Political Karma

Tim Wu sends this dispatch from the Democratic National Convention:

Think yoga and you imagine limber, young people breathing softly. Politics, meanwhile, conjures up the exact opposite image: unhealthy old stiff people screaming at each other.

That’s why it might be a surprise to find that yoga has a presence at the Democratic National Convention. “Yoga,” said one of Google’s political advisers, “is everywhere.” Every day in the Big Tent—a sort of holding tank for bloggers—yoga practice is on the morning schedule. But the true epicenter of convention yoga is the Oasis, a lounge that is the brainchild of yogi Seanne Corn, a 41-year-old who looks 26, and one of her students, Arianna Huffington.

The convention itself is a microcosm of the human struggle with desire: Most spend their days in an endless pursuit of the best credentials, party tickets, and celebrity encounters.  But Huffington says she is looking for something more transcendent: “inter-connectedness,” or so she told me, a little before taking a break to have a feet rubbed while she poked at her BlackBerry.

Can politics learn anything from yoga? “That we are all one,” said Corn, and that “everything that is happening to us is a manifestation of our collective thoughts.” A bit like democracy, except you just have to think instead of voting. Can yoga help the Obama/Clinton divide? “Individual healing,” says Corn, “is necessary to heal the collective.”

Unfortunately for Corn, her efforts to create an alternative vibe in the center of American political culture was, on Tuesday afternoon, running into a few problems. Crowds of men clad in blue blazers, shoulders bent from too much BlackBerry use, began to take over. The number of guests actually choosing to practice yoga was few, with the exception of one online magazine editor being gently pulled apart in a side room. Given a choice, most preferred the hobnob over the downward dog.

And despite its transcendent aspirations, the Oasis does seem to have something of a nonkarmic obsession with reporting on the celebrities who visit the place via the Huffington Post. It would seem that at least one of Buddhism’s eight worldly concerns—the desire for fame—remains unconquered.

Yet to their credit, the volunteer yoga teachers and masseuses fought back and re-established a less striving vibe. There were headstands. A man clad in monk’s robes conducted a meditation. Someone began to play a guitar. I asked Meaghan deRoos, a yoga teacher who helped me with my headstand practice, whether there was one thing she’d hope the center could accomplish.  “Yes,” she said. “Getting people to breathe.”