August 18, 2011

Confessions of a recovering flowtard. ~ Suzanne Morrison

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!


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.

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