*Warning: salty language ahead!
When we went into lockdown last March, I hadn’t been to a yoga class in months.
Then a longtime friend mentioned that she was giving free yoga classes via Zoom. I had already attended a few Zoom happy hours and readings and had found the platform tedious—can we all just admit Zoom happy hours suck?
I’m an extrovert who is usually fed by being around people, but after every Zoom meeting, I felt drained. I was exhausted by trying to say something witty in awkward silences and adjusting the screen to hide my double chin or forehead wrinkles. I knew that with Zoom yoga, I wouldn’t have to do any of these things, so I signed in to practice with Tiffany.
In the before times, I tried the chic new yoga studio, and a fit, blonde woman sat perched at the front desk. Stylish yoga clothes wrapped around her hard, little yoga body. I said, “I’m here for the restorative yoga class.”
“It’s yin yoga,” she said, “and I’m Serenity. Have you done yin yoga before?”
I admitted that I had not.
“It’s slow,” she said, and I told her that would be fine. I found my spot in the back of the studio, and the regulars of yin yoga brought me all manner of props and blocks and pillows and straps. I smiled and thanked them.
Serenity walked in, her heels tapping the floor before her toes, like a ballerina. Her stride and body stork-like. She held a boxful of vials and told us that we were to take a bottle of oil and rub it into our skin. She demonstrated, giving herself a full body massage. I rubbed a little oil into my arms and legs, trying to ignore my chubby thighs. I tried, unsuccessfully, to quiet the voice in my head.
We got going, and Serenity was right, yin yoga was slow, but didn’t I need the stretching? Serenity then instructed us to breathe in Peace and breathe out Love. At that, I was no longer able to control the running monologue in my head that was now clearly asking, “Does bird-like Serenity truly believe this shit?”
I looked up, and Serenity’s face held a gaze of peace and, well…serenity. One thing was clear: It wasn’t Serenity who was the imposter.
I was the one who didn’t believe in breathing in peace and breathing out love. I can barely handle the chanting and oms without the intrusion of my snarky inner voice. This is also the voice that tells me I’ll never be a real yogi because I don’t hang around after class in the glow of savasana with my fellow yogis, talking about organic cotton pants and green smoothies made from blended grass.
Am I being unfair here?
Perhaps, but I’m also telling the truth. I want to connect to the original intent of yoga, the balance between mind and body, and perhaps a connection to something else—the universe? I’m not sure.
But I do know that the yoga that has been co-opted by white ladies in search of self-actualization isn’t the yoga I’m after, which of course is hypocritical because I’m a white lady and most of the time, I don’t know what the fuck I’m looking for.
I have found a few teachers over the years I have loved, teachers who make me feel like I can connect with myself and the world around me. But then I show up at the studio and there’s a substitute instructor who wants us to do weird things with our faces in order to “slay dragons.” And by the way, the beautiful people don’t even look stupid slaying their dragons. Or at least they look way less stupid than I imagine myself looking.
Maybe my problem is that I believe they are as judgmental as I am (I know they probably aren’t). Even still, slaying dragons feels worse to me than the ersatz-wellness crowd, chasing a hot yoga practice with an expensive rosé—and again, if someone invited me to do these things, I would probably say yes, especially now that we are all at home, doing yoga and drinking our wine alone.
The good news is that doing yoga alone, or at least physically alone but over Zoom, is way better than drinking by myself, at least it is for me.
I wanted to do yoga in lockdown, but I was also looking for something more—a way to reconnect with Tiffany. We were best friends in college, but in the 30 years since we graduated, we had drifted apart—there was no falling out, just a falling away. She has studied Ayurvedic medicine and yoga, lived in gated communities, and worked as a full-time mother to three children.
I’ve spent the past 20 years vagabonding around the world, mentoring creative writing students, and writing my own books. The thing we have in common, aside from our years as college roommates, is that we are both living the life we had always imagined for ourselves, and as it turns out, that connection was always enough.
Doing yoga with Tiffany has shown me that she is the same kind and generous person she always was—for the past months, Tiffany has let me join her yoga classes for free, welcoming me into her group of Montecito moms. And the best part is that when we get started, my computer is on mute and I set Zoom to speaker view.
All the participants are in tiny squares, so without my glasses, I can’t see anyone else, and more importantly, I can’t see myself, so when my belly flops out over my Ross Dress for Less yoga pants, I just tuck it back in without any fanfare. And for the record, there’s no slaying of dragons with Tiffany. Of course, I still have to contend with my own dragons in those long seconds in downward facing dog, but I get to do so without anyone else in the room.
More than anything, there’s no getting myself there—the way there is if I had to brush my teeth, drive across town, park my car, and finally find a place near a wall or a window in the back of the room (after worrying there would be no such spot left). Five minutes before we start Zoom yoga, I put the dog out, unroll my mat, and turn on my computer. I usually brush my teeth beforehand, but not always. And if I have to get up to go to the bathroom or chase a chipmunk out of the house mid-practice, no one notices.
Zoom yoga means I get to experience all the good things about yoga without the anxiety of imposter syndrome, which helps to quieten my mean inner voice. And even though I don’t see the other ladies during yoga, we always say hello and goodbye, and I have enjoyed a peek into Tiffany’s life. And though I might not have much else in common with these ladies, we have all agreed that the very best thing about lockdown has been yoga with Tiffany.
I know there’s something to practicing together, with other humans, but just knowing these other women are following along is enough, at least for me. I feel like I’m part of something, but without the embarrassment of my muffin-top squeezing out of my shabby pants—and now that I’m back into my practice, that seems less important, too.
I may even be ready for some outdoor beach yoga classes with Serenity once things open back up.
But then again, maybe not.