Why Wanderlust is like cheerleading camp

Published on August 12, 2011 by      Print
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By Rachel Meyer

Back in the day, before Facebook, before Twitter, before even, um, cell phones, I went to cheerleading camp.  June 1994, my friends.  Picture it now.

Actually, let me clarify: it was dance camp.  Drill team camp.  We danced, people.  There was no clapping involved; there was no cheering involved.  We were seriously legit high-art dancers.  Who wore cheerleading skirts and tiny tops and carried sparkly pom-poms and did kicklines.  But we were NOT cheerleaders.  Got that?

So, this being Lincoln, Nebraska, our options for local high school dance line camps were limited.  You could drive to Omaha.  You could get really brave and truck all the way to Denver or Chicago.  You could stay in town and be pathetic.  Or you could load up a big conversion van and haul a few hours south to the bustling metropolis of Emporia, Kansas, where the wise folks at Emporia State University decided to make a few bucks over the summertime by filling their empty dorm rooms with 15-year-old Nebraska cheerleading chicks.

Fast-forward 16 years later, and I was once again packing a bag full of spandex leggings and sports bras for a different stretchy endeavor.  Late July, 2010: I hauled my ass up the mountain for a quick two days at the still relatively unknown Wanderlust Festival near Tahoe, a weekend conflation of yoga, music and nature that took Squaw Valley and turned it into a melee of yoga tops and hippie pants and lots and lots of Kombucha.

I was kind of nervous.  Wasn’t sure it’d be my thing.  I’m a lone ranger at heart, really, usually content to be alone with my book and my mat and maybe a little sun, and the prospect of several days’ worth of obligatory mingling made me shudder.  But I thought I’d give it a shot.  Worst-case scenario, I could always pack up and head out early.

And, you know, it was great.  I dug the yoga, got my sweat on, met a few new folks, had a good time.  And I did leave early, before the weariness from all the New Age-speak and the schmoozing could set in.  But some strange sense of deja vu hung over me that whole weekend, and I couldn’t figure it out.  It was like I’d been there before.  And that’s when I realized.

Wanderlust was cheerleading camp for grown-ups.

So I went back again this year fully prepared for an explosion of ego and stretch. Notebook at my side, pen in hand, I was ready to dive into the yoga, jam out to a few tunes, and ditch the rest.  And, not gonna lie: it was gravy.  My arms got rocked, my hamstrings were happy, and I met a few other nerds who liked to talk about bandhas and sutras and shit.

It’s dangerous, though, you know?  Practicing in the sun for hours, concrete under your mat, knees ripped up and feet filthy, you get so lost in the contrived removal from the Real World, this Yoga Disneyland of sorts.  It’s tempting, a total tease; after all, who wouldn’t want to leave the day-to-day sludge of the work world behind to just hang out half-naked in a perpetual Savasana, listening to music under the stars, punch-drunk on Parivrtta Parsvakonasana?

So I very deliberately lurked in back, on the margins, and kept my cover.  I didn’t tell people I was a teacher.  I slipped into the last row and scanned people’s faces, watched their reactions, checked out their matching lulu gear.  And, in so doing, I found myself right back in Emporia, 1994.  That said, I give you:

