First published in SMH in February 26 2003
Don’t look now but the faddists have claimed yoga. And Julie Ihle wants them to push off to their next phase – soon, please.
There once was a time when, if people wanted to do a physical activity without having to do any actual exercise, they took up yoga. However, in the past few years yoga has undergone a massive revolution. No longer the domain of ex-hippies or people who can’t jog, it has now reached the height of cool.
There’s hardly a celebrity around who hasn’t employed a guru to advise them on yogic awareness. And there’s hardly a trendite in Sydney who isn’t seen wandering around the eastern suburbs on Saturdays with a blue mat tucked under one arm and wearing an outfit that screams: “Look at me! I’m on the way to yoga class.”
Out in the suburbs you will find both yoga and enlightenment sold at Kmart, which is doing a great line in purple yoga kits and snappy Zen outfits.
The yoga classes themselves have moved out of the church hall to cafes, gyms and the beach. It’s on the telly, if you can be bothered getting up at 6am just to give your groin a workout, and it’s even gone corporate. A lot of city offices offer lunchtime yoga but it’s really not a good idea unless you can stomach the humiliation of seeing your boss do the lotus position better than you.
But the latest craze is Bikram yoga. Bikram is a type of yoga that involves heating the room to a sauna-level temperature and then embarking on a very fast set of yoga postures, leaving everyone feeling as though they’ve completed 12 cycles in the dryer. Because Bikram yoga involves pain and suffering at overly high temperatures, followed by feeling like death, quite a few people regard it as a religious experience. As they leave the class dripping puddles of sweat it is as though they’ve been absolved from guilt for another week.
But not only has the previously gentle yoga class changed, so have the participants. The power yoga obsessives have taken over. These people are not hard to spot. They come dressed in a matching minimalist retro tracksuit and T-shirt ensemble, they take huge quantities of bottled water with them to class to replace the sweat and they launch themselves into the postures as if it’s some kind of televised game of yoga Survivor. And at the end of class they can be seen talking in hushed, reverent tones to the teacher about breakthrough poses and home practice.
But these power yoga obsessives are making life hell for the original yoga participants. We originals have quietly supported yoga over the years. Because of these power yoga obsessives we are now feeling totally inadequate and finding it hard to keep up, even with bottled water and overpriced trakky daks (and you can forget the home practice). They are driving us out of our gentle, giggly yoga class, but the really annoying thing is that these people won’t last. Not content with having ruined the whole point of yoga – which is to do zero exercise but feel good anyway – as soon as the next fad hits they’ll be off sooner than you can say breathe out.
These people must be stopped. Whatever it takes – a new fad or something to turn them away from yoga – must be found. Maybe calling poses by their English translations would help. The scary-sounding corpse pose doesn’t sound as good as savasana,
and the plain and simple forward bend sounds much more exciting when it’s a 17-syllable Sanskrit expression. Maybe jazzercise is due for a rerun, with all those cute pink leg-warmers and sweat bands – the yoga obsessives would really go for that – or maybe it’s time for spinning to whirl back. Or perhaps if Gwyneth and Madonna stopped going on and on about yoga being their journey to spiritual and emotional wealth, then people would get the hint.
Maybe one day yoga will be alternative, weird and (most importantly) easy again, and it will be filled with people who don’t want to do any actual exercise but just stand around in a circle giggling at their own incompetence, followed by a spot of relaxation. Maybe the yoga junkies will find some other ancient practice to destroy. But in the meantime, the only hope of keeping up with the rest of the class is to add some vodka to the water bottle – it may not be exactly what the ancient mountaintop swamis had in mind but these days it’s the only way to float through a Sydney yoga class.