The Deep, Dark Secret of Western Yoga. ~ Kevin Macku

Via on May 14, 2013

Are you sure you’re ready to read this?

I didn’t come here for the spirituality.

I didn’t join the yoga community for the oms, the chanting or even the incense. There was a time not too long ago that I didn’t care about Patanjali or Arjuna, I couldn’t tell you the difference between Krishna or Vishnu and I called Hanumanasana “the splits.”

Okay, part of that’s a lie: I called that thing you call Hanumanasana, “that thing I will never and men should never do.”

Hm. Let’s go back a bit.

I was always the smart kid in school.

You know the joke: who’s really gay—the sweaty wrestling guys rolling all over each other in the ring, the guys trying to tackle each other on the football field or the guys in show choir who get to hang out with girls after school?

My friends and I proved that straight, masculine men could work it on the dance floor, that the Fall Formal didn’t have to be all bump n’ grind and that we knew that, later on in life, in almost any company shy of a hostage situation—a high school talent show, a wedding, the International Space Station—from sea shanties to Bach to Bowie, a good song lifts spirits and helps people meander through day to day drudgery. Being able to bring that to someone is worth to me a hundred plastic trophies.

Fast forward a little, then, to that phase of masculine development where we men learn what it is about women that we like other than boobs: my undergrad.

Amid the cheap Collegetown cocktails of attraction, scandal and drama that my peers and I indulged in whilst throwing darts at our degrees, there’s a theme I noticed that kept coming up time and time again: mostly, the women to whom I found myself attracted did this thing; it’s either a practice they followed, or, in many cases, they taught: yoga.

Now, in my acting training we did some “yoga,” but it was always just a warmup. People did that crap for an hour? In 100+ degree weather? Just who the hell were these people?

“But the women!” shouted the Universe. “Look at them!”

Not only were yoginis appealing to look at—and to be fair, I thought you all knew those pants were sheer, it was just polite to not say anything or look for more time than it took to see if they were either stripes or polka dots (stripes are classier, just saying)—but in a virtual desert of surface-level communication, yoginis provided these oases of meaningful discussions; even if they were just regurgitating what they heard during the post-Savasana pep talk, to the uninitiated, it sounded like some cool gospel from a faraway land of (almond) milk and (local) honey.

At some point, it just occurs to a man, “I like these people as a whole. Maybe I should be doing yoga.”

Hence me walking awkwardly into the local YMCA class with my Gaiam mat from Targét murmuring that line we all said on our first day of an actual asana class: “Yeah, I’ve been doing yoga on and off for, y’know, about four years.”

I still hear that phrase to this day when I sub classes. It mocks me.

So, let me get this out of the way for the exceptionally dense: I came to yoga for the women.

yoga girls guys men women ratio class The women (and men, let’s include them too) in my life who had some varying fraction of a yoga practice or who taught were the same ones who were already founding members and/or CEOs of magazines, theater companies or wine and craft beer stores. I wanted in on the secret.

The culmination of my desire to be a part of this society came, of course, after I’d been invited to this amazing class at a studio shala that I later fell in love with, boasting people and a society I loved hanging out with after class; a few months later, the owner of the studio is saying, “You know, we do this teacher training and…” I stopped listening. I was hooked.

But here’s the thing. When I started going to Yoga Teacher Training, something changed. I don’t know what happened or when, but at some point, it stopped being about the women. Yeah, the pants were still sheer, and I still thought it was polite to not say anything, but I was more interested in my hour+ of mat time. I switched out my old beater mat for a shiny new one, I found myself making a playlist for the fantasy class I’d teach one day and here’s the strangest thing…

I went back to church.

Can you imagine how strange it must have been for a 25-year-old man to walk into church for a random Sunday service—alone? It’s no wonder that, after mass, I was approached by some folks insisting that I join them for coffee and cookies—which I politely declined, insisting with the lies through my teeth that I had someplace to be. I don’t blame them—I walked into a Catholic church unannounced and unattended.

Men my age do not walk into church alone for no reason.

All I really wanted was a little more than an hour in that architecture to hear some chanting, some Latin and some private time with a higher power I to this day have yet to name. Say what you will about Christianity—in America, they have some very pretty architecture.

Yoga Teacher Training taught me the Primary Series. I was gifted my own practice. I learned how to say, “Supta Ekampada Rajakapotasana” five times fast. And because I know you just tried it, know I still have some trouble with it too. I think I can get three pretty regularly. After that, it gets a little funky.

