On Clearing Space

The first yoga class I ever took was at Marlboro College when I was nineteen.

I hated it.

I felt self-conscious and awkward. My body didn’t do the things the teacher was urging us to try. I had trouble concentrating on my breath. I couldn’t stop the constant waves of thoughts coursing through my mind.

I didn’t try again for nearly ten years.

But a decade later when I made it to that first class in Santa Monica I still felt awkward and insecure. But I felt something else too. Something that would change my life for years to come. I walked into this class during a particularly rough period of my life. A relationship I was in was deteriorating and I was overloaded with a full time job and a master’s program. I was desperately searching for something to quell the constant buzzing in my head.

Walking home after that class I felt the tiniest sensation of relief. A hint of serenity. My mind was relaxed for the first time in weeks. The anger and frustration that I was constantly carrying around inside of me, all that self-hatred and despair, had been replaced by space. I felt like I could breathe again. It was an addictive feeling and the very next morning I found myself back in another class. I went the day after that too. In fact, I went to yoga almost every day that week. The growing feeling inside of me was too good to let go of.

Before long I was going to yoga 3-4 times a week and the effect this had on me was profound. Yoga seeped into every aspect of my life and gave me the courage and the tools to confront parts of myself I had been afraid to acknowledge for many years. But along that journey were a hundred funny moments. Poses that I fell over during, yoga lingo I didn’t understand, weird yoga retreats with strangers who became friends, and all along was the recognition that I was on a quest for something I didn’t quite understand.

This last week, reading Suzanne Morrison’s excellent memoir Yoga Bitch was like reliving that journey. I put this book down feeling as though I either could have written parts of it myself or like I could at least be BFFs with the author. Yoga Bitch isn’t just a book for yogis; rather it’s a book for seekers, for those of us who know there’s more out there, even if finding it means giving up everything about who you thought you were in order to become who you always wanted to be.

Yoga Bitch brought up a hundred memories of my own awkward, floundering journey into this beautiful, spiritual practice, and Suzanne made me laugh out loud a dozen times with her recounting of the same. I thought it was so great that I had to share it with you. And by share, I mean literally share. Read the rules below and enter for a chance to win a copy for yourself!

WIN: A copy of Yoga Bitch: One Woman’s Quest to Conquer Skepticism, Cynicism, and Cigarettes on the Path to Enlightenment by Suzanne Morrison. Courtesy of Random House.

TO ENTER: Just leave a comment telling me about your relationship with yoga. Hate it? Love it? Scared of it? Addicted?


  • No duplicate comments. (In other words: NO CHEATING)
  • You may receive an additional entry by linking on Twitter and leaving a link in the comments.
  • You may receive an additional entry by blogging about this contest and leaving a link in the comments.
  • This giveaway is open to US Residents, aged 18 and older.
  • Winners will be selected via random draw, and will notified by e-mail.
  • You have 48 hours to get back to me, otherwise a new winner will be selected.
  • Contest ends 9/1/11




  • Emma C.
    Posted August 29, 2011 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    This book sounds great! As for me, I have an on-off love affair with yoga!

  • Julie
    Posted August 29, 2011 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    I love yoga! (And would love to read this book!)

  • Stacy
    Posted August 29, 2011 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    I’m actually a little nervous to try yoga but after reading what you said about it, maybe I should try it!

  • Kate
    Posted August 29, 2011 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Never tried to because I have been too scared. I am not a flexible person. And I hate to slow down. But this frantic pace is killing me. I would love to have some space to breathe.

  • Posted August 29, 2011 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    This book sounds fabulous. I have a strange relationship with yoga – I am drawn to it, yet I continually avoid it for some reason. Maybe because I know it will help me too much? I’m also intimidated by all of the poses. My body doesn’t know how to bend (yet). The logical part of me tells me that if I did a little bit each day, it would get better. But apparently I’m more comfortable avoiding. Aaaaaahhhh!

  • Wendy
    Posted August 29, 2011 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Without a doubt I love yoga. It soothes my nerves and calms my mind in a way few other things can. I just wish I was more consistent with it as I know how much better my mind and body feels after each class.

