May 14, 2013

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

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.

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.

We 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.


Kevin 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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