I wanna go home
By Adam Hocke
A traveling yogi tries to find a studio he doesn’t loathe.
As someone who’s practiced for a while and is now teaching, I’ve gone to my fair share of yoga studios and for the most part understand what benefits me and not from my practice. Lately, during my travels, I’ve been questioning what I’m actually looking for out of my studio and trying not to simply hate all that I find distasteful. Am I looking for a place for a good workout? A guru (yikes)? Community? Or am I looking for something more abstract? And what exactly is everyone else actually looking for?
When I was in graduate school, I had a meeting with a senior professor who quite unexpectedly croaked out the stentorian declaration: “Adam, it seems you are always emotionally, intellectually and psychosocially searching for home.” At the time, I was both amused and stifled by the weight of his pretension. Now, it’s one of those memories that keeps coming back to haunt me – especially living the life of an ex-pat for whom the term ‘home’ is a complicated one.
Back in the US for the past few months, and wanting to keep up my practice, I’ve had the chance to try many yoga studios. One well-meaning instructor said to me “you’re always welcome here…consider it a second home.” Really? I thought I was just coming to class. How is a yoga studio a home, anyway?
As I went from studio to studio, usually unhappily, I noticed some characteristics of different homes.
One particularly Mommie Dearest home had me – before I could even think of attending a class – sign a ten-part etiquette agreement ensuring I wouldn’t come late, answer my cell-phone, groan, fart, chew gum, judge, practice violence, or wear shoes anywhere near the studio. The dictatorial instructor deemed one unfortunate lady’s mat, responsibly brought from home, unacceptable. Later I had to screen my calls when the studio repeatedly rung to see why I hadn’t come back. The inner-teenager in me wanted to rebel, but naturally I just sulked.
At another place, I had to be careful not to slip on the rose petals strewn from the elevator to the studio or giggle too loudly at the students practicing Bollywood dance moves while sustaining a tree pose. Not to mention the multi-colored twinkling light show during savasana. I felt awfully left out of post-class herbal tea and vegan cookie consumption.
Then there was the ten+ studio yoga ‘megaplex’ wherein I was greeted by yoga consultants, had my mat rolled out for me, and was offered a cornucopia of hair products post steam and shower.
The latest and most expensive anti-wicking yoga fashions were on display and there was an unspoken competitive atmosphere on the mat. I think one teacher felt slightly overwhelmed by the yuppieness of it all, turning up the faux spiritual authority by apologetically announcing “in the West we call this pose downward-facing dog” before leading us through a class that was basically the same as one I could find at my gym.
Or how about the mistaken evening out at the Bhakti Shakti fest where mid-vinyasa breastfeeding was witnessed. Definitely the biggest surprise I’ve ever encountered when bringing the head around in a deep twist. The evening was capped off by spontaneous hula-hooping during which one unlucky attendee received a hula blow to the head after a hoop was thrown excitedly skybound without forethought of where it may land.
Now, while I’ve resorted to internet mocking, for some these studios were it. The people, the style, the mood was welcoming. Is there something I’m missing here? Or am I just the insufferable snark?
As an adult who isn’t religious and who dabbles with ‘spirituality’ perhaps there is a big gaping hole where church, or school, or university, or whatever sort of past community used to be. I think it’s like that for a lot of us. So we seek to fill that void with what’s available to us. Or, we run screaming away from anything that may resemble that black hole.
Maybe there is something to seeking a yoga home.
Something productive and necessary to finding a like-minded community of individuals dedicated to shared experience and practice for self and communal improvement. Maybe I’m just too damned skeptical and judgmental to let myself into that possibility.
Although, at the risk of stretching this metaphor way too far, maybe this challenge of home-seeking has become much more about the over abundance of decoration than anything else. The lotus shaped candleholders, the Sanskrit tattoos, the kirtan soundtracks, and the illusion that we’re doing something exotic and more important than just exercise is getting in the way of this community building. A focus on outer form rather than inner state – as if we needed to suddenly assume this faux-Hindu identity to improve our bodies and our minds. Our studio choices and aversions reflect our inner needs and paranoias, and often become diversionary escapes rather than centers of transformation.
I think I’m still looking for that home – much to my professor’s chagrin, I’m sure. Maybe the door begins on my mat, or maybe it doesn’t. I just know I don’t want to remain isolated in home-practice or separated by my own judgment. Home awaits – wherever that may be.
About Adam Hocke
Adam Hocke has a BFA and an MA from New York University and has been practicing yoga for 10 years. Originally from South Florida, Adam now resides in London with his partner. Visit his blog or on twitter @yogapossible.