Wednesday, June 13, 2012

I Hate Yoga

This is personal. Yes, I hate yoga. It's one of those things that I try to explain to people and somewhere in the process of doing so, I sputter with rage, at which point, the person listening usually stops in order to dismiss me as a nonsensical anti-inner peace doofus. So here goes my final attempt to clarify my position without the rage part.

First, yoga as a philosophy and yoga as we know it today are two very different things. The original yoga philosophy dates back millions of years ago with Buddhist monks in Nepal. It's the simplified notion known today as mind over matter, but its practice is much more complex and painful. The principle is that your mind and spirit should be able to overcome any and all outlying forces surrounding it, and through this practice, find inner peace outside of your physical self. This is the principle of walking over hot coals without feeling pain, staying warm in a snowstorm with no jacket, staying cold in sweltering heat with no shade. It's endurance. It's overcoming outside forces through inner strength and discipline. This philosophy accepts pain as a natural and powerful force and encourages pain to be a part of one's daily life.

This has absolutely nothing to do with stretching or pretending to be a tree. Stretching, breathing, tree-posing are all good for you in their own way. But they are not yoga. The yoga that we know today has been whittled down, simplified, and packaged as part of a lifestyle brand. This lifestyle brand doesn't come cheap; it requires expensive top of line ethical clothing, large expensive studios, and weekly commitments to classes, classes and more classes.

Yoga brands have managed to create a need in society. This need has been spurred on by the idea of our hectic lifestyles and how disconnected we are from ourselves and nature. This is a need that could be met by simply taking a walk outside with your cell phone turned off. It doesn't require studio space, an instructor, a fancy mat made of bamboo, $80 seaweed pants, soft music and organic tea. Finding the disconnect is a choice and it's a matter of not allowing society pressure you into thinking you need things you don't or that you need to live a life you don't want to live.

Perhaps the most ironic part of this is the fact that many yogies tend to believe that they are doing just that by taking up yoga: making a choice to disconnect and reconnect with their inner self. But by buying into the yoga lifestyle which has been marketed so well to the public, you are not living an alternative life, you are conforming to exactly what the brands want you to do. And it's a lucrative business. So lucrative, in fact, that yoga has celebrity endorsements and has been seen as a hallmark of an ideal, vibrant California cool lifestyle. And that's another source of my frustration with it.

This isn't to say that the quest for inner peace is silly or useless. This is just to say that the yoga brand is probably not the best vehicle for achieving it. If inner peace comes truly from within, turn everything off for a few hours and reflect quietly. You might be surprised at what comes to you. And it won't be seaweed pants.

The Rich Bitches of Metropolis

There is an explosion of reality tv shows based around the lives of the rich and notorious of the world. There are the famous for being famous ones, like the Kardashians. There are the ones that claim to be 'real' with titles like the Real Housewives of something or other, with their latest addition in Vancouver, Canada, much to the country's shame. Then there are the ones that cater to awful cultural stereotypes of the stinking rich like Shahs of Sunset.

Their common thread is that everyone in these shows are just awful. Petty, vapid, dim-witted and downright mean are just a few of their key characteristics. They ride in limos, wear obnoxious clothing, drink profusely and go to lavish events. For some viewers, it's a whole new world that they can only imagine, an occasion to take a peak behind the velvet rope. For others, they delight in the spectacle of Chardonnay throwing and verbal abuse slung out by mean-spirited and often drunk rivals.

Our fascination as a society with the rich is an enduring tradition which hasn't changed much since the days the plebes created farces of the rich in public theaters. It's also been thought that the rich were naturally different than everyone else, depending on which side of the Fitzgerald-Hemingway debate you're on. Fitzgerald: the rich are very different from you and I. Hemingway: yes. They have more money.

In North American culture, the rich represent an ideal, one which is thought to be accessible to all through hard work and smarts. This principle is quickly eroding in the face of inheritance, entitlement, celebrity for the sake of celebrity and the ever-increasing gap between the very rich and the very poor. There is a point in every civilization's history when the rich move away from being the top of the social pyramid which contributes largely to the whole of society to a parasitic, useless class which produces little and takes too much. This large gap is usually one of the first tipping points of the breakdown of civilization into decline.

So while the majority of us delight in seeing the rich auto-destruct on prime time television, we should be careful to consider what this actually means for our civilization. We think we're witnessing the top 1% eat each other; but they're taking us with them.

Art Lesson

There has been an outpouring of shock and rage over the burning of a $100,000 Birkin bag for the sake of 'art' by Tyler Shields and his girlfriend, Francesca Eastwood. If that last name sounds familiar, it's because Francesca is the daughter of Clint Eastwood, a well-known artist in his own right for having acted and directed in great films. Sadly, he has not made an effort to educate his own daughter on what makes art, or else she wouldn't have agreed to participate in such a silly venture.

The argument that is being used by her boyfriend artist is that material wealth is worthless and destructible and by destroying it himself, he is demonstrating this point to the masses. It's a sort of 'everything burns, nothing lasts' art philosophy that can be used, intelligently enough, to demonstrate our own mortality. The impermanence of people and things within the world, etc.

Here's the main problem with this artistic statement: it's not art to destroy. It's art to de-construct, it's art to re-configure, but it is not art to destroy things. In fact, the very premise of art is to create something, something out of nothing, that is indicative of skill, perception, reflection and often hard work. Art is supposed to teach us something about ourselves or serve as a mirror reflection of our society in a way that is subtle, disturbing or even skewed. Any idiot can light something on fire and burn it.

Assuming that Shields is a true artist and believes in his message, there are other ways to bring this point to the world. It's difficult, however, to believe anything he might want to say on this subject, considering that he is viewing it from a perch of unbelievable privilege. With a famous girlfriend and access to God knows how many riches, Shields is far from being an objective source of a rather simplistic message.

There is no originality in destruction of expensive things for the sake of art. There is no originality in the message that material wealth, like life, like beauty, is fleeting in this world. Shields could put his considerable resources towards something important in his self-development and his career. He could take that $100,000 and put himself through art school. He needs it.