Steroids and Chocolate and Yoga

I am a temple acolyte. I clean a yoga studio in trade for free yoga. I love to provide a clean and sacred space for my brothers and sisters. I love to be a simple, humble cleaner. Cleaners see a lot; they are invisible servants, and thus people speak and act ‘naturally,’ as if they weren’t even there. Cleaners are non-entities, hidden in the shadows of the glorified and exalted teachers. I like that anonymity. I like that service. I enjoy helping provide a safe space people can let their hair down, or even be messy, knowing someone else will clean up after them. Few want to clean up after a good flow and Savasana. During this time, I thought I’d seen it all; some unexpected and surprising things. I don’t write about them, to protect the sanctity and safety of our sacred space. 

Today I noticed two things that did if not surprise me, did inspire me to finally write about some Cleaner Secrets. One was a couple of used-up testosterone skin patches in the male bathroom, and ten candy bar wrappers in the women’s room. These both appeared right after a favorite teacher known for her spiritual classes (and large amount of groupies or class regulars) had given a class. Attended mostly by (ostensibly) ‘serious’ or dedicated yogis, this ‘find’ was all the more surprising.

I intentionally suppressed any images that might have resulted from the machinations of my imagination…until now. So I imagine – or begin to – steroid-pumped yogis and chocolate-engorged yogis leaving the studio, yoga class a check box completed in their lives they return to, engorged or pumped up. Then I drop my judgments and preconceptions and try to see this in another way. Maybe it was not a young guy trying to get ‘ripped’ for yoga; maybe it was an old man who was prescribed these drugs to save his life (while simultaneously destroying his pancreas). Maybe the chocolate wrappers were not from a single yogini gorging herself after a calorie-burning justification class; maybe it was a chocolate party and every woman in class shared a bar in healthy celebration of someone’s pregnancy or some other momentous occasion. 

On the surface, these things seem to contradict the idea of yoga, are maybe even anathema to it. 

They seem to.

In the piles of muck left behind, the odd refuse and detritus that hint at simple human lives, I find an opportunity for yoga; for balance and gentleness, for compassion and non-judgment. The used tampons thrown carelessly on the floor are not the issue; my response to them is. In judging another as an untidy barbarian without any home training, I get a chance to see into myself more than into them. How and why do I react? Do I react? Who is cleaning and who is this person cleaning for? Meaningless questions perhaps…to linear, right-brain thinkers in world of black and white. To me, they help define my motivations and my experience. 

Is this just some gross and servile picking up after the more affluent (paying) yogis, or is it an opportunity to drop some baggage and release some outmoded attitudes? Is this a judgment of peoples’ cleanliness, or a chance to develop compassion and understanding? I guess the answer is up to me.

Still, I cringe at some things and am surprised by others (less and less though with every passing day). 

The steroids raised some interesting questions. How do I (not the steroid user) try to subvert the fundamentals of yoga by seeking change from the outside? What things arise in my life that are analogous to the steroids? For they are anathema to yoga, in a sense. They seek change in a pill or patch, in something outside ourselves. They seek it in striving…to have the better bod steroids promises (and never delivers…for long, at least). Where do I seek in striving?

The steroids also raise a few Armstrongish questions…is this sort of cheating? What good are any gains I get if they come from a bottle, if they can simply be purchased at a pharmacy? Are those gains at all, or losses? 

Someone recently offered me some of these now ubiquitous testosterone patches. Their implied benefits were greater strength and endurance – anabolism over catabolism. Their actual detriments were many; pancreatic cancer, loss of my own ability to produce testosterone, shriveling of my genitals, reduced liver function, etc, etc, ad nauseum. These facts alone made the choice easy.

I wonder if the choice would be as easy if there were no side-effects to worry about, no physical damage to incur? For the base issues would remain, and the real damage would still occur, even if it is only attitudinal and perceptual. It would still be seeking a magical cure, striving after goals, and attaching to results, all the things yoga is designed to relieve us from. It would still damage my perceptions, by increasing my dependence on outside things, by allowing myself the ignorance of thinking there is anything to be gained this way. I wonder…

The chocolate was a bit easier to deal with, for I can relate to gluttony better than I can to dependence. I’ll write more about this in the next note, since I have to pedal out into the world of steroids and chocolate bars now.



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