(Above: My new favorite corkscrew.)
I spent most of last week in the Napa Valley at the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers, to which I’d won a fellowship. The symposium takes place at Meadowood and the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone (CIA) campus, and like other retreats of its kind, it’s an opportunity to step out of the whirlwind of deadlines and day-to-day stress to focus on the craft of writing.
It also gave me the excuse to wander around the CIA and check out their collection of wine-related historical knickknacks, such as the mermaid corkscrew above. I believe the worm really is coming out of her breasts, although her creator felt the need to position her hands just so in order to maintain some modesty.
Later on, I found myself thinking of the mermaid when I read an account of the Sixth Annual International Yoga Asana Championship on Slate. (There’s some amazing, if freaky, video at that website, not to mention a yoga disco soundtrack; check it out). Anyway, I do yoga regularly, and while I’m the first to admit that the physical and mental aspects of it are deeply rewarding, the whole thing can seem rather culty, especially here in California. But I had no idea there was a competitive circuit of yoga!
As you might imagine, the whole thing sounds strangely, wonderfully bizarre. From the article on Slate:
To those of us who’ve spent years practicing yoga in an atmosphere of soft-lit candles, chanting, and nonjudgmental good vibes, the idea of a yoga competition sounds about as absurd as the idea of competitive prayer. On my way to the 6th Annual International Yoga Asana Championship, held at the Westin Hotel LAX on the weekend of Feb. 7, I steeled myself to bear witness to some sort of whacked-out yoga circus, and that’s more or less what I got. But a lot of yoga culture feels weird and circuslike to me anyway, so I would have felt disappointed if it had ended up being otherwise. I can now also tell you that there’s a chance competitive yoga will soon be an official event at the Summer Olympics.
At the center of the weekend, wearing flashy suits and various fedoras, stood Bikram Choudhury, the animating force behind the competitive yoga circuit. Here’s a man who’s copyrighted his style of yoga (26 postures, repeated twice, in a room heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit), sends cease-and-desist letters to those who dare flout the copyright, and, in interviews, summarily dismisses all other forms of American yoga while also bragging about his love for McDonald’s and his large fleet of self-restored Rolls-Royces. He once famously told Business 2.0 magazine that his yoga was the “only yoga.” When asked why, he said it was because he has “balls like atom bombs, two of them, 100 megatons each. Nobody fucks with me.” Not surprisingly, other yoga circles view him and his particular craft with everything from mildly dismissive amusement to a disdain coming close to disgust.
Continuing on to the competition itself:
When I returned the next morning, the room had been transformed into a legitimate athletic stage, with no evidence of the previous night’s variety-show nuttiness save a few stray red balloons in the rafters. Everything ran with precision and efficiency. The video and audio were of professional quality and the emcee had a classy, sonorous voice. Most impressively, the competitors, judged under strict and consistent standards, continually wafted into beautiful and magnificent yoga postures.
I should add that in the display case next to the one containing the mermaid corkscrew, there’s a collection of various non-corkscrew wine openers, mostly gas and or air pump numbers. A casual glance, however, could easily lead one to an entirely different set of conclusions. Was I at the Culinary Institute of America or Good Vibrations?