It’s Wednesday. This is our first post of the week. Why, you ask? Because we’re so damn punk we actually forgot to post. Can you believe that? It’s been so long, we just went about our days like a bunch of Free Willies and forgot to think about commercial yoga culture. Not good.
Anyway, something did catch my attention the other day. I happened to notice that everything feeding into my psyche from the culture of commercial yoga sucked a big fat one. While this is nothing new, it was doing so at the same time my psyche was being enthralled by contemporary cultural docu-photographer, Stephanie Keith‘s balls awesome in-house vodou ceremony pics.
So all the while in November when commercial yoga culture was being precious…
…while the Ayurvedic tradition was being “de-mystified” in and effort to pamper the pampered…
…while “healthy food” was made less and less tasty…
…while yoga practitioners of varying commitment were all trying to figure out if a thing called a “yoga body” existed (it does exist [wink wink])…
…all housed in a sterile over-priced studio…
…Vodou, that ages old syncretism of dynamic cross-cultural cross-fertilization, was body-writhing in a frenzy…
…RE-mystifying the de-spirited fermentation of grains…
…eating food with actual taste…
…calling on the spirit to erupt within its body…regardless of its size and shape…
…all within the domestic confines of a non-descript house in East Flatbush, Brooklyn….
Now ain’t that somethin’?
And, before you go and get all bent out of shoes that I’m romanticizing black people, know this: I totally am. And not just a little. A lot! I’ve got candles going, boxes of chocolates, edible panties, and body butter smeared all over my freshly shorn idealized chest.
‘Cause I’m in that sorta mood.
All gede ceremony images © Stephanie Keith (www.stephaniekeith.com).
You totally nailed the “Camazotz”-like nature of the yoga scene, Aghori.
I’d love to see more robust hybridizations (and NOT the John Friend coven variety either). Do you know about the scene in the lower Sindh where Hindu and Muslim Sufi bakteshis hang out at the same temples, shrines and mosques? That’s syncretism in it’s purest form. (Check out “Nine Lives, In search of the Sacred in Modern India” by William Dalrymple, I think you’d get a kick out of it.)
I *am* aware of that, yes. Bektashis are pretty wonderfully unruly toward the heresy-police as far as Islam goes. I’ve printed out a ton of files on shrine worship and praise of Al- Khidr (The Green Man) by many varying religious groups siultaneously.
It’s all syncretism, really. The twisted convoluted ropey emergences of otherwise seemingly “pure” religious lineages have simply blurred over time and merged (arisen within) the identity-sealed world of “separate” “distinct” “cultures.” I mean, “Hinduism” is really an attempt to codify an insane array of Indus Valley folk traditions and (possible) invasions. Really, it’s all a mash-up. And, I don’t mean that in a hippy sort of “nothing’s really one thing, man” kinda way. I mean quite literally, it’s all a mixed bag.
I’ve written REAMS on the codification and regimentation of spirituality in general and spiritual traditions themselves. For another time!
The syncretism argument is also why Singleton’s book “Yoga Body,” and the high status it is awarded by contemporary yoga practitioners, is troublesome, as he attempts to locate the emergence of bodily expression and practice in a specific time and place, missing (or, rather, omitting) history that precedes his own investigations in an effort to tighten up what is more or less a published dissertation, which by its nature must prove, rather than simply unpack, some *thing*.
In regards to that book, people should be looking at the cross-conversation between Ancient Greeks, Egyptians and the Indus Valley. Not, fucking, 19th-century gymnastics. “Gymnastics” has a twisted origin as well in the airborne psyche of meandering cultures.
And, when you start unpacking the gymnastics thread, you start to see how “Yoga Body” becomes a veiled assertion (not necessarily by the author, but by the reading public) of white dominance, attributing (in absentia) the birth of physical yoga practice to “white” people (read: Greeks), since the history of the Western world is traced back through the Greeks (who are psychologically identified as white) and the Egyptians (who are psychologically identified as sorta kinda not really white, but definitely NOT black).
Anyway…. I’m (uncommonly) rambling.
“people should be looking at the cross-conversation between Ancient Greeks, Egyptians and the Indus Valley. Not, fucking, gymnastics.”
hehehe…Or aerobics/calisthenics, couldn’t agree with you more on that one.
thank you thank you thank you. I thought I was alone in thinking the same thing about Singleton’s book.
This. This little nugget totally turned my brain around. The first time I read Singleton’s book, it seemed like a really great stick to use to get yoga teachers to finally shut up about how you’re communing with a 5000 year-old primal mysticism in your sun salutation. I expected it might do a bit to quell the startlingly racist orientalism in that trope, though Singleton himself didn’t seem too interested.
