Ten Things I Hate About Yoga
I never actually intended to fall in love with yoga. This wasn’t supposed to be a forever thing. I mean, when yoga and I first met, I was only in high school. And really, I only tried it because I wanted arms like Madonna—arms that Glamour, Cosmo, and various tabloids assured my sixteen-year-old self were the sole result of daily chaturangas. And maybe I was also a little intrigued by the stress-reducing benefits I’d heard of. For teenage me, who was over-scheduled, over-tired, and over-obsessed with ballet, exercise and movement weren't so much about health or enjoyment but about doing things "right." The thought of doing anything exclusively for the purpose of “relaxing” seemed beautifully decadent.
I never actually intended to fall in love with yoga. This wasn’t supposed to be a forever thing.
But I walked into my first yoga class, and that was it. Like seriously, yoga, you had me at surya namaskar A. There were no mirrors, and because I couldn’t see what my poses looked like, I started to pay attention to what they felt like. And also to how they made me feel—strong, powerful, and confident. And I kept coming back.
But just because I’m in love with yoga doesn’t mean I love everything about yoga. Actually, there’s some stuff that I kind of hate about yoga (in case the title of this article didn’t tip you off). And okay, okay, I know “hate” is not exactly yogic, but frankly, I grew up in the '90s, and the pun was irresistible. Plus, there’s something kind of freeing about unabashedly acknowledging when stuff (even mundane, first-world-problemy “yoga stuff”) just kind of sucks. Even if it eventually teaches you something useful.
Henceforth, in no particular order, ten yoga-related annoyances. (Maybe you can relate to a few?)
1. Being the Odd One Out for Partner Work
Even though I generally enjoy partner work, there’s nothing that heightens my desire to duck out for a bathroom break like the words “Grab a friend.” It’s not that I dislike pairing off (while it may be awkward initially, receiving feedback and support from another person is admittedly quite useful); rather, my problem is that I can never seem to find a partner fast enough. Before I can spin around to ask the person next to me “My mat or yours?” everyone else has already chosen their yoga buddy. How do they do it so quickly? And why is there ALWAYS an odd number of people in every yoga class?
2. Slippery Yoga Mats
Trying to find the mythical creature that is the “no-slip yoga mat” is proving to be a futile quest. I thought buying an uber-expensive “premium” mat would make a difference as far as the slip factor is concerned. Nope. (Truth be told, I did find ONE non-slippery yoga mat, but the downside was that it smelled like fish. Also: seriously, what’s up with yoga mats that smell like fish?) Whether it’s a $14.99 PVC-laden plastic mat from Target or a $108 luxury eco-mat made from kombucha corks, discarded Kind bar wrappers, and ethically sourced unicorn hair, by the time I start sweating, I’m slipping.
Trying to find the mythical creature that is the “no-slip yoga mat” is proving to be a futile quest.
Sure, a microfiber mat-length yoga towel is a great fix, but it kind of sucks to spend an additional $50 on a towel when I’ve just spent a cool hundred on a “non-slip” mat. (But then lying in a pool of my own perspiration, avoiding urdhva dhanurasana for fear that my sweaty hands will slip out from under me kind of sucks too.) Sometimes when I practice at home, in a moment of desperation I end up spritzing hairspray or my favorite dry shampoo on my perspiring palms so I don’t feel like I’m handstanding on a slip-and-slide. Yes, my practice space does end up smelling like a Supercuts, but in a pinch (and so long as I open a window), it’s a fairly useful #YogaLifeHack.
3. Waking Up Early
I used to be a night owl. I LOVE staying up late. Whether I'm up late reading, writing, enjoying Netflix binges, or hanging out at 24-hour pancake restaurants with friends, night is my favorite time of day. But unfortunately, breakfast at midnight doesn’t really jive with 6 am yoga (I know classes and home practice don’t have to be break-of-dawn occasions, but early practice has always made the most sense with my schedule). Despite my affinity for late-night entertainment and adventures, somewhere in my early twenties, “I can’t, I have yoga in the morning,” became my catchphrase. To be honest, prioritizing early-morning asana probably saved me from some less-than-stellar decisions back then, as it only takes attending one early morning hot class with a hangover to know that you really don’t want to make that mistake again. But no matter how early I tuck myself into bed, no matter how well I adhere to the ayurvedic clock, I’m never going to wake up greeting the day like a Disney princess. No, I will grumble and growl all the way to my mat, doing everything I can to avoid human interaction in the process. But then, as always, I will end my practice with a giant smile and an enthusiastic “That was wonderful!” for the teacher who managed to tame the savage beast that is morning me, with the skillful application of breath, movement, and relaxation.
4. Foot Cramps
Especially during a long-ass standing pose series. I'm talking tree pose to dancer pose to eagle pose, and JUST when I think we’re finished the teacher calls out warrior III? WHY would you do that to a person? Dear fellow teachers: I love you dearly, but know that I will probably give you the sidiest of side eyes if you ever make me do more than three standing poses on one leg. I mean, I’d be fine if it weren't for the foot cramps. I could hold that natarajasana for days if it weren't for the foot cramps.
Yes, I eat bananas. Yes, I take magnesium. And yes, I've spent roughly half my paycheck on coconut water that promised to have eleventy-billion times as much potassium as a single banana. I’ve even taken hiatuses from my beloved high heels in hopes of ridding my tired tootsies of their twinges, but alas, to no avail.
(But you know what does sort of help a little? That faithful yogic combo, breathing and noticing. Like noticing when I might be gripping onto my mat for dear life with my toes, or rolling to the outer or inner edges of my feet, or breathing right into the especially crampy and cranky spaces. And alright, I know that it’s anatomically impossible to breathe into my feet, but momentarily suspending reality and imaging that I can, really does seem to work. And also foot massages. Lots of foot massages.)
