The Yoga/Hipster Problem • 22 October 2007

Dear Frustrated Young Men,

I understand what you are saying, guys. You’re getting hooked up on with apparently normal females who ten minutes into dinner explain they “can’t have” the bread-oleo because of a gluten intolerance recently revealed by their “amazing,” ayurveda-savvy acupuncturists. And then it’s off into their narrative of the post-grad self-discovery of “the breath” and “being in the moment,” and, oh, incidentally, getting really svelte and maybe, just slightly, more compulsive. (And, by the way, have you read Autobiography of a Yogi? It’s amazing.)

And it’s really all so vain and boring that thank god you can busy yourself on her half of the bread basket. You go home to your equally player roommates and discuss how the whole thing is nothing but a vanity practice for girls approaching 30 and determined to keep their whispiness.

Ok, great. But does whispiness really have to bring all this new cultural baggage? Lapses into darth-vader breathing in moments of intensity. Extreme experimentation with the diet—periods of veganism, rawfoodism, gluten-free-ism, non-alcohol-ism, non-sugar-ism. Disdain for soda. Loss of interest in rock music. Piles of CDs by old white guys named something-“Dass.” Classes in dead languages. Devotion to one’s “teacher.” New levels of credulity in astrology, moon cycles, and something called “doshas.”

I understand the worst thing is that the yoga enthusiast’s interest in her own body is endless. There can be no surfeit of acupuncture, massage, cleansing, rolfing, reiki, vipassana and anything else that involves lying motionless doing nothing. There is even a sense that changes in bowel movements mean something. And somehow, with all this self-monitoring and bank-breaking self-care and “healing,” they still need periodic “retreats,” “cleansings,” “renewals.” How can you be renewed from a life of incessant renewal?

With all life events manifestifesting in body as shoulder tension, tight hips or headache, and this Scientologic obsession on getting “clear” of these manifestations, is there no sense that an extreme mind-body connection can be really unproductive? Can’t these people just get over themselves sometimes and use their brains exclusively, regardless of whether this makes their asses sore?

And then there is the real trouble. Because where did they get the idea to run around town in frumpy fold-top cotton-poly pants and strappy little tanks emblazoned with “Be Present”? What happened to skinny jeans? And let’s not even start in on the “esoteric” dead-language tattoos on the small of the back (which they call “the sacrum”). And why in god’s name are their shoulders getting so sinewy?

I know, guys. The whole incorporation of the trappings of yoga into legitimate popular culture is openly hypocritical and just bad style.

It just makes you want to drink PBR and read Bukowski. (I mean Maker’s Mark and John Fahey—Bukowski is so 2005.) And in the meantime you want me to explain why any of this has to happen.

I’m working up a way to make it easier to cope with the yoga/hipster rapproachment, but I don’t have much to help you yet. The yoga thing is so experience-based that manifestoes don’t capture it. But I’ll get back to you on this.

In the meantime, you could try making friends with the inevitable. I’m not saying examine yourself to find the roots of the conflict or anything crazy like that, but just while I’m thinking about this, I would recommend taking a class. Forget about all the places with an ad in your local weekly. Don’t get anywhere near anything calling itself anusara yoga. Systematically avoid free events at the store called “Lululemon.”

Rather, ashtanga yoga is really your only option because of its high level of aesthetic tolerability. Ironically, to avoid the soft edges, bad pants, and branding that makes you cringe, you’re going to want more tradition, less popularization. So I recommend you take an ashtanga class. Notice the men (triceps? Interesting concept); notice (if I may) your breath; notice the pleasant soreness in your spine afterwards. Repeat that each day for one month and if you still wish you could purge all the trappings of yoga from popular culture, then, while I am still thinking this over, my next suggestion will be that you read Autobiography of a Yogi.