Confessions of a recovering flowtard. ~ Suzanne Morrison

Via on Aug 18, 2011

This piece originally appeared on Recovering Yogi. Don’t miss Nancy Alder’s Elephant interview with Suzanne Morrison, either! And read her book!
It’s really good!

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By Suzanne Morrison

So, I wrote this book. It’s called Yoga Bitch, and it’s about two months I spent in Indonesia studying yoga way back in 2002. I wrote Yoga Bitch because I came home from Indonesia with my head a little bit exploded. Some crazy stuff went down on that retreat, and over the nine years that followed, I realized that it was continuing to change my life, as if over the course of two months of stretching and meditating, I’d planted big handfuls of life-seeds that kept sprouting when I least expected them to.

I’ve spent much of the past decade thinking about this story, and wrestling with some of my more complicated feelings about my yoga practice and the yoga industry. But something interesting has happened since I finished writing Yoga Bitch. I think I may have grown all wise and shit. No, really. I think I’m just a little bit enlightened. Like, I seem to have evolved in my practice so that very little bothers me and I don’t really care if I look terrible in class, or if everybody around me can do crow pose while I lie face-down on my mat, weeping silently. I’m just sort of okay with that, now. It’s like, having written Yoga Bitch, I said what I needed to say and now I can just be a yogi who happens to cry a lot during the more challenging postures.

The best thing about suddenly not giving a rat’s tuches about how I look in yoga classes is that I am no longer injuring myself the way I used to. See, up until recently—up until I got sort of enlightened, I mean— I was going through a phase I like to call my flowtard phase.

I used to be the biggest flowtard at my yoga studio.

By flowtard, I mean two things. One: a yoga practitioner who commits flow, also known as vinyasa or linked poses or blatant Shiva Rea showoffery. And two: a yoga practitioner who is too slow to actually do a flow well.

To be good at flowing styles of yoga, one must be graceful, agile, and maybe a little bit ADD. I tend more toward the slow, ponderous, indolent end of the spectrum. In my heart, I’m a Restoratives kinda gal. Restoratives yoga is my soul mate. All I ever want to do is lie around on the floor under a bunch of blankets gently stretching my chakras.

(And now that I’m enlightened, it’s all I’ll ever do again! Wait till you see how freaking flexible my chakras are gonna get!)

Anyhoo, this story is pre-enlightenment. Many years ago, around, say, 2005, my yoga ego was at its height. Actually, it was at one of its many heights—my ego is more of a mountain range than one solitary peak. I was living in New York and started practicing at a pretty hardcore studio. Well, hardcore for me. I mean, I’m not talking about Ashtanga Yoga. No way. That’s truly hardcore. Even when my ego’s in charge, I am way too lazy for Ashtanga. I get terrified even thinking about attending an Ashtanga class. I don’t even know if Ashtanga is capitalized, but I spell it with a capital A just because I am so scared of it I think it will come and pinch me if I seem disrespectful.

In New York, I decided to get a little bit radical with my simple, straightforward Iyengar-based practice and get flowing. Within weeks of signing over my life savings for a month-long pass to my new studio, I became addicted to the flow. Flow. You know, the sun salutation on crack, the dance of vinyasa bliss, the marriage of mountain to dog to plank to jumpety jump jump! I watched my neighbors leaping and bounding, and I vowed to leap and bound with still greater flow. I told myself that I was a streak of golden flowing energy, I never stayed in a pose longer than three to five milliseconds because the flow is like life: you can’t hold onto these poses, man. You gotta just let ‘em go. Go with the flow. Flow, you flowtard, flow.

Now, I must be clear: Normal yogis who happen to enjoy the occasional or daily flow are not flowtards.

I was a flowtard, because the truth is this: I was not a flood of golden energy. I was not linking breath to posture in a transcendent dance of vinyasa bliss. I was one of the idiots (please God let me be not alone) who knew she couldn’t do a flow without incurring injury, having ankles and knees that twist if you look at them cross-eyed, but who does the flow anyway. That is what I mean when I say that I am flowtarded. Or was, anyway. You know, before the enlightenment.

