One of the more bizarre tidbits to emerge from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s extraordinary press conference at the United Nations this week was her suggestion that a goodly portion of those 31,838 “personal” emails she erased from the public record of her tenure — known in Hillary-speak as “my server” — dealt with “yoga routines.”
Apparently, while the former First Lady was busy visiting foreign leaders and attending countless state banquets — and not noshing on vegan meatloaf, mind you – she was also getting wrapped up with the Hindu mind-body discipline that a number of conservative Christian leaders – and most recently, Pope Francis — have suggested is a form of “Devil-worship.”
Here is not the place to debate the theological merits – or fallacies — of yoga, which most Americans consider little more than an exotic exercise regimen. On its face, though, it’s hard to imagine that anyone – let alone a peripatetic Secretary of State – could have this much to say about the esoteric practice — hers or anyone else’s. A cynic might say that one of the reasons Hillary has so little to show for her six years in the top foreign policy post is that she’s what Hindus call a “lotus eater,” someone who prefers to ruminate about the world, or detach from it, sitting under a Banyan tree. Rather than negotiate, one might say, Hillary prefers to meditate. That’s soft power, alright.
But where is the evidence that Hillary Clinton even practices yoga? Yoga practitioners invariably improve their posture and gain new flexibility and balance; and they’re constantly trying to proselytize their friends. But Hillary hasn’t had squat to say about the relative merits of a headstand versus a shoulder-stand, for example, let alone tried to strike a single yoga pose in public. She exudes the same graying and fatigued demeanor she always has. Occasionally she dances – and sometimes she slips and falls down. Politics, not spirituality nor even her own personal health, seems to be the only thing on her mind.
I suspect that Hillary being Hillary – always calculating, and keenly aware of her messaging needs – didn’t just drop the yoga reference casually. Yoga, in case you haven’t noticed, has become the leisure practice of choice among rich progressive women with too much time and disposable income on their hands. (Believe it or not, there’s an entire line of yoga – Ashtanga – that is heavily subsidized by Sonia Jones, the wife of a hedge-fund billionaire).
One yoga industry-sponsored market research study claims that some 16-18 million women tried yoga last year – a sizable number, though it’s unclear how many stayed. But yoga’s real influence is the way it functions as a gender “totem” for hard-core feminists. Women in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC that practice yoga are an awfully showy, fashion-conscious bunch. They display their yoga mats tucked in fancy sleeves, slung over their shoulders, all the while strutting defiantly through urban streets in tight-fitting, butt-enhancing stretch pants purchased at posh apparel stores like Lululemon. And they support hyper-liberal causes and vote overwhelmingly Democratic, too.
Which is why, I suspect, Hillary chose to invoke “yoga routines” in her press conference. It places her with the “in” crowd — women with money on the cutting edge of the culture, those who generate buzz by word of mouth and donate to campaigns. In describing her personal emails, Hillary also mentioned the extensive preparations for her daughter’s wedding, which, of course appeals especially to married women, the kind more likely to vote Republican.
But Hillary’s biggest political challenge these days isn’t convincing people that she’s part of the broadly conservative or “mainstream” establishment. It’s that she still has new and vigorous ideas, and can relate to people too young to remember Bill Clinton and the fight for HillaryCare. And yoga, though far too obscure – and downright physically challenging — to appeal to many women, still offers a gateway to an alternative sensibility that can help keep Hillary, a grandmother pushing 70, au courant.
Maybe Hillary can promise to do for “mindfulness” what Michele Obama did for obesity awareness? Once she announces her candidacy, she might even call for a new national yoga education program modeled after the one India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi — America’s closest new ally in Asia — is promoting. Already, one of the leading yoga industry blogs – YogaDork — has applauded Hillary’s unexpected reference to yoga, sensing that it may portend some official blessing for the practice from a future Clinton White House. “We can’t wait to see what presidential yoga poses look like,” Jennilyn Carlson, the site’s editor, wrote on Wednesday.
Such breezy optimism aside, it’s going to take more than posturing – even of the yogic kind – to reincarnate Hillary’s tired and beleaguered quest for the presidency.