This is a phrase I’ve come to hear often on chat sites and travel posts about Ubud. It’s also popularly modified as ‘more yoga than thou’ and ‘pretentious asshats’. I’ve been practising yoga for nearly four years. Let me tell you what’s wrong with that sentence o’mine. First up, everyone keeps telling me yoga means ‘practise’ so that’s just a terrible tautology right there. Also, I could count the times I’ve ‘done’ yoga during those years on my (splayed, energised and enlivened) fingers and toes, one go round only. I started doing it in 2009, stopped mid 2010, picked it up again early this year, sweated through it, quite love it. And this is significant because I’m allergic to exercise. In the literal sense, not in the bad 90s sitcom humour one. Exercise makes me cramp and want to be sick and run away (amble away).
But yoga? Yoga makes me feel great. Not in a self-deprivation/Nike commercial/wheat grass shot this-must-be-good-for-me-because-it’s-so-shit kind of way, but in a whole-cake-to-myself way. It’s like Valium. With a lot of sweat. But still. Valium. If someone told you that on the other side of an hour and a half of some funny bending, stretching, a few oms and shanti-shantys (as far as I can tell these are sacred Indian songs of the sea) and a bit of a group- nap that it would feel like a post-coital glow plus three Valium, you’d probably do it. Yeah, you would. If it was the only way to get caffeine, I’d do it (everyone would do it). It’s great. Great! It’s just a terrible damn shame about its press.
I’ve been hanging around Ubud for three weeks now, frequenting some stupendously good cafes and eateries that get reviews like ‘would not look out of place in L.A., New York or Sydney!’ which is crap because they would look wildly out of place; the food and juices are far better, more varied and so cheap you could just return the enormous menus and say ‘yes’ and still have change. So, you know, you do. Work your way through the tumeric, honey and lime cooler to the green tea, espresso, white chocolate and soy frappe, before ordering a cheesy burrito with a side of bacon (because you can). What does this have to do with yoga? Well, a lot of us are going to yoga. And then coming to these cafes (particularly Kafe), setting up with a laptop, the International Herald Tribune and saying ‘yes’ to the menu. And if you look at the internet chatter about Ubud, this equates to the kind of assault on the traditional tourist culture of Bali (Bintang singlets! Plaited hair! No chilli in my NARsee GOREing, and turn up Khe Sahn!) that deserves the pointy end of the scorn stick.
Punters report annoyance that ‘their’ cafes are overrun by yogier than thou types, typified by ‘yoga clothing’, and ‘smiling’ and general…’yoga-ness’. As far as I can tell, none of these people are trying to convert anyone to downward dog or doing much of anything except for smiling and eating their organic red rice in silence (the smiling is true, they keep getting us to smile in class – the Yoga Barn philosophy roughly equates to ‘soft eyes, soft face, soft throat – can’t lose!’) so I was surprised to hear this level of crank about it. Especially when many of the regular Yoga Barn attendees are, like me, stealth-yogis. We are the great untanned. We do not glisten and glow, we sweat and redden. We have no kundalini tattoos. We don’t have beautiful posture and Portuguese accents or a sitar. Many of us have old injuries to get past or some serious Western weight to attend to, and – hey, we might not be hot but we aren’t stupid – a massive platform above a waterfall, rice paddies and expansive koi ponds with top teachers seems like a great place to get started.
So if you wander into Clear or Kafe or Bali Buddha to get a snack and you see some gorgeous, honey-limbed thing twisted into happy-pretzel on a cushion and this inexplicably GIVES YOU THE SHITS, just remember the wise words of Eleanor Roosevelt: ‘No one can make you feel less-yogier without your consent.’*
*Note: I’m paraphrasing slightly, but everyone knows Eleanor was boss at yoga.