15 Reasons Why Wanderlust is Like Cheerleading Camp

  1. Lots of pretty skinny young people pretending they really like each other but secretly scoping out the competition
  2. Spending four days perpetually hot, sweaty, smelly and sore
  3. Lycra everywhere you look
  4. Folks fighting for the front row where they can show off their dopest backbends and fly into handstands on every vinyasa.  Battle of the egos, Tahoe-style. Vaguely shrouded by assertions of yogic humility.
  5. Countless obligatory mingling events
  6. Vast opportunities for stealing other people’s choreography — er, sequencing
  7. Cliques and packs, usually identified by matching t-shirts  (“Ohh, you’re from Z studio, too?”)
  8. Mostly white, upper middle class.  Lots of privilege.  (Tickets cost $400, folks. Not to mention the expense of getting there, and staying.  Oy.)
  9. Merch around every corner.  (“Buy my stuff and it’ll take your practice through the roof!  Wear this and you’ll be an arm balance ninja!”  Ahem.)
  10. High maintenance diets verging on the disordered.  (Overheard at the Lydia’s raw food tent: “Um, are there Brazil nuts in there?  Because I can eat other nuts but not Brazil nuts because they make my stomach tender and maybe not cashews because they’re not sustainably farmed in [fill in the blank] and I try to avoid dairy because my joints puff up so please no cheese and how about the pesto, is that sustainably and locally made, too, oh, and please don’t cook it, you’ll kill the enzymes!”)
  11. First-world problems.  (“My wireless doesn’t work!  I can’t find my Nalgene!  Somebody stole my Yogitoes!  My implants ruptured!”)
  12. Scantily-clad folks in uniform.  Whereas back in Emporia that meant red and white scrunchies for the same slicked-back, hairsprayed ponytails, at Wanderlust it’s more like matching wash-off tattoos.  (Your fake-inked shoulder tells me you’re from Yoga Branch studio.  Subtle, baby, subtle.)
  13. An abundance of painfully awkward mandatory dance breaks in the middle of asana classes.  Teachers: please stop doing this.  Please. Just. Stop.
  14. “After-hours” means “yogis gone wild” up at the pool at High Camp: bikinis and cocktails and more summertime straw fedoras than you can shake a stick at
  15. Sheer exhaustion in the face of so much pep

About Rachel Meyer

Rachel Meyer is a San Francisco-based yoga teacher and writer with roots in musical theater, theology and the arts. When she’s not jumping around in leggings and chanting in Sanskrit, she loves a good foggy wander up and over Nob Hill in search of cocktails or used books. You can find her bio and teaching schedule at facebook.com/RachelMeyerYoga , and further ramblings on meditation, yoga, the arts and more at her literary practice mat: rawrach.blogspot.com .

Filed under: Soulless Hippies | Zombie Yoga and Tagged:


  1. linda says:

    every time I saw a pic I thought, “where are all the black people?”

    just askin’…..

    things white people do…..

    • Rachel says:

      I hear ya, babe. Loud and clear.

      • Yogini5 says:

        Things white people who could buy and sell THIS white, aging,not-of-th- mold person do …!

        I am glad Athleta brick-and-mortar is coming to NYC … and I hope they bring their plus sizes with them!

        • Rachel says:

          I’ve heard rumor of this — what is it about Athleta that’s more progressive than the others? I’ve never been in one of their stores. Have a hard time shelling out for the so-called “yoga wear.”

          • Yogini5 says:

            No, it isn’t progressive. It’s more size-diverse in what they carry, less hypocritical than Lulu. Their prices are not much cheaper. Something about Lulu has always rubbed me the wrong way.


            • Steph Auteri says:

              I prefer my Athleta leggings to lululemon as well.

              Because, for one, I just can’t justify spending the money lululemon charges. Athleta’s at least a little bit cheaper.

              And number two, I’m a curvy yogi, and my Athleta leggings hug my booty and my thighs in a way that doesn’t make me feel abnormally large.

              I must admit, though: almost all my tops come from Target. ;)

  2. amelia says:

    I also went to cheerleading camp (in 1994!! but in Boston) but I have not been to Wanderlust. Thanks for confirming for me why I don’t need to go :-) And thank you for your hilarious observations Rachel! Were there spirit sticks?

    • Rachel says:

      Mwahh ha ha — I forgot about spirit sticks!

      Did you have to wear matching scrunchies, too? We had a set schedule: red scrunchie today, black tomorrow, white the next. And don’t even get me started on the matching monogrammed gym bags and towels….

      Wanderlust isn’t all bad. You might enjoy the yoga itself. It’s pretty rad to study with so many folks in such a short amount of time. Rich stuff. But the trappings and the industry? Meh. What I wanna know is, how can you get the study, the learning, the experience, without all the “scene”???? Let’s make that happen.

      Thanks for reading. Go 1994.

      • Yogini5 says:

        Please don’t tell me 1994. I’ve worked that THROUGH, finally. The real issue is that at least at cheerleading camp you were all pulling together towards a common goal. You’d had your school’s spirit to tend to. And maybe a jock had been waiting in the wings for your support (no pun intended and nothing dirty implied here). There has to be value in that. Including value to the local community. Whether cheerleading or breakdancing camp, there was a degree of athleticism developed. But it wasn’t all in trying to self-mortify and self-abnegate and promote eating disorders of all stripes …

        You think John Friend cares? He’s laughing all the way to the bank …

  3. StaticInvasion says:

    I knew it!! I’d just sleep all day and hit the pool at night.

