Why I hate yoga

July 7, 2023 0 Comments

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Recently, I was at a friend’s house when I decided it was time to confess. I’ve been thinking about this for a while and didn’t know how to break the news. But after dinner I took a deep breath and walked over to her with my head down.

“You know,” I said. “I’ve given it some thought.” She turned to me with a raised eyebrow, holding a tea towel in her hand.


“Well, I decided things just weren’t working,” I admitted. “I’m not happy. I don’t think it’s for me.”

I was referring to the yoga classes we attended together for most of the year. She’s a dear friend and one of the many people I know in my hometown of Colorado who swear yoga changed their lives—and are just as sure it will change mine. Whenever I told her about my anxiety, depression, tight hips, back pain, or any other ailment, her response was always the same: “You know, you should really try yoga.”

For years I just rolled my eyes. “Here we go again,” I thought, preparing for the lecture and the unpleasant feeling of not being heard.

“Just because yoga worked for you doesn’t mean it will work for me,” I remind her. But eventually, during a particularly busy month at work, it wore me out. I was worried all the time and desperately trying to deal with it. Maybe she’s right, I thought in a moment of weakness. “Maybe this yoga is worth a try.”

OK, I told her. I would try. And I did. But months went by, and the often touted benefits of yoga—more calm and stillness, better sleep, reduced stress, lower injury rates—remained elusive. And trust me, it wasn’t for lack of trying.

A short litany of all the yoga studios that let me down

When I finally agreed to try yoga, a friend of mine gave me a promo code for a week of free classes at her studio. At the time, I was an out-of-work freelance writer living in the basement of an abandoned house with one dude I met in college and three other guys we met on Craigslist. I had next to no money and was a sucker for free stuff. So I decided to make the most of this windfall and go to yoga classes seven days in a row.

Each class was different. The first involved performing yoga poses while pumping dumbbells to powerful pop music. During another, the instructor played aggressive hip-hop and jumped around yelling, “Work your ass!” unfortunate participants. In class on Wednesday, the teacher played the harmonium and encouraged us all to join her in a soft chorus of “This Little Light of Mine.” I don’t remember much about Thursday except that some shirtless dude in the back row seemed to spend the entire class doing incredibly perfect handstands. Every time I looked in the mirror, I saw his sweaty, upside-down package in my peripheral vision. By the end of our first cycle of sun salutations, I hated him. At the end of the second one, I was fantasizing about “accidentally” knocking him over during the next three-legged dog.

My last lesson this week was actually pretty good. It was a more traditional vinyasa, flowing and meditative. The teacher still used too many Sanskrit words for my taste—a practice that always struck me as ostentatious and appropriative—but the movement itself was… wonderful. But then it was too late. Just walking into the studio made me feel itchy and irritated. I couldn’t wait for the week to be over.

Later, I tried attending a yoga class at my climbing gym, hoping it would be more focused on training. Instead, the instructor waxed poetic about moon cycles and horoscopes and burned so much incense that an asthmatic would be sent straight to the emergency room. I tried hot yoga, which left me cranky and dehydrated. I tried rooftop yoga, the best part of which was the mimosa served afterwards. And finally, I tried to show up to that yoga class with my girlfriend exactly twice a week for months. But it never stuck.

Who is yoga not suitable for?

I have several friends who seem to benefit tremendously from yoga. Many people for whom a love of exercise does not come naturally, or whose bodies are healing from physical or emotional trauma. For them, slower, gentler styles of yoga are a great way to find movement without the intimidating intensity of cardio or weight training. That’s something I can definitely appreciate.

But my attitude to physical exercises is different. I am a very energetic and anxious person and I need a lot of exercise to stay healthy. As such, I’m happiest when I spend my free time pumping iron at the gym or logging miles on the local trails. I know there are intense yoga classes that focus on strength, but an hour of bodyweight exercises doesn’t give me the same lift as a long session at the gym.

If I had an infinite amount of time, of course it would be great to spend an hour burning off energy under the barbell and then another hour stretching and breathing in yoga. But like most working people, I have to prioritize. And if I chose yoga, it would mean sacrificing the types of high-intensity workouts that make me feel strong, confident, and calm.

If you’re the type of person who needs a lot of fast and/or heavy exercise for pleasure, yoga just won’t cut it. For some of us, practicing yoga is nice, but not necessary. I consider it a luxury. Increasingly expensive and often exclusive luxury.

Another complaint I have about yoga is that its practitioners often act as proselytizers, acting as if it is the only kind of meditative movement. Talk to any experienced rock climber, powerlifter, dancer, or runner, and you’ll find that each of these sports relies heavily on breathing to direct focus, rhythm, and power. Yoga does not have a monopoly on this.

However, evangelization continues. When I tell avid practitioners that yoga makes me anxious and irritable, they usually tell me the answer is more yoga. Imagine if people responded to other dislikes with a similar recipe. Never liked broccoli? Eat a head of this every day until you do. Never had a mind for math? Become an engineer. Always hated running? Just run more. The last time I tried to tell a dedicated yogi to run more, she raised her eyebrows at me and let out a disgusted shriek. “Running is not for me,” she said, ending the conversation.

I’ve seen yoga practitioners turn their noses up at various sports, calling them too “stressful” or “too intense.” While I agree that movement should be enjoyable and relaxing whenever possible, I reject the idea that yoga is the only way to achieve this. I’ve certainly witnessed aspiring competitive yoga (see: sweaty, shirtless man doing handstands in a beginner class). And, on the other end of the spectrum, I’ve seen CrossFit fanatics sling tires with selfless, educated ease.

As with everything else, it’s not what you do, but how you do it. If you love something and go into the practice with intuition, intention, and openness, you can experience a meditative flow. It doesn’t matter if it’s Warrior 2 on top of a mountain or deadlifting 300 pounds in a dirty garage. There are a thousand ways to use movement to quiet the mind. There are thousands of ways to stretch your muscles and your limits. Yoga is one way. But this is not the only way.

I wish my yoga experience had been different

I know exactly one yoga instructor who openly admits that yoga is just one of many ways to meditate in motion. A friend of mine, she teaches yoga at a local retreat center that I go to from time to time, mainly to support her. It’s only nine dollars, and most participants are over 65.

We try new things and laugh a lot. Classes are simple, complex and fun. They don’t pretend to be anything other than who they are. I like the camaraderie, but not the yoga. Sometimes I wonder if I would have felt differently if I had been introduced to her class earlier.

When I started going to therapy more than ten years ago, a friend’s mom sat me down and shared some advice. “Corey,” she said, “finding a good therapist is like finding a bra: You have to find a style that you like, fits well, and feels supportive.”

I wish I had received advice like this when it came to yoga. Many teachers believe that their approach is the best, or see themselves as spiritual guides or all-knowing gurus. But the reality is that they are just people. And like all humans, they are extremely changeable and extremely prone to error. Just because they say it at the front of the room doesn’t mean they’re right, and it doesn’t mean their way reflects yoga as a whole. I wish I knew this sooner. I wish I had been warned to be more intentional about finding a practice or studio that was right for me.

I believe that I gained something even more valuable from my yoga experience: a clear understanding of who I am and what movements I need to be happy. I know it’s not yoga, technically at least, and I’m cool with that. I can only hope that in time my yoga friends will too.

About our contributor

Corey Buhay is a freelance writer and editor based in Boulder, Colorado. You can read her work at Backpacker, Climbing, and Outside Online, among others.

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