Friday, January 4, 2008

Bad Buddhist vs. Yoga

Whew! Made it through the precepts (barely). Seems like a good time to take a break from scripture, stand up, move around a bit, stretch.

You'd think that someone who finds it difficult to sit still and focus for 20 minutes of zen meditation would do a bit better at yoga. Yoga is like meditation with treats: every new pose is like a bright, shiny object that provides a few moments of entertainment for the restless mind — a brief respite from the impatience and boredom of being stuck motionless on a cushion, alone with one's own tediously repetetive thoughts. Hooray, warrior pose! Downward-facing dog — yippee!

Except . . .

I hate yoga. Or rather, I hate yoga instruction. I freak out when I hear things like "draw the energy inward from the heart center" or "let the movement come from your intention, not from your muscles." I can't bear that kind of metaphorical, mystifying baby-talk. It's one thing to say, "Lift the crown of your head as if there were a string connecting it to the ceiling." That is a simile; the "as if" makes it perfectly OK. But "send the breath out through the fingers and toes"? No. I have no lungs or trachea in my limbs. I have muscles I can wiggle and stretch, or — if that's too darn Western and literal — I can visualize wiggling and stretching. (Disclosure: I also hate modern dance and poetry, so I'm probably some kind of spiritual cripple, but I'm sticking by my guns here: energy comes from ATP and glucose, not the suggestion of light radiating out from a serpent coiled in my belly.)

So. I am apparently a bad Buddhist and an even worse yogini. Still, I guess I'm just good enough at both to recognize that my resistance is itself a lesson, if I pay attention to it. Why do I become so enraged by the efforts of instructors who have worked hard to master a skill and who are trying their best to teach well? I felt a similar intolerance throughout my years as a graduate student in a creative writing program. Every time I heard someone say "write into that" or "write around that" or talk about any kind of "mapping" or "exploding" of "moments," I would practically choke on my own disgust and self-loathing — was I really idiot enough to sit through this shit, semester after semester? Did I keep coming back because I was willing to be open to learning something, or was I just a revolting coward who couldn't cut the academic umbilical cord? I found myself growing brittle, bitter and resentful of every minute I spent in that program — when really I should have just enjoyed the privilege of being a person whose "job" was to write and think about writing pretty much all the time. Poor, poor me! No wonder I was so pissed off!

My resentment in class arose from my anxiety that time was being spent and wasted: that I was running out of time. My impatience in yoga arises from my anxiety that the teacher is talking nonsense, which is wasting my exercise time, of which I only have so much: again, I am running out of time. If I sit with this awareness, I realize that I live in a state of constant panic: because I am, as we all are, running out of time.

I flatten this panic in order to get through the day without being a raging, screaming, sobbing wreck. I distract myself with obsessions that tend toward the perfectionistic and rabidly critical, like my students' bewilderment regarding the concept of end punctuation (what the fuck is so fucking hard about end-fucking-punctuation? Jesus! Period, question mark, exclamation point, ellipsis, long dash! It's not fucking calculus, for Christ's sake! Are these college students or third-graders?) or my Mormon sister's hypocritical failure to train her kids to send thank-you notes (so family is really important, huh? Aren't I family? Just because I'm not a Christian, my birthday checks don't merit a simple acknowledgment? Nice values there. How about another Coke?). I futz around endlessly with my calendar, meticulously planning when I'll write and when I'll grade and when I'll read blogs and when I'll get groceries and when I'll clean the house and when I'll practice drumming and when I'll go to Pilates (not yoga) and when I'll generally get my shit together — and then I don't do any of it because the constant, underlying, crushing sense of time running out just makes me go fetal.

Meanwhile, time really is running out.

It really is.

Whoa — what the hell happened here? Yoga carnage as far as the third eye can see. . .

That's right: DECIDING THE FATE OF THE WORLD! And you thought it was merely about getting a yoga-butt. Ha.

OMG, this is too beautiful.





  1. Thank you for this post. I am wondering from the same place as you and find your discription of Yoga great. I linked your post here

    Great post!

