A story earlier today on FOX News discusses whether or not yoga is a sport and in fact “wussifying America’s children.” You can watch the absurdity unfold in the actual video segment, here.
From the very first opening statement, the FOX newscasters start throwing barbs, saying “Apparently we have a lot of time on our hands as 20 million Americans are practicing yoga.” They go on to add that yoga is now being taught in some schools and then proceed to denigrate and generalize yoga as “wussifying America’s children” who need to learn real sports, which involve winning, losing, and a ball of some sort.
The announcers talk to an author and professional speaker named Larry Wingett who wrote a book called Your Kids Are Your Fault. Larry says kids shouldn’t be taught yoga in school because “Life is about winning and losing. It’s competitive. And we need to teach those things at a very young age.”
Larry goes on to say he doesn’t argue the value of mind-body connection yoga provides but he doesn’t think yoga should replace a “real sport”. Throughout the entire broadcast the announcers use the word “zen” to refer to calm/poise, though I am pretty sure none of them actually know what the word means or that it refers to a aspect of Buddhism, not yoga.
Yoga. Zen. Hippie spiritual stuff. You know.
I take issue with FOX’s dismissal of yoga for kids in that they are reducing the practice to physical accomplishment or stress reduction, yet at no time do they mention the discipline required to excel at yoga. It’s implied that only team/ball sports will teach young people how to pick themselves up after a defeat and carry on in the face of that defeat. Because, you know, no one has ever failed to execute a yoga pose perfectly.
Yoga may not be competitive—there are no ribbons or medals handed out—but the motivation for excellence is more intrinsic in yoga, whereas for many team sports the motivation is extrinsic. I’m not going to argue that one is better than the other. Both have their place. Team sports foster good sportsmanship (though you wouldn’t know it from so many adult pro football players throwing tantrums on field on camera), camaraderie, and of course, team work. Because it’s an individual endeavor yoga focuses more on self-reliance, but also instills life lessons like how to be kind, compassionate, thoughtful, and persevering.
But our nation’s kids don’t need any silly lessons like that, acoording to Fox News. Those things don’t matter in the game of life. Winning and losing do. Because by golly, this is Amurka, and we will kick your *ss if you disagree with what we say.
Larry’s upcoming book is called “Grow a Pair”. He suggests that America has grown soft and needs to Harden The F*ck Up. No, he doesn’t actually say HTFU this on FOX news, but it’s a sentiment I hear all the time in the cycling, fitness, and especially the Crossfit community. Larry says yoga is “okay for stress reduction but it doesn’t replace sport.” The implication, throughout the interview and the attitude of the newscasters is yoga is easy—a touchy-feely feel-good thing—and doesn’t teach you anything valuable.
Given the recent shootings and mass murders across our country, I beg to differ. I believe yoga and martial arts, when practiced at early ages, teach VERY important life lessons like patience, self-mastery, fairness, and compassion for self and others. Perhaps most importantly it teaches something that is becoming increasingly rare in our country: discipline. Our country is full of self-hatred and self-loathing, narcissism and bullying and kids are largely a product of their environment. Emotionally disturbed kids who aren’t exposed to self-calming practices might grow up to be deranged psychopaths who—on a bad day—snap and lash out because they haven’t learned “life lessons”—or maybe learned the wrong ones.
Ironically, the New York Times posted a story today about the increasing popularity of yoga programs in prisons throughout the country. I won’t excuse the bad choices, actions, and behaviors that land convicted criminals in jail, but it is true many people who are incarcerated are products of VERY “hard” environments. They HTFUd to the point that they lost all sense of self, responsibility, or compassion for others.
In Portland, where BikeYoga is headquartered, the Living Yoga program is one of the nation’s largest and oldest volunteer prison yoga programs. The program serves not only state prison populations but also other high-risk populations such as drug and alcohol treatment centers, domestic and sexual abuse shelters, and homeless youth organizations. The impetus for the program came from the shocking discovery that meditation programs employed on a regular basis in a maximum security prison in India resulted in a significantly lower rate of recidivism. In other words, calm, peaceful, loving people are more thoughtful, responsible citizens. For many who are incarcerated today, had they learned better “life lessons” early on, perhaps they could have made better informed, positive choices for themselves in their lives.
Beyond any larger philosophical discussions about whether yoga in schools is harmful or helpful, I would like to personally throw down the gauntlet and invite Mr Winget and all the FOX newscasters to a 90-minute yoga class with me. Or heck, make it 10 minutes. It won’t take long, really. We’ll see who can hold plank pose the longest, execute a handstand, perform the deepest splits and backbends, and do a moderate number of sun salutations—say 20. In a row. Without pausing. In 90 degree heat. Maybe Mr Winget can give me a few pointers about my astavakrasana pose…
I know, I know. Yoga isn’t about competition (kind of like FOX News isn’t about news). Still… I say bring it. I have a few life lessons to share with anyone who thinks yoga is for wussies. Like what your transverse abdominus is, and how exercising your perineum might allow you to avoid adult diapers in your near future due to weak (i.e. wussie) pelvic floor muscles. Because it’s difficult to Harden the F*ck Up and feel like a winner while you’re wearing diapers. I’ll even throw a ball into it for you. And some medals. And in the meantime, I’ll keep working on my “zen-like” tolerance of the ignorance and hyperbole that is FOX News.
If yoga is “wussie” then I am the BOSS of WUSS. Anyone who’s done more than a simple relaxation class knows the physical aspects of yoga practice can be relaxed or intense, athletic or gentle. I like it a little yin and yang, myself. But if you want to see me go head-to-head with these folks in a last-woman-or-man-planking “wuss off”, please leave a comment below with your views, and share with friends and foes alike.
Stay wussie, yo.
NOTE: This post is taken directly from my Yoga for Cyclists website, www.bikeyoga.com, where you can buy my book, and look for soon-to-be-added videos to get in touch with your inner “wuss”. Also, yoga will kick your ass, but in a really, really awesome way.