The Problem With “Zen”

Forgetting Sarah Marshall / Amazon.com
Forgetting Sarah Marshall / Amazon.com

Let’s be real, you don’t know what “Zen” actually means. It sounds like it has something to do with Buddha, and last time you checked, you’ve never actually met any real-life Buddhists. Nonetheless, the obligatory Health&Diet/Fitness&Lifestyle/LoveYourself section of every magazine at the kiosk is encouraging you to scribble “De-stress your day” and “Find your Zen” onto your summer to-do list. So before flipping straight through to the Sex Q&As, take a moment to acknowledge that high blood pressure does in fact run in your family, and, well, maybe a little extra calm in your life would make you less likely to want to punt everyone in front of you during your morning commute. Sold yet? No need to go download the electronic version of Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path; put a little yoga in your life and you are well on your way to Finding your Summer Zen.

Everyone knows yoga is the only real way to achieve inner peace and Zen. Yoga allows you to “center yourself” and to “unite the mind and body” and to “practice your breath.” In your first class you’ll probably wonder about that last part (isn’t breathing involuntary?) but don’t think too hard about it and instead just focus on the soothing voice of the yoga instructor. Yoga helps you achieve Zen because it’s communal, everyone in the same room sharing the same breath and the same energy. Make sure you are wearing those tight new black leggings you got for the holidays because the instructor will tell you at some point to “close your eyes and go through the movement from memory and just feel the presence of one another in the space around you,” but no one is really going to do that and everyone will be looking around and you want your butt to look good when they see you in the front row doing downward-facing dog. On that note, try not to look up at the instructor too often. She’ll be wearing a neon sports bra with her black leggings and you’ll notice that her toothpick waist can hold her up in plank pose for a surprisingly long period of time. Staring at her and acknowledging her stamina will not make you feel Zen. Make a mental note to go to Lululemon to get yourself a hot sports bra.

After going to a few classes, you will realize there are some people in the class who really screw up your Zen. The real yogis sometimes get a little too into it, and once you’ve established yourself as a yoga regular, it’s okay to let them know they are bothering you. There will be the hippie woman who takes the instructor very seriously and makes a loud “ahhhhhh” sound every time the instructor says “exhale.” Don’t hesitate to clear your throat a little when she does this. You don’t need her Zen all up in your face, plus the rest of the class will totally be silently thanking you for it. There will also likely be a slightly older woman there who clearly doesn’t realize that she is past her prime for this sort of thing. The instructor will end up going over to her to correct her positions sometimes, and their whispering voices will distract you just as you thought you were reaching a Zen moment. Don’t react immediately (you don’t want the instructor to think you are a bitch) but wait till you are on the way out of class to glare at this older woman. You are doing her a favor by giving her subtle cues that her time is up; at the very least maybe she’ll stay in the back of the class.

You should find ways to signal to others that you are pursuing this Zen life too. It is well-documented in self-improvement literature that making your goals public makes you feel more obligated to continue striving for them. Thankfully, yoga makes this task easy. Having your own mat is a necessity; you don’t want other people’s sweat from a used mat all over you. Carrying around your mat will get attention. Even if your yoga class is in the evening, take the mat with you early in the day so that you have to bring it to work or a lunch date or on errands. Your friend will notice it at lunch and congratulate you on your dedication to exercising, before she complains about how long it has been since she has been to the gym. Already having your leggings on (preferably with sneakers that look brand new) will increase your legitimacy and show off the fact that, yes, you have been good about exercising. Don’t eat too much of your salad; this may make you look less dedicated.

In case you don’t see as many people as you’d like to that day, there are ways of documenting your yoga experience after the fact. Instagram is a great medium for keeping track of your progress. It is likely your class will end around early evening, so this is an opportunity to take a picture of the sunset, #beautifuleveningforyoga. On days with less nice weather, a picture could still be worthwhile, to portray how willing you were to trudge through a downpour to get your daily dose of meditative introspection, #yogaworththewalk #notalwayssunnyinphiladephia. Consider snapping a pic of your dinner also; a balanced diet is obviously crucial to the pursuit of Zen, and kale really does look much more appetizing through Instagram’s filters.

Stay true to the goal, and there is no doubt you will feel more centered and at peace with yourself by summer’s end. If you find yourself in a slump (it happens), treat yourself to a Lululemon water bottle or tote bag with an inspirational saying on the outside, like “drink water,” or “breathe.” TC mark

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