Chelsea Evans – aka. Chakanunda Vaganunda Chikki Chikki Wa, world famous Yoga Guru – has been sent here so that YOU (yes, you) can learn how to love yourself, because no one else does.
#ouch #butmaybeit’strue? #yogalyfe
After reading the bio for Showga – and being quite the “yogi” myself – I was intrigued to see someone satirise the all-too-trendy yoga/wellness industry for its level of popularity, mainstream accessibility and frantic commercialisation.
#lululemon #yogajournal #instayogi
What Evans actually provides is a highly astute – and highly comical – critical analysis of yoga as it is currently practiced in the West. These days, it seems like everybody and their mother is either practicing yoga or training to become a certified yoga instructor. What is primarily practiced in the West is asana (or “ass-ana” as Evans calls it) – the physical postures originally performed to prepare the body for meditation. Though it is not uncommon for westerners to skip the meditation part and instead focus on the physical aspects of the practice, with some token Sanskrit (the ancient Indian language of the original yogis) thrown in to keep things sufficiently exotic and authentic. The resultant, mainstream version of yoga has become a commodified, often hyper-sexualised fitness regimen, with a New York Times article claiming it to be “the greatest fraud ever perpetuated against American women for the sake of vanity”.
#ass-ana #yogabutt #namaste
And yet any dedicated yogi will tell you that it’s more than just another form of trendy fitness covered in New Age trappings. These new, branded forms of yoga claim to have all of the answers to our collective woes – physical, emotional, existential. Celebri-yogis on their personal websites or instagram feeds depict the all important hero’s journey-to-find-yourself; as Evans’ repeatedly (and at times frantically) exclaims, “I will teach you how to love yourself, because no one else does” – and in only five, simple steps your life will be transformed forever!
*cue inspirational background music*
In the same way the beauty industry makes you feel ugly to sell their next best beauty balm, and advertisers work to create a void in your life the exact shape and size of the latest product they’ve been commissioned to sell, Evans’ comical pseudo-philosophy of Western Yoga classes shows us how everything from yoga teachers to studios, yoga brands, retreats, mats, and workout gear are operating under the same premise: are you miserable? Do yoga. You don’t love yourself? Do yoga. You feel that pressure to look or be a certain, culturally acceptable way? Do yoga.
Evans’ performance points to a plethora of hidden themes and hypocrisies in the yoga sphere, which extend beyond the scope of this review. From incense, to instagram, to inspirational quotes. Selfies to Savasana. Evans is a glittering guru and the embodiment of the commodification and cultural appropriation of this Vedantic spiritual tradition. As funny as she is flexible, there were many moments when my yoga teacher friend and I burst out laughing. I applaud her for the physicality of her performance, her boldness, her pretentious “mmmm”s and her startling “OMMMMM”s…and her scary third-eye gazing.
As Evans falls to the floor in uncontrollable sobs at the end, it is in stark contrast to the chirpy, over-the top persona of Chakanunanda. And here we see her humanity, and humanity in general: we see Evans as an actress, as a woman, a yoga teacher, and a fellow human being. She is finally consumed by the misery and loneliness that she is trying desperately to outrun, that brought her to yoga for the “answers” in the first place.
Despite my seemingly cynical analyses above, I myself believe, and hope that Evans was pointing us in the general direction, that Yoga is a way of being that can help the practitioner cultivate a state of ease and equanimity. But these traits don’t seem to mesh well with our particular brand of highly-competitive capitalism and consumerism. There may be a route to happiness in yoga, but not the way it is often being taught and practiced in the West. Chelsea’s message is not one of helplessness regarding yoga’s authenticity – despite the sad, sobbing ending – it is one of raising consciousness around the current commonplace misleading ways of a multi-billion dollar industry.
As Evans points out, the yoga industry is chock full of ironies. But perhaps the biggest of them all is the fact that you don’t actually need any special clothes, equipment or even a teacher to practice “Yoga”: the journey is within. Whether that journey can be achieved outside of the system of consumer capitalism, or whether the system itself renders such a journey impossible, are difficult questions that Evans’ performance raises and doesn’t necessarily answer. There is solace to be found in such ambiguity, however: to sit with one’s misery and dissatisfaction, free from the cliched slogans of New Age enlightenment, is, at the very least, honest, and at most, perhaps, genuinely liberating.