November 19, 2010

The Plague of Woo Woo.

Signs that your friends have chugged the yogi kool-aid

It’s not that I don’t believe in the profound healing qualities of yoga. It’s not that I don’t think that having a good attitude is better for one’s general health and stress level. And it’s for sure not that I don’t truly understand that lululemon makes better yoga clothes (albeit ones made in China).

I just think there is a line of sanity.

Here in the Bay Area, yoga is not just a hobby, an exercise method, or a stress-relief tool. It’s an entire culture. Now, you might argue that yoga was always intended to be a holistic lifestyle choice. After all, yoga is an 8-limbed path—not just an asana class. I respect, admire, and appreciate those who truly get the fact that “Ashtanga” actually means (in Sanskrit) “eight limbs” [of yoga].

Like many people, my first attraction to yoga was about how it made my body feel. Not being a natural athlete, yoga was the first type of “exercise” that resonated for me. My yoga practice began about fifteen years ago in Washington DC, with a weekly class at the YMCA taught by a Sivananda devotee named Avatar. (Yes, Avatar.) Along with a range of simple and under-strenuous poses, he would often throw in breathing exercises (aka pranayama) and esoteric nuggets of wisdom that went right over my head at the time.

Once hooked on yoga, however, I slowly came to truly understand the depth and possibilities inherent in the yogi life.

Asana is a doorway for Westerners, but once we’re in, we are offered limitless possibility in terms of self-growth, health, and spirituality… if we want it. There’s a reason people are passionate about their yoga: it has the potential to save us, to change lives. It’s understandable that yogis can be fairly righteous about their yoga.

But the yoga scene can be contradictory, and it can also be rather vapid. It’s the latter that from time-to-time induces eyeball-rolling seizures in an East Coast girl such as myself. Over my years of working and playing in the yoga world, I began to notice an insidious virus of woo woo turning people I once thought of as grounded, real human beings into platitude-spewing automatons in lulu shorts.

The following are some of the subtle signs I’ve documented that indicate a friend is becoming a yoga zombie:

  1. When they can’t get through one single dinner conversation without becoming verbose and impassioned about yoga asana. I think this is a phase all yogis go through, and I certainly don’t begrudge those new on the yoga scene their time. But at this point in my life, I don’t want to get stuck at another dinner party where 9/10ths of the conversation happens in Sanskrit.
  2. The next context clue? The name change to a more “spiritual” moniker. We’ve all seen it happen: a friend goes to India for three weeks, and comes back with a new name. Once “John,” they are now “Shanti Shakti Shivaya.” This is when the credibility tipping point has occurred for me. I have several friends who no longer respond to the name I’ve spent a good long time memorizing, or, even worse, refuse to cop to actually having a last name, making them real hard to categorize in my iPhone.
  3. And then, out of nowhere, you email them about some small thing and get back an auto-reply with the greeting “Namaste, blessed soul…” Not, mind you, because they are out of town, but because, with their busy local yoga teacher one-class-a-day schedule, God knows when they might find the time to email you back.
  4. Suddenly, every miniscule personal problem you might blithely mention is immediately and mindlessly addressed with a sentence that contains the words “abundance” and “positivity. And they start to refer to everyday activities like gardening and making soup as “manifesting.” And should you happen to be in a lousy mood or have bad luck for five minutes? That’s right, Mercury is in Retrograde again.
  5. When a yoga teacher (and isn’t everyone a yoga teacher these days?) pays big bucks to commission a web site illustration of themselves posing atop a pile of skulls with one hand in gyan mudra, the sanity line has been crossed. Although, I have to say that at least that particular person has a lucid and coherent biography of themselves up on their web site. Have you ever tried to choose a yoga class based on teacher bio alone? Most are composed almost entirely of adjectives strung together in one long, nonsensical run-on sentence that causes a mild epileptic fit in even an amateur grammarian. If you suggest to them that they might want it to, well, MAKE SENSE, they look at you with the dead eyes.

Because of all these things, I now consider myself a recovering yogi.

I still love yoga in its essence, as a practice, and even as a lifestyle choice. But when I look around me at the people that I respect, admire, and adore, they’re not the ones waxing poetic about the healing power of goji berries and trying to convince me that water molecules are happier if you talk to them nicely; they’re the ones just simply being themselves, and being real. And if those people happen to be yoga teachers, then score one for real yoga!

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