Friday, September 24, 2010


It is difficult to find pictures of
non-freakish, non-drug-induced
female six-packs on the internet.
You must admit, that is a zinger of a blog headline, designed to generate one shit-ton of page traffic and drive my Google analytics through the roof.

Meanwhile, there's that scene in the documentary Ashtanga NYC in which a woman smiles like the cat with the canary and says,"Well, we all know ashtanga can give you a great body!" As if the particular brilliance of ashtanga vinyasa is that we can be spiritual and have tight buns. Nestled under that is the idea that the harder we work, the more spiritual we will be — that in order to reap the greatest benefits from this system, we really need to feel the burn.

It would be remiss of me to not answer the headline, so: body recomposition — a 'six-pack' of abs, or sub 10-percent bodyfat for men, sub 15-percent for women  — is 85% food choice, 15% effort. Eliminate grains, legumes, and fructose. Reduce dairy to the whipping cream you put in your espresso. Notice the words "food choice": do not "diet" or restrict eating. Give it 3 months of ashtanga practice. Submit your success photos.

That better be a real tattoo.
This occasional acknowledgment of the physical transformation this practice creates is interesting. We have this difficult primary series we are expected to practice 6 days a week, and that can and will transform your body in many ways.

The shadow aspect of this and any hatha yoga practice or physical discipline is narcissism. Thankfully we are not the first to confront these issues. Far from it: in the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali balances disciplined practice with equal measures self-study and devotion.

So let's at least acknowledge and honor the desire to look good naked, but let's tease it apart from the samadhi that is the residue of this practice. Meaning, to look good naked does not equal samadhi. Let's also tease apart the Protestant work-ethic notion that the more we put into this practice, the more we get out.

I'm not sure if it's obvious, but I don't practice yoga to eliminate or extinguish desire. I don't believe that's possible; or at least, I've never met anyone free from desire. I've never met a saint. Desire makes life possible, after all, and there's a good argument for the idea that life is desire.

This one's for the ladies.
It's the practice of yoga that balances our desire with our consciousness, which helps clear the confusion of our desires and preferences with our essential nature. It doesn't mean we don't have desires and preferences. It's just that practicing samadhi means our desires and preferences don't lead us around by the scruffs of our necks.

To layer guilt for having the desire to look good naked — or for having any thought, really — will turn this or any practice into an insidious means of self-torture.

These desires will arise. Thankfully we have simple tools — the tristana, or ujjayi breathing, vinyasa, and drishti — that allow us to watch them, and then return to our enlightenment.

* Alternate headlines designed to drive up page-traffic:
"How to Chisel Six-pack Abs with Yoga"
"Easy Six-pack Abs with Yoga"
"Lose Belly Fat and Get Six-pack Abs with Yoga"