A few years ago, I decided to flesh out my occupational repertoire and acquire a new skill. I was open to pretty much anything so long as it didn’t involve well-being, physical needs, or the insatiable quest for relaxation.
After much thoughtful consideration, I decided to teach yoga.
My relationship with the Health and Wellness Industry smacks of Stockholm Syndrome, and I’m so deep into this racket I may never find my way out.
The certification program I settled on was nine weeks long and held on the island of Hawaii. I imagined I was embarking on an endeavor no more emotionally taxing than the inevitable group hug, but the entire affair—start to finish—turned out to be a work camp, a meditation on misery, a genocide aimed at the flexible. I saw nil of our fiftieth state because every last minute of the training was spent inside the hotel; a nondescript eyesore surrounded by scaffolding, on an especially beige strip of Waikiki beach. Each day’s required activities began at sunrise and ended well after midnight. The people in charge berated us for the smallest infractions and never allowed us to sleep. Food breaks were equally negligible and if you were lucky, there was scant time for a dash to the nearby McDonalds. If you weren’t so fortunate, fingernail clippings became a protein. The actual yoga classes were innumerable and cruel, and the tropical heat and humidity was so relentless in the unventilated studio that practitioners routinely fell to the ground, writhing in dehydrated waves of full body cramps. Students were frequently carried out on stretchers and hooked up to IVs. We were told that a few people “dropped out,” but I’ve always assumed that was Sanskrit for “they died.”
Part of our absurd academia featured weekly guest lecturers. Each speaker was imported from the mainland and built up as a veritable genius in their field, someone we barely deserved audience with. And each would ultimately have little quantifiable professional credibility and nothing whatsoever to do with yoga.
There was the woman who’d spent a number of years living in the jungle, swore she could see our spirits rising from our bodies, and implored us to consider the inorganic nature of monogamy.
One man consumed five plus hours explaining how he’d traced all of his mental afflictions in adulthood to a bottle cap he’d stepped on as a child.
Another, a gynecologist from Beverly Hills, drew a giant diagram of the uterus on a dry erase board and gave a speech about birth control and fibroid tumors. There was no mention of how performing an asana might affect our uteri; just that half of us had them and occasionally things grew there.
There came a point when it was clear this was to be the norm, and my goal was to simply stay alive, get my “diploma” and go home. I learned nothing on that island so much as this: I have a prodigious talent for seeking out the lowest forms of educational achievement; Yoga Certificate, Massage License, Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts. In certain situations, it is entirely appropriate to blame the victim.
Dr. D was our final guest speaker and introduced as a renowned psychologist. It would all make sense months later when I stumbled across her name in a glossy tabloid. She was the mental health expert quoted beneath a photo of happily married celebrities saying, You can tell by the way she’s looking away from him that there’s a real indication of trouble. That was how she practiced psychology. Doctor, indeed.
Because she’d been pitched as an authority in human communication, we prepared for someone who’d school us in proper enunciation and diaphragmatic breath. She was, instead, a woman with far grander ambitions than nurturing well-articulated yoga teachers. Dr. D wanted us to shine. Like she did.
She thundered into the studio right on time, white knuckling her microphone, like someone plucked from the audience of a game show. A mountainous woman, Dr. D spoke at a volume so vulgar it made my teeth ache. After exhausting her professional resume, D loudly bragged that she’d never found a situation wherein she couldn’t thrive. She was comfortable in China, comfortable in Quebec. Comfortable in the Amazon, comfortable at the Oscars. Comfortable in business, comfortable in coach. Her charms, she claimed, were legendary; her people skills, unparalleled.
The trick to being so winsome, she boasted, was a philosophy called “Interested. Not Interesting.” To demo this complicated concept she pointed first to herself and said, “Interested” and then to an imaginary companion and said, “Interesting.” Dr. D repeated this three or four times, growing more animated with each new rendition, as if teaching sign language to monkeys in sports bras. It seemed like a reasonable theory—listening to others, not acting self-involved—but felt suspect coming from someone who’d yet to come up for air after two straight hours of rambling on about herself.
Narcissism would prove to be the least of Dr. D’s personality quirks when we moved to the next section of class. It was time for us to participate.
