunges. Cows looked on derisively. Inside our cool-floored studio, two red bubbles grew silently from my nostrils and popped, misting my yoga mat with blood. I looked up to my teacher for mercy but he merely floated past, gaze averted. Mysore is no place for quitters.

 

No, apparently Mysore is a place to get some top-grade wellness; to slough off the spiritual and bodily malaise of modern life amongst the endless cowpats, coconut-cutters and straight-up nutters of the spirit world. Every day, westerners flood into this southern Indian city wedged between touristy Kerala and touristy Goa, seeking someone, anyone, to make them whole again. Whatever you think your problem is, you’ll find someone in Mysore who thinks they can fix it. Or give you a new problem that makes you forget about the first one.

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The scented facade of Wellness

The ‘healing’ began immediately, with the most diabolically difficult of all the yoga styles – Ashtanga. If you were put into an Ashtanga class with a blindfold on, you’d think you had been put into a medieval torture chamber, but instead of constant demands for information, the torturer would demand that you breathe more deeply and calmly. If you managed to get the blindfold off, everyone would be smiling like a maniac. Five classes of this were more than enough to make the quadriceps above both knees numb. Not totally numb, but numb enough so I could hammer them with my fists while laughing until bystanders clutched protectively at their kids.

The ‘healing’ continued at a roaring pace after I took my leave from Ashtanga boot camp and signed up for a 4-week intensive at a mysterious school, home to a hidden master wise beyond his years, who could survive on one breath a day. Rumour had it he could fly if he needed to. It was only because he hadn’t needed to yet that he hadn’t. I totally got that and respected his restraint. When I spoke to one of his many disciples, she told me ‘He will give you something.’ If only she’d been more specific, I could have jumped off a building myself and saved myself 600 quid.

‘Any injuries?’ my new Guru purred over his shoulder as he lit candles on the brass God statues in his studio. ‘Just a very sore neck and numb quads. I’m a bit worried about the numbness to be honest.’ He continued lighting his candles for a while, as if I hadn’t said anything. Then without an ounce of pity, and more than a hint of amusement, he whispered over his shoulder: ‘This is the way of the body’, and returned to his candles. Such brazen vagueness. I ate it all up. Now I had a numb little mind to go with my numb little legs.

 

tuk-tuk guy tweaked and aligned

Even tuk-tuk drivers have Gandalf-levels of wisdom in their eyes

 

Even for someone so accustomed to shame, day one was a spectacularly shameful ordeal; not unlike a freshly born giraffe trying to walk after being spun on a roundabout. Day two was the same, as were all of the days after it. My ego petulantly stuck out it’s lower lip as my body failed time and time again to achieve the postures and breathing patterns made to look so easy by the little yoga-yoda. After two weeks of no progress, I approached him for advice. Smiling, as he always seemed to be even when his mouth wasn’t, he pointed to an image of several cobras exploding from the sea, with a black-skinned goddess dancing on their heads. ‘No ego,’ he smirked, and returned to his candle-lighting. What kind of mind-fuckery was this?! I took a photo of the black-skinned goddess and hobbled out of the studio. The mental and physical dismantling was well underway.

I’ve always been surprised at how sick and broken people in yoga classes seem to be, given that yoga is supposed to make you healthy and whole. In Mysore, almost everyone was ‘working through something’ that they may or may not have picked up by doing yoga. See, when you get injured in yoga, it’s not acknowledged as such – you write it off as a niggle, or a kink, or an energy blockage. After all, ‘This is the way of the body.’

 

one-hand man

Looks like he’d gotten an energy blockage on his right hand

 

This slippery double-talk starts with the teachers. When I tweaked (totally buggered) my lower back trying to touch the ground the wrong way (backwards), my teacher casually wrote it off as ‘resistance, coming from fear,’ and floated off to someone less fearful. I think it’s natural and healthy to be fearful of breaking your back. As did an idolising Japanese girl who’s spirit thankfully broke before her back did, sobbing face-down into her mat as we all pretended that was fine. She ended up leaving Mysore with a disc problem. Another young Israeli man arrived from military service with a knee problem and left with a disc problem to go with it. Another faithful male disciple came expecting miracles and left unable to walk. The last time I saw him he was crawling in grotesque loops around a café floor, numb on over-the-counter valium.

