I’m thinking I need to start thinking so I can write a piece called, “What I Think About When I Should be Thinking About Nothing While I’m Doing Yoga.” I’m thinking I need to write this because while I should be thinking about nothing during yoga, while I should be focusing on the present, focusing on my breathing, I inevitably start thinking. I think writing about it will help me stop. Thinking that is.

Thinking thinking thinking.

I’m thinking I’m very sweaty from my cardio workout.

I’m thinking, Oh, I’m smack in the front in the middle, right near the teacher. I’m thinking before that would have bothered me but now it doesn’t.

I’m thinking thinking so much during yoga probably has the opposite effect that yoga is supposed to have.

I’m thinking repeating “I’m thinking” over and over again in an essay might be annoying.

I’m thinking don’t make eye contact with the teacher although she’s right in front of me because that would be weird, although she is perfectly nice with pretty red hair and a low soothing voice that immediately reverts to California girl portamento when the class ends.

I’m thinking that old guy is in good shape but he’s having trouble with downward dog. He should take off his socks and not put his hands that way.

I’m thinking oh good he took off his socks, but he’s still having trouble. I’m thinking he’s thinking yoga is harder than he anticipated, although, like I thought before, he is very fit.

I’m thinking okay you can feel superior for ten seconds. There, are you happy now? You feel superior to an 80-year old guy who probably runs marathons and is trying yoga for the very first time while you are way younger and have been doing yoga for a year.


I’m thinking why is that guy wearing socks too? Take off your socks, people! That should be the first thing the yoga teacher says. That, and turn off your cell phones. I’m thinking turning off your cell phone during yoga should be frigging obvious. But it is not.

I’m thinking that guy’s mat is very squeaky.  It wouldn’t be so squeaky if he’d stop adjusting it.  But when he stops squeakily adjusting his mat, he’s breathing VERY LOUDLY.  He and the two guys on either side of him are having a loud breathing contest.  They are the loud breathing triplets.

I’m thinking has anyone ever told anyone else to shut the fuck up during yoga.

I’m thinking this is probably also the opposite of what yoga is supposed to do.

I’m thinking that woman’s pink yoga mat smells like strawberries. Or I’m just hungry. Or I’m having a stroke.


I’m thinking my arms are already tired. I’m thinking how long have we been doing this? I bet only 15 minutes. Only 15 minutes and my arms and upper back are already tired, and we still have 45 minutes go.

Yes, the clock upside down: 15 minutes.


. . .

Whoa, I stopped thinking there for a while. Cool.

I’m thinking I hope I remember everything I’m thinking about.

(I don’t.)

I’m thinking supposedly people think up to 50,000 thoughts a day, or 2,083 thoughts an hour. What counts as a thought? This? Or this? Or this?

Thought number 694.

I’m thinking that old guy hurt his back. He’s just doing child poses now too. I’m thinking I wonder if he can do anymore.

I’m thinking I wonder how my dad would like this class. He does yoga by himself but still this might be too hard. Too hard for my dad, too easy for my brother, who can put his six foot three body in any position. Meanwhile I struggle. Other younger people struggle. Other people who look like they do yoga a lot struggle. They breathe hard. My dad’s not as old as that old guy but he’s getting old.


I’m thinking will the teacher go check on the old guy and see if he’s okay. Or will she adjust me as she passes. I’m thinking in the beginning I dreaded being readjusted because being readjusted meant being corrected, being wrong.

Now I don’t care. There is no right or wrong. There is only trying.

Ohhhhhmmmm and all that. Yada yada yada. Blah blah blah.

I’m thinking oh that old guy is leaving. Will he try this again.

Oy, my sides.

Ack my hamstrings.

I’m thinking this is really hard. Why is this so hard? Pretend you’re really good at it. Pretend you’re like that woman over there (not the one with the strawberry mat) who’s really good. I’m pretending I’m good. I’m pretending I’m good.

I’m good.

I’m good.

I fall.

No biggie.

As I right myself again, I think, I don’t get people who get upset at themselves after yoga, who kick themselves for not being able to pose A, B, or C. It’s not a contest, you’re not getting graded on it.

I’m thinking, But remember you kick yourself about other things. You kick yourself for not behaving the right way when no one really cares. You kick yourself for being wrong so you hate being wrong, you hate admitting it. You hate apologizing for the big things. You hate apologizing because when you were younger (and still now) if you did something your mother thought was wrong and you tried to apologize, she just got madder, she just pushed you away.

