Yoga is Humiliating Me Again

I keep doing it to myself. In January I went to India with Claudia to do yoga for a few weeks. I was utterly humiliated in positions I never thought possible while hundreds of people looked on.

Well, it happened again. Since we got back from India I’ve been trying to do yoga three or four times a week. Claudia says that its really two or three, best case, but what does she know? Does she have an abacus there whenever I do a sun salutation?

So we signed up for a one week class with Sharath Jois, whose grandfather, Pattabhi Jois, started Ashtanga Yoga and now Sharath is “the guy” since his grandfather passed away. Sharath was going to be in NYC for one week.


The first day we got there early. I was feeling a little better than in January because now I was more experienced. Three months more experienced. But I knew I was in trouble when the girl next to me was doing headstands just to “prepare” for the session.

At first, no problem. Sharath was walking around the room of 200 and giving the orders of what positions to be in and then counting the breaths. Five breaths on each position. I secretly hoped at the end of the class he’d walk up to Claudia and me and say, “hey, we should all grab dinner and become great friends.”

Finally, out of the two hundred people, one of them needed help getting into a position. Me. On each breath in a stretch, Sharath had to push me lower, until my back was going to break in half. For some reason, I felt an abnormal urge to cry. Me. A grown man. Claudia says Sharath knows exactly how far he can push someone.

Then we finally reached a point where I couldn’t do the positions anymore. Claudia was sitting next to me. She had both legs behind her neck and was leaning all the way to the floor so her nose was touching the floor. What the hell is that? Claudia had told me earlier I could “modify” the difficult positions until I was comfortable. How do I modify that? I just started sitting there figuring there must be other people like me. Behind us was a 90 year old woman. Her legs were behind her neck and her nose was touching the floor. As were the other 200 people in the room except for me. I felt depressed and a little ashamed.

Still, I tried to keep up. In my entire life I had never sweat so much. And the positions kept getting more and more brutal but I was able to do the moves that transition you into each position. At one point I saw that the regular yoga instructor that Claudia and I usually go to was about two mats over from me. Even he was just a student here. So what the hell was I doing here?

(our usual instructor, John Campbell teaches in NYC)

My glasses were so covered in sweat I couldn’t see anything. Every other guy had their shirt off and, as usual, they had tattoos etched across every muscle. There was zero chance I was talking my shirt off not matter how wet with sweat it got. At one point you had to bring your legs straight up and your head and back straight up so your nose met your knees. Sharath had to help me grab my legs because they kept falling back to the ground. I can’t even imagine what my face looked like. Red, sweaty, strained, crying, my legs flailing, my arms desperately trying to catch my toes before they fell again. 43 year olds can have heart attacks you know!

Afterwards, Claudia asked me how it went. I could barely walk. My arms were shaking. I was still sweating, and I couldn’t stop my eyes from tearing like I was a little baby.

Today I’m going back for the second class. I’m James Altucher, writer. I have it made.

Follow me on Twitter for more incredible Yoga tips.

(Christy Turlington also practices Ashtanga Yoga)

Side story: I was going broke once and desperately needed to sell the house mentioned in this story. We put the house up for sale. The first person the real estate agent showed through the house was Christy Turlington. Believe it not, Robert De Niro had told her about the place and felt she should get it. I, of course, had to give the tour and slowly showed her the intricate workings of each room. She didn’t buy the house. Later, the real estate agent said, “you know, you quickly got a reputation of getting too close to the prospective buyers. You have to stay away now when people come to the house.” So a few weeks later I missed Harvey Keitel walking through the house. But thats ok. He’s not into yoga.


  • raz

    yoga will knot kill u,,,just make u wish it did,,,

    • raz

      plus i like yoga w/fruit

  • The best thing about yoga is you never actually master or finish it. It’s a life long process and practice.

    So you have that to look forward to….

    • A.C.

      True story!

  • Craftsman-style

    I could never understand why people would voluntarily put their bodies into positions that are usually the result of a car accident.

