Forget brushing up on politics, current events and fine art. If you want to make a hit at a cocktail party these days, you need to get with the yogi program. And by "cocktail party", I mean not the sort where Extra Dry Gin Martinis are served up with baby lamb chops and oysters Rockefeller. Nor do I mean the sort where bright pink Cosmopolitans and pale pearlescent Lychee Martinis are imbibed by stiletto-clackers and their well-heeled boyfriends.
By "cocktail party", I mean an early-evening (early evening so as not to interfere with the next morning's yoga practice) gathering of slender, well-muscled, women wearing deltoid-bearing halter tops and flowing, batik cotton skirts and skinny men wearing pants made of hemp, where the libation of choice is an organic red (preferably pinot noir) and the nibbles are vegan and spartan and inevitably involve
Now, why would one care to fit in with such a rarified group? I suppose that depends on whom you're hoping to go home with that night. If you're still holding out hope of landing a gainfully employed hedge fund manager and riding off into the suburban sunset in a Cadillac Escalade, then perhaps you'd be at the wrong party. But perhaps it has begun to dawn on you that a better bet these days might be someone whose ups and downs are tied not to the ebbs and flows of the stock market but to the ebbs and flows of that which is far more within their own control: namely, their state of enlightenment.
If you decide that mingling with the cult that is yoga is the right move for you, then here's what you need to do in order to fit in:
1. Be skinny...
Like it or not, yogis tend to be a slender group. On the other hand, so do ballet dancers and supermodels, and women who live on the Upper East Side.
What makes it different for yogis (or at least so goes the yogi party line) is that skinniness is prized by yogis not in the name of "form" (as in "I look so good now that I weigh only 90 pounds!") but in the name of function (as in, "I am so much better at lifting up into Handstand when I weigh only 90 pounds!), which "function" is put to the purpose of achieving enlightenment.
That's right: enlightenment arising from a lithe body.
It's no joke, and it's not merely lip service brought to you by the folks at Yoga Journal, who sell magazines by catering to those who would be (or be WITH) the gorgeously svelte girls appearing (and, of course, bending) on the cover each month.
Rather, yogis are taught, from the moment they begin studying the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (a 2000-plus-year old text that is essentially the yogi's "user handbook") that enlightenment requires a body that is healthy and light and capable of meditating for extended periods of time without food or rest. The Yoga Sutras go so far as to state that "adamantine hardness" is an attribute of a body that has been perfected by yoga ("perfected", in this case, meaning "capable of enlightenment"). And yogis who participate in Vedic chanting typically offer "Salutations to the Mother who has a slender waist". All together now: "OM SHATODARYAI NAMAHA".
Thus, it should come as no surprise when you see a six-foot tall yogi whose weight comes in at around 135, blissfuly munching out on a plate full of mung bean sprouts. Clearly, he realizes the connection between eating sprouts and reaching enlightenment.
But, look, if skinny is not exactly where you're at, you can work around it, nevertheless, by drawing attention to your having made a conscious decision to not buy into the whole "skinny yogi" thing. You might consider initiating a dialogue about whether one needs to be skinny in order to practice yoga. You can even use the opportunity to drop the term "kapha" into the conversation. "Kapha" is one of the three body types (i.e., "doshas") referenced in "Ayurveda" (an ancient Indian holistic medical system, based on achieving physical and mental harmony with nature), and in particular, the body type associated with a tendency toward, shall we say, not-skinniness. You can tell your new yogi friends that Kapha types are uniquely suited for yoga practice since the Kapha body is usually well-oiled, with pliant muscles and flexible joints.
(Click here to take a quick quiz that will tell you what your dosha is so that you can talk about it, whatever it is.)
Be prepared for lively debate on this topic, as some of your new friends will no doubt regale you with stories of how they were unable to master this or that yoga pose until losing some significant percentage of their body weight; if their weight ever creeps up to even a pound beyond some self-designated critical weight, that pose becomes elusive once again. In response, you can offer up your determination to not "cheat" your way into poses by simply skinny-ing down. But I should warn you that you'd have better luck attempting to persuade a cocktail party full of McCain supporters of the merits of gun control, abortion rights and taxing the rich.
