Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

My Life in the New Age

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

My Life in the New Age

Article excerpt

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving

hysterical naked

angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection

to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night..."

-Allen Ginsberg, "Howl," 1955-1956

AS LONG AS I HAVE KNOWN MYSELF, I'VE BEEN affiliated with the New Age. When I was growing up, my father used to describe his phobia of that other world, linking it to scenes out of the single sixties Maharishi Mahesh Yogi meeting he snuck into at MIT, describing it as the provenance of overweight women with very long hair and colorful skirts. Early on I was far too fascinated by American consumerism and eighties materialism to go there; I loved pop, punk, metal, hip-hop, and everything in between; I've always loved things black and torn and weird. As a kid I was terrified of Hare Krishnas, those flowy orange-draped bald stick figures with their ramshackle parade that used to echo down Wilshire Boulevard, just off the college campus I grew up on, UCLA, where my nuclear-physicist dad, and only hero, taught.

But in the summer of 1997, my first summer home after college, a yoga studio opened up on the other side of Raymond Hill, the apartment district in South Pasadena, California, where I came of age. Just over the hilltop was a small stretch of strip mall, mainly a revolving array of hair salons and insurance storefronts, but suddenly the words Yoga House and Grand Opening were plastered on a dark door.

I don't know what compelled me. Boredom, I think. But somehow I walked into a Yoga 101 class taught by Jean, a woman who'd be assisting my yoga teacher's training in Santa Monica a decade later-and, well, I fell in love or habit or something in between.

My father's reaction: Good luck being one of those ladies. Do you want a rainbow skirt?

I went nonetheless, and for a while just the exercise aspect of it appealed-I got a sort of yoga high from it all. I convinced myself my waist was disappearing, skin was clearing, sleep was improving, and anxiety was waning. And who knows, maybe it was.

Every year that went by I grew a bit yogaier. "Ñamaste" for goodbye sign-offs; crystals on a chain hovering over my collarbone; head wraps; and a few times, saris. Sometimes even the dreaded colorful flowy skirts.

I never became a hippie, but I began to call myself "spiritual." I began to blame things on my ayurvedic makeup (my pitta vata nature), I began to chant during chores, I began to read the works of Eastern sages and prophets of every caliber. At worst I was J. D. Salinger's Franny with the Jesus Prayer; at best-or another kind of worst, at least-I was Madonna and Gwen Stefani, blond sisters with brown hearts, in power-yoga fever, bindis and psychedelia in the pop world just before the freak-folk fringe.

On the final day of the last millennium, I took a yoga class in that same old hometown yoga studio with Cara, a teacher I adored. She began class with, "I know this is a difficult time for many of us." I had no idea what she meant. There were a few murmurs of agreement, too. "Some call it Y2K, some call it an end, but I call it a beginning." I groaned in my head-it was all over the media, strangely worming its way into hard news, this new paranoia that had as much to do with a distrust of digital technology as it did with apocalyptic magical thinking-but she went on and on, "I think we can change the world. And I mean that. We can do it." My thoughts drifted to yoga pants and headstands and lunch as her platitudes blended into the yogascape. "Our minds can do it. Let's practice now, and a few minutes before midnight I want you to do this again. You are in a burning airplane, imagine the burning airplane. But if you and every person on that flight think water and air, the plane will be fine." I looked around and all eyes were closed, all faces serious, from serene to tense. "And even when the disaster strikes, and you are in a world of sirens and chaos-let's embrace the possibility of it happening-imagine that your mind and thoughts can reverse it. …

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