The latest entry in the popular field of yoga memoirs is a wickedly funny book with one of the most memorable titles ever: "Yoga Bitch: One Woman's Quest to Conquer Skepticism, Cynicism, and Cigarettes on the Path to Enlightenment."
The book chronicles a 25-year-old yoga student's quest for enlightenment via a teacher-training program in Bali. For anyone who has ever fantasized that yoga could instantly transform them into a serene, lithe, uber-flexible and wise-beyond-their-years yogi, only to be rudely awakened to your real-time self doing a face plant on your mat, this story is for you. You'll commiserate, cringe, and laugh out loud.
Buzz recently spoke with the author, Suzanne Morrison, a writer and solo performer, who, 10 years later, is far less cynical but still has a lot to say about transformation, the marketing of yoga, and some of the more fringe elements of the practice.
You went to this teacher training seeking transformation.Do you feel that you were transformed by the experience?
I do. But if you go home from a yoga retreat believing yourself to be
completely transformed, you should have that checked out. Your friends
are probably making fun of you behind your back.
That's what Yoga Bitch is about, in many ways: it's about waking
up with yourself again after believing yourself to be transformed.
Transformation is a long-term game. It's something you can't really see
until you look back far enough. But I don't think spiritual effort is
ever a waste of time, even if you don't see immediate results. One day
you'll touch your toes, having tried to get there for two years. Five
years later you might notice that you've been slipping into meditation
with less drama than you once did. Last week my new favorite yoga
teacher talked me into actually holding Side Crow for five seconds, and
that made me feel like a whole new person--until I fell on my face, and
then I recognized myself again.
Looking back on your time in Bali, is there anything you wish you could have appreciated more that you didn't at the time?
Oh jeez, yes. I wish I had been able to notice that my ego was running amok after my first big spiritual breakthrough. I wish I had actually gotten enlightened. I wish I had seen the face of God while meditating and then marched into the future feeling great about myself. I wish I had thought to ask for the recipe for the amazing and forbidden coconut vanilla milkshake I became obsessed with.
Most of all, I wish I had known towards the end of the retreat that 10 years later I would look back on my teachers in Bali and know that they were the best teachers I have studied with. They gave me a foundation in yoga philosophy that opened some incredible doors for me, both spiritually and intellectually. Physically, too--before Bali I looked like a dying dog in Plank Pose. Now I merely look like an elderly dog.
Since you did your teacher training 10 years ago, yoga has become even more mainstream. Any thoughts about the yogification of popular culture?
Well, it's fascinating! I have an older friend who recently had a stroke, and his doctor prescribed yoga to help him regain some lost mobility in his legs and arms. I think that sort of development is pretty awesome. I am still conflicted about the way yoga has been used as a marketing device in order to sell everything from herpes medication to insurance plans.
We are a nation of consumers, and right now many of us are deeply invested in consuming a particular health-and-wellness lifestyle. We all must be very exhausted or something, that we respond so profoundly to these yoga images, these wellness promises. But we do: if we are told a new car is going to make us feel nourished, calm, at one with nature and spirit because a woman in white is doing yoga next to it, a lot of us buy in. That image is seductive. It sometimes makes me feel like a huge chump. If I see a sun-drenched advertisement featuring a woman with perfectly clear skin meditating while her all-organic flax seed granola waits patiently for her, nestled in a beautiful ethnic bowl, I find myself wanting that granola. That granola, I'm convinced, is going to calm me the fuck down. I'm a total stooge.
Then again, maybe it will calm me down. Maybe that granola has special powers. I want to believe in the power of the granola.
During your program, you experienced kundalini rising, which for many practitioners is a kind of yogic Holy Grail. Have you ever recaptured that feeling?
I haven't, although I did get overheated and pass out in the tub once, and it was kind of a similar experience.
Seriously, though, I have deliberately backed off a little on meditation and pranayama. That was such an intense experience and I think there's a part of me that is afraid to repeat it. Which is odd, because it was an amazing, spectacular event. I felt like I could bond with plants, suddenly. But I've tried to belatedly take the advice my teacher gave me in Bali. Lou said to let it go. He said that I shouldn't try to repeat my kundalini experience or try and hold onto it or else it would actually hurt my meditation practice. And he was right: in Bali, I tried to hold onto that feeling for a long time, and it made meditation impossible, because I was always trying to recapture something lost. Now when I meditate I try and approach it as something new. I try not to compare today's meditation to yesterday's. This is actually good for my writing, too--one good writing day and you want them all to be like that.
Without giving too much away, there's a part in the book that discusses the health-preserving benefits of ... urine therapy. Have you kept up with the practice?
Hell no! Once was more than enough for me. Just the thought makes me gag. Interestingly, I recently spent time with my old roommate Jessica, who plays a significant role in Yoga Bitch, and she told me that she doesn't do it anymore, either. She was hardcore. If she's stopped doing it, I don't think there's a lot of hope for urine therapy to go mainstream.
Read more from Suzanne Morrison at suzannemorrison.blogspot.com.