I'm happy to report that I've got a piece today on Salon called Why I Hate Partner Yoga -- and, even better, my yoga teachers don't seem to hate me for it. In a weird choice (though one that I appreciated) it even had a moment as the cover story -- which meant that readers clicking on the site in hopes of updates on the economy or the presidential race were instead greeted with a large illustration of a sweaty downward facing dog.
Anyway, it seems like a bit of a one-two-punch to then dedicate this blog post to a recent experience I had in a Berkeley meditation class, but I figure I might as well go for broke -- because, as I hope is clear when I write about such things, the problem isn't the people doing the partner yoga, or the ridiculous characters who attend free meditation classes. It's me.
What I'm referring to is a six-week beginners meditation class in Berkeley that Peter and I decided to check out. I already know that I'm not a particularly good meditator -- I usually spend the whole time thinking things like, "Wouldn't it be more efficient if I went running?" Or, alternatively, I get existential -- having achieved a brief moment of calm, I'll think to myself "Is this what death is like?" And then I'll think, "No, Catherine, because death is infinite nothingness. You can't feel anything when you're dead." And then I start to have a panic attack. Point being, my previous attempts at meditation have not been very successful.
But I was -- and am -- still excited about this class. Maybe this man, this James Baraz fellow who's been teaching meditation since 1974, could help me. So on a rainy Monday night, we trekked up to the Northbrae Community Church. I realized, as soon as I looked at the other people in the room, that this was going to be difficult.
I'd forgotten that when you offer free classes/talks/discussions on anything in Berkeley, you invite the crazies. There was a woman directly in front of me who had forgone the auditorium's folding chairs in favor of her own yoga mat -- no, actually, two yoga mats -- on the floor, complete with pillow, so that she could lie on the ground during the lecture. But as if that wasn't enough, she had also brought a meditation pillow to prop herself up on when she didn't feel like lying down, and an even larger pillow to put the meditation pillow on top of, to protect her knees.
There was a teacher at the journalism school who used to do things like that -- he conducted all his office meetings while lying on a couch, and used to lie down on the floor in the middle of class. It was unnerving until you realized that during one of his previous reporting gigs, he'd been beaten so severely by Chinese cops that he'd permanently injured his back and could no longer sit still for more than a few minutes without being in pain.
I don't think that was what was happening with this woman, though -- instead, she just seemed restless. As the teacher (who was quite good, by the way) talked, she kept hopping from cushion to yoga mat, yoga mat to cushion, like a nervous bird -- an image made even stronger when she pulled out a muffin in a plastic bag and started to sniff it, like a chickadee examining a bread crumb. (In her defense, I think she was just trying to "experience" the muffin -- but still.) Occasionally she would hop up to her feet and just stand there, smiling. When the teacher started talking about something called "bare awareness," she responded by putting her hands in a prayer position in front of her chest and giving a little bow.
As is probably obvious from that extended description, I was having difficulty keeping my focus on the class itself. I kept thinking mean thoughts, like, "Who the fuck brings their yoga mats to a lecture?" and "Why are you sniffing that muffin?"
I'm hoping that for the rest of the class, I'm able to ignore the woman and her cushioned brethren (seriously -- there were a lot of people with props) and focus on what the teacher's actually trying to say -- since I'm pretty sure that the four principles of bare awareness did not have to do with judging strangers, even those who have a Bring-Your-Own-Yoga-Mat approach to meditation. We'll see how that one goes.
This is the blog for Salt Magazine.