This is me, totally relaxed after a yoga class.

My Strange Relationship with Yoga

Duncan Riach, Ph.D.
Jan 7, 2019 · 9 min read

I first did yoga in the late 90s. My wife-at-the-time told me about it and suggested we go together. I realized that I didn’t have appropriate shoes, so I made a point to go to the store and buy some white tennis shoes. I’m pretty sure I went through my first yoga class wearing those shoes. It’s hard to believe now but, on the other hand, I think it would be a pretty bad-ass way to deal with my feet slipping on the mat.

I ended that first yoga class with a big smile plastered across my face. I felt so relaxed, so happy, so free from anxiety. I decided that I liked yoga. Even though yoga seemed like a miraculous cure for anxiety, I didn’t practice it again for years after that. My wife-at-the-time got really into yoga, even the kind where you don’t wear shoes. She was so into it that she yoga’d at home all the way into her third trimester, possibly even until weeks or days before my son was born.

I call my wife-at-the-time my wife-at-the-time only because she was my wife at the time. I don’t know what else to call her. I could make up a fake name to hide her identity, such as Nancy, but then I would still need to let you know that Nancy was not only my wife-at-the-time, but is also a pseudonym designed to conceal the real identity of my wife-at-the-time. But enough about that.


Nancy and I were walking around the block when she suddenly crouched down on the sidewalk. A concerned neighbor inquired, “are you okay?”

Nancy responded, politely, “FUCK OFF!” That’s how I knew it was game-on, and my son was only a few pushes away.

And a few pushes away he was. The birth was super-easy. All I had to do was keep whispering into Nancy’s ear to “breathe,” which, of course, she did. She not only obliged, but was compliant. This is one of the magical gifts of yoga classes. The instructor often reminds us to “breeeeeeeaaaaaathe.” Sometimes I count my lucky stars when I have attended a yoga class. If I hadn’t, I might have ended up dead somewhere else, suffocated from forgetting to breathe.

But the birth of my son, let’s call him Bob, did seem pretty easy. He was born at home after a few short hours, a healthy something-pound boy. I suspect it was easy because of all the yogaing that Nancy did. But it might have been helped, at least to some degree, by my “coaching.” I call it coaching only because that’s what the qualified people at the pre-natal classes called it. I had attended all, or at least most, of those classes with Nancy.

Usually, when I tell people about the birth of Bob, I mention that I coached Nancy through the whole ordeal. This comment is usually met with looks of alarm, especially from women. They’re offended. How dare I say I coached a woman who was giving birth!? It makes it sound like I had done it myself.

I’m like the old guy in the light-gray sweatsuit, with the balding head and spectacles, coaching the young whipper-snapper to whiz around the track and take the Olympic Gold Medal. How dare I?! I have never pushed a head the size of a watermelon out of my non-existent vagina! By the way, I know that baby heads aren’t that big (or hard), but I chose a watermelon for dramatic effect.

You know what, fuck it. I didn’t coach Nancy. I don’t know what I was doing. I guess they told me I would be coaching and I just bowed out of the whole thing because what the fuck do I know anyway?

Which reminds me: there was a point in the birth where I stopped whispering sweet nothings into Nancy’s ear and decided to take a look at said vaginal opening to see Bob’s head begin to pop out. Actually, it’s called breaching, like what whales do through the surface of the ocean. As I saw what was purported to be Bob’s head breaching Nancy’s pelvic floor, I was shocked to see that it was not only gray but deeply wrinkled, convoluted like a brain.

He has no skull! I thought, trying not to fly into a panic. My son is being born without a skull! He’s going to look like a Mars Attacks martian!

“How does he look?” Nancy asked between breath-holds.

I couldn’t even ask the doula for reassurance because then Nancy would hear too. I nonchalantly averted my gaze from the birthing brain to the face of our doula. She looked like nothing was wrong. I took a deep breath and tried to hide my concern behind my asshole resting face, “Um, he looks great, Nan.” I reported.

As Nancy pushed, the doula asked if I wanted to help out. She showed me how to pour the almond oil and massage the vaginal opening to facilitate the passing of the skull-less brain. As I did this, it became clear that an entire baby’s head was appearing from my wife-at-the-time’s undercarriage. Wow, he’s got a skull! I thought jubilantly.

It turns out that when the plates in the baby’s skull are crushed together as the head is being rammed through the birth canal, not only does the scalp bunch up and resemble a brain in shape, but the reduced oxygen supply caused by the constriction also make the skin blue-gray. The experts in the pre-natal classes could have taught me about this instead of making me think that I knew how to “coach,” which would only lead to countless experiences of being derided and belittled by women who couldn’t conceive of a man providing any useful input in the production of a baby.

This is a picture of wet sidewalk I took today while blissed-out from yoga

Several years later, I was at a party in the UK, mildly inebriated after drinking a couple of beers, when I decided to demonstrate the plough, a yoga position where you lie on your back with your knees next to your ears. If it wasn’t part of yoga, it would be considered a sex position for someone who is “bottoming” and wants to get a really good view of the penetration.

I don’t remember why I was demonstrating this particular maneuver in my friend’s garden, but I decided to be the hero and exit the position by doing a backward roll. This is like doing a forwards rolly-polly (as we called them in kindergarten) except rolling backward over the head.

