Dr. Strange and Strange Trips

Lucas Richert on the relationship between superhero Dr. Strange and his newly released book called Strange Trips: Science, Culture, and the Regulation of Drugs.

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In 2016, the film Doctor Strange was released to moderate acclaim but much fanfare. It was considered Marvel’s trippiest film to date. Critics praised the hypnotic visuals (for being next level Inception) and its mind-bending, time-twisting ending. They also praised Benedict Cumberbatch’s full-on arrogance, and Tilda Swinton’s performance as the bald Ancient One.

One critic argued that the film provided “a thrilling existential dilemma in which its flawed hero’s personal search for purpose dovetails beautifully with forays into the occult New Age realm of magic and sorcery where Doctor Strange ultimately finds his calling.” Another critic noted that the movie was “basically a reboot of Iron Man, only with a lot more prettier things to look at while you’re stoned.” A third and final reviewer noted how the film was grounded in “the mind-expanding tenets of Eastern mysticism” but was “different enough to establish a solid niche alongside the blockbuster combine’s established money machines.”[1]

In 1963, when comic book readers were first exposed to Dr. Stephen Strange, he wasn’t terribly likable. Serious and with silver-streaked hair, Strange was middle-aged and aloof. He was a different kind of hero. There was no super strength nor a billion-dollar trust fund to draw from; he had no callow jokes and there was certainly no unadulterated patriotism. Alex Pappademas has done a great job in writing about him for  the website Grantland (when it still existed, that is).

Strange wasn’t a puncher. He solved problems and defeated villains by entering dreams, jettisoning his physical body, and studying (yes, studying) his library full of ancient magic books for hours upon hours upon hours.

As he once put it, “I have truly gained the greatest power of all. That which the fountainhead of all other power…I have gained the gift of knowledge.”[2] His rise to become the Sorcerer Supreme, the sole protector of the earthly realm, was predicated on learning and revising – occasionally cramming the night before – magical and mystical techniques.

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So how does Dr. Strange relate to my new book, Strange Trips?  

Prior to becoming a thoughtful and magical superhero, Stephen Strange was at one time the finest surgeon in the United States, as obnoxiously arrogant and money-driven as he was brilliant. He was a personification of free-enterprise medicine and the biomedical model in action.

When a fellow physician told Strange that a patient wished to thank him for performing an operation successfully, his response was: “I can’t be bothered!” Lighting a cigarette coolly, Strange added, “Just be sure he pays his bill!” And worse still, Strange refused services to anyone without resources to cover the costs. “Sorry,” Strange heartlessly told a potential patient as he examined X-Rays, “if you won’t pay my price, I can’t help you! Find another doctor!” Whoa.

Kwame Opam suggested (rather inelegantly but accurately) that Strange had an “asshole streak.” Joshua Rivera argued that he was pretty unique.

However, Strange’s life was irrevocably altered after a single-vehicle collision and the resulting nerve damage in his all-important hands. Everything went downhill. His career was over; he would never perform surgery again.

Yet, Strange was unwilling to give up. Having heard whispers of a miracle physician, a mystical being who could cure any health problem, Strange travelled abroad. In a state of desperation and anxiety, he ventured to India to seek out the Ancient One, even though it was clear he was doing so for greedy and selfish reasons. Only after a period of introspection and a series of trials (including saving the Ancient One’s life) does Strange realize the error of his ways and begin his spiritual conversion; essentially, his transition from a Western-trained doctor to a different kind entirely.[3]

Dr. Strange’s first appearance in the comic book world was in December 1963 and other real-life doctors were contemplating mysticism and the medical model.

In November of that same year, Harvard divinity-school grad Walter Pahnke published the results of his “Good Friday Experiment,” in which volunteers were dosed with psilocybin in Boston University’s Marsh Chapel. Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, who both held doctorates in psychology and supervised the experiment, were dismissed from Harvard that same year. Not without some irony, it was Andrew Weil, the future alternative-health celebrity doctor, that told The Harvard Crimson about the nature of Pahnke’s research.

Timothy Leary and Allan Ginsgerg

(I was lucky enough to learn more about Leary and Pahnke at the Psychoactive Substances Collection at Purdue University. You can read about it here.)

By the beginning of the 1960s, LSD and other hallucinogens had become well-known substances within bio-medical research circles, but had yet to influence mainstream society in any significant way. And as the 1960s wore on, the capacity of researchers to establish quantifiable and verifiable results became ever more puzzling.[4]

(Of course, there’s tremendous discussion now about the return of these types of medicines. See below.)

