This coming weekend, the New York Times will be out with its latest dive into its latest fascination: CrossFit. (I’m assuming the piece will hit print this weekend, although it is dated today.) The spin this time is wondering why Americans are so fascinated with extreme fitness.
I think this is a good time for a musical interlude:
OK, back to the Times. I’m happy, and just a little surprised, to report that yoga (and Ashtanga as a subset) don’t get mentioned once in the paper’s Sunday magazine article. (Early, hippie-esque jogging does.)
Here’s the key takeaway that I thought might resonate here:
The whole notion of pushing your physical limits — popularized by early Nike ads, Navy SEAL mythos and Lance Armstrong’s cult of personality — has attained a religiosity that’s as passionate as it is pervasive. The “extreme” version of anything is now widely assumed to be an improvement on the original rather than a perverse amplification of it. And as with most of sports culture, there is no gray area. You win or you lose. You leave it all on the floor or you shamefully skulk off the floor with extra gas in your tank.
But our new religion has more than a little in common with the religions that brought our ancestors to America in the first place. Like the idealists and extremists who founded this country, the modern zealots of exercise turn their backs on the indulgences of our culture, seeking solace in self-abnegation and suffering. “This is the route to a better life,” they tell us, gesturing at their sledgehammers and their kettlebells, their military drills and their dramatic re-enactments of hard labor. And in these uncertain times, it doesn’t sound so bad to be prepared for some coming disaster — or even for an actual job doing hard labor, if our empire ever falls.
I’ll make a wild prediction and say this story may signal that the media have moved on from their focus on yoga — though I’m sure the next acro-doggie-SUP-tantra variety will do its best to get attention.
There’s a good side to this, of course. Perhaps if this growing religiosity continues (note: This being a NYT trend story, it assuredly won’t and probably isn’t even a trend to begin with), future focus in public schools will be on Burpees instead of Bhakti.
Posted by Steve