Commentary self-optimization: yoga makes you apolitical

No mantra can help against Nazis in parliament or a pension of 300 euros, says our author. Yoga is purely symptom control.

The dog looking down is supposed to quiet the mind Photo: dpa

She breathes into my ear: "Feel how you are in this moment. Direct your attention more and more inward." The woman lies with braided hair on the purple mat, the wall softly lit by indirect light, Namaste. I’m supposed to breathe out the tension, but I could use a punching bag more.

The video with this scene has a few hundred thousand clicks on YouTube: Sun Salutations are supposed to make for a better self, Hatha Yoga to fight anxiety, Vinyasa Power Flow to relieve stress. We do yoga in the morning to start the day fit, and yoga in the evening to sleep peacefully. Only: the self-centeredness of yoga practice makes it apolitical.

A "conscious lifestyle" website explains that I find my inner peace with yoga: "When you practice yoga, you embark on a path to yourself." And on that path, numerous magazines, blogs and video channels tell me, I can get rid of stress, fat and self-doubt. I can get on the mat to deal with the aftermath of hard physical work, or even panic attacks. All this I do with myself.

British author Laurie Penny describes it as a modern mania: "We thought we could achieve a meaningful life with a positive attitude and a few thigh-stretching exercises while the planet was catching fire. Because that’s exactly what the fairy tale of all-purpose yoga conveys: if I can fight stress on my own, I’m in charge. Minimum wage or overtime stressing you out? Why not try an asana? In Penny’s words, yoga tells us, "It’s not society that’s crazy or broken: it’s you."

Pure body, pure mind

The lifestyle website says that yoga brings about "a life of love, deeply connected to yourself and all that is." But while the blood rushes to my head at the dog looking down, I think there’s a hell of a lot I don’t want to be connected to. "Allow even the negative feelings and use them to grow from. This is not about ignoring, but about accepting, about accepting," the woman from the video goes on to say – even though there are enough reasons for our anger that we shouldn’t accept.

This text comes from the taz am wochenende. Always from Saturday on the kiosk, in the eKiosk or immediately in the practical weekend subscription. And around the clock on Facebook and Twitter.

Instead of fighting against an exploitative working day, poverty in old age or the shift to the right, we compensate for the consequences with yoga. But neither the cobra nor a mantra help against Nazis in parliament, nor against a pension of 300 euros.

In Germany, 16 percent of the population already has yoga experience – according to a study conducted on behalf of the Federal Association of Yoga Teachers in Germany. The origins and history of yoga have not been clearly researched. The origins, it is said, lie in India.

One of the most important sources in this regard is the Yogasutra, a philosophical text that lists yamas and niyamas. "The dos and dont’s of yoga" are what Clemens Eisenmann, who works as a sociologist in Konstanz and Siegen, calls them. One should practice non-violence, truthfulness and not stealing, avoid impurity of mind and body as well as greed.

The yoga industry

Since yoga has changed again and again since its origins, there is no one authentic practice, says Clemens Eisenmann. Even if changes towards a modern yoga are definitely recognizable in this country.

One of these changes is probably that yoga has long since arrived in the capitalist logic: yoga is good because it makes you more efficient. Companies offer yoga in the workplace, and at the 2016 World Economic Forum, the day began at eight o’clock with a "Mindfulness Meditation" including yoga elements. And if you ask people why they do yoga, more than half say they want to increase physical and mental performance.

So feeling good translates to being productive. Pizza in front of the TV doesn’t pass for a wellness program, but is considered laziness. If you really want to feel good, you should do something that optimizes your body or mind and not just give you a short pleasure: a hair treatment, meditation or, if you must, watch a documentary. But yoga is best.

Yoga is available on apps, in videos on YouTube, in books, magazines, online seminars and gyms. For exercise, simple sports clothes are not enough, it must be yoga pants and yoga shirt. For the yoga mat there is an extra yoga bag, for professionals it may also be a meditation cushion. For less stretchy people there is a yoga block – if you can’t touch the floor with your hands when your legs are stretched, put them there. Behind the anti-materialistic practice is an international industry whose turnover is estimated at 80 billion dollars.

Hypocritical harmony

The capitalist vocabulary has also found its way into the yoga blogs: "Selfcare – a beautiful investment in you," it says. You can practice self-care on one of the yoga trips – fly to Bali, live there in an exclusive yoga villa, photo shoot included. What was that about modesty?

The same yoga teacher also offers "Rooftop Yoga" in Vienna. After the yoga session on the roof terrace with a view over the big city, there’s another smoothie bowl, preferably with acaI berry (Brazil), coconut (Indonesia) and mango (India) – the hypocrisy of being in harmony with the world while at the same time fully burdening the environment doesn’t even bother to remain latent.

Yet there is political yoga, even on Instagram: Yulady Saluti shows not only exercises on the mat, but also her body, which has undergone 27 surgeries, the scars on her bare chest, the artificial bowel outlet. That’s bodypositivity activism. And there are certainly also groups that do a few sun salutations together after their sit-in to relax their spine.

Sociologist Clemens Eisenmann is of the opinion that yoga does not mean a dissociation from political action, because here environmental awareness is partly thought together with the practice.

With yoga into patriarchy

Of course, self-care is important in order to be able to afford to be political. Laurie Penny knows that, too, although the sight of "Instagram happiness gurus" makes her want to drown herself in a kale smoothie. And yoga actually helps. Yale University tested its effect against stress – it lowers blood pressure.

But no mat exercise helps against most of what makes us anxious. Rather, disarmament and the fight for reproductive self-determination help against it. Perhaps yoga can strengthen us to address these issues. Until then, however, the practice persists in symptom control. The basic idea of yoga, says Eisenmann, is to prepare a spiritual path to bring the mind to rest, to "shut down.

One could say: A little inner peace, that would do everyone good! But: About nine percent of women in Germany do yoga – and only one percent of men. While women immobilize themselves with meditative practice, we encourage men to continue to win, to kick, to foul. Yoga leads women into their inner selves – and at the same time deeper into patriarchy: back into feeling, into the private sphere.

Appropriately, Lululemon, a Canadian retailer of yoga clothing, advertises with the slogan "Sweat often, smile always." The feminist appeal "Stop telling women to smile" has now even made it onto T-shirts. After all, anyone who asks women to smile without being asked expects them to always be nice and happy. Yoga is the type that tells us on the street, "Laugh it up!" The call, however, should be: Men on the mats, women in the ring!

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