  2. Your self-awareness is useful, true, but for the sake of expedience, find a yoga teacher who doesn't talk that made-up bullshit. Find a Buddhist teacher who doesn't intellectualize. Don't trust teachers who drink that high-minded Koolaid. When they spit it back out, all you get is stained :)

  3. Wow, my feelings exactly (about time running out). Somehow I think the solution is meditation, but I can't find the time! By the way, your knack for words is really wonderful.

  4. This resonates, painfully. I'm a Unitarian Universalist (for community that is there when the yoga studio is closed and your meditation teacher is on retreat) and a lover of the Buddhadharma (because the first noble truth sounded truer to me than anything I ever heard in my whole 50+ years of life.) But I am also trained to teach yoga in a method that has many excellent features, but that demands the kind of language you describe. And a critique rather like yours runs in the monkey mind part of my being whenever I succeed in performing in this way! Fortunately for my students, I am usually so taken by their concentration and silence that I am moved to shut up and allow them to experience their poses. Don't tell the registered owner of my yoga method's name.

    Found your blog via YogaDawg-- thanks both of you!

  5. What about metaphors like "get my shit together" or "go fetal?" Metaphor is often efficient and sometimes beautiful. Is it really so different from simile? As if!

    You hate poetry, categorically? What poets have you been reading?

  6. Great post!!

    LOL funny, insightful and nicely written.

    I share your sense of panic, although I have more tolerance for both yoga and poetry.

    I'll be reflecting on this for quite a while.

    Time is running out, isn't it?

    Oh well. We'll just come back again for another go at the whole life deal. I guess.

    I think it might actually be nice to be a lady bug. Something simple.

    Glad I found your blog.

    And, we share a name!

  7. Time is running out??? Out to where? Time is infinite, how can it run out? It is only our limitations that perceive the passage of time. Time exists as we exist and our paths cross.

    The only time of importance is the now.

  8. I agree with Karen, self awareness is indeed useful. But I do think that if you are a Buddhist or any person wanting to get closer to the religion, yoga indeed helps in meditating.

  9. Meditating exists in and of itself. YOU NOT NEED YOGA to get into it. It will not help you. Just do it. Get proper instruction - it takes ten minutes and is free. You learn the position - usually just keeping a straight back and you watch your breath and observe thefreak show that occurs between your ears. YOU DO NOT NEED TO DO IT WITH OTHERS. Yoga centers and the mafia that runs them are perptuating lies that they hold the answer. BULLSHIT! They hold nothing. Sit, watch your breath. It is not a group trip. Don't make the yoga mafia rich! Put them out of work! Charlatans, liars, theives with blissed out grins on ther faces. By the way anxiety, urgency and even panic (yes folks anger too) are your tools to awaken. Not repression, not pithy little sayings. Not all the shit you have to buy to be part of a yoga center.

  10. This is a great post.

    I often have a very similar sensation -- that of running out of time. Can you (please) recommend any books or resources that speak to you to this end? I'd be very very grateful.

    What I've found so far are the term "hurry sickness," and this book called Full Catastrophe Living

  11. Oh my, "yoga mafia" very alarming. Hey, Diary of a Bad Buddhist person....looks like there are plenty of others out there! Dear, dear, all this hullabaloo about yoga mafia people is alarming...makes me want to burn my yoga pants.

  12. "send the breath out through the fingers and toes"? No. I have no lungs or trachea in my limbs. I have muscles I can wiggle and stretch, or — if that's too darn Western and literal — I can visualize wiggling and stretching...

    Thank you! I just giggled to death reading this post!

    Here's a bit from my blog:
    I have been meditating for years but I have really dedicated myself to deeper practice recently and I was starting to get all proud of myself for navigating tricky relationship issues with compassion and empathy and being in the moment when BAM! Car door. Right to the forehead.

    Anyway, I definitely have had some moments in yoga where not laughing or saying WTF became my first priorities. One meditation instructor used the image "imagine a lotus is blossoming from your ears, your nostrils, your navel, your personal's opening now..." and I actually had to leave.

    But I have an excuse. I'm from New Jersey.

  13. My experience is that the 'hindu-yoga' is weird because it ultimately comes to the concept of 'union of Self with the universal being - the Brahman ' which is the Hindu secret of the universe - it is nopthing but a trance of mind, whereas the Buddhist meditation is a process whose final stage is the direct perception of the true nature of things - the perfect freedom from restlessness of mind.