Five for the Archive, Part II • 18 June 2007

Following up on last Thursday’s #1 and #2, here is #3 of 5.

3. The addiction. How/why did you get hooked?

Just as the class up at SunsetCanyon concluded, I settled oh-so-compliantly with the insurance company of the driver who had nearly killed me. Receiving a large check changed several things for me, given my history: peasant-class people do no do yoga in this town, but I had already moved out of that zone culturally and now was also leaving it in an economic sense. I stashed much of the settlement in the market (likewise life-changing, considering my family view the owning of capital as sinful and the stock market as a bellweather for the apocalypse), bought a car (the first new car in the family, also viewed as transgressive), and listened to my partner when he said I should spend something on my own healthcare, given that the big check was a marker of the near-death to which I’d been subjected. I shrugged away the argument that I was entitled to something “for me,” but still followed my charismatic teacher to (cue horns) YogaWorks Beverly Hills, and took her 7:30 am class M-W-F for the summer.

The teacher started noticing me around August, but didn’t remember I’d been at the UCLA class the previous spring (“But I always remember the strong people! No way you were in that class!”) Apparently my body was changing, though I don’t even remember. I was showing up because I liked my teacher’s rhythm and playfulness. She had the ability simultaneously to make time both stand still and fly past. Class was an oasis. I also had a sense that if I kept going, the ill cognitive-emotional effects of that old wreck would dissipate and bring my sharp old analytical faculty back to roost in my pointy little head.

Oh yeah: I remember arguing many pinot nights on the balcony that practice made me smarter.

But that was mostly an excuse I made to my dense little clan of artists and academics for my frequent disappearing acts. I may have had to move up in the world to afford it, but my inner circle looked far, far down in the habit. They were beginning to suspect me. Not only was yoga manifestly narcicisstic—with the insufferable magazine covers in the Whole Foods line—it was unbearably corny. Did somebody say namaste?

As my tastes for alcohol, late nights, heavy food, loud avant rock, and intense intellectual banter diminished, my old garde both felt insulted and resented losing those pieces of me. My sweetheart started showing up at parties and shows without me, and quiet concerns arose. Years later, now that the adjustments for this new, jealous lover (i.e. astanga) have been made, my habits are viewed with irritation and pity.

For every one person who says my consistency is an inspiration, there are five who tell my partner they are sorry about what’s happened to me. The greatest misunderstanding is the popular story: after I got hit by the car, everything changed. I saw my own mortality—it is said, behind my back—and this changed me from an intense, complex and strong go-getter into someone who is less, who is weak, who is annoyingly like a hermit. What a pitiful story this is. But when a good friend’s fire seems to disappear, what else can you think?

The intensity hasn’t disappeared, you know. Just been redirected, in a way that ain’t so fun at parties.

That first summer of my practice, when I was still arguing it was all for the mental payouts, in truth I was showing up for my teacher because I just loved being there. I could drop right in to practice, focus and breathe: the simplicity of it was so beautiful.

The Beverly Hills scene was odd—so many sparkly-white leisure people and invisible brown ones cleaning up behind, the stupid dogs trained to be babies rather than cainines, valet parking in the city garage, Larry King cruising through in a Lincoln without stopping at the lights—but the studio itself was intimate and peaceful… an easy place to become a regular. At some point, I started taking a Tuesday-Thursday, and then a Sunday, class….