Yogic Anxieties

A few years ago, my friend and I went down to Santa Fe for the weekend. My friend is a yoga enthusiast and I am a secretly reluctant participator, so while we were there, she found a yoga class for us which I (secretly reluctantly) agreed to. The studio was impressive, airy, bright, very Santa-Fe-like, with its own café and store selling yoga gear and made-to-order smoothies. The people working the counter seemed only marginally above me on the crunchy scale. I felt encouraged.

Our class was held in a room the size of a high school gymnasium, cavernous, tall ceilings, as wide as it was long, which was different than the squat, steamy, an-inch-from-your-neighbor classes I was used to. Everyone set up their mats in rows facing each other. After getting over that oddness, I was further encouraged to see that there was a nice mix of men and women, all seemingly peaceful and quiet, no loud talkers, just there to start their Saturdays off right. Then the teacher walked in.  She was tall, svelte, dressed in shades of gray, with triumphant tufts of hair sprouting from her armpits and pale skin that had never seen the sun and a turban on her head. I was accustomed to athletic, outdoorsy types in sports bras and Lycra pants and ponytails, but OK—to each their own.

We began the class seated and the teacher instructed us to blow air out of first one and then the other nostril, with the aid of thumb and forefinger. Thirty snot-nosed people dutifully began to make rude noises for at least five minutes. I couldn’t look at my friend; I was biting my lip so hard I was about to draw blood and filled with the anxiety that nervous laughter would simply burst out of me. After the nose-blowing agony, the class proceeded in a familiar way—at least I recognized most of the poses. But at one point the teacher called out serenely that if any woman in the class was menstruating, it was best not to do a particular move. I, in fact, was menstruating, and—slightly panicked about whether or not to heed her advice and what it would do to me if I didn’t—refrained from doing the pose. I was the only one. It felt like middle school again. Sixty minutes later when my patience had reached its limit and I no longer cared that there was a nice mix of peaceful men and women starting their Saturdays off right, we lay down in final savasana—ahh, the best part—while the instructor then began to bang on a giant gong at one end of the room. The ultimate pose of relaxation destroyed by my laughter barely contained for the second time in an hour and a dull ringing in my ears.

Bless the turbaned one, the gong, the clearing of the noses—but my God. I realized again that day, for the millionth time, that I am not a yogi.

I try. I like the yoga sculpt classes at our local yoga franchise which consist of poses, aerobics, and strength training in a heated room with hand weights and dance music pumping. Six-pound weights feel like 50. Sweat pours out of my body and mingles with the sweat from everyone else until there is a river on the floor. Afterwards I feel boiled, woozy, spent. I never actually feel better on the day I take yoga sculpt, probably because I’ve lost all my electrolytes, but at least I burned several hundred calories, I tell myself. And yet even yoga sculpt has its hidden pitfalls. During the last sculpt class we took, my boyfriend somehow got fluid in his inner ear and spent the rest of the weekend with horrible vertigo and nausea. My self-satisfaction at getting through such a difficult workout pales when my love is suffering. Is this yoga? Is this the suffering Buddha talked about?

Living in Denver, the epicenter of health and exercise, there is a yoga studio on every block. I see stay-at-home moms going in and out in the middle of the day, lots of young beautiful single people on the weekends eying each other in the mirror, and even a few old codgers who got hip to exercise later in life and became devoted practitioners—wrinkles, creaky joints, and all. People bike down the streets with their yoga mats on their backs. My mat is rolled up in the trunk of my car for that sudden I-need-to-take-a-yoga-class attack that I never seem to have. At any given moment, in any neighborhood in the city, at least half the people are wearing workout clothes, whether they’re on the way to the gym or not. I include myself in this. I don’t care how much the television makeover experts rant and condemn, there is a reason why we’re all wearing yoga pants and it has nothing to do with trying to look cute (although many of us do accidentally look cute in them). People I know went through a yoga teacher training at one point or another, and even if they’re not actively teaching yoga, they could be. They could have a sudden I-need-to-teach-a-yoga-class attack. Friends take up to seven classes a week—that’s once per day, or doubling up sometimes—and tell me they wouldn’t know how to get through life without it.