  4. Jenifer says:

    I haven’t been to any sort of camp or to any sort of extended yoga retreat. I know. I’m totally not a real yogini. I’m a total faker.

    Thing is, those things are expensive! A friend of mine — whom I love, but has more money than God, and as Bono says “The God that I believe in isn’t short on cash!” — goes to about 7 a year? It’s amazing. My friend is totally cool and down to earth — really walks the talk — but I’m a little jealous that she gets to travel and do so many awesome yoga retreats. LOL

    But then I remember that it’s ok to just hang out at home for free. Or indulge myself in a by-donation class now and again.

    • Rachel says:

      I know!! So pricey. That’s why sometimes I think we just make our own retreats, sans overpriced hotels and whatnot. Settle in, roll out your ratty mat, read some good books, turn off the phone, and dive in. Seems a little more yogic to me.

      • Yogini5 says:

        What if you gotta break down and use The Bootcamp Box?

        No, seriously, I do use flash cards and CDs – not Baptiste’s anymore … I’ve had mostly a home practice. I don’t have the time to schlep to a studio for several classes per weekend day … and since I’m strictly pay-as-you-go, the way I feel about exploring a new studio (for their unlimited intro-week special) they would have to open up a vein first and sign a statement saying that they would not bring up my joining after I finished with class. I’M SO DONE!!!

      • Leah says:

        yes yes yes Rachel, you are really on to something- with ya all the way. Scene-less yoga retreats, with book reading and no wireless or obligatory mingling- what a dream.
        I found myself at WL VT this year and really really happy to have my down time in the van with my book- I could feel all post-class heart melting from there :)
        Thanks for your post, it is much nicer then the one I have been writing in my head about VT! heh heh

  5. Rachel says:

    Thanks for the great post Rachel! I always herd from people that wanderlust is like burning man with yoga, and that turned me off from going. I go to Telluride Yoga Fest every year, way less hype, so chill, and more about learning and studying with amazing teachers. love your authentic words too :)

    • Rachel says:

      Thanks, Rachel, super appreciate it. Telluride sounds fab. It’s hard to say; could be worth going, even if you find yourself having an averse reaction. I find it’s the same way with yoga teachers who rub me the wrong way — I learn as much (or more) from an asana class or an experience that leaves me twitchy as I do from a class that I dig whole-heartedly. We learn what we are by learning what we are not. I’ll have to look into Telluride!

  6. Mypracticeisbetterthanyourpracticeanandaji says:

    I am really over this latest craze in yoga…I partially blame Yoga Journal…what a RAG! It promotes commercialism and perfection and the SAME damn yoga teachers over and over and over…..ad nauseam!
    I avoid the traveling yogis..teaching to a new group every weekend, gaining “followers”. No grounding, no roots…what happened to finding the awareness within? I guess it has to be dressed in lulu or prana and eat raw food

    • Jade Doherty says:

      OMG! I love your name! Pure genius.

      • Rachel says:

        Seriously, killer name.

        Yeah, it’s this whole big capitalist American blah-blah-blah urge to commodify everything that moves. A double edged sword, I guess — in that the publicity and the marketing brings the practice itself to a helluva lot more folks, while at the same time every aspect of it becomes about how to make a buck doing so. So I think the most radical thing we can do is to be really damn self-aware, and constantly say to ourselves: Ok, what I am doing here, and why, and is it because so-and-so said to do it, or because the pricey pants tell me I’ll be a better yogi if I buy them, or whatever. And then we call bullshit. And other people feel brave to do the same thing.

        Thanks for reading!

  7. adan says:

    ahh, i knew the 60′s would re-incarnate somehow ;-)

    though, i now realize the 60′s were themselves a spiral-repeat-evolvement of the same impulse popping up in, not only our own u.s. culture, but across all peoples & nations, back to the beginning of recorded history it seems

    and yes, as today, the major impulse into “the scene” were from folk with discretionary time and money -

    and who would remember this repeat pattern best probably? our own commercial interests, who it seems are better and more readily prepared than the corps of the 60′s to participate ;-)

    all that said, i don’t think any of this is inherently “bad” – just part of the process

    there’s still, if i’m right in what i’m reading about the current crop of yoga festivals (i haven’t been to one) a sense of belonging that’s being fulfilled, even if in some cases over-filled ;-)

    and that “experience” will linger and have ripple effects for a lifetime

    so questions of involvement by people of color (i’m brown btw) and political concientiousness, aren’t, for me, questions of “if” but merely “when”

    and then the real test of yoga’s enduringness in current culture will be tested

    i still believe that yoga’s newly found tie into western fitness theory and practice, may well give it the legs it needs this time around

    i guess you can tell, i’m “almost” always being hopefull ;-)

    • Rachel says:

      I dig your “almost” hope, Adan. :) Thanks for your thoughts.

