I’m Completely Humiliated by Yoga

I woke up yesterday to the sounds of a woman throwing up for fifteen straight minutes. It might’ve been the woman who lives next door.

Vomiting seems to come with the territory in India. And vomiting is not one consistent sound. If someone says to you, “I just heard a note from a piano”, you’d have to ask, “was it a C sharp? Was it from the high end of the piano or the deep end? Was it loud, soft, long, staccato?

For fifteen minutes this woman played for me a complete symphony. The deepest recesses of her throat were the most beautiful instruments I had ever heard.

Which brings me to yoga. I’m not an athlete (but I was a mathlete in school). I’m not flexible, pliable, and my back muscles aren’t ripped and shredded. I’ve never stood in my head. And I get embarassed when I hear people chant for religious reasons.

So, practicing yoga in India becomes a story of humiliation, weakness, disappointment, and frustration for me. And I’m only on my second class here. Some of the things hard for me so far:

1. Worst in class.

In class, I’m the first one who was forced to stop. There’s about 100 people at my level (beginner). The moves start off fairly easy, and then get harder and harder. Saraswati, the daughter of Pattabhi Jois, who started Ashtanga Yoga, is leading the class.

About 45 minutes in she looks over at me. I’m drenched in sweat. Everything hurts. The other people in the class are shining like gods, their sweat illuminating the etches of their brilliant muscles. I smell like gutter. Saraswati looks over at me, “you stop now.” So I’m the first to stop.

2. Everyone looks at me.

I have to stay until the end of the class because we all do the closing moves together. So I’m sitting there not sure what to do. I’m in the back of the class. There’s one move where everyone twists around. When I say “twist around” its almost like a science fiction movie where the aliens twist around their waist 360 degrees in order to make sure there’s no danger. So everyone is twisting around in this impossible position, looking straight at me, the one guy in the back of the room not doing the move.

Is this fair? Do I look back at them? Should I pretend I’m the teacher and they are all looking back at me for approval? Instead, I look down and act like I’m meditating.

3. The men in the class are perfect.

I’m the only guy in the class who keeps my shirt on. Which is why I mention above I smell like gutter. Its worse than that though. I smell like something is dead in the walls of your house.

The other guys take their shirts off. They have tattoos of dragons on their backs and crawling up their arms. They have muscles in places called tibias, femurs, psoas. Parts of the body I never heard of. Like when you suddenly look at a map of the world and realize for the first time that Africa is broken up into many tiny countries that you never knew existed and most likely will never visit.

4. My secret revealed.

There was a move where both teaching assistants and Saraswati had to come over and put me in position. I knew that they knew my secret then. That I was just pretending to be here.

One woman pushing my back down. The other woman whispering urgently, relax your arm and stretch it out this way. Saraswati saying, “leg wants go here!” My leg had never taken directions before. It never wanted anything before.

I was praying at the time, “just let the fingers from my left hand clasp the fingers from my right hand behind me so they could leave.”

5. Yoga vision.

Today I was waiting outside for Claudia to finish her class. Today was my “rest day”. The advanced class was waiting to go in so there were about 40 advanced level students and me waiting outside. They all looked at me when I showed up. I was the special guest.

Yoga supposedly makes your eyes shine brighter. This is what Claudia tells me. All of the advanced students looked at me with their x-ray vision. Their heat vision. I melted into the dust.

6. Sanskrit.

At breakfast at a local restaurant there were no Indians. Only yoga students, still glistening from the sweat of their practice. Everyone was comparing notes on their class. “I had trouble with the full stretch on Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana.”

“I finally got past Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana.” It seemed like everyone was fluent in some sort of yoga-ized Sanskrit. They all ordered things like granola. I had two orders of pancakes with bananas inside. Mmmm. It was good.

7. Chanting.

At the beginning of class there’s a chant. It starts off with a big “Ommmm.” I can handle that. But then it goes into something else that I can’t understand. Everyone else is doing the chant. For some reason I blush and I try to hum along with it but then blush more because why am I even humming?

