Ashtanga Yoga

The Ultimate Yoga Test

Yoga teaches us to practice indifference to those things that bother us, but Neal Pollack is struggling with one nemesis to his peace of mind: leafblowers. What disruptor to your yogic calm would you like to make peace with?

For exclusive access to all our stories, including sequences, teacher tips, video classes, and more, join Outside+ today.

man meditating

The Yoga Sutra teaches us that we should feel friendly toward joyful people, compassionate toward those who are suffering, happy for those who are succeeding, and “indifferent toward the impure.” In other words, we should, in our yoga practice, cultivate a feeling of lovingkindness. Toward those things or people for whom such a feeling is impossibleif you ignore them, they’ll be rendered meaningless, and they’ll eventually go away, at least from your mind.

Easier said than done. Our asanapractice teaches us to identify our “edge,” but sometimes life pushes us over that edge. When it comes to living according to core yogic principles, we all have our weaknesses. I’m a notorious crank whose commitment to ahimsa is threatened by so many things: Dudes who wear their baseball caps backwards on airplanes, getting seated near the door at a restaurant, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver from Fox, and famous people ranting against technology. And those are just things that have annoyed me in the last few days.

But nothing on Earth tests my yogic patience quite like leafblowers. I hate them. They’re noisy and smelly and evil and obtrusive. Whenever one goes off in the neighborhood—and since I work at home, they go off often—I start sweating and ranting. I go into the furthest room away from the noise, put earplugs in, put headphones on top of the earplugs, turn on a fan, and pray for the din to end. Leafblowers disturb my tenuous equilibrium like nothing else.

They make-a me crazy. 

A few years ago, I was still living in Los Angeles and practicing Ashtanga several days a week in a dingy dance studio on Hyperion. One morning, while I was grinding my way through another primary series, a team of blowers invaded the adjacent parking lot. My adrenal glands started working overtime. I twitched and moaned on my mat. The teacher could see I was feeling distress, and she tried to put me into a series of restorative poses. But it didn’t work. I blurted, “I need to get out of here,” rolled up my mat, and bailed as quickly as possible, the whine of the blowers piercing my eardrums.

It didn’t end when I left California. No one likes to make noise and burn gasoline like Texans. When I unroll my mat at home during the day, more often than not, I face the leafblower brigade. Despite the instruction of every yoga teacher ever, my jaw stays clenched while I do my poses. I hold tension everywhere.

Few people like leafblowers, but most people can tolerate them in short bursts. But I can’t. That’s part of the deep self-knowledge I’ve gained from yoga practice. Yoga teaches you to take an honest look at everything. At the same time, I also remained certain that leafblowers are the scourge of the Earth and the root cause of all human suffering. Yet I will continue to try to practice indifference in the face of my noirest bete, even if I can’t succeed. It’s the least appealing part of my yoga life, but no one ever promised me a quiet world.