      There’s truth to what you said. And I agree, it’s not inherently bad, it’s just a part of the process — but I think it’s incumbent on those of us who are smack in the middle of it to call out the inconsistencies and the hypocrisies, which is of course why I love Recovering Yogi and it’s honest, authentic, feisty voice so much.

      There definitely yoga festivals out there that are less about the commodities and more about the yoga. The irony is that as festivals grow and succeed, they tend to turn more into this packaged shiny experience as opposed to the raw, more grassroots, down-to-earth gathering. So does success and media attention automatically translate to privilege and exclusivity? I dunno. It’s a tough battle to win.

      I think those of us who are nerdy about the philosophy itself need to continue to emphasize THAT history behind the yoga instead of the yoga-as-pop-cultural-craze aspect that’s showing up more powerfully in the media right now. Though that could just be the philosophy wonk in me….

      Thanks for reading. Love your feedback.

  8. “If 16 Million Americans are practicing yoga, why does our world still suck?” | linda's yoga journey says:

    [...] in the “rebellious” crowd, calling for a return to old-school yoga ways or the “in” crowd, cheering the latest physical accomplishments of the latest cool [...]

  9. erin says:

    In 1994, I was also in high school in Lincoln, NE. And I also grew up to be a yoga dork who appreciates a good dose of critical thinking. Hello, friend!

    • Rachel says:

      Hi Erin! I totally know you. What a weird small world. You and my sis Bekka were the same year, maybe? She was LHS ’95, I was ’97. Props to coming up and out of the prairie and finding yoga somewhere in the mix. As for the critical thinking, I give Lincoln High a helluva lot of credit for that. And needless to say, I traded my pom-poms for feminist theory textbooks the next summer…. :)

  10. SAL says:

    Really good, thoughtful stuff. I’m taking yoga at an Anusara-influenced studio and while I like the yoga, the faux grooviness (which sometimes seems passive aggressive and weird) is getting to me. I also think some of Anusara’s “rock stars” seem like debutantes dabbling in yoga. That’s fine, but not my scene. I wish I was advanced enough to practice at home; I look forward to that day! In the meantime, I think I just need to find a smaller, more grassroots studio.

  11. Marita says:

    just to clarify….my line YOGA NINJA, is about cultivating and embracing your inner strength, beyond the physical…because we are all stronger than we realize. Yoga is a practice that helps anyone develop their mental, spiritual and physical strength that then enables a person deal more effectively with the inevitable challenges that occur in life. Being a ninja is a state of mind, being awake and aware of your surroundings as well as yourself and how you interact in the environment that surrounds you.

    Embrace your inner ninja :)

  12. Steph Auteri says:

    I’m with Jenifer. All of these retreats are expensive as hell! Still, I love the idea of connecting to the yoga community beyond my regular studio, so I’ve decided to indulge in one retreat or festival a year.

    A couple years ago, I went to a yoga/cooking retreat up in VT and I LOVED it. Mostly because it was like my perfect vacation.

    Then last month, I went to Wanderlust for the first time, also up in VT. And I’m like you, Rachel. I’m a loner and an introvert and I have some moderate social anxiety, so I was nervous about whether it would be the right fit for me. I’m also a Type B Yogi (I can’t float up into inversions with every vinyasa, and I love me my supported bridges and shoulder stands). But when I gave myself permission to NOT try to do everything — to just enjoy the experience of trying new things and then retreat to my room in order to recharge — I found that I had a pretty good time! I might even consider going again with a group of my local yoga friends.

    There are a lot of young, skinny, white chicks in ridiculously expensive yoga outfits showing off their best, advanced moves, for sure. But in the midst of all that, there are also people who are least a little bit like me. And plenty of opportunity to learn.

  13. Julie says:

    http://grassroots-yoga.com is back. I’m so happy with it

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