Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Return to the Mat

David Swenson, Ashtanga teacher extraordinaire
I used to practice yoga almost every day. I attended weekend long workshops, which left me feeling like a stretchy, , sweaty noodle. I read everything I could find on David Swenson, John Friend, Bikram, and living the Yogi life.  I tried to meditate, but I really stunk at it. I owned a remarkable amount of yoga clothes made of organic bamboo fabrics.

But as of last Thursday, I hadn't done so much as a downward dog in almost 4 years. Why? It's complicated. What I loved about yoga, what originally drew me in, was the focus on the self. There's no competition or comparison, just you and your asanas. There's always work to be done on your form and perfection is (happily) unattainable. But I found that too many studios were encouraging a sort of clique-y environment, all about who had the cutest yoga rug and whose forward bend was the best. Mirrors in the studio are helpful for alignment, but aren't so great when you see everyone scanning and judging the group.

I struggled with an eating disorder for almost 15 years, and this sort of scrutiny was too much for me. I became disenchanted with yoga, as I realized that it was becoming unhealthy for me to engage in the body competition.  I also became frustrated with individuals proclaiming themselves as "gurus" and cultivating a rabid (and exclusive) following. That wasn't what yoga meant to me, so I quit.

Was quitting the best way? No, of course not. I could have searched for other studios or focused on practicing at home - but it felt like the best solution at the time.

I've missed practicing over the years, but was too damn stubborn to go back - until my Creativity and Innovation grad school class met at a studio last week. I can't tell you how good it felt to stretch my body and use forgotten muscles. I slept better that night than I had in a long time and I'm looking forward to going back.  What changed? Me, I guess. I'm in a better place mentally than I was 4 years ago. I'm less concerned by the judgement of others, and less inclined to participate in the competition.  Maybe I'll even succeed at meditation this time around...

For anyone looking to learn more about yoga, check out the following websites.
Ashtanga Basics

The Amazing John Friend

More on the Yogi Lifestyle


  1. I think you are right in what changed. I know I've changed so much in the past year but it took me forever to own up and say i quit things because of me. I used to love to blame other things/people. Thanks for sharing - glad to know I'm not the only one out there!

  2. While I was unable to attend class, I could tell by the post yoga discussion that it had an impact on everyone. What I found most interesting is just how open everyone was in their discussion. That shows its true benefit. I think its great you are back at it and this time, who cares who is looking.

  3. have you ever considered a home practice? they can be very spiritual and meditative.

  4. Your post reminds me of my undergrad studies based on advertising and feminism. Writers like Naomi Wolf and Joan Jacobs Brumberg explored the ideas of body hatred and their affect on the American woman's psyche. (see links below)

    What I love about your post is that it provides something Wolf and Brumberg's books did not; an answer. The permission to be imperfect. The idea that the journey is the answer and self understanding is the journey.


    Brumberg: http://www.thebodyproject.com/
    Wolf: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naomi_Wolf

  5. It sounds like you've gotten to a more peaceful place with yourself, which must be a nice feeling. It also sounds like yoga was important to you at one point, so hopefully it is something that will bring you comfort and joy again.

    Thom Shepard

  6. As a fellow particpant in the class, I must confess........whenever I struggled to find the correct form (and it was quite often), I looked front and center towards your direction. You appeared not only spot on, but focused and content. It saddens me that your previous experience with Yoga left you with any negative feelings. One thing that I know for sure is that you have a talent for Yoga and a wonderful ability to "be real" with others. I think the home studio idea is wonderful. The best thing you can do with your own well-deserved inner peace is share it with those who are seeking the same.

  7. As a total newbie to yoga, I'm totally loving the fact that I've found a place to focus on stillness, mindfulness and acceptance (including imperfections!). I'm so glad you've come back!

  8. I agree with Kenyon. When I was "lost", I looked to you to help guide me. When I first practiced yoga, our instructor told us not to look at other's. That it wasn't a competition. To truly focus on yourself. I thought that was so important that she said it at that very first class. It stuck with me and I think helped me enjoy yoga even more.

    Thank you for writing this post. You are so good at yoga and I hope you are able to meditate - I wasn't good at that either!!!