This is part of a 28-Day Yoga Challenge to follow the guidelines of Mandy Ingber’s new book, Yogalosophy, before I review the book on the Where Is My Guru radio show on May 17th.
Have you ever seen the movie Strictly Ballroom? It’s the debut film of one of my favorite directors, Baz Luhrmann, who also directed Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge! I love his films because they are so unabashedly fun and over-the-top. Gorgeous costumes, fabulous soundtracks, swooning romance. I’m looking forward to seeing his new film, The Great Gatsby, soon. Having re-watched Strictly Ballroom last night, I realized there were some funny parallels between the film’s plot and my Yogalosophy prompts for yesterday and today. You see, the film’s protagonist, Scott, is a young Australian ballroom dancer desperate to dance his own “non-federation” steps. His inventiveness gets him in trouble with the ballroom dancing federation–they declare that there will be no “new steps” added to a big competition. Meanwhile, my Yogalosophy prompt for Day 22 involved the exact opposite. Yesterday’s theme was invention and the daily plan involved creating your own pose sequence. How cool is that? Very new steps. It got me thinking about some other serious issues that are relevant to my Yogalosophy project.
Paradoxically, the great and sometimes unfortunate thing about yoga is that there is no “federation approved” version of yoga. Carol Horton’s Yoga PhD is all about the incongruities of modern yoga culture. What do I mean by incongruities? People can invent all kinds of yoga, which makes the practice open and innovative in certain interesting ways, but also potentially contributes to some valid criticisms of yoga as too commercial, exploitative, or overly focused on the physical body or getting a “yoga butt,” rather than emotional growth. I feel rather torn about this issue. On one hand, I hate the idea that yoga could be used to make people feel bad about their bodies. That’s just wrong, in my opinion. Yoga should challenge you without tearing you apart or making you feel terrible. And God knows, we have enough of that in life off the mat.
But, perhaps paradoxically, I do support people using yoga as a tool, if it helps them to be healthier and stronger. That’s part of the reason I decided to do this project, truthfully. I thought it might make me healthier and stronger, without neglecting my emotional growth. Has it worked? I certainly feel physically more stable and stronger and I enjoy many of the benefits of daily exercise and many of the prompts and activities within the book. However, I’m still working on determining my personal boundary line for healthy eating behaviors and overly restrictive ones, post-project. How do I want to eat after Friday’s show? I don’t miss Diet Coke and French fries, honestly, but I do want to be able to go to restaurants without worrying about (cue ominous music) guerilla butter sneaking into my food.
So much of modern culture deals with food using moral language that it complicates eating, I think. In what other culture is there “Death by Chocolate Cake,” to cite one just example? I want to find some moderate middle-zone on diet that I can follow reasonably and avoid slipping into the “good vs. bad” thinking on food that permeates most of our culture, which is perhaps the most difficult challenge of all. For example, I’ve talked about overly restrictive behavior before in this post on orthorexia from last year. Is it smart to worry about additives in our food or eat more vegetables? I think the answer is a clear yes. But can a focus on “clean” food get a little obsessive? Again, a clear yes. It’s one of those incongruities I’ve yet to resolve personally. I am looking forward to a new book from Melanie Klein and Anna Guest-Jelley on yoga and body image next year. I’m hoping that will prompt a wider discussion of these issues in yoga culture. In the meantime, it’s my job to figure out what my new steps will be.