Long ago and far away yoga

Published on November 21, 2011 by      Print
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By Kate Stone

Once upon a time, in the attic of a converted ballet studio, I took a yoga class. I don’t know what “style” it was, which “school” it belonged to. It was called “yoga.” That’s it. We practiced on recycled carpet squares. I wore bicycle shorts and a leotard.

Given that it was 1993, I also wore an oversized t-shirt and a fanny pack on my way to class. And jelly sandals. What?

Fast-forward to yesterday. In the fourth room of a studio solely designed for yoga, I took a yoga class. A heated Power Vinyasa class. I set up in the back of the room with my Jade mat and my Yogitoes towel. I wore head-to-toe Lulu.

Given that it is 2011, I also wore my iPod for the walk over. And fancy running sneakers.

Is this the natural progression of a phenomenon? Is this what happens when an inherently capitalist society bites into a cultural trend? Somehow, in the span of 18 years, instead of riding your bike to yoga with just your keys, you now need to pack a diaper bag of the following things to go to class:

  1. A mat. Not just any mat, but a non-slip, over-large mat made of recycled materials. If you bring a sticky mat from Target, you may as well have just worn the fanny pack.
  2. A towel. Because if you don’t spend $85 on nubbin-appliquéd terrycloth and instead bring a beach towel, or one from your bathroom, you will have to be in the back of the room. Because everyone will laugh at you.
  3. A block. Especially if you don’t actually need it. Because then you can display it and actively avoid it and everyone will know how bendy and awesome at yoga you are.
  4. A strap. It’s the same as the block, but more pronounced when you start to use it for King Dancer and then dramatically drop it to the floor in declaration of achieving the pose with just your hands.
  5. A sustainable water bottle. If you’re not in a hot class, then you really didn’t do anything. And if you’re in a hot class with a plastic water bottle, then you basically just stabbed the Earth in the heart.
  6. An outfit entirely from Lululemon. Because ruffles make your practice more defined. And even though hot classes make Luon stink like you stuffed your crotch with onions, leggings from Old Navy will garner the evil eye from the front row of yogis.

Once upon a time, I went to a yoga class as a twelve year old and felt like I did yoga.

Yesterday, I went to a yoga class as an adult. With my Jade mat that I won in a contest. And my off-brand Yogitoes. Wearing my Lulu that I bought at discount when I worked at their store.

Yesterday, I went to yoga class as an adult and felt like I pretended to fit in with the cool kids in middle school.

About Kate Stone

Kate started taking yoga in middle school as a rebellious move against sports camp. After years of gymnastics, not having to flip over after a backbend was a relief, and the practice stuck. After college, Kate moved to Chicago to teach mean children how to read. She was marginally successful but felt severely, physically ill-equipped to deal with the fighting in her classroom. As someone who takes things literally, she became a personal trainer. Kate spent eight years in Chicago working in gyms, bars and museums, feeling like she was supposed to have a real job. Last year she realized she doesn’t ever want one of those. Kate spent all of her money on yoga training, and is now a yoga teacher, writer and bartender living in Boston.


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  1. Jenifer says:

    I often tell people the “back in my day!” stories. They don’t believe me that yoga existed in an entirely different way in 1990, in 1985, in 1979 (I was 3, then; my mother did yoga, and I went a few times, too.).

    A world without yoga clothes, without mats, and so on existed. Studying in basements of churches and attics of ballet studios was real. And classes were leveled and 6-10 week sessions! Classes were generally an hour, and the idea that you would come to class more than 2x a week was considered strange. I even had a teacher say to me “if you are spending so much time in classes, when are you practicing yoga?”

    Interesting times.

    I like a lot of the changes; but what I don’t like is how people associate the objects that have developed to help us out in our practice have become “what you need” to practice. When I start to see that creep up into conversations at my studio, I say “Back in my day. . .!” It’s funny, but it’s true!

    • Kate says:

      So true Jenifer! I also once had a teacher tell me to practice more at home than in class, which is much harder as I get distracted easily. Probably why I should do it more. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just revel in all the great changes and ignore the rest…

  2. TAH says:

    My ‘back in the day’ story (which must be shared by loads of people) was watching yoga (yup, just plain ‘yoga’) on PBS with Lilias Folan in the late 70s. Unitard and a carpet. It was over 25 years of home practice with PBS, some books and videos, before I stepped into a yoga class in London and got smacked in the face with all the drama and b.s. of the contemporary yoga scene.

    I like this article; it captures the whole thing really well.

    • Kate says:

      Yes, PBS yoga!!! I remember that too…from before I ever took a class and thought it was weird. :) Thanks for commiserating, TAH. And, I’m not going to lie, I still wear unitards to class.

  3. Leah says:

    I recently switched yoga studios and can totally relate to this. Every single Jade/Manduka mat in the (hot) room was covered by a yogitoes towel. Every person had at least one piece of lululemon on. Every water bottle was aluminum.

