Thursday, April 19, 2012

Is yoga supposed to make the world a better place? Or, what shutting the anus-gate can do for you

I've been going through a dry spell in my blogging lately. Just can't seem to find anything that I feel motivated to blog about. I do have a few ideas here and there, but they don't seem to connect up into anything really coherent and blog-worthy. And it probably doesn't help that a lot of what is recently being blogged about in much of the yoga blogosphere just leaves me with a sense of ennui and futility. There is all that buzz about what is sometimes referred to as "the other A-Yoga" and its founder, Juan Amigos (excuse my Spanish), and the related scandal/s, which some clever blogger has christened "Anusgate". Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that any of Juan Amigos' brahmacharya-violating activities are excusable or right. Nor am I playing down the very real suffering of the folks who are at the receiving end of his activities.

But let's face it. No amount of well-intentioned reporting or scrutiny or analysis of the scandal in the hope of not repeating something like this again--which, I take it, is the reason why so many bloggers have been so righteously up in arms about this whole affair--is going to make a difference, in the bigger scheme of things. Why? Because (1) People practice yoga, (2) Some of these people are assholes, (3) Sadly, for some of these assholes, no amount of yoga will cause them to cease being assholes. I think some wise guy somewhere once said that if you are an asshole who does yoga and nothing is changing for you, then you are, well, an asshole who does yoga. Takes one to know one, no? :-)

Anyway, I guess what I'm trying to say is this: Unless we can come up with some kind of comprehensive psychological test that can screen people for assholic predispositions--quick, somebody come up with some fancy name for this predisposition... Aha! What about this... Asshole Nature Unified Syndrome (ANUS)--and then bar these ANUS sufferers from ever practicing yoga in their lifetimes, for fear that they might become celebrity yoga teachers who will then go on to unleash their brahmacharya-violating shenanigans on unsuspecting nubile (or not so nubile) females (or males, for that matter), unless we are willing to go to such lengths to prevent any potential ANUS-afflicted people from rising to positions of power and prominence within our otherwise very pristine and pure yoga community, we will probably have to be resigned to the fact that nothing we say or do will prevent the emergence of ANUS-afflicted celebrity teachers. In other words, history will repeat itself, whether we like it or not. We can either choose to deal with it (i.e. try to wise up, see ANUS-afflicted persons for who they really are, and try not to fall for their shenanigans), or we can choose to make a big hoohah about it the next time another ANUS sufferer strikes.

But you may ask: Why do you have such a fatalistic view of things? Isn't yoga supposed to make us better people, and the world a better place? Well... I used to really really believe this. But now I'm not so sure. Nathan over at Dangerous Harvests recently wrote a very interesting post about why yoga isn't changing American society. A couple of commenters on that post have remarked that as powerful as yoga may be on an individual level as a tool for self-transformation, it is simply not the sort of thing that is designed to instigate social change: An asshole who practices yoga assiduously and attains samadhi is simply a samadhied asshole (samadhied ANUS sufferer?), nothing more, nothing less. On a related note, Nathan also observes that "yoga, in particular, has little to no history of being a practice used to actively fight oppression and envision better societies." If Nathan is right, then to expect anything else from yoga would be an exercise in barking up the wrong spiritual tree.

Which is not to say that yogis cannot be social activists who productively use certain insights from their yoga practices to try to better their communities (think about what Gandhi accomplished with Ahimsa). But it is a mistake to believe that there is a tight conceptual connection between "correct" yoga practice and social activism, and that social activism is somehow "built into" the very concept of being a yogi, so that one cannot be a yogi without being a socially progressive social activist. Unless we want to institute some kind of ANUS-detecting test to prevent certain people from practicing yoga, it is going to be a fact of life that yoga practitioners will fall on every point of the moral-political spectrum.


But is there no hope for ANUS sufferers? Is there no light at the end of the long and dark ANUS tunnel? Well, fret not, fellow ANUS sufferer (although I have not been formally diagnosed with this syndrome, I have consistently displayed enough symptoms to cause to me to have good reason to believe that I have it). If you practice Ashtanga, you will know there is such a thing called Mula Bandha. Among other things, consistent practice of Mula Bandha will enable you to achieve greater control over the anal sphincter muscles. While I do not have any concrete scientific proof, many practitioners I have spoken with have told me that along with such greater control comes greater ability to withdraw one's senses from the external world, making one less susceptible to the seductive sights and sounds of this world. In other words, one attains pratyahara, or withdrawal of the sense-organs. And there is some reason to believe that with pratyahara comes greater ability to resist things like nubile females (or males). So yoga works, even if it may not make the world a better place. Or, to put the same point in somewhat more poetic language: Consistent yoga practice serves to activate pratyahara, which allows us to better control the gateways of the senses, protecting one from undue sensual stimulation.

