by Leslie Anthony
Bikram (hot yoga)—the unanticipated whipping boy of a dinner-party discussion about the yin-yang of yoga conducted largely by devotees—eventually caught a break, though the rancorous/humorous litany around the table had continued.
“There’s an epidemic of women taking up yoga then leaving their husbands…”
“I really, really hate chanting.”
“Lululemon—frickin’ corporate cult, top to bottom.”
“I can’t stand instructors blathering about their day, about how pissed off they were in line at the grocery store and then, somehow, let it all go. I mean, I’m paying for this shit—I only have an hour here so let’s get going!”
Gossip, innuendo, and contra-message sentiment is common in any milieu (if you don’t believe this you should hear highly paid ski pros bitch about being highly paid ski pros), but even the enlightened can have their patience tested.
“My pet peeve is people who fake spirituality,” offers celebrated Whistler yogi Julia McCabe. “Who create this illusion that being a yogi requires talking in a sunshine and rose-fart kind of way—which is contrived and insincere. [Mountain Life Coast Mountains editor] Feet Banks once asked me ‘What’s up with all the papyrus font in yoga marketing crap?’ It’s so true. All I could do was laugh.”
Right. But conversing with McCabe I naturally wondered how someone who has made their living in the belly of the beast for so many years feels about the veritable plague of exploitive ticks now hanging from that sagging midsection.
“I’ve struggled with it because it’s easy to get disturbed, but I decided that ultimately it’s more important to focus, to stay on your own path and not worry what others are doing. Yoga is about getting to the root of our nature and that can’t be rocked by clothing brands or how many mats get sold.”
That’s so yoga. And something you’d expect from someone who leads teacher training sessions around the globe, who’s writing (in a drawn out, pose-by-pose kind of way) a book about her adventures entitled Hong Kong Yogi Rat Pack Boom, who ran one session in Nicaragua that morphed, in the miraculous way things often do for McCabe, into a simultaneous lesson in sea-turtle conservation. And yet amazingly, for someone so deeply immersed, whose classes are a seamless mix of physical practice, philosophic crumbs, and her own unpretentious, fun-loving ways, when yoga first reared it’s head for McCabe she’d bolted. Like me, she was no a quick convert.
“In Montreal a friend and I went to a class in a cold, dark auditorium where I was sleepy and bored the entire time. It was very traditional—this woman had us sitting around watching her belly while she breathed. It was all we could do not to laugh. Horrible. No spark in it. After that I just made fun of yoga people… until I moved to Whistler.”
Aha. So I wasn’t the only one for whom a contextual watershed was required. You often had to find your way in. For McCabe it was a friend’s invitation to check out a new studio—Neoalpine—and its charismatic founder Patrick Creelman. “You just wanted that kind of energy he put out,” she recalls. “He lit the fire.”
My own entry point was more about not being intimidated by “the scene.”
Passing out in a Bikram class (see my last week’s post) had, quite literally, killed my interest in yoga for years until I was introduced to a gentler, slower format in an obscure basement studio. Soft-voiced Christina Tottle was a perfect teacher for damaged me—no pose was mandatory, and we were always offered an alternative when one taxed our physical ken. Like many skiers and other outdoor types, my adolescent physical development had been one of sacrificing flexibility for muscularity, and this milieu suddenly offered an incremental path to improvement. I got into it. But when Christina left on a protracted travel sojourn, I again found myself adrift. Because the instructor interface had proven key, I went searching again.
Someone suggested power yoga. “A great workout!” But it was too much for a beginner. The poses changed so quickly in the session I attended that it may as well have been step-aerobics. I’d finally manage some upright posture with a semblance of balance only to find everyone else horizontal on the deck; by the time I got down to the mat they were all up again, the instructor weaving through the lot barking orders like a drill sergeant. I was so comically out-of-sync it resembled an episode of The Three Stooges—albeit starring one stooge.
It clearly wasn’t for me, but now I knew what was. And when I found my way into a lunch-hour class that McCabe used to teach (90 minutes is beyond my physical and mental attention span, and, after all, is an odd number) I’d found a yoga home—one where we would both snicker because I couldn’t say “yogi” without conjuring the eponymous ursine cartoon guru of food theft.
The lesson was—and remains—all too simple: yoga isn’t for everyone, and for those interested, its spectrum accommodates a wide range of desires. Ultimately, they all speak to our search for the lost intersection of our nature and nature itself.
“The difference between humans and deer touching their toes in the woods is that we have discriminate thought and an emotional landscape,” notes McCabe. “It’s human to ask why we’ve lost the inner peace we think we should have to the bullshit of our world.”
Yoga is one of a legion of tools used to answer that question, and the pop-cultural bandwagon effect means that it also features its own legion of human tools—though probably fewer than most things. And the presence and awareness that yoga engenders can help make any such downside a non-issue—like something we should have known all along, are happy to discover, but rebel at being reminded of in a rose-fart voice.