8. Earnestness.

People say things like, “its good its crowded here. More people in the world are doing yoga.” They are earnest about it and everyone is agreeing.

I’m not sure how to respond. Maybe, “I feel like world peace might be right around the corner.” Or, “If only everyone had a fully developed tibia muscle less people might get divorced.”

9. Coconuts.

After practice on the first day I was sweating so much I thought I would have no more water left in my body. “Drink coconut juice,” Claudia said to me and there was a guy cutting coconuts right outside the class. “It will give you electrolytes.”

All of the other students were outside drinking coconut juice already. They knew the drill. We’re monkeys from a million generations ago and we need our coconuts so we can mate and have children. But I don’t like coconut juice so we leave the other students there, all filling up with electrolytes so they can laugh and flirt once again.

10. Cold Shower.

After the first class I went home to take a shower. But I’m not quite used to the smell of the water here yet. I am saying this very politely. And I couldn’t figure out how to get hot water. So I took a freezing cold shower and couldn’t get the soap off my skin.

So for the rest of the day I was scratching all over like a wild animal, leaving scratch marks everywhere, when the soap dried into my skin and mixed with the general grime and dust outside.

Its day four and I’m loving every minute of my trip here. Tomorrow is my third class.

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  • Mema

    Apple cider vinegar! It will deodorize and ph balance your skin and rinse off all the gunk and residue. Just scrub off with some baking soda or neti or sea salt and then rinse off with some ACV.

  • Sade

    Is bulimia now considered a cleansing method?

    • Sade, Google “Ayurvedic Cleansing” and you tell me.

  • Dawn Swann

    Hahaha! SO FUNNY! I love the part where they all turn around and look at you.

    • Yes, I didn’t know what to do. Now that i know a bit more I can tell you what position they were doing: “Marachasana C” or “D”. I forget. But I can’t do it. I’m way behind and it looks too difficult. But I guess I should follow my own advice and never say can’t.

  • Chia

    Coconut water is like is like strawberries. You have to get the sweet juicy ones!

  • LR

    YOga is not about how much / far can you stretch. indeed the exercises are jsut a tiny bit of the whole Yoga concept. Sa denough western world had mainly being hooked up by the exercises (and the fancy clothes, and the mat bag, and all the accesories industry, sad).

    it doesn’t matter how far can you stretch, or if you can hold an hour class or not, the important thing is that you did whatever you did at your own maximum, with you being 100% right there. So who cares if now you can stretch to the knees….in a while you’ll make it past the feet like a baby. in the meantime your whole body stills et the energy / message of the movement and intentions so energy moves inside you. Simple as that. Do’nt be fooled byyourslef, yoga is nto about competition, just the opposite. If you compete, go to atletism classes, because you’re not gtting the concept behind Yoga.

  • Rick

    James- I can’t understand why so many people do yoga but running is great! It’s easy to do (you just need good running shoes … I recommend New Balance 479s …. you don’t need lessons) and it really does make you much healthier, mentally as well as physically. Running gives you all sorts of secret powers! But you have to start slowly. My advice: do a little bit of running every day. Start with just the smallest amount. It’s fun to run if you don’t have to do too much of it. Do the same amount of running every day for a week. Then do just a little bit more. Every week do a little bit more. You’ll like it!

  • I just began Yoga and after reading your other articles about not wanting to own a home and your one on being happy, this was great! I feel the same way! Thanks for the laugh! Now if I can manage to touch one toe before the end of this year, that would be awesome…

  • Sunoveristambul

    I just thinks it is great Yoga is so popular now. Those people taking “stretching” classes at the gym will be in for a surprise!
    Like the drugs of the 60’s that can not be taken, bought or changed.

    • I do have to say, I never thought i would be as into it as I am. Its definitely a change for me.


