As farts go, it was pretty impressive. There was a bass quality to the sound, a short, trumpeting blast rather than a wimpy, vibrato-y drawn-out whistle. In the quiet yoga studio, all of us studiously working our downward-facing dog, its existence was nearly impossible to ignore.
Because I have an inner 15-year-old boy, my first reaction to farts is a laugh. In the peace of the YMCA’s mind/body room, I had to go with my second reaction — a small smile combined with a silent “thank you.” I desperately wanted to find that poor embarrassed soul somewhere in the back of the room for a jubilant high five.
Quiet, Please — Class in Session
I’ve gone to a variety of yoga studios and, though they’ve varied quite a bit in atmosphere, almost all perpetuate the idea that practicing postures requires a sort of New Age-infused silence. Other than the sonorous voice of the yogi leading the group, the only sounds are the dulcet strains of sitar-infused soothing instrumentals and gently synchronized, tasteful breathing.
For those of us with active digestive systems, this atmosphere brings on a sort of sonic anxiety. Let’s face it: it’s not a matter of if I’m going to fart in yoga, it’s when. Tummy rumblings are embarrassing enough, and heavy breathing? Well, who wants to be the lone freight train in the room?
Even though yoga practice encourages inward focus and shutting out the distractions around us, there’s often a fear of making some offensive external noise. Upon reflection, this is totally ridiculous, given how much yoga does to stimulate the digestive system and release bodily toxins.
An Alternative Yoga Culture
The other week, my cool daughter invited me to an Austin-based “black yoga” workout. The music is metal and anything but background; the dialogue between yogi and those practicing less, shall we say, scripted and formal; students’ personal style and body type much more varied, including the most guys I’ve ever seen. Poses and flows, however, were traditional.
The instructor, Amy, was extremely welcoming and approachable, her enthusiasm infectious. To my surprise, it was one of the more actively joyous classes I’ve experienced. The only problem — the 9 p.m. session gave me such a release of energy that it was 1 a.m. before I could fall sleep. And, because I’d come straight from a sweaty summer trail run, the room felt a bit warm and stuffy, the big group attending raising the temperature even more. Along with the class donation fee came a CD of the session’s music, so I picked one up. Its first track, the mindful introductory meditation, brings a smile to my face every time I listen.
In that unconventional class, I had no worries about bodily noises nor did the additional sounds (musical or otherwise) distract or impede me from finding inner peace. It did, however, point out the constraints that homogenizing yoga can bring.
Returning to my usual class, I couldn’t help noticing the ways we’d unconsciously standardized our experience. Dress among the regulars is pretty uniform, mats often placed in the same spots, a silent anonymity observed. The music, soft and quiet, is always in the background.
I’m as guilty as anyone else of enforcing these unspoken codes. Yoga has become an oasis in my day, and there’s many a time when I love sinking restfully into mindful movement with little social interaction. My instructor, Suzanne, has taken me from a reluctant “I really ought to do yoga” drop-in mindset to “I don’t want to miss” three-times-a-week regular habit. She’s given me the confidence and skill to attempt yoga on my own. In that classroom homogeny, I’ve found the structure I needed to develop freedom.
And now, thanks to one independent — or unfortunate, depending on how you regard that fart — classmate, the unspoken sound barrier has been broken. In the future, I won’t feel so bad about my rumbly tummy or stress over the inevitable day I let one rip.
And to all of you who heard me snore gently the other day in savasana, you’re welcome.