Well, as you may know, the residents of Yoga Land have been in high dudgeon over the past week about that William Broad article (adapted from his book, The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards, coming to a bookstore near you in February) published in the New York Times Magazine, "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body." Broad, a senior science writer at the Times, may just want to watch his back for awhile in his weekly asana class, if he has one, a class that is. Presently, among the members of the yoga teaching profession, and probably its camp followers too-the peddlers of books, videos, magazines, props and clothing, Hindu gewgaws, and exotic "retreats"-Broad is approximately as popular as an infectious disease.
Now if I'm writing a serious article on yoga injuries, and like Broad I'm not a teacher myself and have only an unspecified number of classes under my belt, I'd seek out and talk turkey with senior teachers and well-trained yoga therapists. That way I'd get a broad perspective, so to speak, on the subject and elicit some practical do's and don'ts that would help my readers avoid injuries and so wrecked bodies. But I'm not Broad and Broad's not me. Instead of boring us with a whole lot of detailed information, he took a different tack and interviewed a self-proclaimed hard-a** teacher who freely admitted pushing his students past reasonable limits and then, adding insult to injury, maintained that "'the vast majority of people'" should give up yoga altogether, because it's "simply too likely to cause harm." Hmmm, let's pause a moment to ponder on and appreciate the irony of the situation ... a teacher purposely throws his students to the lions, then extrapolates based on the consequences of his manhandling of this severely limited sampling that most everyone should give up yoga because people are forever getting hurt.
We can safely assume that not all the article's readers caught this subtle contradiction, and that many of them wondered if that tai chi class down the hall on yoga night still had any openings. Imagine too how this teacher's blanket condemnation sat with his colleagues: how you would feel if a seemingly experienced and presumably respected member of your profession opined, in the New York Times no less, that people should give up ___________________ (fill in the blank with your current job) because it's "likely to cause harm." I'm pretty sure that at least a few pros immediate reaction was, "Whoa, this guy's dissing my gig, and that could cost me money." Fortunately such a materialistically inclined response was hastily replaced in favor of the more metaphysical, "Om sat tat, namah shreck-iya, the shroud of the dark side has fallen, defend yoga we must." And so we did (including myself, within an hour of reading the article I had a rather crudely written retort ready for the PYS email list), from every kook and granny of Yoga Land the 2 cents worth came pouring in, until we had a tower of pennies that out-Babeled Babel.
But it wasn't until I stumbled on New York teacher Leslie Kaminoff's answer to the article that I realized what was going on. Kaminoff, who I don't know personally but who seems like a hip and savvy mensch, pointed out that the article went to extremes not because it was trying to altruistically help students avoid injury, but because IT WAS TRYING TO GET OUR ATTENTION IN ORDER TO SELL BOOKS. That transported me back to the brouhaha that erupted over an ad in Yoga Journal last year, placed by a company selling toe socks. Toe socks are, obviously, on the low end of the excitement spectrum, and moreover their practicality as a replacement for a sticky mat is at best questionable. So to jazz things up and provide incontrovertible evidence of their product's not inconsequential value, the toe socks manufacturer decided, not without some precedent, that the smart thing to do would be to photograph their product adorning the feet of an otherwise completely naked woman, who coincidentally was also extremely attractive. Now I hasten to add that in keeping with the theme of the magazine, the jaybird was posed in an asana (known as eka hasta bhujasana, though if you ask me, the point of the ad would have been driven home more forcefully had she been posed in tittibhasana) in a way that strategically covered the, ahem, private parts but still left enough skin showing to turn the heads of the readership (or perhaps in this case the ogle-ship) in one direction or the other (oddly, both of the birthday suited girl's feet were off the floor, no doubt to better display the toe socks but not exactly demonstrative of their purpose). A risky campaign, yes, but it worked like charm, which is to say, the ad-and so by default the toe socks-got noticed. And how. Since most students nowadays are middle to upper-middle class females, who are both well educated and for the most part extremely sensitive about the merest hint of sexist exploitation, the ad reaped a whirlwind of heated responses from outraged yoginis. I don't know for sure if the sale of toe socks increased or, um, fell flat after this ad appeared, but I think we can assume some good came of it for toe socks stock, since just this last weekend I happened upon and glanced at a monster-sized version of the picture at the YJ conference in San Francisco, my interest in the model entirely professional (her left foot was slightly pronated), before I was distracted by the neighboring organic peanut butter booth.
Anyway, Kaminoff suggested that an article on the many benefits of yoga would be greeted with yawns, since by now such information is old hat. But, he continued, put the weekly yoga class on par with, say, an unpadded NFL running back going up against the 49er defense, and you've got something that will pull readers in. So, who's going to check out the book to see if the article was taken out of context? Anyone?
DO YOU BELIEVE IN KARMA?
I sort of do after what just happened around the PYS. Last month in my newsletter I did a hatchet job on the Yoga Sutra, including questioning whether its compiler, Patanjali, even existed. Now someone has walked off with the Patanjali statue that's been sitting for the past few years on the table underneath the mirror in the ground floor waiting area. That statue was a gift to me from my good friend and mentor Georg Feuerstein, and it was always in the back of my mind that putting out in the open unguarded like that was asking for trouble. But if Patanjali never existed, you ask, why do I care if the statue's gone? Boy, you don't have to be so literal about it ... OK, it's not a statue of Patanjali, but the spirit of a historically important age in the evolution of yoga, when the ancient oral tradition of the Veda was coming to a close, and a new fangled way of preserving the teachings, called writing, appeared. Besides, I liked it that the figure was half human and half serpent. To be honest, the statue survived much longer than I expected, not that I believed any PYS student would lift it. I always anticipated it would end up accompanying one of our transient street persons, who like to drop by the foyer for a nap, out the door, bound for some fate I can't even begin to imagine. Svasti, Pat, via con Brahman.