  • Traderez

    JAMES, EXtreme non-yoga type here but open minded. I think your wifey should

    post at least a 5min video of YOU doing yoga. IT would be BESTSELLER, and

    whatever happened to eradicating things in your life you don’like?(rule) )8^)) lol

    • Well, good point. But I like it. I want to be good at it. And I’m actually attracted to the spiritual side of yoga.

  • The problem with yoga, especially Ashtanga yoga, is that if you have any limitations with your body, such as injuries or just limited flexibility, you can quickly feel inadequate. It’s a form of practice that is intended for flexible, fit people. Yes, you can improve, but it is disheartening to find yourself the only person in a class who cannot do certain poses. If you can tolerate that sort of discomfort, and if you have the good sense to listen to your own body and recognize how far you should push yourself, then it’s a great form of exercise. But if you’re walking away from a class feeling worse than when you went in, or if you are injuring yourself, then something is wrong with your approach, and if the teacher isn’t helping you, that is simply not your teacher. By the way, feeling like you want to cry is also an effect of undoing forms of holding emotion in the body: you should recognize it when it happens.

    • Opal, thanks for the advice (particularly about the crying part, which happened to me again today). I definitely feel good afterwards (but quite a bit afterwards, like after I eat, drink, and nap). Today was interesting. At the end of the class, Sharath gave a little talk linking the practice to his spirituality and it was interesting to hear.

      The middle of class is brutal. I definitely have to deal with the shame of feeling like I’m not working hard enough, which is unusual for me. But its my own internal thing to deal with so maybe its good that the class forces me into it. But it was BRU-TAL.

      • I think you have a lot of courage to face shame and then write about it with humility and humor! I think that dealing with shame makes one feel like a grown-up, because the shame part feels like being a child. Many people can’t tolerate shame at all, which is why they live such circumscribed lives.

        • Sooz

          My..what large glasses you wear.
          I believe Claudia mentioned that yoga makes your eyes brighter. It appears it causes farsightedness, too..:))(seeing beyond )

          p.s..Your words are so kind and applicable to most anything that is out of ones comfort zone!

  • Anonymous

    If Christy Turlington came into my house, I’d give it to her for free.

  • Yoga is hard! I work out three or four times a week at a boxing gym, and yoga still kicks my butt. I understand how you felt being the guy that had to have the yogi pushing you into position, because in my class, I was that guy. On the other hand I have one tattoo and some decent muscles.

  • Kyle

    Does she have an abacus there whenever I do a sun salutation?

    You make my day, James.

  • Doug

    So what did I tell you – Standup

  • UraniumC


    I salute you. You are the person who has stepped furthest from their comfort zone to participate in the class.

    That takes courage, humility and offers the greatest potential for growth.

  • David Gillie

    So how do you dress for yoga class?

  • Red October

    I wouldn’t feel bad. Even Sharath is obviously praying that he can somehow get his leg out from behind his back.

    • Sooz

      *By all mean with no disrespect..
      Red, I think you are right !!
      He’s been holding that position since last I looked( 6:30am).
      (thanks for the grin)

    • I really did laugh out loud at that one.

  • Dick from California

    James — I’m relatively new to your blog, and I was delighted to suddenly see an article about your budding ashtanga practice. I’ve been at it for about 8 years (I’m 61 now). I got remarried 4 years ago, and now my wife is practicing with me. It’s always challenging for us, and it’s been made more understandable by our teacher. She stresses the following (as I’m sure Sarath would, too): 1) maintain the “quality” of your breath over doing the asana “perfectly,” 2) focus only on your own practice (breath, gaze, thoughts, movement), 3) don’t be concerned about what the others in the class are doing (I know, it’s hard not to be, but realize that your anxiety is just the result of the way your mind has been conditioned), 4) if you get tired, just go to child’s pose and recover until you feel well enough to continue(shame and humiliation are just more products of years and years of conditioning), 4) progress is made very slowly, like building a sandcastle one grain at a time, 5) remember that the asana practice is only one of the eight “limbs” of asthanga. Finally, I’ve never been in a class led by Sarath, but I’ve seen the movie “Ashtanga New York” and know many people who have spent time in Mysore. Not surprisingly, Sarath’s about as purist as you can get. He’s kind and gentle, but naturally he’s concerned about protecting his brand. There are many other Ashtanga teachers out there (authorized/certified or not), and I’ve noticed that they have introduced slight modifications to the orthodoxy that make the practice little more enjoyable.

