By my second year of law school, I was desperate. I was exhausted and wracked with anxiety. When I woke up one day in excruciating pain and unable to move my head, I hobbled over to the university health center, where I got a big shot of muscle relaxers in my right flank. Over the next two weeks, I took my final exams in a cloud of prescription painkillers and Flexeril.
The next semester, instead of signing up for my usual high-impact cardio or boxing class at the gym, I decided to try yoga.
It stuck (and it made my neck feel better). More than a decade later, I have a regular practice and a teaching certification. And when I look around classrooms in cities from New York to Nairobi, I see people who feel familiar: ambitious, overextended, Type-A women. The kind of women who, like me, might have managed to displace a disc in their cervical spine just from stress.
For a great many women, a yoga practice also offers a rare, largely female space where the ethos is one of treating your body with kindness.
Women are exhausted, and we are flocking to yoga. Men also practice yoga, sure — and, predictably, they dominate the ranks of gurus and leaders and the kind of practitioners who brand their own names on their particular “school” — but in the United States, your average yoga class is filled with women. Your average yoga teacher is a woman. Your average aspirational Instagram yoga celebrity is a very limber woman in very expensive leggings.
There’s an impulse here to mock this dynamic of the Lean In woman in her Lululemon, because, I suppose, there’s an impulse to mock just about anything beloved by ambitious young women who live in big cities — misogyny coded as class analysis. And there is certainly much to critique about our modern commodified yoga culture: the pyramid schemes disguised as teacher trainings; the yoga “influencer” who is more interested in gymnastics and theatrics and posing for likes than teaching or any sort of mind-body…