A roster of my flow-related injuries, if you will:

  • Right knee.
  • Left eye. (No idea, but I think it was yoga related. It felt like bad karma, anyway.)
  • Right hip.
  • Left kidney.
  • I think once I pulled my diaphragm.
  • All of my ankles.
  • I’m convinced flows make me breakout on my chin, but I can’t prove it.
  • My psyche.

So you see, flowtardation has its consequences. But to demonstrate the depth of my flowtardation, I would like to tell you about the stupidest injury I suffered while under the spell of the flow. The baby toe on my right foot. I broke it. I broke it during a particularly speedy sun salutation at that hardcore New York yoga studio. This yoga studio prided itself on existing solely for the “serious” yoga practitioner. This was a studio with no beginner’s classes whatsoever; that’s how hardcore they were. They hated beginners, with their silly complaints and questions and deodorants. Stupid beginners.

This was a studio where no sun salutation was performed slowly. Everything was on fast forward. FLOW YOU FUCKERS, FLOW! That sort of place. I never do well in this kind of environment, I know this about myself, but for some reason I kept going to this studio and I kept injuring myself and I NEVER LEARN I JUST MAKE THE SAME GODDAMN MISTAKES WHICH IS HOW I BROKE MY GODDAMN TOE.

We were in downward dog, see, and then we were supposed to swing one foot forward in a lunge. The teacher was already shouting for us to start the next salutation. She spoke on fast-forward, like Alvin and the Chipmunks. That’s how fast this flow was, which is why I was sweating from my eyeballs. I was also roughly twelve thousand steps behind the rest of the class, and I didn’t have my glasses on or contacts in, and I couldn’t see because of the SWEATING FROM THE EYEBALLS, so I must have misjudged the distance between my foot and the floor, and as I brought my foot up to the front of my mat I sort of grazed my little pinkie toe against the blue sticky mat, bending it all the way back as if I were such a flexible yogini that even my baby toe could do something like that. Except that then I heard a popping sound not unlike the sound you hear when ripping a drumstick off a roast chicken, and then I knew exactly what happened because before my sweating eyes I watched my baby toe grow and swell until it began to resemble Ron Jeremy’s infamous appendage.

That was when I realized I needed to stop flowing.

So naturally I did it for half a decade longer, until I finished writing Yoga Bitch and got accidentally enlightened. These days, I respect the flow. I even love the flow, sometimes, from a distance, when I’m feeling generous in spirit and full of lovingkindness. (Cause, have you heard? After you get enlightened you feel that way all the time. And you can eat as much ice cream as you want without worrying about cellulite. Enlightenment’s the bomb!)

So, right, I can dig a flow. But these days I want to go to yoga and just sit and breathe for a long time and then very, very slowly start to move, gradually working my way into some sort of slowflow, the kind you would do with an elderly person who has recently had a few hips replaced.

I am probably jinxing myself, but I think this is how I stopped being so flowtarded:

I finally broke into the safe room in my brain where I store my ego. Through many hours of diligent sutra reading and contemplation of the Upanishads (Oh jeez that is SUCH a lie, I was actually drinking copiously with my friend Erin in the park) I realized that I needed to actually take the flow at my own pace. Like, find the flow in me. I don’t need to change the yoga world’s love of flow. Quoth Michael Jackson: I’m starting with the man in the mirror. Or like, the woman. Me. I’m starting with the flowtard in the mirror. And all ten of my toes are thanking me.

About Suzanne Morrison

Suzanne Morrison is a writer and solo performer who lives in Seattle with her husband and a delightfully inbred cat named Riley. Her first memoir, Yoga Bitch: One Woman’s Quest to Conquer Skepticism, Cynicism, and Cigarettes on the Path to Enlightenment is on sale now from Three Rivers Press.

About Recovering Yogi

Far from the land of meaningless manifestation, vacuous positivity, and boring yoga speak lives Recovering Yogi, the voice of the pop spirituality counterculture and an irreverent forum where yogis, ex-yogis, never-yogis, writers, and readers converge to burst the bubble of sanctimonious rhetoric. We are critical thinkers and people who just love to laugh. Visit us on our web site for some straight talk, join the discussion on Facebook or Twitter, or buy a t-shirt and support our mission.

