I felt tossed about reading Yoga Bitch by Suzanne Morrison, mostly because I interpreted the subtitle, “One Woman’s Quest to Conquer Skepticism, Cynicism and Cigarettes on the Path to Enlightenment,” to mean the author would fall among the snotty-irreverent writers who at first I was intrigued and amused by but eventually became tired of in a jaded kind of way.
Hmm. Did you catch that? Maybe Suzanne Morrison had already reached into her bag of tricks to remind me of the yogic Yama (ethical precepts as outlined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras) of Ahimsa, often understood as non-violence but also inclusive of non-judgment or to flip it into the affirmative language of my Tantric training: acceptance. In other words the lesson here was to accept or at least be open to what Suzanne had to say about her experience in Bali and how it quite possibly had something to teach me.
I’m a sucker for memoir and wit so I relented and opened to the first page, read a few lines and let out a noise through my nose that could easily be mistaken for a kind of breathing practiced in yoga, but is in fact a very dry, quiet and particular form of laughter. It is the kind of laughter that comes from a place of knowing. As in, “Yeah I totally get what you’re saying.” And three pages later she had me. I was in the clutches of the yoga bitch and when laughter and learning go hand in hand I’m pretty much game. So when Morrison quickly entered shadowy territory: death, which also in my Tantric training I’ve come to understand as part of a cycle, an inevitability, but still an uncomfortable and cold one and certainly typically not in the seams with laughter, I wasn’t so sure after all. However, Morrison skillfully wove her introduction with the stuff of life which for better or worse includes the for certain uncertainty of death. Wherein she asks meaningful questions about her spirituality, seeking enlightenment and a guru named Indra.
The reader gets to know Morrison as we follow her to Bali for a yoga retreat some nine years prior and get to know with a great amount of intimacy the daily life of a yogi on retreat or perhaps this particular retreat. The whole experience is visceral from the smells upon arrival in Bali, the sounds of the gamelan in the evening, to the sweat pouring off Morrison as she pursues hours of asana practice. The descriptions are so vivid at times I felt like I was alongside the author chanting, meditating and taking in the exotic flavors of life on retreat.
Morrison calls it like she sees it as she explores her relationship with yoga, yogis and the billion dollar industry yoga that has arisen in the west. It isn’t simple as she clearly points out, to have a powerful, profound and life changing experience with something that on the one hand has been co-opted by anyone who hopes to make a buck and on the other is a genuine spiritual practice. How to bridge the gap between the two is a big question without an easy answer. But Morrison navigates threads hoping to find one that satisfies her spiritual yearnings and desire to fit into really hot yoga pants. However the answer may lie in a quote attributed to St. Augustine: Se comprehendis, non est Deus. If you understand it, it’s not God.” Perhaps there are some things we’re not meant to fully understand, but the gain comes from the experience of seeking itself.
Once deep into Yoga Bitch I realize Morrison is not a bitch at all, perhaps a bit inquisitive, not accepting things at face value, at times cynical, though in my opinion it has much to do with her generation, my generation, which is perhaps why I understand it so well. It isn’t that she doesn’t care. She/we care a lot, so much so at times it is heartbreaking and a well-crafted veil of sarcasm, suspicion and acerbity cuts the blow. Morrison cares deeply for her family, her home, the friends she meets on her journey and has something to teach us about caring for ourselves by being open and honest.
Being drawn out of the cloudy East Coast spring and into the colorful world of Bali as Morrison downward-dogged her way through leaving what was familiar and into the world of unknown both internally and tangibly was a journey I was glad to take with a clever, insightful and bold woman, bitch or not.