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Yoga Kicked My Butt

Intrepid adventure writer Tim Cahill journeys into the wilds of yoga, and barely escapes enlightenment.

By Tim Cahill

I am not a yoga kinda guy. Yoga people are sensitive, aware, largely sober, slender, double-jointed humorless vegans who are concerned with their own spiritual welfare and don't hesitate to tell you about it. They are spiritually intense and consequently enormously boring in the manner of folks who, in their own self-absorption, feel you ought to be alerted as to the quantity and texture of their last bowel movement.

Or so I used to think.

When Yoga Journal editor Todd Jones called and said he wanted me to write my impressions of yoga, I warned him. Listen, I said, my only encounter with yoga was pulling a string through my nose and out my mouth for sixth-grade show and tell. No problem, said Todd; he was looking for "a view of our subculture from the outside." That seemed fair enough: I was certainly outside.

So there I was, taking my first yoga class, in an open-sided bar/restaurant while, a few hundred feet below, the Caribbean Sea exploded off the high coral cliffs of Negril, Jamaica. I was doing some position—like a wrestler's bridge—that required arching between my head and hands at one end and the soles of my feet on the other. Hotel employees had removed tables and chairs from the restaurant for this class, and because I was apprehensive, I'd positioned myself in the area where I felt most comfortable—which is to say, next to the bar. In my field of vision, I could see an upside-down line of several bottles of rum, and, above them, a black and white picture of Bob Marley, the patron saint of Jamaican reggae. There is a picture of Bob Marley in every single bar in Jamaica. (I know: I've done the research.) One of Marley's best songs has a line that goes: "Every little thing's gonna be all right." That, I decided, would be my mantra.

Macho Man vs. the Weenies

I'm a writer, of sorts. My job requires me to travel to remote countries, where I have, in the past few decades, covered the drug/guerrilla war in Colombia, investigated the murder of an American in the jungles of Peru, dived with great white sharks off South Africa, and sat negotiating my fate with Taureg warlords in the southern Sahara. Pretty hairy-chested stuff, but the truth is, I was a little scared about meeting all the yoga folks in Jamaica. There's a lot of testosterone involved in what I do. I assumed that yoga people would perceive me as some sort of throw-back: a Neolithic macho, and an abyss of awareness.

Well, everybody wants to be liked, and I deeply feared the scorn of the assembled yogis and yoginis. The books I read before coming to Jamaica had calmed me somewhat: Yoga, I learned, is not a religion, and you can take from it what you will. Go only for the physical benefits: Fine, yoga doesn't have a problem with that. Use it for stress relief and meditation: Sure, Okay. Or a person might opt for a total yoga lifestyle, which includes diet, meditation, and the search for enlightenment. Take from it what you will: Yoga, according to the books I read, doesn't give a rat's ass.

But I assumed that people who would choose to spend their vacations doing four hours of yoga a day would be lifestyle folks, the kind of weenies who might sneer at my own rather soiled lifestyle. I feared my classmates would be holier than thou, or, in any case, holier than I, which is pretty much a slam-dunk.

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