Now, I know it’s sort of a cheap shot to spend any more than a wink on Yoga Journal. The mag is almost entirely dismissible, and unpacking it on any serious level borders on the absurd. HOWEVER (said with a monster head roll), what I like about YJ is that it provides a wide array of talking points for people interested in sizing up the whole commercial yoga scene.
On that note, let’s take a look at some of the language used in “Retreat to Paradise: 5 tips to help you plan your ideal yoga vacation” featured in the February 2013 issue of Yoga Journal. As an article it’s pretty standard YJ fare, offering potential tourists sage travel advice. Advice like “pack an umbrella,” “pick a location,” “think about the time of year you’d like to travel,” “decide if you want a friend to come,” and of course “find out how much your trip will cost ahead of time.” You know, the tough questions people are always afraid to ask. Ugh. God! Did f’ing Elmo write this?!
What interests me most, though, is when YJ begins pontificating on the means and meanings of actually going on a yoga vacation. As stated:
“By removing yourself from your daily life and concerns, you deepen your practice. You set apart time and create space to renew your body and replenish your spirit. Plus, you are surrounded by like-minded souls who are on a similar path, part of a yoga tribe in a special setting.” [emphasis added]
Now, there’s a few ways to take this passage, and each one is, I think, a little problematic. On the one hand you could be all “engaged Buddhism” about it claiming…
“This is bullshit. Yoga and meditation is about engaging in the world, engaging in one’s daily life and concerns more fully. Fuck this spiritual escapism!”
On the other hand you might think,
“Yes, but traditionally, and even in contemporary practice, the idea of setting aside some time to be with one’s self in the early morning hours is considered absolutely integral, if not entirely necessary, to spiritual awakening.”
Both positions have their place. And yet, both would be assuming that the article had anything whatsoever to do with yoga practice.
As the title states, the article is not about “yoga,” but rather about something called an “ideal yoga vacation.” Although the piece interchanges this concept with the term “retreat,” there is little here that speaks to anything that might resemble the classical ashram model, particularly of the silent variety. (Though, admittedly, many of these “ashrams” are really just B&B’s with an earlier curfew). The term “retreat” is used almost explicitly as in “to retreat,” or “to remove oneself.” Which, as I often say, is perfectly fine, if that’s your thing. But, let’s call a spade a spade on this whacky Wednesday.
Now, I’ve done the whole live in a small village amongst “the people” thing, and have gained quite a bit from it. Sometimes, though, I like to get on the bus with a group of drunk Australians and listen to some tour guide make bad puns all day long. Obviously, if the situation allows for it, I’m gonna have that yoga practice of mine bagged and tagged before breakfast. But, to hell if I plan on making an entire vacation out of it!
Wikipedia defines a vacation as “a specific trip or journey, usually for the purpose of recreation or tourism.” The American Heritage College dictionary (my personal fav) defines it as “a period of time devoted to pleasure, rest, or relaxation, esp. one with pay granted to an employee” [emphasis mine, ’cause I love that part]. Personally, I don’t find yoga to be “pleasurable,” restful,” or “relaxing.” Rarely have I found encounters with blocked nadis and psycho-spiritual attic demons to be anything but “engaging,” to say the least. Of course, the effects of yoga may often lead to pleasure, rest, and relaxation. But, damn. Getting there ain’t no joke.
Which is all to say that, for me, any “vacation,” as it is typically defined, revolving around “yoga,” as I have experienced it, sounds like a hell of a lot of work. Personally, I’d rather just go on a sick vacation, tan myself into a cancerous oblivion, drool over gorgeous people, watch the sun set as I grill something from the left-hand path menu, and just try and drag my sorry self out of bed early enough the next morning to practice yoga. That way I can have an excuse to repeat steps 1–4 all over again. All with the hope that by maintaining my practice on some humble level my sun-saturated Saturnalian self will retain some level of humility, respect, and genuine heart-full-ness to it.
To the baths!