A year ago at this time, I had a consistent yoga schedule, an effective program that kept me sane, balanced, and on the brink of physical exhaustion. I attended conferences and seminars, learned how to meditate, and found myself balancing on my arms in new and interesting ways. The first two weeks of June, I went to a retreat in a distant time zone, and came back a man transformed, my body in full yogic form, and my mind totally at peace.
For a few months, I kept a semblance of that going.
Starting in about mid-October, though, I found myself faltering, in body, mind, and spirit, mostly because of money. My income, never that voluminous to begin with, completely stopped flowing at the same time some big bills came due. We were broke, and yoga had to go. The ten-class pass for $120 became an unaffordable luxury rather than a slight extravagance, and the unlimited monthly membership was simply out of the question. I realize that, in the annals of economic tragedy, not being able to afford yoga instruction is about equal to having to borrow someone else’s golf clubs. But yoga had been my lifeline for years now. So I knew I was in for a hard few months.
I found myself stringing a routine out of spare parts. The first route I tried was that of the donation-only class. A couple regular and trusted teachers had started offering those at places not too far from my home. They kept me going, but while donation classes are great, and necessary to keep the yoga community afloat during these dark days, it’s hard to give your friends and mentors just a couple of bucks for two hours of hard work, even if you pride yourself on being a legendary cheapskate. After a while, those $10 bills dropped into brass bowls start to accumulate. Despite efforts to cut corners, before you know it, you’re out a Benjamin anyway.
So I stopped going the donation route, and then I really started to slip. My joints ached constantly. When I sat down, when I rose up, my body felt heavy and lifeless. My upper back developed more knots than you see on a Boy Scout merit-badge qualifying day. That old demon that the Yoga Sutras call avidya, or misperception of the true nature of reality, began to cloud my mind beyond recognition. I felt confused and directionless, totally out of control. Ego had started driving the bus, and like at the end of A Nightmare On Elm Street 3, it was headed for an evil place.
The week after Halloween, I had to meet with some guys out in Studio City. A nearby yoga studio was offering a five-dollar lunchtime flow class. Generally, studios don’t assign their best teachers to those sessions. You pay for a five-dollar class, you get a five-dollar teacher. But my toes had started to throb in the morning. I was desperate.
The teacher looked more than a bit like Jennifer Aniston, and clearly aspired to Ms. Aniston’s level of star-crossed narcissism. She gave us a vigorous workout, punctuated by descriptions of how some pervert in West Hollywood had tried to look up her Alice In Wonderland dress on Halloween night. It’s hard to focus your mind during yoga when the teacher and her largely gay clientele spend several minutes, during class, arguing about whether or not Lady Gaga is a “slut.” That’s exactly the kind of temporary distraction that yoga is supposed to eliminate. And, for the record, Lady Gaga is not a slut. Or maybe she is.
A few days later, my soul crashing to the pit of my being as though it had two anvils tied to its metaphorical base, I scraped a bunch of quarters out of my change jar and headed out, latish on a Sunday night, to an Iyengar “restorative” class with a prominent local teacher, who’d forgotten to inform the studio that he was on vacation. I lay prostrate on a block, covered with blankets for 20 minutes, until I realized that he wasn’t coming. A quick nag at the front desk later, I got my $17.60 back, plus a free class.
This I cashed in the next Sunday afternoon, and it was fabulous, given by a true pro with who I’d study with again if given the opportunity. My mind and soul felt washed clean. I bought my wife a bouquet of roses at the farmer’s market, and went home whistling.
Two weeks passed, and I did no yoga. At my parents’ in Arizona over Thanksgiving, I was such a physical and mental nightmare that my mother told me she’d pay for a class just to get me out of the house. I declined her charity, and sucked up the courage to spend 16 bucks at a Phoenix studio. Once again, I drew a bum teacher card, in the form of a wide-eyed, pigtailed gal who had us spend half the class sliding around on blankets, and who played a live version of Many Rivers To Cross during savasana. As the song ended, with applause, she said, “that applause is for you, for taking such good care of yourselves.” She was quite obviously deranged.
That moment turned me. If I couldn’t consistently afford actual teachers I could trust, then I was going to teach myself. I’d been doing yoga long enough that I could set up some sort of reasonable home program. It would require discipline, patience, and skill, but that’s what yoga is supposed to involve anyway. I don’t need hippie aerobics theater with out-of-work actors. I need to clear the lens of my mind.
So I’ve begun my home practice. And it’s not costing me a cent.
I’ll let you know how it goes