Maddie Aggeler, 126
For the first few weeks of senior year, my roommate and I didn’t have any living room
furniture. Eventually, we went to Goodwill and paid $8 for a couch. I also found an ugly,
oversized sweater that I thought would make me look alternative and mysterious, but just
made me look disheveled. My roommate and I were impressed by our own thriftiness, but
our guests were not.
“Eight bucks? Wow. I’m assuming you’ve checked it for bed bugs and everything? What’s
this stain? You know what, I’ll sit on the floor.”
Before the couch, we called the empty space our “dance studio”, but one day, when I
found a yoga DVD I had taken from home that summer, it became our yoga studio. As
college seniors, my roommate and I did not often do things like “exercise” or “be sober,”
so the video was a slog. We huffed and puffed through poses, our limbs twisted and trembling,
while the host said things like “Good! Now let’s go straight into Dancing Shiva.” That was
the first and last class our yoga studio ever hosted.
Later that year, in a feeble attempt to prepare for the adult world, I signed up for group
fitness classes at our college’s Rec center. Twice, I went to yoga at 8 a.m. I didn’t do it for the
yoga as much as I did it to talk about having done yoga.
“Yeah, I’m pretty tired. I don’t know if you heard me over there, but I was saying I woke up
this morning for an 8 a.m. yoga class. It’s early, but worth it. Following your breath and
stuff. Downward dog. You know.”
Then the Dunkin Donuts cashier would ask me to move along because a line was forming
It will not surprise you to know that there are a lot of yogis in the Peace Corps. During
training, as I listened to people say things like “I had to go home and just rest in child’s pose
for a while,” and “Do you know any poses to open up the hips,” and “I do yoga”. I began to
wonder if there were benefits to yoga besides moral superiority.
By the time I got to my site, I was ready to give yoga another shot. I had no space or
equipment, so I would lay my towel in the narrow gap between my bed and the wall, and
follow along with yoga videos on YouTube. I was both unsure of myself and wildly
overconfident, choosing only the most advanced videos, and yanking my body into deep,
coplex poses. I would emerge from my room gasping for breath and covered in sweat, my
host mother and sisters eyeing me nervously, unsure of what activity would result in an
hour of groans and crashes.
By the time I moved into my own house, my aunt had sent me a real yoga mat, I had
developed a more realistic sense of my own abilities, and I had ample space in which to
practice. I had also begun teaching yoga to my fellow teachers after school. The day after
our first lesson, an older teacher came up to me at my lunch and grabbed my arm:
“After yoga yesterday, I had a really great poop.” She scrunched up her face and mimed
forcing a great weight through her stomach, to make sure I understood.
I have never been prouder.
Finding the right yoga video was challenging. For a while I watched a video by Bob
Harper, one of the trainers from ‘The Biggest Loser’. I thought I would respond well to his
grit and fat-shaming, but it did not pair well with yoga.
“TEN PUSH UPS. DO IT, YOU FAT LOSER. GIVE YOURSELF CREDIT FOR TAKING TIME OUT
OF THE DAY TO HONOR YOURSELF AND YOUR BODY. FIVE MORE PUSH UPS.”
The next video was from some guy named Chad, Brad, or Tadd, who sounded like
Matthew McConaughey, and moaned a lot. “That’s right,” he would purr, gripping the hips
of a woman in downward dog, “Just like the horse follows the cart.” It sounded like
gibberish, but I didn’t know enough to question it. The people in his video all gave off the
vibe that they had group sex while the cameras were off, which made me feel both
uncomfortable and left out.
One woman laughed too much. Another winked a lot. One video was objectively bad, but
I watched it a few times because you could see her French Bulldog snoozing in the
No matter how much yoga I did, I never thought of myself as a “yoga person,” mostly
because I don’t use incense and I say the c-word a lot. Honestly, I had never reflected on my
practice until now. I sat down to write, and as I looked back over my two years of service,
yoga began popping up everywhere.
Ana’s early morning yoga classes during training; Kailei and I falling into the lockers at
Saphai Phae during a clumsy attempt at half-moon pose; finally mastering crow pose and
insisting on doing it regularly and publicly, to people’s dismay; crying on my mat after a
particularly trying day; squeezing into a Chiang Mai hotel room with John and Ashley, who
were not fans of my video choice; practicing with Skylar and Adrianna in my garage of a
living room; sitting at school on quiet days and planning my sequence for that afternoon.
Somewhere along the way, the experience of my yoga practice and the experience of my
Peace Corps service became inextricable. At times, both have helped me connect with my
community and fellow volunteers, and at other times they have been deeply personal. Both
have grown, and faltered, and changed, and developed. Both have challenged me, frustrated
me, inspired me, and thrilled me.
So there it is. Maybe I’m a yoga person now. I don’t know what that means or how long it
will be true. For now, yoga’s got a couple of more months of service to get me through.