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  • How I came to tolerate yoga again — minus all the B.S.

    9 comments Published Jan 6, 09 AM
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    By Matthew Teague Miller

    2010 can suck it.

    Some of the worst things that have ever happened to me happened this past year: got a chest tumor, got diagnosed with a brain tumor, my savings were stolen by my now ex-girlfriend… the list goes on and on. Sure, there are people who suffered through far worse, but for the sheer grind of day-to-day crappiness, 2010 was an unmitigated clustermuck for me and my life. Sometimes, however, you have to go all the way through something you hate—all the way to the other side—to learn to like it.

    One strange day this past August, an acquaintance from Canada sent me a terse email which read: “Last night, I dreamed you were a yoga teacher—thin and happy.”

    While I would have normally laughed off someone associating me with doing yoga, the strange thing is, the night before, I had the same dream. I dreamt I was teaching a yoga class in my living room, and was really slim again. Too bad at the time the very thought of yoga filled me with white-hot resentment.

    I don’t hate many things, but had I made a short list of those things I do loathe, yoga would have been right near the top.

    Ironically, I worked at a yoga studio, most of my friends did yoga, and I really appreciated what I understood to be the pure essence of yoga: union of body and spirit.  BUT! My seemingly irrational hatred of yoga was rooted very firmly, having been married to a yoga teacher who used it as a way to remove herself from our relationship.

    There were so many other reasons I hated it, too, the least of which was the fact I thought most of the yoga practitioners I met were among the flakiest, least informed reality-dodging hypocrites I had ever met. For so many of these people, getting “centered” meant brutalizing their lungs with bong loads, and misunderstanding a philosophy of loving kindness as a license to do whatever hurtful or irresponsible thing they wanted, and ask for forgiveness later.

    Yet these were the same people who were criticizing me for working three jobs to support my wife and child. Had I a nickel for every time someone told me I needed to be “more centered,” or a dime for how often one of my yoga friends told me I need to “boost my energy,” “cleanse my aura,” “increase my consciousness,” “open my heart.” or simply freaking “breathe,” I would have enough money to load my iPod with all the Deva Premal tracks out there, or get those oh-so-cool $100 yoga pants

    My resentment of yoga became crystalline on the day I finally agreed to go to class again, after my divorce, seven years ago.

    I went to a studio that specialized in Bikram, and when the teacher came in, he was reeking of marijuana. I have no problem with people smoking pot, but the fact that the guy was also a preening letch didn’t help either. I gathered my stuff, and as I was leaving, the guy said to one of his devotees: “I guess some men can’t handle all the feminine energy in here.”   I wheeled around as I bumped up against the door to leave, ready to unload some invective on this guy, but I didn’t. I just left, and vowed to never go to a yoga class again.

    Shortly after that, I broke my back. Now, I had a perfect excuse for avoiding yoga for as long as I wanted. I moved back to my hometown and noticed a new yoga studio around the corner from my house. I passed that place a few times a day, and often, I was flooded with confusing emotions: anger, resentment, hostility.

    For no reason I can explain, I stopped by this new studio one afternoon. The owner was there, and we struck up a conversation. She was really sweet, genuine, kind, and authentic. She didn’t “wear” yoga for her personality, and I found her to be totally unlike the yoga people I had met. I signed up to do two private lessons. She was easily the finest instructor I had met, and while her classes were great, the fact remained, through no fault of her own: I hated yoga. I hated it even more now that I tried it again, and hated it again. I went right back to getting more fat, miserable, depressed, cynical, and immobile as the next couple of years went on.

    Yet there I was this past August—years later—completely tripping out about this weird coincidence of dreams. Why yoga? Why didn’t I dream I was doing kung fu, or windsurfing, or writing the great American novel? And why did this friend from Canada have nearly the exact same dream?

    I gave myself an ultimatum: “If you do just one class, and still hate it, you will be off the hook with yoga forever, but you will have to find a way to work out these intense feelings toward yoga in a healthy way.”

    I looked up the studio’s schedule and saw that the class for that evening was “Gentle Beginning.”

    I dug out the old mat, put on some shorts and a t-shirt, and went. I was pleased to see there were a couple guys attending class that night, and a kindly old woman asked me my name and invited me to sit by her. I already had a sense that this might be a good class, and it was, but also very difficult for me. I couldn’t maintain any poses, I was wobbling and falling every other minute, and suppressing waves of bizarrely disconnected emotions.  I was so grateful when class ended. I couldn’t wait to leave. I bolted out of the class, and as I walked home, realized I felt renewed and wonderful.  I felt like I had finally gotten to the heart of what the word yoga means: union. I felt like my inner-self and my body were in harmony. That lasted about 6 minutes. Then the reality of the world sank back in and I got over my yoga buzz.

    Yet I went back the next night, and the night after that. Since then, I have gone to five or six classes a week, and have lost 45 pounds. I feel better than I have in a decade. I have given up on bad friendships and lame relationships with women. I am healthier, eat better, and feel better. I have developed an ability to completely tune out the clique-y aspects of your average yoga class/studio. I don’t feel like I need to chant to become “more centered” or “more grounded,” because through a healthy approach to yoga as a means of exercise, I feel good about myself, as I am. No unknowable deities or unpronounceable poses are going to change that for me. Yoga very well may have saved my life, but I had to hate it completely and utterly before I could accept that it is the ideal form of exercise for me.

    That, I suppose, is another definition of “recovering yogi.”

    About Matthew Teague Miller

    Matthew Miller lives in San Pedro, CA with his daughter, Lark. He is employed in the auto industry, a full-time dad and part-time yogi. He makes pretty good spaghetti sauce.

    Follow Matthew on Twitter: @mteague