The Scotsman (Scotland), July 25, 2002
How does the thought of going through 26 yoga postures in rapid succession in a room heated to 105°F strike you? Dizzying? Madness? Or does it sound like the road to enlightenment?
Hot yoga, the creation of Bikram Choudhury, is the latest lifestyle choice to hit the headlines. But can the usual line-up of celebrity endorsers – this time Helen Hunt and Raquel Welch – and claims that range from improved health to increased tolerance levels convince us to jump on the bandwagon?
Frances Corr of the Scottish Yoga Teachers’ Association (SYTA) is not entirely convinced. “If you can find a hall in Scotland that you can heat to more than 100°F, please tell me. It’s the logistics of it – most classes take place in health clubs, church halls and schools and you’ll never find anywhere suitable. I think it’s just something else to catch the eye, really.”
Corr estimates that 99 per cent of those who come to yoga are alooking for physical gains rather than spiritual ones. Some expect a quick fix and instant transformation to the Madonna physique, but most have more realistic expectations. On its website, the SYTA states that “behind all the current publicity connecting yoga with famous names in glamorous walks of life, lies the simple idea: yoga is the oldest technique for living, operating on physical, mental and spiritual levels.”
While Corr points out that there’s more to yoga than an exercise regime, she’s also clear that it isn’t a religion. But for those who are religious, the quietening of the mind can aid meditation or prayer.
Spirituality has become as much a fashion concept as a handbag or heels. We’ve been exposed to theories about guardian angels, fairies, alien abduction, numerology and spirit guides, most of which come under the general heading New Age and are either raved about or dismissed. Celebrity endorsement can provide a brief blast of publicity, but interest all too often wanes as we move on to the next new thing.
So, why are we so keen to jump on the spiritual bandwagon, and why are those who’ve been touched by fame happy to put themselves out on a limb? Since Shirley MacLaine started writing books about her encounters with aliens, the film roles haven’t exactly been flooding in. But perhaps more than anyone else, the rich and famous have questions they just can’t answer. Wondering why you’ve been elevated to star status is another eternal question to add to the long list, jostling for space with “what happens after I die?” and “what does it all mean?”. And they’re questions to which self-appointed gurus are happy to provide answers in paperback or video form – with large donations to their foundations happily received.
Robin Wood is a member of the Humanist Society of Scotland, a group which adopts a non-religious but ethical life-stance. He points out that the decline in popularity of traditional religions has left many people looking for answers and guidance elsewhere.
Even the Church of Scotland is getting in on the debate, adding a new section to its website, dealing with the question of spirituality from a Christian perspective. It draws no hard and fast conclusions, choosing instead to quote from the Bible, Martin Luther, John Calvin and others. One definition points to “a spiritual hunger in everyone which will satisfy the soul in a way that the commodities of a consumer society apparently do not.” Despite spirituality being offered up for sale in different quick-fix guises, it’s one arena which still leaves us wanting more.