Saturday, July 28, 2012

Impromptu public backbending; Is the yoga sub-culture regarded as weird or unconventional by non-yogis?

The body is a very funny thing. Or perhaps I should say, that complicated mind-body composite that we commonly think of as our body is a very strange thing. This morning, I woke up to find my right upper arm still feeling very sore from the pulled trapezius that I suffered a couple days ago in practice (see previous post). I tried to get through primary, but throughout the practice, I could barely do chaturanga; there was no pain, but my right arm was so sore and achy that it simply wouldn't bear any weight. After the first few postures of primary, my ego finally got the message, and decided to just do half-primary plus a few of the last few postures of primary. Basically, I did primary till navasana, then skipped the core postures and went straight to Baddha Konasana and the rest of the nice hip/hamstring openers at the end. Even this was probably too much for my right upper body: The whole time, all I could manage were some very half-assed chaturangas plus a few walk-throughs and walk-backs.

After practice, I retired to a nearby coffeeshop, where I had some coffee and pastries while trying my best to nurse and rest my upper body. And then suddenly, I got very, very sick of just sitting around: Although my right upper body was very sore, the rest of my body was simply exploding with energy. So I got up and walked a couple of blocks around the neighborhood of the coffeeshop. As I was walked into the back courtyard of the coffeeshop, I noticed that nobody was around. And I suddenly had a crazy idea: Why not do some backbends? It may be just what my perpetually-hunched-over-a-computer-or-over-a-steering-wheel body needs! The only thing, I have not engaged in any Public Displays of Yoga (PDY?) for years now: Back when I first started practicing yoga, and was in the throes of yoga-vangelism, I would do yoga everywhere and anywhere. But there's something about becoming an Ashtanga Fundamentalist that has made me very private about my asana practice. But today, I just suddenly had an urge to backbend in public. So I walked onto the little patch of grass in the courtyard, stood with my feet hips width apart while still wearing my sneakers, and did a couple of mini-standing-half-backbends. And then I brought my hands to my chest in prayer position, leaned back while shifting my knees and hips forward, reached my hands back, and dropped back into Urdhva Dhanurasana! This was the first time in all my thirty-six years that I had ever performed a dropback with a totally cold body. And while wearing sneakers, no less! I then stood back up, and did three more dropbacks and standups. On my last standup, this guy walked into the courtyard. He gave me this funny look ("Show-off!" was probably the thought running through his head, as he barely managed to suppress a smirk.).

My whole body felt more open after doing these impromptu backbends. And maybe it's just me, but my upper body also seemed to feel less achy. And so ended my first public display of backbending.

P.S. A few minutes ago, my fiancee came into the coffeeshop, where I am now sitting here writing this post. I told her about my recent public backbending exploits. She wasn't impressed. She frowned, and said, "You're weird! Why don't you go home if you want to do yoga?"

Her response was a big blow to my ego, as you can probably imagine. But it also led me to ponder about non-yogis' perception of yogis and the yoga subculture in general. Could it be that my fiancee's reaction was only the tip of the iceberg of the public's perception of yogis and the yoga subculture? Could it be that many aspects of the worldviews of us yogis are seen as unconventional or even weird by non-yogis, and we are not even aware of it most of the time? In posing these questions, I'm not trying to create any kind of artificial divide between yogis and non-yogis, or between the so-called yoga sub-culture and the so-called "mainstream" culture. But these questions have occurred to me from time to time, and what happened today just happened to bring them to the forefront of my mind again. So I thought I'll throw them out here. If you have any thoughts, please share.


  1. Nobel, that's just hilarious! Love it! I find myself doing yoga all over the place, parties, weddings, you name it! Sometimes I just NEED to stretch! I went to a party last night and on the guest list I saw my name "Lovely Yoga Michelle" - brilliant!

    Yes we're weird and yes I love being weird!

  2. I'm not sure I have much insight on the perception of yoga from the outside, as I have generally kept the yoga quiet until fairly recently, but I will say that I have embarrassed my husband several times by striking a pose in jeans and boots while we were stuck in airports and experiencing long flight delays (in places like Arkansas and Texas, no less...I tried to hide in the corner, but you know...I was definitely getting some looks). I hope you get to feeling better soon.

  3. The San Francisco Airport has a Yoga Room. I don't remember which terminal, though.

    1. It's the terminal that American flies out of. B or 2...not sure which.