Jun. 7th, 2012 08:46 pm
philena: (Default)
[personal profile] philena
When I told my mother that I had signed up for a yoga class, she was unimpressed. "I went to a yoga class once," she said, "and I found it awfully boring." Well, I've been going to a yoga class for an hour and a half a day, four times a week, for three weeks now, and I'm taking a break from lecture planning to share my opinions of my class.

I mentioned a few entries that I was a bit concerned at the course description, which suggested I'd be getting quite a bit of weirdo wacky Eastern-inspired-with-Western-sciencism mumbo-jumbo. As it turns out, I got exactly that. It was just as bad as I thought it might be, and the constant exposure to it is getting awfully grating, because listening to an hour and a half every day of constant reminders about how to be a better gardener in my life and pull weeds in my metaphorical garden before they can grow too big, and to live mindfully and beware of hypocrisy-- it's really just too silly to take seriously, and it gets continually worse upon repetition. (I've really grown to despise the gardener metaphor, perhaps in part because I associate it first and foremost with that last line of Candid, and I think the tenets of yoga really do not have much in common with Voltaire.) However, that kind of thing is harmless in itself. I find it tiresome, but it's just silly. It's not actively offensive. The offensive stuff that the yoga teacher says is outlined below:

  • We usually start every day with her reciting her own paraphrase of something Gandhi reportedly said. I don't know how close his actual quote was to her paraphrase of it, but what she says goes like this: "Keep your beliefs positive, because your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions becomes your something, your something becomes your something else, and your something else becomes your destiny." And on the first day she told us that this was a warning against hypocrisy (although honestly, it seems that it's saying hypocrisy is impossible, because if you think something you'll eventually act it out for real (which seals your destiny)), because hypocrisy is bad. Okay, fair enough. But then suddenly: Like politicians! They keep saying they'll do all these great things if they're elected, and then as soon as they're in office it's all expensive haircuts and power lunches and nothing ever changes. It doesn't matter whether they're a Democrat or a Republican, liberal or conservative: a politician is a politician is a politician. Really, I think an exceptionless screed against all members of a population has no place in a college setting, and it certainly shouldn't have any place in an environment where the driving message is about finding balance in your life.

  • And about finding balance in life: did you know that our bodies are designed with balance in mind? We keep our balance both by using our eyes and by using our inner ears and by using our "kinesthetic sense" (which I think is just a fancy word for the ability to use our inner ears, but the teacher talked about it as if it were something different), so that if one thing goes bad, the others can compensate. So we should be able to do this when we're doing one-leg poses, or eyes-closed poses: compensate with our other leg, compensate with our other senses, and keep our balance. Okay, so far so good. I see the point. But then: Our bodies are all about balance. We have two eyes, two ears, two legs, two arms. We only have one heart, true, but the heart has four chambers! Really? Four chambers? So if my left ventricle decides to stop working, that's okay, because I have three other chambers to take over for it? I don't think that's how the heart works.

  • About visualizing the poses before we do them: the goal is to know exactly what we want our bodies to do before we start doing it, so we have a clear plan in mind. This is something that athletes do, that performers do, that you yourself do when you are preparing for a job interview or big presentation. Visualization is extremely important and has a real effect on the workings of your body. And I totally agree with that--there's some really interesting neurological research showing that the same neurons are activated both by thinking about an action and by performing the action. But that's not what she said next. You know what she said next? In fact, cancer patients, by visualizing their bodies as getting better, can affect the cells of their bodies. They can get better. It's been clinically proven. Really? Because in quite a fair bit of Google-scholaring, I found no evidence of clinical proof that psychological behavior affects clinical outcome of cancer patients, and quite a lot of citations that look like this:

    There is insufficient evidence to advocate that group psychological therapies (either cognitive behavioural or supportive-expressive) should be made available to all women diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Any benefits of the interventions are only evident for some of the psychological outcomes and in the short term. The possibility of the interventions causing harm is not ruled out by the available data.

    Edwards AGK, Hulbert-Williams N, Neal RD. Psychological interventions for women with metastatic breast cancer. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2008, Issue 3.

HOWEVER. The physical side of things is remarkable. Our instructor is very, very good at demonstrating the poses, at proving that in fact it is not impossible to do this, that even though it hurts it will eventually be possible--see? Like this! She is incredibly strong and very dedicated to yoga, and I certainly do feel as if I'm getting the "real thing." It's not a standard work-out disguised as this trendy fad. It is a genuine instantiation of what yoga is to the real yoga-doers, and that's been educational. I think it's silly, but at least I know what it actually is.

Unfortunately, I rather wish this class really were fake yoga--just a normal work-out with some yoga-inspired exercises. Because although I scorn the philosophy, I love the physical effects, and I'd like to keep doing it if only I could escape the mumbo-jumbo. I feel much, much stronger than I did before I started. I thought the class was a terrific work-out during the first week, and would leave me gasping and literally dripping with sweat. And this week I felt much less of that. I don't think the class has gotten easier, but after only three weeks I'm now strong enough to hold the poses without as much discomfort as before. And I'm learning balance--not necessarily mindful-living-balance-in-life balance, but I'm pretty good at physical-not-falling-over balance. And I give you the following picture as proof. I can hold this pose for a good 10-15 seconds.

(For those of you who are interested, the pose is called "bakasana," or the crow pose, but I don't recommend googling it. Apparently it is a Thing with yoga to do the poses naked, so a google image search for various names of poses will turn up fairly startling images taken from fairly startling angles. )

So, to summarize: yoga good physically, awfully silly philosophically, but inoffensive, unless you start trying to connect it to Western science and culture, which, alas, my instructor has decided to do, and then it just becomes absurd.

Okay, that is all. Back to lecture-planning!

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