While counterclaims – that LSD produced madness, for example – were perhaps over the top, medical researchers still found themselves caught in a moral panic over the value of LSD.

Sandoz, undoubtedly worried about its reputation, temporarily suspended production of its LSD supplies in 1963. Richard Alpert, for his part, set off for India in 1967, and there he found the conditions for his own spiritual conversion. After training under Hindu holy man Neem Karoli Baba in India, Alpert was renamed Ram Dass. By 1970, he was trying to influence medicine and society more broadly through his promotion of psychedelics and, bizarrely, in 1970 he told an audience of health professionals that they could learn much about caring for the sick from Dr. Strange and the comic book Strange Tales in which he featured!!

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Dr. Strange embodies several important lessons about medicine and health – many of which play out in the pages of my book.

Most obviously, he blends science and culture.

Beyond that, he captures, firstly, the economics of American medicine. Strange was once all about the money, whereas many physicians were adopting a more activist role in society, intensifying their participation in such social practices as parenthood, early childhood education, poverty, and the wider economy.[5] In 1964, for instance, the Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR) was founded after an enhanced “medical presence” was requested by activist organizations in Mississippi following the murder of three civil rights volunteers. MCHR’s national membership had by 1971 grown to 10,000 health workers across the country, and one of the dominant principles of the group was that health activism – and not just mental health activism – was a vital national concern. These interventionist impulses represented the “therapeutic ethos” of the Great Society.[6]

Secondly, Strange also represented the medical tourist in action. When he sought out cures for his damaged hands in India, he was by no means an innovator. The practice harkens back to ancient times when pilgrims and patient-consumers journeyed long distances to visit mineral waters or healing temples.

Yet, in recent years, international medical tourism has blossomed in Asia, India, and elsewhere, raising significant questions about patient choice, global competition, and the various costs involved; some critics maintain that medical tourism widens the gap between social classes and creates even greater health disparities, even as the quality of the health care in destination countries is challenged. By contrast, proponents suggest that such tourism exacts pressure on expensive in-country health care facilities to lower prices and foster social/economic development, while at the same time acting as a revenue stream to fund existing services. This rendering holds medical tourism as a leveler of disparity.[7] Either way, patients have adopted medical tourism to get their hands on drugs or have their hands fixed, as in the case of Dr. Stephen Strange. (Daniel Beland writes about medical tourism here.)

Finally, Dr. Strange epitomizes the rise of alternative medicines and the contested nature of medical knowledge. Sometimes this means quackery. Sometimes not.

Strange’s career trajectory, in short, showcases the move from a biomedical model to a mystic or shamanistic one. Through Strange we may view shifting perceptions of how medical recommendations are established and codified, treatments determined, and medicines agreed upon. No longer a licensed surgeon, Strange still healed the sick, just through different means. Histories of “alternatives” to the medical mainstream, which might include traditional Chinese or Eastern medicine, faith-healing, and toe-twisting, have much in common with LSD, ecstasy, and magic mushrooms.[8]

And the 1960s gave greater momentum to “other” or “outsider” medicines that ultimately conflicted with learned medical traditions, which were inextricably linked to scientific progress.[9] In 1963’s AMA: Voice of American Medicine, the author proclaimed how doctors in the US had heroically fought against nostrums and quackery. Much like superheroes, physicians in the American Medical Association never “hesitated to reveal the most sordid aspects of the business” and expose the “graft and ravages of the nostrum vendors.”[10] Published the same year as Strange Tales hit newsstands, Andrew Weil alerted Harvard authorities to the “Good Friday Experiment,” and Sandoz cut off supplies of LSD to researchers, the book failed to discuss the spectral line that separated different kinds of medicines. It was and remains a fine line demarcating legality and illegality, acceptance and demonization.

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Dr. Strange did not make it into my book. Some topics make it. Others don’t. Just like Dr. Strange and you and I, books themselves go through strange journeys.

However, the topics of economics, medical tourism, and alternative medicines are all included.  The context in which scientific and medical evidence is produced plays a significant role in how a drug and medicine is assessed. For Dr. Strange, this process provided “the greatest power of all…the gift of knowledge.”

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Sources and a big ‘did you know?’

[1] Alex Stedman, “Early ‘Doctor Strange’ Reviews: What the Critics Are Saying,” Variety, October, 2, 2016, accessed November 20, 2016, http://variety.com/2016/film/news/doctor-strange-review-roundup-1201898171/.

