Twisted Positions (in yoga and politics)

Ruth: Yesterday, in the middle of a downward dog, I was thinking of how much I’d like to have a cigarette.

This kind of thing happens to me all the time.  I often have impure thoughts right in the middle of a yoga class.

I sneakily look around to see if anybody can do the splits better than I can — even though we’re not supposed to be competitive in yoga, since everyone’s body is perfect the way it is.  Or I find myself infuriated at the occasional yogi who evidently doesn’t realize that the body might be beautiful (debatable), but body odor is not.  Especially that guy in my former yoga class who used to plant himself in front of a fan so his b.o. wafted over the entire class.

That’s always been my dilemma in yoga.  I love it and can’t live without it and it drives me crazy.

I listen to the teacher give us insights about life and half the time I think, oh, wow, how inspired!  How, like, true!  The other half the time, it occurs to me I’m hearing the biggest crock of mass self-indulgence and delusion since the latest “How to be Popular” book explained the essence of teenage popularity is to be yourself.  (We all know how well that went.)

“I feel sorry for the hijackers” — that’s what several of my yoga teachers opined continually in the wake of 9/11.  “They were in a really bad place — or they wouldn’t have done something like that.  You’ve got to feel sorry for them.”

No, I did not.  I wanted them all to burn in hell.  This wasn’t an appropriate karmic view of the world — but at least it was heartfelt.  Since then, I’ve continued my conflicted practice of yoga, conducting secret arguments with the teacher’s wisdom du jour.

“Some people think doing yoga is selfish,” one teacher used to say.  “But it’s not.  You’re making the world a better place when you do yoga.  You’re doing something for other people, just by being here.”

My eyes start to cross when I hear self-aggrandizing comments like that.  I come to yoga because it makes me feel better.  I don’t feel guilty about it, but I also don’t kid myself that I’m benefiting humanity every time I manage to twist my legs into full lotus (and glance around the room to see who else can do it).  The world continues on its perilous path, but I’m feeling a little bit better.

But don’t listen to me.  I’m the total yogi failure whose blood sugar plummeted so alarmingly at the Texas Book Festival that she found herself having a close personal relationship with a corny dog.

Even more tortured, I’m the voter who can’t wait till the 2008 election so we can throw the bums out.  But I still can’t figure out why, exactly, I dislike Hillary Clinton so much.  I mean, I’ll vote for her if I have to.  But I don’t like her.

More than anything, I’m desperate to see something real in all these carefully programmed campaigners, something honest and off-message.  (Which you can see occasional glimpses of with John McCain; I respect him, but disagree with most of his stands.  Personal respect won’t gain my vote when we’re talking about the rightward plummet of the Supreme Court or the future of U.S. involvement in the Middle East.)

But the sad lack of spontaneity in these campaigns is driving me nuts.  The one time I felt I saw anything real in Hillary Clinton was her flash of anger and wit when she said something to the effect that she was experienced at dealing with difficult, dangerous men.  Just that instant — of anger, emotion, life, animation — then it was gone.

I also know we’ve done it to ourselves.  Viewing political campaigns has devolved into a hunt for gotcha moments — like that jerk George Allen’s macaca slip or Howard Dean’s scream or Clinton’s laughter episodes.  None of them can take the chance of uttering anything unscripted any longer — especially in a campaign that started too early and will likely go on forever.

Ultimately, I was about to say, we get the leaders we deserve.  That sounds karmic enough — but is it true?  I don’t think so.  I think we deserve far better than this cadre of robots driven by polls and focus groups.  But, come a year from now, we’re not going to get anything better, are we?

That’s why some of us continue to do yoga, which is fine.  Just don’t tell me we’re making the world a better place by doing yoga.  Because we’re not.

(Copyright 2007 by Ruth Pennebaker)

3 comments… add one
  • “Be the change that you want to see in the world”Mahatma Gandhi

    I think he was talking about the philosophy and essence of yoga. At first I thought it was just a physical exercise and that it didn’t have anything to do with making the world a better place, but then the spirituality creeped in of its own volition. And I see a little more clearly how the practice of yoga helps make the world a better place.
    I am getting little glimpses of how practicing the eight limbs of yoga are so integral to life and how making yourself a better person makes a better world.
    Keep practicing!!!
    I wish you peace, love and laughter

  • msue Link

    This title in the archives caught my eye. As a late-to-the-party yoga student and hard-to-believe-but-is-true yoga teacher, I have had similar thoughts while listening to my teacher’s instructions on the secret messages my body has declared. An uncooperative little finger (or legs, arms, whatever) reveals what about my inner thoughts?? I adore my teacher, but view the world differently. How about doing yoga because it feels good, and because it makes moving my body easier? I love what yoga has given me, and as a yoga teacher what I can share with others. Figuring out that I wasn’t the only empiricist in the room helped a lot.

    p.s. Full lotus? Impressive!

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