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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

In fact, my classmates—a couple dozen of them—did not appear at all the way I thought yoga people were supposed to look. The men were not little weenie guys, for one thing, and there were several of them—I only say this out of journalistic integrity—who could probably have taken me at arm wrestling. The women—whose ages spanned a couple of generations—were not hippie burnouts and acid crawlbacks. None wore patchouli oil and an extraordinary number of them were highly attractive. The rest were just conventionally good looking. Don't misunderstand: I was with my wife, and I am not single and looking. But if I were, I'd take yoga classes, if only to meet women.

Our instructors—John Schumacher of Unity Woods Yoga Center near Washington, D.C., and Barbara Benagh of The Yoga Studio in Boston—started the first class by asking us to introduce ourselves and talk about our experience with yoga. Several of the students had studied for 20 years or more. My wife and I were the only total beginners, but, when my turn came, I told the assembled yogis, "I haven't done any yoga physically, but I've read three entire books and figure I know everything there is to know about it."

There was a brief moment of silence, and I thought, Yep, humorless. And then the class burst into laughter. Not a lot of it. It wasn't that good a joke.

I looked up at Bob Marley and thought: "Every little thing's gonna be all right."

Enlightenment? No Thanks

Todd had mailed me the books in question when he asked me to write the story. He sent yoga books appropriately addressed to dummies and idiots, along with Erich Schiffmann's Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness, which I found well-written but a bit on the ethereal side, at least for me. I figured yoga kinda guys might get a lot out of it.

What I was able to glean out of all this material was that the poses, or asanas, were developed thousands of years ago to give people control over their bodies. Such control is essential for yogic meditation. The purpose and goal of meditation is the bliss of eventual enlightenment. That stopped me cold. Enlightenment? No sir, whoa Nellie. None of that whoop-dee-doo for me, thank you very much.

The Enlightened Masters I have read are invariably incomprehensible and entirely incapable of constructing a single coherent English sentence. I'm not discussing someone like Erich Schiffmann, who's actually a very good writer. What I'm talking about here is Flat Out Enlightenment, which is mostly unintelligible gibberish and reads to me like someone swimming through a thick custard of delirium.

And don't think I don't know my Enlightened Masters. I've been to ashrams in India, "power spots" and "convergence points" and "vortices" in California and Colorado and New Mexico. I have spent time chatting to a woman with many, many followers who lives near my home in Montana and who channels Enlightened Masters all day long, as if taking calls on a cellular phone.

The link between them all—the convergence people, the gurus, the Enlightened—is that they don't make any sense (in their written materials, anyway). For that reason they all are self-published—which is to say they pay someone else to publish their work.

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