Thursday, February 4, 2010

#33 Yoga Classes

“Yoga is a lifestyle. It’s a way of life.”

-KQED Forum On the State of Yoga in America, Jan. 2010

In San Francisco people are aware. They are higher level thinkers, like Sean Penn and spiritualist Sharon Stone. They podcast “All Things Considered” and get sh*t faced on pinot. They worry over the predicament in the Middle East and condemn The Situation on the Jersey Shore. They transcend.

Many transcendent people practice yoga and San Franciscans are among the fervent. Like the recreational activities lower-class white people do at fresh-water lakes, yoga is sort of an exercise and sort of a hobby but mostly a very specific way of thinking about the purpose of human life and your social status while barefoot, and as a special bonus it’s full of alliterative and pleonastically named moves like Downward Facing Dog^ that make people feel both playful and vaguely superior, like when you see mangled English on T-shirts made in Asia.^^

Yoga classes seem like a prime pick-up place: an overabundance of lightly clad women, a presumptively non-predatory environment, and, for the length of the session, a collectively shared aspiration to be a better human than when you started, all of which, if you’re a shady dude out to score, seems pretty f*cking awesome. And statistically or probabilistically, who knows, it might even work (as a strategy), at least in the short term and if you don’t mind going to hell, but on a larger scale none of that even matters, because it’s the ethos rather than the environment of yoga classes that’s WTANGISF.

The problem with yoga is that it aggravates an already pretty entrenched tendency for SFers to seek some elevated, totally abstract Truth. You sit through enough yoga classes listening to zen garden music doing the tortoise pose^^^ and you get brainwashed. You get enlightened. You start to really believe that life and even personal success isn’t out there, it’s inside you, delimited only by the contours of your confidence and inner reflections. Failure is an illusion, Sting has three week long orgasms and so on.

This is confusing stuff because if you’re smart you can recognize the existential or philosophical wisdom in it, those Hindu ascetics were f*cking on to something, in fact it’s so compelling that you kind of want to ignore the obvious: it’s totally false in a sociological sense. It feeds a kind of narcissism that dismisses the relevance of very powerful exogenous realities, the kind that govern who we ultimately get to be, such as our peers, Simon Cowell and Google’s HR department. All the sh*t Ayn Rand warned us about.

The message of yoga is that you can find higher meaning and your best self by ignoring the a**holes around you. This is probably right but keep in mind, its practice probably means the end of your genetic line. The question is do you want happiness and health or do you want desire and torrid heartache and intrigue and whatever else happens on Days of Our Lives? Do you want to be Obi Wan Kenobi in a hut on a moonscape or Marlena Evans (excluding 1994-1995 when she was possessed by the devil)?

Dating puts the fallacies of yoga in sharp relief. Dating reminds us that despite what meditation mantras or motivational speakers say most decisions in life are not really within us. We aren't in control. The pressures are out there. And they are jejune, simplistically cliched and reductive things like mean girls and gender ratios and Fox News and the long-term epidermal effects of gravity. Such are the forces that keeps us off couches, sweating in the gym and moiling our vigor away in polyester coated cubicles. That make us ambitious and frustrated and ruthless and, if we’re lucky, wrinkled and worn out before we’re packed up and off to the morgue. This is San Francisco and New York City and Los Angeles. This is the great American way of life. These are the days of our lives.

The stuff that motivates us, what we really deeply and passionately care about - youth, beauty, the money you lent Bernie Madoff, your parents, your 9 year old Pug named Nugget who has three teeth left - is ephemeral. You’re going to lose these things. And its going to break your f*cking heart every single instance. And it should. Because life isn’t about you. It’s not about your goddam one-ness with the cosmos.^^^^

Everyone complains that SFers have unreasonable expectations about what they deserve. That there’s a disconnect between how they feel about themselves and how society judges them. Admittedly yoga isn’t directly responsible for this, it’s a symptom of a larger neuroses, but it’s also an exacerbating influence. It facilitates a certain mood and mindset pandemic among SFers that says the routine experience of cushy SF Bay Area life - its day-to-day details of Amazon shopping and parking and making small talk with people we deem beneath us socially - is an aggravation, an insufferably pain, a false ugly front to something lovely we just can’t see or appreciate, an unseen reality that is full of waterfall noises and wheat-grass smoothies and vicious animals assuming very serene poses, and that - miraculously - is somehow within us and so we successfully cultivate that mood and mindset and after all that, you know what that gets us? Well, who knows exactly, but it isn’t a strawberry blonde with bright eyes on a jet ski. And doesn’t everyone agree that’s what we’re missing?

