“Unenlightened: Confessions of an Irreverent Yoga Teacher”
So you’ve been practicing yoga for how long now? And admit you have questions beyond the yoga poses, beyond gurus and sages, and beyond yoga philosophy. You have real questions.
(Chapter 7 excerpt)
How do we keep a straight face? As with anything else in yoga—with lots of practice.
That practice started when, somewhere toward the end of the advanced-yoga sessions that I took on Thursday evenings years ago, we’d be lying on the floor, briefly resting from a previous pose, and my teacher would call out, “Now, hug your shins and lift your head to your knees for pavanamuktasana, the wind-relieving pose.”
Not once in the three years I attended that class did I hear or know of anyone “relieving wind” in pavanamuktasana. In plenty of other poses, yes; but unless you partook of an unusual combination of foods at a Mexican restaurant just before class, that particular position didn’t really seem conducive to “relieving wind.” And if you had eaten the chili burrito with lime, sour cream, guacamole, pico de gallo, and extra jalapeños and washed it down with two gallons of a carbonated drink, you’d do everything to spare yourself the social embarrassment of “relieving wind” when everyone else’s attention was on seeing who might actually follow those instructions.
So, I can safely say that people have passed gas in every single yoga position that I can think of through the years except pavanamuktasana. Whether it was pressing ourselves up off the floor from a sitting position or relaxing on our backs with our knees bent, yoga and flatulence go together like unruly kids and whoopee cushions.
Disclaimer: there is no relationship between tackling this subject and any spiritually uplifting yogic pursuit. It’s definitely an exploration of the perils of group yoga practice.
There was the octogenarian woman who was excited to take yoga and who, promptly upon walking into class and meeting me, demonstrated her life-long flexibility by reaching down and touching her toes. That no sound came out of her at the time was in retrospect surprising, because it seemed that from then on in every other position we took in class, she let out a loud, machine-gun-like burst, promptly followed by “Oh! Excuse me!”
Enough Oh-excuse-mes took place in the course of a class that I felt like telling her, “Ma’am! Just let ‘em rip! You’re making it worse by calling attention to yourself!” And I would’ve, if I could’ve done it without breaking down in tear-streaked laughter in the process. You try leading a class with a straight face and an even voice under those circumstances. It takes a lot of self-control, let me tell you.
And then there was the husband-and-wife team, recently arrived in the United States, who approached me after class elsewhere one day and said, “Excuse me. The woman who sets up her mat next to us? She farts constantly. In every class.”
“Yes? So what do you want me to do?” I asked.
“Well, talk to her. It smells really bad and it’s very distracting.”
“Listen, you two. When you set up your yoga mats before class, if you see her coming your way, pick up and go to the opposite end of the room. Let it be someone else’s problem. Because I am not going to confront her on that.”
They took my advice and continued to attend my classes for years, but I wonder how many people I lost because of my refusal to address the matter bluntly with the fetid party. I’m sorry; unusual things may be part of a yoga teacher’s job description, but asking someone to curtail their class time gas emissions is certainly not one of them.
So I never saw the use of bringing pavanamuktasana into my repertoire of poses. People seemed to be taking care of themselves just fine […] [Excerpt from Chapter 7 of Unenlightened: Confessions of an Irreverent Yoga Teacher