West LA. Land of Yoga Pants. I took my first yoga class ten years ago in Santa Monica. I enjoyed it, but at $17 a class decided that inner-peace fell out of my socioeconomic bracket. Not a lot of Black people in class. Still, I longed to become a Yoga Person with higher consciousness, toned arms and a butt that could bounce a quarter. Years later a boyfriend introduced me to a “by-donation” studio where he admitted going for “the girls,” many of whom did rock their $150 Lululemon pants. So I gave yoga another shot.
I love yoga. However, some of what we call “Yoga” in LA brings together New Age spirituality, the work-out fashion police, a PX98 drive for fitness, veganism and anyone’s untapped musical talents in an event that I sometimes doubt bears much resemblance to what original Indian yogis had in mind.
I don’t mind the singing, chanting and praying to Indian deities, but some classes can become full-on SNL sketches. One teacher, a white guy in dreadlocks with a Sanskirt name, (probably not given by his parents) referred to the women in the class as “beautiful Goddesses.” He “adjusted” my pose with some wandering hands and never demonstrated a single yoga pose. I’ve heard so many teacher share their stories of drug addiction that I’ve wondered if assuming the role of AA sponsor to the class is part of the job. With all the singing, instruments, massaging and interpretive dance-yoga moves, I’ve waited for the day when yoga becomes an official hybrid yoga/group massage/free form dance/a capella singing class.
My skepticism reached an apex one day when I took one class with a “Yoga-lebrity,” a teacher with a cult level following. Granted, I expected nothing less than a holy encounter with the love child of Richard Simmons and Ghandi, but still felt disappointed when he called me out called me out for looking in the mirror before launching into a speech about physical beauty vs. knowledge of the self. I just wanted to stretch my hamstrings and forget about my finances, not be scolded for a fairly universal instinct for vanity. What is the extra ingredient that sky rockets a teacher to yoga stardom? Humiliation. It’s LA, we pay people to shame us here.
Like any naive and enthusiastic cult joiner, I felt justified in my disillusionment and anger. Yoga teachers are drunk with power. People revere them because in a pinch a speech about self-love from a man calling himself Govindas will suffice over long-term therapy. I think Whitney Houston said it best, “Everyone’s searching for a hero…people need someone to look up to…”
Eventually, I chilled out and made enough money to take classes at studios with less colorful teachers who focus their speeches more on technique.
But sometimes I kind of miss the characters.
Just for today, I still practice yoga.