There was no way to win.


So all you could do was wait, be quiet, be small, and wait for the storm to pass.

You have to remind yourself that your boyfriend is not your mother, that he will not reject you for apologizing, for owning up to your mistakes.  That he suffers waiting for you to apologize, and you suffer thinking you hate being wrong.

Then you apologize, and he forgives you immediately. He hugs you and doesn’t hold a grudge, which, to you, is a very strange thing, and you realize forgiving is sometimes as hard as apologizing.

No corrections, only adjustments.

. . .

I’m thinking, I’m surprisingly good at this pose. I have a low center of gravity so balancing on one foot isn’t too hard. Unlike that woman there, the good one, who is long and lean.

Suck it, skinny!

Just kidding.

I’m thinking, I hate this pose. I can’t bend back that far, I can’t grab my ankles. My neck doesn’t go that way.

But my butt feels toned. Nice.

I’m thinking oh dolphin pose, I like the dolphin pose. I like the dolphin pose for the first five seconds, and then I hate it. I hate it and I want to kill it and spread it on a sandwich.

(Mmm, dolphin sandwich.)

Child’s pose – ahhhhh.

I’m thinking I can hold this hamstring pose forever. (Hm, hamstring pose? Is that the official name?)

I’m thinking I love the plow pose now when before I hated it. I’m thinking that guy back there doesn’t love it, he is breathing too hard. Deep, slow breaths, dude. Don’t hyperventilate. Don’t pass out with your legs hanging over your head.

I’m thinking ah at last, corpse pose. I’m thinking it’s so nice not to have vertigo currently. I’m thinking I wonder if someone will snore or fart. Once someone farted and I spent all of savasana trying not to laugh.

I’m thinking snoring is only moderately funny but farting is hilarious.

I’m thinking I’m really hungry now.

I’m thinking I’ll stop at that little market on Polk Street and buy some tofu, yogurt, and juice. I’m thinking there’s leftover crab fried rice in the fridge.


I’m thinking I have to pee.

I’m thinking I’m glad I didn’t snore. Or fart.

I’m thinking you can stop thinking now.

But can I?

TAGS: , , , , , , , , , ,

A long-time New Yorker, ANGELA TUNG is a writer in San Francisco. Her work has appeared in CNN Living, The Frisky, Dark Sky Magazine, Matador Life, The New York Press and elsewhere. Her Young Adult novel, Song of the Stranger, was published by Roxbury Park Books.

Her latest book, Black Fish: Memoir of a Bad Luck Girl, chronicles the failed marriage between a Chinese woman and Korean man, both American-born but still bound by old world traditions. Black Fish was short-listed for Graywolf Press' 2010 Nonfiction Prize.

In addition, she's a writer/editor at Wordnik.com, an online word source, and has an MA in Creative Writing from Boston University. Visit her at angelatung.com.

60 responses to “What I Think About When I Should Be Thinking About Nothing 
During Yoga”

  1. Mary Richert says:

    Angela, I have missed TNB for essays exactly like this one. I’m so sorry I’ve been away. This is just perfect. I’m pretty sure I’ve had most of these thoughts. And the funny thing is that just being aware that you’re thinking is progress since most of the time, we don’t even pay attention. We just let our minds go on and on about all kinds of stuff like poorly behaved children in the grocery store … you know, the kids who make all the other shoppers wonder what the hell is wrong with their parents.

    • angela says:

      thanks mary! i actually thought of you while i was writing this (thinking thinking!) and what you might think of it.

      i totally agree that just being aware that you’re thinking so much is a step forward. if you’re not, your mind can just wander and sometimes to not good places, and then you think, how did i end up in this dark and terrible hole? now when i start to have worrying, unproductive thoughts, i’m more aware of it, and try to put a stop to them, though not always successfully.

  2. Kimberly says:

    No corrections, only adjustments.

    Holy shit, I needed this today. Thank you, Angela.

    (And now I will giggle throughout the entirety of my 5:30 yoga class tonight, thinking about what you’re thinking about.)

    • angela says:

      thanks kimberly! i only made that connection – adjustments not corrections in yoga and in life – right before i hit “publish.” duh!

      in yoga tomorrow, i will no doubt be reliving that time someone farted and giggling like an idiot the whole.

  3. Matt says:

    It amuses me the places the mind can go to when the body is fully engaged in something else. I’ve had similar trains of thought during karate classes over the years while going through kata that I’ve known for years. Had some good story or essay ideas that way, actually, and whenever I have writer’s block these days I head to the gym or the dojo, which usualy does the trick. Plus, I get a workout – that’s a great two-for-one deal!

