I once spent a month in Thailand, where I met a wonderful woman in a club.
We danced, we talked, we laughed, we kissed, we danced some more, and then she asked if I wanted to go back to her hotel. I said yes, and she led me outside and down an alley, where a man jumped out and tried to stab me.
That is more or less how my life has worked. I find something I love, think it’s great, and then follow it down a dark alley. This is what happened with alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, and Amazon Prime Day. For some reason, I thought yoga would be different.
I made the decision to start because of my Uncle Bob. Bob likes to get drunk and make bets with people on whether he can lift his big toe to his ear. He does this at every party. This, and handing people his fake two front teeth mid-conversation. Without fail, when he finishes his toe-to-ear trick, he always laughs and cheers, “Yoga, baby!”
There is a simple reason why people often take this bet: he doesn’t look the part. When people think “yoga,” they think of a slim, vegan hunk on a cliff doing Sparrow poses to meditation music. They do not imagine a paunchy, drunk, 60-something-year-old lawyer without his front teeth hopping up and down with one toe in his ear, laughing his ass off like it’s the Fourth of July.
This time, he’d done it to my brother’s new girlfriend.
He’d made it halfway. My cousin, who’d seen this trick dozens of times, came through the crowd asking people what their spirit animal is. It was my turn. “Elephant,” I told her. It was a lie. When people ask me this, I tell them something cool like leopard, giraffe, or elephant, but in reality, I think, “a weighted blanket.” Before they invented weighted blankets, my spirit animal was pasta water. Before that, no one cared what anyone’s spirit animal was. Nowadays, the question is inescapable; it has become the cultural-appropriation party favor for any self-respecting gathering of white people.
My cousin moved on to Elliot, my brother, who said, “Gordon Ramsay.” Then to his girlfriend, who said, “Owl,” and on around the circle until my uncle had reached his full toe-to-ear pose and cried, “Yoga, baby!” As soon as he had both feet on the ground, my cousin ran up and tugged at his shirt. You always had to tug to get his attention once he got going. He looked down at her, “What baby? What’s up?”
“What’s your spirit animal?” She asked.
He looked down at her, thought for a moment, and then said, “Cocaine!”
That was the moment my yoga journey began: watching this old man collect on his bet and thinking, I guess you can do yoga without being a yoga person. I’d avoided yoga for years for that one petty reason: I can’t stand yoga people. They are like religious fanatics, but better looking. An old, sweaty, lawyer with no front teeth who loves cocaine? That, I could relate to.
The more I thought about it, the more yoga appealed to me. I often travel. I lack discipline. I am cheap. Yet I want to stay healthy, and—more importantly—good looking. I’d tried to exercise many times in the past. When I moved to Russia, where life either makes you strong or kills you, gyms were hard to come by. Eventually, I did find one: a box with bars on the windows in the basement of a back-alley Saint Petersburg apartment building, like a massive Soviet hamster cage. After 10 or so minutes of picking things up and putting them down, a young Russian man named Slava, who spoke three words of English, adopted me. He was a difficult father figure. “Wrong. Like this!” was the first thing he said. He followed me around to different exercises. One after another: “Wrong. Like this!”
When I slunk back to the locker room to get dressed, he followed. He showered, I didn’t. He came walking out as I was about to leave. He had a gigantic penis. It swung back and forth, like an enormous, wagging finger of disapproval. I didn’t go back and drank beer instead. That was two years ago.
My friend told me she’d learned yoga online with something called Yoga With Adriene. “You’ll love her,” she said. “She’s not a yoga person,” she clarified.
When I looked her up, I saw she had a 30-day program for beginners. I test-watched a video. She was fun and attractive, but it wasn’t distracting. It was more in the way certain ex-girlfriends are attractive—like we’d already had a bunch of sex that tapered off until she no longer found it exciting and left me for a guy who hikes. She said she wanted to be friends, and I said okay, but we never talked, and now I’m watching her YouTube channel because, honestly, I’m proud of her. I bookmarked Adriene’s channel and wrote myself a Post-It note: “Start 30 Days of Yoga Tomorrow!”
