My 38-Year Love Affair With Yoga (and How We Finally Made It Official)

Yoga and I have been together for almost four decades. Here's how we survived infidelity and finally tied the knot.
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yoga-heart

I often joke that yoga is my longest relationship, but, aside from my family and a few friends, it’s actually true.

Yoga and I have been together for 38 years. Back in 1980, when I started practicing, there were no yoga mats or yoga pants. I wore leotards and tights and used a towel on the floor instead of a mat. Sixteen years later, when I started teaching before there were certifications, I wore pajama pants because there were still no yoga pants and people still weren’t sure if sticky mats would “work.”

How Yoga and I First Met

My love affair with yoga began as so many romances do: in secret. I found Indra Devi’s book about yoga in my grandmother’s attic and took it home to practice in my bedroom. Thrilled that I could do Headstand and come into Wheel from standing, I diligently practiced the sequence that Devi, a student of Krishnamacharya, laid out in her book. For eight years we met behind closed doors, in the bedrooms of my parents’ houses and in my dorm rooms. No one practiced with me and no one understood my devotion. In fact, if I wanted to shut down any conversation, I merely had to say: “I do yoga.” People pretended to mishear me and made jokes about yogurt. Repeatedly.

After college, I met my first real-life teacher: Tony Sanchez, who was a student of Bikram (yes, that Bikram) and ran the Yoga College of India in San Francisco. Once or twice a week, when I had enough money, I would take the bus from North Beach to the Marina and do the 90-minute, 26-posture practice in a leotard, standing on a towel. Back then, the room was not that hot, and my new practice would leave me feeling so euphoric that I would run the mile back to my apartment. And I’m not a runner.

Our Engagement: My Formal Commitment to Yoga

I think of that time as the beginning of my formal commitment to yoga. I loved that the sequence of that class was always the same. I loved that the room was quiet. (A yoga music playlist? That wouldn’t come for another 20 years). And I loved that my relationship with yoga was entre nous: between us. Just yoga and me. I was engaged in a relationship with my body and myself, an aspect of life that was foreign to my friends and family.

Looking back now, I realize that it was my time on the mat that gave me the ability to listen to my inner voice, enough so that I could navigate the New York City publishing world. One of my few regular habits during my 20s and 30s living in the city was my attendance at a Friday night Iyengar class in the basement of a fancy 57th street gym.

As my writing and editing career bloomed, I continued to teach yoga everywhere I moved, including many nights in a variety of Pennsylvania gyms. I just called my classes “yoga”—no “hot” or “flow.” I hadn’t been taught how to teach and I never made adjustments or touched anyone. I closed every class with a meditation and made sure all of my students knew I was no expert—just another student, like them. Sometimes I felt like an imposter and sometimes I felt like I was sharing the greatest gift I could with my students.

See also The Keys to Confident Teaching

Then, Yoga Started Cheating On Me With Everyone

Then, in the late 1990s, just when I was moving to Los Angeles for my dream job as senior fitness editor of Shape magazine, everyone discovered my secret lover. Yoga was suddenly everyone’s best friend. I didn’t blame yoga for being so lovable, but I was dismissive of the strangers suddenly talking about “Chaturanga," yoga butts, and how hot the room should be. I had been practicing and teaching for almost 20 years at that point, and I did not want to share. I was judgy. I was disdainful.

Nevertheless, I had a choice. I could keep my relationship private or I could out myself. As a fitness editor, I didn’t have much of a choice. I was asked to ride the wave. And so I wrote yoga books and articles, and edited yoga magazines. Most memorably, I wrote a few articles for Yoga Journal, one of which became tragically significant in light of 9/11

I frequently felt ambivalent about making a buck (or three) off of my passion, and I was relieved when the world replaced yoga with CrossFit, HIIT, and barre (another far older form of exercise than those currently selling it would have you believe). These days, the world’s infatuation with yoga—my forever love—has become more tempered. Those who have stuck with it and those who come to it now do not practice because it is a fad. Rather, we practice because yoga is, well, it’s just wonderful, isn’t it?

See also Inside My Injury: A Yoga Teacher's Journey from Pain to Depression to Healing

Yoga and I Make It Official

These days, yoga and I have a very comfortable marriage, like many couples in their 50s. We are always there for each other. Last year, I lost my full-time job and returned to freelance writing. Not only did I turn to yoga for support during this transition, but I also found myself with the time to become a 200-hour certified yoga teacher. Finally, after an estimated 8,000 hours of yoga in my life, we got married. While I had done more yoga than any of the teachers who certified me (and maybe even all of them combined), I learned something from each of them—sometimes spiritual, sometimes anatomical, and sometimes historical.

We’ve been through a lot, yoga and I, but our relationship is stronger than ever. Each time we hit a rough patch—my neglect, yoga’s promiscuity—we would reconnect and I would discover a new reason to fall in love again. You know those old couples you see walking down the street holding hands? How sweet they are and how they make you smile? That’s yoga and me, after a lifetime together.