Feb 13, 2013

Sixpack Chopra

I was happy to get so much interesting feedback and email about last week's post, any and all of which would have made awesome comments for everyone to read. Come on people, don't be shy. Re-typing all the excellent and clever things you said here in the weekly post would take up too much space (and time) and be a bit too self-aggrandizing.  Here is this week's question.

Dear AAP-
This isn't a punk rock question exactly but I have the tattoos and stories and battle scars to qualify as a punk. It is how I still identify myself even though I'll turn 40 this year and haven't been a regular scenester for many years. This is because I was probably too much of a scenester when I was younger and paid the price with some wasted years and sobriety problems. Now I'm still punk but I feel awake and alert and not like I'm killing myself accidentally on purpose. I even quit smoking cigarrettes which might sound dumb to say, but it was harder to quit than anything else, harder than my daily booze, or other drugs (I was a dabbler in the usual big ones), or even bad boyfriends.  It may sound trendy and lame, but yoga has really turned it all around for me. I've been sober for almost 2 years.  I would even consider it my "higher power" and I probably even got out of hand with it for a while. I would sometimes take 2 classes in a day or freak out if I missed a day or had a bad class or stuff like that. But I'm feeling better now. I would be tempted to learn how to teach the stuff and spread the love but I know that is too trendy and there are about 700 million yoga teachers in this area already. And I haven't even gotten to my problem or question yet - and it is this: When I'm doing yoga I'm there for me and I'm trying to get as deep into it as possible. The physical benefits have been obvious but I also know that yoga is about the mind and spirit mostly, or at least it should be, but all anyone cares about is how it makes them look and it seems so superficial. I also have to practically run out of the studio after the class is finished because it feels like it turns into a singles bar or something and that is so not why I'm there, and that vibe just ruins my post-class good feelings. Don't suggest I try another class or something like that because I have, I've been all over town and it is always the same thing it seems. -Yogini with Mohawk

Dear YwM-
First of all, congratulations on finding a way out. I hope your road of recovery is long and smooth. As far as higher powers go, you've picked a pretty good one: Yoga has been used has a healing art for what? Five thousand years or so? Stick with it. I'm not going to pretend I'm a yoga expert, but I do like it a lot. I haven't been able to bring myself to a class but I've spent a lot of time doing, or trying to do, yoga DVDs at home in an attempt to keep my own jacked up muscles and joints more-or-less working in harmony. I do know that you are right about one thing: The outward, physical benefits of a steady yoga practice are only supposed to be a small part of the whole package, but here in our Western, beauty-obsessed culture, most people look at yoga just as the latest "fitness craze" like spinning classes or kettlebell workouts... just something to give them a better-looking ass or bigger arms etc. That is just our culture at work, but I think, for most people, better that they do yoga for perhaps the wrong/superficial reasons than not do it at all - The practice has a way of becoming deeper even for those people over time. 

What I really want to talk about is your reaction to their experience. I get the feeling your sobriety is still fairly new, and you're feeling pretty raw about everything. You're waking up. You're looking deeper and it bothers you that other people are, in your newly bright-eyed opinion, still "asleep." You have to stop worrying about why the person on the mat next to you is really there. You have no way of knowing what is really in their heads and hearts, just as they don't know what is in yours. You're projecting a low opinion onto strangers. That isn't Zen at all, now is it?

Consider this possibility: That voice in your head telling you "These people are hypocrites" might actually be the whisper of your addiction trying to find a new way back in to your life - trying to poison your opinion of yoga and the people around you... so that you'll start to resent them. Then resent yoga. Then - voila! - resent being sober. As I said earlier, you don't really know what is going on in other people's heads, so why not give them the benefit of the doubt? At least they're doing yoga. Please keep that in mind, and this: In the early stages of sobriety any hostility your feel, any aggravation or annoyance is more than likely to be the first step in a series of rationalizations that will lead, like magic, back to the darkness of your addiction. 

I can understand your distaste for the "singles bar" vibe of the classes. This again is probably something that feels more noticeable in your raw/sober state, and you're probably not used to dealing with that sort of sexual energy - in any situation - sober. Part of the learning curve of sobriety is also figuring out how to deal with all sorts of social situations without the numbing comfort of chemicals, but I also realize, as a guy, that I don't quite know what it is like to be hit on at times or locations when you're not at all interested in romance, dating or even just hooking-up. Being sober also means relearning how to be comfortable around people in general and how to create healthy boundaries with strangers, friends and even family, without coming off as angry or strange. You have every right to be open and friendly with people without that being automatically interpreted as being flirty. This is often the sort of thing people learn how to do earlier in life - but you're going to have to start figuring out how to do that now. Know that you have every right to stick up for yourself and call people out on inappropriate behavior - always - but if it is an innocent flirtation that you're not interested in, simply say that as kindly as possible, no need to bust out the flame-thrower just because someone smiles at you and says a lingering "hellooo."

And finally, you're correct about the glut of yoga teachers, but the impulse to spread the love and be of service is right on. Assuming you're not thinking about yoga as a career path to actually pay your the bills etc, you might want to consider getting certified enough so that you can bring your love of yoga to people who need it but might not otherwise have access to it - maybe give classes in women's shelters, hospices, sober societies etc. 

Let go of some of the anger. Spread the joy. Stay sober. I've got a good feeling about your chances. Good luck.

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