As a yogi, I recently experienced what I didn’t know was a challenge. I was in California on business-Los Angeles, to be specific. I couldn’t wait for work to be done during the day so I could try out the yoga scene in the place where yoga really got started in America. There was no challenge finding a yoga studio no matter where I was, the challenge I faced was not being judgmental.
Svadhyaya-or “non-judgment” is one of the Niyamas, concepts of self-discipline and self-governance. Non-judgment was something I hoped I’d been living in my Yoga practice. I’ve been living in the Boulder/Denver Colorado area for the past nine years and I hadn’t ever been to California. I choose to stay in a B & B in Pasadena, a truly charming suburb north of the LA metropolis.
As I drove to work the morning after arriving, I found myself judging
“why didn’t I see all sorts of runners in trendy gear all over these pretty streets?”
I asked myself. In Denver, you’ll see runners of all sizes and ages decked out in their tights and jackets every morning, no matter what neighborhood you’re in, they’re there. I think I saw three in as many days in Pasadena.
Judging isn’t the same thing as discerning-I guessed at first that I was simply observing differences between two cities-my home city of Denver and Pasadena. Where I was judging was where I applied the stereotypes of California that are so common in America. I assumed it would be more trendy and pretentious, and guessed that people would be judging me when I went to yoga; I thought for sure that my clothes would be examined by my peers before I did my first downward dog.
I’ve never been so pleased to be wrong. In the studio on trendy Mission Street in South Pasadena, I was greeted with sincere smiles. The only request made was that I toss my beat-up, Indian buffalo leather sandals into the pile of shoes where other students left theirs upon entering the studio. I was surprised to find cool yoga pants for sale-three different types-for under $30 a pair here in this place where most people’s salaries were a quarter million a year or more.
My teacher, whose name was Nicole, was vibrant and passionate. Her competence was obvious, but what impressed me most was her ability to create a comfortable space for everyone. Every other student in the class a regular. I’ve been in classes where regulars didn’t like newbies messing up their comfort zone, and where teachers reflected the attitudes of their following. This class was nothing like that-it was pure yoga in practice.
All of us were in peacock feather pose without much trouble. What most impressed me wasn’t my ability to get into the pose but that I was made to feel that my own effort was worth something no matter how well or how poorly I did the pose. We explored different ways to do the pose, including using a strap and a block to expand the use of different muscles.
I found myself returning for another class and also made my way to a second studio where the experience was similar- sincere, real and positive. Near the door of a trendy Latin bistro where I ate after yoga class, I found a rack of free magazines like you see in most cities-want adds, apartments, night club listings-this rack also had a magazine called LA Yoga. It looked as fancy as the seven-dollar magazines you see near the checkout line at the natural grocery store.
The magazine was semi-glossy and complete with stories about people’s life-changing experiences from yoga, trendy, plant-based nutrition facts and recipes, and of course, a story of a pro athlete who was way into yoga after leaving the NFL. And they were giving it away.
So, I’d judged the yoga scene in Pasadena. I’d gone by stereotypes and found myself to be completely wrong-and glad. Of course, Svadhyaya doesn’t just mean non-judgment; it also means self-study; so, in being wrong, I’d become more enlightened.