Yoga BumsWe sit here and talk about what yoga is, because “Yogas citta vritti nirodhah,” apprently isn’t enough anymore. But you know what? I don’t care, honestly, what brings people to yoga. If someone wants a better butt, or for that matter to be better at anal sex, or if someone comes to yoga because they saw some model tied up in a 50 Shades of Yoga book and was like, “Okay, fine, I’ll try it out,” fine. If someone is 100 percent convinced that yoga is or should be just the stretching, fine. We have a place to start that dialogue. We can talk about what yoga is for you—104 degree rooms, the Primary Series or playing on the beach. I was that guy for the better part of a year (“on and off for about four years,” I believe the phrase goes).

I, for one, don’t care if it’s your sex life or your relationship with God that brings you to your mat. I came to yoga for the women, yes, but it stopped being about that a long time ago. Now I do yoga for yoga, to practice stilling the fluctuations of my mind.

I would never have found that—I would never have found yoga—if I hadn’t been chasing skirts sheer Lululemons.

You tell me you want a better butt? Here’s yoga. You tell me you want Madonna’s arms? Here’s yoga. You tell me you’re having a spiritual crisis and want to be closer to God? Here’s yoga: a series of postures, breathing techniques and texts, designed to still the fluctuations of the mind, but—along that path—may accomplish any number of other things. My teachers blessed me, and thousands of teachers like me, with a tradition, and everything they offered to us plus our experiences in life, we offer to you.

Why you end up in the room, and what you do with that, is entirely up to you. I hope and I pray and I work towards the goal that one day we might be able to offer you coffee and cookies in our space. I know you’ll decline and lie through your teeth that you have someplace else to be, and I promise you that we’ll understand.

And I promise you that we’ll still keep the coffee and the cookies waiting.

~

KevinMacku2Kevin Macku is a fledgling yogi in the body of a 20-something who has held a number of scandalous love affairs with words. His bachelor’s degree is in dramatic performance, and he has appeared in local stage and film productions in the past few years. Since graduation, he has found himself in the middle of a spiritual revolution, and has set about recording what he can for posterity. Like his writing? Follow him on Facebook and Twitter!

 

 

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Ed: Kate Bartolotta

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39 Responses to “The Deep, Dark Secret of Western Yoga. ~ Kevin Macku”

  1. amySaysOm says:

    Thank you for this post! I am so tired of people (especially EJ authors!) pontificating what yoga absolutely IS and what it must be and what it can't possibly be. Isn't it entirely plausible that in a physical practice comprised of 525,600 poses, there are the same number of variations as to exactly how to define it? To me, stepping onto a yoga mat is no different than falling in love or pursuing a path of recovery or any number of incredible things that we choose to do in our lives – it doesn't really matter how or why we got here, it simply matters that we have arrived.

    • OleManJake says:

      "it doesn't really matter how or why we got here, it simply matters that we have arrived"

      Took the words right out of my mouth!

  2. lana says:

    "…it doesn't really matter how or why we got here, it simply matters that we have arrived."

    Love it. and YES.

  3. This is a fantastic article. As a teacher and soon to be studio owner, I firmly believe that whatever brings someone to yoga is their business and I have as much love and respect for them as I do for the spiritual seeker. We are all at different places on our path and I'm just grateful and inspired by another person on the path. Thank you.

  4. fragginfraggin says:

    Thanks for not telling me what I should think, what I should do or what yoga is or is not. Finally, a decent read this week on EJ.

  5. katie says:

    what a good article!

  6. Ana says:

    I love love love this!
    One day I want to be really brave and stay for the cookies.

    thank you for this! made me laugh and touch my heart

  7. Lynn Hasselberger says:

    Love this Kevin! Authentic, funny.

    • kmacku says:

      I think truth and humor go well together, like coffee and ice cream. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

  8. aseem_giri says:

    A nice treat. Thank you for 'passing' on 'passing' judgment.

  9. Revo Luzione says:

    Excellent post, young Jedi.

    A long time ago, I had a boss who was a fundamentalist Christian. He was kind of a pompous person, to be quite blunt.

    But something he said to me really stuck with me–that you cannot impugn someone's intent when they do good deeds. All that matters is that a person is doing good deeds. In this case it's yoga. Good work!

  10. Karen says:

    Best and most honest article on EJ in a while. Thank you.

  11. Jennifer says:

    Great article! Really related to this.
    Im not going to lie but I took up yoga because I wanted to tone up and have a nice yogini body, but after a few months I was captivated by the spirtial side and it has now completely changed my life!

    • kmacku says:

      Part of yoga is being honest with oneself. Not beating oneself up over it, but I hope this shows people like you and I that we can laugh about it and accept change when it comes. I'm glad you enjoyed the article, and thanks for your comment!

  12. Kim says:

    Nicely done…great read!

