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Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Push My Button

It’s my own fault. I should have found a gym with weights, or gone swimming. Instead I’m lying on my back listening to Stephanie’s soft French voice telling me to feel “ze hair moove fram yohr nows intoo yohr lahngs” (the air move from your nose into your lungs - for the non French speakers). The problem I have with Stephaine’s yoga/meditaition class is that I want to be sweating, hurting, working off nervous energy, not fighting off sleep while I’m supposed to be “brushing my body with my consciousness”.

After 2 classes I reach breaking point. I’m genuinely worried that in this semi-hypnotised state I may become susceptible to Stephanie’s cosmic pronouncements; Regular Yoga will cure you of any disease. Breathing will make your body regenerate and reverses the aging process. Indian shoe repairers that sit in this pose never get bowel cancer. “They did a study” she confirms, nodding her spindly neck sagely.

My mind is fired by this trigger: What? A study? Who did a study? Who funded it? Was there a double blind control group? Peer reviewed? Surely diet and lifestyle of the Indian shoe repairers is more of a factor, did they take that into account? Should I be palms up or palms down? It’s a big enough population; there must be a few recorded cases of cancer, surely? Was it a long term study? More than 10 years? Is my foot pointing in the right direction? That would be expensive research for such a banal thing as posture’s impact on the bowel. Bet it was funded by some Yoga Ashram. Loads of money. Biased research. What about the shoe polish fumes? That can’t be good for you? Day in, day out. What cancer would they cause? Are these yoga mats made in Nepal or imported from India? And the fumes from the shoe adhesives? Full of atomised benzene rings. Or China? Yeah, must be made in China. Lung Cancer probably. Or Brain Cancer? Shifting my weight makes my hamstring sting more than my calf muscle. Which should sting more? Foam would be too volumetrically expensive to container over the Himalaya, must come from India...

My consciousness has too many questions to process, and is too busy to focus on my left toe, or upper right buttock for long. I’d never even thought of my buttocks as having upper and lower parts. My brain fires again pondering how many ways a buttock could be divided. Meditation is popular with people that want to slow down their over active minds. That’s criminal. I’ve learned to enjoy the ride my trains of thought take me on. I can’t see any value in slowing your thoughts down, and even less in sitting straight-backed for hours mumbling a deep bass mantra. It’s as mentally fruitful as getting stoned, or having a lobotomy.

Rob rides a stubby Enfield, and sports a Chelsea smile from a pub brawl 25 years ago. He spent 5 years in prison for armed robbery after holding up a string of pharmacies with a replica at the height of his drug dependency. While inside he found yoga and 20 years on is totally clean and claims he meditates for 2 hours a day and has been celibate for 9 years. He’s refreshingly aggressive and argumentative, but is a prime example for the fact that meditation is a crutch rather than a cure for whatever psychosis pulls you into it.

Tom, a trained therapist, friend and flying partner agrees that from a psychological point of view, gurus or Gods act as surrogate parents to people searching for reassurance. Gurus will look after you and provide you with the answers you need now that you’ve grown up and mummy and daddy don’t do it anymore. “But,” he says, “meditation is likely to bring a lot of things up, and then provide no outlet for dealing with them.”

After class my yoga-mates agree that Stephanie is a bit far out, and yet while pushing through downward dog we’d somehow all conspired to consume her explanation of the nervous systems’ sub atomic particle being the link between the body and the consciousness. She has answers to some big questions and within the walls of her Yoga classroom they seem agreeably plausible.

However I get particularly irked by the use of misconstrued science to justify ideologies that exist in an incompatible paradigm. I’m a rational extremist, and the western mind is indoctrinated to trust the language and branding of science, to the point where it accepts without fully understanding it. We have faith in science, which is ironically wholly unscientific. Stephanie unwittingly twists this trusted branding within the vagaries of popular misconceptions to validate her Hatha philosophy, at the same time providing solutions to problems where science is lagging behind (cancer cures, eternal youth, a definition of the soul...). This bastardisation of physics and medicine makes my sphincter tighten, back rise and chest inflate, opportunely into the ideal mediation pose which Stephanie congratulates me on.

Stephanie's wackiness is charming, but it’s the evangelists disciples I’ve lost patience with. “Oh Andy, you absolutely must read this book [about Meditation/Yoga]. It really explains everything...” No. I absolutely mustn’t. Clearing out my belly button fluff would be more enlightening than spending time reading books that reaffirm the faith to believers but deliver only unconvincing proofs for cynics. Put it on the shelf there next to the Dharma, Bible and Koran, and have a look at the size of this lint cotton ball! “You really must read the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Associations’ regulations on Tandem pilot certification. Now THIS really explains everything.” I parry with my booklet, but there is no appetite for cockney sarcasm in the earnest world of the enlightened.

I’m grateful I didn’t come to India when I was 20. I would have swallowed these ideas up wholesale and by now I’d probably be a shoeless Baba or buff yoga master teaching the path to levitation on the beaches of Goa. I’d have been a black-belt in Yoga. Instead I went to Africa, where the spiritual philosophies are proper doll-stabbing gri-gri, and therefore can’t be taken seriously by even the most open western mind. Perhaps that introduction grounded me with the cynicism that just because ideas are exotic and foreign, they aren't necessarily the answer.

I don’t think Nepali’s ever attend Stephanie’s yoga classes so it’s hard to see it as anything more that another one of Pokhara’s tourist attractions, alongside white-water rafting or trekking. If there is a tragedy in all this, and there probably isn’t, it’s that westerners come away from Nepal thinking they’ve discovered the essence of the country by thoroughly examined their own navels. Sadly, their home country promptly dissolves the Karma out of them as it dawns how irrelevant these philosophies are to their day to day reality. But worse, along the way they’ve missed the chance to understand the Himalayan agricultural cycle, the opportunities for permaculture, the impact of the annual rice yield fluctuations, the construction techniques of mountain roads and their destruction techniques by the rains, the common faults of Bajaj motorbikes, or how to bathe with your clothes on, which is all much more interesting and useful than the physical or metaphysical navel fluff we are so captivated by.

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