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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

Barbara's overall plan for the week, it seemed, was to guide the students through a program to get energy running back and forth from the groin to the back through what she called the lumbar bridge. This may not be entirely correct: I sometimes lost the thread of what Barbara was saying late in the class. I couldn't always feel physically what she described; perhaps the concepts were too advanced for me. But one student who had been practicing yoga for several years told me that he'd been working on those very concepts for the last year and that he was in the midst of a kind of mental and physical breakthrough, thanks to Barbara.

While Barbara and John had been teaching this "yoga vacation" together for more than 15 years, they were quite dissimilar. Barbara, for instance, loved marathon-length mountain biking sessions, and she was an avid swimmer, racking up as much as a mile a day before teaching class. John, on the other hand, felt yoga, done consistently, was all a person needed to stay in good shape.

"Well," I said, over dinner with the both of them one night, "you've gotta do some cardiovascular stuff, running or whatever."

John didn't think so. Yogic breathing, properly practiced, was all a person needed. He had recently had his cardiovascular system tested and he'd scored pretty much off the scale. He never ran. "I think all that stuff about keeping the heart rate at such and such for so many minutes is a real cave man way of doing it."

Well, yeah, I thought, if you're John Schumacher, maybe you can keep your heart healthy through a combination of breathing and asanas. I wasn't John Schumacher, and I was going to just keep plodding along in my own Neolithic fashion, but throw in a couple of hours of yoga a week as well. I had discovered that it made me feel good.

Living La Vida Yoga?

I was standing at the bar after an afternoon class, having a beer and a cigarette, when John stopped by for a chat. I was wearing a Unity Woods Yoga Center T-shirt I had bought from him. The shirt featured a large triangle whose legs read: "Serenity," "Knowledge," "Health."

"I suppose," I said, "I'm a bad advertisement for Unity Woods."

"Not at all," John said. "We'll just add the words 'Not Applicable.'"

There were several people at the bar, and though some undoubtedly lived a full-on yoga lifestyle, others did not. No one talked about Obstacles Along The Path. Several drank alcohol, though hardly in the quantities I find refreshing, and there were even a few smokers. A "yoga vacation," I was told, is different than a "yoga retreat," where I might have felt considerably more out of place.

There was a guy who taught stress reduction at various corporations, an engineer who'd worked in the Middle East (among other places), a woman who'd been to India several times and studied with a man named Iyengar, who, I knew from my reading, was considered hot stuff and one of the modern masters.

There was a psychiatrist, and we talked a little about my preconceptions. "Exactly," the doctor said. "I don't tell people I practice yoga for that reason. Some people automatically think it means you also do crystal healing or some such."

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