Here’s me in the locker room at YogaWorks, hugging a towel to my chest. I think I’m the only person who ever asks for a towel. I get a bank of shower stalls to myself. I’m always alone in there. I love showering after yoga class. The cool water is blissfully refreshing. Much better than returning to my car in sweat soaked workout clothes. Much better than driving home in a funk. I imagine I’m the only one taking advantage of the free showers because the front desk doesn’t advertise, nor encourage. Let’s be honest. Truth? The ladies at the front desk don’t speak to me. They nod when I hand them my membership card at check-in, grunt when I ask for a towel, ignore me when I return it.
Not a word after nine months of membership, not a word of conversation. They’re efficient at scanning my barcoded card, the one with a photo ID. I cut ’em some slack because I know “Kumari” is an unusual name. I figure they can’t pronounce it and are afraid to ask how. I’m pretty sure they’re not interested in me because I am a middle-aged woman and they are pretty young girls. They certainly find time to chatter to each other. The ladies don’t speak to me, but I find out they speak about me. You know, behind my back. I figure out because in the locker room others stare at me, point, smirk and (as we say in Hawai’i) stuff li’ dat. Over the duration of my membership I feel increasingly uncomfortable. Finally one soccer mom breaks the ice.
“Is it true?” The nosy blonde asks me, while ribbing her friend. As if to say watch me, I’m gonna ask her. “Is it true you drive from Frazier Park to take classes in Santa Clarita?” My face flushes involuntarily. I’m not sure why my 30 minute commute is amusing. They’re hardly able to hold back giggles and snorts. I realize I’ve made the trouble for myself, coming so often. I slip in almost daily for one or more classes. Unaccustomed to lying I make the mistake of admitting I do drive down the 5. When the pair burst out into wide-eyed peals of laughter I don’t feel like explaining there aren’t any yoga studios in Frazier Park. Well there aren’t. “I can’t believe you do that!” One and then the other lady repeats, “it’s so far!” They’re hoping I’ll say it again. Yes. I drive south on Interstate 5. I don’t owe them an explanation, but for you, dear reader I’ll say:
Santa Clarita and Bakersfield are equidistant from Frazier Park. Once upon a time the studio on H street in Bakersfield is what I considered my yoga home. I never got teased for driving north. Au contraire, the H street teacher asks how my practice is going, as if my challenges interest her. The studio owner, “Tera,” remembers my name even if I don’t manage to get to a class every week. The other people who take the classes smile and nod. They are friendly, if not friends. They are certainly not bullies. Not mean girls. After getting mocked in the locker room I no longer felt entirely welcome at YogaWorks in Santa Clarita. Little things, like the front desk girls refusal to acknowledge me, start to stick in my craw.
After a second, very similar locker room incident I complain unhappily to my friend Walter. He’s one of those guys who teaches donation yoga to a 12-step group. The kind of person who might say “Yoga saved my life.” He encourages me to own what these women find entertaining. Be a full-fledged yoga dork. Live the part. “I never apologize for enjoying yoga,” Walter admits. “If they ask, just say ‘yoga is my passion.’ Let ’em deal with it.” I like the idea of turning shame inside out. Why let a pair of mean girls spoil my fun? I continue taking classes daily, although one day I have the icky experience of another student telling me to move my mat away from hers. In all fairness, I pulled my mat next to hers because I expect the room to fill up. We are early. The room is practically empty.
“Excuse me,” she says, “but really? Really in this whole empty room do you have to be right next to me?” Sheepishly I move my mat to the left. Then I lie on my back, breathing slowing. Closing my eyes. Reestablishing my equanimity. She’s not done yet. I guess I acquiesced too simply. The lady to my right (and I use that word ironically) continues to complain, “It’s not like I’d mind if there were other people in here. I just don’t understand why you had to be so close to me when there’s no one else here.” I move my mat further away, space for at least two other mats between us. Now she’s gone from nasty to almost pleading, “it’s not like I’d say anything. . .” she repeats yet again. I realize she’s waiting for me to say “It’s ok.” Except I don’t feel like speaking to her. I can’t comply. I’m still processing my faux pas.
I don’t know why she couldn’t ask me and let it go at that. After all, I moved. And you know what dear reader ? Between you and me – if class had started with just the five us present, I would have relocated unasked. I set up too close to her based on past experience. I’d been in that room when 25 to 50 people are negotiating shared space. Anticipating the crowd I thought myself efficient to fill up from the spot closest to the front, farthest from the door. I know when I teach getting the class to move forward to make room for others wastes valuable class time, as does asking people to move left or right to clear a spot. But of course from the other woman’s point of view I am truly being a weirdo in a cavernously empty room to chose the spot directly next to her to lay my mat.
After my membership ends I never return to YogaWorks. The vibe was just, oh, how you say? Unwelcoming. When I compare what happens there in the lobby, locker room, and class room to what happens at InnerBodyWorks, Samsara Wellness Center, Lulu Bandha’s, YogaSpace, or Yoga Yoga I realize YogaWorks is the only studio within 50 miles of my house where nobody wants to know me. The 7 day a week full day schedules, the tea in the lobby, towels and showers, just aren’t enough to make up for that alienation. Even a bona fide yoga dork has her limits. I rather work out at home, alone, than be somewhere where people talk about me more regularly than to me.
Why was I even there? YogaWorks is also the only studio within 50 miles that has an accredited 200hr and 500hr teacher training. We’re asked at the beginning of my teacher training what our goal is. I dutifully write, “to learn enough yoga that I never, ever, have to pay for another yoga class unless I want to.” Mission accomplished. The basic 200hr did not a master make. But it gave me enough to send me on my way. I would never be subjected to unwanted jeers. I can drive if I want to a special yoga event. My vetting process for potential teachers is certainly far keener. My self-analysis of my personal practice is better directed. The foundation for my understanding of sequencing was laid there. If you can get as much from your 200hr teacher training I’d say you did well.
As far as my own career I teach people how teach themselves. It is my preference that people have choices. Don’t go some place where yer not welcome. Join a studio if you’re having fun, making friends and enjoying the facility. But don’t let the available yoga choices curtail your lifelong yoga practice. My Sitting Pretty Workshop June 18th at Samsara Wellness Center is appropriate for any body, every body, lifelong practitioners, curious beginners, non-yogis with tight hamstrings. You will certainly learn enough to do yoga by yourself as physical therapy. You might like the company enough to keep coming. It’s all up to you.
Now y’all play nice!