However, this is one pose. I have never practiced yoga, outside of dedicated yoga spaces. I know a lot of people who do, and I’m not “against” the idea, I just haven’t ever done it. One of my favorite teachers loves to practice at the capitol in downtown Indianapolis, IN. People practice in airports or other busy, public locations. Fans of this type of individual “guerilla” yoga feel that cultivating awareness and finding center in these places adds a new challenge and fulfillment to their practice. The space that they claim with their mat becomes their yoga studio for a brief moment in time.
Along with the individual guerilla yoga trend, many cities have outdoor yoga activities. I participated in one last summer with my friend Amy in Des Moines, Iowa. Chicago has yoga every Saturday in Millennium Park. EcoYogini plans her own yoga in the park in Halifax. It feels good to practice with a sense of community, feeling the sun shining on your face. As a group, yogis transform a public space to a public yoga space, if only for an hour.
Last Saturday I was in Chicago for fly yoga. While we were walking down Michigan Ave after class, on the outskirts of Grant Park, I saw a woman about my age practicing yoga. She was by herself, on a mat, in the shade. She was in a three-legged downward facing dog. I got excited. “Look! Guerrilla yoga!” If she hadn’t looked so Zen I would have cheered “YOGA RULES!” or something else to encourage her. Here she was practicing while thousands of people from all over the world were bustling by, shopping, yelling, rushing to appointments, and hailing taxis. I felt empowered for her.
Other people around me did not feel the same way. Two young women were rolling their eyes. One of them said something, her voice dripping with sarcasm, about how Michigan Avenue was just so peaceful, that obviously it’s a great place to do yoga. The general tone was “look at the silly yoga girl, why can’t she do that in her living room? Why does she need so much attention?”
It’s a good question. When we practice in public spaces, we inevitably draw attention to ourselves, our bodies, our yoga. This seems acceptable when there is a group. Just a few blocks down the street and a few hours before, hundreds of people gathered in Millennium park for yoga, and no one blinked an eye. This girl, just a few hours later, was the subject of scorn and seen as attention hungry.
Is it just because she dares to do something as an individual, which others do only as part of a group? Is she just as self-indulgent as the girls wearing 4 inch heels with lots of cleavage tottering around Rush street at 11 pm? Is she cut from the same cloth as the guy wearing the sandwich board screaming about the Bible?
Are we supposed to limit ourselves to practicing in places that are already peaceful, or can we seek to create peace in unconventional spaces?
Is doing yoga alone in a public space some sort of cry for attention or recognition? Or is it an effort to rise above all of that?