It’s not you, it’s me. Or is it?

Published on July 3, 2012 by      Print
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By Vanessa Fiola

Yoga is boring.

I remember the days when I used to hang out with my friends – other teachers – in the studio on Friday nights. After the last class ended, we’d close the doors, put on some music, light candles, and round robin a class for hours on end. Around 11 p.m. we’d finish with a savasana so deep we’d have to set a timer so the whole thing didn’t get out of hand. We were redefining what it meant to be cool in Austin, or so it felt. I miss those days. I miss the exuberance I once felt for yoga.

Eventually I moved to Los Angeles, stumbled upon a studio that felt enough like home, and enrolled in another teacher training – this time Anusara (or, as I like to call it, Dramusara). I taught at night and on weekends, and practiced whenever I could, which, with a job as a consultant, became increasingly difficult. I started taking class to plan what I wanted to teach. I stopped identifying with the yoga scene. I quit teaching. I co-founded Recovering Yogi. I traded asana for art.

I used to assist a yoga-lebrity at his teacher trainings.  I remember one morning he asked me to his cabin to practice before class. “Do you think you’ll always practice yoga?” he asked. At the time, I couldn’t picture any other way.

That question has stayed with me as my own practice has ebbed. It has loomed as I’ve watched my friends become yoga-lebrities in their own right and develop inspiring practices that rival Cirque du Soleil. There have been times – several times – when I’ve wished I had something more physical to show for the years in which I practiced with religious fervor.

In the space between what was and what is, I’ve missed yoga. I’ve missed the discipline of getting on my mat, where discipline can be understood as longing. I wistfully remember how good it felt to be wrung out and spent and shifted in the space of an hour and a half. I miss that glow. 

I’ve tried to go back to classes and recapture that feeling, but fittingly, it’s elusive. The classes haven’t changed. They remain the same poses, the same aphorisms, the same everything: everything is impermanent, live in the now, be your potential. Thirty minutes in and I’m counting time. The end of the standing series signifies we’re in the home stretch. They haven’t changed. I’ve changed.

And the truth is, I don’t know why. I could blame it on an aversion to the pop-spiritual cheerleading, de rigueur in so many yoga classes.

(In fairness, I was that teacher, too.) Often I find myself thinking, “Could you maybe please just teach?” as I glance at the clock. But that would be too easy. My practice has changed. It’s not the practice that I remember. My shoulders, from years spent hunched over a laptop, do not bind as nimbly as they once did. I half-ass every chatturanga, and that has nothing to do with platitudes.

One of my best friends teaches me yoga. When my shoulder hurts she tells me to get on her mat and she leads me through the simplest of practices: down dog, dolphin, child’s pose. I move to her instruction, slowly, into the subtlest of spaces, the place where organs listen, though she would never describe it as that. We do maybe three postures and then we’re done. Actually, I’m done.

Today, I scour local studios’ websites for the shortest class. I want just enough. Ninety minutes is unthinkable. Seventy-five minutes is marginally tolerable. Later, I will secretly judge teachers who don’t end their classes on time. Recently, I found a studio a couple of blocks from my house that offers thirty-five minute classes. It’s the first time in years that I’ve been to a studio and thought, “You get me.”

About Vanessa Fiola

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  1. Laura says:

    Vanessa: it’s not you…it’s life.
    It ebbs and flows. (cliche’s happen for a reason).
    The good news is you have yoga. Always will. You haven’t really broken up with yoga….you have merely stopped doing asana for hours on end.35 minutes is all you want now.
    Some day you may go back to hours of practice.
    Maybe not.
    maybe you’ll join Cirque de Soleil!

    • Mara Critchett says:

      Great response! Life happens. It’s not the yoga. It’s been around longer than any of us. Just come back…or know the door is there when you do. Yoga isn’t just on the mat. Don’t look outside to find what you value, what you need. Maybe you are just evaluating everything, as you should. You may never come back to is just a way to live a life. It is not the only way!

  2. vanessafiola says:

    Cirque du Soleil would be kinda rad! Thanks, Laura.

  3. Sharon Frost says:

    Yoga is a lot of things to a lot of people. I’ve always had a bit of an off-center relationship with yoga. I have no natural ability or bent really in any area: flexibility, balance, strength. I’m an atheist and have no interest in developing or relating to a systematic spirituality. The closest I’ll ever get to the circus poses is handstand at the wall and a very shaky bird of purgatory.

    I’m an artist and I like working at things by myself. That’s how I started with yoga too, 20 years or so ago. First from books and then with videos. I started going to class over 10 years ago, and found it pretty frightening. I still find going to class difficult and intimidating, but I also get a lot out of it.

    I avoid class with a lot of mystical underpinnings though and I avoid teachers who think they have charisma.

    And yet I still feel that yoga is important and central to my life. A great support. I don’t feel that the “world of yoga” has much to do with me though. And I’m fine with that. And after all, I’ve had a good, steady and consistent home practice for over 20 years.

    And I still check my watch with frequency when I’m in class. And I think that’s okay! (I like the idea of studios that offer classes of less than an hour.)

  4. Tracie says:

    Yup. It’s me, it’s you, it’s yoga. It’s all of it. Ebb and flow, wax and wane. It’s there if you want it and if you don’t, who cares?

    I totally get this.

