28 March 2007

yoga hostility

when i first read this article, slate's "the hostile new age takeover of yoga," i was nodding my head in agreement. yes, yoga has been commercialized, dumbed down and misinterpreted via its entrance into american gym culture. yes, yoga's eastern principles of meditation and breathing have been diluted, with the help of magazines, to include the very western concepts of power and immediacy.

yes, many yoga-addicted americans are more interested in the workout aspects of their practice than the breathing and focus that our yoga teachers are constantly telling us are of primary importance.

yes, yes, yes. ok. we're so american. this is not news, and certainly not the first article of its kind.

but the more i thought about the article, especially on the walk back from my yoga class yesterday, the more i have come to think: so what? so american culture tends to commodify eastern philosophy. so american women admit to appreciating yoga's physical benefits. so there are stupid magazines at supermarket checkout lines that speak to the lowest common denominator.

but does this really consist of a hostile takeover? i mean, i practice ashtanga yoga twice a week, and while i work very hard on the mental aspects of it, the truth is that i'm there for the exercise. should i feel bad about this? isn't it better that i drag my american ass to the class at all? am i somehow involved in a coup?

and what is more trite actually, the way yoga has been appropriated by american culture or the complaining about said appropriation? i find it hard to believe that there isn't a thoughtful yoga magazine out there, or a yoga studio that doesn't include a power yoga class. if the author is really so offended by his yoga options, perhaps he should move to india.


zoebenedict said...

So I read the article and while I agree that we shouldn't have to feel guilty about feeling good about ourselves I think the greater point of the article (although perhaps somewhat lost) lies in the sub-heading "There's nothing worse than narcissism posing as humility." I think this is the perfect phrase for our generation. To me the whole "New Age" movement is exactly that, narcissism. Granted, I've definitely benefited (practicing yoga, seeing a therapist, living it up in a foreign country, not pressuring myself about kids or marriage and in general focusing on ME.) Now don't get me wrong, I think it's A OK to to be selfish, but let's not kid ourselves by thinking that our egocentricity is changing the world. And we do, we do think that we are emotionally and intellectually more evolved than our parents, but if you ask me, this is one of those "yes but no" areas. For instance, where is the great move toward social change and general rightness (not righteousness, cuz we got plenty 'o that). My parents (along with many others) marched on Washington with Martin Luther King, they enlisted in the Peace Corps, and the thing is, this was the norm for their generation. I spent thousands of dollars of my mother's money to study theater, skipped the country and now only see my family once a year, and this is becoming the norm for our generation.

So what does this have to do with yoga and new age (apart from it being a catalyst for this particular diatribe of mine)? Well let's go back to narcissism posing as humilty. I say if you feel like "the shit" because you can go from a headstand into jani sho whatever, fantastic, good for you! But don't kid yourself by thinink you're "giving your practice up" cuz chances are you ain't.

So there ya have it my dear lady who, I must say, ain't one to kid herself.

Jerako said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jacki said...

i also agree with the subhead. nothing is worse than narcissism posing as humility. but my question is: is anybody practicing yoga really pretending to be humble? wouldn't a truly humble person just not worry about what other people are doing on their yoga mats, as long as their own practice is self-fulfilling?

i guess that's what bugged me about the article. the whole act of writing it seemed more trite, more annoying and more bullshit than the act being complained about.

as for new age, let the records show that -- like the peace corps and the marches on washington -- it is a product of our parents' generation. they were getting married and having kids in their 20s (while preaching social change), getting divorced in their 30s, making money in their 40s, and perhaps finding new age in a midlife crisis. ok they invented the great movement toward social change. but they also invented narcissism.

to me, we are all guilty of apathy right now. i am wary of lionizing our parents' generation -- despite their accomplishments in the 60s in 70s -- because they are the ones who are running the country now and look what a holy mess we're in. a generation must be judged by what they do during their entire lives, not just what they did in their 20s.

to that point, perhaps our generation just hasn't come into our own yet. perhaps like the marriage and the children, our schedules are a few years behind those of our parents. maybe we're waiting until we are a little older before we try to change the world. perhaps with the focus on ourselves that a childless 20s has afforded us we will be more prepared to insightfully make change during the rest of our life. perhaps a little narcissism isn't the worst thing, in moderation. (and i catch the irony here, i'm being quite narcissistic)

and, despite what it seems from our group of friends, i doubt that it is the norm for our generation to skip the country and live abroad, although the experience would surely benefit the global perspective that i think many americans are lacking. however, most people our age probably live within 20 miles of their parents.

Anonymous said...

Interesting thoughts... I sometimes wonder if it's better for the masses to know a little bit about yoga, however commercialized, than to not have any of it at all... after all, it can offer great health benefits.

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