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55 Responses to “Confessions of a recovering flowtard. ~ Suzanne Morrison”

  1. Leslie O'Brien says:

    I like you style grrrl…. Love when I start to read something and although I want to pull away I cant because I 'love the flow'….tee hee and on my own journey I teach a really really slow relaxed yoga and since opening my studio have felt like I should speed things up to keep people happy, self doutb can be a real debbie downer, but you my darling have picked me up in the arms of your words. Thank You and namaste, enlightened one!

  2. warriorsaint says:

    Oh, Lordy, Suzanne we are sisters in sweat! I was on the same driven, self destructive path my first 10 years I studied capoeira. I blew out both my shoulders (now healing), knees, and still can't look at my toenails that harbor fungus unknown in N. American.
    Breaking in to the "safe room in ..brain that stores my (the) ego" can be a wonderful thing. I came down from sparring on my hands to yoga to take a break from capoeira. Curiously I found the same competitive air space -albeit more covert in overdesigned, overpriced clothing.

  3. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    This is great – flowtard? Love it. Can't wait to read it. Third blog this week about Yoga Bitch – well done!

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Join us! Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

  4. Beth says:

    Loved this post! Can't wait to read the book. Favorite line:

    I don’t even know if Ashtanga is capitalized, but I spell it with a capital A just because I am so scared of it I think it will come and pinch me if I seem disrespectful.

  5. Amber Whittamore says:

    Can't wait to read your book! Flowtard is a brilliant word, screw what anyone else says.

  6. Paul says:

    Now that made me smile – I especially liked the admission that sometimes revelations come while under influences other than yoga/meditation. I myself work at a style I like to call big-ass redneck – which involves some Kundalini poses with my 56 year old backside firmly planted on the floor. Its more of a no-flow practice but it does help the vreaks in my bones. Sometimes I practice Vatayanasana or in its western name Wind Relieving Pose – now THERE'S some flow (in truth its not nearly as funny now that my soon to be ex is now longer around to display her surprise at this much unappreciated ancient yoga pose – usually practiced on an early Sunday morning before one rises to greet the day). Other than that pose tho I too am flowtarded and quite happily so. Peace from the Great White North!

  7. Aimee says:

    Excellent story, Suzanne. Really looking forward to reading the book!

  8. LA Finfinger says:

    I've been looking forward to this book! Congratulations!

  9. Alexis says:

    Whenever I let my ego get the better of me in those SOOPER FLOW classes full of beautiful people secretly judging my child's pose while they hold their handstands in the middle of the room, I tell myself that this is MY PRACTICE! My practice is not about the teacher or the other practitioners in the room. THIS IS MY PRACTICE! My ego gets me into practice, onto the mat, but I never let my ego get me into a pose because that fleeting moment of glory is not worth a lifetime of injury! THIS IS MY PRACTICE! Thanks for the terrific article!

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      Yay, you!!

      Do what you can do. Do the flow or practice that you were meant to do, not the one that the class teacher or show-oafs in the front row may have been meant to do.

      Of course, that Level III slow flow with the six handstands in it may once have had my name on it (as a participant-observer … more the observer than anything), but I don't think I should be spending TOOOO much time in child's pose for what I would pay walk-in for that class–so I don't even BOTHER with that class… but that's just me ….

  10. Lola says:

    very funny blog post…and I sooooo know what you mean. I would bet all those toe-busting, eyeball sweating moments helped you reach Ice Cream-eating Enlightenment. I used to TRY. SO. HARD! Then I met my teacher, who with one arch look and one perfectly-timed comment, asked me "what is driving you to push yourself so hard?" I would injure myself, or be in constant competition with myself and who I thought I should be or how I should look (and of course, would sneak looks at the other practitioners). My ego was well entrenched. Occasionally this part of me still pops out. I am now a Yoga Alliance-certified yoga teacher and it still pops out. I was in a continuing education workshop for teachers, doing something sweaty and requiring flexibility and strength. I was sweating from my eyeballs and the teacher asked me, in that perfectly-timed way, "what would happen if you stopped trying so hard and just had fun?"