    Hi James,

    I am really enjoying your blog! I’ve been practicing yoga for a while, did Mysore for a few years. I tend to get very competitive and, as a result, ended up injuring myself. To make a long story short, I changed my yoga practice completely over the last few years & results are amazing. Here is what I wrote: http://streamoflifeyoga.com/blog/?p=313


    • Anna. I checked out your site. Looks very interesting. Are you going to Ramaswami’s classes when he teaches in (I think) Long Island City in May?

  • Justinjohnson2002

    Are you still keeping up with yoga? Just saw your yahoo finance video about not investing in stocks even though the market is going to roar. Then you suggested investing in yourself instead. I joked with my friend, “shit, did he loose a friend in a car accident or have some near death experience recently? So grounded and spiritual for someone who’s supposed to be money grubbing.”

    • Ha, Can’t someone want money and spirituality at the same time?

      i am still into yoga. Here’s “part 2” of how i’ve been completely humiliated by yoga:

      • Justinjohnson2002

        I’m not saying you can’t want money and spirituality at the same time. It was just funny for me to see you seem to soften up on tech ticker then find out you started Ashtanga yoga recently. I started doing Ashtanga 10 years ago and throttled back to something a little gentler 5 years ago. Without a doubt yoga lessons have been the best investment I’ve ever made. Can’t imagine a life without it now.

        You’re one of my favorite guests on tech ticker so when I found out you’re into yoga now I was really tickled to hear about it. I hope it goes well for you.

        • Thanks Justin. Can I ask: why did you decide to throttle back?

          • Justinjohnson2002

            Half of it was just burn out with the studio I had been going to. Also, it was just nice to mix it up with something new. The instructor I’m into now started off in Ashtanga herself so there’s a lot of similarities in her practice, though she definitely throws her own own spin on things. It’s definitely less regimented than doing the primary series day in and day out. It’s a little less hectic pace too so I get a better chance to focus on my breathing and form rather than struggle tooth and nail for my life. It suits me better for now. I could easily go back to Ashtanga some other time.

          • Justinjohnson2002

            Oh, yeah, I really don’t think you should feel humiliated. The way I see it the worse you are, the more you need it and the more reason you should be practicing. If people are judging you then they’re not focusing on their own practice enough. If the instructors are frustrated with you they probably have some issues they should be working out themselves.

        • Thanks Justin. Can I ask: why did you decide to throttle back?

        • Thanks Justin. Can I ask: why did you decide to throttle back?

  • SueMC

    You know when people write “LOL” and you wonder if they really did lol, or just wrote it to make a point?  I almost never laugh out loud when I read something.  But I did when I read #7, #8 and #10.  Too funny.  Thanks, James.

  • I’m laughing… this is hilarious! I got to your website reading about finance and economy and I ended up going through the entire popular posts… This is gold!

  • I didnt know you lived in India James? Is there a blog that explains why you are there???

  • PositvePsych

    Well, I know of at least two brilliant guys who worked thru severe depression and acknowledge the practice of yoga as transformative.  Dean Ornish talks about getting thru grad med school via yoga in his book Reversing Heart Disease.


    Alan Clements has a wonderful depth in sharing his experience.


  • Sameera

    Being an Indian, I just couldnt let this insult pass…… But then I remembered James’ advice on his blog. Ignore idiots, they cant be cured. Heck why am I even posting this comment!

    • Springified

      Sameera we don’t have react what others think about India or any other part of the earth. . It may be true he really didn’t like the smell. ( I wonder why and where, he smelled it;  to attribute the smell to entire India).  A pig which spent all its life in mud can never enjoy if you wash it and apply perfume on it.  
      I just mean to say people usually used to the things what they have grown up; and find it difficult to enjoy when they experience new things. take for example the experience of tasting coconut water first time. it is not a man made thing like coke or Pepsi. It is a nature made. 

