Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Practicing Yoga for the Wrong Reasons? Who the Hell Cares?


Yogas citta vrtti nirodhah
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1.2

Some come to laugh their pasts away,
Some come to make it just one more day...

Robert Hunter

Everything’s cool as long as I’m getting thinner...
Lily Allen

One night a week, I work at a residential rehab for women coming from the most challenging backgrounds—long-term addiction, rape, prostitution, poverty, prison, childhood incest, loss of children, every imaginable kind of abuse. I bring my expertise in reading and writing, in hopes that they’ll get their GED’s, maybe go back to school, or simply learn to narrate their experiences in writing; they bring PhD’s in suffering.

I feel particular admiration for some of the older women, those most scarred and humbled. As bad as life can get—the stuff of nightmares that leave us shaking in our beds, afraid of falling asleep again—they’ve been there. They’ve known Hell, and what it’s like to claw their way out, only to slip and tumble backwards into the depths, again and again and again. And yet, here they are, still trying.

Then there are some of the younger women—still vibrant and cute enough to hide their scars, and still naive enough to think they can run away from it all, there because it beats jail; the older clients say they haven’t hit bottom yet. Often, as I arrive, many of the clients are on their way out the door, heading to a weekly outside meeting—a twelve-step group beyond the confines of residential rehab, allowing them to incorporate their experiences of recovery within that sequestered world with those of people on the outside...many of whom are men. While everyone, generally, cleans up a bit for the outside meetings—hair done, a little mascara, a skirt in place of sweatpants, maybe a touch of jewelry—a few of the younger clients take it a bit further: wearing thick layers of makeup, low cut blouses, jeans tight enough I wonder they don’t cut off circulation. One put on thigh high black leather boots with stiletto heels, fishnet stockings beneath a short leather skirt and bustier week after week, resisting the entreaties of staff members to the effect that this really wasn’t appropriate for Narcotics Anonymous.

But, though their attitudes seem be blatantly off, though they may be missing the point, though their dressed-up-get-messed-up choices in couture might be a complete mockery of the well-established values of twelve-step programs and recovery itself, they keep going. They’re encouraged to. And there’s a reason for that. Whether they realize it or not, they need help—badly, and such resistance only serves to put that need into stark relief. And it may be that in these meetings they attend for, apparently, all the wrong reasons, they will, in spite of themselves, find the help they need. It’s better to be there with the wrong attitude, in other words, than not to be there at all.

Meanwhile, the serious yoga world’s full of outrage that so many people see yoga as a means of getting a firm butt...or to show off one’s firm butt in the latest designer yoga clothing and compare said butt and clothing with those of others in the room...or to enjoy other peoples’ firm butts so tightly wrapped in that expensive stretchy stuff. The women at the rehab, from what I've seen, appear to see morning yoga as an excuse to go outside and smoke cigarettes.

That’s cool with me. They might learn something and it might help them, in spite of themselves...

11 comments:

Eco Yogini said...

i agree 100%. I also feel that if people don't get something 'extra' from their yoga practice... who cares?
I mean... not to sound all whatever about it- but I don't feel that everybody HAS to get something from yoga. Nor do I feel that yoga IS for everybody and we all should 'find' it.

Just my own thoughts though- probably a bit of a backlash from all this outrage and even 'Who cares how they came to yoga, as long as they DO YOGA' stuff that's happened in the past two years.

Meredith LeBlanc said...

Amen doctor. I never worry why my students come class - I just hope take away a nugget that means something to them whether its a firmer tush or an inspiration.

ashmastandrea said...

Thanks for sharing this!

I teach at a couple gyms, so most of my students are there for the toning aspect! I love that they get all the other benefits whether they like it or not! :)

Sidhe said...

Wow, I think you are right and now I wonder back at all the accidental blessings I've stumbled upon while seeking something else altogether.

:)

Carol Horton said...

I love your description of working with these women. But I don't agree with your characterization of how it relates to yoga. I don't think that the outrage is over people going to excellent yoga classes for the "wrong reasons." I think that the concern is that the yoga itself is being watered down to fitness, pure and simple. So the real equivalent would be if NA started watering down their curriculum to give the women what they want now - instead of 12-step they could offer fashion tips and smoking breaks. And even if they liked it better, would it be serving them well?

Kim said...

Great post! You never know what someone may gain just by being there.

WR said...

Hmmm, anything that connects body and soul may serve a person well...sometimes in spite of themselves. Women who are disassociated by virtue of drug abuse and sexual abuse have such a suitcase of pain to work through that those moments of breath and stretch may just linger and help some one of them move along. Who cares if it posited as an excuse to have a cig break or a way to tightened up a butt. If they show up it just might be progress.

Scott Newsom said...

http://bayshakti.com/does-the-practice-of-yoga-automatically-make-you-a-better-person

Here is the other side.

Lana Gramlich said...

Everyone's got their own spot on the path.

earthtoholly said...

Ironic...the girls have youth on their side and a chance to escape the beaten-down lives of the older women around them, however, their heads aren't there yet. At least they're in a positive environment and will hopefully have that aha moment at some point along the way. Agree that It's better to be there with the wrong attitude...than not to be there at all.

Hey, are you at the beach now? Hope so!

LauraX said...

I think you've made an excellent point Dr. Jay...we go some place for one reason and end up learning and growing more than we ever could have imagined...best not to judge, but be open to the possibility of healing on many levels...not just the ones leaving the rehab or attending the yoga classes to get thinner or tighter...but the teachers also learn, grow and heal...it is good all the way around. I'm so glad you are out there doing the work you do. I miss volunteering at the transitional family housing center where I used to help out...I miss a lot of things...but hey, you know you do what you can from where you are...and if that means writing a blog post that opens up a little joy or peace or understanding for someone halfway across the world...that's good too:-)
gentle steps my yogi friend...you are such a good person...so much kinder than your "rough" exterior...I love that about you!