Katrina vanden Heuvel: Why I Swapped Yoga for Kickboxing This Election Year
So, as I've tweeted, I've switched up my exercise regimen: yoga out; kickboxing in. And so far, I'm happy to report, I've thrown exactly zero punches in public and kicked exactly zero people in the face – coincidentally, the same number of times I found myself spontaneously springing into a handstand or lifting into a wheel pose while I was a practising yogini. (And, as recently reported by William J Broad in the Times, I may actually be safer with gloves and a heavy bag than I am with Lululemon and a mat.)
Now, I have nothing against yoga, but in light of the threat to our country posed by decidedly hawkish GOP wannabes, I find – at least for my purposes as publisher and editor of the Nation – yoga's emphasis on serenity and pacifism to be frustrating at best, impractical at worst. It's not that there's anything objectionable about the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras; like many ancient spiritual texts, they are eminently wise and reasonable. But were I to completely adopt yogic philosophy and fully embrace the key principle of non-attachment (vairagya in Sanskrit), I'm fairly certain that Mitt Romney would be standing right there, LBOpaperwork in hand, ready to "attach" himself to anything and everything I've renounced: my house, my car, my penchant for basketball – and my right to choose, my healthcare, my writ of habeas corpus.
Quite simply, yoga doesn't play in politics, which, for Republicans in this day and age, is all about winning, taking and imposing one's will upon others.
Now, more than ever, Americans need to stand up, to fight for what is rightfully ours; we cannot dispassionately let the right impose its will upon us merely because we believe we're closer to spiritual enlightenment than they are. Who knows what might have become of George W Bush's ludicrous plan for an "ownership society" had Americans of sound mind followed yoga's traditional eschewing of possession and "ownership" in general? Would we have become happy ascetics while financial-sector plutocrats took for themselves everything we'd spent our lives working for?
What's more, on a practical level, there's less difference between kickboxing and yoga than you might think. The superficial physical objectives (ability to kick ass in one case, extreme flexibility and agility in the other) are just that – superficial – and are really proxies for something else. (That is, not all of us who kickbox are training for Ultimate Fighting Championship – but don't hold me to that, should I find myself alone in a room with Rick Santorum.) For me, the most important parts of any physical/spiritual/martial practice are discipline and fitness. And ultimately, a workout is a workout, regardless of how it was achieved: if filling up America's dojos and shalas with kids makes a dent in our obesity epidemic, then I'm not going to quibble over simulated violence v simulated pacifism.
Don't get me wrong: we need yogis and yoga in our society. Together, they represent a valuable addition to contemporary thought and culture. But for me, in a contentious election year, I find it more meaningful to lace up my gloves and kick some ass (or at least, a punching bag).