    The part of me that likes to break my toe and sweat from the eyeballs still lives…she has mostly accepted her place in the back of the room and only pipes up if I am being REALLY unkind to myself. Now when she comes out, I am the one able to give her an arch look and well-timed comment.

    • I really like that teacher: what would happen if you stopped trying so hard and just had fun? Great question. Amazing how easy things get when something so obvious– and difficult to remember– is pointed out!

  11. namastehon says:

    Thom Birch, husband of Beryl Bender Birch (author of Power Yoga), used to say "if it ain't fun, it ain't yoga" before breaking out into Broadway show tunes (during class)

  12. yogiclarebear says:

    This is hilarious. I'm not a flowtard, but the more I practice the less fast I want to go. I'm inspired that you found enlightenment by going with your slower flow. That encourages me to stop forcing mine.

  13. Theresa says:

    This is the funniest post I have read in a long time! Flowtarded…..LOL

    For the record, I hate flow yoga.

  14. Suzanne, this is brilliant writing. I laughed out loud as I read it. Having gone from Ashtanga to Anusara, where we focus much more on the alignment (you can relate from the Iyengar experience), I definitely relate to the love/hate relationship with flowing. Now that I've been practicing Anusara for 3 years, I'm much deliberate in my placement in all poses, including in a sun salutation, and I've healed old injuries that nag me for years. It pays to slow down and pay attention… and when you do flow, to be not only properly aligned, but also to be in the flow of the breath. So much beauty and power. Thanks for sharing your story.

  15. NotSoSure says:

    Love your perspective. I am sooooo gonna buy your book.

    I too am a refugee from flow yoga. And I was an "advanced" practitioner of flow and ashtanga (no capital A from me, dammit). Or at least how advanced is defined in flow yoga, i.e. ego driven gymnastics with no knowledge of alignment. I went from an "advanced" flow guy to a beginner in Iyengar. And I love being a beginner again. I love learning the depth which can be found in each pose and learning true body awareness. And personally, I find alignment based asana to be much more physically and mentally challenging than flow/ashatanga yoga.

  16. [...] can read her piece on Elephant Journal here & her Huffington Post piece [...]

  17. Joe Sparks says:

    Disabled people suffer greatly from social oppression which uses their "hadicaps" or "disabilities" as an excuse for systematic mistreatment. They have been organizing, with increasing clarity and effectiveness. The rest of us, the "temporarily able-bodied," have found ourselves in much confusion; people, with the best of intentions, often "feel sorry for" or "pity" the disabled. We attempt to "help" them without being asked, or fail to assist when assistance is needed. We would like to overcome these difficulties and become better allies for our disabled brothers and sisters.
    I think disabled person will appreciate it. It will be very useful to us " temporarily non-disabled" in our efforts to be rational and non-oppressive in our relations with our disabled associates.

  18. Diane Schlaufman says:

    Suzanne, you may not know anyone with an intellectual disability but believe me, someday you will. And when that day comes, you will – if you are truly living from the heart – feel remorseful and embarrassed by your callousness of the use of the term (you know which term I am referring to). As you have heard from many, the term is derogatory, cruel and insulting to the disability community. The fact that the term is being coined, used and marketed by a yogini is further insulting to the yoga community. Do we not strive to live a higher level of consciousness? Before you coined the term, you may not have known of it's hurtfulness. Now you do. The choice to continue its use is yours. I hope your choice is guided by wisdom and compassion and that you walk the walk of a true enlightened yoga practitioner and follow the path of love and understanding.
    Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.
    Buddha

  19. SillyTard says:

    oh lord, chill out. I don't know suzanne but I can say with 1000% certainty she was not picturing your lovely child/friend/family member with a disability. (can i still say disability? specialized ability? WTF words am i "supposed" to use now-a-days?) The word Retarded – i said it! – has many appropriate uses which do not pertain to people with disabilities!!! Her ability to understand that what she thought was flow was retarded – as in slowed in growth, as in was being held back from being fully realized, as in ways that the actual word retarded appropriately defines.