But I don’t get it. So all right, it’s a trend. It falls in line with the new push for mindfulness in this hyperstressed, obsessed-with-devices, close-to-dystopian society of ours. It’s meant to be both relaxing and invigorating at the same time, which delights us in its contradiction. It’s meditation lite, complete with inspiring thoughts and sincere connection. Aside from those who have actually studied it, we know almost zilch about what yoga really is (as in its origins and principles), but that’s OK because to most of us it’s just a term for a popular form of exercise that makes us all feel better about ourselves.

But what do I feel? If I’m being dead honest: boredom. Yoga classes with no music make me want to run out of the room screaming. Yoga classes with that gentle New Age stuff are only slightly less irritating (and I like New Age stuff). Yoga classes with 9,000 chaturanga push-ups make me mad. Breathing in and breathing out does not center me; it makes me hyperventilate. My body is accustomed to everything in a turned-out position (thanks to half a lifetime of ballet) and doesn’t want to be parallel and rages against parallel and starts a throbbing in my lower back that doesn’t let up when I have to do something in parallel. My upper body gets a decent workout (from all those damn push-ups), but my lower body takes a nap. I spend the whole class wondering when it will be over. And I’m pretty sure that defeats the point. Yoga sculpt aside (in which I feel like I’m truly getting a workout), I just can’t do it. I need to move. I need a rhythm. I need to dance, people. And if I’m going to meditate, I’m going to do it at home, on my couch.

These are my anxieties.

Which really cover up an underlying layer of anxieties that have to do with this:

“Millions of people have been looking desperately for solutions to their sense of impotency, their loneliness, their frustration, their estrangement from other people, from their world, from their work, from themselves. They have been adopting new religions, joining self-help groups of all kinds. It is as if a whole nation were going through a critical point in its middle age, a life crisis of self-doubt, self-examination.” – Howard Zinn, The People’s History of the United States

And there you have it.

So yoga isn’t my thing. But it doesn’t matter because I know why I’m searching. I see the elephant.

And so, maybe, do you.

103 thoughts on “Yogic Anxieties

  1. Haha! Very interesting look at yoga. A lot of people like it, yet a lot of people don’t! And that’s cool. I actually just started to give it a serious try this morning….did a 6 minute video and felt really good. I’m giving it a week to see if it really benefits me. But this was interesting to read…some people just don’t like certain things!


  2. It felt so good to laugh! You have some cool gifts- your writing, and your humor. Brava to you for both! I love the lines in which you acknowledge just how arduous a trip you’ve been on, and then begin, again. It’s like that, tho. You don’t eschew yoga in polite society if you care at all about your reputation. It’s nearly as bad as having a bumper sticker saying I Hate Cats (I don’t, just sayin’). I flirt with the idea of doing it at home, alone, in the privacy of my LR, and not telling anyone!!! That would show them!

  3. You are not alone — I have a really hard time getting through a yoga class. They feel creepy to me, and I get so bored I literally watch the minutes on the clock go by. Great post btw.

  4. I don’t share your perspective but I do understand. The danger when something becomes trendy is that you feel you ‘ought’ to like it. Inspires me to write a post on my blog about the opposite point of view

  5. It definitely depends on the teacher. I teach/practice aerial yoga with a more “circus” style. I also evaluate the students. My “regulars” get a more fast-paced/workout/dance style. The “newbies” get a slower, breathing style. I love both, but that’s me. If you like ballet, try some barre classes. I’ve also read that not practicing certain poses due to menstruation is false, just as your flow doesn’t stop when you’re sleeping. It can definitely be “anti-yoga” when you’re in a class that feels as if everyone is just there to show off and judge, when yoga is about letting go of your judgements and accepting where you are. I’ve also read that not everyone’s alignment is the same. What I’ve learned from yoga is to listen to your body. If your body is saying it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right. The breathing and relaxing does help clear my mind, but like you; it’s sometimes better done alone. Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha!

  6. Love it! Deep Breathing makes me hyperventilate as well!!!! I never attributed my lower back pain to trying to force my natural turn out in! I have found that pillates and Barre are great alternatives to Yoga..and nothing beats shaking my but in Zumba!

  7. Great read! I’m in your boat with this. I love stretching, I feel the benefit of a good stretch, but I feel like I want somebody else to do the stretching for me sometimes, like the effort of a yoga stretch defeats the relaxing purpose of it – and the breathing? Oh, the breathing – Not my thing at all.

