I’ve been practicing yoga on and off for seven years or so, but haven’t been to a single yoga class. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to attend one, but social anxiety and body insecurity and whatever other shit has kept me from going. When I’m invited, I usually say I don’t do public classes because my practice is a very personal thing for me, and that it would take me out of the zone to be surrounded by the heaves and heats of 20 other bodies in the room, but eh, I’m not sure that’s true.
In lieu of classes, I’ve watched many, many yoga videos from many different instructors and companies over the years. Any of you who have done even a little bit of home yoga have probably discovered that the tone and vibe of these videos varies greatly, and is one of the more important and subjective factors in determining whether you want to watch it again. Were I to plot these on a chart, my four base categories would be Sporty, Spiritual, Silly, and Sterile. (There’s probably enough data to justify a fifth Sexy category, but intent vs. reception would make plotting difficult.) When I started writing this, I thought a quadrant chart of some sort would work, but the more I think about it, the less I believe that. Data vis isn’t my thing.
As much as these videos vary, though, the majority of them include some kind of instructor dialogue about acceptance, or letting go—some kind of submission to the cosmos as a means to happiness or progress. It’s an easy abstraction to promote when you’re leading someone through a series of poses that pits her against the force of gravity and the limitations of her body, and it jibes with the pan-ism new-agey attitudes from which most yoga practice springs (even the sporty stuff). And for the most part, that’s fine. But since I’ve been practicing from these videos for the better part of a decade, I can’t help but be wary of this single common theme; this idea that’s been driven into my head over and over again in moments when I’m challenging myself to feel as open and uncritical as possible.
Is letting go and accepting the state of things really a good solution? Like, to anything? I can imagine that being a decent approach to the personal life of one who exists in some neanderthal, protoconscious fugue and whose very survival is a practice in Niebuhrian zen, but for a modern, working, conversant person with any aspirations to her own defensible happiness, a general perspective of submission strikes me as self-defeating and downright masochistic in its preemptive compromise (and more moral readers may also recognize the civic irresponsibility of it). Job sucks? Accept it. Significant other’s a dick? Accept it. Haven’t accomplished any of the goals you set for yourself right out of college? Let them go.
I’m not interested in rending someone from her blissful ignorance, but that’s not what acceptance is. Acceptance not only implies an awareness of an alternative, but it connotes that the alternative is better. If a hirer offers you a salary and you accept it, you are accepting it as an alternative to an unstated higher offer, not a lower one. You’re letting go of the prospect of infinite money and resigning to receiving less than infinite money, aware that, had you not accepted the salary offer, you would still have a shot at settling that infinite money contract instead. Yeah, it’s a silly example, but it’s no different from your familiar sky’s-the-limit shit.
There’s the idea that acceptance is key to progress because without it, you’ll never get past the first step. You have to accept that you can only do a concrete number of things, because the prospect of doing infinite things is paralyzing and means that no matter how much you do, you won’t ever make progress. And while that’s fair and practical, it requires that you impose a guiding structure onto everything you do, be it morality, mortality, faith, or a less conventional alternative, and so again you’re acting in acceptance. And so at this point you’re multiplying your tiers of acceptance, each of which dramatically narrows your potential, effectively down from a million to one, leaving you to next decide between infinite pieces of one, and then infinite pieces of an infinitely small piece of one, and so forth.
At this point I’m rambling in idealistic absurdities, but maybe that’s not so bad. I’d like to believe my greatest self would strive for the option of infinite, timeless flexibility and potential perfect spiritual happiness in my asanas rather than resign to the malaise and capped pleasure of my aging, inflexible, out-of-shape body, because I’d like to believe that I will one day meaningfully comprehend the abstract. I know that I won’t, but I don’t accept it.