  • Wendy
    Posted August 29, 2011 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Tweet, tweet here’s my link http://twitter.com/#!/wendys3men

  • Posted August 29, 2011 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Years ago, when my grandmother was very sick, my cousin Molly and I flew from California to North Carolina for what would prove to be our final visit. The visit was good, if hard, and one afternoon we decided we’d drop in on a nearby yoga class.

    I’m the worst when it comes to yoga. I’ve been to maybe ten classes in my whole life, and though I’m inching toward competent when I’m at my best, It had been years since I’d rolled out a mat and attempted downward facing dog. But somehow, spending an hour in the back corner of a yoga studio, tipping over and nearly passing out while a room full of impossibly flexible North Carolinians moved smoothly from Dhanurasana to Salabhasana was exactly what I needed. Hurrah for yoga!

  • Carolyn
    Posted August 29, 2011 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    I have been feeling drawn to yoga recently but held back. I’d very much like to try, and I am just looking for the right class.

  • Tasha
    Posted August 29, 2011 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Yoga has been my savior many times over. I am finally using it to get some “me” time and am making escaping to a yoga studio a priority. And I’m off to do some yoga now. Maybe we can hang out and do tree pose together sometime, Claire 🙂

  • Posted August 29, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    i, for one, will be forever and ever grateful to yoga. thankfully, i opened up to it when i needed it most, wished i had done that sooner, but think better late than never.

  • Rosa
    Posted August 29, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    I’m so out of touch with my body. I know with everything in me that I would love Yoga. However, I can’t make myself try it. Bawk bawk bawk.

  • Lynn
    Posted August 29, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    I was a basketball player and runner and tried a Body Flow (yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi combo) class 5 years ago and I LOVE it. It gives me the same type of peace that you speak of…makes me feel strong and confident and feels very good for my body but not abusive. In some classes I almost cry because I feel like the class opens up my soul.

  • val sutherland
    Posted August 29, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    Ok I also go so much out of yoga at a trying time in my life….I’m not good at it but it quieted my mind…only years later did I realize I have abnormally short arms and there are yoga blocks for peeps like me. I would love to read the book and will happily regift!!!

    Love your blog

    Val Sutherland

  • Posted August 29, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    Yoga has saved my life over and over again! I first came to it several years ago as another workout, but it has changed me in so many ways. It is an everyday part of my life on and off the mat and I work full time as a yoga instructor!

  • Posted August 29, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    Sounds great. I just devoured Poser by Claire Dederer (billed as a yoga memoir, but about so much more– how yoga helped the author quell perfectionism, family, marriage, etc.) I enjoyed it so much and I’d love to read more from the burgeoning yoga-memoir genre.

  • Posted August 29, 2011 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    I’m kind of scared of it because I’ve never tried it and have heard that it can be intense!

  • sarah
    Posted August 29, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    Loved yoga but haven’t been in years. Went to budist prayers and loved it too. Life changes makes us look for guidance and something new to help find our way

  • wendi
    Posted August 30, 2011 at 1:58 am | Permalink

    creating space in my mind has never been an issue for me. people tell me they can’t sleep and I tell them I can’t wake up. I can lie down anywhere and let my mind wander into stillness and quiet. people talk about yoga opening them up and quieting the roar in their head. roaring thoughts? I wish. I wish I could learn to breathe the way they seem to in yoga. deliberately. consciously. unapologetically. ferociously hungry and satiated at the same time. not worried about holding my stomach in because that’s what well-brought up young ladies do. aware of my breath but not self-conscious of it. would yoga let my feet crunch in the grass and not just open a window to lean out of? I want more than a window.

  • Jeanne
    Posted August 30, 2011 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    I am a yoga novice who has practiced on and off for 18 years. I have nothing but respect for those who practice with discipline and soul. I envy them and am inspired.

  • Ryan
    Posted August 30, 2011 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    i am in love with the philosophy of yoga. It has filled the void left in my life left by the Catholic Church. And, ironically, it made me discover a huge suprise about Catholicism: that spirituality is possible within Christianity, something i did not learn in Catholic school!:-)

  • Mel
    Posted August 30, 2011 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    I loved yoga when I was younger and could not believe how toned I became, then I wandered. One of my favorite books is “How Yoga Works”. Now at 61 I am getting back to yoga with a dvd for (horrors) seniors because I am not ready to try it in public. I lament that Downward Facing Dog seems to have acquired a litter of puppies around my belly and Salute to the Sun involves a showing of the “moon”. I will persevere however.

