Saturday, January 26, 2013

Things you can never say in a yoga class

Flickr: o0bsessed
Running and yoga of some kind are part of my daily fitness 'regime' but as much as yoga has transformed my life and made me a better person, there are certain things that I just can't say in the 'niceness' of the atmosphere that permeates a yoga class. Of course I'm very grateful for that 'niceness' given the fact I was always picked last for kickball in second grade...

Some of these items on the list are tangentially related to food, hence my justification for posting them on the blog.

1. Some people have really annoying breathing.
Even if you've never taken a yoga class, you're probably aware of the fact that breathing is extremely important in yoga. If you look stressed or tense, people always tell you to 'take a breath,' and yoga teachers will say this frequently throughout the practice.  Often they will tell you to take five, even ten breaths.

Unfortunately, some people's yogic breathing sounds like the 'before' part of a cold medicine advertisement. And then there is the subset of annoying breathers--people who think they get extra gold star yogi points for talking to the people next to them about how much they are suffering, or grunting, which really sucks because sometimes I don't think something is particularly challenging, but if you hear someone complain about it enough, just touching your toes seems like an agonizing endeavor.

How do you know if you have annoying breathing?  Well, if you are in a yoga class, aren't one of my friends, and have a strange compunction to sit very, very close to me...

2. The odor of bacon and pancakes through the open window of the yoga studio smells awesome. 
My yoga studio is located near a coffee shop, a couple of burger and hot dog joints, a grocery store with a bakery, a pizza parlor, and a taco place. During the summer mornings, if the windows are open, about half-way through the practice, the heavenly aroma of pancakes frying in more butter than you could ever use in good conscience at home wafts up, followed by the odor of some frying pig product. In the evening, if we are very lucky, sometimes people grill steaks in their backyards.  You could be twisted into a pretzel and not feel a thing with the smell of a good, sizzling breakfast sandwich in the air.
Flickr: yakmoose

3. I would rather smell wet socks than incense.
Unfortunately, most of the year the windows are closed. While some teachers leave well enough alone, others seem to be compelled to burn questionable-smelling substances with names like 'white sage' and 'patchouli.'  Why, WHY must you tell me to breathe and then ruin all the nice clean air? After classes where the teacher burns lots of incense, I'm always afraid I'm going to be pulled over by a cop on the way home. "I haven't smoked anything, I swear officer, I've just been in a yoga class for the past 90 minutes!"

Of course, if they create incense that smells like pancakes and bacon, I might moderate my opinion...

4. The rules change
The teacher will always  say stuff  like 'honor your body' and it's okay to use 'props' (yoga blocks, straps, and blankets) if a really stiff athletic dude can't touch his toes.  However, if you are a small woman with no upper body strength like me, some yoga teachers will totally ignore you for the rest of class if you (Krishna forbid), use the wall as a 'prop' when practicing a handstand.  Because when it comes to the yoga poses the teacher really, really likes, it has nothing to do with your body, and if you just  had 'no fear,' then it would happen.

5. I really didn't progress in yoga until I cleaned up my diet, stopped eating processed soy burgers and started eating meat again.
'Nuff said. When I first started yoga, I had the body of a Tyrannosaurs Rex: skinny little chicken arms from never lifting anything heavier than five pounds.

6. Quite a lot of people do yoga because they think it will make them lose weight.
Yoga has helped me become much more physically proficient and active.  It's made me more coordinated, flexible, and much more fearless. However, it just doesn't burn as many calories as running, and that is just math.  Sometimes, some women will say to me, "oh, but you run," as if it is somehow not fair that they aren't getting the results they want with yoga, and because I also do other physical activities.  Yoga is awesome, but you don't have to treat it like your husband and be monogamous.  Enjoy doing other physical activities if you are that unhappy with your 'results,' don't complain about yoga. Oh, and yoga teachers who criticize running or other sports because it makes you tight and you can't get 'deeper' into certain postures?  I'm honestly okay with that.  If it takes me an extra couple of years to put my legs around my head because I run, so be it.  If I didn't run and ride and do other things, I wouldn't have come to yoga in the first place.

7. It's pretty weird that an ancient Eastern practice that begun with very poor men is now largely populated by white, upper middle-class women.
There is a lot of talk about how yogic people are 'taking it off the mat and taking it into the world,' but still, I'm occasionally struck to the extent to which some of the most fervent advocates of the 'simplicity' of yoga have quite a nice financial meditation cushion to sit on when doing the talking.  Of course, you have to have a certain level of wealth to pay a lot of money for a perfectly white painting.

8. Being vegan won't necessarily make you lose weight.
There is a ton of processed vegan junk food out there, and lots of people find that going vegan makes them much more hungry than eating meat and vegetables and not eating what is the mainstay of most vegan diets (wheat, soy, potatoes, starchy carbs). Now, there are some people who like being vegan and that's great, and there are some thin and healthy vegans.  But not all vegans and thin and healthy, and it seems weird to tell people that 'every person's body is different' when explaining why some people find some postures naturally easier than others...but then to turn around and say that the same diet can work for every human person on the planet.

