As if President Bush didn't have enough trouble, the yoga community of Los Angeles launched its campaign of chakra and awe against him on Sunday.
"Voting is one of the ways society gives us to express our values," said keynote speaker Robert Rabbin, a writer who has practiced meditation for 35 years. "If we don't vote, it's a betrayal of the very yoga and meditation we pursue. There's no such thing as being apolitical. I hope to get out the vote for the mystic crowd. Twenty million U.S. adults practice yoga and meditate regularly -- that's one hell of a swing bloc."
At a Hollywood yoga studio called Focus Fish, about 250 people took part in "Yoga for Kerry," an all-day fund- and consciousness-raiser aimed at regime change in the United States. For donations starting at $50, attendees could take classes with respected teachers, listen to kirtan music and political speakers, and take part in group meditations.
Organizers had hoped the event would draw about 300 people, which it nearly did, and raise as much as $20,000, which it didn't (early estimates were about $3,600). Nevertheless, event co-producer Michael Mollura thought the day served its purpose.
"We didn't think we'd change the balance of the financial competition," Mollura said. "We felt like we wanted to imbue the election process with love. It's really an attempt to create something that is positive and loving in something that is otherwise thought of as cynical. I think everybody who came here today felt loved, felt cared for. Usually these things are Bush-bashing and people-bashing, but this was a positive event."
The crowd seemed generally in agreement that Bush had not obeyed the yamas, or moral tenets, but there was little negative rhetoric. The most pointed barbs came from speaker Rabbin and in private conversations. Most participants who took issue with the Bush administration's mantra of preemptive war countered with their own Weapons of Meditation and Dharma.
"There isn't a lot of policy difference between Bush and Kerry on some issues," Rabbin said. "But there's a world of difference between their levels of consciousness. I'm voting for Kerry and Edwards because in my mind they and the people they will bring in are at least human beings. In my mind, George Bush et al are a group of psychopaths -- it's a clinical term, the primary element of which is an absolute lack of empathy."
At Sunday's event, yogis and yoginis were free to follow their bliss. In one room, some indulged in "healing sessions." Outside, some bought beads, tea and Indian food. On the roof, musicians played to appreciative audiences.
The multiethnic crowd wore gym clothes, traditional Indian garb and a few political T-shirts -- in other words, a pretty typical Los Angeles bunch. While a few admitted they were there for specific teachers, most said they were drawn by the mix of yoga and politics -- and a chance to say neti-neti to President Bush.
"The planet needs more kindness," said Harijiwan, who has taught yoga for 29 years. "I would ask him to look through all of his policies to see if they make people's lives better or if they're based on fear."
Adam Sigel, a representative of California Grass Roots for Kerry, said, "My concern is that our country has been taken away from us by extremists. So we're here to show that the left have beliefs and spirit too -- and we've got a lot more soul."
Among the booths in the parking lot was one for the Democratic Club of West Los Angeles, where volunteers registered voters and spread the gospel according to John (Kerry).
"I was looking at the mix of religion and politics, the way that George Bush uses evangelical language," said volunteer Matt Gunn. "Yoga is not a religion, but it is something that has a spiritual focus. I think it's just about finding that balance. If you're a spiritual person, then you want to bring that to the way you feel about civic life."
While Gunn had at best "flirted" with yoga, volunteer Michelle Martin said she had been practicing for three years and was anxious to check out some of the events. "When the war was going on, meditation was helpful to me," she said. "It's a way to stay calm and centered amidst a lot of chaos."
In the middle of the day, teacher Steve Ross led a yoga class of about 35 through a series of positions that the Geneva Convention might prohibit but the students seemed to enjoy. The air-conditioned studio with its soft, iPod-generated music seemed like a completely different world from the vendors and political booths in the blazing heat outside.
After Ross' class, which was mostly young and female, Rabbin delivered his keynote speech about "spiritual activism," to a somewhat older and mostly male crowd.