  • Grimmly2007

    I still get that, looking at a pose and trying to work out how one even begins to get into it, which leg goes where exactly but at least that’s in the safety of my own yoga room with google and youtube at hand and not surrounded by another 199 yogi’s and under pressure ( and aren’t they filming and streaming it live on Friday). Great to hear your still at it, once you reach that crest of the hill it’s a hell of a ride, it’ll eventually flow and then you can zone out and in, it’s worth it James, definately worth it, good luck tomorrow.

    • Conversation on the mat TODAY about midway through:

      James: I can’t do that. My leg only goes here.
      Claudia: My leg only went here when I first started.
      James: Yeah, but my leg is HERE
      Claudia: Well, look at Grimmly’s old videos. See?

  • pjc

    Awesome. I love these Yoga posts.

    The next time I’m in NYC I’d love to do a Yoga class with you and Claudia. I’m not very good at Yoga, but if you want I can fake being even worse as a diversion.

    • We can grab donuts and coffee right after yoga. Hey, we deserve it!

      • pjc

        Yes, all good workouts should end with donuts.

  • Yale Bock

    Hi James,

    Enjoyed this column immensely. I think it is Bill Miller who talks about knowledge in other areas besides finance to help one become a better investor- not that you need to be a better investor, however, trying yoga and having the courage to write about it shows your open mindednes (fearlessness, masochism?). Have read your stuff for a long while and always enjoyed it. Health and happiness.

    Yale Bock, CFA

    • Yale, thanks very much. Doing yoga and reading about the underlying philosophy has influenced a lot of my writing on this blog.

  • I’m with you James, wondering half the time what the hell I’m doing in a class. Live in Singapore and haven’t met any Ashtanga legends yet. Well, am meeting David Swenson when he comes next month (which I promise I will blog about). And I LOVE that picture of Christy – nothing revealing but she looks so good!

  • Now I’ve seen the pictures I know what you mean :)

  • I was there and all of us were struggling. Welcome to the club

  • C Pennybrown

    Oh poor sweetie. I feel your pain.
    Really you ought to check out the power yoga videos by Bryan Kest (especiallly “sweat” volume 2) and practice at home. Bryan lectures a lot about not beating yourself up or comparing yourself to anyone – hard to do, I know but now when I practice I just hear Bryan’s words, “if you’re feeling something, you’re doing it perfectly.”

  • god… hose pictures just terrify me!!!dont know how do they do that…. i suppose it is good for them…but for me… they terrify me))))

  • swirlingsara

    I don’t think you should beat yourself up over this. Yoga is non-competitive and you should never compare yourself to others. Have you thought of trying another style of yoga?

  • Starrynightgirl82

    This article and it’s predecessor (“I’m completely Humiliated by Yoga”) has made my day! Actually, you’re entire blog has made my day and I am hooked! I especially loved your “How to be THE LUCKIEST GUY ON THE PLANET” post. I am just beginning on my Yoga journey and OH.MY.GOD. it is CRAZY just how out of shape I am. I had a one-on-one private Yoga session in my own home and I couldn’t have been more embarrassed by my lack of flexibility and ability to follow directions. Breathing and posing at the same time? Let’s just say I do not multitask very well. Thanks for the great discovery! Looking forward to reading more of your musings!

  • Abigail

    Try Iyengar yoga and stick to it for a few months. It is likely you will never look back!