  13. bertusx says:

    Something that needed to be said – and said well. Great.

  14. Andy says:

    What is it about that "off and on" comment that gets you? It's always the truth for me, and longer than 4 years… That said, thanks for the good read- it hooked me in, entertained me, brought some perspective. And touched that personal place where my body & mind are -literally- SCREAMING to get back into yoga.

    • kmacku says:

      The "off an on" is just such a go-to line. I said it, I've heard it said, it just amuses me. Like we're afraid of saying, "Actually, I'm really new at this." I don't hold it against people when they say it, but I do smile a little.

  15. Meredith says:

    I'm surprised that this idea—coming to yoga for other reasons than spirituality—is still a “deep, dark secret.” Perhaps I only think this because I’m mostly an outsider to the yoga community. It just seems like plenty of folks here have come to yoga for a variety of reasons.

    The most important takeaway, I think, is for you as a teacher, K. When you’re interacting with your newbies, it seems helpful to repeat what you wrote here: “Why you end up in the room, and what you do with that, is entirely up to you.” I’ve never really heard that in a yoga class, and it would have been nice to keep in mind when I was starting out in yoga at a very vulnerable point—fresh out of eating disorder treatment.

    To this day, sometimes I get intimidated talking to you because I didn’t come to yoga for spiritual redemption and I don’t have a grasp of all the spiritual underpinnings of your work. But maybe that’s okay. Wherever we are along a journey, or whatever our motivations are/have been, we have to be gentle with ourselves and others. That goes for teachers and students and generally anyone (beyond yoga devotees) who wants to be a good human being.

    Oh, and if your future yoga endeavors ever involve offering a class that literally serves coffee and cookies… sign me up. Right away. :)

    • kmacku says:

      I'll be sure to let everyone in my community know when the coffee and cookies are available!

  16. Honey B says:

    Dang. I'd go to yoga more often if you were the instructor. Just saying' ;) (also, cool article. Thank you!)

    • kmacku says:

      A compliment from what I can only assume stands for the Honey Badger is of the highest regards. After all, we all know, the Honey Badger does not give a f***. :)

      I'm glad you enjoyed the article, and thank you for your thoughts!

  17. Susan says:

    Excellent read. Thanks for the honesty and, yes, most definitely, the lack of pontification. So tired of the holier than thou crap.

  18. Jim says:

    Thank you, most times I feel like I'm the only one that feels this way. I do yoga because it makes me feel good. End of story.

  19. Joe Sparks says:

    Hi, interesting perspective, nice job admitting every other guys distress around closeness with women. Do not kid yourself, every guy has that pattern of chasing skirts. All men are saturated in sexism, and it is not going way anytime soon! How do you not act on it? Because doing yoga will not take that pattern away, you have had since day one. The first step is admitting. Good job.

  20. Ramani says:

    any article involving sex, or especially sex and yoga gets a lot of response on EJ. It's pretty obvious from the first day you look at the site. Don't tell me what yoga is? I'm sorry but there is a certain science behind the subject and if you can't respect or see that then you are full of yourself even more than the people who tell you what yoga is. It's like saying…mmmm Netwonian physics might work for some people…Please people, your arrogance and pride is beyond reconciliation. It's okay that your not yogis or not spiritual, really it's okay. But lets not pretend to be something were not. If your doing some yoga postures that are basically gymnastics exercises, thats cool, but wake up already.

    • paul says:

      what then, is yoga?

      (ps. "your" is 2nd person possessive, "you're" is a contraction of "you are")

      • Ramani says:

        Thanks for the English lesson, I have degrees in Rhetoric and Lit and I type fast here because it doesn't matter that much. What is yoga? That is a loaded question. For starters you need a guru with some level of realization to actually study the subject – and yes they definitely still exist. So if you really want to find out go ask them, not me nor some bloke with 200 hours of training telling you what they think yoga is. It's like me telling you my medical opinion on high blood pressure because I took some anatomy and physiology in college. Not a whole lotta depth there…( sorry " lot of")

        • paul says:

          You're welcome. I don't understand what your point is then. In your first comment, you seem to say that yoga "is" something, and that people should understand what that is and not call gymnastics "yoga," while in your second comment you say that you are unqualified to say what yoga is, and to know what it is one should find someone who claims to know what it is. What then, is this certain science behind the subject, and why is gymnastics not "yoga"? How does one find someone who meets your qualifications? And since you have a background in rhetoric, I wonder what relevance does ej's articles on sex have to do with any of this?

    • kmacku says:

      Hey there!

      This thought you expressed is essentially the core of my article: "It's okay that your not yogis or not spiritual, really it's okay."