    I didn’t have any of these things, and did, in fact, feel like I should be hiding in the back row.

    So I caved and bought myself some luon last week. And now I feel “like I pretended to fit in with the cool kids in middle school.”

    • Kate says:

      It feels like you have wandered into a room of robots when you see a sea of matching gear, right? That said, you didn’t cave, you made a decision to wear some luon! A conscious decision makes you a non-robot, yeah?

  4. megan says:

    I don’t care how they dress, I use my TJ MAXX Yoagrat mat, my Target slip proof towel (this is actually helpful) and an old Aquifina water bottle I use for every class (it’s recycled!)

    I wear my faded Old Navy yoga pants and purple $2 flip flops and beam as I dont give a F%^k if I am not the best dressed or the most bendy in the class cause in my mind, sweat is the great equalizer.

    You can suck it designer Yogis, my class costs $7 and I love it!

  5. Truth says:

    The more I read recovering yogi, the more I like hiking.

  6. Lauri Lumby says:

    Amen sistah! The same could be said of any practice…yoga, dance, meditation. As soon as they arrive in the good ole US of A……it gets the commercialization demon dropped on its head. I appreciate functionality….but when functionality becomes about price and name brand, I get disillusioned. Thank you for being a voice that helps us keep our practicing heads on straight!

    Lauri Lumby
    Authentic Freedom Ministries
    Oshkosh, WI

    • Kate says:

      Exactly. I feel like the more we recognize this, the easier it is to take even if it doesn’t change. Thanks, Lauri.

  7. Chrissy says:

    Right on Megan!
    I am there for yoga, and would in no way give a flying f**k if people gave me filthy looks for my mat or my towel…if that is how they roll good for them…not my issue..it used to bother me but eh….why would I want to hang out with people who have a yoga bug up their ass?

  8. Lucy says:

    Great article. This is how I felt in yoga teacher training. So I dropped out.

    Now I am back to reading Lyn Marshall’s yoga books from the 70s and 80s, practising plenty at home but not taking anything yoga too seriously, and I haven’t been to a yoga class for months.

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      Me, either.

      I know the difference between yoga taught even 20 years ago and now. You were expected to have a home practice (I hadn’t, but I hadn’t been either disciplined nor serious—now, people that young(-ish) age are expected NOT to be disciplined, anyway, so the studio—with a grueling, physical dependency inducing practice—could rake it in …)

      But I’d lived through the ’80s, when I’d still been in my 20s, but with my constitution I’d developed muscle pain that lasted for two weeks, from doing aerobics—the takeaway from that experience taught me that I had to kick my butt at home starting 3 years ago, if I wanted yoga 4 times a week and only wanted to go to the studio class once every 10 days …. yoga flash cards and a Yogilates DVD helped show me the way. I now have a personal vinyasa yoga-pilates fusion practice and have branched out to 5 Rhythms [not quite as commercial as yoga ... they CAN'T be—they'd had their heyday in popularity 15 years ago]

      I am embarrassed at what commercial yoga has become in New York City … with the neverending ’80s costume balls and playlists where a yoga class [and its worthy teacher] once was [with that same teacher—I used to love how he taught before this madness]

      I am embarrassed at that handstand scorpion pose (or fill in the blank) in advertising for a studio [thinking they want only young people—surprised when they don't show up to the studio in the first place—many are not stupid, you know.]

    • Kate says:

      Lucy, I’m so sorry you felt that way in teacher training – which should be the antithesis of this and yet seemingly has become the apex. Ugh. Good for you for recognizing what you need to maintain your priorities!

  9. Tori says:

    So if I can’t wear Lululemon, does this mean my #6 gets to be “naked”? :D

  10. Justin says:

    I am at a bit of a loss. In what way does the mat made of recycled materials and your stainless steel water bottle reveal anything about your situation within capitalism? Capitalism depends on us throwing things out and buying new things, not on us reusing things, or buying things of permanent use-value.

    • Kate says:

      Good point Justin, since recyclable containers are made to align with this theory…but have you noticed that we used to buy several Nalgene bottles even though we only needed one? And then Nalgenes became stainless steel bottles…which are now not as good as glass bottles…next year it’ll be something else. And you will need to have three of them. Not everyone falls for this marketing, but plenty do.

  11. kiwi says:

    Back in my day, I did Yoga with Karen Zebroff (google it kids ) in front of the TV with my mum, and later when I could drive I went to the only Yoga classe in town taught by 2 men (who were “partners”… could not be openly gay back then) in the basement of a church…it was awesome!!!

  12. Bria says:

    Ok, I’ll play:

    Back in “my” day, I did Yoga on PBS with Wai Lana. She’s still around and she still rocks (in her mellow and colorful way). Nowadays, as a teacher, I sometimes notice that my students are often better dressed (and can afford more Lulu) than moi. It’s kinda funny, really.

