I am actually on vacation in Australia for the next week, so I've decided to run a few old Ottawa Sun columns. Forgive, I may have been going through a bit of a Sex and the City phase in some of them. I also seem to have been obsessed with cancer.
YOGA BENDING OUT OF CONTROL
June 6, 2004
Whenever I see a picture of a yoga-loving celebrity like Gwyneth Paltrow or Madonna toting their little rubber mat on the way to or from class, I can't help but think about the, um, farting.
You see, no one ever talks about how the vigorous yoga poses they do can bring on sudden bouts of flatulence. I've heard it with my own ears. Last year, I participated in a power yoga class in which the teacher softly chanted "let it go, let it go, le-" when a nearby male student let a loud one rip.
A male friend once witnessed a wiry female yoga devotee fire off two large, explosive farts in succession -- "If I was sitting at home alone, I would have been embarrassed," he said -- only to inform the teacher after class that she'd found the music distracting.
Going to a yoga studio these days -- you won't have to search far, they're popping up in just about every neighbourhood -- is like entering another world. For all the benefits yoga enthusiasts trumpet about their practice -- inner peace, a toned bod, better focus, increased flexibility, longer life -- the world of yoga is more than a little out of control. And not just because it's the only place where it's perfectly acceptable to break wind in a crowded room.
An ancient practice of physical exercise and breathing control has morphed into the exercise of the mostly well-to-do. At more than $10 a class, it's an expensive option.
People who do yoga are rarely fat and often quite hot, outfitting themselves in pricey, colour-co-ordinated ensembles, sporting trendy, lower-back sundial tattoos as they sip restorative containers of Emergen-C.
Students are reminded to try to clear the "clutter" from their minds and stay "present." Yoga teachers say things like "if you aren't able to stretch very far today, that's okay, use what's available to you."
I try to imagine saying "it wasn't available to me" when an editor asks for my overdue copy or the landlord asks for his rent.
One might think people who do yoga are the most patient bosses, generous and understanding co-workers and thoughtful friends. But I'm suspicious. A pal is fond of telling me about the time he spotted a man we believed to be a spirited, serene yoga studio owner in Starbucks. The man may have been wearing hemp, but he was also chugging coffee and snapping at his wife.
During popular sessions like Bikram or power, I've had a teacher drip sweat on me, found my face inches from someone else's nasty toenails, grown testy with a student going overboard on his "pranayama" breathing and been flabbergasted at having to work out inches from of a hairy man wearing nothing but a purple Speedo.
Maria Jensen, a Los Angeles playwright, made so many observations about yoga she penned a topical satire about it, Yogi A Go-Go, which is running at the Santa Monica Playhouse until June 20.
After practising yoga in the celebrity-obsessed town for eight years, Jensen has seen it all, including an impatient SUV driver who started riding her bumper blocks from the studio, squealing ahead, cutting her off, stealing her parking spot and bolting up the stairs, only to next be seen quietly sitting Zen-like inside the studio, waiting for yoga class to start.
Jensen points to the irony of a bleached-blonde with breast implants doing yoga, only to later puff on a cigarette over a steaming mug of cleansing white tea. And then there is the male teacher-as-guru, who seems to prefer adjusting the better-looking, fitter female students in the front row over the less-practised in the back.
Somewhere along the way Jensen started wondering, as I often have, if all this introspection and serenity-searching can be good for us. If yoga has become a way of escaping, of turning inward, rather than doing the hard work of engaging in society.
"Is it enough to just go to yoga and say 'well, I feel good, and that's all that matters?' " Jensen asks.
Jensen's play, promoted with flyers featuring a cool smoking Buddha flashing a peace sign, has been well-received by West Coast yoga enthusiasts who, for the most part, have been surprisingly willing to laugh at themselves. She's even thinking of bringing the show to cities like New York and Toronto.
Meanwhile, I'll be here, poking fun at yoga from the back row and giggling as I ponder whether Gwyneth and Madonna ever accidentally cut the cheese while sculpting those unbelievable bodies.
I can't sell the benefits of yoga enough, but hey, let's remember all the flat abs and meditation in the world don't mean much if you can't laugh, be kind and refrain from wearing purple Speedos.
Update: People doing yoga in Abu Dhabi are just as annoying. So far I have not witnessed anyone breaking wind; just a bunch of really over-the-top pranayama breathing.