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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

The stress-reduction guy told a yoga story that made me laugh. "I was at a convention in one of those big hotels. I check in, strip naked, and start on my yoga. So I'm doing a Headstand, and the door opens. There was a mix-up at reception and they'd given someone else my key. The guy says, 'Whoops,' and closes the door. All I ever saw were his shoes. All he ever saw, I'm sure, was, well, what he could see from his level. I spent three days looking at people's shoes, wondering which guy it was. He probably figured I was some strange kind of pervert."

"Ignorant people think that about yoga," I said, from the lofty perspective of a 12-hour-old yogi.

I spoke with the woman who'd studied with Iyengar. Her husband told me about the time he accidentally poured out her cake batter before an important party. "I thought it was a dirty dish," he explained. His wife discovered the transgression just after her yoga class and didn't yell at him very much at all. "I decided then and there that I'd encourage her to take all the yoga she wanted," he said.

By the end of the week, my preconceptions about yoga people had been pretty well demolished. There was a singular lack of sanctimony among the assembled students. To my surprise, my wife and I became friendly with several of our classmates. Indeed, several of us made plans to return next year.

Since I wasn't able to absorb the whole discipline and philosophy of yoga in a single week, I resolved to work hard on my asanas, come back next year, and make the lot of them look like rank beginners.

Given that state of mind, I suppose it hardly needs to be said that I successfully avoided enlightenment. Happily, I suffered not a single stab of cosmic awareness, though I fear that if I keep yoga up for any length of time, I may have to fend off serenity. That's something I'll need to work on: this creeping and insidious tranquility. I'm a nail-biting, chain-smoking, hard-drinking deadline junkie. That's my life. I love it, and worry a lot about the curse of incipient equanimity. In my worst moments of serene composure, I reassure myself that, even though I am currently practicing yoga, enlightenment is a long shot and I'm not going to get there. Not ever. Thank God.

Tim Cahill's latest book is Dolphins, a companion to the IMAX film of the same name.

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