To outsiders, yoga may appear like one of those activities that yuppie urbanites take up—like knitting and shopping at Whole Foods. Yoga Bitch author Suzanne Morrison was one of those skeptics—granted a more rock’n’roll, smoking version of a skeptic—as to what all the hoopla was about when it came to downward dogging your way to bliss. But after Morrison became hooked on the practice in Seattle—and her instructor convinced her to take a foreign retreat—she learned that there is something to giving up coffee, sweets and sweating her ass off in Bali.
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Here, Morrison tells us about turning her one-woman show into a book, why Eat, Love, Pray hasn’t ruined travel for women and drinking your own urine.
You write that you thought about this book for the better part of a decade—what was the impetus to turn it into a book?
I knew I wanted to write a book, and I also talked with good friends who worked in the theater about what a great one-person show it would make, and that’s where it started. So within the first year of working on the show, I also started writing the book.
At that stage, I was thinking more along the lines of fiction…The novel ended up being almost entirely autobiographical, it might as well have been a memoir. I made myself a redhead and lot cooler than I actually am—a lot more of an atheist, a lot more not as into the rituals and woo-hoo stuff, like I secretly am—the version I wish I was, but I’m not.
My agent sent the novel out, and it was roundly rejected by everyone, but a few said if it was a memoir they’d be interested. At that point, I’d been working on both the show and the book for the better part of four years, and I was kind of done. I didn’t want to do it as a memoir…[but] I found myself waking up with it for a year, thinking of how to structure it, and it was really clear that I wasn’t done with the story yet…One day, I found myself writing the first chapter. As soon as I did, it clicked in.
So, how do you feel about Eat, Pray, Love and the yoga phenomenon?
I have complicated feelings about that…I believe it’s called “priv-lit,” lit for privileged women of the western world. Typically, the only people who make that argument are people who went to a nice liberal arts college, and their parents paid for it, and they have all the skills, and they’re constantly freaking out about privilege…
I just think that this is something that men have been doing for millennia—they have been traveling to find themselves. There’s a lot of self-hatred in women, that we can’t do that, that it’s self-indulgent to do that, that it’s privileged, that we’re self-centered, self-indulgent—these are all puritanical ways of looking at a journey of transformation. Women are trying to transform themselves in a way that men have been doing forever.
I will defend that forever, I’m a big fan of transformation. That is the point of being alive, to try and achieve your potential. Everyone is born with the potential to make themselves the best they can be… Or we can all sit around and feel guilty and think, “OK, there’s no God, nothing transcendent in the universe,” and that we should all sit home and dig ditches? I just don’t buy that…I think obviously that Elizabeth Gilbert struck a major chord with women who want more for themselves.
What were some perceptions about yoga that were killed for you in Bali?
I was not prepared for it to be so connected, so religious, I guess…the teachers I was studying with definitely see yoga as a path to God. I was not prepared for that at all. I was raised Catholic and had come to place as a teenager where I wasn’t sure there was a God. I definitely wasn’t into any organized religion, or group prayer, or beyond what I’d do with my family. I wasn’t prepared for the expectation that I would be clamoring toward the divine with everybody.
And then, on the more woo-hoo side of things, I grew up in Seattle. I’ve been surrounded by hippies my entire life just by virtue of the West Coast. Some of the things, like urine therapy [drinking your own urine], I write about really took me by surprise. I thought, “What is wrong with these people?” To me, that was so far beyond the most hippie-dippy, crazy new age way…
And fresh ideas about yoga you never saw coming?
When I went to Bali, I didn’t know the charm of yoga. I knew it had a charm that was working on me—to do these postures, deep breathing, a little meditation and chanting—and I would feel so much better. My chest would open, I could breathe and other things became easier. Not smoking became easier, waking up earlier became easier, there was something to the yoga thing that was really powerful for me.
When I got to Bali, doing hours and hours of analysis per day and meditation, it became fascinating, this whole idea of witnessing yourself, the idea that you are observing yourself, and in observing yourself, you can liberate yourself from your habits. That was really profound for me…Yoga puts it so plainly, and it’s so practical. That’s what I love about it.