If we can eat pizza and sushi at a ballgame. If we can serve “French” fries with every one of our traditional meals. If we can celebrate English Puritans’ new life in a new world by eating like maniacs. If we can celebrate the birth of a Jewish carpenter we believe to be the son of God by showering each other with gifts. If we can celebrate that same carpenter’s death and resurrection by believing in an imaginary rabbit that hides colored eggs. If we can, be American, we can do yoga as a country.
It’s painfully true that most “American” customs have little roots here. My problem is that it doesn’t matter where our customs came from, whether one is discussing Christmas trees or Valentine’s candy, we only keep and practice the ones that have to do with indulgence. One nemesis of mine, caffeine, a highly addictive and controlling drug that currently has our country by the short hairs, is mostly consumed because it helps people do things they’d rather not do on little or no sleep and energy. So many people are dependent on it that these days, coffee brands have oil money, and energy drinks sell the way soda used to. We can harm our selves without regard, and that ability is what sets us apart from other countries.
We’re also macho, which leads me to a custom that is all ours-gym vanity. Yeah, it seems that throughout history, people have strength-trained, used their body weight to be stronger and fitter, done all types of stretching and balance movements, but gyms as we know them are a new element in our lineage. They’re places that are much less about helping people lose weight than they are about making gym owners money and feeding this need for communal superficiality that so many Americans have. Basically, they’re expensive indoor beaches with mats and weights instead of sand and water. The gym is what’s created the backwards connection people have between weights and fitness. The gym is the reason personal training in our country doesn’t work. The gym is the reason that the fitness industry is one thousand parts vanity and one part health. And we love gyms, because we think that helping yourself look good is loving yourself.
Helping yourself be better is loving yourself. Yoga helps you be better. The three most beautiful things I’ve experienced in my life are newspapers, the World Series, and yoga. Still, yoga is the only one I can share. Yoga is the only thing I’ve ever done that I’ve seen it heal things internally. I had scoliosis before I started practicing yoga, and I was an inch shorter and sixty pounds heavier. My bench press and squat numbers were better then. Now I can carry groceries longer, or hold a heavy child all day, or do laundry without a car. I’m ‘country strong’ now, it’s all useful. God forbid someone ever wants to fight me, I’ve got the determination and strength to kill anything that comes at me. I’ll be focused on it too. I haven’t been one for any sort of intoxication since I started practicing yoga, so in any contest, chess, tennis, scrabble, I’m sharp. And cool. Yoga’s melted away my temper, so today, I’ll walk away from that fight, and I’ll never be the one to start one. I react less, and I’m proactive more, and all the while, my body just asks me for more yoga.
Not simply because I do it, or because its effective, or because it can make positive mental shifts for you, do I think that all of America should step onto a yoga mat. I really think it should be our principle form of exercise for three reasons:
First, anyone can do it. There is yoga for the young, old, sick, and healthy. There is yoga that helps you get better at sex and yoga that helps you fight addiction. There is yoga for beginners and the advanced. There is yoga that both beginners and advanced practitioners do together. There is yoga for people scared of yoga, and there are yoga competitions where people watch other people do yoga.
Second, we can’t truly identify its religious roots. We think it has Hindi roots and we know it contains so many elements of ancient Indian culture, but by now, we’ve stripped it of that. Those who maintain many old-world elements have already branded their yoga, some by branding the system of postures and some by labeling it with their name. Here, and everywhere else, we are free to explore yoga postures and yogic movements at our discretion and exercise gurus and companies have watered it down here. Accomplishing a yoga program every day takes a level of focus and dedication that’s missing in America. If we all treated yoga like a necessary daily activity we’d all understand that focus and dedication enough to apply it to other parts of our life.
Third, its not about looking good, and if you’re mind is on looking good as you do it, and not executing postures, you will fail (and probably fall). So mentally, its a healthier format of exercise than say, joining a gym just to worry for two hours about what you need to fix on your flabby body. Yoga fixes from the inside out, which is also the way the United States needs to be fixed.