  5. kk says:

    um yah. i sometimes long for the days of yore when i ate breathed and slept yoga. where my whole year revolved around saving up for a yoga-lebrity teacher training. Face it. We’re old. And jaded. And now I take hip hop and spin and laugh at everyone else in class. And I laugh at myself when I teach class and say “honor” and “just sayin”. And I wince when my shoulder hurts from all the years of chatturanga because I was afraid to laugh at myself and took it all just a little too seriously. We had fun “drinking the koolaid” (emergen-c) And I miss parts of it too sometimes. Just like when yet another Barnes and Noble closes and I feel sad for a second as I take out my kindle/ipad and go “oh well!”

  6. nathan says:

    I did a yoga teacher training program last year after about a decade of practice. I had thoughts of becoming a teacher, since I had already done a bit of informal teaching with students in my adult ESL classes. About halfway through the program, I began to have what might be called an “inward rebellion.” The obsession with asana, even as we talked about the other limbs of practice, grew tiring. As someone used to the rigors of studying in a Zen community, I found myself alternately laughing and cringing at the commonplace spiritual platitudes in yoga classes – even the teacher training classes. And then I began to notice how some of the teachers were missing the mark on even the simplest of teachings they were offering. “Slow down and be here now,” they’d say, ten minutes after they had rushed into class after rushing across town just to get there on time. In the end, I couldn’t wait to be finished with that program. Not because it was a bad program, but because it was a good program in the watered-down world of American yoga.

    So, I don’t think it’s yoga. It’s the dominant form of yoga being offered. Some people will gobble it up for years on end without much complaint. Others won’t. I’m one of those others. There’s a lot more depth to yoga than the majority of classes and teachers are offering. I guess I’m the opposite of Sharon above. I want to get into the muck of those spiritual teachings. At the same time, I want to do that in a spirit of lightness, humor, and curiosity.

  7. Laura says:

    I am with Nathan on this. I too stopped going to classes and prefer to practice at home. After 20+ years of yoga i have a pretty good idea of what works for me and what doesn’t. I too would be looking at the clock if a teacher spewed out platitudes for 5 minutes – they may have sounded fresh 10 years ago, now they bore me to death and i just want silence. Most days my body doesn’t need very demanding poses and resists moving too fast out of a pose. In my practice i look for a centre, one that is often elusive but by holding a pose long enough i can finally experience it, focus on my breathing, find inner calm.
    There are days when heating poses are counterproductive and days when i need them. Most of the time i find the presence of other people in close proximity rather distracting.I am wary of people doing a handstand in the middle of the room, a few centimeters away from my mat. I don’t usually suffer from anxiety but for some reason i cannot help picturing the disastrous consequences of them losing balance and crashing down (well, a physiotherapist friend told me enough horror stories to create this particular picture)

  8. Jenifer says:

    We started offering 45 minute classes for two reasons: 1. it reaches our market, and 2. I don’t have time for classes any longer myself, so why would I assume that anyone else does?

    And (not to you, but general yoga-peeps) don’t “guilt” me about “giving yourself the time” and “taking care of yourself” and other BS. That’s just a guilt trip, and that’s not very cool.

    I do give myself the time. 45 minutes a day, tops, and usually somewhere between 30-40 for asana. That’s what I’ve got between my work and my lovely kid and his parkour and archery fun that we have. And of course, it’s about all anyone has.

    I’ve also learned the value of silence in teaching. Call the pose, do the assists. Breathe. Quiet. It’s so nice. :)

  9. vanessafiola says:

    Jenifer — Yes! The value of silence. Btw, I could see myself traveling 18 hours for a 45 minute class.

  10. Andy says:

    I keep coming back to Ashtanga. No music, just the loud breathing, and when I do the loud breathing I am much less likely to grow impatient or distractible. That is just me though. I too have come to practice mostly at home. (with mostly). But at least w/ Ashtanga I feel like the very nature of the method allows enough personal space to just do it somewhat on your own—the space is not completely filled with shitty hip hop/kirtan with a loud teacher expounding mamby-pamby faux spirituality. Although I must admit, it is nice to hear those things sometimes. I ain’t gonna lie, I kind of like to hear comforting things.

  11. Renee - says:

    A friend once compared the first year of American yoga at an American studio to the first couple lines you do of cocaine (dear lawyer, please don’t tear apart my analogy with your sharp incisors). You’re more confident, everything seems to come so quickly, and then it fades, the excitement fades and the ‘party’ fades. All the sudden jumping from crow in chatarunga feels well old, or even worse you’ve developed an injury from doing it.

    All the sudden the hard work must begin. To find the joy again, or to find a grown-up teacher, or to leave the practice, or to change it. Or to perhaps find a 35 minute class that you can realistically fit into your life and enjoy.

    Thanks for sharing! Loved this piece, and loved Sharon Frost’s “Bird of Purgatory.” Love that.

  12. Lisa says:

    About 3 months back I stopped going to yoga classes. Four years of consistently traveling from West LA to Santa Monica about 4 times a week to get my class on, my body told me to stop. It wasn’t feeling good from Yoga Simon Sez. My back hurt and my forearms hurt. As much as I white knuckled my last class trying to convince myself I still liked it I had to stop. The place it held in my life before was not there anymore. I do a home practice some days, I take longer walks with my dog and go on more hikes, ride a bike on the beach when I can. I meditate more tho. This started about 18 months back. I believe it was this meditation practice that brought me to the realization I could let the classes go. I could reiterate everything everyone else wrote as comments. What I can add is a certain amount of grief I experienced letting my “habit” go. I missed how it used to make me feel. But it didn’t do that anymore. I guess it was my own kind of withdrawal. As much as I altered it and tried to find ways to get my yoga high, it wasn’t there anymore. Ultimately tho, I feel transcendence did take place as now, not needing this fix, it made me realize I didn’t need a bunch of postures to make me feel whole.

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