Friday, 30 November 2012

Put A Soc In It!: Hot Yoga

This week I got hot and sweaty with the yoga society...

It’s getting cold in Cambridge. As my fingers freeze to my handlebars and my nose turns purple on my cycle ride to lectures each morning, I could think of nothing better than some searing sunshine to perk me up.

So when I heard that there were classes of hot yoga available in Cambridge, I signed up without hesitation. An hour and a half of 105 degree heat! Bliss! Removing layer upon layer of woolly jumpers and donning ‘minimal, cool clothing’ in accordance with the rubric, I couldn’t get to class quickly enough.

When I arrived, the speedo-clad instructor gently told me that, since this was my first time, my main challenge would be just to stay in the room for the full ninety minutes. Pah! I thought – that was precisely what I’d come for! I unrolled my mat directly underneath a glowing heat lamp and embraced the sensation of growing warmth that was suffusing my formerly goose-pimpled body.

Five minutes in, I found myself dripping with sweat and gazing longingly at the frosty conditions outside. The instructor noticed I was struggling. “Bring your focus to the room, to your practice, to your being,” he cooed. Although inside I was dreaming of diving into the frozen-over Cam, I tried to outwardly project a vision of zen as we worked our way through the series of twenty-six postures and focus on the benefits that twisting myself into all sorts of bizarre shapes promised to bring: detoxification, increased vitality and mental clarity, weight loss, and reduced stress – all of which assume a greater effect in high temperatures, so I’m told.

The next sequence involved the delicate balancing act of standing on one foot and holding the other leg high in the air. I looked around the room to see how the others were coping and caught sight of a gorgeously toned man wearing only a pair of shorts, his biceps glistening with sweat, a vision of masculine strength in this posture…

I toppled over. “Focus on yourself alone,” the instructor said softly. “The body betrays the mind’s thoughts. Clear it of clutter, and you will balance better.” No chance of me stealing another glance of those beautiful biceps then, unless I was to risk another embarrassing tumble.

Attempting to close off thoughts of my classmate’s physical attributes and instead put my mind and body through each systematic movement, I began to feel more at ease with the heat, the postures, and myself. The instructor gently told us that we could leave the room when we wished, and whilst earlier on I would have made a run for the door given the opportunity, I stayed lying on the ground a while longer, reluctant to let back in all that “mind clutter” that I had cleared and face the cold reality of the outside world again.

I remembered that gorgeous man on the nearby mat, thinking I would be happy to make an exception and welcome him into my “mind clutter”. But when I saw my beetroot-red face, soggy t-shirt and frizzy hair post-class, I abandoned any hope that he would be willing to do the same. I’d learned my lesson: yoga is a personal experience. It’s about focusing on your own practice and becoming more at ease with yourself, so that you can give your mind and body some well-earned time off. Beautiful as he was, I had to respect my classmate’s right to do that too. Not that that will stop me going back for another class…

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Put A Soc In It!: Cheese Society

A pun-gent post this week...

My experience of a new society this week was absolutely legendairy. Brie-liant, in fact. I had emmenthal amounts of work to do, and it was really starting to get my goat. Ricotta put an end to this, I thought – it’s putting my parmesanity to the test. Roquefortunately, I found a camembetter way to pass my evening.

A Cheese Society is a quince-essentially Cambridge concept: spending the evening in mature company and discussing fraiche ideas is what has earned the institution a reputation for paneering research and inspiring formaggionation.

Despite having stiltons of work to do, I was getting truly cheesed off and my thoughts were beginning to curdle. So to spare myself from going crackers, I took some time off to pursue an activity more suited to my tastes: sampling a variety of fine cheeses.

I arrived feeling lactotally starving, but had to hole-d off from launching in straight awhey so that the President of the Cheese Society could wax lyrical about the different varieties on offer.

First up was a yarg, which, he hallouminated us, has a texture that changes the deeper you delve into the cheese, from creamy under the rind to a crumbly centre, which is rather pungentle and therefore ewe chutneed to handle it Caerphilly.

Before I had a chance to feel blue about this cheese running out, a new one was produced: Lanark Blue, an unpasteurised ewes’ milk cheese which, he assured us, was utterly grate. The maker nose his stuff, it seems – the cheese is hand-made and hand-moulded, and it is one of the first blue ewe’s milk cheeses to be produced since the Middle Ages.

By this point I was feeling rather full, but I was determined to wedge in some more. Cote Hill Yellow, an unpasteurised cows’ milk cheese, has won numerous awards, and judging by the cries of “Holy cow!” and “Gordon rennet!” that my companions were buttering, I was expecting it to be fontinastic  – and let me tell ewe, it was pretty edam delicious.

I feta not try any more, I thought, but the next one looked too gouda to resist. Rind you, port was now being served, and woe is brie, I couldn’t manage both. Quel fromage. My only gorgonzolation was that the society already has plans for another tasting evening in the cheddiary. “Will you gruyere?”asked the President. “I’d be quarking mad to miss it,” I replied. “It’s a Wensleydate,” he smiled. “Don’t you pecorino it,” I answered. I just mozzareally hope it won’t be mascarpostponed…

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Put A Soc In It!: Bobbin Lace-Making

We’re nearing the mid-point of term, and attempting to weave my way in and out of various strands of thought from essay to essay is tying my brain up in knots.

So for a spot of respite this week, I decided to swap these abstract threads for some real ones – threads that, with the help of the Bobbin Lace-Making Society, I could feasibly intertwine to create a thing of beauty.
An exquisite lace creation is like a first-class essay: it deftly weaves together all these various threads in a coherent manner, never stumbling, never veering off course, never going back on itself, and finishes off with a neat conclusion. While we agonise for hours on end in the library, trying to make sense of the subject at hand, the lace-making experience is one of comparative serenity.
To begin with, if you follow the instructions then you won’t go wrong. There are no alternative theories to throw you off course; just a prescribed pattern that works every time. Running out of inspiration is never an issue either: you just pick up another bobbin, begin a new thread and carry on. There’s even a plentiful supply of shortbread to keep you going if you start to yawn while you yarn – this is strenuous work, after all.
Everyone needs an activity that allows us to switch off for a while, to help disentangle the various ideas spinning around in our minds. As I worked my way through half stitches, cloth stitches, twists (and for those feeling ambitious, the cloth stitch AND twist, an almighty amalgamation of the two), I could happily disengage my brain and let methodical movements take over…with only the occasional pinprick to remind me where I was going. And at the end of it all, I was left with a delightful bookmark, without the sweat and toil that goes into academic work. What had begun as a collection of diverse threads had come together to form a beautiful creation. If only essay-writing were that straightforward.
A word of warning, however: lace-making is addictive. Once you’ve started a pattern, you wouldn’t want to give up half way through it, would you? Nevertheless, I find it can complement work rather nicely. I’m currently occupied with a collection of bookmarks so that I won’t lose my place in any of the books I’m referring to in my current essay. I’m convinced that the peace of mind that results from my lace-making will be conducive to a more coherent piece of writing. And if the essay ever does become too mind-boggling, these bookmarks will serve as a neat little reminder of how best to unravel my confused thoughts: just do some more lace-making. Admittedly, I’ve only written two paragraphs so far – but we wouldn’t want it to become incoherent now, would we? It’s time to start another bookmark before I attempt the third, I reckon.