[2] Alex Pappademas, “Career Arc: Doctor Strange, Marvel’s Uncastable Sorcerer Supreme,” Grantland October 24, 2014, accessed December 1, 2016, http://grantland.com/hollywood-prospectus/career-arc-doctor-strange-marvels-uncastable-sorcerer-supreme/.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Erika Dyck, “‘Just Say Know’:  Criminalizing LSD and the Politics of Psychedelic Expertise, 1961-68,” in Ed Montigny, ed., The Real Dope: Social, Legal, and Historical Perspectives on the Regulation of Drugs in Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011): 169-196.

[5] Gerald Caplan, Principles of Preventive Psychiatry (New York: Basic Books, 1964); John A. Talbott, “Fifty Years of Psychiatric Services: Changes in Treatments of Chronically Ill Patients,” Review of Psychiatry Volume 13, John M. Oldham and Michelle B. Riba, eds. (Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Press, 1994), 93-121.; Matthew Smith, Hyperactive: The Controversial History of ADHD (London: Reaktion Books, 2012), 89-91; Sandra Bloom, Creating Sanctuary: Toward the Evolution of Sane Societies (New York: Routledge, 2013), 111-117.

[6] Brian Balogh, “Making Pluralism ‘Great’: Beyond a Recycled History of the Great Society,” in Sidney M. Milkis and Jerome M. Mileur, eds., The Great Society and the High Tide of Liberalism (Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2005), 163. For recent and authoritative works on the Great Society, see: Julian E. Zelizer, The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society (New York: Penguin Press, 2015); Gary May, Bending Toward Justice: The Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of American Democracy (New York: Basic Books, 2013). See also: John Dittmer, The Good Doctors: The Medical Committee for Human Rights and the Struggle for Social Justice in Health Care (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2009).

[7] Hao Li and Wendy Cui, “Patients without borders: The historical changes of medical tourism,” University of Western Ontario Medical Journal (Fall 2014): 20-21. See: I. Glenn Cohen, Holly Fernandez Lynch, and Christopher T. Robertson, eds., Nudging Health: Health Law and Behavioral Economics (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016); Jill R. Hodges, Ann Marie Kimball, and Leigh Turner, eds., Risks and Challenges in Medical Tourism: Understanding the Global Market for Health Services (New York: Praeger, 2012).

[8] Janice Dickin, “‘Take Up Thy Bed and Walk’: Aimee Semple McPherson and Faith-Healing,” Canadian Bulletin of Medical History 17, no. 1 (2000): 137-153; Charlotte Furth, “The AMS/Paterson Lecture: Becoming Alternative? Modern Transformations of Chinese Medicine in China and in the United States,” Canadian Bulletin of Medical History 28, no. 1 (2011): 5-41; Barbara Clow, “Mahlon William Locke: ‘Toe-Twister,’” Canadian Bulletin of Medical History 9.1 (1992): 17-39.

[9] Charles Rosenberg, “Pathologies of Progress: The Idea of Civilization at Risk,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 72 (1998): 714-30.

[10] James G. Burrows, AMA: Voice of American Medicine (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1963).

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Did you know that Benedict Cumberbatch was not the first actor to play Dr. Strange?

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New Editors at Social History of Alcohol and Drugs

The ADHS is pleased to announce that the editorship of its journal, *The Social History of Alcohol and Drugs*, will be taken over by Prof. Nancy D. Campbell (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), Prof. David Herzberg (Buffalo) and Dr. Lucas Richert (Strathclyde). The society would also like to express its gratitude for the work that outgoing editor, […]

via New editors for SHAD — Alcohol and Drugs History Society

ADHS 2019

The ADHS is excited to announce that its next bi-annual conference will be held between 12 and 15 June 2019, at the David F. Musto Center for Drug Policy Studies, Shanghai University, China. The conference will be organised by Prof. Jim Mills, of the University of Strathclyde and Prof. Yong-an Zhang of Shanghai University, who […]

via ADHS conference at Shanghai, 12-15 June 2019 — Alcohol and Drugs History Society

Hench

By Morgan Scott

Guest Post

(HENCH: strong and fit with very well-developed muscles; used about men)

1. Schwarzenegger: the Trendsetting Terminator

I have to admit it, growing up in the 1980s, myself and many males (and females) were in awe of bodybuilding action hero, the Austrian Oak, The Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Schwarzenegger was of course not the first bodybuilder, but he was the first to bring this bizarre body-expanding behaviour into the limelight, beginning with the release of acclaimed documentary, Pumping Iron.

