I Appear To Have Become An (Ugh) Yoga Person

The appropriation of yoga in the US grosses me out. Yet somehow I have become a yoga person, one of those annoying people in short-shorts and a sports bra toting a mat around and talking about energy.
Publish date:
December 28, 2011
yoga, how did this happen

“I really don’t want to come from a place of anger,” I said to a friend earlier this week.

She looked at me, understandably, like I had grown a third head1.

The thing is, although I live in California, and I have spent most of my life here, I have mostly avoided the, ah, less charming tendencies Californias seem to develop.

There’s a reason we’re known as the wooshiest, most hippie state in the union and it’s because people regularly talk about their chakras and discuss their feelings and have chats about “the vibe.”

This is not really my cup of tea; I think early exposure may have effectively inoculated me against it.

It’s fine for people who are into it, I am just not one of those people. I’m practical and utilitarian -- some people call me cold.

I believe that things that happen have mundane explanations, I don’t think my body is a teeming pool of energy that needs to be periodically aligned. I like massage because it makes my muscles happy, not because it helps me tap into my inner self.

Yes, I go to therapy, like everyone else I know, but my therapist is a grizzly dude who is as practical and utilitarian as I am, which is why I adore him.

The words that come out of my mouth most often are the ones that are usually asterisked out in respectable publications, not ones like “energy” and “pranic waves.”

I really loathe the culturally appropriative aspects of mix and match California culture: the Tibetan prayer flags dangling in the back windows of Subarus; Kali statues in the garden; Buddha watching over the front door.

They gross me out, and the appropriation of yoga in the US in general and California in particular also grosses me out. Yogic tradition is about a lot more than writhing around on a mat listening to some lady blather about toning your ovaries.

Yet, somehow, I’ve become a yoga person.

I’ve been practicing the physical discipline of yoga off and on for much of my life despite my very mixed feelings about it because I like being strong and flexible. I am one of those people who tends to bulk up very fast on any type of exercise, and yoga helps me develop more even musculature so I don’t hulk out.

Only recently did I start doing a lot more yoga, though.

When I started getting more serious about my yoga practice earlier this year, I didn’t expect the other benefits, like, the ones that everyone around me is always touting.

I started talking with friends about how I found it “grounding” and “calming,” feeling almost embarrassed to confess this. It wasn’t just that yoga made me feel physically better, but that it improved my emotional state; honestly, if I start doing yoga angry, which is not really something you are supposed to do but I do anyway, I end my practice feeling better.

Plus, Loki enjoys it too. He likes to lie on the mat next to me while I do floorwork, and he walks under me when I do poses like upward facing bow and cat/cow. We’re working on getting him to do this:

I tell people I can’t come out because I need to do yoga. I get antsy when I miss a day. When I am sick, I will still drag myself to the mat and go through a few sun salutations or stretches.

I have become a yoga person, one of those annoying people you see in short-shorts and a sports bra toting a mat around and talking about how “energizing” that last session was.

I’m a little chubbier than the typical Yoga Person, but if you heard me talking about yoga, you’d think I was one of those intensely muscled lean people who looks like they do yoga six hours a day and then runs a marathon for fun, following up with a nice mountain bike ride or cross-Channel swim for dessert.

I’ve gotten alarmingly into yoga.

I tell my friends about whatever pose I’m working on mastering this week2.

I talk about things like “wanting to move beyond reacting and into responding.”

I remind myself to “use my core” when I’m chopping wood.

I recently warned someone that she should be “careful about what energy she puts out there” and should “reconsider her motivations and goals.”

In short, I have become a yoga alien. I think I’m starting to creep people out and they’re scheming an intervention behind my back. I can only hope it involves some new sports bras, because, seriously, I could really use some.

At the same time that I’m getting more and more into yoga, I’m also really frustrated that there’s not a lot of guidance for people with bodies like mine. As someone pretty stocky with fat deposition around my middle and huge tits, some poses are really hard for me not because of flexibility issues, but because fat doesn’t compress well.

Seeing pictures of people who look like me doing poses would be really helpful for correcting my form.

And yes, there are fat yogis out there, who are helpful, but their bodies aren’t quite like mine either. So sometimes I’m left wondering “Is this asana hard because my fat just doesn’t go that way, or I’m badly positioned, or not flexible enough, or, like, what?”

Some of the conversations in yoga classes also tend to get a little, uh, less interesting for me, because even though yes, I adore yoga and am getting more into the mental health benefits, I’m still not as interested in some of the appropriated spiritualism.

Instructors sometimes make me uncomfortable with the way they talk about their practice and discipline, and I don’t want to be that student who is all “Uh, could we, like, not?”

It doesn’t help also that there tends to be a lot of gender essentialism in yoga; I’m constantly reminded about “the female life force” and other things I am strongly not interested in.

Someone, somewhere, needs to start a stocky genderqueer yoga studio with no-nonsense instructors, I’m telling you. I’d be on that like brown on rice.

Do you do yoga? Have you become a terrifying yoga alien? Tips for stocky to fatty yogis of all persuasions? Yoga studios to recommend? Is this post making you want to crawl back under the covers with a bottle of Jack?

1. Before you ask, the second one is doing just fine, although sometimes the milk versus dark chocolate debate gets a little intense. Return.

2. This week it’s astavakrasana, which is every bit as fiendishly difficult as it looks, thank you very much. Return.