Then, I bought a yoga mat. I already had yoga pants—they made me feel sexy. But I mostly used them to eat popcorn.
It was another three months before I finally stood on the mat and hit play. By the end of the Day one video, my confidence was up. It wasn’t so hard. I went to my mirror and tried to lift my toe to my ear. I made it to my waist. My whole body shook, and I nearly fell over. I held onto the counter and wrenched my foot up another half-inch.
Day 2: I unfurled my yoga mat and my confidence shot up even higher. Adriene was great. Just when I’d find myself shaking, she’d say, “It’s okay to shake, that’s your body waking up!” and I’d think, “Yeah! My body is waking up!”
Day 7: We worked on our balance. She said, “Don’t be afraid to hold onto something!” just as I was about to fall over. “Thank you!” I told the video.
Day 10: I felt like a pro. My breathing was steadier, and my back didn’t hurt as much. I was taking stairs two at a time. Each day, after yoga, I went to the mirror and tried to touch my toe to my ear. I was getting closer. From my waist, I’d gotten to bellybutton.
Day 15: I barged into my friend’s apartment. “Look!” I grabbed my ankle and lifted my leg up to nearly my nipples. He glanced up from his computer and said, “New shoes?” So I FaceTimed my brother, stepped back, and said, “Look!” And he said, “Wow, pretty soon we’ll have to knock out your two front teeth.”
I completed Adriene’s 30-Day Challenge and wanted more. I began targeting different parts of my body—like my back, which twanged from working on a computer all day. Then my shoulders, which were tired of carrying my backpack. Soft abs? Yoga for abs. Stress? Yoga for stress. Trouble sleeping? Yoga for sleep. Trouble waking up? Morning energizing yoga. Neck, anxiety, sleepiness, hunger, addiction, love, despair—each time, it was “yoga, baby!”
It’s no wonder that after two months of my yoga journey when I developed a pain in my hip, I looked up “Yoga with Adriene Hips.” Every morning I did my Energizing Morning Yoga followed by the six-minute hip video. I got a standing desk at work and listened to a lot of Shakira to keep my hips moving. In conversations, I’d bend over, lift one leg, and frog-crouch. When people asked what I was doing, I’d say, “My hips hurt, so I’m doing yoga for them.” Then, catching the look on their face, I’d follow it with, “But I am not a yoga person!”
The hip pain persisted. Finally, I realized I had to see my doctor, a woman named Doctor Lee. She, unlike Adriene, is attractive in a way that either scares you into (or out of) an erection. I explained to her how I’d been taking such good care of my body with yoga. She poked my hip, I cringed, and she told me I had developed tendonitis in my hip.
“You said you’re doing yoga?” she asked, writing out a prescription.
“It shouldn’t have caused this, but it will make it worse, so you’ll have to take a break from it for a while.”
I was horrified. “But I’ve been doing so well!” I protested. I wanted to explain that I suffer from a rare condition of having an addictive personality but no willpower, which means I can only stick to things by making myself addicted to them. But she knew this already.
“Can I just do a little yoga?” I tried.
She frowned. “No—there is no telling what makes it worse since I don’t know the routines you’re using. But either way, it’s best to just take a little break. You can try to go back to it in a couple of weeks.”
In a desperate attempt at one last argument, I said, “But look, I can almost touch my toe to my ear!” I lifted my foot and nearly fell over but caught myself. My toe was clearly on its way to my ear. I’d make it soon. I was sure of it. When I fully regained my balance, a look settled over her face that I couldn’t read right away.
“How often do you do that?” she asked.
“Lift your leg like that?”
Her look hadn’t changed. I felt cornered by her eyes.
“I—” and then I realized what her look was saying.
Doctor Lee sighed.
I said, “Oh.”
And she said, “Yeah.”