Why We Do Yoga

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

I’m reading The Feminine Mystique right now, one of those books you always hear about but never get around to reading. A pithy quote from Betty Friedan finally got me to the library. It was written in 1963, but it’s kind of blowing my mind. I’m not much of a history buff, so to read her analysis of WHY these liberated career women of the 20’s and 30’s CHOSE to become the polished, yet depressed, housewives of the 50’s, is staggering. (Short answer: WWII veterans filling the media w/domestic nostalgia, Freud’s “penis envy” equating female achievement with sublimated jealousy, and the 50’s daughters rejecting their mothers as role models in the typical pendulum of generations.)

The book is especially interesting to read now, with all the Martha Stewart, Mad Men, and back-to-the-farm nostalgia going around. One passage in particular made me think:

The uncritical acceptance of Freudian doctrine in America was caused, at least in part, by the very relief it provided from uncomfortable questions about objective realities. After the depression, after the war, Freudian psychology became much more than a science of human behavior, a therapy for the suffering. It became an all-embracing American ideology, a new religion. It filled the vacuum of thought and purpose that existed for many for whom God, or flag, or bank account were no longer sufficient—and yet who were tired of feeling responsible for lynchings and concentration camps and the starving children of India and Africa. It provided a convenient escape from the atom bomb, McCarthy, all the disconcerting problems that might spoil the taste of steaks, and cars and color television and backyard swimming pools. It gave us permission to suppress the troubling questions of the larger world and pursue our own personal pleasures. And if the new psychological religion — which made a virtue of sex, removed all sin from private vice, and cast suspicion on high aspirations of the mind and spirit — had a more devastating personal effect on women than men, nobody planned it that way.

Wow. We’re in similar predicaments today, right? But we’re choosing other philosophies at the moment. So let’s play Madlibs and insert some more modern topics.

The uncritical acceptance of yoga in America was caused, at least in part, by the very relief it provided from uncomfortable questions about objective realities. After the recession, throughout the Iraq war, yoga became much more than a workout for hippies, a therapy for the suffering. It became an all-embracing American ideology, a new religion. It filled the vacuum of thought and purpose that existed for many for whom God, or job title, or bank account were no longer sufficient—and yet who were tired of feeling responsible for global warming and Guantánamo Bay and the military-industrial complex. It provided a convenient escape from the oil spill, Fox News, all the disconcerting problems that might spoil the taste of organic food and iPhones and HDTV and luxury travel. It gave us permission to suppress the troubling questions of the larger world and pursue our own personal pleasures. And if the new psychological religion — which made a virtue of physical fitness, removed all sin from self-absorption, and cast suspicion on material well-being — had a somewhat devastating personal effect on our joints, nobody planned it that way.

[Last bit referencing http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/24/24stretch/ and other updates on the increasing injuries due to yoga.]

What do you think? Am I off my rocker? There’s a bit of escapism needed right now, and I think that’s part of yoga’s popularity.