on yoga and exercise, counting calories, and being american: time for a dialogue!

"pray the holy trinity". stencil art by jef aerosol.*

Many people (yogis, Ashtangis, exercise fanatics and civilians alike) have responded in kind to this NYT article from a former Ashtanga yoga practitioner, published last week. In summary: an Ashtanga devotee finds a new guru in a personal trainer after a decade of practicing yoga (including a pilgrimage to India, and dramatic changes to her diet and sleep schedule) fails to prevent that “softening in the middle.”

My teacher (the one whose name is always “uttered in hushed, reverent tones”) also responded to Deborah Schoeneman’s essay on the AYNY blog here. He then opened up the dialogue to the masses and posted some additional responses here.

We can mostly agree that yogis take yoga (and themselves) very seriously. Sometimes dead serious. Sometimes comically dead serious. I can understand and appreciate this. As someone whose livelihood depends on teaching yoga professionally, and whose spiritual and physical well-being comes from practicing yoga, and who spends any additional free time writing about yoga, I like to think that my entire life is NOT a joke, a mockery. Yoga is a serious endeavor. It’s discipline. And devotion. And it deals with matters of the spirit. It asks you to purify, to look within, to purge the unnecessary, to invite newness, to find complete consciousness without attachment. It’s hard work.

Also: it’s weird. No one reminds me this more than the teenagers I teach once a week in a public school gym. The poses can be twisty and awkward and complicated; butts stick up in the air and pelvises thrust at every angle. The breathing is questionable and laughable. Concepts like “practicing kindness for myself, for my neighbor, for my space” bring out smirks and words like “lame” and “dumb.” What’s served me best in teaching through these moments is remembering the truth of yoga. We’re human beings with bodies that do weird things, and we’re asking it to go into weird shapes, and then to eschew the distraction of all the other weirdos around us trying to do the same thing. Yoga’s hard work, sure. But it’s not meant to be only hard work: it’s also kind of funny.

Open and respectful dialogue will, as my teacher says, “turn the conversations about yoga in the mainstream in a different direction, to widen the dialogue and test ourselves to see where we really want to go with all of this…towards pages that reflect [yoga’s] greater relevance.” Let’s do this. Let’s also keep our senses of humor and not take ourselves too seriously. Ms. Schoeneman wrote her essay with a humorous tone, and then was serious (and sensitive) to write a letter of apology to my teacher for any hurt her article may of caused (which, he says, it certainly didn’t).

I’m a serious, devoted yogi. I’m also a runner and a caffeine addict and an occasional carnivore. I’m also an obsessive calorie counter (there’s an app for it) and someone who laughs out loud about the weirdness of yoga. I hope I can continue to LOL at yoga, and at myself. Laughter is important. Without it, yoga is just a whole lot of hard work.

*See more of Jef Aerosol’s work here.

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2 responses to “on yoga and exercise, counting calories, and being american: time for a dialogue!

  1. Pingback: yoga in the news: a pain in the neck (and butt and wrists and back and shoulder and…) | here / there / everywhere.

  2. Pingback: wednesday wisdom: hush hush | here / there / everywhere.

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