Schwarzenegger was and is a fascinating man. He left Austria to live the American Dream over in the US. What he didn’t know was that he would become the epitome of the American Dream. He nailed it. His vehicle? Bodybuilding. Schwarzenegger was already a local European bodybuilding champ but he knew America was the place to be to achieve his ultimate dream, to conquer bodybuilding and then conquer the movie business.

After winning Mr. Olympia 6 times he was going to hang up his posing trunks until he was convinced by the producers of Pumping Iron to carry on for one more season. They wanted to follow his quest for a  7th Mr Olympia title, which he ultimately achieved.

Years later in an interview, he confessed that he started to see the ridiculousness of it all, posing in little trunks.

From building up his body, Schwarzenegger went into acting. His breakthrough movie role came as Conan the Barbarian in 1982. The director John Milius actually told Schwarzenegger that he was too jacked for the part and that he actually had to lose muscle weight. This was the opposite of what bodybuilding was all about. However, a large part of bodybuilding is bulking and shredding where you would bulk up in off competition season and shred body fat leading up to one. Schwarzenegger had it covered and got it sorted ready for Conan.

Schwarzenegger had some challenges in his way; his English was terrible and he had a strange accent, plus Hollywood actors were just not huge behemoths back then. He also had a weird unpronounceable name and no acting experience. Well, the rest is movie history.

However, he was unique and he spurred an epidemic of muscle growth. In the wake of the Schwarzenegger phenomenon, gym memberships soared and muscles across the globe groaned and swelled in search for the ‘Pump’ and a body that would have Michelangelo’s David second-guessing himself.

Why do people build bodies in the first place? Why do they emulate Schwarzenegger? Success and motivational coach Tony Robbins tells us that one of the six human needs as to why any of us do what we do is Significance. We want to be seen, we want to ‘be’ somebody and what better way to be noticed, by having to walk into a room sideways. But do we need huge muscles to be significant in the world? At what point does growing your biceps become pathological?

Don’t get me wrong, having an awesome torso is a great thing to have. You look great, you feel great, clothes fit you well and you don’t have to worry about whether your beer belly looks big in this. What I’m wondering about is that line which separates ‘normal’ behaviour and when you enter into an obsessive world where size and body fat percentages becomes body dysmorphia – when the obsession overtakes the rational and becomes a problem, trumping the significance you seek.

2.Experiences

During my time lifting weights in gyms I got speaking to ‘the lads’ squeezing the iron now and again. I was curious as to why they were building such massive bodies. These were not the guys who were training for a particular sport or who were fitness trainers nor movie stars. These guys built for personal goals.

When asking them why they did it, I would usually get one of two answers, one being “Woman” (or men) or as one charming young man put it bluntly “Pussy!” So sex is high on the agenda. The second answer was “Because I was bullied at school.” Both answers certainly lent themselves to the motivation of feeling significant.

Social media, particularly Instagram, has become a cultural mirror feeding a worrying narcissistic trend to achieving the perfect body. Before, we only had floor-to-ceiling mirrors in gyms to flex and pose, to see our progress and satisfy our ego. Now we have a platform to tell the whole world about our triceps with a selfie. Just another way to feel significant, especially if hundreds, if not thousands of followers can double tap on your virtual torso to give you a heart. #mustbewinninginlifenow?

OK, sure, it’s not all about feeding ones ego; it’s also about mastering oneself and feeling good. The body may be the easiest bit of us to master, because even if your soul and spirit are in shatters, at least we might protect them in slabs of muscle.

Lifting weights also feels good. When bench pressing 100 kg you’re certainly in the present and not thinking about that work report. It’s the rush, the pump and even the delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) a couple of days after is a great feeling, we’ve triumphed, we’ve mastered our body.

I do worry that most young men are growing up being seduced by what the media and advertisers portray as the perfect body. Often the ideal is an unrealistic one at that, where anything less suggests unworthiness.

3.Final Thoughts

I remember talking to an old mate, who was into bodybuilding at the time, and he said “I just want to get Huge. I want to be a monster!” He was in his late thirties when it’s much harder to achieve ‘huge’ and he seemed to be a lost boy trapped, seeking a measure of significance.

