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**).