A story earlier today on FOX News discusses whether or not yoga is a sport and in fact “wussifying America’s children.” You can read the full story 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 the “zen trend” is being taught in 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 it’s turning them into wussies instead of teaching them what life is all about: “Life is about winning and losing. It’s competitive. And we need to teach those things at a very young age.” He then 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.
Where I take issue with FOX’s obvious denigration and dismissal of yoga for kids, is they are reducing the practice to physical accomplishment, and stress reduction, no 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 fact of that defeat. As one student remarked in class today after a particularly strong abdominal sequence, “Right. Like I’ve never had to pick myself up after failing in yoga!”
It may not be competitive, and there are no ribbons or medals handed out, but the motivation for excellence is much 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 (supposedly) foster good sportsmanship (as evidence by so many adult pro football players throwing tantrums on field ON CAMERA, right?), camaraderie, and of course, team work. Yoga, because it’s an individual endeavor, focuses more on self-reliance, true, but also instills (life) lessons like how to be authentic, kind, compassionate, and caring and persevering.
But our nation’s kids don’t need any silly lessons like that. Those things don’t matter in the game of life. Winning and losing do. Right?
Larry’s new 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.
I absolutely agree that yoga is not a “sport”. But by his standards, neither is the Tour de France, the MegaAvalanche, or Ultimate frisbee. In fact, most Olympic sports are out too. Ski jumping? High Diving? Lycra wasn’t invented just for ball sports, but I digress…
I propose “sport” is a state of mind, much like yoga. And there are “good sports” and “bad sports”, if you follow my meaning. Whatever means by which we humans learn to be “good sports” doesn’t seem (to me) to matter.
Given the recent shootings and mass murders across our country I have to unabashedly say I think yoga absolutely belongs in schools. I believe yoga and martial arts, taught at early ages, teach VERY important life lessons, like patience, self-mastery, fairness, and compassion for self and others, and most importantly, discipline. Our country is full of self-hatred and self-loathing. 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 who maybe learned the wrong ones. You know… The ones that teach people to HTFU without also teaching that there is tremendous POWER in compassion and wise action— power that frequently trumps might.
Interestingly, yoga was in the news elsewhere today in an even more unlikely venue. The New York Times posted a story about the increasing popularity of yoga programs in prisons throughout the country. I won’t excuse bad choices, actions, and behaviors, but the fact remains that many people who are incarcerated are products of VERY “hard” environments. They HTFU’d to the point that they lost all sense of self, responsibility, or compassion for others and succumbed to criminal activities.
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—lessons that balance the hard and the soft—perhaps they could have made more informed, healthy, positive choices for themselves.
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. We’ll see who can hold plank pose the longest or—even better—just sit still, be quiet and not say a damn word, while practicing “zen-like” (whatever that is). Or maybe Mr Winget can give me a few pointers about my wussie 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 you. Like what your transverse abdominus is, and how exercising your perineum might allow you to avoid adult diapers in your near future because of weak pelvic floor muscles. And how to access a different part of your brain through meditation. The part that doesn’t confuse STRENGTH with HARDNESS or POWER with INTIMIDATION. I’ll even throw a ball into it for you, and we’ll have an independent panel duduct and award points based on performance. Maybe I’ll make a trophy. But in the meantime, I’ll keep working on my zen-like tolerance of the ignorance and hyperbole that is FOX News. Clearly I need more practice with this.
If yoga is “wussie” then I am the BOSS of WUSS. Anyone who’s done more than a simple relaxation class knows yoga forms 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.