I asked “But why do you want to be huge?” The chances of becoming a world champion bodybuilder were slim to zero and becoming the next Schwarzenegger, even slimmer. He just stared into space searching for an answer.

Let’s not forget that the idea of the perfect body is driven by profiteers preying on our fragile persona and a need for significance in the world. Just buy this widget and you too can have a body like this. Young men are even turning to steroids to reach perfection sooner, but at what cost?

Can we get more sex without spending hours in the gym? Can we heal our broken selves without having to get Hench? Can we still get in shape and look great without XXL shirts? Sure we can. If it’s significance we seek, can we achieve it in other ways and channel that energy into making a difference in the world?

Damn right you can.

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I’m delighted that professional photographer Morgan Scott shares his images and ideas. His exciting portfolio can be found here: https://www.instagram.com/morganscottuk/

Instagram: MorganScottUK

Twitter: MorganScottUK

Watch out for more posts from Morgan in the future.

Two More Yoga Trends, 2017.

Apparently, I missed some yoga trends in my most recent post. There are others.

For example: beer yoga.

Beer Yoga is yoga…with, yes, beer. German yogis BierYoga are reportedly the major first innovators, offering classes and workshops after seeing it being taught at the Burning Man festival. Since January, the idea’s spread internationally. Here are two recent articles on beer yoga.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-asia-39711513/have-you-got-the-bottle-for-beer-yoga

http://www.gq.com/story/beer-yoga-is-a-thing

Then there’s Kilted Yoga, which is pretty self-explanatory.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-39076023 

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Thanks to Maaike de Vries for pointing these out.

‘Street Portraits’ by Morgan Scott

I’m delighted that professional photographer Morgan Scott shares his images and ideas. Most of the time he works in London as a Business Development Manager for Bijou Commerce. But photography, as he puts it, has been a long-standing ‘passion.’

His exciting portfolio can be found here: http://morganportraits.com/portfolio

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Street Portraits by Morgan Scott

In a multicultural city such as London, you will, for sure, encounter a plethora of amazing faces, fashions, cultures and personalities. It’s a candy shop of choice when it comes to portrait photography opportunities. It’s a great place to immortalize elements of the body.

There are two main types of street portrait photography styles. The first is when your subject is unaware of their photo being taken (at first at least) and the photographer is using a hide-and-seek approach. A good example is Vivian Maier, who used a Rolleiflex film camera in the 50s and 60s and which you would shoot from the navel. The subjects were unaware of the camera as it was not held up at eye level. Vivian’s photos gave the subject a very grand feeling as the portrait was taken at an angle looking up at them, even if the subject themselves were not a grand figure in stature or being.

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Maier only became famous post mortem, when a lot of film was purchased at auction by John Maloof. Maloof discovered that Maier was arguably one of the most significant street photographers of the twentieth centary and made the fantastic documentary ‘Finding Vivian Maier’, as well as curating her work. Finding Maier’s undeveloped films, hundreds of them, was the photography equivalent of discovering buried treasure.

She did also take portraits where the subject was fully aware a photo was being taken, although many were very natural, unforced forced poses. Perhaps she was lightning quick and somewhat unthreatening as a woman with a camera or perhaps it was simply not the norm to be photographed like in our camera-phone, Instagram world today.

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This takes us to the second type of street portrait: the ‘aware’ subject. This is a style I quite enjoy myself. The way I go about this is to wander/wonder about the streets looking for people with interesting styles and faces. I generally go by gut feeling – instinct, I suppose – about whether I want to take a portrait of someone or not. It’s usually based on a fleeting glance. So the first challenge is to find a subject, which is not too hard to do in London. The second challenge is approaching that person and asking permission to take their portrait. It’s all to do with the approach and manner you adopt. Because I seek out slightly ‘alternative’ looking people to take portraits of, they are generally more likely to say yes as there is an element of how they look that they want to be noticed in most cases. Why have purple hair if no one sees it, right?

When I approach the person I do it calmly, with a genuine smile, and say: “Excuse me, I’m doing a personal photography project on London Style (I point to my camera around my neck) and I love your look. If you don’t mind I would love to take your portrait. I’ll give you my website and you can save the photo and use it however you want for free.” The majority of the time a subject will say yes because s/he are flattered. If someone says no, I figure out if it’s just a shy no; some people are a little embarrassed at first and I’ll say ‘Oh go on you look great’, and they will. You can just tell when someone really is not interested and in this case I don’t push it and say ‘Ok no worries, cheers.’ Remember there’s always another opportunity right up the street. I also don’t want to look at a photo with a reluctant pose as it’s a little bit negative – meaning I won’t have the portrait I desire.