    • angela says:

      yes! physical activity is a great cure for writer’s block. i usually hit the gym once i hit a stopping place, or where i’m stuck and need to think about the piece instead of just writing and rewriting (and rewriting again). even if i don’t consciously think of the piece, running or yoga or whatever helps clear my mind and i can look at my writing again with somewhat fresh eyes.

  4. I listen and search the earnest flushed faces of women who tell me that yoga has changed their lives… they tell me it clears their head, clears their skin, increased flexibility improves their sex life, they love the way they move in their clothes.

    Yoga makes them peaceful. Gah.

    I resist because I know I can’t turn it off… the running commentary in my brain is just like the gray fuzz of the cable channels on the TV that I don’t pay for….white noise and a bit of dialogue.

    Thanks for letting me into your brain for awhile, Angela, so happy to know you can’t turn it off either…. oh, and I’m glad the old guy had the balls to leave… you see, I would die before I left a class in the middle even if I was miserable. Yay for old guys!

    • angela says:

      “Yoga makes them peaceful. Gah.”


      i don’t know if yoga has changed my life. i’ve been taking a class for over a year, and it’s definitely improved certain aspects – i’m definitely more flexible (which is handy for the sex), and more aware of the nuances of my body, and my shoulders look fab, if i do say so myself, even if my triceps still jiggle like an old lady’s.

      as for clearing the mind, i don’t know if yoga itself does that for me, or if during yoga, i force myself to clear my mind, otherwise i fall over in balance poses, or i just don’t as much out of it. an “easy” way to do that is to concentrate on my breaths, imagining the air going in my lungs and swiriling out, and counting either the individual breaths, or as i’m inhaling and exhaling. that also helps when all i’m thinking is, “OW!”

      then suddenly at times, i find that i haven’t been thinking of anything at all, except my breathing and how my body feels. i don’t know if that has helped me elsewhere in life, except that it makes me aware that my mind is going all over and that i’m not concentrating on the present.

      the breathing helps too when i get nervous or can’t sleep at night. i actually imagine myself in corpse pose to relax.

  5. Reno Romero says:


    hello, there. ready?

    i’m thinking this piece was freakin’ heeelarious! i’m thinking you caught onto something here and rode it like a wave all the way home.

    i’m thinking some of your lines were so funny i prolly won’t forget them…EVER. i’m thinking that farts are hilarious but that i found it curious you found yourself hungry right after you mentioned “fart.”

    i’m thinking i’m gonna stop writing this way…

    okay, angela, this was fun. and i like fun and woke up needing some fun. thank you very much. great observations. good luck in SF. i’m sure you’ll find plenty to do out there, plenty to write about. cheers to you, my friend.

    reno romero

  6. dwoz says:

    Your mind is like a liter-sized bottle of ginger ale, all shook up.

    When you uncap it, you have to let it fizz and overflow for a bit.

  7. Richard Cox says:

    Do you have trouble sleeping, Angela? This is what it sounds like in my head as soon as it hits the pillow.

    • angela says:

      i don’t usually have trouble, but when i do, it’s because my brain won’t turn off, or there is something, whether real or imaginary, that i’m worried about, and my brain cycles around the worry till i reach the always-same conclusion: “there’s nothing i can do about that right now.”

      then i breathe.

  8. Irene Zion says:


    This precise thought process is what goes on in my head when I’m trying to turn off my head and go to sleep.
    It sucks.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Dear Irene,

      Thanks for copying me.


      • Irene Zion says:

        This is the second time I did this on this very page!
        I apologize Ricardo, the somewhat rude,
        I neglected to read the previous comments because I’m in a hurry.
        (A few days ago I did the same thing to Matthew Gavin Frank,
        I wrote essentially the same thing as his previous commenter.)
        I just got home from Houston and I didn’t have internet because the guy could not remember his goddamn password for the wifi and he was WAY off into OCD-Land to let me use his computer and I’m just trying to catch up here before compulsory TV time which is fast approaching!
        That’s my story.

        On the other hand, it looks like we have the same sleeping problem, Ricardo the somewhat rude.

    • angela says:

      haha, i was going to say that comment sounds familiar!

      but i think it’s very common, our heads spinning round and round when our bodies go quiet.

  9. Irene Zion says:


    The thing is that I can’t even make my body get still,
    let alone my mind!
    I’m a hopeless case.

