You might have noticed there are a lot of yoga books out there. Not just the tried and true sort, like Iyengar’s Light on Yoga or Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi – a brand new genre has popped up in recent years. It seems everyone is trying their mudra-making hand at chronicling the human drama that unfolds within the yoga studio and yoga communities “off the mat”. And I have to say, I’ve found the results less than impressive. We all love yoga, but that doesn’t mean all of us should write about it.
So I will admit that I was a bit wary of delving into one of the latest entries, Going OM: Real-Life Stories On and Off the Yoga Mat. It promised an anthology that “values the quality of writing over the authors’ flexibility”, with the authors being referred to as “literati”. This promise of people who knew how to write was tantalizing enough to get me to start reading.
And I was hooked. The essays made me laugh, pulled at heartstrings, and invited reflection to ponder the message of a few writer’s more esoteric expression. They concisely captured – without all the blah blah – the slightly messy yet deeply inspiring moments that time with the practice can offer anyone. That something we are always trying to describe to people who don’t do yoga.
The star of the bunch is The, Um, Sexy Yoga Essay, by Claire Dederer (who wrote Poser: My Life in 23 Yoga Poses). She wittily explores why yoga is, um, sexy. I read this part over and over, not just because it made me laugh, but also because it’s so spot on:
When I talk about yoga being sexy, I mean that it looks sexy. But yoga, of course, is not about how stuff looks. It’s about how stuff feels. That’s what we keep returning to, over and over in our yoga practices: we try to get at how things feel. And I wonder if there’s a kind of sexual feeling to yoga.
Here’s why I wonder: because studios are filled with thirty- and forty-something women who seem to be, well, in love with yoga. Who treat it like their secret boyfriend or girlfriend. Who plot and scheme and hire help to get out of the house to get to yoga. When they talk about yoga, their eyes shine. They use words like delicious and addiction. They buy new outfits. They feel seen, as one does with a new love, even if the eyes seeing them are their own, in the studio mirror. Do these women have all these same feelings about their longtime husbands or partners? I will go out on a limb and say: they do not! These women are besotted, which is not exactly how marriage works.
Flaubert famously said, ‘Madame Bovary, c’est moi’, and these yoga ladies, compulsively drawn to the sensations they discover and explore on the yoga mat, well, c’est moi. I am one of them. Have been one of them. Will be one of them. And there’s something we’re all finding in yoga class. It’s not sex, exactly. But it might be sex’s kissing cousin.
C’est moi, aussi.
My other faves include:
Neal Pollack’s My Dad, the Yogi, a super sweet reminder that yoga is for every body, and that this common experience connects us. After accompanying his dad to his regular gym yoga class, the author muses:
When the teacher said Namaste after a short savasana, most of the class applauded. I’ve taken yoga classes all over the world, from a great variety of master teachers. Rarely have I heard such enthusiasm. These people were never going to attend an Anusara Grand Gathering or Wanderlust, buy tickets to a ‘trance dance’, or download an MC Yogi song. They probably didn’t know, and probably didn’t care, about the difference between Ashtanga, Iyengar, or kundalini yoga. None of them would sign up as Lululemon ambassadors. But they’d arrived that day at the gym stiff, or feeling stressed out…and now they were a little better. Yoga serves no more important purpose. The rest of what we call ‘yoga’ in the West is often just sickly-sweet frosting atop a delicious cake that needs no extra flavor.
And how savasana helps us remember the rules we want to live by in Katherine Riegel’s Why:
Because sometimes during savasana I begin to remember the rules I want to live by. For moments at a time I might remember and actually feel that I am living in the present and that worrying about invasive Cuban tree frogs or my upcoming dental appointment or when my car will break down is not, actually, required…During savasana I might feel, very briefly, that my life is worthwhile even when I’m not doing anything.
Enough quotes, go buy the book. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll marvel yet again at this thing called yoga.