December 25, 2013

Why I Practice Alone. ~ Derek Schroeder

It’s not just because I’m broke (we’ll get to that).

I practice yoga for one ultimate reason—it makes my body feel better. I began practicing to correct a spine injury without spending thousands of dollars at the chiropractor and ever since then it has taken me on a personal and spiritual journey I never could have imagined. Yoga allows me to break barriers I didn’t know existed. I used to giggle when an instructor would tell me to lift with my heart until I actually lifted with my heart.

But as much as I love the guidance and undeniable energy of practicing in a yoga studio, it’s been awhile since I’ve found myself paying any membership fees. I’m beginning to practice alone more and more for a few reasons:

1. I’m broke.

When it comes to spending money on a membership to a studio versus chipping away at my staggering student loan debt, it’s hard to prioritize namaste when I can just stay at home. I love to drop in from time to time, usually a non-profit center like the Lotus Seed in Portland, to connect to a community and benefit from some instruction. But I love yoga because it allows me to forget everything for awhile, including transactions, and I get the sense that yoga for some people is a declaration of class.

When I’m old and successful and own a studio I will bathe in the luxury of perfume incense and $120 yoga pants, but until then I’m fine with a basement and a record player as my spiritual guide.

Like most things, I feel Americans have missed the point of yoga. I wish classes were filled with middle class mothers or fast food workers who could benefit more from the practice than trophy wives suppressing their espresso jitters.

2. I’m a man.

Or, I guess more accurately, no matter how old I get I’m still a boy. I know what you’re thinking. This is ridiculous. I agree. But, like most people, I have what I consider a healthy amount of social anxiety—there is a time and place for pop culture references—which means pretty girls still make me blush. And though my reasons for practicing are far from trolling unsuspecting yuppie princesses, it’s never far from the back of my mind that I am typically one of the only men in a class, except for a few tag-along boyfriends and crazy Jack Lalance old dudes.

It affects my focus. A friend of mine described it to me as quantum physics—the awareness of being perceived by an outside force—but I know it better as junior high. Yoga is a female-centered universe, not unlike my bathroom growing up as a kid, and like most men I become hyper-aware of that social anxiety when I’m treading water in an estrogen ocean. When I practice alone, my mind is free to focus on nothing but myself. I don’t peek through my elbow to make sure I’m in the right pose, and I’m never worried about looking like an idiot. My pulse is lower and my awareness sharper. I find I can root myself easier and I listen to my body instead of the instructor. Plus I can fart.

How can a man like me complain about being surrounded by like-minded yoga goddesses? #FirstWorldProblems. But that’s not the point. I’m not trying to be something I’m not. When it comes to my practice, if I’m the only person I connect with is that a bad thing? Am I missing the point? That’s not a rhetorical question.

 3. I am in control.

It’s liberating, especially for a man (there I go, more of those gender generalizations) to be able to control the simple things like the thermostat and the music. My favorite thing about practicing yoga is that it allows me to tailor my atmosphere to my mood. My most memorable experiences with yoga are rolling out of bed and actually saluting the rising sun. Or stretching the fatigue from my muscles by the crimson banks of the Colorado River on a rim-to-rim Grand Canyon trip.

I don’t want my practice to be confined to a schedule and my aptitude for tardiness isn’t going anywhere fast. I prefer to take my practice all over the world. Yoga liberates me to stand among the trees, tall and proud; have the discipline and strength of a warrior (yeah right) next to a calm glacial lake and feel the sun imbue me with power.

The critiques of our brand of vain, capitalistic, westernized yoga are endless. I don’t mean to add to them, but I do want to distance myself from them. I don’t think less of any yogi, no matter how rich or disillusioned they may be. I’m not saying it’s unfair that more men my age (23) don’t practice. I’m simply saying that I’m a man, and I prefer to practice yoga by myself, to my own music, often stoned. I hope I’m not doing it wrong…

Take the journey with me (from a safe distance).

Here’s a quick list of my favorite yoga albums:

Van Morrison: Hard Nose the Highway

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros: S/T


Santana: Abraxas

Jonathan Wilson: Gentle Spirit

Radiation City: Cool Nightmare

Tame Impala: Innerspeaker

ISIS: Wavering Radiant

Hammock: Departure Songs


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Assistant Editor: Lauren Savory / Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: Mike Baird / Flickr

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Derek Schroeder