    (Just look at what I did to Matthew Gavin Frank!
    It’s so embarrassing!)

  10. You’re hilarious, Angela! Think all you want 🙂

  11. Amanda says:

    Don’t I know it. I spend half of a 90-minute yoga session berating myself for being too preoccupied to stop thinking…it is absurd…

  12. Jeffro says:

    Whenever my wife puts on her yoga video, I can’t help but think of chimichangas. I think of chimichangas instantly every time the woman on the video says chaturanga dandasana.

  13. I miss moving. I’ve been sitting on my ass for about two months now and I have barely had a thought trickle through the remnants of my brain. I can’t think when I’m sitting in front of a computer, with all the time in the world to write.

    Back before it got too cold for Chinese people to play football (anything less than 50 and no one goes out side around here) I used to think a lot. I think that exercise must lubricate the brain or something because I cannot shut it off when I’m actually moving about.

    Anyway, great essay as usual.

    • Angela Tung says:

      having too much time on my hands also doesn’t bode well for my writing. if i have a whole day, i tend to piss it away. but if i have only a couple of hours, it tends to be very productive.

  14. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    That I’ve never been able to turn off my brain is one of the chief reasons I always avoid yoga or meditation, though I realize it’s also probably why I could deeply benefit from both.

    “What counts as a thought?”
    I love this line, and I love thinking about it. I could really twist my brain into a pretzel thinking about it.

    Hilarious, wonderful writing, Angela.

    • Angela Tung says:

      nate, i think it’s the chicken or the egg. do you need to have a quiet brain to do yoga, or will yoga force you to have a quiet brain? i went into yoga just wanting to be more flexible – ie, when i got a thai massage, i thought my hamstrings would snap in two – but ended up being forced to tell my head, “STFU or you will fall once again!” don’t know if my head is any quieter outside of yoga, but at least i’m aware when it starts doing its hamster wheel thing.

  15. Simon Smithson says:

    You know you’re a true San Franciscan when you’re castigating yourself for having ego thoughts at yoga… and saying to yourself ‘Your boyfriend is not your mother.’

    Pranayamas all the way!

    (where do your practice, Angela? Yoga Tree? Did we talk about this?)

    • Angela Tung says:

      ack, a decade of New York undone by on 18 months in SF? i don’t know if i can accept that.

      i don’t think we talked about it, but i remember your mentioning Yoga Tree – in the Mission? i just take a class at my local 24 hour fitness. it’s surprisingly good, at least as far as i can tell. i’m tempted by the hot yoga place down the block from me, but it’s rather pricey.

  16. Joe Daly says:

    You nailed it. The monkey mind of yoga class. Once in awhile I can actually move into the moment and just concentrate on my breath for maybe a second or two. Then my mind sees what I’m doing, and says, “look, it’s working- you’re just concentrating on your breath for maybe a second or two. How long do you think you can do it? Tibetan monks can do it for like, 40 seconds…” etc.

    Anyhoo, I do hot yoga 4-5 days a week, and I’m just used to the wandering mind. One of these days I’m going to just get it over with and wear an iPod.

    Here’s to getting through yoga, however you can…

    • angela says:

      sometimes the wandering mind is just lovely, like on a train. i don’t know why but when i’m riding on the train, being still and looking at scenery, my mind goes but quietly and slowly, not like a hyper chipmunk at the, um, circus or something.

      the iPod does indeed help.

  17. My brain does this too. And if it ever quiets for a second, I become overly excited about the tiny moment of silence I was granted. My mind then takes off in that direction, cheering for my peaceful victory, immediately eliminating my reason for celebration. A few times a week, I do the “lying in bed with the racing brain” thing that Irene and Richard mention above. Oh, these wacky, chattering brains.

    Yoga is awesome. And yes, farts are always hilarious.

    You are also hilarious, but totally not in the same way that farts are, don’t worry. I really enjoyed reading this. (:

    • angela says:

      omg, me too! i think, wow, i did it! nirvana!

      well, not really.

      there are also those rare moments when i don’t notice what’s going on. usually i feel like i can’t stop noticing things, but occasionally, i successfully get enveloped in my own little world.

      my boyfriend on the other hand has no problem getting into and staying in his own little world, which is awesome when i’m trying to tell him something. 😉

  18. Judy Prince says:

    You got me to thinking, angela…….

    goofy and goofier, as always, my funny friend!

  19. Gloria says:

    I’m thinking that woman’s pink yoga mat smells like strawberries. Or I’m just hungry. Or I’m having a stroke. — this genuinely made me laugh out loud. Alone. In my bedroom.

    Another one here: Ohhhhhmmmm and all that. Yada yada yada. Blah blah blah.

    There were a few others, but I didn’t want to be tedious.

    Angela, I so relate to this. I can’t do yoga. Yoga fills me with shaking, bawling rage. True story. I’ve met other yoga rage people. It’s a weird thing.

    Excellent, fun piece Angela. Cheers.

    • Gloria says:

      I’m thinking I’m never going to do HTML again. I keep screwing it up!

    • Angela Tung says:

      damned HTML! 🙂

      yoga-rage? hmm, i don’t think i’ve ever heard of that. is it yoga at yourself or at the annoying people in the class?

      • Gloria says:

        You know, it’s because when I can’t get myself into the poses everyone else is in, or when everyone else looks blissful and I feel miserable, or when none of it makes sense and I’m left to flail and flop like a fish out of water while everyone else is communing with Buddha, I kind of just want to smash shit. Which, from what I understand, is verboten in a yoga class.

  20. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    Mind chatter. Argh. I was an enthusiastic yoga student for several years. It’s what sustained me through graduate school, then writing a novel, then a lot of other stuff. Sometimes I could quiet the noise. The WORST was when I was finishing that book, and I’d actually use–consciously use–the time on the mat to think about it. SO NOT YOGA. But one evening in corpse pose, I had a revelation that fixed the whole damn thing.


  21. J.M. Blaine says:

    I think overthinking
    is why so many artists
    take drugs.
    Or do Yoga.
    To try and turn off the brain.

    Even worse, for us,
    is trying to dump that thinking
    out and edit it into something

  22. Greg Olear says:

    I like this one a lot, Angela. Great idea, and well executed. Also, it explains why I don’t do yoga. (That and my arthritic big toe.)

  23. Oh my, I loved this! This is exactly how my mind works during yoga (and pretty much everything else). I especially laughed when you mentioned wondering whether you were having a stroke. Every time we do fish pose I swear it’s going to lead to a stroke. I literally sit there the entire time thinking: Should I really be doing this because they say that putting your head back like this leads to strokes. I mean, you can even get a stroke from the hairdresser washing your hair, maybe this is me having a stroke. I better check for weird dialated pupils after class.

    Pretty sure that’s not the effect the teachers are hoping for when they instruct the class, but whatever. I can’t shut it off. I’m glad to see I’m not the only one.

    I wonder what men think when they’re doing yoga.

    • angela says:

      oy, i didn’t know hanging your backward could lead to stroke! when i had vertigo, i knew to avoid that position, but didn’t know about the stroke thing. something else to think about! luckily my neck doesn’t bend that far back, though i do get a bit nervous doing the Upward Bow Pose or whatever, which i could do all day when i was 12.

  24. Erika Rae says:

    I adored this, of course. How could I not? It has yoga and old people and absolutely no farting. It’s brilliant.

    Oh God, and this:

    “I’m thinking supposedly people think up to 50,000 thoughts a day, or 2,083 thoughts an hour. What counts as a thought? This? Or this? Or this?”


    I want to do yoga with you now and connect our brains for a session. Now THAT would be awesome. Or creepy. One of the two.

  25. D.R. Haney says:

    I mainly did yoga in acting class, or acting-related classes, and yeah, I was always concerned with farting. I’m pretty sure I failed to hold back a few times, though I tried my best to control the sound while hopefully maintaining a facade of innocence. Yeah, that is a rank smell. I wonder who’s responsible. Not me!

  26. Anjali says:

    I’ve been practicing yoga for 8 months, and my mind does the same thing! Now I’ll be thinking about your terrific essay while I’m doing yoga!

    • angela says:

      thanks for commenting, anjali! sometimes i think i’ve gotten better about turning my brain off during yoga, and then there i go thinking about food again. 🙂

  27. […] whole yogic free-your-mind thing seems to have eluded her, although she totally gets the notion of being what you most fear […]

  28. denice says:

    So for over a week I have been pondering the question of thinking in yoga. How can you learn something new if you don’t think how you should put your hand or where your feet should go. After asking many of my teachers I decided to google the question and found this. .I had to write & tell you I haven’t laughed so hard in a while. Thanks so much-made my day.

  29. […] I wrote about what I think about when I should be thinking about nothing while doing yoga. […]

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