“When you go looking for your higher self, you often find your lower self,” says Suzanne Morrison, author of the memoir “Yoga Bitch” ($15, Three Rivers Press). She certainly did when she picked up a yoga mat and headed to Bali for a two-month retreat. She also learned about branding-obsessed instructors, “yogier-than-thou” attitudes and the practice of drinking one’s own pee. “It’s a bitch session about yoga. I love its core principles, but it’s surrounded by idiocy,” says Morrison, who will be at Boundless Yoga this weekend.
What drew you to yoga so much 10 years ago that you immediately went to study in Bali?
I had been deeply unattracted to anything that would make me sweat. But it was the whole quarter-life crisis thing. I was going to die. Even worse, my parents were going to die. I went to my first class on a whim. I didn’t tell anybody. And then the teacher was so smart, beautiful and grounded. I just needed a couple of months away from home and the future.
So you wound up with people who drank pee to stay healthy?
I was totally shocked by that. I thought, “What’s wrong with you? Where’s your skepticism?”
But then you did it too when you had food poisoning!
I would never do that now. I was really desperate to get rid of the Bali belly. When I tell people about it to this day, half are repulsed and half are curious. Girls are always trying to do things to improve their skin, so when they hear it might do that, they’re more interested. There’s something to be said for it. We use synthetic urea in products like moisturizer. But we don’t have to put pee on our skin.
Are there lessons from Bali that you still use?
Absolutely. Just the philosophy of yoga and the way you observe your body and thoughts. That’s something I’m constantly doing. [My instructors] Indra and Lou are in my brain still. They taught me so much about physical anatomy. I can hear Lou talking me through poses in yoga class.
Speaking of talking, that’s another one of your yoga peeves, right?
It’s always annoyed me when an instructor keeps talking about what you should be experiencing right now and they won’t stop. Especially in that voice — the yogabot voice. It doesn’t need to sound like butterfly kisses. I can turn the volume down, but teachers should be mindful of the fact that people are going into themselves.
How do people in the yoga community respond to your criticisms?
The people who do yoga are smart. A lot of people have mixed feelings about it. It is spiritual? Is it just exercise? Am I a stooge for buying into it and doing the chanting? But Yoga Journal may not like me so much. I’m waiting for the Yoga Journal hit man to show up at my door. They’re great at breaking down postures and showing alignment. But their raison d’etre is to sell all things yoga, and that feels kind of dirty.
Why does that feel dirty?
The emphasis in Bali was you do yoga in class until you can do it on your own. All you need is your mind and your body and you can practice yoga. Then you see the other side of it, and you think you need all of this stuff to be a practicing yogi. It’s so linked to an affluent lifestyle. Yoga is now selling us everything from herpes medication to new cars.
But you still do yoga?
I’ve found a studio that doesn’t drive me crazy and isn’t full of Lululemmings. Yoga is my spiritual practice. For a lot of people, it’s a physical thing. For me, it’s my mind and body being connected. I’m still questing — looking for God, faith and meaning. I’m at peace that I might not find any one religion that’s for me. I think that’s why I still practice yoga.
In the Spirit
Boundless Yoga (2001 13th St. NW; 202-234-9642) is hosting Suzanne Morrison on Sunday at 2:15 p.m. At the free event, she’ll read from her book, and address the topic of how to write about a spiritual journey without coming off like “a jerk face” who needs to impart your newfound wisdom on everyone. “It might as well be one of the limbs of yoga. It’s inevitable that you’ll go through that,” Morrison says. “But hopefully you’ll get to the other side.”