Outside the yoga studio, the bewitching continued. Though not everyone was under the spell. At a lunch one day, an otherwise pristine little girl pointed tearfully at the brown stains on her eyes, picked up from an established Ayurvedic doctor a year earlier. The room visibly frosted at the suggestion that it might be his fault. Late one night, another earnest young woman admitted to letting a healer put his hand inside her vagina to correct some urinary tract issues. It wasn’t for long, she said. Most memorably, a group of ‘Spirit Reiki’ students spoke, without a flicker of incredulity, of how they recruited the energy of disembodied spirits to help with their healings. They couldn’t quite explain how this cross-dimensional cajoling worked.

Back inside the studio, I watched in horror as someone merrily inserted a rubber tube up their nose until it popped out the back of their throat, pulled it forwards out their mouth and start yanking it back and forth, effectively ‘flossing’ their sinuses. As they gagged, I got my first adult nosebleed. Please, someone, anyone, let the healing stop. Wellness is terrifying.

My saviour came in the form of the most reviled animal in the kingdom – a mosquito, carrying the dengue virus. I felt the nip in class, just after I had received my first and only word of encouragement in three weeks. Fever gripped me like I was nine again. I moaned like I was giving birth in slow-motion. I slept-talked to empty rooms even when awake. Ferocious boils gestated then exploded inside my nostrils and ear canals. The Ayurvedic pills I took for the fever gave my hands a stinging, red rash. The Doberman next door would simply not shut the fuck up, no matter how many disembodied spirits I roped in. For five days, I disintegrated. On the sixth day, when I could walk again, I went to the Arabian Sea and tried to piece Humpty back together again. Thankfully, it didn’t work. The black-skinned goddess got her way after all.

‘Paper-thin’ was how a friend described the shadow-self that returned from Mysore. ‘And a shit beard!’, was the chorus from other so-called friends. The beard was shit, granted. At best, I looked like a confused scarecrow. At worst, the Scottish ambassador for ISIS. But behind that beard, in my brain, I was experiencing an unsettling level of serenity. Not the kind of serenity that those gormless, shawl-draped, frantically smiling people pretend to have but rather an overwhelming sense of nothingness – an absence of bad stuff rather than the miraculous appearance of good stuff. It’s not like I’d become a good person or anything, just less of an awful one.

I can’t pretend to understand it. All I know is that after busting my balls on a yoga mat twice a day for about 8 weeks, I began to feel like less of a cock. No longer did I tell the automatic check-out machines at Tesco to fuck off when they asked me to put my bag in the bagging area even though I already had. No more did I wince with jealousy every time a facebook friend posted an achievement, or crumple in on myself when an ex-love interest became married or pregnant or just plain happy. I started holding doors open for people unironically, and even stopped laughing outwardly at very small dogs and their owners.

The veil separating me from the world had become rice-paper-thin. If someone got angry near me, I would start shaking and have to lie face-down in an another room. It felt like I could read people’s sadnesses and despairs just by walking past them in the street. Visits to my recently widowed Granny became more of a head-fuck than watching Blair Witch Project alone at a pop-up cinema in a forest. My empathy engines were close to blowing. But just as I could sense all the sadness around me, I was starting to sense this strange new thing called happiness. Or at least I think it was happiness. It didn’t look like the happiness they have in the movies – you know, with the reconciled couple and the dog and the lessons learned and all that nonsence. No, it just felt like relief. Like I’d been holding my breath for 34 years and now I could let it go.