  • Anna
    Posted August 30, 2011 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    I know I need Yoga. As a nurse, my job is torture on my body, and I know yoga could improve my strength and body mechanics. I just wish I could skip the part where I’m not very good at it.

  • Karen K
    Posted August 30, 2011 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    I have been afraid of trying yoga but I am searching for a sense of peace and maybe that is what I need to try. Thank you for the insight

  • Posted August 30, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Since eavesdropping on a train some weeks ago, my relationship with yoga has changed, completely.The conversation I picked up went like this: “Yes, yes he definitely has a problem with tedium, but you have to approach it like you would an extreme form of yoga,” Miss Anonyma earnestly tells her pal. “Once you break through the pain barrier, it can be blissful. Although, having said that, I hate yoga…” Since then, I cannot help but smile during yoga class, even when doing those extremely tricky & painful postures … 🙂 Personally, I do believe that yoga (and ‘eavesdropping’ on the train as well) is a clear case of serendipity: During each yoga class I find something that I wasn’t expected to find – in particular when tied up in a “knot”-like position – be it enlightenment, tranquility, inspiration or some peace of mind.

  • Lori Webber
    Posted August 30, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Hi Claire, I am a Canadian citizen so I don’t qualify for your contest but I still would like to share just how profound my yoga journey has been. I had a baby boy 9 years ago this September and when he was 3 months old I was diagnosed with a life threatening illness called Pulmonary Hypertension. I was told I had 2 years at the most to live. It is a progressive disease which eventually robs you of the ability to breathe. Obviously they were wrong about how long I had and I credit Iyengar yoga for helping me, tethering me to life. I can’t tell you just how devastating this diagnosis was being a new mom. For the first time in my life I felt like I had found my calling, being a mom. I had worked long and hard in my life, achieving a Master degree in Sociology and a great new job in government when I found out I was pregnant. We were thrilled and we were planning our life – I would return to work and we’d have more 2 more kids, maybe after the second I’d stop working full time for awhile. We’d move to a bigger house for the kids, near a good school. All these plans and hopes dashed.

    After they diagnosed me, after a couple of weeks of hard grieving, one day I just felt like those doctors could be wrong. I was training for a triathlon before I got pregnant. I was fit and strong before my pregancy, before I got sick. I was determined to watch my son grow up. I remembered taking a yoga class a couple of years before and I just had this instinct that this is what I should do. I called up a yoga studio, registered for a class. I remember being worried about leaky breasts as I was still breastfeeding but I felt I had to do this. One evening I climbed 2 flights of stairs with great difficulty to reach the yoga studio but after that first class, I could feel space in my lungs, an ease to my breathing and my anxiety seemed to melt away a bit. I started studying yoga in earnest. Because I was a new mom, going to many classes wasn’t possible so I started a home practice, which is strongly encouraged in the Iyengar tradition (when I signed up I didn’t know a thing about Iyengar but as fate would have it, I have been blessed to find a tradition that helps people with medical conditions. One of my teachers, while in India studying with our guru Mr. Iyengar and his daughter Geeta, worked with them to design practice to help my lungs). I practiced almost every day. My breathing improved and I could feel these ancient teachings seep into me, deep into me; into my bones, into my soul. I feel like yoga has affected every thing I do, every relationship I have in my life and the way I conduct my life, even the way I speak. I have always been a talker, talking fast and endlessly and dramatically. Yoga made me pause and breathe and reconsider what words and actions were truly meaningful and necessary in my life.

    I have been studying for almost 9 years now. There have been some bumps in the road. My disease is starting to progress. I get tired easily and I can’t do as much as I used to or would like to do. Yoga and the spiritual lessons that come through the asanas, or poses, have given me a sense of calm about my fate but also a sense of life’s meaning. I know my time is limited and I may not be able to see my son grow up. But I can still hope and make plans. I still practice yoga as much as I can – it goes beyond even the poses now. I feel a sense of purpose that goes transcends being a mother, wife, daughter, friend. The most important thing I believe yoga has given me is that it is preparing me for my next journey. I know that may sound really flakey to many people but when I am lying in Savasana (the Corpse pose) I feel at one with the earth and I feel a culmination of all that I have learned will help me when my lungs and heart are no longer able to sustain me.

