YouTube Yoga And Gay Dog Sex: The Perils Of Practicing At Home
A few months ago, I decided to stop spending money on yoga. I now knew enough, I thought, so that I could practice by myself at home. The prospect excited me, because eliminating yoga classes from my life meant one more reason to not leave the house. When you can get away with staying home all day, life in Los Angeles is almost tolerable. I had some open floor in my office, and French doors that, when opened, invited gentle breezes, the endless sound of yard-maintenance noise, and a nice view of a hill behind which sat Dodger Stadium. One day in November, I unrolled my mat and began my perilous voyage into self-practice.
Four months later, I’d like to report on my progress. Today’s to-do list, made around 9 AM, contained three items: “Practice At Home,” “Write About Practicing At Home,” and “Email Questions About Jon Favreau To Scarlett Johansson.” At this writing, it’s almost noon, and this is the only one of the three I’ve broached. Thinking about practicing at home is easy. Actually doing the practice is hard.
Yet some form of physical yoga happens in my house about five days a week. Like the great God Krishna, my self-practice appears in many incarnations, all of which seem to involve stopping my male Boston Terriers from rolling around on my mat and licking each other’s privates. The Yoga Sutras say that when you reach the highest state of consciousness, you should be able to regard all occurrences, now matter how debased or exalted, without emotional attachment or judgment. Though Patanjali doesn’t spell it out as such, that includes gay dog sex happening under your legs while you’re moving into revolved triangle pose. When it comes to yoga, everything’s a test.
Most often at home, I practice the familiar: The primary series of Ashtanga yoga, a self-guided series of Sisyphean postures, linked by breath, that never fails to deliver on its promise of making me feel like an exhausted, humbled dishrag. I’d been studying some Ashtanga before I went into my monastic yoga seclusion, so I know the series well enough to do it myself. But I also, after a few days of trying it alone, found that I was leaving out certain poses, or skipping a step here or there to wipe the sweat off my brow or peel my toenails with my fingers.
Clearly, I needed discipline. This is where YouTube enters to help the modern self-practicing yogi. After a month or so of grinding through the practice, I discovered that someone had, kindly and more than likely illegally, posted videos of the entire primary series led by David Swenson, one of the modern masters of the Ashtanga yoga system. Suddenly, I had free high-end instruction coming through my auxiliary speakers.
This helped a lot. The video version of David Swenson (who was, much to my shock, about 15 years younger than the actual David Swenson who I encountered recently at a conference) kept my alignment honest and helped my practice flow with his laid-back, affably Texan manner. But a YouTube practice also has its pitfalls. The series has been broken into 12 separate parts, each anywhere between seven and 10 minutes long. I intermittently find myself having to extricate myself from an impossible pose to click on the next installment. Still, old, choppily edited yoga videos are better than no yoga videos at all, and I often feel actual gratitude toward virtual Swenson for his help.
Ashtanga can get dull even when you’re practicing it every day in a hot room surrounded by dozens of other yoga freaks, some of who are quite good-looking. Trying to do it consistently by yourself at home is like drinking a shot of wheatgrass every day for lunch: Though it’s probably the best thing for your health, most of us, myself included, don’t have the discipline to get it done consistently. I often seek easier yoga elsewhere on YouTube.
Some nights I have trouble getting to sleep, my mind skipping with worries about my financial problems, receding hairline, and the Dodgers’ puzzling offseason. A wise teacher of mine had said that yoga makes everything that comes after it better. That included, I assumed, sleep, so early on in my home practice I went searching for a yoga flow to help me sleep.
It didn’t take long for me to find a video called, appropriately enough, “Hatha Yoga For Better Sleep” on the YouTube channel of a website called Yogayak. Thus, at anywhere between 10:30 PM and 1 AM many weeknights, I found myself moving through a gentle 35-minute flow, led by a healthy Canadian woman who appeared to be practicing among a flock of geese in a public park. It always left me drooling, my brain heavy and empty, and my subsequent sleep undisturbed and full of vivid dreaming.
Less successful has been Yogayak’s 45-minute “Grounding Afternoon Practice,” mostly because, for some reason, it takes about three hours to load in my browser, which means that if I want to ground myself around, say, 4 PM, I need to remember right after lunch, or the practice won’t be ready in time. More than once, I’ve accidentally shut off Firefox, thereby scotching my yoga goals for the day of practicing with an attractive woman named Dagmar who has a studio in Costa Rica. This teaches yet another lesson unstated in the Sutras: Don’t become attached to YouTube videos for your yoga practice. Your Airport could go wonky at any moment.
Occasionally, I feel lonely and come down from the mountain to take a class with Patty, a teacher who I’ve been studying with for a good number of years now. She’s as familiar with my practice as anyone. One Friday morning, as I twisted into parivritta parsvakonasana, or “intestine-mangling pose”, she said, much to my surprise, “That looks good. Have you been practicing at home?”
It hadn’t occurred to me that, by practicing something, I could actually improve my skills. I’d just assumed that yoga would stay with me as a balm throughout my life as I became balder, fatter, older, and stupider. In true yogic style, I didn’t become attached to the compliment, but I enjoyed it, because it meant that all my extremely intermittent hard work hadn’t been a total waste.
A few weeks later, on a press pass at a yoga conference, I had the privilege of taking a daylong seminar with Sarah Powers, a foremost proponent of Yin Yoga and an advanced Buddhist meditation instructor. She spoke highly of self-practice. It was actually the highest form of yoga, she said. The best way to do yoga is to practice by yourself, and then when you fall into a rut, seek advice from a respected teacher or two so you can advance the practice at home further. Group classes are often an attractive trap that falsely props up the ego into believing it’s important.
I’d been doing yoga properly all along. Who knew? Even if I wasn’t grinding hard every day, I was on the mat, or at least thinking about the mat. Yoga is a life-long, multitudinous thing. Your practice is your practice no matter what, even when you’re doing it half-assed at home, directly adjacent to a pair of flatulent, incessantly humping dogs.
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