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I Work on a Retreat, Did I Tell You?
by Kristi Lees
Originally published on Recovering Yogi on Oct. 17, 2011


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Editor's Note from
Vasilena Toneva: A personal journey through the recent evolution of yoga in the West.

So, yes, I work on a retreat. I’m, in fact, the “in house yoga teacher,”  I often say proudly and slightly obnoxiously.

Really I’m just excited that someone would pick me to be their “in house yoga teacher.” Once upon a time it was my dream job; that was before I realised how many wankers actually do yoga, and the thing about wankers is they don’t know they are being wankers, and that just makes it worse. Sometimes I feel like a wanker, but I try not to think about it too much. Cos I’m working on a retreat, you see.

Back when I started yoga, most people didn’t know what it was. My teacher looked like she’d stepped out of the pages of Yoga the Iyengar Way, with her waist-length plait, blue unitard, and Indian accent. Asmita was her name. We did these funny breathing exercises that made my 12-year-old self giggle, and we practised, simply, on towels. Bath towels, beach towels, old towels, new towels. We would stuff these towels in our bags or bundle them under our arms and head to class, not too sure why or what to expect. There was no Yoga Journalback then, you see, so I didn’t know how awesome yoga could be, how cool the poses I could attain were, nor what the latest gear was that would help me yoga the best.

My first yoga mat cost me $80 (now proudly sold in department stores for $12.95) and I had to go to the scary Iyengar studio in town to get it. It was the only studio in town at the time. This was way before Shiva Rea on matrix DVD and, heaven forbid, before Lululemon existed. (I know, can you even imagine such a time!?) I don’t think some people are aware that it’s possible to “do” yoga without 4-way-stretch luon groove pants with moisture wicking properties. I know firsthand; I used to work at Lululemon. (Shit! Maybe I am actually a wanker?)

When did yoga get like this?

I can’t remember, but when it hit me, I got off the scene pretty quick. I refused to teach, and why should I? When the practice I loved so much became something it wasn’t. I was upset and it turned my stomach… a lot. I was pissed off that people had got word of all the benefits of yoga, made a few extra up, took a few out, watered it down, and popped a hefty price tag on it. WTF? Where did MY yoga go? You know, the kind that’s better than yours and much more humble than the other styles out there. I was annoyed at everyone who expressed a great desire to become a yoga teacher and change people’s lives (bucket please). I was convinced no one had a clue, and hence forth I could no longer be a part of it. Done. I was finished.

Deciding to stay on the fringes, I avoided yoga classes, as well as any talk on which pose flows best from Warrior II, which workshops were in town, and what amazing teacher was leading them. I could care less about how externally rotated my hips could be, how I could balance my energy by breathing this way and that way through so and so a nostril while standing on one foot upside down. I sought no guru and got my nose out of joint when people accused me of being a yoga teacher — so what, I did my teacher training a few years ago and taught a little, but that was in the past, now I’m moving onto more noble things, cos all yogis are wankers.
It worked for a time.
It was great, I was undercover, in the closet, under the radar, the always and forever reluctant teacher, cynical, tainted and too proud to admit that she wanted to be a part of it. Cos, you know, below the wankers there was some good stuff… wasn’t there? After much deliberation and navel gazing (it’s s’pose to help, something) I took my mat outside of the house for the first time in a few years and snuck off quietly to the studio, slightly dubious but determined to stomach a whole class, regardless of how “om shanty” it got. I liked it, too, quite a lot, and in savasana my monkey mind was searching for what this could mean. (I know I was s’pose to be focusing on my breath, but I was feeling rebellious this particular day.)
Slowly I ventured back out into the world, still cynical and slightly arrogant, but I was out there.
Even though I was swimming in a sea of wankers, something about contorting my body whilst focusing on my breath and keeping my gaze steady made sense to me. There was something in that weird routine of a daily practice that helped keep me together and gave me perspective on some of my inner shit. It didn’t change it, of course, but I could see it, just hanging out, trying not to be seen, as inner shit does. I would even go as far as to say I enjoyed it. I started to like classes again and didn’t sigh loudly in my head when the teacher made a wanky spiritual yoga-teacher-type reference (you know the ones). Somewhere along the line I lost the urge to throw up when I heard the word yoga or someone told me about their great teacher or invited me to a class. I even started to appreciate the people that took becoming a yoga teacher seriously. Maybe I do have a place here, I thought to myself.
So I ended up on a retreat, the “in house yoga teacher,” did I tell you? Half of my wardrobe is even gasp Lululemon. I don’t know if it helps me flow any better, but it’s comfy, and you should see what it does for my butt! I even sat crossed-legged on my plane seat readingAustralia Yoga Life, and a few people asked if I was a yoga teacher. Maybe I’m playing a big fat role in making yoga into what it isn’t. I like dynamic flow, vinyasa, power, I like to sweat and do extreme backbends. Sometimes I even like to show people how good I am at doing it. Maybe I am a wanker. But at least I can admit it. Laugh at myself. Enjoy the practice for what it is, and some days even help others make sense of a small part of their life. Or not.



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About the Author

Kristi has had a love/hate relationship with yoga for the past 18 years and has been a reluctant teacher for the last 7. Feeling disillusioned in the world of yoga glam and spiritual arrogance, she has skirted on the edges, trying not to take part. Eventually, this way of living got the better of her, and she had to make the choice whether to sink or swim. Fortunately she has made it to the other side without too many scars and recommitted to her journey as a yogi. There were no profound insights, messages from the Gods or images in tea leaves that brought her to this conclusion; it was simply that yoga has been there for more than half her life and probably always will be, so the best thing to do was to call a truce. Kristi can be found teaching near the ocean  in Western Australia.


About Recovering Yogi

Far from the land of meaningless manifestation, vacuous positivity, and boring yoga speak lives Recovering Yogi, the voice of the pop spirituality counterculture and an irreverent forum where yogis, ex-yogis, never-yogis, writers, and readers converge to burst the bubble of sanctimonious rhetoric. We are critical thinkers and people who just love to laugh. Visit us on our website for some straight talk, join the discussion on Facebook or Twitter, or buy a t-shirt and support our mission.





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