Twist and Shout

About a year ago I went to an introductory Bikram class yoga for a week. To do Bikram is to experience physical intensity and possible spiritual backsliding in a dark, hot, sweaty room lined with mirrors and full of bikinis. Bikram is the strip club of yoga practices. I loved it and may some day go back. But despite its disdain for piety, Bikram ultimately indulges in some New Age gibberish of its own.

The Bikram series ends with a seated twist, and the instructors tell you that this is to squeeze out the toxins that the preceding practice has shaken loose. There is absolutely no way this can be true. Even if you believe that the key to health is to rid your body of chemical “toxins” (as opposed to, say, sin or evil spirits) it strains one’s credulity to believe that sitting with one leg extended and one leg bent while rotating your torso will accomplish this. Actual toxins would manifest on a molecular level. Employing large-scale bodily movements to expel them is like like trying to harness plate tectonics to rearrange your sock drawer.

Still, the metaphor is compelling. We’ve all had the satisfying experience of wringing out a washcloth. That’s just twisting a thing about its axis in the same way that the concluding Bikram pose is twisting about the axis of your spine. The association is so clear that it seems a shame for it not to have some deeper significance. Why not create a local belief system that licenses this particular metaphor? What could it hurt? Especially when there’s no penalty for being wrong.

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