^Yoga’s penchant for flying crows and reclining moons, etc. shows a clear disfavor for anthropomorphic forms but it’s also prone to flagrant cherry-picking. Dogs do face down, true, but they also chase cars and lick their balls. Crows and cobras are probably the meanest creatures alive. Humans, meanwhile, can count cards and do amazing jukes on astroturf.

^^Surely the Asians profiting off those t-shirt sales or just seeing ill-drawn Chinese character tattoos on the ankles of Vegas waitresses feel smug as hell, and so on the one-upmanship goes. Both the Asians and the Westerners are laughing their asses off at the expense of the other and if aliens ever come to this planet, they will destroy us out of sheer philosophical disgust and we will all deserve it.

^^^It’s tortoises all the way down.

^^^^Except, OK, when it is. Technically we ARE made of stardust and a flower is not a flower but rainbows and wind and the infinite void and the whole history of the cosmos just pretending to be a flower and so on. The point is just that THINKING that way is both boring and culturally suicidal. It impresses almost no one (except, diabolically, when you’re a creep a**).


  1. Awwww poor lil 3-toothed Nugget!!!

    Another great post. But DAMMIT I had to use a couple of times!

  2. (In my Keanu Reeves voice) Whoa.

  3. Hannah Home WreckerFebruary 7, 2010 at 3:08 PM

    Why is everything so closely related to Satanism? The only reason I would invest money and my precious time to a yoga class is to finally become that "9" I always thought I was. lOlZ bOi

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Great read! I love how you related it to idea of love, with all the heartache that may come, and usually does, with romance. How do you suppose people who practice yoga view Digit@living with the presence of the computer in daily life? H@ppy Valentine's Day!

  6. WTANGISF editors: Thanks for the comment and the reference to the Allen essay, Sajad, we read it with enthusiasm. The essay - for those interested - is an exhaustive and lengthy treatment of the larger (than SF) sociological issues that Sam previously addressed in #17 The Decline of Marriage and Those 17 Guys. The central premise/fact pattern argued is not novel but it is pretty much incontrovertible. The idea is 1) the enlarging demographic of young, well-to-do single women (because of falling marriage rates, etc.) together with 2) more progressive social mores regarding acceptable social behavior for women (because of Mary Wollstonecraft and Kim Kardashian) has created and forced us all to live in an effectively polygamous sex market (where a select few alpha males monopolize the females) and sure that seems to be the situation but WTANGISF editors want to emphasize that this brand of morose and conclusionary commentary (which btw probably includes the very narrow and self-indulgent perspectives of embittered Sam) for all its commitment to gloom and doom is incomplete. It's true in some sense but it's also just a small part of a pretty huge and inexorably complex social matrix. There's no reason to get TOO down or riled up about any of it.

    Take for example, the notion that marriage patterns and standards of femininity have changed. This is correct. And this may mean that "beta" males are not getting as much love as in the past (when conservative Christian values or whatever paired them up (perhaps without too much enthusiasm from the girls) with a wife). But the definition and role of the beta male is changing too. None of these evolutions mentioned in Allen's article (or by Sam) are happening in a vacuum. Movies like Knocked Up and the explosion of the digital media sector (which pays nerdy tech dudes a ton of money) are making the nerd somewhat powerful and somewhat chic and therefore somewhat alpha in a wierd way. So while conventional betas (the short, the average, the insecure) lose out under the new dating paradigm increasingly more and more betas are finding ways to be perceived as alpha (even though they aren't "actually" such (the concept of betas depends on them outnumbering alphas), they're just posing but the perception is all that matters).

    More generally, who the hell knows, perhaps serial polygamy (as modernly incarnated) isnt' so bad given all considerations. The WTANGISF editors are a pretty average set of blokes and as average set of blokes who don't exactly kill with the ladies we are pretty frustrated chumps in no small part because we live and labor under the expectation that we're supposed to, as a kind of American birthright or Capitalist edict, do our damnest to charm the pants off the ladies. But if everyone sort of comes to recognize that being a player in the modern era is soley the business of Tucker Max, Tony Romo and Tim Tebow then we betas can give up the pointless effort and concommitant frustration. We can focus on other cool sh*t in life. And, obversely, all women can stop pining for a husband and get used to (and happy about) being cougars. Everyone will adapt.

