McYoga – No, I’m Serious

30 01 2009

By Derek Beres

While an exact start time for the yoga practice is impossible to discern, it is generally understood to have become culturally important sometime around 800-1000 BCE. While there were a number of different schools, the physical movements were first associated with warriors, who used the techniques as a means for attaining clarity both outside and during battle, as well as offering philosophical guidance. (Remember, one of yoga’s earliest champions, Arjuna, was an archer about to slay his cousins.) And, despite popular conception in American yoga studios today, yogis were in no way vegetarians; some may have been, but that movement was more a political and social tool entering group consciousness centuries later, due first to scarcity and later to Muslim invasion.

I bring this up to dispel the vegetarian myth — the romanticized notion that the “original” yogis never ate meat. This simply isn’t true. The Buddha ate meat; today, the Dalai Lama eats meat, albeit for health reasons. While ahimsa has long been an integral part of the yogic discipline, we have to be careful of how and where we apply that word. Like most any concept, it has different meanings during different times and in different cultures. Still, we must also recognize when the practice of yoga is being used for union, as the word implies, and when it is just another marketing tool for a company or person to use.

Let’s just say I was mildly surprised when one day a few weeks ago I walked out to dump my garbage. In my building, residents sometimes leave things in the hallway by the back entrance, in case anyone should take an interest in them. A few bookcases I recently left were gone in minutes; very often you will find kitchen items and books scattered on the ground. A pile of magazines was lying there, and right on top was something that immediately caught my eye: a McDonalds “15 minute workouts: Yoga” DVD.

Now, I’ve already had my issues with a company like The Baker marketing one of their products as Yoga Bread. I’m not sure exactly what is yogic about cranberries and pumpkin seeds, outside of the advertising aspect. While one has to admit that McDonalds has attempted to become “healthier” — what else could they do with documentaries like Super-Size Me become so culturally relevant — seeing a commercial for an Asian Salad (with orange-glazed grilled chicken) as the selling point for their “balanced eating” initiative left a bad taste in my mouth.

People who are actually health conscious realize that certain “vegetarian” foods are not necessarily great for you. Iceberg lettuce, the most popular type of green sold in this country, boasts a nutrition value of right around zero; romaine is not exactly rocketing up the charts either, especially if its been double- or triple-crop rotated, as is often the case due to factory farming. The same goes for tomatoes, one of the most unfortunate victims of rotations that nearly deplete the fruit of any value to our bodies. At the moment, I’m guessing that McDonalds is not being supplied by their local farmers’ markets for their produce, meaning this value-less food is making its way into their customers’ bellies.

Before I wax too philosophical on this point, however, let’s just pause and consider one thing: it’s McDonalds. Whether or not yoga was originally a vegetarian discipline, and whether or not it needs to be one now, is beside the point. The yogis I know who are serious about their discipline and do eat meat understand that purchasing local, free-range game is closer to practicing ahimsa than stockpiling chickens and cows in isolated shacks and pens, and then serving them for dinner. It does not surprise me that on this DVD, the trainer is virtual — I cannot imagine an actual yoga instructor taking this gig, no matter how much the pay.

At the very least, live up to what you are. People might not like it, but at least you’re being honest. It’s when you try to be what you are not, and simply ride the trends of the day, that you do serious damage, both to your own credibility, as well as to people who might actually benefit from learning what the discipline of yoga is about.

This blog was originally posted on lime.com.

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