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The yogi’s guide to ‘Jersey Shore’ August 22, 2011

Posted by Simon Maxwell Apter in Essays.
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In honor of the upcoming Jerz-day, I bring you my Yogi’s Guide to Jersey Shore. Granted, most of my yogi and yogini friends don’t watch J-Shore, which is in my view a detriment to their enjoyment as citizens of Earth, but I’d like to think of today’s dharma as an attempt to bridge this seemingly deep divide between asana and asshole.

What wisdom might they have in store for us tonight?

1. Your favorite character is…

While I recognize that non-attachment is central to our practice, I have to concede that Jersey Shore is nothing without preference. It’s simply more enjoyable to watch The Situation pick up, get down with, and say goodbye to women if you think he’s a loudmouth jerk. And watching Deena fall ass over teakettle over the slightest topographical difference is all the more gratifying if you decide she’s a sweetheart who’d be fun to hit the bars with. But the yogi’s favorite is easily Vinny. Animalfair.com calls him an “ethical paragon,” and he explains:

We actually just became famous like a year ago … so we are lining up with charities now and you know I would love to line up with a charity that helps rescue pitbulls or dogs that are just left on the street and that may have bad reputations. Anything to do with animals. My whole life I’ve been adopting animals, I’ve always told people that if they find an injured animal to bring it to me, my house is like a zoo anyway. So if I could do that on a larger scale now that I have a little bit of a platform I will.

Now, there are some who’ll say that, somewhere between Season 1 and Season 2 — after Vinny went and got himself a new tattoo – he started acting as misogynistically and aggressively as his other roommates, but still, Vinny’s the one you want to root for. He’s the only one who bothered to learn Italian before decamping to Italy, and he’s the only one who’s turned down sex with a roommate because he foresaw emotional complications (Okay, he’s not batting 1.000 on this, but no one’s perfect)—about as close to satya and brahmacharya as you’re going to get on the Shore.

2. Your least favorite character is…

I hate to cast aspersions on someone, but from a yogic standpoint, it’s pretty easy to single out Ronnie as the least endearing member of the octet. Here’s a guy who, upon finding out that his ex was dancing with other dudes, proceeded to trash all of her personal belongings, including her eyeglasses. Sure, he’s had some tender moments, and I’m sure he’s got enough upper body strength to deliver a truly great shavasana massage, but let’s face it, the guy’s just not really that likeable. Ronnie’s commitment to his health is suspect because of copious circumstantial evidence of anabolic steroid abuse, and his insistence on walking around the house without a shirt is clearly demonstrative of his inability to produce the tapas—heat—necessary to soothe his troubled soul. Basically, you can’t count on Ronnie’s commitment to the eight limbs, and he’s not someone you want to see grow frustrated with Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, variation A or B, if he’s on the mat next to yours.

3. You’d rather watch (at least on Thursdays at 10)…

Nothing! For the yogi-as-renunciate, well, fine, there’s no reason to enjoy a solid hour every Jerz-day night. But for those of us who aspire to change and engage with the world, you have to know what (and whom) you’re dealing with. Jersey Shore is the most successful series in the history of MTV, and whether or not you think the network’s gone downhill since it peaked artistically in 1983 with the “Billie Jean” video, the channel nevertheless broadcasts truly absorbing, pertinent content. You don’t see Teen Mom or True Life: I’m Addicted to Crystal Meth on Disney-owned ABC. And it was The Real World: San Francisco, that brought Pedro Zamora’s AIDS activism to suburban living rooms across the country. If you need to take a core sample of American pop culture, regardless of how much you feel you need to hold your nose to do so, you could do worse than MTV.

As a student, I’ve often been taught that, by virtue of my commitment to yoga, I’ve either superseded in valor and sincerity the American culture in which I live; or that American culture has superseded me in vulgarity and artifice. An hour a week of Jersey Shore, though, reminds me that even as a yoga teacher and yoga practitioner, I have far more in common with DJ Pauly D and J-Woww than I do with, say, Amma, or the late Shri Swami Nirmalananda.

