My employer has an on-site gym that I have a membership to and, as part of the membership, they offer a few yoga classes on the schedule. Knowing that “gym yoga” is usually more focused on stretching, rather than philosophy, I decided it should be a safe entry point back into my yoga practice. I won’t lie to myself, or anyone else, working for Core Power destroyed my love for yoga. The whole idea of commercializing anything spiritual, in general, makes my skin crawl. So much so every time I have stepped on my mat, since I started working for the chain in 2008, I have never been able to achieve a blissful state during my yoga practice. Rather, I had a running dialogue in my head about everything the teacher was doing wrong. That was my job, you see, to analyze instructors and coach them on the improvements they “needed” to make to their sequencing, music selection, tonality, inflection, projection, vocabulary, and on and on and on, in order to help them grow their classes (and teaching style) into a contrived product that fit in with the notion of the ‘Core Power’ brand.
Even after parting ways in 2010, because they canned my ass when I started to challenge this notion of what their classes should be, rather than me just walking away from their dysfunctional management community – especially since most of the leadership is high on something (like cocaine, opiates, or alcohol to name just a few) nor did they really exemplify the idea of the state of yoga being free from all attachment/distraction – I still struggled to let go of the critical voices that would chime in each and every time I would attempt to take a yoga class. No matter how much I tried to separate the toxicity of Core Power from my actual yoga practice and move beyond the brainwashing, the ‘critic’ never shut up. Being on my mat brought more anger than it did relief from suffering, so in 2012, I decided it was time to break up with my practice until I could completely mend my mind.
I’d had a decent relationship with yoga for nearly a decade, but thought a little break was probably necessary. For the past several years, I had built up more injuries caused by my yoga practice than I found relief from any of the physical or emotional ailments I had had prior to when I began my yoga practice. Some time off might be good for healing both my body and my soul. With the exception of losing the strength and flexibility to do arm balances, I have to say, it has been really nice to be off my mat. I didn’t realize how out of balance I had become while striving for extreme balance in my life. I do, however, realize why someone came up with the saying, “everything in moderation, including moderation.” Leaving my career in 2008 to go teach yoga full-time and ‘live an extraordinary life’ was actually one of the worst mistakes I had ever made – unless by ‘extraordinary’, Core Power actually means strange, bizarre, or going completely, fucking nuts, then why yes, I did have one hell of an extraordinary experience managing two of their largest studios in the country for a group of greedy corporatists – yay me!
Recently though, my hamstrings had made several requests for a little bit of tenderness. So, after over a year hiatus, I finally took a yoga class at my gym this week. With trepidation, I stepped onto my yoga mat and quietly lowered into Child’s Pose, all the while reminding myself that this practice did not require any critique of the instructor or evaluation of the music or overall environment. It only required that I breathe and stretch my sore, tired-ass muscles. As though preparing for a game, I coached myself through the next 45-minutes of my yoga practice to constantly remind my mind to focus on nothing external (sort of like what you’re supposed to be doing during meditation…such a novel concept, huh?). Luckily, there were too many other distractions I could focus on – like the people walking back and forth through the studio to get to the basketball court on the other side, or the guy banging his mop into the wall adjacent to the studio while he cleaned the floors in the main equipment area. Normally, these types of distractions would have sent my former yoga-snob-self into a tizzy, but today they made me realize just how much expectation I placed on having the environment absolutely “perfect” for the full yoga-bliss-experience. As an instructor, I spent countless hours trying to replicate this for my students, striving to find just the right music to illicit an intended response, cultivating a sequence of postures that would guarantee muscular fatigue, and choosing themes to discuss that were threaded throughout the class that were most likely too preachy for even me to tolerate for too long.
Here I was in a class with terrible music, bad acoustics, a myriad of distractions, taught by an instructor who had no insecurities and led us through basic sequencing which she inevitably forgot between the right side to the left side and it dawned on me – I really enjoyed practicing without all of the Core Power/Baptiste Yoga Inspired pageantry. Although, I would be remise if I didn’t point out that Bikram and Anusara Yoga instructors are equally guilty of supplementing their classes with an equal amount of grandeur. While all of these styles espouse authenticity, connection and simplicity in our everyday lives, each seems limited in their scope and ability to actually see what’s happening with the students they have in their classes. They are too focused on using a particular set of cues, or language (like ‘radiate out’ – WTF does that mean anyway?!), that coincides their particular ‘brand’ of yoga, rather than to their students’ needs. Strip away all of the pomp and circumstance and all you have left is the instructor’s ability to teach (or not). What I realized is that I need from yoga than teachers want to give. I need less ego, less music, less talking, less filler – we all do, really, because we all get enough of these distractions in our everyday lives. What we need from yoga, from our yoga teachers, is for them to shut the f**k up, unless they have something meaningful to say. And please, don’t say ‘radiate out’ anymore – I am getting older now and my ass radiates out all on its own, thank you.