I remember the first time I did yoga. It was in January of 2004. I had just moved back to Colorado from a failed attempt to live in Southern California (hated it!) that previous Thanksgiving weekend. At the time I couldn’t afford to live by myself so I needed to find a roommate. An old neighbor who had linked up with a lady and moved in together too quickly informed me that she moved out and he needed a roommate. I didn’t know him that well but he was a good enough guy. We made this agreement in probably early October of 2003 and didn’t speak too much before my arrival about six weeks later. By the time I had arrived he had gotten back together with his girlfriend and she was not moving out. I now had two roommates, not one; a couple. Yuck. I had moved to SoCal for a job that didn’t pan out and I didn’t like the area. Now here I was moving back somewhere that I hadn’t had a whole lot of professional success and moving in with two people I didn’t know that well, all the while getting ready to work at a sandwich shop as a 26 year old college graduate. Life was perfect.
To compound all this, the “happy” couple told me they were pregnant around early January; that actually came just immediately after my first trip to the yoga studio. I went with the roommate-girlfriend to a Bikram class; 90 minutes of asana in 105 degree room. She walked out about halfway, looking ill. Since we drove together I guess she felt she had to tell me she was pregnant and that is why she had to leave the class. Great. A few days later they announced they were getting married. Great, again. A perfect living situation for a dejected twentysomething college grad. Exactly how I had scripted my life.
Something about that first class stuck with me, though. I went back, buying a 10-pack pass, going frequently for a few weeks. Then I went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and my attraction to yoga was immediately derailed. New Orleans reminded me how much I liked to drink, and yoga cut into my drinking time. I would only go back to the yoga studio 2-3 more times over the course of the next seven years. Yoga was already huge in Boulder back then but I decided to prioritize debauchery. Then I moved to Texas for grad school in the summer of 2011. I moved from one of the more left-leaning cities to one of the more right-leaning cities and was in the midst of a bit of a culture shock. I don’t identify with one political persuasion or another, and often found myself too conservative for Boulder and too liberal for College Station. And I can’t really say if that had anything to do with it, but sometime during that fall of 2011 I started doing yoga on a weekly basis, going from once a week eventually up to four times a week over the course of the next three years. In some ways it is inexplicable, in some ways it just makes sense. Certain things I avoid, certain things I jump in head first without thinking about why, and others I wade in gingerly. I guess this was the latter after a failed first attempt several years earlier.
When I was 20 years old I had to get a physical for a job. The doctor told me that I had the flexibility of a 40 year old. Well, now I’m almost 40; I haven’t asked what my flexibility is akin to now, but I’m sure it hasn’t gotten any better. That’s really the main reason I started doing yoga six years ago; to slow the inevitable. So for me, yoga was never a metaphysical thing. I’m never “present” the way the instructors ask you to be. I went for the flexibility and stayed for the workout. Unheated studios and slow paced classes do nothing for me. I’m a power vinyasa in a heated room kind of guy. If I’m not soaked in sweat by the end of the class, the instructor failed. I’ve been let down on multiple occasions, but fortunately everywhere I’ve been I’ve found instructors that do what I want.
But oftentimes, no matter how good the instructor, they bother the hell out of me with their “wisdom.” I don’t know why yoga instructors so often think they have some sense of enlightenment or are inspirational; they’re largely not. You got a 200-hour certificate for helping people stretch. You aren’t the Buddha. But every class I go and suffer through their inane metaphors and “guidance.” Just tell me what pose to do and how long, that’s all I want. The studio I go to now doesn’t play music during class. That encourages these new-age hippies to babble on even more. Please stop. But nevertheless, I still go. Since I get a really good workout most times, and I haven’t found a more suitable option in town, I put up with their insights and attempts to think they’re affecting me. They’re not.
But if they have a high intensity, fast-paced class, well, then they can yammer on as long as they want. I’m not really “there” anyhow. As I said, I’m not present. At the beginning of class they ask you to “focus on an intention,” and to close off the world outside the doors. What? How do you do that? Why would you want to? Much like when I walk the dog or go for a hike, yoga is the time for me to put things in perspective, to plan my day, to envision where I’m headed. If all I did while I was in class was focus on downward facing dog, crow pose, or camel pose then I’d be wasting my finite “inside” (my brain) time. If you stop thinking you stop growing. It seems counterintuitive that would be asked of you in a yoga studio. If they want you to transcend the metaphysical plane, then how do you shut off? You got me.
The studio I go to now asks everyone to sit up and face the center of the room after the final corpse pose. We say some stupid chant followed by Namaste, and then clap. It’s so corny. Then the instructor will tell us about “news” and “current events” happening at the studio. In reality they are just plugs to upsell you on some stupid workshop. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told about how some instructor is also a “life coach.” Give. Me. A. Break. All that means is you couldn’t make it through grad school to become a psychiatrist or psychologist. I always sneak out as fast as I can after the lame clap session. I could care less about any other program. You’ve already gotten my $105 a month – how much more do you want?
Yea, so maybe I’m missing the whole point. It wouldn’t be the first time. But I’ve been a pretty regular “student” of yoga now for six years. If I haven’t figured out how you’re “supposed” to do it, I probably won’t. Maybe it’s them who needs the lesson; that’s what I think. Which is actually kind of funny because the owner is always talking about teacher training courses and she’s tried to get me looped into that nonsense; I always politely decline. But what if were to become a yoga teacher? I know exactly what I’d do differently: 1) Shut up; 2) Play music through the entire class; 3) Not do the same tired routine over and over; 4) Not kiss the butt of the guy who “invented” this “style” of yoga; and 5) Realize that people aren’t there for a life lesson – leave that to the self-help section of your local bookstore…