  20. SillyTard says:

    Her use of the word was NOT the same as whatever unfortunate name calling events must have befallen the specialized ability person you must think you're defending. YES, I ALSO happen to have a family member who is Downs, and her usage did not offend me in the slightest because I know it was not coming from a place of malice. Your child/friend/family member DOES have many wonderful attributes and abilities that no one else has. So does my honor student niece, so does my dog, so does the homeless man sitting on the corner. She was not belittling those in the slightest. "Outlawing" words is so silly and waste of energy

    • KBT says:

      Totally agree with this. It's a word. What is hateful and ignorant is yelling at people who use a WORD, not the people who write funny articles with the "r-word" included. She is obviously not making fun of people with a mental handicap, so why freak out? :]

    • CLWright says:

      IS downs? Wow, you really don't get it do you?!

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    To paraphrase an observation from McKinsey over a decade ago, regarding IT’s impact on productivity, “when tailored to sector-specific businesses, deployed in an appropriate sequence, and co-evolved with managerial innovation, the impact of information technology investments can be huge.” As I often tell my students, “technology by itself has no value . . . value is only found in what you do with it”. Simply purchasing and installing an expensive EMR doesn’t bring value; it is only if you change how you work and what you do to take advantage of an EMR, that will make any difference. In many (most?) cases, we have a ways to go in figuring this out.

  23. Yogini5 says:

    Yayy!! I knew I would find the voice of reason here. As a recovering Flowtard (or at least one who has been convinced I was), I forgive those who, with respect to your concept and who have been in my life, are the actual … more accurately-termed—IMHO—Sukhatards … !

  24. Right on, namastehon. But one question: is Ashtanga capitalized???
    Thanks for reading! :)

  25. marce says:

    I agree, Andrea! Using any word with the suffix “tard” makes me cringe and it really takes away from this hilarious and needed piece on the occasional ridiculousness of vinyasa yoga.

    I teach vinyasa, but I’ve been somewhat limited in my “flow” by my inability to remember those complicated 16-asana lunge sequences (shit! what comes after revolved side angle again?), and my ability to distinguish my left from my right most days. . . there’s a good reason why I practice yoga, not Zumba or step aerobics!

    I am so glad that you posted the “r-word” link and I really hope no-one spits out tired arguments about stick-up-their –bum yogis who need to have a sense of humour . . . I thought this article was funny and it still would still be bang-on if we used a different word that’s a little less insulting.

  26. Thanks for the link, Andrea. I'll check it out.

  27. Yogini5 says:

    I know my left from my right, but my hip flexibility sucks … step aerobics did my feet in back in the day … it was forgiving of my hips and my sense of rhythm made up for any lack of coordination …

    Hour for hour, it had been a much better stress buster than FLOW yoga ..

    But I can't pine over my pained feet and my need for orthotics for the past 15 years …

  28. namastehon says:

    it's scary because people think you are supposed to practice First Series all at once without doing the homework, which is one step at a time in Mysore class – first you master Surya namaskara A then you add Surya B, then you add the standing postures, etc. it could take you a week to master Surya A (10 in a row without stopping with proper form and alignment) or it could take you 6 months. But learned properly, it builds a solid foundation on which the rest of the practice sits…

  29. Rich K says:

    If you just let go of that fear, you can do anything. You don't need to be anything but what you currently are.

  30. Cat says:

    omg – I did EXACTLY the same thing in a very high energy vinyasa flow class – I thought the woman next to me was going to faint when she heard it crack! Needless to say, I have let go of my uber-competitiveness! (btw, even now, 10 months later, the toe aches and reminds me of my ego!)

  31. Rich K says:

    I am absolutely certain that this is the universe's way of telling me that I need to be more present in my practice and to get into the studio more often. Stupid ego.

  32. I'm definitely more interested in a subtler form of yoga these days. A bit of flow's good to keep me from getting toooo lazy, but otherwise, I want to get inside the poses as opposed to rush through them. And I want to roll around on the floor and snooze.

  33. Thanks for the links, Leisa, I'll check them out.

  34. leisahammett says:

    Thanks for hearing us.

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