Culture Guides

Eastern Spirituality for Sale in Vanity Fair

Sexy yoga modes, Zen meditaiton in minutes, multiple choice Ayurvedic constitutions, yup, Vanity fair proves that you can sell anything these days, no matter how sacred.

When I was younger I thought that the Western world was lacking in spirituality. I was reading plenty of books about the East at the time and deduced that our impoverished consumer culture could benefit from a healthy dose of Eastern wisdom. I was forever quoting Sufi stories, yoga techniques and principles of Ayurvedic medicine and it’s a wonder that anyone could stand talking to me.

The other day, though, picking up a copy of the Italian version of Vanity Fair, I discovered to my horror that the East has long since arrived and has now become an exotic edition to that same impoverished culture that sees fit to sell anything that turns a buck.

First of all, I was amused to learn in an editorial that not only is laughing good for you but that 5 minutes of laughter a day is equivalent to 6 hours of Zen meditation. Those poor Japanese monks. If someone had just tickled their toes every now and then they could have saved all those mind-boggling sessions of staring at walls, thinking about the sound of one hand clapping.

For those inclined to take a break from the stresses of daily modern life, there were luminous villas in Florence available and, delight of delights, each room was designed according to the principles of feng shui. God bless those ancient Chinese whose timeless wisdom now makes our vacations that little bit more harmonious.

From there I moved on to the extensive health section and there was scarcely an article that didn’t feature an Eastern trick or two. There was a page dedicated to yoga and I was gratified to see a voluptuous female model contorting her body into suggestive but spiritual poses. Oh, for the days of black and white photos of Indian men in brown underpants performing asanas!

The real treat to follow was the Discover Your Ayurvedic Constitution! 5000 years of Indian medicine condensed into a 2 page spread where each of the three main constitutions was represented by yet more lithe female models. Dressed in fiery stiletto red, cool backless blue and swaying green skirts, I forgot to answer the multiple-choice questions that are probably rendering any number of Ayurvedic practitioners unemployed even as you read this.

By now quite beyond salvation, I scanned the remaining pages at random and the article about new labour-saving household devices might have perked me up had it not been for the Lose your stress in 60 seconds! article that followed it. Estimated reading time: 6 minutes.

Might not the reason for all this stress – an ailment that is apparently an integral part of our modern lifestyle – be that we think we can lose in the space of a minute? How can we be in a hurry to relax? I thought we’d saved a bunch of time with all those new hi-tech devices?

Talk to almost anyone these days and if they have the least interest in getting laid, they’ll all acknowledge themselves to be following a spiritual path. No one believes in judgements any more and everyone keeps a close eye on their energy. When I was 18 I thought that would make a perfect world. It never occurred to me that thousands of years of spiritual disciplines, medicine and mystic poetry could become a fashion.

Weekend courses in shiatsu, 5 minute yoga routines, meditation practices for when you sit in traffic, Reiki master certifications at the right price – it’s all been put up for sale. And been made to look ridiculous in the process.

A famous yogi in India in the 30’s declined to share his learning with students from America and Europe.

“Teach yoga to you? Never! You’d only make a business out of it.”

Ok, ok, maybe I should just tune into the universal flow, maybe take a snack appropriate to my ayurvedic constitution and try that 60 second routine for losing all the stress I picked up reading the stupid magazine in the first place. Or, if I could just see the funny side I’d be well on my way to Zen Enlightenment in the space of half an hour.