  8. Haha!! I love to do yoga but I have some friends who have shared funny experiences of their yoga classes. It utterly depends on your yoga teacher. Its better to do yoga,especially the breathing exercises, alone at some peaceful place

  9. Brilliant…the ‘crunchy scale’. I’ve never heard it described like that before. I’ve only had 2 yoga teachers where I’ve enjoyed the classes…otherwise its always been like that for me. Thinking 5 minutes in…when will this be over? At least my outfit is cute. And why is my behind bigger than everyone else’s here? Oh my God, I have the biggest behind here and I want one of those flat chests where you can see the bone running down the middle. And pregnancy yoga…don’t get me started…

  10. I can relate, I enjoy doing yoga on my own but not in a group setting as I have also had situations where I could not contain my laughter! I have to be in the right frame of mind to do yoga, and am not always in that space when it’s time for yoga class!

  11. Reblogged this on watson634 and commented:
    I remember my first Yoga class was also spent trying desperately not to laugh – Watching the women around me closing their eyes listening to the teacher repeat phrases from a book about Trees… I just wasn’t in their moment…

  12. My flexibility is poor, and I thought yoga would be a great solution, a lot of the classes focus on finding ones self and that’s not what I’m looking to do! I enjoy the article!

  13. Completely agree! I have actually allowed myself to feel guilty that I was the only one that didn’t care to much for Yoga. I have friends that swear by it but I prefer outdoor, fun exercise, like biking. Thanks for reassuring me that i am not loosing my mind lol

  14. You made me laugh so much! I went once to a Yoga class with my girlfriend, she started to laugh so loudly, when we had to send “positive” energy through the eye in the middle of our hands, that we were told to never come back! I still wonder if some quite unnatural positions are really beneficial in the long run

  15. I so appreciate your honestly. Not all things are for everyone but I think that you’re right in that we are all looking for the same thing – essentially how to feel good and be happy. I hope you find something that works for you! I love that you were a ballerina.

  16. I think yoga is so personal. I wouldn’t dream of doing a yoga workout in a class setup let alone in front of my boyfriend or sister. It took time for me to even BREATH then. I think as humans we are conscious of our breathing as it’s usually so silent and unnoticed- to be in a yogi frame of mind we have to completely flip what we are used to and BREATH vocally.

    Great reflection! 🙂

  17. I laughed at the part of “the feeling that I have to take a yoga class attack” because I get that feeling and do a bit of yoga and then stop for a while. Awesome article!

  18. This post really made me laugh! I felt the same way when I started yoga – didn’t get it at all! I came back to it a year later and now I get it. I think it’s massively about finding the right teacher – I’m a dancer too and the ‘flow’ classes with music are generally lovely. ‘Yoga’ is also not the physical practice – the physical practice is the bit that prepares you for yoga, which means union, of mind body and soul. A lot of people don’t know this. Your yoga might just be going for a walk with a clear mind. Anyway, I’ll shut up now – great post! Thanks! x

  19. I hope you find a way of removing yoga out of you life and keeping your friends :), There are no yoga studios anywhere near me and only very few people I know practice yoga. I suppose if it was so mainstream here in deep England as it is in Denver I would hate it too. It was a nice read.

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  21. From a “cousin” in Oregon: while reading your blog, I was thinking about the class I’ve been to that doesn’t make much pretext at trying to take us to “different realms” The class is for seniors, and is called “chair yoga” No exotic poses here, but stretching that benefits my sorry joints. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the class–I’m likely twice your age, so beware, yoga may someday be your thing—oh, yes, you’d have loved the day a member of our class loudly expressed a whoof of intestinal gas! I told my friends about the event–the instructor was entirely impressive–her placid expression changed not one whit! Some concentration! 🙂

  22. Pingback: Yogic Anxieties | Amanda Mininger – barangcontoh

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  24. Each type of yoga and instructor is very different. If I were you I wouldn’t give up until I found one that worked for me. Im an instructor so I’ve studied it and can promise you the benefits are immeasurable.,

  25. As I see it that is wonderful. For me meditation or Yoga anyhow don´t confine themselves to experiences on a mat or a cushion. It is all about experiencing the flow of life, getting in touch with that part of us that is beyond the mind. This is not necessarily happening to everyone in a Yoga class but can be felt in any activity where you are fully present and time just flows by. It maybe dancing, cooking, reading, playing an instrument, really anything that you love.
    Great honesty and authenticity is needed not to force yourself into any practise that is not yours.

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