  • Sameera

    James, You should rewrite your title as ‘completely ENLIGHTENED’  by Yoga :) The ability to laugh at yourself and not take self seriously is so rare these days! Hooked to your posts since a week when I stumbled on your blog through linkedin. Did you visit Rishikesh to learn Yoga? I cant see the pics even to figure out the place (logged in via  firewall)

  • Mitch Coleman

    James, you are a writer, not a yogi. Go with what you know. I’m a middle-aged yoga teacher/writer in West Michigan. Check out my blog at http://yogadogblog.wordpress.com/
    Hope you’ll enjoy. I subscribed. Look forward to your next post. M. 

  • Anonymous

    When I started Bikram Yoga just over 3 years ago, I tried out different studios and was always the worst in the class. In my 7th class, the teacher at that studio corrected another student named Paul 3 times.  I thought to myself, “hey, there’s actually someone here worse than me”. The teacher then came over to me and asked, “Your name is Paul, right?”

    I am proud to say that I’ve now completed 487 Bikram classes at 28 different studios and am generally no longer the worst student in the class.

    • James Buechler

      8 months and 3 weeks I completed around 900 Bikram classes counting the days when I did two classes and I attended two studios in Austin Hand about 7 in New York City when I went back there for a high school reunion. The last class I had wasn’t intended before and to be the end but that class marked the Last Straw with yet another belligerent character leading the class.

  • Asokaddd

    Your comment is excellent.
    I am sorry I have to be medical again.
    People are not bone equal and some people are different.
    I am one of them.
    I have a straight back which never bend backward or forward to injustice.
    Yoga is is injustice to my body and back.
    When I was kid (then I was very clear about myself) I tried to sit like lord Buddha with legs strapped in front like a serpent.
    Buddha was in this posture, so the story says, when a cobra hooded itself and sheltering from rain and probably as a friendly gesture imitated the cobra twist..
    I am not a snake and I could never do that posture and never wanted to try YOGA in that reptilian posture.
    All YOGA GURUs think we descend from snakes (evolutionary may be) and want us to be snakes.
    This is where I agree with your comment..
    Going bit further one can be in any posture while doing moment meditation and fact that you are not an acrobat in reptilian posture should not deter you trying mediatation.
    YOGA is a true distraction to MEDITATION and that is my view.
    Ones leg muscles need free flow of blood and if not one gets Venous Thrombosis which can kill you like the Australian kid who died playing more than 24 hours of Video games.
    One can do meditation while walking.
    Indian traditions however die-hard even in the 21st century.

    • Springified

      So funny to read the article. But it inspires me to start Yoga practice again.( I stopped practicing yoga when I started working ).

      This Buddua posture is called ‘padmasana’ sitting with legs twisted like snakes ( padma means lotus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Padmasana) .
      But you are right. for meditation you don’t have to force your self to sit in an uncomfortable position. and it is very much important to comfort yourself before you start meditation. This is basic general posture which can be considered as just sitting and doing nothing. It may be difficult for thous who have not sat on floor in their childhood. for Indian kids ( may be I should say old indian kids ) this is comfortable posture. Historically.. Indian kids study sitting on floor. ( at least I studied in government schools where we just sit on floor ). this may not be true if you see ‘modern’ schools or schools in cities .And usually padmasana is the posture to sit on floor.If you sit  in this posture your  spinal cord will be straight ( you can’t sit more time if you bend your spinal cord in this posture. so it forces you to sit straight ) . And if we sit with spinal cord straight, It  makes it easy to concentrate ( and is very much needed when you are learning, or listening to teacher ) .

      Though it is always good to practice various yoga posture, for those who find it difficult , or find no time to do many postures;  there is one general purpose yoga technique called ‘surya namaskara ‘ ( actually a combination of 12 simple asanas )  which is considered so  powerful and really helps feel lighter sooner than any other technique.

      So those who find it difficult to do other yogasanas may consider doing ‘surya namaskara’
      ( 6 time a day is enough to see the change in a week ) 

      The following link has instructions. 

