I’m not always open to trying new things. I’m only competitive when I know I can win.
I think it has to do with being a naturally smart or talented kid, or growing up believing you were naturally a smart and talented kid, because everyone around you told you that you were. (Except your parents, of course).
That is, until you got to university and got your first 40% on an exam (yep, been there), realized that everything everyone ever told you about your intelligence was a lie, and that no number of perfect fifth grade math tests would make your university GPA higher.
Telling kids that they’re naturally smart or talented or intelligent makes them believe that they can cruise on by without the hard work to back it up. And then when they grow up, like yours truly, they spend a lot more time on the therapist’s couch unpacking what begins to look less like mental blocks and a lot like laziness.
So now, unfortunately, I have a peculiar and irrational complex with trying new things. Unless I know I’m going to be good at something, I’m terrified to try it.
Oh, you mean it’s unreasonable for me to hit a bulls-eye during my first time trying archery, or to ride a wave perfectly the first time I ever attempt surfing? Tell that to my sulky inner-child who needs a hug and lots of kind words – she seems to come up a lot in therapy.
A good friend of mine asked to go to a yoga studio with her a couple months ago.
It’’ll be fun, she said. You’ll learn a lot, she said.
She then sent me a link to sign up for a class at a local yoga studio. I opened the page. It was cleanly designed and had short videos of various wiggling women with exposed navels in tight tops. I, suddenly self-conscious of my new quarantine pudge, pulled out my wallet and found my credit card. I silently huffed and puffed through a series of webpages asking me for my money. And then I was in.
A few hours later, disaster struck. My friend felt sick on the day of the class. Great, I thought. I mean, NOT great that she’s ill. But great that I can get out of this yoga class and avoid humiliating myself in front of super-bendy, Lululemon-clad men and women. So I called the studio, asking to cancel my class reservation and for a refund. I tried to hide the chipper bounce in my voice.
“Sorry, you can’t,” the lady at the end of the telephone said. Super sweetly, may I add.
I pleaded. I begged. I literally just booked it an hour ago, I told her.
At some point, she seemed fed up. “You’ll feel better afterward!” she said cheerily through her grimace (and just as sweetly). Click.
Reader, I went. It was that, or have my money disappear forever.
I arrived early, with a somber face and a sour attitude, taking note of the wide floor-to-ceiling door that doubled as an enormous glass wall. It let in streams of golden late afternoon sunshine, dappling the black yoga mats on the floor with long lazy streaks. It was really quite pretty, and a far cry from the yoga classes I took as a half-credit elective during my senior year in college, where we lay packed in neat rows of 10 by 3, and the room stank of stale sweat and rubber.
The instructor had a kind smile and a gentle affect, which almost put me at ease, until I remembered that I wasn’t happy about having to be there, and that I was supposed to be mad at the chirpy manager who’d refused to give me my money back. I sank back into my righteous foul mood and slunk to a mat in the back of the room, happily sullen.
The class began gently, with a soundtrack drifting through the room which reminded me of floating through the Milky Way. A few drops of essential oils were plopped on my upward-facing palms.
ESSENTIAL OILS! I think I was so far stuck in my gym-time-packed-sardine college memories that this felt positively luxurious in a way that I’d never experienced before. We were led through guided meditation, which included some softly-read poetry.
Essential oils and poetry? Please. If I had known yoga class was going to be like this, I wouldn’t have begged the studio so hard to release me from class before.
Before I knew it, I was on my back in shavasana – corpse pose – my brow damp with sweat. Only this shavasana was different from any other shavasana that I’d experienced before: instead of the emphatic sheer relief that this pose used to bring at the end of a class – a definite thank goodness that’s over – it instead felt much like the teachers had always told me it should feel. I thought not so much relief that class was over, but an incredulity that I had, in fact, survived.
In the following weeks, I booked classes at least three times a week – marveling at how language that I would have rolled my eyes at and dismissed as “woo-woo” resonated with me.
It was odd. It was weird. Have you been to a yoga class? (Probably yes). They say things like this:
“Relax the sheet of skin covering your face…”
“Energize your toes…”
“Release your brain to the back of your head…”
And, the most befuddling one: “Let your eyes sink to the back of your head, and turn them downward to gaze at the heart…”
Um. It was baffling. But somehow, it made sense.
When I Realize Not All Yoga Classes Are Created Equal, and I Spend Money To Do Yoga
Some people like to spend money on really expensive things that they perceive to be of high quality. These are the people who have memberships to gyms like Equinox in the US (for those uninitiated, Equinox is a very expensive gym that’s outfitted to basically be the Google of fitness clubs: restaurants on the premises, juice and smoothie bars selling spirulina shots at $10 USD a pop, and golden fountains spurting all the ionized alkanized water you can drink). Okay, maybe the golden fountains don’t exist. But I know the spirulina shots do. I know because I bought one. And the golden fountains should exist, because the most measly basement-level membership at Equinox is still $2200 USD a year, plus a $500 initiation fee. Maybe you get the pewter fountains instead of gold – I don’t know.
This is a lifestyle that I admittedly find very attractive (though purely coincidentally, its attractiveness seems to coincide with the days I get paid). On these days, I do things that make a lot of financial sense, like buy 1.5 inch-diameter Diptyque candles for $50 USD and Shiseido moisturizers and $30 USD bottles of wine instead of my regular 2-for-1 bottles for $19.99. Sometimes I even splurge on pink stones that are labeled with pretty packaging promising to “align your chakras” and “give forth good energy.”
