I’ve Been Completely Humiliated by Yoga.

Via on Jan 26, 2011

I woke up yesterday to the sounds of a woman throwing up for fifteen straight minutes. It might’ve been the woman who lives next door. Vomiting seems to come with the territory in India. And vomiting is not one consistent sound. If someone says to you, “I just heard a note from a piano”, you’d have to ask, “was it a C sharp? Was it from the high end of the piano or the deep end? Was it loud, soft, long, staccato? For fifteen minutes this woman played for me a complete symphony. The deepest recesses of her throat were the most beautiful instruments I had ever heard.

Which brings me to yoga. I’m not an athlete (but I was a mathlete in school). I’m not flexible, pliable, and my back muscles aren’t ripped and shredded. I’ve never stood in my head. And I get embarassed when I hear people chant for religious reasons. So, practicing yoga in India becomes a story of humiliation, weakness, disappointment, and frustration for me. And I’m only on my second class here. Some of the things hard for me so far:


(picture from here)

1. Worst in class. In class, I’m the first one who was forced to stop. There’s about 100 people at my level (beginner). The moves start off fairly easy, and then get harder and harder. Saraswati, the daughter of Pattabhi Jois, who started Ashtanga Yoga, is leading the class. About 45 minutes in she looks over at me. I’m drenched in sweat. Everything hurts. The other people in the class are shining like gods, their sweat illuminating the etches of their brilliant muscles. I smell like gutter. Saraswati looks over at me, “you stop now.” So I’m the first to stop.

2. Everyone looks at me. I have to stay until the end of the class because we all do the closing moves together. So I’m sitting there not sure what to do. I’m in the back of the class. There’s one move where everyone twists around. When I say “twist around” its almost like a science fiction movie where the aliens twist around their waist 360 degrees in order to make sure there’s no danger. So everyone is twisting around in this impossible position, looking straight at me, the one guy in the back of the room not doing the move. Is this fair? Do I look back at them? Should I pretend I’m the teacher and they are all looking back at me for approval? Instead, I look down and act like I’m meditating.

3. The men in the class are perfect. I’m the only guy in the class who keeps my shirt on. Which is why I mention above I smell like gutter. Its worse than that though. I smell like something is dead in the walls of your house. The other guys take their shirts off. They have tattoos of dragons on their backs and crawling up their arms. They have muscles in places called tibias, femurs, psoas. Parts of the body I never heard of. Like when you suddenly look at a map of the world and realize for the first time that Africa is broken up into many tiny countries that you never knew existed and most likely will never visit.

(maybe this is what I will look like in a few years)
(picture from here )

4. My secret revealed. There was a move where both teaching assistants and Saraswati had to come over and put me in position. I knew that they knew my secret then. That I was just pretending to be here. One woman pushing my back down. The other woman whispering urgently, relax your arm and stretch it out this way. Saraswati saying, “leg wants go here!” My leg had never taken directions before. It never wanted anything before. I was praying at the time, “just let the fingers from my left hand clasp the fingers from my right hand behind me so they could leave.”

5. Yoga vision. Today I was waiting outside for Claudia to finish her class. Today was my “rest day”. The advanced class was waiting to go in so there were about 40 advanced level students and me waiting outside. They all looked at me when I showed up. I was the special guest. Yoga supposedly makes your eyes shine brighter. This is what Claudia tells me. All of the advanced students looked at me with their x-ray vision. Their heat vision. I melted into the dust.

(Superman is in the advanced yoga class here) (picture)

6. Sanskrit. At breakfast at a local restaurant there were no Indians. Only yoga students, still glistening from the sweat of their practice. Everyone was comparing notes on their class. “I had trouble with the full stretch on Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana”. “I finally got past Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana”. It seemed like everyone was fluent in some sort of yoga-ized Sanskrit. They all ordered things like granola. I had two orders of pancakes with bananas inside. Mmmm. It was good.

7. Chanting. At the beginning of class there’s a chant. It starts off with a big “Ommmm”. I can handle that. But then it goes into something else that I can’t understand. Everyone else is doing the chant. For some reason I blush and I try to hum along with it but then blush more because why am I even humming?

8. Earnestness. People say things like, “its good its crowded here. More people in the world are doing yoga.” They are earnest about it and everyone is agreeing. I’m not sure how to respond. Maybe, “I feel like world peace might be right around the corner.” Or, “If only everyone had a fully developed tibia muscle less people might get divorced.”

