I have a confession to make.
I do yoga. Been doing it for a couple of years. Love it. It’s changed my life and made me younger (not that I’m that old to begin with, but it’s nice to feel younger.)
There are many advantages to doing yoga: You’re not beholden to monthly gym fees, you can choose to practice (you call it practicing) at home, you don’t even have to buy a mat if you have a carpet that your hands can grip, you learn to put your mind at peace, and you get asscheeks of steel.
I first learned yoga from doing P90X, a set of fitness routines by Tony Horton. In the middle of all the push-ups and pull-ups, the lunging and kicking, I finally decided to do the YogaX routine that he’d put together. “YogaX will work your weak spots,” he orates into the camera at the beginning. “A lot of people are going to say, ‘Man, I don’t want to do no yoga. It’s weird and it’s creepy and they do these crazy Oms at the end.’ Just expand your mind and do something new. I can do things at the age of forty-five not because I do pull-ups…. it’s because I do yoga.” Here he performs a remarkable alpha-male, infomercial nod, and then the routine starts.
An hour and a half later I was drenched in swear and moaning like a sick baby. I was sore for four days. Clearly, yoga was something I needed to explore.
So I bought some more DVD’s, looked up all sorts of routines and master teachers on youtube, (such as David Swenson and Mary Villella). I practiced and practiced, got lean and toned, and noticed my stride becoming longer and my running becoming much easier. I was able to look behind myself without shifting on my heels.
Yoga means ‘Union.’ All the poses are generally described by their Sanskrit terms: Dandasana, Uttanasana, Pavritta parshvakonasana (the side-angle pose, a great pose for toning the legs and stretching the back and hips). You start with the Sun Salutations (Suriya Namaskara), which are basically glorified burpees, and then move into the standing poses: lunges, twists, side-stretches, all while doing Ujjayi breath (which is essentially breathing through your nose, while constricting your throat as if you were whispering). Immense heat builds in your body as the breath generates friction: Just try it… breath in deeply, constrict your throat as if you were about to whisper, and then expel that breath through that slightly smaller space in your throat. You will immediately feel slightly warmer. Now do it for an hour and while stretching and working every muscle in your body. You finish with stretching and some relaxation poses, then finally the corpse pose (during which you breath and sometimes nap). This was all great. Then I went to a yoga class.
This was a huge awakening. As I was male, I was immediately asked: “Have you ever done yoga before?” This was said with an easy and somewhat pitying smile. A lot of yoga teachers do this; I call it the look of Affectionate Disdain.
“Sure,” I said. “I’ve done Tony Horton’s routine a lot. It’s got a killer abs section.”
“Ooh,” said the teacher, and again did that same smile with which I was yet to become familiar. “Killer.”
So here I am, a large, somewhat hirsute male, in a room full of women who are bending over in my face. I’m desperate to: (a) look like I know what I’m doing, (b) try not to look at these behinds, some of which I would swear are winking at me as they go into Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Yoga makes my body younger and slimmer, but yoga makes women’s bodies beautiful. It tones the glute muscles but also the stabilizer muscles around the hips, and the result is an incredibly well-rounded butt. It targets the shoulders, the back, the obliques. Pretty much everything. Watch kids in a playground – they way they wrestle, crawl about the ground, haul themselves up ladders. Yoga works and stretches the body in the same way.
After I went a few times, I got used to it and they got used to me. I didn’t leer, although in my head I had but no choice to acknowledge the beauty around me (and much of yoga’s philosophy is about acknowledgement of all kinds).
My favorite teacher, a forty-something woman with the physique of a young gymnast, has a little saying she uses at the end of each class. “The Light in me acknowledges the Light in you.” This is nice, and it works because it is pleasant without being overly cloy and invasive.
I’ve taken a few more classes, learned some new things, and now I’ve become aware of yoga and how it’s changed since coming to North American shores. Lululemon (I’ve got Lululemon mats, shorts, shirts, and even underwear. Everyone’s got at least one pair of the famous tights with the built-in sash), karma payment for classes, psychedelic mats, Baptiste style, Anusara style, Mysore style. It’s become a way of life, but not in the way of the very devout and serious religious yogis in India; yoga in North America has become about Om tramp-stamps, designer metal water-bottles, footwear, Toms shoes. Woman want the ‘coveted yoga body,’ which I can understand; I really do. Like everything we North Americans have appropriated, we’ve taken yoga, mined it, melted and sculpted it, and turned it into a lifestyle product. Because the only thing we North Americans can’t control is life, so we’ve turned to LifeStyle. Yoga, now a union between longevity, youthfullness, beauty, and earnestness, is the perfect lifestyle product.
Of the many debates in the yoga community (for adherents of a philosophy about union, yogis and yoginis like to argue a lot), the latest is the ad for Equinox gyms, a high-concept, upper-class chain that has released a youtube ad that features yoga.
A yogini by the name of Briohny Smyth (She’s also a big music star in Thailand) does yoga in a Manhattan penthouse as her lover sleeps in bed. She’s dressed in lingerie, and the wind is rushing in and blowing about the curtains. Her body is… amazing. What I said about what yoga does to women’s bodies is very much in evidence here. Her yoga is more advanced than most people practicing on this planet. See for yourself and try to keep your jaw from dropping to the floor.
Calm and collected again? Right, let’s talk about this.
There’s been a little friction among other yoga practitioners about this ad: they say it’s gratuitous, that it commodifies yoga into a product that is about profit and sex. Gratuitous? I looked that word up (you should look up all over-used words), and it didn’t really fit the definition. Is it about profit and sex? Well, since most men watching the ad are dreaming about getting their paws on Briohny Smith, and most women want to get a body like hers so men will want them as much as they want her, then hell, yes, it’s about sex. That’s not a bad thing. Profit? Well, Equinox has to sell gym memberships.
Here’s the problem I have. You need to see the same teacher for years on end, and you need to practice at home a lot; every day, in face. Briohny Smith may have made a trip to the Pune Institute in India, where yoga drill sergeants make sure you do it right or you have to clean the temple with a toothbrush. The ad by Equinox Gyms make you want to do yoga, lust after a devout practitioner of yoga as well as a penthouse apartment in Manhattan with a sexy bedroom, but nowhere in that ad is anything that might persuade you to buy gym memberships. Equinox tried a concept, and did it beautifully, but they did not connect that concept to a product. So this ad is a fail.