Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Am I Still a Yogi if I Listen to Gangster Rap?

When I began practicing yoga at the age of 16, I wasn’t exactly the target demographic. In retrospect, I realize how out of place I must have looked—the lone teenager amongst a gaggle of former hippies and beatniks [the majority party practicing yoga at the time] who refined their sun salutations at the local recreation center. Thankfully, they welcomed me into their tribe, and I immediately felt at home.

From the start, I knew that practicing yoga would have larger implications for my lifestyle choices. Surely, I would have to stop fudging my vegetarianism. No more fish! I vowed. I also suspected that I probably wasn’t catholic anymore. Chanting “om” sounded reverent and holy but not like anything I’d heard in church. I should start wearing my clogs more often (easy enough). Heck, maybe I’d quit shaving my legs or, better yet, grow dreadlocks! As a whole, I would have to be a kinder and gentler person, without makeup. I needed to swear less and stop listening to rap music with offensive lyrics.

Wait. . . what? I love rap music with offensive lyrics!

And, so began my yogic journey toward finding balance with who I was and who I wanted to become. Initially, I erred too far in the direction of virtue- a simple enough mistake- and, consequently, missed a lot of quality rap music. I also removed countless foods from my diet and, in college, bypassed the Saturday morning tailgates in favor of an ashtanga yoga class off-campus. I’m not saying I regret my path—or the debauchery (and shellfish!) that I missed; however, I now recognize that balance is an inside job.

Nobody can strike the delicate combination of sacrifices and indulgences within each one of us that brings optimal peace and happiness.

Certain pillars of achieving balance are obvious. Set positive intentions. Meditate. Exercise. Eat healthfully. Spend time with people you love. Commune with nature. Any of these activities inherently cultivate a feeling of ease within us.

However, human beings are complex creatures, and some of us feel positively Zen-like during activities not known for being, traditionally speaking, very Zen. Like my aforementioned affinity for rap music, for example . . .

Is my taste in music “unyogic?” I have often wondered. Shouldn’t I be listening to Enya? End of story?

Yeaaaah, not so much.

Sure, you can argue that my affinity for Tupac in the 90s helped fuel the East coast/West cost feud, from the standpoint of consumerism, and if you consider the Buddhist principle of “right speech,” the fact that I played the aggressive lyrics loud enough for others to hear and sang along could be percieved as cause for concern. However, you could also argue that I was a big dork who deserved to foster at least one mildly rebellious interest.

As I often mention in this blog, I hold authenticity in the highest regard, and in the 13+ years that I’ve been ensconced in the yoga community, I’ve witnessed a lot of malarkey. I’ve heard yoga teachers vilify coffee or dairy or wheat in one breath, yet in the next breath ask a fellow teacher for drugs. Do you see my point, here? I’m supposed to believe that wheat is a malicious toxin of which we should rid our bodies, but unprescribed Xanax is cool? Did I miss something?

I tend to believe that the crux is thus: Balance is contingent upon authenticity. If you’re putting on airs and deceiving yourself and others, your sense of self will feel rickety and unstable. If the actions in which you engage to feel balanced actually harm you or those around you, the veneer will come down, sooner rather than later.

For me, rap music can feel stable when I need it. It feels brash and unapologetic in ways that I can’t be. During one particularly painful break-up (yup, I’ve weathered my share), I steadied myself by running and listening to music that said all the angry things I couldn’t say. I didn’t feel tough at the time, so I had to muster the strength from somewhere else. If Dr. Dre or Jay-Z could lend me some of their confidence and bravado, then I would accept it gratefully.

In truth, inner peace is cultivated in lots of probable places, like ashrams, on sandy beaches, and in hushed libraries, but it’s the unlikely sources of balance (please feel free to share your own!) that often give us unexpected joy and the clearest perspective of ourselves as individuals. Word to that.

Postscript: Rebecca Pacheco and Russell Simmons, founder of Def Jam Records and devoted yogi, were recently posted side-by-side as contributors to Coincidence? I think not.


elena said...

I love this post. Word. Yeah, I too listen to lots of Hip Hop - It's assisted me through various break ups and the anger that arises during post break up moments - for this running and rap is no doubt a solid way to move through the emotions and use them in a positive way, but I also listen to rap while I do yoga and I've been known to break out some of my own poetic beats when there's no music for my little girl to dance too. Aside the norms of yoga, running, dancing and hip hop - I find mine in my longboard - super late longboard ventures - waaaay better than late night t.v. and although this may not be the healthiest - I love super heady beer and sometimes after a day of health, a cold beer is such a sweet way to surrender.

Anonymous said...

I love the Thoreau quote that says essentially "rather than love, than money, than faith, than fame, than fairness... give me truth." For me, the truth is I am not the picture perfect yogi but I'm an honest one. I still sneak coffee in when I've survived a particularly long night with my baby. I still feel a bit muffed when people are mean to their fellow humans. And I still listen to Kayne (the man has some serious talent....and ego). Like you said OG, it's all about balance.

Aaron Hoopes said...

Embracing ourselves is always the best practice. Listening to Enya when you are yearning for Tupac is supressing your true being.
thanks for a great post!

Daniel said...

Nice post...especially your use of the term "dork"!

Be yourself, don't should on yourself, etc...We have heard this advice so often, yet how hard it is to follow in our society! I wonder if your (catholic) upbringing was what made you think you *had* to give up yourself and conform to be a good yogi? Thankfully the practice reminds us daily to embrace ourselves.

Dig into the long history of rap (and blues) and you'll find that what inspired this musical form was a deeply authentic expression.

sashkind said...

Hi Rebecca,
Thanks for the beautiful, insightful and honest post. It made me wonder whether you can you still be a yogi and attend the college tailgate parties? I don't think they are mutually exlusive, but one of them tends to make the other a bit more challenging.
Senior week, travelling, or anything that bumps us off of our mats can also sometimes make getting back onto them that much more rewarding. I also started practicing in my teens, and even after college I am still learning to appreciate the bumps and falls along this journey. Happy birthday!

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