Obviously, Los Angeles is not suffering from a yoga shortage.
There are roughly two yoga studios on every block. Angelenos do yoga on the beach — for free, a lot of the time. And I practically lived on the beach for two years. So you might think that I did yoga. But I didn’t. I couldn’t bring myself to attend a class. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, exactly, because a large part of me did.
Part of me wanted to relinquish my identity, even my personality, in favor of a more relaxed and open California version of myself.
And I did succeed a little: I biked to acupuncture every week. I went running by the ocean and dove into the waves when I finished. I drank juice. I spent weekends in the desert. But I still could not face yoga.
Why? Well, for one thing, I sat and concentrated all day long at work, so the stillness and focus that yoga required turned me off — as did all the self-reflection, and the having to wear special clothing, and the being crammed into a room with other people, and the having nowhere to hide.
But mostly I was just intimidated. I had tried yoga in various Brooklyn studios before moving west. But in LA, just browsing the websites of my neighborhood studios made me sweat. The esoteric class descriptions evoked images of sinewy, youthful classmates with perfect alignment. I couldn’t tell what a basic, beginners class would entail. And the teacher bios freaked me out: I wasn’t sure how I felt about teachers “connecting” with me in ways that would help me find my “unique path.” I would rather figure that out myself.
But looking back, it’s almost painfully obvious: I was afraid of trying, and not just at yoga, but at truly living in a new place. What if I couldn’t connect with the teachers, or with the other students? Or what if I could, and then wanted to stay in LA? What if I’d never feel at home anywhere?
So I packed up my temporary life in LA and moved to a small town on the East Coast. I wasn’t sure why I decided to do it.
An admission: I’ve moved many times in my adult life. I’d worked hard to embrace change and “keep my options open.” But my nomadic lifestyle wasn’t teaching me what a self-reliant person I was. Instead, it was making me realize how scared I was of getting invested in any one place, or any one path.
Maybe I moved back east because keeping my options open started to feel scary rather than safe. Maybe I just got old. (Or, as I later realized, just older.)
A few months after the move, I went to yoga. I wasn’t sure why I decided to do this either.
It was winter. I was craving change. And I guess yoga had once again become hard to avoid. Just like the hippest LA neighborhoods, this little town has a studio on every street and a chilled-out ethos infectious enough to reel in an anxiety-ridden person like me.
I took my first class on a Saturday morning. Later, I would realize that my leggings were see-through. But for the moment, I was calm. I was also slightly hungover. And I was doing yoga.
The woman next to me, lithe and long, stretched out her ballerina-worthy leg behind her as if she’d emerged from the womb doing so. The teacher — quite possibly stoned — was giggling and deep-breathing her way around the room, making slight adjustments to our postures. At this very moment, unaware of my pants problem, and with my gaze fixed on a bronze Buddha statue at the front of the room, I thought that maybe I had been missing out. Maybe I could get into this.
“I can do the poses now, so show me how!” one man yelled out to the teacher. He was bald and wrinkly, had a hip replacement, and most certainly fell into the “old” category. In fact, so did everyone around me: The entire class, except for me, could get a senior discount at the movies. And they meant business — but in a slow, don’t-you-dare-rush-me kind of way.
Okay, I’m several decades behind them, I thought, then quickly realized something else: But I feel right at home.
I still don’t do yoga religiously or own proper yoga gear (although I did invest in non-transparent leggings). I don’t even feel like I’ve figured out where and how I want to live. But I now keep in mind what that seemingly stoned teacher said during one class: Sometimes not pushing yourself is more challenging than the opposite. Meaning, relaxing into a place for a while is probably harder than keeping your guard up.
In that first class in my new town, as I turned to watch the old man with a new hip fearlessly launch himself into some version of an unidentified pose, I felt ridiculous for having avoided this for so long. I’ve always loved a challenge; I’ve tested myself again and again and somehow always been okay. So I’m giving yoga—and this place—a good, calm, deep-breaths try.