I love yoga. I love it so much that I got my 200 hour yoga teacher certification while I was nearly certifiable during my grad school time in Hawaii. I love it so much that I taught for two years before realizing that I like the performance opportunity teaching affords me more than I actually enjoy teaching. I love yoga but up until a month ago have not practiced in a class format in over a year because really, I like practicing in studios that are cleaned between classes. That have $193 Nest candles littered around the room and afford each yogi a minimum of six inches between the next practitioner. If I’m being really real, that’s not the yoga class that is currently within my budgetary constraints. Consequently I’ve been relegated to a home practice this last year and if I’m being real, really-really, real—that home practice is a singular downward dog before my goddamn dog interrupts by walking repeatedly back and forth underneath me in an effort to pet herself.
However, I've realized over the last few weeks, that if I don't get back on my mat in a community format I may hurt someone and no one wants that. So I returned to a community that I abandoned a year ago because I didn’t really feel like practicing yoga with my butt in someone’s face in a studio where the goal is to pack so many people in that it actually becomes impossible to do anything but breathe in people’s farts and sometimes even that is challenging.
The yoga studio I returned to is a “chain” with a number of locations in NYC. Late last year I found the one for me: heated vinyasa, cheaper than a Johnny Walker Black neat and a fifteen minute train ride from home. In midtown Manhattan, two flights above a nail salon, I walked five flights up and then hunched along the stairwell waiting for the previous classes students to tromp down the stairs spraying me with their sweat before I entered the studio where 2 of the 5 windows were taped together to prevent shards of glass from falling on yogis. I placed my mat at the front of the room because I liked looking out of the non-broken windows onto the street. I never used the dressing room (a converted broom closet) and chose instead to leave sopping wet (7 train riders be damned!) because I wasn’t really interested in having my face in someone’s thonged butt while I tried to force dry clothes onto my sweaty body. I freaking love this studio.
Now, one thing you need to know is that this particular Thursday at this particular time, my PMS was making me feel like there was a dance party in my uterus and my hormones were so all over the place that I think earlier that day I’d both cried and laughed in the span of three minutes. I’d spent my entire workday looking longingly at my mat and waiting for the moment when I could get my angry ass to class. I hunkered down into child’s pose and tried to tune the world out.
To my right there was an awful lot of commotion and I was a little worried that something or someone was going to end up on my head so I peeked to the right and there a very lithe, very tan, very athletic woman was jamming her body into various stretches and doing a lot of sex-style breathing. I shook my head and said, “Stay on your mat, Lindsay!” and went back to doing some deep thinking and deep breathing in my child’s pose.
To my left there was also suddenly a lot of very loud breathing and some stomping. I peeked. A very tatted, very buff man with mala beads encircling every wrist and ankle was doing a vinyasa “jump back” very, very loudly. A “jump back” is done when flowing from standing forward fold to a plank position in one fell swoop. The goal of this move is to be as light as possible, producing as little noise as possible. He was neither light nor quiet. I shook my head and said, “Stay on your mat, Lindsay!” and went back to focusing on not judging or hurting anyone.
Class began. The sequencing of classes at this studio is often very similar but the one thing that’s always consistent is the audile breathing cues the teachers give. This is very different than the style I was trained in, where we were taught closed-mouth breathing. This is the breath I practice until the end of my class, when I’ll open mouth exhale to release the heat, with an audible, but NOT VOCAL breath. This particular studio, however cues audible exhalations—with either a HAAAA or HMMMM sound. It’s typically only done a handful of times during class and while I’m happy to do this the four or five times the teacher cues it, on this particular Thursday I apparently missed the sign on the door that read, “5:30PM BREATHING COMPETITION, $7 ENTRY FEE.
We were twenty minutes in and each time I closed my eyes (something I often do in a big class) I would take a deep breath and my neighbor to the right would exhale out an exercise orgasm while my neighbor to the left would crossfit the shit out of whatever yoga pose we were in, practically pooping in the process. I swear to you, super tan yogi and super crossfit were so loud that at one point, when we were resting in child’s pose they exhaled so loudly that out slipped a very vocal, “JESUS CHRIST!” from my mouth and really all I wanted was Him to do was make them breathe with their mouths shut.
Imagine Steven Tyler yell-breathing HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA in downward dog and then imagine Freddie Mercury Queen-breathing HMMMMMMMMMMMMM in child’s pose for the duration of a sixty minute class and tell me how relaxed you might be by the end of it. I crafted angry monologues in my head while standing in warrior-two, sending daggers into crossfit-mala man’s neck and silently willed tanned Jane Fonda to fall over in side plank just to see if they’d stop with the sex-halations for a red-hot minute. But these two, these two were in it for the long haul and after my little PMS-y Jesus Christ slip-up one or both of them ramped up the volume on the scream breathing to a decibel that only Ozzy Osbourne reaches after Sharon’s pissed him off and so now I’m really, real-real, really pissed off.
At the end of class, I laid in my sweaty, PMS infused savasana and tried to calm the fuck down. I took a few deep breaths of my own, with an audible but respectful exhalation and willed my damn body to relax into the dirty floor and absorb my practice. I lay there for five minutes hoping that the class had emptied and wondered if I was out of line in my anger over the breathing. I thought about it a minute and then thought about it another. Cued, voiced breath was one thing, scream-breathing during practice felt self-important and disrespectful. Everyone practices their own way and breathes their own way, but to propel yourself so far off that mat that you end up on someone else’s be it literally or through breath is not cool.
I slowly rolled to a seated position and opened my eyes. To my right, my sex-haling neighbor was battling her way through bicycle twists in an angry, violent way that made me sure she was gonna either pop a hammy or accidentally kick me in the vagina. To my left, my crossfit-yogi neighbor was propelling his body up into a handstand and that vein bulging from his neck looked like it could use a good HMMMMMMMMM.
I took a deep breath in and finished my practice, rolled up my mat and walked out of the studio. I was still dripping sweat, my face was bright red, in I’m sure, a combination of heat from the class and anger and I was not sure I was any less angry than when I walked in 60 minutes earlier.
I clomped down the stairs and out onto the street. As I walked down the steps to my train home, someone coming up the stairs accidentally brushed past me and got a nice dose of my DNA on their way. “Gross!” I heard her yell through my earbuds and I stopped, ready to turn around and meet this head on. Instead, I took a deep breath and then, against my better judgement, scream-exhaled “HMMMMMMMMMMMM” as loudly as I could and headed home. I stood on the train, still dripping sweat and still a little angry and thought, I love yoga, but sometimes I fucking HAAAAAAAAAAAAAATE it.