I was inspired by the ‘Humans of New York’ series by Brandon Stanton. His photos feature an eclectic bunch of people, and the portraits are aimed at revealing relatable, human stories. These portraits highlight human whole, from head to toe, displaying the subject in all his/her glory and interesting fashions. These are also posed portraits, considering they are also telling their story to Stanton and have been made into a series of books.

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For me, taking portraits is a passion. Faces tell a story and the eyes really are a window to the soul. It’s exciting for me to stop strangers, take their portrait and make a friend. Art is literally walking by us everyday, the art of the human, the art of human expression. What we see in the cities of the world is really an expression of the zeitgeist – a particular mindset, politics, and art – and it will never happen again; photography can freeze the essence of present time for future generations to enjoy and say “Look what they used to wear!”

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Instagram: MorganScottUK

Twitter: MorganScottUK

 

 

 

 

Yoga Boys, Boys of Yoga

Back in August I wrote about ‘Manly Yoga’ and Bro-Culture. But, having been in the UK for a couple of months now, it seems that yoga for boys is also a thing.

According to The Telegraph, we’ve seen the launches of Broga, a version of the practice adapted to suit our “macho” sensibilities, and, yes, Dirty Yoga, a US-based programme which claims to appeal to men as it allows them to do it “in the privacy of their own home, without the need for mats or gurus.” Both prioritize “rugged” strength and physicality over spirituality.

There are others, and one company is Boys of Yoga.

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And here is its mantra:

Some guys think that yoga makes you less of a man, the truth is it makes you a better one.
Yoga isn’t just for your mom, your sister or your girlfriend anymore
It’s time to smash the stereotype

screen_shot_2016-08-03_at_5-50-41_pm

They call themselves a “crew” and there’s a section of the website titled “Spiritual Gangster.” The guys are tattooed, bearded, and give off a Vice-like vibe. Similar to “surf, skate and snow sport cultures,” the Boys’ argue, “yoga creates a community of the like-minded. The deeper you go, the more it pulls you in.” This language reminds me of The Godfather. The Boys of Yoga are clearly not the Mafia. But they certainly use a marketing campaign that conjures up such images…

The website features profiles of all the various members of the crew.

Take Kyle Gray, from Scotland:

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Here’s an excerpt from his bio, where he refers to himself as ANGEL GUY . BOOK SCRIBBLER . CHEEKY BASTARD . YOGI.

Is there anything you preach but don’t practice?  Fuck, no. I often say at the end of my yoga classes, “eat lots of chocolate and drink lots of wine” – oops!

We’ve all done a few things we aren’t too proud of, care to share one?  I recently lost my shit at a parking attendant who gave me a ticket while I was helping an 80 year old lady into her car. My ego felt bruised that he could do that while I was being of service. I swore lots and lost my mind for a moment. I got into trouble for it but, more, it was a real lesson for me to stop being so self-important. I’ve since written an apology letter.

What was the biggest challenge when you first started practicing?  Strength – my arms were like jello – I could barely hold myself up.

Why did you keep coming back?  The rejuvenating feeling that swirled around me when it was over. That was a triiiip!

What would make you skip practice?  Not waking up in time… I have slept in so many times through morning Ashtanga Mysore class – OOPS!

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A few years back Justin Hakuta asked if yoga had lost its mystique. “Gone are the days,” he wrote, “of the loin clothed yogi meditating alone on a mountaintop, unless of course said loin cloth is made of wickable polyester blend, fits your body like a glove and retails for $100 a pop and the yogi in question has worldwide appearances and a DVD series purchasable on Amazon.com. Oh, and don’t forget to check their Twitter feed.”

Pretty cynical. But there’s truth there, too. It’s a roughly $7 billlion dollar business and we’ve now got ample styles, options, and brands to choose from, including Antigravity Aerial Yoga,laughter yoga, chair yoga, acro yoga, partner yoga, hiking yoga, dog yoga, and, yup, Boys of Yoga.

Yoga has achieved, in short, a level of infamous popularity, mainstream accessibility and frantic commercialization in the West.

Is this a negative? Is this selling out? Or, as Justin Hakuta asked, has yoga lost its soul? That’s up to you.

With the Boys of Yoga, well, they seem pretty soulful to me.

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Here’s an entirely different crew of soulful Boys: