What are the most common questions people ask you about yoga?

The first one, by far, is “what type of yoga do you do?” It’s a totally legitimate and useful question, and yet very tough to answer. I’ve trained in the Ashtanga tradition, but most people either haven’t heard of that, or they’ve heard of it as something Madonna did in the 90s. Then I have a hard time explaining it without going into a historical explanation of the lineage, and by that time most people have already gone back to the bar.

The question gets even thornier, because I’m a somewhat overweight carnivorous stoner with a bad attitude. There’s not a specific “type” of yoga that caters to me. You either practice yoga, or you don’t, and it doesn’t matter if you do it in a hot room, or a lukewarm one, with or without chanting, with or without incense. Who your teacher is doesn’t, or shouldn’t, matter to anyone but you. But, as my teacher Richard Freeman is always pointing out, people are desperate to place themselves into a category, to feel like they’re part of something larger.

The mind is tricky that way. Doing yoga doesn’t exempt you from that. In fact, because there’s the illusion in yoga of doing an “enlightened” activity, people let their guards down, and then cult-like activity can begin. No one person’s yoga can exactly mirror another’s, just as no one person’s life can exactly mirror another’s.

Really? Is this how you’re talking now?

Sometimes. An intellectual understanding, no matter how basic, of the yoga tradition is new to me. Until about three years ago, I’d never read a word of Eastern philosophy. I’m like a kid playing with a new toy on the first night of Chanukah. It will, I hope, calm down a bit.

What’s another question?

“Does your wife do yoga, too?” This is a little more annoying to me. It’s like me saying, “I play poker two nights a week,” and then someone immediately asking, “Does your wife play poker, too?” The answer is, on both counts: No. She introduced me to yoga and then gradually got burnt out. “It’s your thing,” she says to me, which makes me feel kind of sad, but I’m not going to try to push her back into practicing. She still indirectly reaps the benefits because I’m a lot calmer, kinder, and saner that I used to be.

So has yoga saved your marriage?

No, deciding not to have a second kid saved our marriage. But yoga has definitely helped.

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NEAL POLLACK is the author of Stretch: The Unlikely Making Of A Yoga Dude, to be published in August by Harper Perennial. He’s also the author of the bestselling memoir Alternadad and several books of satirical fiction, including the cult classic Neal Pollack Anthology Of American Literature, and the rock novel Never Mind The Pollacks.

Named the “hot writer” by Rolling Stone in 2000, Pollack is no longer particularly hot, but he does continue to write. He’s been a columnist for Vanity Fair and Nerve.com. His freelance journalism, essays, and humor have appeared in many magazines, including The New York Times Magazine, GQ, Men’s Journal, Maxim, Slate.com, and Wired.

He lives in Los Angeles, almost against his will, with his wife Regina Allen and their seven-year-old son. He recently completed a 200-hour training in the Ashtanga yoga tradition with Richard Freeman, but has no intention of quitting his day job, if such a thing exists.

4 responses to “Neal Pollack: The TNB Self-Interview”

  1. Simon Smithson says:

    Neal Pollack, welcome to TNB!

    Jesus, here’s the bit where I sound like Louis Tully from Ghostbusters 2; ‘but I turned into a dog once, and they helped me.’

    Some years back, I emailed you and talked about how good the Anthology was, how much I enjoyed it, and I believe I may have used the phrase ‘laughed until I nearly puked’.

    I stand by that claim, and I think I’ve given combined sets of the Anthology and Never Mind The Pollacks to people as gifts about four or five times since then.

    You were kind enough to write back, and then, later, you were kind enough to help me out with some questions regarding literary agents I had for a post grad assignment I was working on. I can’t think of a single author who has had as much influence over my style of writing as you have, be that for good or ill. So I have a massive fanboy excitement going on over the fact that you’re on The Nervous Breakdown right now.


    I’d make such a terrible hipster.

    I can’t be cool and relaxed about anything.


    Glad to see you here.

  2. Neal Pollack says:

    Thanks for the good words, man. And yes, you would make a terrible hipster, but then again, so would I.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      Oh, and also: I liked Ashtanga, when I did it. I came back to Australia for SF, where I’d been doing what they referred to as simply ‘Vinyasa’, which I understand just means flow? Ashtanga was as close as I could find to the Vinyasa yoga.

  3. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    “…I’m a somewhat overweight carnivorous stoner with a bad attitude.” Coming from a yogi, this automatically makes me feel better. I did a lot of Ashtanga after I had my son. So I can relate to how yoga might be a touch more relaxing than a second child. Well, Simon’s cool just got lost faster than you can say wind beneath my wings… I’m gonna guess your books are pretty good. I’ll have to see for myself.

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