Embracing my culture does not mean loving it, and criticizing it certainly doesn’t mean eschewing it. As a yogi, I find myself with a perpetual mission of maintaining one foot in each realm — mudane and sublime, material and astral — in order to comprehend and to find my place in each. As a yogi, I recognize that I am both in and of all of humanity, whether I like it or not.

That we only have one planet is not a clarion call to fix “our half” of it, nor is it license to chastise those whom we think have destroyed “theirs.” Rather, it is a call to find the one-ness and wholeness of the entire project, to seek out instances of yoga and figure out how our cultural fissures — like the perceived one between asana and asshole — can be stitched together and celebrated.

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On the cleanliness of trash: thoughts on saucha July 5, 2011

Posted by Simon Maxwell Apter in Essays.
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Flickr photo by lara604.

One of life’s biggest hassles concerns proper maintenance and disposal of “yoga clothes.” Now, one need not practice yoga to have “yoga clothes”—you might have “work clothes,” or “lab clothes,” or “gardening clothes”–and when I played soccer as a kid, my yoga clothes comprised mud-and-grass-stained socks and shorts, sweat-soaked shinguards, and two (or three) pairs of soccer shoes with mud and dirt (mercifully) or dog doo (unmercifully) clotted around the cleats.

These inevitably reeked and in high school, I took to leaving empty soap boxes in my duffle bag to absorb some of the smell. At that time, my family bought Lever 2000 soap which had become, after its successful 1996 launch (That year, the company sent bar after bar of free samples to our house), the first non-Dove soap to be used in family showers (Though like Dove, Lever is a Unilever product). I preferred it as a deodorizer to other soaps because, quite frankly, it was the strongest stuff on the shelf. Seriously–you could open a box of Lever 2000 in Portland and they’d feel fresher in Seattle in less than five minutes.

After graduating from college, I pulled a three-year stint as a professional baker, and “bakery clothes” became the new yoga clothes. These were caked in flour, dribbled in egg white, and smeared with brown sugar, honey, and molasses; vanilla extract, butter, and blackberry juice; cake yeast, cinnamon, and the occasional mutilated raisin. Of course, those of us who wander into bakeries always marvel at the delightful smell wafting out of the ovens, but when the raw ingredients are concentrated, tinctured with sweat and early-morning funk, then caked onto a hardworking T-shirt, the resultant odor is decidedly less pleasant.

Today, of course, my yoga clothes are, well, yoga clothes, and though I need only contend with one adulterating substance–sweat–the problem is essentially the same as it was after soccer practice or a baking shift. You don’t have to practice Bikram Yoga to work up a sweat, and in my daily go-rounds at Jivamukti, I feel cheated if I haven’t soaked through an entire shirt within ten minutes of practice. When class is over, it’s not unusual for people to mistake me for having just taken a shower, not a yoga class.

I’ve always been drawn to activities that encourage making a mess. To me, there’s something satisfying in the temporary desecration of cleanliness, that is, in the physical manifestation of “breaking a few eggs to make an omelet.” In my mind, it helps strengthen one’s commitment to non-attachment; after all, when they’re seen as necessary ingredients in the creation or production of something beautiful (a tray of muffins, a yoga practice), how can “leavings” be considered any less esteemed than the final product? Those sweaty T-shirts are ingredients, not by-products, of my sadhana, and I try to regard them as such.

And if you’re able to confront so-called waste with admiration, then how can that consideration not then extend to everything we deem “essential” or “complete?” When you look at waste as the equivalent of produce, it then becomes imperative to treat it as such. You sort food, leaving perishables in the fridge, frozen food in the freezer, so why wouldn’t you sort recyclables, or hand-me-downs, or (if possible) compost? Venerating garbage (Well, that may be a bit extreme) makes taking out the trash, drying yoga clothes, recycling Coke cans, part of your practice, as necessary as asana to purify your body.

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