If it turns out that this line of discussion raises hackles, then you can divert attention from it by immediately dropping some variant of the word "mindful" into the conversation. Which brings me to...
2. Be "mindful"...
OR, at the very least, talk about how mindful you are. It actually doesn't matter if you are, in fact, "mindful", or even if you know what it means to BE mindful. Just drop the word, or some variant thereof, numerous times over the course of the evening. For example, when someone asks you if you would like another glass of wine, you can answer, "I'm trying to be mindful of my level of consciousness at all times these days, and, hmmm, well, yes, I do believe that I am still open to the changes that a glass of wine might bring about.".
Same thing if someone offers you marijuana. Now, everyone knows that a yogi would never ever ever smoke a cigarette. Doobies are a different story, however. Many yogis are more than happy to take a toke now and then. Even before yoga class, I'm told. If you happen to find yourself on the receiving end of a mindfully passed joint, and you would like to partake, be sure to accompany your inhale with talk of how pot magnifies your "mindfulness", bringing you closer to your true self.
And when you find yourself getting the munchies, you should by all means wax poetically about how you would love to get your hands on some samosas right about now, which brings me to....
3. Be into Indian Food...
As a matter of fact, be into everything Indian. Yoga originated in India, and this has translated into yogis adoring India, Indian food, Indian clothes, and basically, all things Indian. When your new yogi friends joke about having eaten "too many chapatis", what they mean is that they feel a bit bloated. When they obsess over where to get the best "chai" in the city, you should never refer them to Starbucks. Starbucks serves something called "Chai Tea Latte", which is simply wrong, wrong, wrong, starting with the name, itself. Every yogi knows that when it comes to Chai, both the "tea" and the "latte" go without saying: authentic Indian Chai is black tea brewed in milk with ginger, cardamom and black pepper. Adding insult to injury, Starbucks reconstitutes its product from a syrup. To a yogi, that is blasphemy. Authentic Indian Chai must be freshly brewed. Or don't even bother.
When you refer to India, you might want to consider calling it, "Mother India", regardless of your heritage. And you should definitely talk about your plans to visit. Soon. As soon as possible. Because that is where your teacher is. And you know that as a yogi, you MUST have a teacher...YOUR teacher....
4. Be "your teacher's" student...
Almost as important as dropping "mindful" (or, for that matter, "equanimity", "lovingkindness" and "nonattachment") into the conversation, is referring to someone (anyone!), as "my teacher". Whatever it is you might say, it will sound far better if you attribute it to "my teacher". A true yogi will not refer to "this teacher that I have" or "this teacher that I took a class from" or "this guy who taught my yoga class today". Instead, it has to be "my teacher".
Every yogi has one. And by one, I mean "one". Even if they have more than one. Even if it is someone they've never met. Especially if it is someone they've never met, in which case, it's not "my teacher", but "my GURU".
Be sure to quote "my teacher" liberally because almost anything you might possibly say will sound far more believable, not to mention far more interesting, if you begin the sentence with, "My teacher said..." For example, imagine telling your new yogi friends that "this guy who I took a class with at some yoga studio told me that I should walk on my hands while I'm in a backbend." Sounds preposterous, no? Now, imagine saying it this way: "My teacher told me to practice walking on my hands in a backbend." Ahhhh. See the difference?
In a similar vein, you can blame "my teacher" for just about anything.
So, if after an hour or so of nibbling on sprouts and drinking Pinot , you decide that what you really want is a big bucket of Buffalo wings and a beer, then all you need to do is tell your host, "My teacher told me that I really need a good night's sleep." And then take your leave (pausing to say, "Namaste", hands in prayer at the center of your ribcage, head bowed slightly).
Everyone will understand. They're yogis, after all.