Actually, on a related note, here's an interesting linguistic fact. If you know Chinese, you will know that the Chinese word for anus, 肛门 (gangmen), literally means "Anus-gate". Coincidence? Hmm... anyway, if you don't mind a little unsolicited advice from your not-so-wise friend here... actually, speaking of unsolicited advice, I have recently gotten into a bit of trouble with a couple of esteemed bloggers over my generous online proffering of unsolicited advices. But I'm not the sort of person to let these things get in the way of my offering still more unsolicited advice. But really, why take things so personally? Being unsolicited, you are totally free to take my advice for what it's worth, or simply ignore it. But I digress. Here's my unsolicited advice: If you know what's good for you, you will probably do well to keep the gate of your anus well shut (except, of course, when biological exigencies dictate that you must absolutely open it to let stuff out...). It will work wonders for your pratyahara and help to prevent diarrhea, both the physical and verbal kinds.

May the Force be with you (and your anus).      


  1. Regarding what you say here: " Unless we want to institute some kind of ANUS-detecting test to prevent certain people from practicing yoga, it is going to be a fact of life that yoga practitioners will fall on every point of the moral-political spectrum."

    Ultimately, we ALL have the potential to be asses, even longtime practitioners. Even if one thinks they have practiced enough that they are above being an ass, then they are probably unconscious of the fact that sometimes, they still are an ass.

    A test to keep the asses out would keep the vast majority of us from practicing! (I know - you were being facetious).

    At the risk of stating the obvious, the yoga reveals our shortcomings, our asshole-ness. It helps us be more conscious of our conditioned (negative) behavior towards ourselves/others, and gives us tools to perhaps change that behavior positively, or eventually rid ourselves of it (when done reverently, consistently and for a long time - for lifetimes - that is.)

    The practice reveals those pesky grooves of conditioned behavior so well, reveals what we need to most work on in this life. If we are diligent, consistent and persevere, the assoholeness get worn away, the lesson(s) are learned. If we get complacent, lazy, discouraged, etc., we don't learn or make progress.

    As for your propensity for "unsolicited advice": personally, I like it - it's offered with good intent. :) I also know I do it myself. I guess offering unsolicited advice might make us asses, in some folks eyes?!? I have to go wear that samskara away now, too - add it to the list!

    1. What fun is there in blogging if one is not allowed to offer unsolicited advice? Isn't that the whole purpose of having your own personal virtual soapbox? :-) Having said that, I always try to make sure my advice comes from a place of good intent. But sometimes good intent does not suffice to prevent others from being rubbed the wrong way. Oh well. Hmm... maybe one day, when my blog gets popular enough (and I am finally able to make millions from blogging to finance my yoga-bum lifestyle), I might even think about setting up an online advice column for disenfranchised Ashtangis, kind of like what James Altucher does every week over at his blog :-)

      Actually, if we were to institute an ANUS test to keep out ANUS sufferers, the only persons who would be practicing would be Patanjali, Jesus and Buddha ;-) Even Krishnamacharya, I have heard, was known to have had a bad temper... So even he might not pass the ANUS test.

      Wow... I better stop now; I'm actually blaspheming the big K. Very bad karma.

    2. I just realized that "Patanjali, Buddha & Jesus" can be rendered by the acronym "PB&J"... silly, right? :-)

  2. Thank you Nobel, I needed a good belly laugh this morning:) I wonder if you'll encounter any folks with sever ANUS in Mysore?:) I hope you'll keep up blogging while you are there:)

    1. Hmm... I don't know. I think everybody (except PB&J) has ANUS, it's only a matter of severity. Perhaps doing more advanced asanas can cause a more severe flare-up of the ANUS? :-)

      I hear from some bloggers that Mysore is such an experience that it basically shuts your blogging mouth up, and many bloggers stop blogging (or blog less often) after they go to Mysore. I wonder if that will happen to me.

  3. Best blog line ever (or at least in a long time):
    "Is there no light at the end of the long and dark ANUS tunnel?"

    The answer to which, I guess, all depends on your perspective.

    Close runner up:
    "But really, why take things so personally?"

    Actually this is the real winner here, but I suspect bum jokes will ultimately be more popular that well intentioned advice...

    1. Yes, sometimes the light is blocked by, well, foreign objects :-)

      Yes, I guess it's true that many people do not like unsolicited advice.

  4. As for Yogi's not making activists, Gandhi was a yogi, at least as far as I could tell, ok so he didn't have an asana practice, but all the other aspects of yoga were firmly practised and he sure helped bring change. Just to add my tuppence. As for not having much to blog about, I know what you mean, but I do so enjoy reading yours. You remind me of my old philosophy teacher. ☆

  5. oops sorry commented before I read the end of your post, I must learn not to jump the gun, very bad habit of mine (><)

    1. Thanks, Esther. Happy to hear that I remind you of somebody. Don't worry about jumping the gun; it happens to all of us :-)