Essay: Channeling her “citizen yogi,” Swiss columnist Anna Lietti takes a couple of deep breaths before launching into a passionate defense of why yoga matters more than ever.
GENEVA - "Stand straight!" my elementary school teacher would shout, pursing her lips. "Find your verticality," my yoga teacher now whispers in her velvety voice. In both cases it's something about aligning the vertebrae. Yet these are two very, very different worlds.
Yes, I practice yoga – like so many people these days. But of course there are still some out there who find all of this funny, who laugh at the exotic Indian-inspired trend that has Western bohemian-bourgeoisie types folding like pretzels. As if a good old-fashioned gym wasn't cool enough anymore, they had to dip it in curry…
Others take up academic arguments to sock it to us yoga practitioners. Last week, in the weekly French news magazine Marianne, a sociologist explained that by helping people adapt to their social environment, yoga "deters individuals from taking reforming actions." The journalist drives the point: yoga favors "the flexibility of the body and the spirit, positive thinking and individual responsibility," all of which constitute the "mantras of ultra-liberalism."
Ouch! The citizen-yogi in me is still feeling the sting from that one. Give me a few minutes to calm myself. Let me breathe. Mmmmm… OK, much better.
Phys Ed. + Breathing
First, let me get back to this whole gym concept. In the schoolyard, the teacher made us do our exercises. Standing straight, we had to bend forward. Standing with our legs spread, we had to bend down to one side. And so on. Uttanasana, trikonasana, in short? Yeah, funnily enough, yoga resembles those good old physical education classes – but with more breathing. It's really the breathing that makes all the difference. It's like comparing Matisse's color paintings with his black-and-whites, if you know what I mean?
Speaking of breathing, give me a second to fill my lungs once again before turning my attention to that Marianne article. So, if yoga makes us more flexible, it would make us kneel more easily before the altar of productivism. The well-being that yoga provides us would actually make us lobotomized zombies, happy with the soft ultra-liberal gulags. In short, not the kind of yoga the "Occupy" protesters would want. Or so the argument goes.
Well, I'm not so sure about that. Have you noticed how tired those Occupy protestors look in the morning, crawling out of their tents after yet another night of sleeping on the ground? What could be better, to start on the right foot, than a nice elongating twist – or vakrasana. Do I need to dumb it down by reminding you that with low back pain, it is as difficult to bring about a revolution as it is to go to work? Unless, of course, you happen to be the one making others do that twist.
Well. I can see now what worries our friend, the sociologist. She fears that a radiant well-being might become our sole aspiration. That the only cause we fight for is having an impressive six-pack. That in the end, we might be left with mere substitutes for our dreams.
Here's what I have to say: Yes, after millennia of toothaches and superstitious bodily restraints, we've entered a new era of physical well-being. On the other hand, too many people today are only obsessed with having a flat stomach. But believing that one follows the other is claiming that well-being corrupts pure souls and that we need to go back to standing straight on wooden benches. Hatred of the body, my dear sociologist, is more Puritan than revolutionary.
All right, enough grumbling. Find your verticality. Just wait and see, it will help you go far -- on a horizontal plane.
Read the original article in French