Cargo Cult Yoga

sat25mar2006—12w084d23%— 18h33m00s—0utc

In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head to headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas — he’s the controller — and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.

With the above text, Richard Feynman gave rise in 1974 to the concept of cargo cult science: pseudoscience in which only the trappings of science are cultivated. He makes a beautiful point through it and you should read that speech of his, it’s really good. In today’s yoga class, as my mind strayed during a ridiculously protracted baloney preaching, I chanced upon an interesting twist to it.

First, let me confess that I fell in love with yoga since my first class. I love the elegance, the gracefulness, the relaxation, the concentration, the self-awareness, the girl in green (a classmate), the austerity (only your body and a towel), the small daily improvements, the personal challenge of the perfect asana, the beauty and harmony of many postures, the sensuality of some, the ascetism of others, the breathing, the exhilaration that follows a class. I’m painfully stiff but I know I will get better. I want to. But this love only makes me loathe more the other, dark side of yoga: the mystical b.s., the astrology/chakra/aura/spirit/numerology/energy mumbo-jumbo.

Today I endured a particularly severe sermon (~40 min.) in which almost every esoteric subject save alien abductions was broached. When I decided I had had enough — and, believe me, I can be patient when listening to cranks — I stood up and prepared to leave. The teacher understood, laughed somewhat sarcastically, and wrapped the class with the closing posture. I thanked her for the class and left.

I knew that yoga carried such baloney baggage before I entered, of course, but I enrolled despite it. As much as the pundits (yogis) say they’re an inseparable whole, they aren’t, and I’m only interested in the exercise, the secular part. The funny thought that crossed my mind today was that, in a way, what I want is a cargo cult yoga.

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