Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What Is It About San Francisco and Cults?

My first day in San Francisco I was wired from the long trip and thought I'd take a yoga class.

Instead of going to one of the places that had been recommended I looked online for a place in the Castro that I could just walk to and that had a class soon. What I found was a place with several locations called the Yoga Tree. They have a beautiful, enormous space just off the Castro that seemed perfect.

The first thing I noticed after walking up the stairs to the second floor was how the guy behind the desk wasn't so friendly, he was preoccupied and curt. He answered all my questions, but seemed in a hurry. He told me the class would be sold out and that I should sign up now (apparently in SF you need to register for a class on line before you come), and that they had a deal on three classes for 20 bucks, good at any of their locations. Sounded like a deal to me.

I tried to suss out what kind of yoga it was, I told him I was from New York and went to OM, he shrugged and said he'd never heard of it. Fair enough. He told me it was Hatha Yoga (in reality that is a non-answer since Hatha Yoga describes any of the physical practices of yoga).

I go back to the changing area and after I have my shorts and t-shirt on I sit waiting for the room to be free. The amount of people streaming in was quite something. I'm not used to such large classes, nor am I used to how social everyone was.

Yoga classes in New York are predominantly women. If you have 3 or 4 guys in a class that's a lot. Not so here, there were a lot of men, all seemingly young and in good shape, and all practicing shirtless. By the time the doors opened to the yoga room the waiting area was packed.

Between the people coming out from the class that had just ended to the ones going in I felt like I was in Grand Central at rush hour. But the minute I walked into the class I realized I had indeed made a mistake: the room was heated, something I knew was popular in California and that I neither understand nor like.

My feeling is that the two great yoga teachers of our time, B.K.S Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois, don't practice in heated rooms so do we need to? And what brought about this need to over stretch, dehydrate and cause nausea while practicing yoga?

Maybe it's so we can wear less clothing and bring in trendy bottled water (something one of my ashtanga teachers used to rail against: "yoga class is no place for water bottles drink before and drink after but do not drink during!" of course it wasn't a heated class.)

Anyway the rubber band twig of a dancer girl next to me noticing my distress looked at me and asked what was wrong:

"I didn't know it was heated"

"It's stated on the schedule"

"I was a walk in. I didn't see the schedule, but no one told me it was a Bikram class"

"It's not. We only heat to 86 degrees. Bikram heats to 107."

Thanks for the clarification.

I was beginning to think people in San Francisco weren't very friendly, but then I always think: maybe it's me?

I was torn. I wasn't happy and I knew this was not going to be my kind of yoga class. How you can teach a hundred people yoga? How can you do corrections or see if your students have correct alignment so they don't get hurt? Especially in such a hot room where you can easily over stretch?

The only thing louder than my narrative was the din of the room, it was incredible I wasn't in a yoga class where people came to find balance, peace and quiet I was at a singles cocktail party sans the cocktails.

Then the final straw, some hyped up yoga rock music swelled until it as so loud the din of the crowd faded out. Maybe it was a sign to quiet down? It seemed more like the pre-show band getting the already hyped up crowd into a further state of orgiastic, tantric, ecstasy before they engaged in their sweaty group physical oneness.

I fled.

The curt blond guy at the desk and the women who had been chewing an orange sunburst with her mouth open earlier treated me as if I was from another planet. Obviously not happy and not sure what to do except escape I mumbled something about heated classes, Mr. Curt handed me the schedule and said I could look to see which classes weren't heated.

No refund was on offer, so I'm thinking of it as my contribution to the yoga sex cult and just hope they don't use it to buy orange flavored Kool Aid.

When not engaged in faux yoga sweaty sex games I'm sure a lot of Yoga Tree students spend their time at live food mecca Cafe Gratitude.

Having just read Catching Fire I have to be honest up front that I believe eating a raw food diet is actually really unhealthy. I find the subsequent hocus pocus explanation for why you are suppose to think it's a good idea absurd new age crap.

Or as Barney Frank would say: "Just exactly what planet do you spend most of your time on?"

To be fair I greatly appreciate any business dedicated to only serving organic food, that supports farmers and that in actively running a green business.

It's the Louise Hay cultish language and attitude that makes me gag. That and the idea that all of this is suppose to be good for you is nothing more than marketing and I find it all hard to swallow. First and foremost it's a business looking to make a profit off of selling you the idea of health and well being. In one instance through physical activity and the other with food. Both noble objectives, but to do so with messianic fever where in both instances you are putting the people you supposedly serve at risk of either physical injury or malnutrition, seems to me misguided at best, irresponsible and dangerous at worst.


Kurt Brown said...

I was grateful for your blog entry.

I am fulfilled.

Comfy Crafter said...

Interesting post. I'm sorry you had such a bad experience at a yoga studio. I've been reading more online about different types of yoga and studios and personalities do seem to vary greatly. Hopefully you found a studio that fits you better and offers classes you enjoy.

I myself practice Bikram Yoga and love it but I know and respect it isn't for everyone.


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