 

 

epic banana man

Happiness is walking through heaps of bananas forever

 

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10 Pins in the balloon of travel

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Everyone’s always harping on about how great travelling is, how magical, how……’life-affirming’.

Bollocks.

These people are either trying to sell you something, they’ve forgotten what it was really like, or they’ve never been. You don’t need to sit in a super-heated tin room on the other side of the planet to know that you’re alive – you just need to stick a pen into your arm. If you scream and blood goes everywhere, then you are, at least for the time being, alive. Much cheaper and more exhilarating than dropping about 12 thousand pounds to sit about in various, unsanitisized dustbowls for a year. And let’s be honest, probably a more original story. So before you make the biggest mistake of your life (unless you already have kids, in which case, may as well just keep making mistakes), I implore you to read the following rules. They might just save your life. And 12 thousand pounds.

Categorically DO NOT go travelling if:

1. YOU WANT TO MEET INTERESTING PEOPLE
Like the rest of the world, 99% of travellers are tits. However, unlike the rest of the world, they all feel compelled to tell you ‘their story’. But ‘their’ story is actually just one story, and it goes like this:

‘I was somewhere before here, I am going on to this other place, and I have B.O. Cool, huh?’

2. YOU WANT TO HAVE SEX WITH ANYONE
I haven’t met one person I’d want to have sex with. Which makes what I did with that woman even more shameful. If you are reading this, sorry. I’m usually better than that.

3. YOU SWEAT
When you travel, even your sweat sweats. If you were to zoom in on the sweat, you’d see it mopping it’s brow and complaining about how sweaty it was. And if you were to zoom in on that, you’d see more sweat coming out of that sweat, and so on, an endless flow of sweat that cannot be stemmed, even by staying perfectly still, in front of a fan, in the shade. Of course, you could just get air-conditioning but it costs a fortune. A fortune you don’t have because you already spent it on the flights, medicine and gear required to be here in the first place.

4. YOU THINK THAT ‘GANGHAM STYLE’ NEEDS TO STOP NOW
If there’s one thing that proves how homogenised the world has become, it’s ‘Gangham Style’. Blaring from every hostel, bar, tuk-tuk and bus, it’s enough to make you pick up your pen and stab it into your arm. But you can’t, because if you had to go to hospital you’d probably contract AIDS. And anyway, it’s too hot to pick up a pen. And also, someone stole your pen 3 hostels ago.

5. YOU ARE WHITE
White equals money, which establishes an us-and-them dynamic between you and all locals that is tricky to overcome. The only way to get round this is to either:

a) Spend years learning their culture, language and humour in the hope that you’ll eventually blend in,
b) Become poor like them, or:
c) Wear one of their skins, like Hannibal Lecter.

6. YOU HAVE SKIN
The problem with skin is that it doesn’t have eyes all over it. If it did, it could tell you when it was being lanced by a mosquito’s proboscis, or nipped by an army ant’s ludicrously over-sized mandibles, or if a spider was just being a spider on it. Short of swaddling yourself in a mozzie net and sitting in a brightly-lit corner like a Guantanamo bay guy, there is no way to escape this fate.

7. YOU ALREADY HAVE TOO MANY PRETEND FB FRIENDS
You go travelling to leave all that facebook nonsence behind and then when you step off the plane, it’s already waiting for you. Travellers seem to think it is their right to acquire you as a facebook friend, not the by-product of a pre-existing rapport. To date, I have been forced to add 3 people while they watch over my shoulder, only to immediately block them because we had no rapport.

8. YOU HATE THE ‘TRAVELLING’ PART OF TRAVELLING.
It’s endlessly entertaining to me how many people go on a trip round the world, then complain about having to take a bus, or walk somewhere, or do any kind of getting from one place to the next. That’s almost as dumb as spending 12 thousand pounds on a year-long trip, then writing a list of reasons why you shouldn’t have done it. Idiots, all of them.

9. YOU THINK YOUR PERSONAL POSSESSIONS ARE YOURS
They’re not yours, silly. They’re just things you’re holding until someone else decides to have them.

