May 25, 2011

What it means to be a Recovering Yogi.

Hint: it don’t mean I hate yoga.

I used to be a skinny, flexible, popular yoga teacher. I was in a photo spread in Yoga Journal. I launched a successful Power Yoga program at a busy studio in the Bay Area. I worked for a superstar yoga teacher and traveled the western hemisphere helping spread the gospel of yoga to the masses. I was a yoga missionary. It was my heyday as a yogi… or so I thought.

I was entirely focused on getting “better” at yoga. I spent most of my practice time in classes obsessing over how many more times I would be able to come to yoga that week, or calculating how long it might take me to touch my head to my toes in paschimottonasana if I kept at it with my current level of drive. I kept track of how often I practiced by marking it on a calendar on my wall, where I would often gloat in the knowledge that I was being good and perfect. Those little notations on my calendar meant more to me than the experience of practicing itself.

And as a teacher, I loved to bitch to my other yoga teacher friends about that one student who never listened. We’d say, “I’ve told him a million times to bring his feet together. It’s like his legs aren’t connected to his brain!” And then inevitably, one of us would say, “You know, you can say something a million times, but until the student is ready to hear it…” And then we’d all nod our heads sagely.

Photo © Marty Sconduto

I was in my early thirties, and I thought I knew everything about yoga.

Over the years I came to realize that true yoga is not about how awesome you are at asana. It’s not about how many days in a row you’ve gone to a yoga class. (40 Days to Personal Revolution, anyone?) It’s not about your mastery of the Master Cleanse or your gold medal in the yoga Olympics (or, shall we say, the Yoga Journal Talent Search?) And it’s sure as hell not about being perfect at—or even “good at”— anything.

If those things are your bag, good for you. But thank Krishna that’s not my Type-A yoga anymore.

I met a wise vinyasa teacher once who, when pressed, claimed to practice yoga “every single day”… but not always asana. In his mind, going for a sweet surf session was just as much “yoga” as hittin’ a few down dogs. And to his credit, I’m sure he was just as present and zen and at one with the universe while on his surfboard as when on his mat… if not more so.

I am now a Recovering Yogi

What does this mean exactly? Well, the most important thing it does NOT mean: it does not mean that I do not do yoga.

I do yoga.

Photo © Andyfreeberg.com

So do my co-founders, Vanessa Fiola and Leslie Munday. In fact, one of our project ground rules is that we commit to a personal practice of at least one class a week (ambitious, I know) and two retreats or workshops a year. I got my workshops out of the way early on. I’m actually at my third one, right now, writing this. Because the truth is, I love yoga.

Being a recovering yogi is not about being anti-yoga. Here’s what it is:

◘ A refuge for the spiritually disenfranchised

◘ A humor web site devoted to bursting the bubble of pretentious, over-serious, judgmental Western interpretations of yoga and new age culture

◘ A tongue-in-cheek reference to the addictive, culty aspects of the yoga world

◘ A place for yogis and ex-yogis with senses of humor to tell stories

◘ A forum for creativity and self-expression

◘ A dialog

Ironically, creating Recovering Yogi has brought me closer to yoga than I was before. It has helped me to strip away the vapid lingo, the judgmental and competitive asana ‘tude, the Type A mentality of overachieving in ways asana, dharma, and karma. It’s helped me come to peace with my limitations and stop trying to be always better, stronger, nicer, purer, gooder. It’s been humbling and empowering all at the same time.

This article was originally published on Lexi Yoga.
Genius artwork up top by Vanessa Fiola.

You must be logged in to post a comment. Create an account.

Sandy Gross Jun 5, 2011 7:36pm

NAMASTE! (I am a follower of your blog:) Great stuff and happy you are getting more press!

Ang Jun 3, 2011 1:48pm

If I could only convey sarcasm thru text…The "How charitable – Aren't I the enlightened one?" was meant purely in a sarcastic way..Not a lot of enlightenment going on then or now when that's my attitude.
I agree with you 100% – humility is the key. Yoga is such an intensely personal thing for me (again the fine line between "personal" and narcissistic) that it's even more of a bummer when you realize you have bought into a subculture you thought you were "above". It's just so important to constantly question and examine – I'm grateful for my injury to have forced upon me the exile I needed to start looking at things with some perspective and objectivity.

Ang Jun 3, 2011 7:19am

My name is Angela and I'm just in the baby steps of the recovery process…I'd like to start by apologizing and trying to make amends to all of the people who I encouraged in class somewhat condescendingly. Their best was ok for them….I just demanded that my best be a little better, despite having shoulder surgery two months ago. Feeling like I needed to just step away from yoga all together until I could be perfect again. It's all about the asanas after all…..or all about me being an ass.

What an honest and hilariously "close to home" article Joslyn. Even my rotator cuff was type A and eventually ripped apart under pressure, but not practicing for the last few months has been more enlightening than any class I've attended. Love the post – love your site – keep it up and thanks for the smile!

Read Elephant’s Best Articles of the Week here.
Readers voted with your hearts, comments, views, and shares:
Click here to see which Writers & Issues Won.

Joslyn Hamilton

Joslyn Hamilton is a freelance writer living in beautiful Marin County, California. She is one of the co-founders of Recovering Yogi and also launched Creative Truth or Dare. Joslyn has an imaginary spice + skincare line called SimpleBasic. She is a functioning craftaholic and counts hiking, cooking, reading and rabid tweeting among her many chaste vices. Reach her directly at [email protected]