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Dear Sex-Crazed, Yoga Orgy-Obsessed Magazine Editor… ~ by Neal Pollack

in YD News

Impromptu Yoga Dude Week continues!

From our resident Yoga Dude himself, Neal Pollack, a response to Bikram Choudhury: Cult Rock Star, Yogapreneur, Magic Genie Sex Machine, and the media’s overt obsession with yoga-as-sex-orgy scandalocity.

“The author manages to combine the sex and the Stupid Body Tricks into a pungent men’s magazine dream-stew of yoga quasi-libel. But that’s why he got the paycheck, because that’s what the magazines want.”

by Neal Pollack

Men’s magazines don’t cover yoga much for a simple reason: Yoga, except to the person who’s practicing it, is kind of boring. Once you’ve run your obligatory profile of the weird ex-kickboxer who now has a yoga school at his compound outside Jackson Hole and your “Great 30-Minute Yoga Workout” piece, you’ve covered your demographic for the decade. Esquire won’t be ordering a profile of David Swenson or a piece about the benefits of brahmacharya anytime soon. That’s not exactly a recipe for increased eyeballs.

Therefore, it came as scant surprise to me last year that an editor at a men’s magazine with an outdoor adventure theme rejected my “one month in yoga teacher-training” article pitch. The training occurred in Boulder, an outdoor-themed place. But the action, such as it was, would mostly take place indoors, and much of that would revolve around learning to chant the Invocation To Ganesha. By politely declining, the editor exercised sound judgment. Then he said something strange:

“But if it turns into some kind of crazy sex orgy, give me a call.”

My teacher training was a lot of things, but unless I missed that group email, the “sex orgy” never happened. I’d run into the yoga-as-sex-orgy trope before, as in: “I hear that in Mysore, you do yoga all morning, and the rest of the day is nothing but a sex orgy.” Though I haven’t been to Mysore, I’m guessing this is also untrue. Yes, people who travel long distances to study yoga sometimes have sex with other people who’ve traveled long distances to study yoga, because they’re people and people sometimes have sex, but that’s not much of a story.

Later in the year, I got word that a new travel magazine was looking for pieces. Recently, through some stroke of great fortune, I’d been able to visit Stockholm on business, something that had never happened before to me and will probably never happen again. To get over the jet lag, I did yoga, in Stockholm, at 6 AM, and had predictably amusing and enlightening yoga adventures. So I pitched that to the editor. He rejected the pitch, saying that the readers of his as-yet-to-be-launched magazine weren’t really interested in yoga or Stockholm. Fair enough. And then this email came down the transom:

“I was wondering if you had any funny personal experience with those deep yogis who can supposedly slow their heart rates down to where they can survive buried for months… or is that just wild legend? Could make for a super fun front-of-book piece if you could actually hook up with such a person and maybe try it…”

To answer his question here, because I never wrote him back: I have no experience with those sorts of people, because they probably don’t exist. Besides, I can barely do side crow, much less stop my heart. That trick is something that Krishnamacharya used to perform for visiting French journalists who needed proof of this exotic art called yoga. In his biography of his father, TKV Desichakar describes asking his father to teach him the heart-stop, and how his father gripped him by the shoulders and said, “You must never learn this. It is a curse.” In other words, you should hope that your practice doesn’t reach the point where you have to stop your heart to experience the ultimate truth about the impermanence of all matter and experience. A few cat-cows and a nice savasana, under the guidance of a smart, caring teacher, can do the trick just as well.

The fact that this “wild legend” persists in the mind of hipster magazine editors everywhere means that yoga education has a long way to go. It was just a contemporary way to ask me to report on the “mysterious rituals of the exotic Hindoo.” Besides, if I’m going to bury myself for several months, they’d better pay me more than 50 cents a word.

All of that brings us, as Stephen Colbert says, to tonight’s word: Clancy Martin’s piece in the February 2011 issue of Details, provocatively headlined The Overheated, Oversexed Cult Of Bikram Choudury. In the piece, Martin drops in for a few days of Bikram’s advanced teacher training at a swank hotel complex in San Diego. He observes that “the entire resort throbs with the libidinal energy of Choudhury’s followers,” quotes a female teacher who says that it’s very common for her male students to have a “swollen penis” in class, quotes a male teacher who says he comes to this “sexual playground” to “meet girls,” implies that Bikram sleeps with his students, and quotes the great master as saying, “For good sex, you want eagle pose! With this one you are fucking until you are 90! You have seven orgasms in a row!”

I’m sure that people do get laid at Bikram’s teacher training, which lasts several weeks. Not everyone who practices yoga is a genius of restraint, and many of them are sexy. And I suppose it’s possible that Bikram sleeps with his students, though I’ve met his wife, and she doesn’t strike me as a woman who puts up with much nonsense. Also, Bikram quite deliberately works blue, taking the shock-jock approach to yoga. His style doesn’t appeal to everyone, but in a yoga world dominated by “open your heart center to the possibilities of the universe,” it’s kind of refreshing sometimes. When he talks about yoga and orgasms, Bikram is literally screwing around.

Mostly, this article reads like it was written by a guy in a long overcoat lurking at a bus stop outside a Catholic girl’s school, and it plays out like the guy did everything his editor wanted. Yoga as sex orgy? Check. Weird pretzel-like contortions? Check? Interview with flaky twenty-something gal who’s in love with the world and also herself? Check. Drawing broad shallow conclusions about a multi-million dollar international organization that practices questionable business ethics while also transforming countless thousands of bodies and lives? Roger that. The author manages to combine the sex and the Stupid Body Tricks into a pungent men’s magazine dream-stew of yoga quasi-libel. But that’s why he got the paycheck, because that’s what the magazines want.

