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Yoga Psychos
Appropriately, since the first book party Cathy and I ever gave (before we knew Emmanuelle, and she started throwing them with us) was for my pal Ron Rosenbaum's The Secret Parts of first blog item after Cathy's passing will be on a great piece by Ron, "The Hostile New Age Takeover of Yoga."

My little sister does yoga every day, but isn't like the woman who recently nearly crashed into my car while on her cell phone, then parked, gave me the finger, and got out with her yoga mat. "Just off to find a little fucking inner peace, you redheaded bitch!" Yeah, I get it. My little sister was in town a while back and went to YogaWorks on Main Street. She's, shall we say, something of an original, and doesn't always follow the program at a yoga studio. She called, before she went, to ask if that would be a problem. No, they'd take her money, no big deal.

Well, not until she got there and started stretching somehow inappropriately, and got dressed down by some Yogaworker. In the nastiest way, but in new-age-speak, which she found disturbing, yet hilarious. Being as we're cut from the same bitchyass cloth (good to our friends, and the deserving, but don't try to put one over on us), she calmly let him know she was told it wouldn't be a problem and kept up with what she was doing, to his hostile, new age dismay.

On Slate, Ron Rosenbaum hits on what's become of yoga:

"New Age" culture being those scented-candle shrines to self-worship, the love-oneself lit of The Secret, the "applied kinesiology"-type medical and metaphysical quackery used to support a vast array of alternative-this or alternative-that magical-thinking workshops and spa weekends. At its best, it's harmless mental self-massage. At its worst, it's the kind of thinking that blames cancer victims for their disease because they didn't "manifest" enough positive vibes.

One "manifestation" of this takeover is the shameless enlistment of yoga and elevated Eastern yogic philosophy for shamelessly material Western goals. Rather than an alternative, it's become an enabler. "Power yoga"! Yoga for success! Yoga for regime change! (Kidding.)

And then there's what you might call "Yoga for Supermarket Checkout Line Goals." Or as the cover story of Rodale's downmarket magazine YogaLife put it, yoga to: "BURN FAT FASTER!" (Subsidiary stories bannered on the YogaLife cover: "4 WAYS TO LOSE 5 POUNDS"; "ZEN SECRETS TO: HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS ... INSTANT CALM.")

Then he tells the incredible tale of somebody who sounds like one of the readers who writes me, supposedly for advice -- one of those letters where they try to sanely present their case...a case that's really just a ploy to get their pitch to some poor stalkee in the paper. Ron continues, about a story that appeared in Yoga Journal:

The story, which appeared in the December 2006 issue, was titled "Forgive Yourself." It's by this woman who tells us about an "intense" friendship she once had with a guy nearly 20 years ago, when they were 16. She says it was "never romantic," and it clearly wasn't—on his part.

Somehow she picked a fight with him—remember, this was 20 years ago. She defaced some "artwork" he'd done on the back of her jean jacket and danced with some other boys in an attempt to make him jealous.

She claims he gave her a "stricken" look.

Then, 20 years later, she starts to hound the guy. She claims she just happened to be going through some boxes and found a journal of his. She claims the journal convinced her that what she needed to do was apologize and ask his forgiveness. So she Google-stalks him, or, as she puts it: "With the help of an Internet search engine, I tracked him down and sent an e-mail. I told him I was sorry and that I hoped we could talk."

After much effort on her part, the guy sent back a note, "What part of no don't you understand?" "Just about every single part of no there is," Ron writes. Ultimately, the nutwad ends up enabled by YJ editors to stalk the poor guy, with a long bullshit piece where she winds up with "lighting candles," (of course!) "journaling," and, the kicker...

You must next and last, "Send yourself flowers when you've completed letting go."

No premature floral deliveries, mind you. Only when you've "completed" letting go, which sending yourself flowers certainly signals. OK maybe one more poem, but that's it! This is the kind of misguided narcissism (it's always all about you; metaphorically, it's all sending flowers to yourself) that gives yoga, an ancient, honorable tradition, a bad name. This is what is meant by the "hostile New Age takeover of yoga." All this hectoring about the right way to feel. Yoga and other Eastern disciplines are supposed to work from the inside out and not depend on product placement candles, scented bath oils, and "yoga therapists."