    I love your blog and your wonderful perspective on life (and your recipes!). Your love of life combined with your knowledge of the fragility of life is really special. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  • Joanne
    Posted August 30, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    I do yoga at home but i really really want to join those yoga classes at my gym but feel so intimidated by other people who seemed to look so good with yoga.
    Until now, I’m still convincing myself to at least try one class n see how it goes.

  • Posted August 30, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    I had been a dancer.I practiced and taught Tai Chi and Kung Fu. I was a certified personal trainer at the YMCA. I thought I was in great shape.
    Then I took my first Vinyasa Yoga class from Gillian StClaire. I was disabused of the notion that I was in great shape and I was hooked. I have followed Gillian wherever she taught and have found other wonderful teachers and styles along the way.
    I don’t always want to go to class, but I am always happy when I do.

  • Posted August 30, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    I started yoga the morning after I was dumped by a guy more than 12 years ago. He was really into yoga, so in my pathetic state I thought it would be a way to stay connected to him. I eventually got over him but have done yoga ever since. I’ve found it’s all about having the right teacher. I tried a bunch of different classes before I found a studio and a few classes that I liked. Yoga has gotten me through breakups, work stress, life changes, and now pregnancy – I hear that it will help with labor 🙂

  • Chris
    Posted August 31, 2011 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    I’ve only taken a few yoga classes so I don’t really have much to comment on. I did enjoy them!

  • Posted August 31, 2011 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    I love yoga, but I can’t seem to build a home practice to save my life. (That’s not exactly true: I have the time, but I won’t do it without someone looking at me and judging me in that yoga-teacher way to make sure I’m trying.) I try to make it to two classes per week, but I wish I could fit more in.

  • Posted August 31, 2011 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    I tweeted! http://twitter.com/#!/thejoyofbooking/status/108976760254758912

  • jsmith
    Posted September 1, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    The only yoga I’ve ever done is on the Wii Fit game. It is a great way to relax and I really like it, but I suppose one of these days I’ll need to try “real” yoga!

  • Posted September 3, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    I know I’ve missed the deadline, but I already have the book on hold at our public library–I just wanted to share my experience.
    I have struggled with back pain since puberty (I’m 45 now), but I REFUSE to let pain rule my life.
    As with any journey, there are high points and low points along the way, and if we’re honest with ourselves, they are all important in shaping who we are and who we become.
    I discovered yoga (REALLY discovered yoga) 4 years ago when my back pain was so debilitating that a neighbor shared a book with me called “Healing Back Pain Naturally: The Mind-Body Program Proven to Work” by Art Brownstein, MD. He tauts yoga and pilates as the best medicine for pain. Since then, I’ve become stronger, healthier, and more determined than ever. I recently started a blog called Youthful Yogini that discusses how I integrate yoga into my daily life. This blog is way outside my comfort zone, but I’m determined to be more honest with myself and more reflective–and I hate journaling, but love the computer.
    I’m so grateful to yoga and it’s life lessons. At times I feel like a child all over again–embracing new experiences and just learning to play again.

  • Mary Gary
    Posted September 12, 2011 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    I have been doing yoga for 3 consecutive years now. Before that I was on again and off again. I started doing it because of my back problems and now I do it because I am scared to quit. Currently I do Hatha yoga two mornings a week and a combo power yoga and pilates.

  • Hannah
    Posted September 21, 2011 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Yoga is like my shore in a torrential river. I drown in life and when I am practicing yoga I am on dry ground finally able to breathe and live. I’m a muslim and I love my faith, but I also have faith in yoga and breathing through life. I have two young sons and a husband, so technically that’s three! I practice yoga atleast 3 or 4 times a week in my own home. I use Baron Baptiste dvd’s, Rodney Yee, and Shiva Rea. I love it.

2 Trackbacks

  • By Mailbox Monday « The Joy of Booking on September 26, 2011 at 6:17 am

    […] Here’s what was in my mailbox recently: Yoga Bitch by Suzanne Morrison, which I won from Claire Bidwell Smith […]

  • By Review: Yoga Bitch « The Joy of Booking on December 15, 2011 at 10:52 am

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