Wednesday, October 22, 2014

AG Abrams visits the 02 Vegan Cafe and Yoga Parlor

A.G. Abrams
Yoga Midterm Paper

The eventual selection of the O2 Vegan Cafe and Yoga Parlor as the location for my midterm paper was the result of thinking about all the locations I had seen before in my travels in the area. I completely forgot about Dahn Yoga and Tai Chi Cambridge, between University Hall and Doble campus, which I walk past to get to class. This oversight is one that I regret, but will not focus on, as it is of very little relevance.
Another reason for the specific selection of O2 is that they advertise explicitly that their yoga is physically challenging, which was interesting to me, as not many Yoga studios do.  I knew that I wanted a class that would challenge me physically, as I am more interested in the yoga techniques for improvement of the body than I am in the strictly mental, as I meditate regularly, and do not practice any postural yoga except in class at Lesley.
The O2 is painted bright colors, and has Art Nouveau tables and chairs, and is very much a cafe. The general atmosphere, when one walks in, is that of a cafe with yoga in the back. This is not an entirely new concept to me, as I have worked in many bike stores, which often have repairs and classes in the back, but the juxtaposition bothered me for some reason.  Between the two sections is a landing crowded by comfortable furniture and clothing displays.
Signing up for the class was very simple. I simply asked at the front counter where to do it, and the answer was that they run all transactions through the same counter. The lowest-commitment deal was $20 for two classes if it was the first time taking a class at the cafe. I took that deal and registered for a Friday morning class two weeks in a row. The person I signed up with, Mimi, was the general manager of the cafe and also an instructor, though she was not my instructor. Clothing is also bought at the front counter.
I find it’s interesting that Yoga has become a service to be bought, as any other class or course, to be paid for and taken at a venue not dedicated to it. Like a supermarket has a wine-tasting event, a vegan cafe has a yoga class. On the first class, mat rental is free, but for every subsequent class, it is not, and all participants must use a mat. In this way, they sell the most single-purpose of all their activity-specific merchandise.
The class itself was not as intense as I was led to believe, but I enjoyed it all the same. The store has a strict policy for clothing, and clothing is regulated. It must not be baggy, it must not be skimpy. Everyone followed the rules, and I was pretty at home in athletic shorts and a t-shirt. Everyone was very friendly, but some people were more bothered than others when I asked questions, which is either an indication that they are more private, or are an insulated community, or that I am an annoying person. The teacher, Elliot, told me nothing of his background except that he studied in Los Angeles, but nodded knowingly when I told him I was there for a school project.

The culture of the cafe was very capitalist. The yoga practice, traditionally, promotes well-being, and so does an all-vegan diet. Therefore, by putting both in the same location, O2 has cornered a market. The establishment has regulars both in front and in back, and there is tremendous overlap. After the class I went to, I spoke to the instructor, and when I emerged, I found most of my classmates eating or in line for food or drinks. Naturally, wanting to have the full O2 experience, I joined them, and ate my first-ever carrot muffin. A vegan diet isn’t for me, but the fact that health food and physical health-focused yoga are provided in the same location reminds me of the playgrounds at McDonald’s. They create a demand for one thing while satisfying a need for another. Unlike McDonald’s, they are selling expensive, specialized products, with which they hope to create a long-lasting good impression, rather than a short ecstatic reaction followed by guilt. The capitalist nature of the economy is demonstrated very well, and the business model is excellent.

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