Yoga doesn’t have a flashy hook. It’s personal and subtle. The benefits accrue slowly, if at all.  For that reason, I’m done pitching pieces about yoga. Except to yoga blogs. They’ll publish anything.

Neal Pollack is an author, columnist, dad and yogi. Check out his latest book Stretch: The Unlikely Making of a Yoga Dude,  and regular yoga columns for The Faster Times, among other noteworthy publications. More NP at NealPollack.com.

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16 comments… add one

  • Love the ‘Yoga doesn’t have a flashy hook.’ If I want sparkle in my life, I’ll hang out with 5 year old girls and play with their glitter. Yoga is simple. And, yes, personal. Cheers, Neal!

  • Awesome. Couldn’t have said it better. I get the “yoga is a hippy thing” attitude from family members and friends and the “yoga has no hook” line will be a perfect way to explain it.

  • Thank you, Neil, for sharing your lessons.

    Your perspective is refreshing. Your experience with patience in the face of ignorance is enlightening.

    And you’re a pretty good writer too.
    Namaste.
    Sarah

  • Ali

    Creating a facebook group so we can keep everyone up to date on the best yoga-sex-orgies…

  • BTW catch YogaDork in a great live interview. What a blast to hear the voice behind the blog…

    http://yogainmyschool.com/2011/02/11/i-heart-yogadork-live-and-in-person/

  • This is a great article. Loved it! As a student yogi-ini, I get sexual “yoga” innuendos from men so I can appreciate this article. Although, I haven’t been asked to any wild yoga sex orgies (not yet anyway! ha!)

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you! Very well written, and your thesis is spot on. “If it turns into some kind of crazy sex orgy, give me a call.” That comment is a revelation in its clarity…

  • ozma

    Eagle pose? Seven orgasms in a row? Am I doing this wrong?

    This amused me. There are some hot girls in yoga sometimes and very few hot men but I go to yoga in East Coast with all the stressed out intellectuals and its pretty darn unsexy. A yoga retreat I went to did not exude le sexiness. I think I’m basically a yogi like your dad–whose name I love but unfortunately forgot.

  • Fateh Singh

    Great insights from a grounded insider… Wahe guru!

  • super interesting fun article; i’m not into any of the mentioned movements, for time age and money reasons ;-) so it’s fun reading ’bout most of this stuff

    i’ll offer two ideas, among a constellation of possibilities, for having yoga be more acceptable to a greater audience of people, of which these two are most of what i’m aware of ;-)

    1) phrases like, “the benefits of brahmacharya” – and i’m guilty of this while always hating it when i see it: esoteric terms to the general population – how much more effort is needed really, to display both the english and sanskrit words?

    the loss in fluidity for a reader unaware of the translations, plus surge of suddenly feeling, “well, maybe this ‘isn’t’ for me,” is unnecessary

    i realize there’s a limit to how much translation or double-posting of a term one can or should do, but it’d be a huge help i believe, in blogs, articles, dvd’s, etc

    2) “A few cat-cows and a nice savasana, under the guidance of a smart, caring teacher, can do the trick just as well” – to me means, i can’t or shouldn’t do any of this myself, i first have to find a teacher i can afford & trust, must be dangerous; and, is savasana a back rub?
    ;-)

    ***

    and maybe my objections are answered in the great ending lines:

    “The benefits accrue slowly, if at all. For that reason, I’m done pitching pieces about yoga. Except to yoga blogs. They’ll publish anything.”

    humor, caution as to benefit accrual, and, when you’re “pitching” to a group of baseball players, you don’t need to throw a slow pitch or warn them if it’s gonna be a spitter ;-)

  • Hi Neal,
    Love this piece. It is such a personal practice, and the teaching aspect of yoga is so personal, too. Not every student is for every teacher and vice versa. It’s a matter of finding what works best for you as an individual.

    Look forward to meeting you and taking your yoga class at SXSW!

  • This is absolutely great, Neal. I love your writing too. I just finished reading “The Great Oom,” a book about the birth of yoga in America. Even back in the 20′s the journalists were looking to break the next big scandal of yoga sex orgies and tantrika rights. Not much has changed, has it? It seems as if the very nature of yoga, the “personal and subtle” as you say, is what makes for such a topic that the media tacks on to it as ‘the other’ and tries to exploit it in every possible way. Why? Maybe because it seems mysterious and sensual when you are standing outside the practice. But from within the practice, it seems real and necessary.

    Thanks for your great article,
    Quinn

  • Nice article. I equally enjoyed the Bikram article on Details, thanks for the reference. Just one comment: if you really believe this about yoga:

    “The benefits accrue slowly, if at all.”

    I’d say that you are not doing the right practice for you. Maybe you should give Bikram a try!

  • Pavanatanaya

    Hmmmm I googled “Sex Orgies” and nothing about Yoga came up. Am I doing the right kind of Yoga? Since I smoke after sex, seven orgasms would lead down a very expensive cigarette habit role.

  • Risa

    Oh great….NOW you tell us this. No orgies? I thought I was just being left out. Five years of yoga for nothing…oh well, Please excuse me while I go stand on my head to make myself feel better.

  • This is kind of funny, in terms of the Bikram question.
    You met Mrs. Choudhury, but that doesn’t mean you know anything about their marriage. She’s Indian you know, and Indian women are from a different culture, especially with respect to marriage. Their marriage was arranged. They are a traditional Indian couple, partners in life and marriage and the raising of their children. He is a traditional Indian man who does whatever he likes and doesn’t even hide it. I have seen him lay by the pool with his mistress at training while his wife teaches class so it’s no secret that he has sex with other women within the community, and of course now that he’s being sued by scores of young women for sexual harassment and rape, there’s no question anywhere else either.

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