Sadistic gymnastics, love-ins, catfights and other red flags.
I’m a recovering fanatical yoga practitioner, once belonging to a posse of other such types.
And really it’s only when I catch a glimpse of a random yogini straining at a perversely advanced posture and find myself sighing nostalgically and thinking, “Give me ten sun sals and I could totally school that bitch,” that my commitment to life sans that-kind-of-yoga falters. By that-kind-of-yoga I mean the sadistic gymnastics taught by megalomaniacs in tights, barking technical instructions that would confound a surgeon and oozing new-age prose whilst caressing an unsuspecting student’s ass — which these days substitutes for the other yoga, or simply stated: “a-really-old-something-from-india-that-is-actually-supposed-to-be-good-for-you taught by calmer, smarter, and saner individuals.”
There were numerous signs along the way that I had enmeshed myself in a questionable, if not a bit creepy, pursuit and was not in fact part of an elite, emotionally and spiritually advanced “kula.” But newbie naïveté and a cliché quarter-life crisis fogged my historically logical sensibilities. It didn’t help that I was teaching abroad, thousands of miles from friends whose day jobs did not require chanting, and was eager to fit into my new community—or that on an individual level this was a group of pretty cool people.
Excuses aside, I was pounding the Kool-Aid double-fisted, sashaying around in my lulus with the life ambition of nailing handstand, pining for adjustments from Major Teachers, alongside a fan-base rivaling crazed tweens at a Justin Bieber concert—and over-using woo woo buzzwords like “connected” like so much cheap perfume.
The top ten signs that I was not on your typical spiritual journey:
- Teacher soirées were the experimental teen years I never had. They involved copious amounts of booze and substances that shall remain nameless—much like the people involved. Later, we would call them enlightening, even tantric forays into the otherworldly. The loss of brain cells and the funny feeling inside about bearing your soul to co-workers in dark corners while they stroked you would hint otherwise.
- Aforementioned festivities sometimes raged on until the sun rose, at which point a few sad bastards who had not managed to swap their classes with one of the not-kula-enough teachers dragged themselves off to the studio to teach, on occasion passing into sleep whilst leaning up against the wall rattling off Bikramisms: “Like a Japanese ham sandwichhhhzzzzz ZZZZ ZZZZZZ.”
- Massage trains, partner yoga, deep hip adjustments, and other questionable touching in candlelight amongst half-naked sweaty and often horny individuals.
- Anorexia masquerading as a “detox” masquerading as a spiritual stepping-stone.
- Three-hour asana practices named after Rocky anthems, starting when even God was still sleeping, and often involving leaning over backwards until your hands slapped the floor—and other such movements appropriate only if you are: a) a prepubescent Chinese gymnast, b) auditioning for Cirque, or c) freakishly flexible and lacking actual bones and joints—say like Gumby or a beanbag chair. (If you are pausing to contemplate, no, I do not mean you.)
- Teachers with yoga-related knee, back, shoulder, hip, and mental injuries who, not unlike those suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, would take a bullet for their guru du jour.
- Yogi love triangles and other such material a reality TV producer could only dream of. (Suggested title of show: Yogasm). Subsequent jealousy, betrayal, and catfights amongst staffers and students befitting of a Greek tragedy, or Days of our Lives.
- Major Teachers with God-complexes working their mojo overtime for any old bright-eyed and bushy-tailed piece of emotionally vulnerable T&A contemplating a divorce or breakup that walked through the studio door.
- Loss of desire/ability to relate to the outside world, including outward distrust of and derision toward non-yoga types and clannish behavior in non-yoga social settings.
- Any move away from the group or methods of teaching promoted by Major Teachers and their Star Trooper-like minions and/or the loss of desire to beat one’s body into yogic submission ultimately resulted in excommunication, self-imposed or otherwise.
This is not to mention the behind-the-scenes corporate shenanigans at XXX Yoga, best summed up by a dear friend and former teacher, now working in New York, who a few weeks prior to his departure from the country, browbeaten and weary, greeted his students with, “Welcome to XXX Yoga, may I take your order please?”
Yes, we were on our way to working for the McDonalds of yoga. It is rumored that the company’s goal is total world domination. Small studios across the globe beware; these people are not fucking around. I’ve seen them come after penniless ex-employees for daring to teach at other studios, like with real live lawyers. If it were legal to implant tracking devices in a person—say someone who works for you—they would so be all over that. I could delve into the incriminating details, involving massive pay cuts to bankroll shameless expansion, but genuine fear of Big Brother’s reach is holding me back. Aum shanti.
After 5-odd years I transitioned to part-time teaching partially out of disgust and partially out of burnout—but in fairness I held out until one of the chief minions pulled me aside and told me that in order to be a better teacher I needed to “kill my students.” Alarming images of standing over my sweet little old lady crowd with a bullwhip, screaming, “I said chaturanga, motherfuckers!!” flashed into my head. Long-story short, eventually I left entirely—well, was sort of forced to leave (see “Top Signs” #10). Blessing in disguise, as they say.
It took a while, but I am now happily settled into a small studio run by a pleasantly rotund middle-aged couple.
Frank wears a gold chain and Aloha shirts. I doubt he has done a down dog since Woodstock. Maureen has a thick Jersey accent and calls students “honey” and “sweetie.” Sometimes we stay on the floor for the first thirty minutes of class, and not because we are stuck with our legs behind our heads. I shamelessly wiggle and sway in postures, let my rib cage fall all over the place as God intended it to, willfully hold my breath, occasionally snort out loud, and bend my knees just because I can.
Students wear sweatpants and socks and are not reprimanded by the teacher. I proudly don old t-shirts advertising soft drinks and ancient, fading spandex with stains on the crotch. I only aum if I feel like it, which isn’t often, and am not chastised for my silence. If I’m feeling really crazy I might do a deep cobra. When teachers adjust me I don’t get the feeling that they want to tap my mulabandha. I no longer have deep, protracted, and self-indulgent conversations after class about how I felt practicing, what came up for me, how sorry I feel for those soulless inflexible types, etcetera. No, I scurry off with my dear friend J. and grab a bowl of fatty spareribs and rice at the cheap eatery next door, without worry that the Jivamukti swat team is going to show up.