I wrote this a few years ago and sent it to my local paper in Telluride. They published it under the title “Yoga and Commitment,” saving me from forever being linked to the word slut on the internet. It made me think about the value of a good editor and the danger of blogging without one, but I still prefer the original...
I wish I could remember my very first time. On my back, eyes closed, exhausted but energized from all that activity, peaceful, breathing deeply. Savasana. Namaste!
I’m a yoga girl, but it hasn’t always been this way. I rack my brain trying to remember the first time I did it, but I really can’t recall. Did I take a class in college, bum a guest pass in DC from a friend and try it out, or salute the sun as it sank into the Indian Ocean on my R&R in Malindi? Most likely it coincided with my move to Los Angeles. Being twenty-three and single, idealistic, just off the boat from Africa and friendless in LA is prime fodder for yoga exploration, but even then I can’t remember a special first time.
Like childhood, there are hazy half memories of down dogs and cobras, but nothing significant until after I got married and my new husband and I launched a Saturday morning routine of running from our rental in Manhattan Beach down to Hermosa for a class under flowing curtains of silk in a small, independent studio by the beach. We quickly moved from Manhattan Beach to Santa Monica where the choices for yoga were much greater and I flirted with many different styles, but still I didn’t commit to one. Well, that is, until I got pregnant. Amazing how that one little line on the stick can make a girl take a deep breath and become faithful. Yet as quickly as I committed, nine months later I was back playing the field.
You see, I have a confession to make. As much as I love yoga, and I do, I’m a yoga slut. I’ll do any kind, anywhere and with any instructor. I have no ego and no real standards when it comes to a yoga class. Ashtanga, anusara, yoga for athletes, hatha, yogafit, core fusion, prenatal, meditative, restorative, fusion, hot, iyengar, yogalates, acro, beginner or advanced…I’ve done them all. From celebrity yogi classes with my mat so close to the next woman’s that my nose ends up uncomfortably close to parts of her I really don’t want to be near, to free community classes with one or two other random people, I’m equally happy, and I actually pride myself on not caring – and often not knowing — what kind it is.
I love setting up my mat in a new studio and sitting there waiting to see who walks through the door. I’ve had some laugh-out-loud funny experiences in yoga classes that have reduced me to stifled giggles. There was the German instructor in a banana hammock on Main Street in Santa Monica who spent the whole class demonstrating with us standing around him rather than practicing ourselves. Another time a girlfriend visiting from DC wanted to do yoga so I took her to my studio of choice at the time. The instructor insisted, over and over, that we show her our “star fingers” which nearly had us kicked out of class for laughing every time she said it. Years later, that same girlfriend and I took a prenatal class together in DC. The next day I got on the plane back to LA and she went into premature labor. Not a laughing matter, but memorable still. I could go on and on.
When I was training for the NY Marathon I loved the yoga classes in Venice where the tagline of the place was “No chanting. No granola. No sanskrit.” The lesbian corporate lawyer turned yogi would put on the greatest KCRW-like music in her brick lined warehouse space and we’d do her signature workout designed for athletes. I lived a block from the famous Maha yoga studio at the time, but rather than commit to an hour and a half class – I can get fidgety after an hour – I would drive 20 minutes each way to Venice to take the hour class there.
For anyone who found herself knocked up on the Westside of LA at the turn of the century, Rocky’s yogababy was the place to be. We’d trek to Marina del Rey, park on the street, open the gate and walk along a little path down the side of her house to the quiet little studio she built in the back. The walls were lined with mirrors and straps, there was always a basket of toys and a few big yoga balls rolling around for the mommy-and-me classes, and the whole place had a strong odor of cat urine, but still, it was comforting for all of us and we grew together. Our husbands will tell you about the pain of gripping an ice cube for one minute in each palm. This was Rocky’s way of trying to demonstrate to them the intensity and duration of a contraction. Little did any of us know at the time that it was not a good comparison. Many of us returned with our little babies a few months later. Rocky would sit on a yoga ball, bouncing sometimes three of our little offspring at a time as we began to explore and find our bodies again after the trauma of giving birth.
Yoga has also been there to pick up the pieces in the tough times too. When my dad was dying in Pennsylvania and I was living in London with my three kids, my husband already living in our next home, Hong Kong, I found my way to a yoga class at a studio in Primrose Hill that unknowingly but very clearly guided my grieving process. The instructor (a dead ringer for Hollywood’s Jesus) would offer a few words before our meditations and they always resonated and kept me going until the class the next week. This was as close to God as I got during those painful months.
So yoga has been my vehicle of choice for navigating life’s milestones over the last decade, more so than church or any other institutional support mechanism. I have the utmost respect for the practice and philosophy of yoga and I rely on it heavily, but I humbly admit that I really know nothing about it.
In fact, there’s only one thing related to yoga that makes the hair on the back of my neck bristle, and that is yoga snobbery by fellow lycra-clad, latte-fisted, buff, skinny, white girls. To hear these women hold court about their loyalty to a particular form of yoga sends my eyes rolling to the sky. I had coffee with a girlfriend who was telling me about her Indian in-laws who do yoga. She said they feed a string up one nostril and out the other and could do the same with water. They would walk on fire and sit for hours in a meditative trance as part of their practice. Even the perkiest of the yoga set in Santa Monica, I can assure you, is not feeding string through her nose.
And that’s my point. The commercialization of yoga has benefited millions of us around the world who now have access to elements of a rich tradition that offers a holistic combination of spirituality and exercise – the holy grail for us 40 somethings – to guide us through the days when our knees and hips start to go and our diagnoses get more serious and frequent. But watching us all pretend to actually “know” yoga must be hilarious, or maddening, for those who really do. True yoga requires an all-consuming, life-long committed relationship, and this floozy is just not there yet.