      For most of us, that's how it starts: we see or we hear testimony that yoga is this magnificent panacea/cure-all that will magically solve all of our problems with our weight, our body image and so on: I couldn't find the book to quote B.K.S. Iyengar, but he himself admits this in one of the early chapters in "Light on Life." What I saw a lot of on elephant journal is these articles of yoga teachers/scholars/theorists/enthusiasts who already evolved past that stage getting mad at people tearing the spirituality that they themselves had discovered in yoga. And we just…can't do that.

      I pointed out the Patanjali quote on yoga, which is the definition of yoga I defer to ("Yogas citta vritti nirodhah" — Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind). My teachers would absolutely *not* let me graduate teacher training without drilling that into my head, and for that I thank them. At the core of it, every class I teach is designed to allow students to do that, and when asked "what is yoga" that is my reply. But most of the time, we aren't asked. Most of our students are looking for a physical workout, something closer to aerobics that looks like asana. Those students are usually *not* interested in the spirituality, and we cannot turn them away simply because they aren't on our level of spirituality yet.

      I wanted, with this article, to tear away the illusion that we created for ourselves after going to too many conferences and hanging out with too many people in our club: that there's still a world out there that hasn't joined us and may not join us, *and that's okay*. Most of us were a part of that world—the world outside the club—once, *and that's okay*. So when confronted by these people who don't know about Patanjali, we can't smack them or shove sutras in their head and expect them to come back to us begging for more. Most of us had to walk the path one step at a time, and at some point, we find that we've travelled so far that we can't look back and see where we started anymore. I personally hate the phrase, "Wake up!" because I find it condescending and alienating because it comes from a place of self-established superiority. Instead, I'd say, "Remember yourself as you were then."

      Thanks for your reply!

  21. Ramani says:

    well I can give you a textbook answer about patanjali and meditation and calming the mind and all this other stuff that you can look up what yoga "is". Which it is. But experiencing those things on your own leaves a lot of room for self deception, without guidance from a master. How do you find someone? That is karma, faith, and grace and most importantly you have to want it. There are scriptures that will give you qualifications of a guru and what to look for in one and how to tell. But who wants to let go of their ego? Who wants to look at all their BS games and stand completely naked with the universe? It'll scare the shit out of you and possibly ruin your life, especially if you don't have guidance, I can almost guarantee it. I've experienced a lot of what yoga is not, and anything I've learned about what it actually is is from my teacher not my own half baked crap which is why I recommend going to find a teacher. Words do not equal experience. Sex has to do with the fact that this article is about picking up women. Sex+ yoga = money on this site.

    • paul says:

      The article isn't about picking up women, but that though it was the author's initial motive, he found something much more than "the ladies." It is the case that sex+anything=money. That ej showcases articles by views highlights this, but the same would likely be seen on almost every site were they to do the same, and says little about the rest of the site which has few articles to do with sex especially compared to the "views" of particular articles. I really doubt ej profits from these, as it is mostly donation-based and so relies on content, rather than clicks, for revenue.

      It seems you have a very clear understanding of what yoga "is", both textually and from your own experience, and while I understand not wanting to give a particular lineage or who your teacher is (as it may inadvertently send someone to or from your teacher), I don't understand the reluctance to give your own understandings, noting them as such and not some ultimate truth, with what has been helpful to you, or other specifics, as you have begun to do above. Otherwise, it is asking to accept what you say while rejecting what you say ("this is authoritative, and don't take my word, here are some starting points" vs. "this is authoritative, but don't listen to me"). I share the more "traditional" understanding of what yoga "is" that you express, but I think many people want to deal with their own bs, ego, etc., and have no clue where to or how to (and sometimes that they even have such an inclination), and while the western understanding "yoga" is at present sequenced postures in a studio, it can be a good starting place for these endeavors. As the article says, "Why you end up in the room, and what you do with that, is entirely up to you."

  22. Ramani says:

    Fair enough, points taken though a lot of this postural yoga is actually harming people if you know some of the other Indian disciplines – which is a whole other story. By money I meant views, success,etc.. not actual money which I suppose wasn't so clear. Best to you.

  23. annabel says:

    Happens in India too, I can tell you that from experience!

    • kmacku says:

      I kind of gathered that; I've not been myself, so I can't say from experience, but this idea that western yogis have to make a pilgrimage to the east or their tradition is not "legit" seems to be more of a fashion trend now than it was so long as 5-10 years ago (again, let me highlight that "seems" a second time, because I cannot say for certain). After watching the documentary, "Kumare," though, it really seemed to heavily imply that yoga in the east has begun to be influenced by its popularity in the west; that isn't to say that the roots of the tradition are impossible to find, just that they're now just as hard as in the west.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

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