And it's still not over! If the ritual bath and flower-sending don't do the trick, there's a "four-step practice rooted in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy that can take us through the process of making amends." You could spend a lifetime "moving on" from some imagined 20-year-old incident. Then move on to the next incredibly elaborate "Moving On" ceremony. You never get to move in, or move out.

The final step in the great journey of self-understanding the Yoga Journal editors have force-marched her on is realizing it's all about her "relationship with herself." Whitney Houston yoga: I found the greatest love of all—Me! It's the return of New Age Me-generation narcissism. And there's nothing worse than narcissism posing as humility.

Hey, if Buddhism and other Eastern traditions are about compassion, why not skip the scented bath, skip making amends with the self, skip realization of "the opportunity to embrace aparigraha or non-grasping." Instead, go down to the local soup kitchen or homeless shelter and help some people who don't have the resources to send flowers to themselves, people who actually need help. Rather than continuing the endless processes of anointing yourself with overly scented candlelit self-love.

After all this self-indulgence, it's almost refreshing to turn to a yoga magazine that offers stuff like, "BURN FAT FASTER!"

Posted by aalkon at March 22, 2007 7:32 AM


Partly growing up in Marin County (across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco), I obviously have been exposed to this type of sophomoric behavior. (There is a reason I got out of Marin as soon as was possible.)

These bloody nutjobs with their wasted time and energy on self-empowerment, etc. It is like the fast food version of eastern philosophy. Rather than read the texts, contemplate the philosophy and attempt to gain a true greater understanding for whatever such may provide, it is "can I have a number 7 enlightenment meal?" followed by "oh yeah, last time I did not get my extra candles and flowers on the side, can you please remember to take care of that this time?".

Have you ever noticed that the same grappen-yoga-fuhrer who flipped you off, comes back out at the end of class (on her phone), climbs back into her sporty little BMW and almost takes out a couple people as she flies out into traffic? I though the purpose of Yoga was to relax and "center" you.

Posted by: André-Tascha at March 22, 2007 8:22 AM

I can't remember the names now, but my sister was making fun of what they called some of the tofu platters at some SF restaurant. Maybe I can get her to drop in and leave a comment.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 22, 2007 8:26 AM

...(already chuckling in anticipation)...

Posted by: André-Tascha at March 22, 2007 8:33 AM

Amy, was your sister perhaps thinking of Cafe Gratitude, a vegan restaurant in (where else?) Berkeley. Quoting SF Magazine "You order from a list of affirmations, and the servers, by house policy, pose such questions as "What makes you great?"" One salad is called "I am giving."

You can't make this stuff up. Needless to say, I've never eaten there. I can't imagine going out to eat somewhere and not at least consuming some butter, eggs, cheese or meat.

Posted by: justin case at March 22, 2007 8:39 AM

Another thing: Though the culture around yoga is silly (some white dude with dreadlocks has decided he's now Govindas or whatever so that he can teach yoga... probably helps him score with the yoga groupies I suppose) and a complete turn-off to me - just another way for people to be pretentious and more-enlightened-than-thou - it seems to do some people I know (including my wife) a lot of good in the relaxation/centering department. I'll still never go there.

Posted by: justin case at March 22, 2007 8:46 AM

justin: d'accord

Posted by: André-Tascha at March 22, 2007 8:54 AM

Ech! You can't make this stuff up, but you can hurl.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 22, 2007 9:11 AM

You've got a little sister, huh? [creepy, unnerving]

Posted by: Jim Treacher at March 22, 2007 9:20 AM

Figured you'd say something like that! PS Cathy has taken #1 at Technorati. Never doubted she would!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 22, 2007 9:35 AM

yeah...and beating out American Idol. Somehow, I see a little justice

Posted by: André-Tascha at March 22, 2007 9:53 AM

> At its best, it's harmless
> mental self-massage.

That's true. but we should probably still make fun of it. It's not just that people are being self-involved, it's that they're doing so without humor and the recognition that it all ends tragically no matter what.

