Thursday, July 06, 2006


Those not familiar with the phenomenon known as karma yoga as it works here in NYC and most likely elsewhere in the US: you work a shift in exchange for a free class. Usually one class per two-hour shift. The term karma yoga, which means selfless service, is a misnomer since you’re actually getting something in return. Just not money.

So I’m smack in the middle of a year-long karma yoga project: from December 2005 to December 2006 I’m earning all my yoga classes (3 times a week + home practice) through yoga. A neat little experiment for myself. Of course, there’ll be an article at the end about my experiences and thoughts. And yeah. Blogposts.

Anyway. The way it works at my current studio is simple. You arrive half an hour before class. Count the change. Straighten the studio. Sign people in and sell class cards as the folks arrive. I’ve met a lot of yoga practitioners and teachers this way and learned a great deal about how a studio is run.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to pick up another shift at this new studio down the street. Why? To see how a different studio might work. And because the space was beautiful—indoor water fountain; bright murals. The whole place had the feel of an artsy inner city spa.

The woman who owns the place looks a little like Naomi Campbell, except with bright blue eyes. Natural, as far as I could tell. (Colored contacts tend to look overly blue.) Absolutely beautiful. And therefore intimidating. (For some reason really pretty women tend to cow me. I have no idea why.)

Over the course of three days I trained at with I. at the new studio. Then had my first shift. At first it was fine. There were more details to learn, of course, than at my home studio. (While I. owns both this and two other studios here in Brooklyn, she just bought a land in Costa Rica and will move there shortly, operating her business remotely.)

So yeah. Precision is to be expected. But this level of anal retentiveness, or shall I say obsessive compulsiveness, was a little off-putting at first. I mean, she had me labeling lightbulb packages…

It was only gradually that the full extent of what I’d gotten myself into emerged. Some people take a little bit of power and amplify it to assuage their own egos. Her version of this common human compulsion: Condescension. Bitchiness. (Apparently I didn’t straighten the blankets well enough. Repeatedly.) And a weird habit of ordering food and eating it right in front of me without asking if I'd like to order something too. (She’s scheduled me for a 9-3 training session.) Then there was the way she treated the others: spilling toner onto another karma yogi’s bag and not even registering that she’d destroyed someone’s stuff. (Oh. Hahahah. Sorry...)

Now, if this was a real job and if I were actually earning money I’d have sucked it up. Rod and I have a media imaging firm and we’ve dealt with more than our share of difficult clients. You just deal, right? Business is business. But this is yoga.

And at its core yoga is a spiritual practice. A dance with the divine, a way of making love to the Beloved, to the inner Self. Physical prayer. True, there are other elements. But at essence practice is church + aerobics + an hour long stroll in the park all rolled into one. All of these things all the time. The ratios ebb and flow, but all elements are essential.

But god. The soullessness of the yoga studio world when it’s run as a business with just the sheerest of trappings of spirituality doesn’t just offend me, it repulses me.

I thought at first that maybe this was a lesson. Because, yeah. My ego was bruised. (I’m not an $8/hour employee, I thought. I’m not doing this because I have to. Fuck you you fucking cunt.)

But of course, it shouldn’t matter why I was working there. All people should be treated with respect regardless of how or why they ended up in the situation they’re in. So I decided that maybe this would serve as a sort of spiritual lesson. Humble me. Except I found myself reluctant to go back to the studio to claim my free classes, which was supposed to be the point to begin with. I even started avoiding that very block in fear that I’d run into her.

And then I thought about something Jay Brown said during a class I took with him. One of his students had said to him that there’s this vinyasa class she goes to that she really hates. He asked why she went if she hated it and she said she thought that maybe there was something she was supposed to learn there, in that experience. His response? Well, maybe the lesson is not to do those things you hate or dread.

So. I quit. End of YogaBitch. And while the day I severed the relationship I’ll admit I had fantasies about destroying her (Sure. There’s an element of the SuperVillainess in me…) those feeling dissolved within a day or so.

Now I have a newfound appreciation for my original studio. The ease of the shift. The flexibility of the studio owner. The way even though it is a business, the focus is on the yoga and the things it teaches us about yoking ourselves to the divine--our bodies and our minds and our spirits.


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