by Sara Kleinsmith
So, I don’t know about y’all, but I am LOVING the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix. Beyond being a brilliantly funny show by co-collaborators of 30 Rock, Tina Fey, and Robert Carlock, it’s a groundbreaking comedy based on trauma, rape, and kidnapping. Recently, Emily Nussbaum of the New Yorker did a great job capturing the show’s best and worst points, but as a Yogi, one episode stood out to me, in particular.
Warning, there are show spoiler alerts ahead, so only venture on if you’ve completed the first season.
For those of you unfamiliar with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the title character, played by the charismatic Ellie Kemper, emerges from an underground bunker after being held captive with three other women for 15 years as part of a post-apocalyptic cult led by the Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm). After surviving this trauma, Kimmy moves to New York City in search of a new life untarnished by her memories. Throughout the show’s first season, she undergoes a variety of attempts to overcome her painful past. We find Kimmy making one such attempt in episode 11: ”Kimmy Rides a Bike.”
If you’ve ever fallen into an obsessive yoga or fitness hole and lived to tell about it, you may be able to relate. In the episode, Kimmy uses a “spiritual” spin class to find her way into “the present” while managing to escape her troubles, if only for a while. Her boss, Jacqueline, played by the insanely talented Jane Krakowski, is also using fitness in order to find her “bliss” and not deal with her feelings around her divorce. Although the class model in this show is a spin class, I couldn’t help but see that there were also striking similarities to the yoga world.
The spin class is called “Spirit Cycle,” and one can only guess which affirmation-chanting New York cycling class the show’s writers could be referencing. The class Guru is played by Nick Kroll, who praises the women of the class, gives them “sacred” mantras for work well done and claims to have studied in “Jiberia.” After her roommate points out that she’s been using the fitness class to escape her actual feelings, Kimmy comes to the realization that “Spirit Cycle is just another cult.”
With all the scandals surrounding Gurus in modern society, it’s not difficult to see where the inspiration of this episode came from. Choosing to be led by one man (or woman) who asserts themselves as all-knowing can be dangerous, even in a fitness class. Yoga is an inherently therapeutic methodology, one that has helped numerous people heal, even in (especially in) times of crisis and post-traumatic stress. But there’s also a vulnerability that we experience when we are in search of this type of healing or validation. Sometimes “Gurus” can use this to their advantage in order to gain money, followers, and fame. What Kimmy realizes is that she traded being led by one male figure for another and, in doing so, repeats her past and is unable to move forward. At one point, she attempts to channel “being on a beach” in order to avoid her problems.
Yoga and fitness are every bit as powerful addictions as sugar or alcohol, and although they are obviously much healthier alternatives (though not always), it is entirely possible to become all-consumed with being “healthy” in order to not confront deeper issues. I love that Tina Fey, Robert Carlock, and the cast of Unbreakable have brought the dark side of these light activities out for us to laugh at. For in laughing at ourselves, we gain clarity and know that we are not alone. Even in trauma, laughter is possible. Kimmy reminds us that WE are the Gurus with the keys to our own health and well-being.
Sara Kleinsmith is a yoga teacher, writer, and anatomy geek in Austin, Texas. She has been featured in Yogi Times, Elite Daily, Elephant Journal, and Thought Catalog. She is thrilled to be added to the list of voices for Yoga Dork. To learn more about her work, go to www.sarakleinsmith.com