I started doing yoga about three years ago, when I was 32. I was depressed and I had read two testimonials attesting to yoga's benefits. In her graphic memoir Marbles, Ellen Forney explained that she originally started doing yoga because she heard it was slimming. She kept going because it helped her manage her manic depression. In an interview, Giancarlo Esposito said that his yoga practice helped him get inside the head of his Breaking Bad supervillain "Gus" Fring. It taught him how to be a better listener, an essential part of his character. I'm still a bit of a stage-door johnny, and still, against all odds, aspire to a level of coolness that I see on screen and that I will never, in a million years, obtain. (Aren't and don't we all?) And I thought if yoga could help me obtain anything like "Gus" Fring's imperturbability, than yoga it was to be.
I went to Yoga to the People, which was less than a mile from my house. I had to sit out more than half the poses through the first class. It was painful to stare at myself in the mirror, surrounded by many fine-tuned male and female bodies. You're faced with your own body's imperfections, and although the mirrors in yoga studios, like those in dance studios and department stores, are relatively flattering, you still have to overcome your vanity, as you struggle to get into the right position for say an eagle pose, a struggle that exposes flab you didn't know existed. I slipped on my own sweat and I almost broke my ankle. Today, when I follow the routine, my heart rate rises and falls as its supposed to. When I started, it spiked and remained spiked.
When the class was over, I couldn't move for a few minutesand I teared up. I crawled out of the 105 degree room into the cool lobby. I couldn't quite make it to the bathroom to fill up my water bottle and I would just grab a two-dollar 1.5 liter bottle from the fridge next to the door. Those two dollars were worth avoiding the work of a 30 second walk. Throughout those first three months, I could feel my heart beat almost all day long. I would hear it before I went to sleep at night.
I've learned that good yogis have similar philosophies to good writers. No one is really "good" at yoga. At best, you just get better, a little closer to perfection, but you're never perfect. My practice has never been great, and there are some things I'm probably worse at now than I was just one year ago. I could tell you all the great things that it has done for me. It's slightly improved my body and my slouch. It puts me in a good mood, and on a good day, a euphoric state. The real pleasure, after three years, is this: There is a great pleasure in doing something, over and over again, on a daily basis, for which you have absolutely no talent, and for which there is no pressure to be better than anyone else.
In yoga, I avoid competition. I wish I could avoid competition in all elements in my life, but I suppose a capitalist system and our culture's attitudes towards the arts and learning makes competition a depressing fact of my life. I have enjoyed some fleeting joys when I am better at something than someone else is. You achieve a much more permanent joy in avoiding any competition at all.