9. Don't even get me started on Lululemon.
The most popular brand of yoga clothes, hands (upside) down in most of the yoga classes. Just sit back and count the omega labels between every woman's shoulder blades and on every yogi's butt. But  42.00 for a SPORTS BRA that you will sweat in?  Yes, the company promotes fitness, yoga, blah, blah, blah.  And I don't mind paying good money for a coat or pair of boots that will last a long time.  But if you're wearing a 42.00 sports bra that is going to last a few months because it gets nasty and sweaty...that brings me to No. 10

10. Some women like to flirt with the yoga teachers. A lot.
I honestly don't care, but can you please move your lululemons to the side so I can sign in and put down my mat in a place where I want to practice, away from the annoying breather (see No.1). Giggling during class, talking about your super-tight hips, and asking for an 'adjustment' (which keeps the rest of the class longer in a super-uncomfortable position) is a great way to bring bad karma onto the rest of the class as they think about how much they hate you.

11. Yoga has spawned some terrible, terrible writing. And because it's yoga, if someone posts an example on Facebook NO ONE can criticize it.
Google Elephant Journal and you'll see what I mean.

12. There is a yoga police.
Heaven forbid you say you like hot yoga, or want to be in a yoga competition, or are doing yoga for weight loss. Even though one of the founders of modern yoga, B.K.S Iyengar doesn't have a problem with competitive yoga, most people will act really, really shocked and say 'yoga isn't competitive,' or 'yoga isn't about fitness,'  or 'the asana practice is only a tiny part of what is yoga.'  And then complain that they can't nail a scorpion handstand.

Flickr: Energy Yoga Doral

13. Yoga teachers don't get paid enough.
Teaching yoga requires physical discipline; intensive ONGOING training (all of the best teachers I know have multiple certifications/continue to practice with master teachers); knowledge of human anatomy, history, and philosophy; and putting up with a lot of people's crap. Yoga teachers teach their earliest classes at 6:30 AM in some locations...and begin their latest at 8:30PM. They travel all over the place to different studios in most instances and don't get benefits, much less compensation for gas.

Yet some people assume because lots of rich white people do yoga, therefore all yoga teachers are rich.  I'm not a yoga teacher myself, but when I read that the average salary of a yoga teacher IN NEW YORK CITY is between $35,000-$40,000, my first thought is 'that is not nearly enough,' really.  I kind of sometimes wonder if the fact that most yoga teachers are women plus the tendency of our society to think that teachers don't deserve high salaries (because they are supposed to do it 'for the love of the kids,' which makes them totally greedy to want more money, unlike say an investment banker) is one reason no one questions this.  Yes, simplicity, not wanting anything but the clothes on your back, asceticism, blah, blah, blah.  But not paying someone a fair wage (or making it clear to yoga teachers who come to training how much they can realistically make on average) just isn't fair.

14. Some people who are reading this are thinking: "she might go to class, but she is clearly never doing yoga."
Whatever the hell that means.


  1. You also can't point out that yoga is not an ancient tradition but based on Scandinavian gymnastics:

  2. @bittenbyknittin--I heard that as well--well, British gymnastics--based upon the founder's observance of calisthenics when India was still occupied. A friend posted pictures of a kid's cheerleading competition on FB, and I was struck by the degree to which many of the postures mimicked yoga asanas.

  3. 7 and 9 make me laugh because there's a yoga studio a few blocks from my house and although this is a working class, predominantly non-white neighborhood, I've never seen anyone go in or out of that studio who wasn't a well-to-do looking white woman between 25 and 35 wearing expensive workout gear and setting the alarm on her Saab or Audi. I grabbed a flyer from there when they first opened but the classes were $30 for a 60 minute session, which seemed awfully high to me though I don't know what other studios charge, so maybe that's normal.

    They have good reviews on yelp, but there are comments like these:

    "The urban sounds around the studio actually become part of the meditation, which is one of my favorite parts."

    The urban sounds. I think they mean black people talking loud outside the barbershop. And rather more pointedly:

    "Your practice may also be challenged by noise outside the storefront location, but I found it an excellent reminder that the practice of yoga is really about becoming 'bulletproof' to all of life's distractions and not getting caught up in the 'suffering'"

    I can't even.

  4. @flurrious--THIRTY DOLLARS FOR A SIXTY MINUTE YOGA CLASS IS INSANE! That would be high even by NYC standards. I get an unlimited monthly membership, so I don't calculate how much I pay on a per-class basis, but the drop in fee is $18 at my studio for a NINETY minute class.

    I hate to admit it, but one of my guilty pleasures is reading reviews of yoga studios on Yelp and laughing at--not with--the reader comments. How non-yogic of me!

  5. I LOVED this post. I tend to do pilates and not yoga, but it's mostly the same attitude. Although, I've really liked all the pilates teachers I've had and they really encourage modifications when doing various exercises. And lululemon - don't even get me started.

  6. @Joanne--I've wanted to try pilates as well! It really is necessary to do some complementary activity with the running, and while I want to make it clear that I LOVE yoga, I guess I'm just not enamored with certain aspects of Americanized yoga (or fitness) culture.

  7. This is a funny post! This actually reminds me of a scene in “Eat, Pray, Love” where Julia Roberts’ character was trying to meditate but couldn’t keep her thoughts still. Indeed, it requires a large amount of dedication to meditate. You’re also right about the point # 12. Well, if people do that, I guess they’re doing their yoga wrong.

    Jonathon Kelly