1O. YOU ARE SINGLE
I was on a bus in Nicaragua when a cheery Carribean bloke with a huge smile asked me if I was lonely. I responded with ‘No – I’m not lonely – I’m alone’, and he burst out laughing. Big, deep, belly-laugh laughter that spread like wildfire throughout the bus. People stamped their feet and screamed with mirth, repeating ‘He is single, SINGLE, the IDIOT!!! Doesn’t he know that accomodation costs could be virtually halved if he had a partner!!!’. Even the babies were laughing. But as soon as the laughter reached the driver, we lurched to a stop, all went quiet, and I was hurled from the moving bus into a litter-filled ditch. You thought being single was hard back home. Here, being a transvestite is more relatable.

It’s all in the mind

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Mind control. That would be cool, wouldn’t it? To be able to focus the mind to a point so sharp you could cut rock with your eyes. Or knock a puma off a tree for shits and giggles, or plant thoughts into people’s heads, like some kind of reverse mind-pick-pocketer. Or, let’s be honest, even to be powerful enough to listen to what your friend is saying rather than imagining what the lingerie demographics are in the bar you’re in. Me – I don’t have much in the way of mind control. In London, the peak of my mind mastery was buying 2 bottles of posh beer from Waitrose instead of 3, for which I usually congratulated myself with a 3rd bottle of said beer. So, hardly Professor Charles Xavier from ‘The X-men’.

Here, everyone thinks they are Professor Charles Xavier from ‘The X-men’. It’s relentless. One guy, ironically called ‘Truth’, told me with a totally straight face that he could make people turn round by staring at their backs. And that wasn’t even a good day. No, when he was really cranking up the Gandalf, he could make clouds dissolve with his brainwaves. Not now though – the energy is all wrong now. Sorry, should’ve known. I clearly have much to learn. Why isn’t there an app for that? There really should be an app for that – the ‘Psychic Energy” app, complete with downloadable forecasts – ‘And there’s a front of low psychic energy moving in from the east, so you might want to take a stick of incense out if travelling. Other than that, there’s a strong Karmic outlook for the rest of the country. Until tomorrow, Namaste.’

Another, otherwise gorgeous, sinewy Viking lady cornered me in our dormitory last night to tell me that drinking the local cacao opens a door in your mind to the ‘real’ you, and did I want to walk through it? Sensing my keen-ness to hear more (I’d turned away from her to face the wall), she went on to explain that she had had many, many past lives. She didn’t seem to hear me when I asked her how many. Guess she was busy controlling the mind of a poor indigenous kid or something. Apparently they too, are prone to sporadic bouts of mind-fuckery. A few years back, whole class-loads of the poor things started spontaneously convulsing and frothing at the mouth, before scraping themselves off the floor to copulate with each other. But that’s school for you. Intense boredom makes you do weird things. In Maths, I used to ask the teacher to turn up the heating so that the girls would take off their school sweaters. We all had fun with it, teacher included (I’m using my mind to intuit this, rather than anything real in the world that would suggest that it’s true). It’s the same kind of thing, though I feel the Guatemalan version is a little bit OTT. Not to mention selfish – just think of the clean-up.

And just today over breakfast, I was told, with a heavy heart, that my vibrations were low, or slow, or lop-sided or something. I think I was being told this because I questioned the wisdom of David Icke, a conspiracy theorist most famous for telling people he was the second coming of Christ, then backtracking when no-one bought into it. I think his mistake was saying he was the second coming of anyone. Much easier to say you’re the first coming of yourself, and much harder to dispute. Anyway, as I was being lectured once more on the power of my mind to poach eggs, I realised that for all their preaching, their cacao-based hysteria and connecting of dots that don’t really exist, I have a much stronger mind than all of them. Why? Because I can sit and soak this stuff up all day, day after day, and not laugh once. And that, my good friend, is real mind control.