Throughout my life, I had different impressions of yoga. I avoided it for much of my 20s, because it didn’t seem like it would be strenuous enough to really be considered “exercising”. I imagined a bunch of people in a room “Om” ing and breathing in full lotus position, whilst being guided through gentle stretching. I had never heard of hatha, or vinyasa, or yin flow, etc.
My first yoga class was actually in London; at a Bikram studio within walking distance from my flat, where they offered a month of unlimited classes for a very reasonable charge. A friend begged me to do it with her, so I signed up. The scorching hot room had an oddly peaceful vibe to it. There were people from all walks of life in the room, but no one talked once in the room. They remained fixed on the sound of the instructor’s voice, and laser-focused on their own body movement, balance, and breathing. There was a focus on fitness and quieting the mind. I found myself improving quickly through the weeks, and setting little goals for myself every time. The practice was all about me, and the classes made it easy to do that.
Flash forward to my life in Los Angeles, where yoga pants-clad women are the daily standard sight at coffee shops, grocery stores, and sidewalks city-wide. To an outsider, it would seem that women in this city are always going to or coming from yoga, with their sloppy ballerina buns (annoying trend alert), and chia seed smoothies. Yoga here is almost as much of a fashion accessory as any clothing or hairstyle. Anyone who’s anyone does yoga–duh!
And, while I’m a total hypocrite for attending classes weekly myself, I note how different the vibe is here from the London yoga studio. Cliques of lithe, willowy yogaphiles chatter excitedly at the front of the room, and hug and squeal when they see each other. From the back of the room, as I observe the trim figures lined up on the mats in front of me, I pick out the familiar athletic wear designer label on each and every pair of leggings or tank top in the room: “Lululemon, Lululemon, Lululemon, Lululemon…” and so on.
While, yes, this yoga studio features Vinyasa style yoga, and not the scorching Bikram style yoga, the room still gets very hot when you’re in the thick of things. Yet, some of these women just don’t sweat. They finish out the class as smooth and dry as they began, without even a glow or a glimmer of moisture. Meanwhile, I look as though I’ve just weathered a Tsunami. Granted, I’m a “sweat-er,” but still. It’s as if these women will themselves not to sweat so that they will remain perfect-looking in their $100 leggings for that Whole Foods errand later.
Of course, yoga is a personal practice, and I try to let these thoughts melt away while wobbling in my Half Moon pose, or my feeble attempts at Crow Pose. Still, it’s tough not to feel the glaring heat of obviousness that you don’t belong to a certain culture. I’m not gluten free, and I prefer not to eat something for breakfast that I can grow a fun “pet” out of (“Ch-ch-ch-chia!”). I don’t plunk $100 down on exercise clothing just because it’s trendy. I wear my hair in a ponytail. I’m an individual. And I guess that coming to terms with that is a mental exercise all in itself.