Dan Mackie: Could Yoga and Meditation Help an Irritable Leader?

  • (Shawn Braley illustration)

For the Valley News
Friday, April 13, 2018

Let’s get Donald Trump out of the way: Unlike almost everything in America these days, this column is not about him. (Did he take credit for the blossoming of the terrific, really great crocuses this spring?)

Lately I’ve been taking note of the yoga and meditation boom in the Upper Valley, and I would bet even his supporters would agree that Trump’s not a Y&M sort of guy.

I have dabbled in both, and recommend them. Even with half-hearted efforts, my balance is pretty good for my age, my blood pressure less than alarming, and I no longer break into a red-faced rage when I come across photos of Nancy Pelosi. I have ceased demanding that my neighbors pay for a border fence, and my wife can confirm that I’ve stopped sputtering about China — mostly.

(I still fret about Chinese essayists undercutting me on price, and want a tariff on their columns. Russian essayists have tried to hack into my computer and meddle with my copy, but so far my editor denies he’s colluding. My made-in-the-U.S.A. prose remains red, white and true blue.)

But about yoga: It’s everywhere in the Upper Valley these days, not just in the likes of Hanover and Norwich, but also in rural towns where you might not expect it. Coming soon: Carhartt yoga pants!

The formerly exotic import from India shows up in the Valley News calendar, listservs, church basements, recreation halls, senior complexes, everywhere but landfills and car washes. More women than men do yoga, but I think more men accept the infirmities of age if they come with a programmable remote control.

I discovered yoga almost 40 years (gulp) ago, when I took a rec department class in Rhode Island. I would not say I was good at it, but being good is not the point. You set your mind to stretching or holding a pose and gently concentrate. The muscles relax, the spirit may follow.

For the record, I wear gray sweatpants or blue shorts and plain T-shirts. No fancy gear for me. Out of respect for the dharma, I would never wear an “I’m With Stupid” T-shirt to a group class.

I have returned to classes a couple of times through the years, and when the heartbreak of advanced Baby Boomer stiffness strikes, I sometimes try to follow along at home to a YouTube yoga video. It’s hard to peek at my laptop when I’m writhing on the floor, but I manage. I usually do it when my wife isn’t home so she won’t be alarmed. Even so-so yoga seems to ease body calcification.

Although I wouldn’t expect to see a chain of America First Yoga Studios, perhaps some American asanas like these might come along:

Selfie-Pose: Head up, one arm out, don’t fall into a water fountain.

Farmer’s Pose: Lie down on the floor on your back after an exhausting day of chores. Next: Sleeping Farmer’s Pose.

Upward Reaching ATM: For those who associate money with nirvana.

Downward Facing Doughnut: More men might take up yoga if the reward was immediate and tangible.

My forays into meditation have also stopped far short of mastery. However, many mornings I set a timer for 15 or 20 minutes, sit in a comfortable chair and try to pay attention to the ins and outs of my breath. When the mind wanders, I gently start over, resisting the urge to call myself a loser.

There’s a lesson or two in this: Your mind is a chattering monkey; don’t give your monkey your Twitter password.

Even done with a beginner’s skill, meditation helps me start the day with more equanimity, that is, fewer urges to throw things, fire people or launch rockets at renegade nations. Just 10 percent more mellowness might be enough to keep your band from snapping.

Come to think of it, the rapid growth of yoga and meditation likely reflects Americans’ need to calm ourselves down after being subjected to an election and news cycle that consist of scandals, policy mishaps and increasingly alarming screen crawls: PUTIN TOUTS SUPER MISSILES … DOW DOWN 600 … FOX NEWS: DRAW AND QUARTER MUELLER …

Well, despite my efforts, this column actually is about Donald Trump. Try as I might, Demagogue Pose — chest out, chin up, finger raised in fury — is all too often on my mind.

I need to find my yoga mat.

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.