Come to think of it, I think I took that spirulina shot around that time.
What, exactly, you might ask – does this have to do with yoga?
It’s because on one of these days, I caved and bought a membership to a yoga studio separate from my gym membership. I practically cried. I was becoming a yuppie, and I was not even close to buying my first home. I even still go to Starbucks. Like, a lot.
I did this, because yoga was already offered at my gym, and I actually attended some of those classes. For one, the classes fit around thirty people per class. Fine. You know, I am not a prude. I can ignore the smell of sweat and humanity as much as the next person. I don’t even mind the smell of feet that much.
But the classes were a wholly different animal than the ones that I’d already taken at the yoga studio. We received no instruction on breath.
“Hold itttttt – HOLD IT!!!!” the instructor screamed, as the blood stopped flowing to my calves in a forward fold.
He then instructed us to bind whilst in a low lunge. Binding is something I was only able to do after a month or so of consistent practice. I watched some students struggle, the crowns of their heads straining toward the floor.
“IT SHOULD FEEL GOOD!!!” he shouted.
I tried to breathe. I thought about what he’d shouted. A lot of things feel good. Different things feel good to different people. For example, some people really enjoy taking baths in sub-zero temperatures. You can even pay to do something like this – it’s called “cryotherapy” (not, as one might reasonably assume, because it makes you cry). Others enjoy having needles inserted into their bodies. I’m told that this can make you feel a “release”.
I wondered if anyone in this class, holding this position, where I felt my circulation slowly being cut off from the lower half of my body, thought this was enjoyable. I stared down at the patterns on my mat formed by my sweat, falling like unholy rain from my brow. I tried to enjoy it, I really did.
And then, that evening, I bought a pass to the yoga studio.
When I Think I’m Becoming a Yoga Nut
In the following week, I woke up thinking about yoga and went to bed thinking about yoga. I began reading about mudras and chakras. I half-scoffed-at-half-devoured articles about the benefits of yoga – and whenever I felt I was too deep into “opening my third eye” or “becoming one with the universe”, I brought myself back down to earth with texts on the appropriation and widespread commodification of yoga and sobering pieces on yoga injuries (including this one in the New York Times – “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body”).
I was so weirdly obsessed with yoga – the way you become obsessed with something you know you’ll never quite reach, kind of like owning a home or dating someone emotionally available and communicative.
Yoga didn’t replace the other parts of my life, though. After an hour class at the studio, I’d rush off to the gym and do my regular weightlifting routine, and cooling down by doing – you guessed it – more yoga.
It was during one of these sessions where I rose from a badly-aligned attempt at one-legged king pigeon pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) and felt a strange achiness in my right knee. I brushed it off as a kind of one-off case of putting too much pressure on the joint, and thought nothing of it.
But it persisted. And then it got worse – a tiny, niggling, daily discomfort. I found myself readjusting my sitting positions during the day, noticing the pain of sitting in cross-legged positions on my mat. I thought uneasily about the article I’d already read a month prior about how yoga can wreck people’s bodies, and wondered if I’d wrecked mine. I thought of all the things I wouldn’t be able to do without my right knee. I thought about a pole dancing class I’d once wanted to take. Surely there must be some badass single-kneed pole dancers. Given that WebMD pushed me to get a colonosocopy last year when I was convinced I had colon cancer, you can imagine how this sent my mind spinning.
In the end, I made an appointment to see a doctor (with the sole goal of getting her to refer me to a physiotherapist), despite my misgivings when it comes to doctors (not that I actually don’t believe in their education or training – it’s just that every time I’ve gone to see one, usually the feedback they give me is some version of “just rest” or “it’ll go away on its own”, which in America, when you’re leaving a few hundred dollars poorer, seems a lamentable waste of time).
Where I Decide That Yoga Can’t Actually Solve All of My Problems
The saga with the knee helped me come to the realization that, actually, despite the hundreds of articles I’d read on the benefits of yoga, that doing the physical asanas weren’t the cure-all that I’d expected it to be. At work, I sat up a little straighter. I imagined a string gently tugging on the crown of my head. In the mornings, I meditate with the determination of someone doing something good for myself, but with the slight sense of not knowing exactly why.
Today, I’m sitting with a healed knee but with wrists that click at the slightest movement – a sound I’m positive wasn’t there before. I try to ignore the clicking in my knees, too. The yoga studio hasn’t been open, because of a third wave of coronavirus in Hong Kong, and instead, I’ve found yet another way to spend my money (funny how that tends to happen) and bought a monthly subscription to Alo Moves. For the uninitiated (or the social media abstinent), Alo Moves is an online video fitness platform with an aggressive social media strategy and pretty athleisure clothing – a lethal combination for a yuppie like me. I can only see ads on IG repeated for so long before I buy.
Kind of like the time I decided that I wanted to try being raw vegan in university, or the time I avoided all carbs for the grand total of three full days, I realized that a daily intense vinyasa practice was wearing down my body, not strengthening it. And it was then that I realized that my constant pushing to do as much physical yoga as possible was antithetical to what yoga was about – sort of how these yoga competitions exist.
And so, my introduction into yoga has been instructive. Humorous at times. Anxiety-inducing during others. Did yoga come into my life just by chance? Was my attachment to yoga a symbol of anything other than my desperate yearning for comfort during a time that seems to spit out anything other than comfort? I mean, it took me three months to write this post.
Until I find the answers, you’ll hopefully find my wrists stop clicking and yours truly a little wiser.
Until then, namaste.