'YOGA is not just for new-age nuts," proclaimed a recent newspaper headline.
By my estimation, they were approximately 5,200 years late to the party (yoga being an ancient practice and all). In fairness, though, they were only about 20 years behind on contemporary culture.
Of course, I doubt the headline had women stomping out of zumba studios and rolling out their yoga mats instead. Or eschewing donkey squats for down dogs. It's long been known that yoga has helped millions of people across the globe to feel and look better. Indeed, we are beginning to realise that it is the very fountain of youth. Case in point: Ryan Giggs.
But it wasn't the outdated revelation that bothered me, rather the sinister undertone. A 'nut' is the name you ascribe to those who quote Bible verses and post propaganda leaflets through letterboxes during the dead of night.
What did yogis ever do wrong? They are gentle, soft-spoken, non-violent people. They drink herbal tea, for chrissakes. They are not militant or radical; bellicose or belligerent.
And yet they are sneered at by society.
'New-age nuts' are considered to be smug in their virtuousness. But here's the rub: anyone I know that has seriously chosen the holistic path as a lifestyle choice (and not as an affectation) tends not to broadcast it from the rooftops.
They discretely ask if there is a vegetarian option on the menu. They have learned not to talk about their meditation practice lest they elicit snorts of derision from their more cynical work associates.
They know that saying the word 'chakra' in some circles is tantamount to talking about the STD they contracted in Thailand. Why? Because they don't want to be known as a 'new-age nut'.
I blame the industry itself. For every accomplished practitioner, there is some eejit who purports to know what he is doing. Some of them know they haven't a clue. The vast majority, God love them, don't.
I visited a holistic fair during a recent weekend away in Brighton. All the stereotypical characters were represented: there were Shamanic drummers, angel channellers and, just as at every trade show there is a man from northern England selling a food processor with 72 different attachments, there was a woman selling aloe vera. There's always a woman selling aloe vera.
Most of them were kind, decent people. One or two of them were charlatans. And one of them looked like he was let out for the day. I watched him from across the room. He sat purposely at a table that nobody neared, his hands cupped thoughtfully over a copy of the Holy Bible. No literature, no leaflets, no marketing bumph – just a sign reading: 'Spiritual Psychotherapist'.
Now, I don't know what a 'spiritual psychotherapist' is, and, if I'm frank, I don't think he did either. But I was intrigued – and I felt a touch sorry for him, too – so we brokered a deal and I soon discovered that 'spiritual psychotherapist' means 'new-age nut'.
Our 'reading' began with a conflab on socialism. A revolution is on the way, he told me, and he wanted to lead it. He had an idea. That we round up all the bankers, put them on a cruise ship and leave them bobbing over the mid-Atlantic Ridge. That allows the rest of us to redistribute the wealth and live in Utopia.
"Is that something you think you might like to be part of?" he asked me.
"Well," I began, "there's a very dark side to human nature. If you want to see how this Utopia might work, I suggest you go to a music festival, where every strand of society lives side-by-side for three days.
"Ninety-five per cent of people will live happily and peacefully. The other 5pc will rob, commit acts of violence, piss on the side of your tent and play Oasis songs on their guitars. And don't forget that another small quarter still want to be behind a red velvet rope – even in a muddy field." He thought about this for some time. "That 5pc you talk about can go on the boat too," he decided. "Does that work?"
"Are you suggesting that we nuke them?" I teased.
"Absolutely not," he balked, grabbing his Holy Bible for moral support. "I don't support bloodshed."
Now it was his turn to eye me like I was the whackjob. And he may have been onto something because only one of us paid €30 for this chat...
We moved on to the 'reading', for which a fresh pack of angel cards was spread out in front of me. This was akin to playing snap with a six year old... or walking backwards on an escalator.
"You're having relationship problems," he ventured. "Er, no, I'm single," I told him.
"Exactly," he replied at once. "You're having problems finding a boyfriend for yourself."
I wonder if anyone dubious of the holistic industry decided to visit this event and leave their misconceptions at the door. What impression would this man have made on them? More to the point, who let this lunatic in the door?
The holistics is a woefully unregulated industry. Hence, chancers like him get to represent it, and subsequently undermine those who have truly harnessed their inner power, which I hasten to add, is a dormant power that everyone has.
It allows people who think they are special to tell people that they are special. It strikes me that anyone who has done past-life regression has a story about once being the Queen of Versailles, or Nefertiti or Boadicea. Why has nobody been told that they were a postal worker, or an accountant or a little sapling on a tree? But I digress.
The holistics is an attempt to unravel the mystery of consciousness; something even scientists have failed to do. But the message gets lost beneath the panpipes and the crushed velvet and the selenite wands.
We've made inroads. Healthfood shops are now on the high street and, better still, they no longer stink. Acupuncture is recognised by health insurers. Rupert Murdoch now practises Transcendental Meditation (along with a host of other industry titans). And yoga is not just for new-age nuts. FACT! But there is still a long way to go.
Before I left, I advised the 'spiritual psychotherapist' to buy a suit if he is to go on the campaign trail. "If you want to appeal to someone's rational side, then you should present your case in the most respectable way possible," I told him.
The same applies to the holistic industry. If you want to convert people, you need to make the abstract more concrete. Find the scientific verification in the spiritual possibilities. Study quantum physics rather than angel cards.
And, for the love of God, don't call yourself a 'spiritual psychotherapist'.