As she lumbered off to find a second mic, the doctor announced that she was ready to “hear some stories and see some sparkle.” Styled like a pageant interview, each yogi would join Dr. D in the front of the room, introduce him or herself, and then share something “personal” with the group. Most of us were forgettable and everyone was chided for not speaking with enough bravado, but that was to be expected. Dr. D could’ve done part-time work guiding ships to shore. Naturally she wouldn’t find our normal human voices adequate.
Barbara, a stunning and quiet woman from Eastern Europe, went last. She was absolutely beautiful, and not in the porn-y, bare bellied way of yoga girls. She looked like a movie star pursuing a Ph.D. between films. With English as her second language, Barbara began to speak. She reflected on growing up in a communist country and having no memories of being encouraged in life. Her upbringing had been severe and compliments, like hope, were rationed down to nothing. Suddenly weeping, Barbara shared how moved she’d been by the supportiveness and warmth she’d felt at our training and from us, her new friends. The room fell silent.
Having spent the better part of two calendar months regarding the entire program as both ridiculous and offensive, it was startling to realize that someone right beside me found it useful, even profound. I wondered—not for the first time—if my compulsive need to comment on life disallows me any real experience of it. Maybe my inflexible opinion about what I should learn is why I never do. But before I could turn my critical eye inward and pave the way for growth, the sound system began to vibrate beneath the strains of Dr. D.
“Nope! Not having it, girlfriend!” she roared in response to Barbara’s touching admission, causing the walls to shake and bits of plaster to fall from the ceiling. “You’re in the U.S.A now, lady, and we don’t Boo-Hoo-Poor-Little-Me. Not in this great nation! No, mam.”
Dr. D then proceeded to force Barbara—hands trembling and eyes laced with fear—begin again and deliver a proclamation of personal grandeur worthy of these United States.
There are certain people in this world undeserving of microphones. Yet they were each handed one in Hawaii, like tourists getting leis, straight off the plane.
As we gathered our things to leave, it was announced that students could also book a private appointment with Dr. D—over the weekend—for the nominal fee of two hundred dollars. My friend, Kimmie, arrived on the island hell bent on self-improvement and, against my frenzied protests, made a dash for the ATM.
Kimmie was young and unsure of herself, and in that stage of life where she believed that leading with her insecurities would somehow mitigate them. She began a lot of sentences with, “Well, I’m not very good at this…” or “I don’t know anything, but…”
I suspected Kimmie was the kind of person Dr. D would butter, salt, and eat as a mid-day snack. My fears were shortly confirmed when I met my shaken friend by the elevators. Apparently, Kimmie started their session off by sheepishly confiding that her confidence was undermined by a microscopic patch of cellulite on the highest part of her thigh. (Her tanned, dewy, 25 year-old thigh.) The esteemed psychologist noshed on a hoagie the entire thirty minutes of Kimmie’s two hundred dollar appointment, but graciously set it aside at the end, wiped the mayonnaise from her giant paw, and wrote down her sage counsel. On a piece of paper she scribbled the name and number of a plastic surgeon. Her professional advice was that Kimmie get liposuction.
As I watched the tears pool in Kimmie’s eyes, I felt dizzy with joy. I love being right about people! Especially people like that crackpot Dr. D—with her Master’s degree in Self-Promotion and her Doctorate in Tomfoolery. I wanted to singlehandedly slay this woman, and all the other new-age hustlers who peddle nonsense disguised as necessity to unsuspecting fools.
Then I remembered that I work in an industry that sells expensive naps.
Caught in the crosshair of my own friendly fire, I abandoned my righteous crusade and returned my attention to poor Kimmie, whose lower lip had started to quiver. Calling upon the gentlest parts of my character, I attended to my friend in the soothing way of a mother comforting a child. Grasping each of her fragile hands into my own, I drew Kimmie near to my chest, and in a tone so hushed and tender it could have been mistaken for a lullaby, I whispered, “Told you so.”
Word soon spread that Dr. D guided another yogi, a journalist from Colorado, toward rhinoplasty in her private session. Unlike Kimmie, this woman had said nothing of disliking the nose she was born with. Dr. D offered that surgical suggestion entirely unprompted.
Myself excepted, most of those who desire to teach yoga—or practice massage, for that matter—are earnest souls; short on cynicism, long on sincerity. Open to anything and trusting of everything. As such, dozens of other naïve students tried desperately to get appointments with Dr. D, but were turned away due to limited space. Like passengers stuck in traffic, missing by minutes a flight that would soon disappear over the Pacific, they lay in their beds that night, unable to sleep, wondering why they’d been spared.