    The truth is that on balance maybe old-school marital monogamy for all its socio-economical advantages isn't that psychologically beneficial for individuals. Perhaps being married to a 5 who fantasizes about Rob Lowe and resents being stuck with you isn't so wonderful for anyone. Perhaps regular guys are happier being celibate surfers or cartoonists or whatever than emasculated office cubicle providers. Perhaps the old wifey is happier talking trash with other single friends over cosmos and getting nailed by Jose Canseco nine times a year. It's a different way of life sure but we don't know that it's a bad one.

  7. ^^ Fuck well said... there has yet to be any female columnist who can write an eloqent counter argument, other than: "we put up with the same bullshit as you guy do" that resonates on such a pure, rational, levelheaded way that EVERYONE can agree on.

  8. I believe this recent article in SFweekly was a feeble attempt at the female counterpoint.

  9. Sam, if you expect me (betas) to adapt to celibacy because today's liberated women are free to only be with alphas, that's some seriously fucked up shit. I've spent my whole upbringing and adult life training (nice, educated, professional) for a competition that I'm no longer invited to. Fuck.

  10. What is your problem? Why hate on yoga? Get a laxative...

  11. I think yoga is a great activity, i really love to practice exercise, i think this activity is the best option to keep our total welfare and it is very fun. When we exercise frequently we can notice a change not only in our shape but in our mood too. Actually we can improve our sexual performance. In some cases when the erectil dysfunction present like a problem to buy viagra is a great alternative, how ever you must to combine with exercises and a good food.

  12. Hi.. your writing makes it intimidating to respond to any since your opinions are so well-formed. But having a dialogue isn't the point here right... why argue otherwise.. It's not an open discussion.

    > The message of yoga is that you can find higher meaning and your best self by ignoring the a**holes around you. This is probably right but keep in mind, its practice probably means the end of your genetic line.

    Meditation -- at least in the Buddhist tradition, which I've practiced-- is about knowing where your breath goes between the computer chair and when you discover yourself standing. It's connecting yourself from the neck up to the rest of the body. To come into one's body, to embody fully, if you will. This needn't be so philosophical. If you really practice yoga or meditation then stop barking at the moon and get down to business.

    The body/breath is just the beginning of training your attention. The reason you get into poses is because most people aren't sensitive enough to even know whether they're inhaling or exhaling. When you're accustomed to bodily functions, this awareness helps you observe your attention more -- what you're thinking about, HOW you think (the structure of your thinking -- the thing that contain your thoughts), and how these create emotions or certain tone of thoughts in you. And how does this whole practice affect one's life? Because you're connecting to yourself. You're learning about yourself.

    It's as much about finding higher meaning as it is not. It's also about service, love, compassion. Feeling connected to yourself, and being able to say kind things to yourself as you do to others; to say one kind thing a day and not just being a poison spitting machine. Cause nobody likes cynical people (not that you are.. haha).

    Sorry if this has been a rehash. Why wouldn't you know.

    > .. for SFers to seek some elevated, totally abstract Truth. .. and you get brainwashed. You get enlightened. ...Failure is an illusion...

    It may be true for most people to seek certain truths based on abstract notions, especially people who tend to turn everything into conquests -- yet another thing to acquire -- but real spirituality is about being grounded.

    Failure... it's as much an illusion as it's not. Maybe you're just a guy sitting on your front porch, not some failure. It's simple, but people attach too much conditions to life.

    And enlightenment... you don't "_get_ enlightenment." Sorry to be judicious, on something that's remotely related to the point of this post, but the way you put it is so wrong.

    > ..despite what meditation mantras or motivational speakers say most decisions in life are not really within us. We aren't in control.

    Exactly that's what meditation is about -- you're not in control. I wonder where you got the view that you're the one in control. If anything, it's about complete surrender. For one, you are not in control of the body. You can _ask_ it to do things and perform wonders for you, but not control it. When you sleep, are you doing the breathing, or is the breathing done for you? When you walk, are you doing the walking, or are the legs walking you?

    It's like peace. You create conditions for it, but you can't control the outcome. Going after peace and no-pain is just unrealistic. Not that you need to hear any of this.

    Then again Eastern teachings are paradoxical.

    Good luck to the yoga classes. Should be plenty of women there. Ask them to demonstrate a pose or where they got the custom-printed yoga mat. Might work.