9. Coconuts. After practice on the first day I was sweating so much I thought I would have no more water left in my body. “Drink coconut juice,” Claudia said to me and there was a guy cutting coconuts right outside the class. “It will give you electrolytes.” All of the other students were outside drinking coconut juice already. They knew the drill. We’re monkeys from a million generations ago and we need our coconuts so we can mate and have children. But I don’t like coconut juice so we leave the other students there, all filling up with electrolytes so they can laugh and flirt once again.

10. Cold Shower. After the first class I went home to take a shower. But I’m not quite used to the smell of the water here yet. I am saying this very politely. And I couldn’t figure out how to get hot water. So I took a freezing cold shower and couldn’t get the soap off my skin. So for the rest of the day I was scratching all over like a wild animal, leaving scratch marks everywhere, when the soap dried into my skin and mixed with the general grime and dust outside.

Its day four and I’m loving every minute of my trip here. Tomorrow is my third class.

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54 Responses to “I’ve Been Completely Humiliated by Yoga.”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Claudia Azula, Red Fox. Red Fox said: I’ve Been Completely Humiliated by Yoga http://bit.ly/e3UX9N [...]

  2. ROFL – great post! Nothing quite as refreshing as a beginner who fully embraces his beginner mind and body with a sense of humor.

  3. Whoah, John, that answer just BLEW MY MIND! I am going to buy five of those shirts tomorrow and I'm not even kidding. Claudia is standing here right now laughing as I type this but i AM NOT kidding. Claudia, stop laughing. Buying these two shirts will send a powerful signal to all the other yogis in the states that I must not be DENIED respect when I enter the shala. Any shala. I might even stop calling them "shalas". I might just say they are classrooms until I walk in with my shirt on. Then they become shalas. Ok, Claudia, stop the laughing. I'll stop now.

  4. dan says:

    enjoy the “ernestness” and stares, as others have intimated sincerity is the only thing worth striving towards; contentment leads to bliss

    • dan, I wonder if contentment leads to bliss. Or if pain leads to bliss. Someone told me the other day, "We are spiritual beings paying a visit to the physical world." Perhaps its to experience that pain sometimes in yoga, that humiliation that I've been feeling. Or maybe I'm just telling myself that.

  5. Sherry says:

    This made me giggle, thanks for this post!

  6. Blue Belle says:

    Thats very funny. On the other hand, it makes me sad that thats his first experience of being "taught" yoga (ooh heresy)

  7. Yogini3# says:

    This is why there is Power Yoga. Some of us don't have (externally? internally?) rotated hip-bones, and the chances are we will not be doing full lotus in this lifetime. You are a "good sport" (for want of a more yogic expression) for trying this style. It will be yours eventually; or, like some of us, you will do a kind of yoga more suited to you.

    Like your take on the buffet breakfast. Yogis should realize (this) life is short; no need to fear food!

    I say that as someone who is in recovery from a binge eating disorder.

    Wish I had your sense of humor about all this. But I'm not in India, and have limited time and money to get involved with a challenging yoga class that still "speaks to me" …

    • Yogini3, it does seem to be a challenging yoga. But on Sunday Sharath had a "conference" where he talked about some of the more spiritual aspects of the yoga (Claudia wrote about this elsewhere) and I very much appreciated the spiritual aspects. But yes, I still have to see if physically this suits me. I hope it does. I want to look like that guy above.

  8. Tobye Hillier yogi tobye says:

    James, you are the Bee's feckin' knees! Fake it till ya make it and feck the begrudgers! (feck is Gaelic BTW)

  9. Sybil says:

    How hilarious! A great post to start my morning. Having just come from a retreat where there was twice as much chanting and guru worshiping as there was asana and pranayama practice – I can relate!

  10. ABSOLUTELY love this post. Thank you so much for sharing. Much love to both of you on your journeys!

    • Tanya, thanks. Yesterday, Claudia tried to photograph some jokes and a woman came over, smiling but shaking her head "no". Something about not photographing goats. Somehow the combination of those three things: the smile, the no, the goats running all over the place, made it an experience. We've been having fun.

  11. jprayne says:

    Keep writing and keep us posted. Your perspective is a breath of fresh air!

