Ditch the Back Seat Driver

By Ed Staskus

   Most people don’t care if you’ve taken a million yoga classes, or not. If you do something bad to them, they aren’t going to say, “That fella needs more yoga classes.” They are going to say something less kind and understanding. If you do something good, they’re not going to say, “It’s because of all the yoga classes he has taken.” 

   Saints get taken for granted.

   They aren’t going to say you are a saint because you’ve spent the nest egg at the local yoga studio. They will probably say something along the lines of, “That fella needs to put his halo away and start living in the real world.” It begs the question, but a $16 billion dollar business in the USA is about as real as it gets.

   When you apply for a job your prospective employer, unless it’s a yoga studio, isn’t going to ask if you’ve taken a bazillion yoga classes. If you can’t or won’t lift that bale and tote that barge you are not going to get your foot in the door, no matter what kind of a crackerjack you think you are.

   If yoga studios had their druthers, they would be full to the gills seven days a week, except for the birthday of B. K. S. Iyengar who got the ball rolling. That day is a holy day. Studios would like to be so full of folks 24/7 that even their most loyal customers would have to display VIP passes to get in the door. That’s why more than less classes are barn burners with a rocking soundtrack and the hands of a nubile assistant adjusting your pose. When the playlist is blasting with the hammer down, and the adjustments are flowing, speed traps are for suckers.

   Yoga is a business. Anybody who thinks otherwise need only spend a few minutes checking out Facebook group pages. “Welcome to the universal family of yoga jobs and yoga retreats,” says Yogi Sach on Global Yoga Community. The Yoga Teacher Resource Community describes itself as “helping yoga instructors in their yoga business. Member and administrator post topics include how to select liability insurance and navigating social media.” Yoga Jobs All Over the World proclaims they are “kind of like a global yogi Craigslist.”

   God save us from the crap that is Craigslist.

   In between, from the West to the East, from Hoboken to Madras, yesterday today tomorrow, somebody is peddling something every minute of the day on the back of the practice. Yoga teachers often say, “It’s all yoga.” If they are right, it explains everything about the one-time spiritual path. The path today isn’t so much thought provoking as it is “Turn Here for Your Friendly Walmart Superstore.”

   Everybody is your friend, and all your friends are peddling videos and books There is the “7 Day Yoga Crash Course.” They don’t say what is going to happen on the 8th day. Probably crash and burn, but that is beside the point.

   There are many people who take yoga classes month after month, year after year. It’s hard to say if they are slow learners or simply devotees. If they are slow learners, they deserve a pat on the back. If they are devotees, they need a slap in the face. Somebody needs to remind them life is not lived inside a classroom. If they are yoga teachers, they get a pass. Paychecks are what keep the wolf away from the door.

   Life is lived out in the wide world. It’s one thing to listen to the steel belts humming on the asphalt from the cocoon of a studio. It’s another thing to stand on the side of the highway, 18-wheelers loaded up and rolling, rubber smoking and shredding and diesel fumes acrid, drivers gulping down little white pills keeping themselves awake in the glow of all-night diners, the radio tuned to crazy talk show radio stations.

   What’s the point of taking endless yoga classes? It’s not rocket science. Learn a few asanas, a few flows linking them, how to breathe, how to meditate, the yamas and niyamas, and you’re all set to go back down the beanstalk. The giant claims of wellness will only miss you so much.

   It’s easy to fetishize teachers. It’s easy to idealize exalt glamorize idols of all kinds. Who doesn’t want to shrug off responsibility and stay on the yellow brick road with the hand of a guru at their elbow? If you’re young and naive, or a seeker seeking a better way, it’s the way to go. But at some point, it becomes time to ditch the teacher and stand on your own two feet.

   Yoga teachers are full of aphorisms like “Reach higher. It will steady you.” Why it would steady anybody is unclear, but if you are afraid of heights, don’t. The air is thinner up there. Down in Easy Pose they say “Open up your palms if you want answers from the universe. Put your palms face down if you want answers from within yourself.” It got so I started shaking my fist at them.

   An eager beaver instructor with a taste for tall tales liked to tell us, “Take the Hanuman Leap.” I always let that one lay. I wasn’t about to monkey see monkey do.

   “If something in your life isn’t serving you, quietly thank it for the lesson, and let it go,” was something I heard a million times in the ten-or-so years I took yoga classes. On behalf of everybody who ever worked at Efficient Lighting, a big commercial lighting outfit in Brook Park, Ohio, where I worked for twenty-five years, I say let the cliches go their own way. Nobody I ever knew ever quit because the job wasn’t serving them. That was a given. They either made the best of it or screwed up to the extent they needed firing. Anybody who quit did so because they could go somewhere else where they could make more money and sooner rather than later let it go, once and for all.

   One day a teacher said, “Let that shit go.” Everybody in the class laughed. She was talking about friendships relationships what somebody did or didn’t say and how we hope things will get better. I scowled and did a down dog, letting the shit and platitudes slide down my back.

   “The only moment that really matters is right now,” is an all-time favorite of yoga teachers. It made sense now and then. Most of the time it didn’t. If it was true yoga would be one of the unhealthiest healthy practices of all time. Standing on your head right now before you are ready can be more than a pain in the neck. There is no saving your neck if it goes wrong because you don’t know what you are doing, Full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes isn’t what yoga is all about. Planning in advance is what really matters, making sure what has a lasting impact on you isn’t the wrong end of a baseball bat. Nothing would ever get done, including breakfast lunch and dinner, if right now was all there was.

   “Be your authentic self” was a command that made me gnash my teeth. Nobody is their authentic self in a classroom. A warm and fuzzy refuge is all well and good but there comes a time in every man and woman’s life when it’s best to become their own man or woman. Otherwise, we become Pee-wee Herman. Becoming your own true self isn’t possible if you are baloney in somebody else’s slice of life. We are not all in the same boat. We are all in different boats in the same ocean. You become what the teacher is, what the teacher is saying, what you hope will get you somewhere. You become like the yogis in class who you admire. You buy into the ethos and the ethic becomes you. You buy into the chalk talk and that’s that.

   After a while whoever you were is beside the point. It’s a brave new world, but it’s not a world you had a hand in making. Your thinking becomes whatever yoga is thinking, like how people become what they learned in school, what they do at work, and what they see on TV. You go into people-pleasing mode, otherwise people might not like who you are.

   Making an authentic self can be a slog through hell or a dance in the rain. Not everybody is good with it happening to their spouse, siblings, and friends. They wonder how it will impact them. But when you are being authentic you are being all parts of yourself, the good the bad the super-duper awesome and the ugly. It’s the only way to find true acceptance rather than a phantom hug from a make-believe somebody. It’s better to be a first-rate version of yourself rather than a second-rate version of anybody else.

   Everybody gets a temporary driver’s license first. Then they get their permanent license. Getting behind the wheel by yourself, ditching the back seat driver, is the way to go.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com, Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com, and 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com. Click “Follow” on a site to get its monthly feature in your in-box.