Downer Dog

My complex relationship with discount yoga

By Dan Forward


ave you heard of “Bullet in the Brain,” the short story by Tobias Wolff? No? Really? Wow, it’s actually pretty famous. You should probably read more. Well, there’s this one scene in which the main character, who hates everything (he’s great), is focusing all his disgust on a bank teller who is chatting instead of doing her job, which is making the line he’s standing in move very slowly. As he’s simmering in his ire, someone else gives voice to identical feelings of annoyance, causing him to immediately begin ridiculing the “presumptuous crybaby” who dared agree with him. A few paragraphs later, grumpy Gus gets the titular bullet in his titular brain. Heh. Titular.

This is a lot like me with yoga. I find the claims that it will improve my running dubious at best. On a good day I believe in all the talk about energy flowing and Namaste and spirituality about as credible as a friend’s recent claim to me that I couldn’t beat a cheetah in a wrestling match. (They have no arms! Please tell me how it would even be hard.) And I don’t own a thing from Lululemon. But as soon as someone starts criticizing yoga, I’m immediately disdainful of that person. There was a woman coming into the studio as I was going out the other day who was speaking in a tone that was surely the result of a steamy affair between the voice of Urkel and those big horn sounds from Inception. “I’m already a pretty good runner.” “I’m not flexible.” “I just want dinner.” It took me only about three seconds to forget everything I had just been told about inner peace and universal love, and to start surreptitiously ridiculing this stranger on the basis of both the incongruity of her complaints and the thunderously nasal way she offered them. What I’m saying is, yoga doesn’t really bring out the best in me either way.

Let me back up. I am not a regular practitioner of the yogic arts. My body is as inflexible as Kim Jong-Un’s faith in his ability to dunk on LeBron James. As rigid as the steely one-way bond between the Eiffel Tower and that one woman who is sexually attracted to inanimate objects. As uncompromising as my total belief that, if it came down to a one-on-one fight to the death in neutral territory, I could definitely survive against any wolf or large dog. (Just don’t let it bite you! Easy.) But I got a LivingSocial deal. Five lessons for 20 bucks. I’d be Kim Jong Il crazy to turn down a deal like that, which only comes along once every 1.7 days, if you’re also signed up for Groupon, Google, Amazon, and RueLaLa.

So I’m two lessons into a deal with a place about 10 minutes away from me on Comm. Ave., above a boxing ring I believe was put there to make me feel some sort of primal masculine shame every time I walk by it with my jungle-green mat in order to do a pose called “pigeon” for an hour. (It doesn’t look like a pigeon.) I’ve noticed a few things in my time there. First, that the instructors are so sincere in their beliefs about spirituality that I feel bad rolling my eyes at them, making yoga the only exercise I’ve ever done that makes me feel more guilty for having done it than if I had stayed at home to see how many Goldfish I can fit in my mouth in between the time I die and respawn in a Halo match.

Second, when the yogis want to demonstrate a difficult move like the handstand, they get really grabby with the person they demonstrate on. Interesting fact: There is no word for “modesty” in Sanskrit. Based on what I’ve seen in my brief time, though, there probably are words for phrases like, “To get this next pose, you’re going to want to bend back your head to sky. And then really lock your genitals in place, like so,” and, “For this one, you need to travel deep into your soul to find your heart center, and then I’m going to get into reverse cowgirl position with you.”

These things, while interesting from a purely sociological point of view, don’t exactly make me want to forsake the gym in favor of a life dedicated to Anusara. (Or Vinyasa. Or Bikram. Maybe hip-hop, though. That’s a type of yoga, right?) But every time I tell someone I’m trying it out, and they laugh (all guys) or say, “Good for you, honey!” (my mom), I get super defensive. “I know a guy who only does yoga like five hours a day and he’s super jacked.” (Distorting the truth.) “I can touch my toes now.” (Lie.) “I’m really good at locking genitals in place now.” (Truth, but curiously unimpressive to most listeners.)

In the end, maybe my complex relationship with the ancient philosophy of body and mind (every Tuesday from 5:45 to 7) is best expressed not by my comparison to that masterful piece of literature I mentioned earlier, but by analogy to my belief that I can physically dominate most non-armored four-legged animals in a standard, Marquess of Queensbury-rules, two-enter-one-leaves cage match. Privately I may harbor some doubts, but if anyone else tries to claim I couldn’t lay out a hyena inside of three rounds, that person’s going to be next in the ring.

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