  12. Lele says:

    I am planning my trip to Mysore come October. I do hope you return then! I'll be in the back row of beginners class with you…'meditating.'

  13. I like "confessing". Claudia takes the yoga very seriously but its very nice that she has enjoyed my rather different way into the practice. If you can call what I have a "practice".

  14. Sadie Nardini sadienardini says:

    Mmmmmmm.
    I was going to do yoga, but now I'm more in the mood for banana pancakes.

    • Well, if you ever come here to Mysore, this place called Santosha has the best pancakes I've ever had. And I am acknowledged worldwide as the greatest pancakes taster of all time. And people write books on how humble i am about my pancakes-tasting ability.

  15. Sadie Nardini sadienardini says:

    Thanks! We're all a guru for someone, eh? GREAT post!!

  16. julialeeyoga says:

    I laughed out loud at #2, but I might have nightmares about that tonight. I'm hooked, write more!

    • #2 is dead serious. I'm starting to think aliens land on Earth, then come to Mysore to get integrated into human society before the mothership comes and takes over everything.

  17. Lisa says:

    I thought the original post was the most funny charming thing ever – until I read the comments and your replies. It wasn't Saraswati in Mysore, but I have too been told the equivalent of "you stop now." I only wish you had been there to make me giggle!

  18. cbhananda says:

    Thank you so much for this. Even funnier than the article was your response to John about the t-shirt. I LOVED IT!

    • Rarely does a truly good idea come along. The idea of getting t-shirts here and then showing up at any shala in the US struck me as an awesome idea. I still have to buy those shirts but I have some time left to do it. Thanks for the comment. I hope you weren't the person sitting next to me in class yesterday.

  19. Hilary Lindsay Hilary Lindsay says:

    Brilliant; the humming, the scratching, the sweating; Will you be going back?

  20. Jaclyn says:

    Thank goodness someone else feels the same way in class….im a disaster! I fall out of poses and can never seem to balance properly in the sea of lululemon gear that sourrounds me on the perfect god like figures of my classmates. Sigh. India will have to wait a few years :)

  21. yogiclarebear says:

    This is awesome, LOL! All I have to say is, if that is YOU in Tittibhasana…I cannot imagine how you are the worst in class. It must truly be all super power people or something!!

  22. [...] came to a close, however, and parting words were a request for taxi money, I was left feeling humiliated, cheated and hurt. Why weren’t they clearer about this initially? Was it really that important [...]

  23. Ben Ralston Ben_Ralston says:

    Turtle sounds good – saying here in Slovenia: 'počasi in sigurno gre daleč' – means 'slowly and surely goes far' :)

  24. We have a saying in the Unites States, "slow people finish last". But I don't quite subscribe to it.

  25. Pat, when I met Claudia she said, "so tomorrow you start yoga, right?" and I was like, "maybe I should try working with a trainer in a gym." And she said, "how we go to India next year?" And i was like, "how about we go for Indian food sometime."

    But here I am.

    Claudia, what kind of spell did you cast on me?

  26. The spell of letting things be, James… I think you wanted it all along ;-)

  27. Ha ha, the panckake guru, I like that :-)

  28. Sadie Nardini sadienardini says:

    Oh my Gods–and goddesses! There's nothing for me to do now but bow…

    …to disguise the fact that I'm laughing my asana off.

    Thanks to you both for being utterly awesome.

    Sadie

  29. MMmn Rene, Claudia swears by the chocolate pancakes here but I'm sticking with the banana ones.

    I have to say, also, there are A LOT of experts here. Its my own issue, I guess, somehow dealing with shame everytime I enter the shala. Shaking this feeling that I don't belong. But I guess the important thing is (for both you and me) that its helping our bodies and getting in shape. Screw all these experts! They have their own egos to deal with (they have to act like experts all the time.)

  30. john, claudia drew one for me! It was very helpful.

  31. Yogini3# says:

    Oh, yeah. I had that happen to me in a class. By the teacher. The teacher kept pushing and wouldn't stop. Then they apologized, but only after I was upsold into getting a private session I could ill afford. I switched teachers and styles–and made my way to less mercenary studios–several times since then.

  32. This is definitely not a mercenary studio. It was definitely my own internal feelings of shame that I've had to deal with.

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