  • funkykingston

    Thanks James that was terrific, finally some normal Ashtanga exploits. I’ve been practising for 3.5 years and I’m still the worst student at my studio! My teachers torture me by telling me I have the perfect body for the practice (long-limbed and lean) but my hips and lower back just ain’t getting the message.
    BUT the more I practice the more I realise it is so not about how flexible you are but what you put in and get out of it – or at least it is for me at this point.

    I too would love to practice in Mysore but as with the breakfast joint and earnestness bit in your story I’d have a hard time getting over the o-so-serious and self-involved attitudes (it’s bad enough at the studio I attend in Melbourne but I picture Mysore as being this force field that draws the world’s collection of MC Hammer pant types together – maybe I am just jealous and want to be part of that crowd too, sucking down coconut juice and discussing the merits of ‘no woman no cry’). Is it possible to have the yoga without the world peace and mung beans(?)

  • loophiker

    Buy an RV.  You will learn YOGA the hard way every time you need to use the bathroom.

  • Awesome post James.  Haha, you had me laughing the entire time.  Here I am, sitting on a watchfloor at a naval base in Naples, Italy at 10:51 PM wishing I was somewhere that actually made me happy.  I am quitting this job in 8 months and traveling around EUR, AFR, and ASIA for ayear (which I mentioned to you in an email), an plan on spending quite a bit of time in India.  Anyways, thanks for this little pick me up my friend.

  • Sean

    Thank you — that was very funny and has made my day a lot brighter. I’ll be carrying this ember around to keep me warm all day.  I’ve only just discovered you (so to speak) and can’t wait to read more of your articles. Uuuugghhhh even now I’m gently simmering in vicarious yoga embrassment!

  • I know, old post. But… yoga isn’t a performance, it’s a mediation between your mind and body who have been estranged for years and didn’t realize it. It’s for you. If any of the people were watching you, it might have been with compassion and an urge to help. If any of the people were watching you with judgement, then they’re not doing it right anyway, so fuck their black souls. Oops, not very zen of me.

    But yes, it feels like this the first time when you are so desperate to “do it right”. There is no right, there is only your body and mind figuratively sitting down over a lovely meal of banana pancakes and realizing how much they still have in common and how much they missed each other over all these long years apart.

    • Canmorechick

      If any of the people were watching you with judgement, then they’re not doing it right anyway, so fuck their black souls.

      LMAO…I am using this!!!

  • A friend of mine has just started taking Bikram Yoga and came back from her first lesson looking exhausted.  I do know that all of the men are supposed to take their shirt off because of the high temperature in the steamy room.  I have never tried Yoga but it really seems interesting.  I know that there is definitely a spiritual component to it.  You were more bold than I would be.  Glad you tried it.

  • Anu

    This is hilarious….:) Love it !!

  • Anonymous

    hilarious loved this.

  • Topdown93

    took a beginning yoga class once in a effort to expand my physical and mental well-being. after the the class, which was the hardest thing i have ever done, i thought to myself: fuck this and went to a bar. 

  • Springified

    You find this smell where ever you go in India right? 
    Could be its your own smell and you didn’t realize. Just a possibility.

  • dottie

    This has really made me laugh – and put into words my exact fears of a yoga class! Have just discovered your site. Brilliant – thank you

  • Edith

    It is unfortunate yoga wan not a positive experience for you. When you are ready, it will meet you where you are. Yoga is not an acrobatic sport.

