Q&A with author Lisa Kirchner, who will teach "Yoga for Getting Over It"
In 2004, Lisa Kirchner set off on a two-year journey to Qatar, an Arab country in Western Asia.
Taking on the role of marketing director for Carnegie Mellon's branch campus there, Kirchner, now 47, viewed the move as one last adventure before she and her husband started a family. But life-and Qatar-had something else in mind for her.
In her first book Hello American Lady Creature: What I Learned as a Woman in Qatar, Kirchner, an Ohio State grad, recounts the ups and downs of her experience abroad with wit and brutal honesty.
It's a story about expectations, strength-and yoga.
Yoga both comforts and challenges Kirchner in her book, and she's hoping it'll do the same for you at her upcoming workshop, "Yoga for Getting Over It." Head to Balanced Yoga on Sunday, Aug. 10, from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m., for a lesson in using your mat to move on. Tickets are $40. Get yours here.
She'll also be at Kafe Kerouac on Saturday, Aug. 9, at 9 p.m. to present a play based on the book.
We talked with Kirchner about the title of her book, what it's like for women in Qatar and what drew her to yoga in the first place.
-Taylor Starek, @taylorstarek
Where did the title come from?
When I first got to the office [in Qatar], there was a guy who had been appointed as my assistant director. He had ensconced himself in the lion's share of the office. He kind of gave me this look, but he was just smiling at me, and it felt like the longer version, "Hello and welcome naturally subordinate American lady creature." I feel like people just looked at you like that. I don't look like a Qatari, and in a way they kind of don't look at you. It's "haram," or forbidden, to look directly at a woman who's not your wife, so the tendency is to not look directly at you. I just sort of felt like I was an alien being there.
What's it like today being a woman in Qatar? Can you talk a little bit about the male/female segregation?
It's part of the experience there that men and women are kept separate. The gyms had "lady hours." Well, that was while this lady was working. I lived there for about nine months before I ever managed to drag myself to any fitness thing. That was the yoga class. It was taught by a colleague, and the only time available was Friday morning because the mosques ensure that everything's shut down. You really can't do anything else. I didn't want to jump out of bed to run over to a yoga class because Friday was like my Saturday. And I didn't want to try and huff and puff my way back to fitness in front of a colleague. She just had it all together. But I got to a point where I was in a neck brace and couldn't lift my arms. Drastic measures were called for. Anyway, groceries worked in reverse. My husband couldn't go to the grocery stores, except during certain hours. The men who lived there were able to, and I was shocked by this at first, but you see men just grabbing at your friends' children. I was like, "Doesn't that bother you?" [My friend] said they do it all the time there. And in ways they're not allowed to here. I kind of grew to appreciate it. How different would be it if we saw men as these benevolent father figures?
There's another kind of segregation that's enforced between Qataris and the immigrant workers. [The majority of Qatar's population is made up of expats.] They have these housing compounds, and you end up having all the Westerners on these compounds together. I didn't have children, so my main interaction was with university students or the men that I worked with. There were a couple of women. I did go out with a woman and her sister or cousin one day to get our nails done, and it was very disappointing to me personally because they sat there and spoke in Arabic. But they've grown up their whole lives with a lot of these migrant workers asking about their lives.
Describe the dress-what do women wear?
It's not really that interesting. It's a black robe from head to toe. Although, when I went back in 2009 they started adding flourishes to it. So it was everything from Chinese sleeves with fuchsia insets to sequin beading that did this outline around the whole number. And the weddings are all female experiences, and everybody is really dressed up crazy. It's like being on the runway at fashion week. It's very over-the-top couture style. Very revealing. But they do dress fully under those [black robes]. The robe you wear presumably more than once.
Can you describe the role yoga played for you while you were in Qatar?
That was the only fitness option open to me. My parents owned a gym, so I had never really looked at yoga as a fitness activity. It was something you'd do between real sports when you were injured. Low and behold, I get to Qatar and that's the fitness option that's open to me. I started going, and I kind of hated it because it was really hard. I found it difficult emotionally, mentally and physically. Well, mentally not as much-she was teaching Ashtanga, so I couldn't really think about anything else while I was doing my practice. That was something that I liked about it. There was no denying that I felt physically so much better. It was almost instantaneous. I kept practicing, and I started teaching a class. When you teach, you have to practice regularly. That forced me to keep going. I was really able to see how the practice was making my life better, not just physically but also emotionally and mentally. When you overcome challenges on your yoga mat, which is really a low stakes place to work on a challenge, but when you do those things, you feel great.
Your class is called "Yoga for Getting Over It." What will you cover during the workshop?
I found ways that I could sequence poses that could elicit responses. It's basically how you can sequence [poses], what the different postures do and how you can use them to your benefit no matter what is going on.