There's a lot to be said for having a screwdriver or something now and then to think the wild & wicked & useless thoughts. Otherwise you can convince yourself that you've been paying perfect attention and haven't missed anything, so there's nothing left to do but convince other people how perfect your perspective is.

Posted by: Crid at March 22, 2007 12:41 PM

Ed Abbey nailed this flowery narcissism in an hilarious scene from his novel "Fool's Progress". The redneck main character gets bullied into going to a new age class by his trendy wife. In the class, two strangers are supposed to sit facing each other, look into each other's eyes and say "Who are you? who are you?" over and over. He blows his partner's cool when he tells him has snot hanging from his nose.

Lots of other take downs of California silliness in that book, too.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher at March 22, 2007 1:59 PM

I do yoga about once a week. Its offered for free (but you should really tip) outside at Runyan Canyon park. The Sunday instructor (its offered every day by a variety of teachers) always closes the session with this very pleasant thought: "I want to thank you all for coming out today. Nothing spiritual or mysterious here. Just some good physical work to start the day."

The Saturday instructor's brevity is even better: "Don't get bogged down in the bad shit."

I'm just saying, there are good alternatives out there.

And I know I'm not the only one wondering what constitutes an "inappropriate stretch."

Posted by: snakeman99 at March 22, 2007 3:31 PM

I'm self-involved, self-absorbed, and self-centered, but at least I'm the first to admit it and laugh at it. And if I'm doing it doggie style it isn't on a yoga mat. Sorry, was that vulgar of me? Oh yeah, I'm that, too.

Snake's yoga instructor is okay by me.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 22, 2007 9:25 PM

>> There's a lot to be said for having a screwdriver ...

I like that Crid. Reminds me of Crocodile Dundee saying something about two fleas arguing over who owns the dog...

Posted by: eric at March 22, 2007 11:01 PM

What got me thinking about this was this guy who asked a question at a Hitch appearance a few years ago. See this video at one hour, nine minutes and fifty seconds.

Now listen, we can be sure he's really nice man with the sincerest intentions. He's a little wound up. I think he needs to kiss a girl and have just one of those shabby margaritas they serve in suburban chain restaurants, they kind with bicycles and rusty tin signs hanging on the walls, where every entree includes cheese (or "Cheese!").

He's begging --begging-- for someone to ask him what it means to say "America is killing tens of millions of people every year!" Because he can justify that statement, yes he can! And he's not just being rhetorical, no-siree! He's being literal! And if you just give him five years of your attention, he can turn you into a sexless depressive too.

Or you could try the "Mozzarella Sticks with Marinara" and have another Cab.

Posted by: Crid at March 23, 2007 6:24 AM

Thanks -- I could listen to Hitch for hours. I'll FF through the asswad.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 23, 2007 6:42 AM

I like Hitch's comment at the end of the guy's rant, when asked if he would like to comment: "no, of course not." Classic.

OT: Amy, please say goodbye to Cathy for me today.

Posted by: BeckyJ at March 23, 2007 6:53 AM

I had a bit of fun with the yoganazis at one time.

Posted by: Stu "El Inglés" Harris at March 23, 2007 8:26 AM

"Mozzarella Sticks with Marinara"

Damnit, Crid, I'll have no access to food for another few hours and now I'm craving piping hot mozzarella sticks. Mmmmm, stretchy cheese...

Amy, my best wishes to you and all of Cathy's loved ones today (and every other day, but you know what I mean).

Posted by: marion at March 23, 2007 12:36 PM

Marion- Next time we hang, I'll share some of my cholesterol meds... They're an excellent appetizer! Especially with a little butter

Posted by: Crid at March 23, 2007 1:57 PM

Although the piece entitled “Fundamentalist Yogis Emerge” on the Yoga News page of my website is completely satirical, I would not be surprised if a movement like this comes to pass with all the hooey, hokum, hogwash, hype and hocus-pocus that has become part of the contemporary Yoga scene.

Posted by: YogaDawg at March 24, 2007 4:31 AM

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