    In teacher training, my mentor emphasized that Yoga not ALL about the poses. That might sound like “Well DUH,” but it’s interesting to see how many people seem to forget this.

    Lulu tip: Buy the stuff on ebay. That’s what I do sometimes. Try it on in the store for fit, style, and size, then stalk it on ebay at about half price.

    • Kate says:

      Bria, I remember her too! And yes, it is funny as teachers that we can’t afford the excess stuff that goes with class…but shouldn’t that tell our students something? I’m totally trying the ebay thing for lulu.

  13. AR says:

    This is precisely why I will not go to yoga at my sister-in-law’s studio which is considered an affront to her and therefore the entire family. I do not have the money or the inclination to put up with being looked down on because I don’t have the right clothing, the right mat, or the right water bottle and my employment doesn’t satisfy their granola credentials and all of the junior high girl pressures that go on there.

    I tried yoga, didn’t hate it, didn’t love it. Now I hate it thanks to just HEARING this stuff all the time.

    I love your site!

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      OMG, I don’t have employment like that either … although I’ve spun it successfully otherwise—pretty good for something not artsy-fartsy. It pays a little modest for a cozy relationship with a yoga studio, however.

    • Kate says:

      Oh no, please don’t hate it based on this! I mean, if you hate yoga, you hate yoga, but the ridiculous behavior of easily manipulated people shouldn’t make you stop trying to move and breathe at the same time. :) That said, not giving a f**k about what people think of you is way harder than it sounds. If it were easy, all of us would have LOVED middle school.

  14. Lisa says:

    Where on earth are you folks practicing that you’re subjected to such stuff described here or rather – why care? I’ve practiced in several cities and most recently am a studio slut of Manhattan and I’ve yet to encounter what sounds like a mean collective of participants. Sure there’s the oddball here or there sporting garb that might be worth a giggle or maybe even a roll of the eyes, but otherwise, I don’t see this behavior so prevalent as is described. People show up wearing whatever they wear (I wear whatever works), practicing on whatever mat, drinking out of whatever bottle.

    Who cares? Just find a class you like and mind your own practice.

    Nice gear or not, I think it’s great that people are showing up in an attempt to wring out their their sedentary asses via what they understand is “yoga”. What they buy for it isn’t any of my business.

    • Justin says:

      Hear, hear! “Mind your own practice” and “____ isn’t any of my business.” Words to live by! (and, yes Kate, words to inscribe on a stainless steel bottle that someone will use to make you feel small. Prepare for it).

      • Kate says:

        Lisa, it sounds like you have hit the jackpot on studios in Manhattan! Kudos for finding less clique-y spaces to practice. Or for being slightly more well-adjusted as an adult than I…:) And Justin, YES. I do, in fact, have a stainless steel water bottle that I wrote on and it has garnered a lot of weird comments. And I do not care.

  15. Jenifer says:

    as a studio owner, my responsibility is to recognize that i am creating the culture, the feel, of that studio.

    i do not sell clothes. i provide all props (and say they are free to bring their own). I wear clothing without brands on them, so that no one can see (they happen to be danskin and american apparel) and attempt to brand themselves.

    I let students know that they should wear “comfortable, somewhat fitted so the shirt doens’t fall into your face” clothing, and consider not wearing jewelry, particularly necklaces.

    I provide water and drinking glasses.

    I introduce new students to an experienced student, and ask the experience student to show the new person “the ropes.” I learn everyone’s name.

    These things create a culture where this sort of stratification doesn’t take place.

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      I really needed to hear that. The studio owner CREATES THE CULTURE …

      Maybe that’s one of the reasons that one of the snobby, elitist founders of a studio I used to go to is just a silent partner now … and the other has moved onto greener pastures …

      Not that I’ll go back there, it’s easy to stay away … it’s been close to 1-1/2 years …
      Pity, because they were so geographically close …

    • Kate says:

      Right on, Jenifer. I want to practice at your studio.

  16. Karmela says:

    While I am proud to say I own NOT ONE piece of Lululemon clothing, I hang my head now and admit to owning three Manduka Black Mat Pros. Yes, THREE. And considering buying a fourth one because I saw that they now come in sapphire! And sage! What did you say? They’re $104?

    • eleles says:

      I am a very unpretentious person! And I wear Lululemon! Because they’re the only company that makes tops my size long enough to cover my stomach. (My other yoga garments I can purchase on sale from other places.)

      So, there may well be an explanation (other than hoity-toityness) for some of that lulu you see all around you… ;)

      • Chrissy says:

        Agreed! I have several lulu items..because they wear well, cover my mommy muffin top and can be procured on sale…my thing is, if I like it, I wear it…no one has to agree with my choice as long as I am covered and comfortable!

        • Kate says:

          There’s always an explanation for every behavior, and it rarely has to do with what’s in front of us. And for reals, I love lulu clothing. It’s adorable and fits well. There’s a reason I no longer wear oversized t-shirts to class – they annoyingly fall over your head!

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