What actually happened was even more puzzling. I’ve since seen I can’t tell you how many teachers point to that book and say, more or less, “Hey look, white folks secretly made the sun salutation! Now I can do whatever the fuck I want, and there’s a bibliography to prove it!”
I couldn’t describe what made the whole thing seem so lame and barfy, but you hit it. Why are you hiding the good shit under a bushel in the comments section, Baba?
Also, that massage lady is wearing sea shells like mittens!
“This massage is all right, but you know what would make it amazing? If you were fisting a mollusk.”
Said no one ever.
I have to agree with Frank Jude Boccio here. I think you are reading way too much into Mark’s book. Where does he say that “bodily expression and practice” emerged “in a specific time and place”? Isn’t he just talking about certain practices, not the whole shebang? I use texts and fieldwork work to study what I call “traditional” (for want of a better word) yoga—which thanks to TV and the internet I think is slowly becoming indistinguishable from modern yoga—and until I read Mark’s book I had no idea of the origins of much of what I saw in “yoga studios” (sorry, I still haven’t been to enough of them to do away with the scare quotes).
I’m with you on syncretism. Once you start saying things are syncretistic, you have to accept that everything is. Premodern yoga in India certainly was, but some elements of modern yoga really aren’t to be found in any texts or reports of yoga practice prior to the 19th century and until someone comes up with a better explanation I’m with Mark on where they came from.
Re “… the cross-conversation between Ancient Greeks, Egyptians and the Indus Valley.” Sounds interesting. Any details? Then again, they might be tricky to find for one side of the triangle. The I-V civilisation fizzled out a good thousand years before Ancient Greece got going. What interests me in particular is the interaction between Greece and India in the late centuries BCE. India had a tradition of physical asceticism when Alexander got there; Greece’s askesis (now there’s a rhyme) developed a little later. Cultural diffusion?
Sorry, I think perhaps you and Linda-Sama are over-reading into Singleton. My reading is simply that the approach to yoga as practiced by the contemporary mainstream has more to do with the innovations and syncretism of late 19th and early 20th century “physical hygiene” movements, Indian nationalism and indigenous practices. It’s a pretty narrow thesis he’s arguing. He’s not arguing that all “bodily expression and practice” arose in that specific time period and place. C’mon!
Singleton’s book basically proposes that skinny jeans come from, or “have more to do with,” “the mall” ’cause that’s where they are most often found. Not China. Not Bangladesh. The mall.
It’s a silly, and, as you say, “narrow,” thesis. A great read, don’t get me wrong. But, pretty surface and rather pop.
That said, I am a 100% card carrying member of the “All is Syncretism Club.” I don’t believe yoga asana comes only from little skinny India fellows, either.
Pardon my French but I say Fouque the modern ‘Yoga’ catering services. Ayurveda has turned into little more than an alternative revenue stream. Alternative to YTTs and heaven forbid, actual teaching of Yoga.
I am headed to Europe next year for food, wine and walkabout. 12 days of getting fat on French and Italian foods. I have never traveled much before, so I need to get out while my body will allow. I dont believe that spiritual awakening is a merit based exercise in giving things up, nor consuming things. I do think it is being comfortable with imperfection. Ciao
Are you saying that NYC’s “Most in Demand” yoga teacher is not Vodou enough? I mean, she has explored every avenue which is a healing modality. Her TT program in colorful and intense. Do you think she knows the right herbs to turn someone into a zombie?
“modality” just seems to be a word that should be used as little as possible, if ever…instant credibility killer…
and just have to say again how awesome my avatar is…
“Do you think she knows the right herbs to turn someone into a zombie?”
Yes, but itll cost you a nominal fee for Zombie Actualization Training ZAT 200 hr. YA certified
that video is hysterical, her training is not just unique, but the “most unique” in the city. wellll… I reckon it’s not just bullshitty, but the “most uniquely bullshitty” TT course I’ve seen advertised to date….
Singletons’ attempt to identify the factors that initially contributed to the shape transnational yoga has taken today without only a few casual mentions of Buddhism, (and I could not find anything on Sikhism or Jainism) is like writing a book that sets out to cover the development of the modern motor car – but has nothing on Daimler-Benz or the Ford Motor Company… A short critique of Yoga Body by Mark Singleton (Oxford University Press): http://interpretivetheory.com/review/literature/book_reviews/yoga_body
You have to love all the teachers at yogoglo who refuse to speak out except Amy Ippoliti who is telling people to fuck off regarding this patent attempt. Hanhttp://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2013/12/13/a-yoga-patent-heres-why-the-uspto-approves-so-many-dubious-applications/