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Hansen: Why am I afraid of yoga?

Hansen: Why am I afraid of yoga?
Gabby Levine, owner of Ritual Yoga Arts in Laguna Beach, strikes a simple yoga pose. The Ganesh elephant head in the background was painted by Laguna street artist Bandit. The deity is revered as the “remover of obstacles.”
(David Hansen)

For the uninitiated, yoga is intimidating. There’s hot yoga, cold yoga and for me, lukewarm yoga.

Seemingly overnight, yoga has grown into a subculture, a club, a movement. With its many names and rules, it is complicated and inscrutable. You are not alone if you believe it is impossible exercise, unattainable spiritualism, fleeting serenity and holy hell punishment.


There is a reason it is a four-letter word.

Nonetheless, I was intrigued and tentatively made inquiries. My only challenge was finding a yoga studio with a sense of humor.


Showing up with a vintage “Star Wars” T-shirt with a picture of “Yoda” probably would not go over well. Instead, I had to buy expensive, black, see-through yoga tights.

Yoga definitely is a little different. It’s nuanced, fluid and artistic.

By contrast, all these years we were told to get in shape by running or lifting weights using fancy equipment. We have spun, pumped and jazzercised our way into buffness.

As a result, first-time yoga people always look spooked and ready to bolt. It’s assumed you are afraid. If you aren’t, you probably don’t want to change your life.


And so I went. In Laguna Beach, there are a few large studios and a handful of smaller ones that may mix disciplines or activities.

Elizabeth Bella McCloud teaches at YogaWorks and Ritual Yoga Arts, two of the larger studios.

There is a learning curve to yoga but it’s not bad, and there are some rules, but they are not onerous. The one obvious thing: It is done mostly by women, which has its advantages.

Let’s just address the pink elephant in the room: Yoga is very sexy.


Seriously, yoga is basically a mixture of anatomy, exercise, Eastern religion and the game “Twister.”

It’s slow, rhythmic and sustained, like sex is supposed to be.

All the women have amazingly manicured toe nails. There might be one frumpy guy in the corner wearing gym shorts, but he’s easy to forget.

It’s just you and a bevy of ballerinas.

But back to the point: Yoga is heady stuff.

Once you’ve broken the veil, it means you’ve stretched yourself in new ways — ways so simple, primal and organic. It’s not a magic pill or a Hail Mary. It’s a technique of physical control that gives you permission to release.

It’s abandonment but not recklessness. It’s a low-tech, no-fuss way of hitting the delete button, clearing your mind and purging your body.

As the beads of sweat start to form, they mock you because your ego cannot accept the fact that you’ve barely moved.

It’s like getting a vigorous massage, only without the massage part.

Some moves are impossible at first, as if enlightenment is reserved strictly for the worthy — or cloistered yogis with too much time on their hands.

Most of the classes have people who are at the same skill level; however, like life, there is always at least one overachiever who does Cirque du Soleil yoga.

That’s why one of the first yoga rules is to let go of your resentments.

About halfway into a 90-minute class, you firmly believe you’ve entered some Hindu time warp because time has truly stopped.

Your yoga mat has become a 12-square-foot virtual jail. You are confined to it until you have proven yourself. You cannot talk, you cannot cry, you cannot bargain away your life.

You are confined because you are the biggest yoga loser.

That approach, actually, is not far from the spirit of Bikram yoga, which I like to call hot mess yoga.

That’s the sauna version, where drill instructors throw dodge balls at you. No, I’m exaggerating. Sort of.

The fact is any type of yoga is a “practice,” not a destination.

“That’s the one thing I like about yoga — you can’t conquer it,” McCloud said.

It is a test with no grades, only unabashed embarrassment at your pathetic, quivering body.

“What you’re trying to do is create a mind-body connection,” said Gabby Levine, owner of Ritual Yoga Arts.

Levine likens it to a purposeful sense of “mindfulness,” where we try to stay in the moment and appreciate what’s in front of us.

“I see people every day who walk through the door who are seeking,” she said. “They don’t know what they want, but they are seeking.”

Yoga is not an onion with many layers; it’s the whole produce department, plus the gluten-free section.

You can’t really take it all in at once. You need time to digest it, so pace yourself.

Be sure to sit and relax, longer than you think is normal. They like that.


Breathe some more.

Breathe and be a yogi, you will.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at