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.

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(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.


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