This lead to a cracking sound accompanied by sharp pain, which quickly passed. In the next day or two, I took an international flight during which the pain in my neck started to increase. The following day, I almost collapsed from deep and painful spasms in my neck. I went to a chiropractor who x-rayed my neck and discovered that one of my cervical disks had been rotated significantly out of alignment.

I spent many years having flare-ups of extreme neck pain from this injury, often around the summer anniversary of the original injury, until one day I found a solution. I found a chiropractor who knew how to do Active Release Therapy (ART). This is where they differentially stretch the muscles, holding part of the muscle in place while stretching the rest of the muscle by moving the joint. Apparently, it’s very popular amongst Iron Man athletes. Anyway, after a course of that treatment, my neck pain went away and never came back.

By the way, while we’re on the topic, I just want to say something about the word “couple,” as in “after drinking a couple of beers” (which I wrote above). I was once asked by a police officer how much I had drunk. I said, “A couple of beers.”

He asked, “What do you mean by a couple?”

At this point, a whole universe of concepts opened in my mind. I remember thinking about “the happy couple,” and about “train couplings.”

“A couple means two,” I said, hiding my concern behind my normal, asshole resting face.

To be fair to the officer, I just checked on the dictionary definition of the word “couple” and it does, in fact, have a recognized informal meaning of “a small number.”

Over the years, I’ve done a lot of yoga, mostly in the USA, mostly inside yoga studios, and mostly sober. I’ve been through periods where I’ve tried really hard. I’ve had the shakes from straining. I’ve sweated buckets. I’ve spent most of my time worrying about whether I was doing it right and hoping to look good in the process.

Recently, things have changed as far as yoga is concerned. I have a new and different relationship with it. On Sundays, my current-wife, let’s call her Cindy (because that’s her name), go to a yoga studio where they’re proud to offer “the only university-level, evidence-based yoga teacher training in the world.” In spite of that, I enjoy going there.

The teacher we always have on Sundays has a strange way of talking. She keeps referring to our “bawns,” as in “reach your upper arm bawn to your side bawn.” She also often tells us to “awe-pen” things. For example, “Awe-pen your chest and shine your heart bawn at the sky.” Most of the time, I have no idea what she’s talking about, but it doesn’t really seem to matter.

My approach to yoga is now to half-heartedly go along with what everyone else is doing for the first fifteen minutes, until the yoga-buzz starts to kick in. This is when I become overwhelmed with an intense experience of not giving a fuck. My body gets really floppy, my eyelids become half-closed (revealing how ultra-spiritual I am), and I get a big grin on my face. It’s like I’ve taken a triple dose of a powerful anxiolytic drug.

I spend the rest of the one hour and fifteen minutes mostly in child’s pose, buzzing my socks off, making silly faces with Cindy, and every now and then having a crack at the movements. When I do try to follow the class, it’s like my arms and legs are noodles. I get far behind the class (but it doesn’t matter) and it feels like I’m making up the movements, adding weird little flourishes with my hands and fingers. It’s like an extremely lazy dance. I’m just summoning enough effort to move only the right muscles to get into position and then the rest of the movement is just my weight collapsing onto my joints.

Cindy is a very accomplished yogi; you know, the kind that does the full bridges and headstands and executes the weird and convoluted impossibilities. In the car today, on the way to the yoga class, I told her about how I do yoga (like a floppy noodle). She’s said, “That’s exactly how you’re supposed to do it; minimal effort.”

Wow! I’m finally doing it right, but only after I totally gave up and stopped trying.

Cindy in the rain today with our new plant and some kind of root vegetable.

After our Sunday yoga session, we like to wander around the farmer’s market. I kind of flop along, moving as slowly as I can while still making progress. I usually have a faint grin on my face, radiating bliss and love out to everyone I pass. Today I was in flip-flops and shorts in the pouring rain, getting drenched, but not caring.

An old lady said to me, “You must be freezing!”

“I’m from Scotland. This is nothing,” I said, like a warrior (one). I used to run around in the snow as a kid wearing only a t-shirt. My genes are honed for kilt-wearing on windy days in the highlands.

“Californians wear flip-flops in the rain too,” she responded.

I thought about this for a moment and then added, “Yeah, I suppose that’s true, but I’m only wearing shorts and flip-flops because I just did yoga.”

I usually get a chocolate croissant from one of the baking stalls and we have coffee at Zombie Runner, a strange store where they sell running shoes, coffee, and various kinds of exotic candies. We often talk about buying flowers, but we usually don’t. Today, Cindy bought a plant and we took it to a French café. It sat in the middle of our table while we ate dishes made from eggs.

That’s all I have to say about yoga, for now.

The Yoga Narrative

Duncan Riach, Ph.D.

Written by

An engineer-psychologist focused on machine intelligence. I write from my own experience to support others in living more fulfilling lives |

The Yoga Narrative

A yogi’s paradise for stories about yoga and meditation.

Duncan Riach, Ph.D.

Written by

An engineer-psychologist focused on machine intelligence. I write from my own experience to support others in living more fulfilling lives |

The Yoga Narrative

A yogi’s paradise for stories about yoga and meditation.

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