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Yoga In Air Quotes

Neal Pollack loves his yogic self, but he doesn't want to leave his pre-yoga personality behind.

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I rolled down the window as I was coming back from my Yin Yoga class on Saturday afternoon. My practice had been productive; I felt the prana flowing freely in my veins. The birds chirped and the air was crisp and bright. It had been a rainy winter, and the colors of spring were sprouting boldly. The pickups were all sporting shiny new deer guards. I was suddenly filled with an overwhelming love for all creation, and it wasn’t even lunch yet. This frightened and thrilled me in equal measure.


At home, I ran to my computer. Such strong feelings needed to be shared on Facebook immediately. I wrote, “This one goes out to anyone who’s having financial problems, family problems, relationship problems, professional problems, or any other type of problems: You are not alone.”

Then I stopped. My Facebook feed is full of people quoting Deepak Chopra or saying things like, “Life is love, jai jai namaste!” I didn’t want to be like that. But I didn’t want to erase the sentiment, either, because I felt it as strongly as I’d ever felt anything. So before I shared my status, I added, “Damn you, yoga, for causing me to have thoughts like this,” at the end.

There. Now I’d presented myself as a lover of all beings and a sympathizer toward the rougher edges of the human condition, a kind of yogic Man In Black, as it were. But I’d also reflexively pinned this self-identification as ridiculous and egotistical. Therefore, I’d possibly helped anyone who needed a little weekend boost, and I’d also given a laugh to anyone who thinks yoga is a load of crap. I’d earned the bowl of pasta that was waiting for me in the kitchen.

Since I started practicing yoga eight years ago, irony and sincerity have done constant battle in my mind, a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. One moment, I’m all about citta vritti nirodaha and saying “om” in unison five times with a bunch of hippies. The next, I’m writing snarky tweets about Top Chef. I love my yogic self, or at least my yogic conception of myself, but I also don’t want to leave my pre-yoga personality behind.

That shouldn’t be necessary. Yoga helps calm the restless mind and tamp down the rampaging ego. But it doesn’t exist to turn you into an idiot without opinions. One of the dominant concepts in yoga philosophy is vikalpa, or “discriminating awareness.” Part of vikalpa involves being able to distinguish “real” phenomena from transitory ones. It also allows you to observe reality as it truly exists, without filters or prejudice.

Part of that involves self-awareness. So if you’re putting down a Facebook status update, however sincere, that makes you look a little like a New Age twit, it’s OK to tamper it with a shake of irony. Yoga involves more than flexibility of body. You also have to have a flexible mind, to be able to hold opposing viewpoints, about yourself, about other people, and about everything that surrounds you.

For a generation weaned on David Letterman, The Simpsons, and South Park, that can be hard. But it can work. I enjoy doing yoga and “doing yoga” simultaneously. A little irony in my mind makes me happy and makes my practice feel fuller and more authentic. Yoga is simultaneously wonderful and mystical, but it’s also completely ridiculous. That’s why I love it so.

Therefore: Have a blessed day, y’all!