My friend Michelle and I have a joke that goes something like this: “Did you start the Bikram Challenge yet?” “Next week.” “Oh really? Me too!” Then we order nachos.
Yoga plays a recurring but minor role in my life. I like how I feel all stretched out and calm when I do it, but I absolutely hate the subculture attached to it. I’d like to join a yoga class for people who don’t want to make chanting noises or stand on their heads or listen to their spleens.
If I can’t have that, I’d at least like a class where I can opt out of the instructor being able to grab my hipbones and twist them while I am simultaneously contorting my body toward the ground and looking up at the ceiling. I always want to hiss at them, “I’m upside down, asshole. You so much as touch me, this whole thing is going to come crashing down.”
But last week -- a victory in a near-constant struggle with myself to become a more healthy person so I don’t die a premature death and devastate my family (only child, LOTS of pressure) -- I swallowed most of my negativity and went to a class. Vinyasa Flow. Sweet Jesus.
In between adjusting pelvises, the teacher kept shouting out, “If you’re good, you do this,” and then descending effortlessly into a one-armed plank pose or some sort of ridiculous handstand. Even though I was sure he meant “if you’re good at yoga,” I couldn’t help but feel that he was actually talking about something else.
“Kiss your knees!” he ordered, “If you’re good, kiss your knees.” He watched us struggle to get our puckered lips down to our patellas. My legs burned.
I stuck my tongue out. Maybe if I got just a bit lower I could just kind of lightly tongue-kiss my kneecap. Would I be good then? I looked up to see him smirking at me.
A drop of drool landed on my leg. I was not good.
By the time I shakily lowered myself toward the floor for our last poses, I was pretty sure “if you’re good” was what he meant. A good person. Good at life. His disdain for those of us not able to make out with our own bodies was apparent. It was the hundredth time I’d decided to never do yoga ever again.
Immediately afterward, I shared a communal table at a local restaurant with two long-term travelers in Bali who, with their loose fitting knits and topknots announced they were also yogis.
"Have you read the news since you've been here?" the man asked the woman, holding up a English language newspaper that had been left on the table.
"No, I haven't even read a book about Bali. I prefer to just like be here now, you know like," she trailed off and kind of nodded slowly as though it were unnecessary to finish the sentence. (Though I strongly suspect she realized midway through it she had no idea what to say.) The guy seemed not to notice and nodded along with her, justifying her lack of interest. Over their tempe and tomato sauce they continued to talk about yoga and "opening up" and "being present."
In a slow way one of them mentioned the giant poles being erected in the main square. "What are they for?" they wondered absently, as though the answer was not something that could be obtained with simple information, but instead something they would have to meditate on and even then perhaps would never know.
"It's Indonesia's Independence day," I interrupted from my plate of food, thinking they would know this if they had glanced a little harder at the newspaper.
"Oh yeah?" They didn't seem particularly interested and instead attempted to engage me in a conversation about my practice which ended as quickly as it started when I told them I didn't have one. The man looked at me condescendingly. "You should stop by the center," he said as though he were inviting me to accept Jesus Christ as my only Prophet.
Let’s be clear. You doing yoga is only good for you. It’s not helping starving children in Africa. It doesn’t make you better than someone who doesn’t do it. Also, being bendy isn't an alternative to having basic knowledge about world events. And it doesn’t elevate empathy levels to a higher plane. Trust me. I can make up a sad story about a rock and get choked up about it. And I can’t even kiss my elbow.
Of course it is nice to feel more connected to the earth, but you don’t get there just by chanting om and wearing material made from hemp. You pick up the damn paper, to start with. You have discussions about things that are actually happening.
I looked across the table at my vapid but flexible dining companions. They were so good. They made me want to be bad. "I just went," I said with my best scowl, taking a long chemical-filled pull from my Coca-Cola bottle. Their bodies might be temples, but that doesn't mean I have to worship them.