Oh yeah, yogaland. Realm of lithe supermodels with nose rings and lotus tattoos. Smooth-skinned muscular young men. Lululemon pants. Asses like plums. People with their knees twisted behind their necks, smiling placidly through the unbearable pain. Gurus of some higher spiritual order, sanctimonious and serene. Somehow just so much better than we mortals could ever be.
I was walking down the Drive one day, carrying my ratty orange mat and all stoked for the downward doggie -Â and I ran into some friends. Tribies, dancers, partiers and spiritual hedonists all. One looked at my mat and said – off to yoga eh – well – do some for me. In that sort of, “you are such a martyr” kind of voice.Â And I thought, sure, I’ll do some for you â€“ and if you like I could eat a piece of cheesecake and have sex for you too … just to save you the misery…
One time I mentioned my yoga involvement to a woman who responded with an almost physical recoil – “I don’t do yoga!” she reacted – “I garden.” As ifÂ yoga and gardening were mutually exclusive. Strange again.
And then finally I met two yoga instructors, who were actually reluctant to admit to a group that they were, um, yoga instructors. Both said they don’t always mention it, because of the weird shit people would reflect back at them – the painful mixture of resentment, apology and idol-worship. So they kept it kind of on the downlow. And I thought… what brings you to be embarrassed to admit to providing such a joyful service? What is this about, where is this crazy neurosis around this thing we have come to call “yoga” coming from?
I’m thinking that the weight of the problem is that there is a dominant contemporary stereotype about this thing called “yoga”, and it’s advertised to us a lot – of course, the Bikram’s (TM) thing – the military routine and the hardbodies and the sweat. And actually, there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of that. It works for lots of people, and it can feel great. Hey I say, whatever floats your boat â€“ and i’ve got nothing against sweaty hardbodies.
But on the flip side, many people are hugely intimidated by that image.Â And the truth is that while that model does exist and is highly visible,Â there are also as many flavours and colours of “yoga” as there are stars in the sky. Yes, there’s bootcamp yoga for those as like it hot, hard and fast. But there is also yoga that farts and giggles, and yoga that does the dirty bump, and yoga that is gentle as a lamb. There is Road’s yoga, with fresh coffee and a Metallica soundtrack. Yoga that makes me cry, yoga that makes me laugh out loud. Yoga that makes me fall asleep. Yoga that challenges me and pisses me off and makes me work for it and soothes my freaked-out soul. It is never quite what I expect, but whatever i need most at any given moment, yoga can be.
The way I have come to think of it is, that yoga isn’t what I try to do, and it is certainly not the “poses” that I make my body do. Rather, it is what I allow my body to do. It is when I give my poor constricted body permission to do exactly what it has been dying to do all day long -Â but couldn’t quite express; not in the checkout line at Santa Barbara Market or sitting on the bus. It is my wake-up treat and my reward at the end of a hard day. It is my practice.
What my body needs to do might be stretching like a cat or a dog or a baby or a cow. Or lying still, like an alligator in the sun or a corpse in the grave. Animals don’t stretch because someone tells them to do it, or because they see that “pose” on the cover of a magazine. Animals stretch because it just feels good, and what better reason can there be.
And that is why the whole mistrusting and clichÃ©-fying attitude toward the idea of “yoga” makes me so frikin sad. This broad huge thing known as yoga, is not about self-punishment or self-improvement – it is in the service of happiness; of feeling good. It feels healthy, for the body and the mind. Whether it is something i do in a guided class, or by myself at home, or standing in line at Santa Barbara or sitting on the bus. It is letting my body care for itself as only my own body knows how. It is letting my mind hear what my body has to say. It is like dancing. It is dancing.
I think the main reason people are so defensive and skeptical around the idea of “yoga” is essentially, for the same reason that people often refuse to ride bikes.Â They think it will hurt – terribly and indefinitely. They are terrified that they might try it, and it will hurt, and they will just not be good enough. They will do it wrong, they will look silly, they won’t measure up. They will fail.
Because lets face it (we are taught to believe) – we are just not capable. We’re just not very…flexible. We can’t even touch our toes. We don’t look anything like those yoga people. We are, deeply and innately, (thank you gods of advertising), inadequate.
And so if we try, and we fail, to look like one of those yoga goddesses on the cover of magazines, then we will just eventually toss that yoga mat into the basement along with the cruiser bike and the exercise bike and the kayak and the art supplies and the guitar, and all the other things we tried to compete at and determined would re-define our grossly inadequate lives – and then, we will know that we have failed, again. And so we don’t even look at that corner when we walk through the basement, because the pile of all those failures is just too painful. No, it’s better to not even go there and risk failing again.
And so, what the fuck!? My smart and good and healthy friends do not “do” yoga. They don’t even ride bikes. And yet, they continue to eat cheesecake and have sex. Why? Because it FEELS GOOD, dammit! Well listen up: yoga can, and should, feel that good. You cannot fail at yoga.
So I say, don’t even try to “do yoga”. Do fauxga. Let all the poses go, and just stretch like animals.
As Lana Maree the wild James Brown of yoginis says – if you can’t have fun doing yoga … well. You can’t have fun.