Monday, May 14, 2012

All Yogis are Good Yogis

"If we are here not to do what you and I want to do
And go forever crazy with it, why the hell we are even here?"

I'm not sure where to get started with this topic, so I will start in the middle and see what happens.

If there's one idea that I could really live without, it's this idea that you have to adhere to a certain set of behaviors or else you are a "bad yogi." Or as one of my best friends puts it: "Whenever I skip class and stay home to drink a beer, I'm worried that the yoga police is going to come after me!"

(Despite rumors to the contrary, there is no Yoga Police. I know this may be a shock.)

There's this very modern stereotype about what types of people do yoga (skinny, flexible white chicks) and how those people are supposed to behave (eat vegan foods, drink only juice, be pseudo-spiritual). I'm calling this a modern stereotype because, you know, yoga was originally started by dudes. And lots of men do yoga now. (This has been well documented in a long string of articles on the subject of "Wow! Men do yoga!") Many of my students - and many more of my regular students - are people who bear no resemblance whatsoever to the cover model of a Yoga Journal magazine.

This is not my main point.

If you just go to a few classes at a good studio, you'll see that any body can do yoga. My favorite studios are filled with all sorts of different students - men, women, kids, senior citizens, fat, skinny, stiff, flexible, healthy, injured, and everything in between. That idea about the "yoga body" is a pretty easy bubble to burst. There are some great inspirational videos out there showing students who started off crippled and end up healthy. (Most of them are set to music by Coldplay.) So this idea seems to be sinking in, and that's fantastic. We need to people to understand that yoga is therapy and that it is meant to be for everyone.

So much for the myth of the yoga body. 

But I've seen several different posts and articles passed around on the general topic of "I'm much less fun now that I've started yoga," or worse, "other yogis give me a hard time when I don't follow the yoga lifestyle."

What the fuck is the yoga lifestyle?!

(Is it anything like the gay lifestyle?*)

Yoga is an overall wellness program. As far as I'm concerned, the point of yoga is to help you feel better so that you can have more freedom and joy in the rest of your life. So go and have fun!

Some people feel better when they wake up early in the morning, drink wheatgrass and vegetable juice, take 2 classes a day (not drinking water), post inspirational messages on Facebook, enjoy a quiet night in with friends, and go to sleep early. That's wonderful! Some people are happier when they practice a few times a week (spending the rest of the time with their job/family/significant other), go to rock concerts, drink whiskey, stay out late. That's good, too!

Of course it's important to have "everything in moderation" including moderation. If someone, for instance, is partying hard and getting shit-faced drunk every night, that person is not really having a good time. That person most likely has a problem which needs to be addressed. And it's important to maintain some level of appropriateness in public. Lynn Whitlow gave a great lecture at my teacher training on "how to conduct oneself in public as a yoga teacher," and part of her message was essentially, "don't be a drunken slob out on the town because your students will see you, and don't post scandalous pictures on Facebook because I won't hire you." I completely agree.

But seriously, we are all human beings first and yogis second. One thing that I loved when I first got into Bikram yoga was how down-to-earth and real the Bikram teachers were. They didn't preach, they didn't always use their indoor voices, they liked to drink beer, and sometimes they used the word "fuck." (Sorry if I'm ruffling any feathers here.) These were my people! Eventually I met Bikram himself - the self-styled "Beverly Hills yogi" - and this explained a lot. You don't have to be poor to be spiritual; you can be spiritual in a Rolls Royce!

Allow me to submit myself as an example. I am a ballerina-turned-yogi. I am a lifelong vegetarian. I practice not-quite-every-day. I don't smoke. I tend to follow rules. I drink a lot of tea. I listen to acoustic folk music. I own a hula-hoop. I enjoy fresh juice. AND. I am an engineer-turned yogi. I am a huge nerd. I drink whiskey. I watch Game of Thrones. I eat Ben and Jerry's. I drink water in class - happily and shamelessly.** I listen to all kinds of loud rock music. (I saw Flogging Molly last Friday, which was awesome, and I am going to see Gogol Bordello in 2 weeks!) I stay up late. I swear all the time and people still have to remind me to use my indoor voice - sigh. I'm friends with the bartender at the neighborhood dive bar and he made up a drink for me and my friend called "the Yogatini." 

I am equally happy about all of these things. If you thought that was a list of "good things vs bad things," then shame on you. Those are all good things!

I like seeing my students when I'm out and about because it sort of demonstrates that you can do yoga and also have a life. One student recognized me on the edge of the mosh pit at Flogging Molly, pointed at me, and hollered "YOU'RE MY YOGA TEACHER!" We high-fived. We felt proud.

I guess what I really want to say here is, just be yourself

And if anybody has a problem with you, you know what Bikram says: "Tell them, eat shit and die!" Aw. Nah, not really. If anybody feels the need to judge you, that's really their issue and it has nothing to do with you. Just smile and nod, and keep doing what you're doing. You are perfectly normal and everything is okay.

Rock and roll, baby....


*Did you read the link? Did you play the video? Both are very good!

** I've thought about posting on this topic, but I'm a little bit scared to open that can of worms.


Aria said...

Would love to hear your thoughts about drinking water in class! Don't worry about those "worms"

Anonymous said...

Too bad you deleted your ost on rules. I thought it was great.