In case the previous point didn’t tip you off, I’m not so much a fan of standing balance poses, but garudasana (eagle pose) just seems really unfair. Like, WHO thought of this pose? Not only do I have to balance on one leg (see aforementioned foot cramps), but it’s also a pretty intense outer hip AND upper back stretch (two areas that tend to feel especially “tight” for me). That’s like three really hard things that my body has to do all at once! The first time I was asked to do this pose in class, I legit thought the teacher was kidding. You know, kind of like when you’re on hands and knees and the teacher says “Extend your right leg” and you do, and then she says something like “Okay, now extend your left leg too,” and everybody laughs because it’s essentially impossible to extend both your legs back at once? That was basically my reaction to my first garudasana: Sooo my arms are already crossed in a position so awkward that I’m not entirely certain I’ll be able to uncross them, and this shoulder stretch is hella-intense, and now you’re asking me to balance on one foot, cross my lifted leg on top, and HOOK MY TOES BEHIND MY CALF? LOL! Oh, wait. You’re serious.
The first time I was asked to do this pose in class, I legit thought the teacher was kidding.
6. What It’s Done to My Vocabulary
Ever since I started practicing yoga, my speech has been taken over by food metaphors. Lateral hip stretches are “juicy,” well-executed hands-on assists are “yummy," and organic cotton yoga tights feel “delicious.” (Self: Those things are not food—you know that, right? Like you can’t eat those zebra-print leggings.)
7. What It’s Done to My Wardrobe
On the heels of my last point: ZEBRA-PRINT LEGGINGS. Why? How? It’s like one day I woke up and all of my jeans and cocktail dresses turned into zebra-print leggings. I’m pretty sure that from about 2006 to 2011 I didn’t even own a dress, skirt, or a denim anything (unless you count those pseudo-denim yoga leggings). And somehow, my post-payday ritual of “going to consignment shops to search for vintage prom dresses and sample-sale cast-asides” quickly turned into “going to consignment shops to score some gently used Lululemon.”
Yogi warning: One day you will awaken to discover that every item of clothing you own is made of spandex.
My arms are short. And I know, I’ve heard SO many teachers say that the length of one’s arms really doesn’t matter when it comes to jump-throughs (though to be fair, I have generally heard this from suspiciously long-limbed teachers…). They remind me that core strength is a big part of it. I swear, that’s almost always the thing, isn’t it? Whether it’s handstand press-ups, jump-throughs, or getting my arms straight in bakasana, it’s always “Oh, you just need more core strength.” Maybe core strength is like love or Trader Joe's snapea crisps: you can never have enough.
9. Juice Cleanse Peer Pressure
I’m not really sure what eschewing solid food has to do with vinyasa practice, but sometimes I get the sense that a bottle of cold-pressed kale and spinach is viewed as an essential asana accessory. But see, I don’t want to pay $300 to not eat for five days. I like eating. And I feel like my liver has this whole “cleansing” thing on lockdown. I’m pretty content to consume a (reasonably) healthy diet and just let it do its thing. Truth be told, I don’t even really like juice. But please call me if snapea crisp cleanses ever become a thing.
10. Sitting Still
When I was a kid, I hated going to church. Not because I had anything against organized religion, but because it meant I had to sit still. Every Sunday I would try to talk my way out of the designated hour of pew-sitting, and every Sunday my parents would say: "When you're an adult, you can do whatever you want, but until then, you have to go to church." And now I’m an adult, and I can do whatever I want. So what do I do? Every day (well, most days) I head to my meditation corner and make myself sit still. And I try to meditate. "Try" being the key word, because really, mostly my cushion-time is spent gently coaxing my mind away from thoughts like “What’s going to happen on season three of “Orange Is the New Black?”or “Will Prescriptives EVER bring back their pink “poodle” lipstick?” or “I could REALLY go for some waffles right now,” and especially "Dear God, I want to MOVE." And most of the time I feel like the suckiest meditator ever, but despite how bad I think I am at meditation (and the requisite sitting still) I keep doing it because really, knowing how to sit still is a pretty good life skill to have.
When I was a kid, I hated going to church. Not because I had anything against organized religion, but because it meant I had to sit still.
Like sometimes you have to be on a plane for a long time, for example. And you forgot to charge your iPhone, so you just have to sit there with your thoughts (and possibly a Skymall catalog). Or your sister talks you into seeing a Hobbit movie, and it’s like the third Hobbit movie and you haven’t seen the first two Hobbit movies, nor have you read the book, and you have no idea what's going on. Basically you learn to be okay with being with yourself, even when it’s uncomfortable.
A recent study, published in the journal Science found that people preferred administering electric shocks to being left alone with their thoughts for 6 to 15 minutes. While I’d like to think that after 14 years of yoga and (attempted) meditation I could refrain from shocking myself for that long, I really can’t say for sure. I would probably shock myself like once. Just out of curiosity, you know? But I also kind of feel like the more I practice sitting, breathing, and being with myself, the less enticing those electrical shocks seem; the less of a crisis leaving my phone charger at home seems to be; and the more comfortable I feel in my own skin, with my own thoughts and feelings. Even when it comes to practicing the parts of yoga that aren’t always so fun (yes, I'm thinking of you, garudasana).
Kat Heagberg is the editor of Yoga International and has been teaching yoga since 2005. She loves to write about ways to make challenging poses more accessible, the power of language in yoga culture, and to offer encouragement and advice to new yoga teachers. Though she initially trained in alignment-based styles of yoga (which continue to inform her practice and teaching), Kat likes teaching vinyasa flow best of all. Read her work and take her classes here on Yoga International!