Yoga Myth: Don’t Worry, No One’s Judging You

Every class reminds me of my flaws

One evening last week I got a text message from a friend I’ll call Glenda, who practices reiki, paints horses, cuts her own hair, and is writing a master’s thesis on peace. She’s a laid-back person who says things I find deeply philosophical even when she’s just musing about TV. One time she told me, “Loosen your hold on the reins, man,” even though we weren’t riding horses, we were just drinking beer in her apartment. That stuck with me.

So when Glenda texted to invite me to yoga, I thought I should go—despite the fact that every single yoga experience I’ve had has ended in disaster. She said she thought it would be good for us. I figured she was right.

People will tell you all kinds of things about yoga: You don’t need to be limber; it doesn’t matter if you can’t do the poses; your butt will take on the shape of a beautiful peach within four classes, etc. These are all lies. Yoga is hard work, especially psychologically.

The first thing I do is tell the teacher I’m hard of hearing so they’ll understand if I seem to stay in a position 20 seconds longer than everyone else. I also explain I don’t want to be positioned physically by the teacher; it makes me feel dumb. In this class, the teacher—I’ll call her Margo—promised she wouldn’t adjust me. The promise lasted for maybe 10 minutes.

Margo started things off with chant-singing. We were instructed to join in, though she reassured us that we didn’t have to be great singers or anything. She made a self-deprecating little wave, as if to say, “I mean, I’m not a good singer, so don’t worry about it.” Then she opened her mouth to chant-sing, and it was like a yogic Aretha Franklin crawled out of her throat. She could sing. It was completely typical of yoga practice overall: “Don’t worry, you don’t have to be flexible. I mean, [bending into an Escher drawing] I’m not always limber myself.”

Glenda, it turns out, is really good at yoga. Her body is naturally flexible, and when she sees a pose, she can replicate it. Oh, sure, she might need to be reminded to point her sacrum to the ceilingum or whatever, but her contortions are class-appropriate and free of embarrassment. That’s not true for me.

Even though people always tell me I don’t have to worry—that we’re all just at different levels—everyone in this class was fully competent in assuming the positions with grace and strength, just like every other class I’ve gone to. I wobble all over the place, I sweat profusely, I struggle with my yoga pants, I fold and then unfold the mats or blankets, I readjust the blocks … it’s as if I’m running a marathon and everyone else is doing dressage. The whole thing makes me feel very Jewish.

Halfway through the class with Margo, my hearing aids started to sputter and bleep due to the sweat that was pouring into my ear cavities. Given that they cost $2,000 apiece, I pulled them out of my ears and put them aside. At the same time, I realized I was out of breath … due to my asthma. “Shit,” I thought, “did I bring my inhaler?” I did not. So I plopped down on my mat and sat there, motionless, in a puddle of humiliation, my bifocals sliding down the bridge of my nose.

At some point I got back in the action because Glenda looked at me sympathetically. I was gulping down slurps of water (the only person with a water bottle, natch) when I caught her eye, and I couldn’t bear the goodwill. It was perfect timing, too, because my favorite part was coming up: the end.

The thing is, all the well-meaning people may be correct: Others in the yoga class aren’t judging you. But you will be judging yourself, which is worse. Instead of feeling loose and relaxed after a class, I’m thinking: Why do I have to wear hearing aids at such a young age? Why is my asthma so bad? How come other people can touch their toes and I can’t? Why does my posture suck? Why can’t I be taller? Why can’t I sing better? Why is my butt flat? Why are my boobs so big? Why are my toes long? Why are my … my … why are my fingers so …fingery?

Truly, it makes me hate myself.

So the next time Glenda asks me, I’ll try to remember this last class and how it took a full 24 hours to get my self-esteem back—and that was only after reading several articles in More magazine about why I should feel GREAT! to be in my 40s. The writers of that magazine made aging sound so fun, I was ready to be 50 already. Or why not 60? Maybe by then, I’ll have enough ego strength for yoga.