  • Kristabird

    James I really LOL’d at this!!! Especially the twisting portion… hilarious! On a serious note, I am planning to go to Mysore in the near future. I practice half primary at home and have a decent understanding of the Sanskrit (have been studying/practicing for about 6 months). Do you think thats too soon? People say you can go at “any time” but I really would like to go when its not so…. stressful like this! What do you think? Would you have gone a little later if given the opportunity? :)

    • Kristabird, hope you don’t mind me responding, it is never too soon, in my humble opiniong the sooner the better as there is a lot less pressure in the beginning. I went there after only 6 months of daily practice and it felt great. Check out my post on Mysore so you can get familiar with everything about it and enjoy it! http://MysorePedia.com

  • PRT

    ‘Twisting around’ made me laugh out loud at five minutes to deadline in a newspaper office when I should be doing something else not reading this
    I experienced all this in Mysore too and a muscled-up monkey stole my banana from the dining room table.
    Those chants are crazy – we looked up a translation, it’s all I pray to you oh god of a thousand snakes blah blah
    oh, and, there is no hot water

  • madhava

    Yoga is not about being best or worst…Yoga has become in many disciplines like skateboarding where you perform tricks.. The asanas are not important for how they look but in how they feel,,, so they do not have to be even close to perfect..Ashtanga yoga is the most incomplete system of yoga their is which is for people who are body obsessed..Yoga is to go beyond the body…I suggest you Go to a School Like KYM or Svastha to get the complete teachings of Krishnamacharya and stop killing yourself

  • D Jon Harrison

    I do not practice Yoga. I have been working with Neigong for 27 years. I know the energy world. Yoga and I do not get along. I like a long bow for Zen Archery and skiing moguls! All that said, I LOVED this article. It is some of the best writing I have seen in years. Thank you, James. You made my day!

  • steph

    old post, by web standards.

    Just discovered and loving your site. candid self-deprecating ;)
    I did not read all the post below and this was likely already said.
    Yoga is a non-competitive, it is not in the Olympics, at least not yet, and the only reference is yourself.
    I have been practicing for many years, coming for a background of martial arts and somehow found in yoga what martial arts were giving: teach the mind by teaching the body.
    Are you still practicing, I hope you are. “They” also say the goal of the physical yoga is to get you to a physical state/place where you can actually sit and meditate. I’m still working on that, it;s one thing to have understood a concept, it is another to have integrated it.
    As of chanting, is there a quicker way to feel one with a bunch of strangers? Try Kirtan ;)

  • totally brilliant!

  • Bryan Parman

    I’ve been doing Bikram Yoga for about a year now, and it has honestly changed my life in so many positive ways. I actually wrote a post about it: http://bryanparman.com/bikram-yoga-and-going-after-your-dream/. James you have had a huge impact on me and your posts and book inspired me to start my blog and do many other things (including try Yoga). Thank you!

  • Rosie

    I absolutely love your article! Your witty descriptions are absolutely hilarious. Please never stop writing!

  • Steve

    I only discovered you today (from your linked in article about Quitting your job), and have just bought your book. So much of what I have read of yours in the last few hours has just made so much sense to me, Then I stumbled across this post!! Ashtanga! ha ha. Something dear to my heart. I am a fairly seasoned pratictioner and seeing this post is from a few years ago, I am hoping you are still continuing with your practice. Maybe even hitting 2nd series? Doesn’t matter. They say the more you practice Ashtanga, the less employable you become. I would say that about your blog as well!!!! ha ha . take care

  • igs

    hilarious, hilarious, hilarious!!

    great sense of humour!!

    i’ve been practicing yoga for a number of years… the funniest description of a yoga class i have ever heard. i loved it!!

  • Naim Les

    I love math! So much deep wonder! As under-appreciated as yoga, if not more!

    I have been practicing Ashtanga for almost a year. I commend anyone who travels to mysore to practice, let alone someone who knows nothing of the practice! ‘leg wants go here!’ ha priceless!

    One day soon, I hope!

  • Haha, this got me laughing so much. Thank you so much for sharing!

  • Pratik Pandey

    Hi, it’s great to know you’re finally in India. I’m an avid reader of what you write and very much interested in true Yoga (not what Westerners think Yoga is). I’m in Delhi and would love to meet you. Waiting for your response.