July 5, 2016

Today, I Miss Real Yoga.


Maria Chassen yogaI am an old yogi.

At 44 years old, I have come to the sobering realization that many of today’s yoga classes in New York City studios are not geared toward my demographic. It’s not that I can’t keep up, I am almost as strong and limber as I was when I began this journey. But yoga has changed and I’m not sure I like it.

I choose to express the sadness in my heart in hopes that in some way, this serves as a plea to bring back the yoga that once was.

I miss the pre-Instagram-worthy yoga, when studios were filled with yoga weirdos who reeked of Chandrika soap and mung beans. It was a time when we were all game and no gear. Lululemon had yet to come into the picture, and athleisure was not yet a “thing.”

We were non-competitive, never having the urge to peek over at our neighbor’s mat, because they were not trying to sneak in a fancy handstand on their way down to chaturanga. If one were narcissistic—because narcissists have always existed—even then, they would still refrain from showing off because the teacher told us not to show off your yogabilities at parties. The yoga teachers passed along this wisdom from their gurus, who were Indian men from Sri Lanka, not white guys from L.A.

We listened to our yoga teachers mainly because we could actually hear them speaking. Sure, the soft chants of Ram Dass whispering through the CD player could be heard in between breath counts, but the music served as a complement to the yoga experience. Blasting Public Enemy during a warrior sequence does not elevate the warrior vibration within me. And it doesn’t make someone a cool yoga teacher. So please don’t Bring the Noise.

Yoga teachers looked like their students, not like Barbie. Maybe they were a bit thinner than their students. They were usually vegans, although they didn’t advertise it. They didn’t caffeinate before class and never met at the bar after class because #yogalife was not “all about balance.”

Yoga was about abstinence. It was sacred, personal and special.

Yoga class was a time to transcend the physical body and focus on the subtle. Teachers kept us safe without having expert anatomical knowledge. While we knew our a**es from our elbows, we could not distinguish our perineum from our piriformis, and it was okay. No need to spend 20 minutes explaining Mula bandha. Just tell us to squeeze the muscle you would engage if you needed to urinate and couldn’t get to a restroom. We got it. It was enough.

We didn’t have skulls, we had lotus blossoms that opened up to receive wisdom from the divine. We had metaphor and beautiful imagery to help us connect to our innermost selves. It was this imagery that ignited the shift that happens during the practice, that shift where we feel more spacious and more of the life force moving through us. The reason we practice. I miss the imagery, not the anatomy lesson.

As I meditate on the hope to find another old yogi whose teachings resonate with me, I pray for a return to the yoga of old. I hope the new yogis use their youth, beauty, intelligence and power to bring back the simplicity of yoga, the yoga I once knew.


Author: Maria Squitieri Chassen 

Image: courtesy of the author

Editors: Ashleigh Hitchcock; Emily Bartran

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