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Heavy Meddle: Help! Flatulent Vegans Have Invaded My Yoga Class

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Dear Steve,

I love taking yoga classes, but hate when I end up positioned behind a farting vegan. Nothing personal against vegans — it’s just that they typically eat a lot of beans.

Is there any way to tell who the farters are at first glance?

If not, is it mean to move your mat after someone farts on your head during a vinyasa sequence?

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Signed,
Downward Facing Stank

Dear DFS,

You are asking profound questions here, questions frankly that I always dreamed I’d be able to grapple with as an advice columnist. Unfortunately, you could fit all I know about yoga protocol into sippy cup, with room left over for a shot of chai, so I went ahead and consulted my wife, who is both a veteran yoga practitioner and a part-time vegan with a weakness for cheeseburgers.

“Yeah, that’s what happens with the new vegans,” she explained. “Their systems eventually adjust to all the beans.”

“How can you tell, like, before class, if you’re positioned near a new vegan?”

My wife shook her head. “I’m sure they’ll come up with an app for that eventually.”

“So there’s basically no way to know until it’s too late.”

“Right,” she said.

“How can you tell, like, before class, if you’re positioned near a new vegan?” My wife shook her head. “I’m sure they’ll come up with an app for that eventually.”

“Is it considered mean to move your mat if you’re near a farter?

My wife took a deep cleansing breath. She looked — what would be the best way to say this? — contemplative. “Yoga is really all about accepting what comes,” she said finally.

“Even if what comes is a fart?”

“Basically.”

“So I should tell this woman to just stick it out?”

“You shouldn’t tell this woman anything. She’s on a journey. She’s going to have to find her own way. But if she’s serious about yoga she has to realize that the body does what the body has to do. Sometimes it releases.”

“Okay, but she’s talking about someone farting on her head, sweetie.”

My wife nodded. She seemed to be gaining in calmness. “It sounds like maybe the room was too small,” she announced finally.

That was as much wisdom as I could extract, DFS. I realize you may still be living in a state of confusion, and possibly existential dread. I don’t know that I can make those feelings go away. And clearly, in this case, yoga isn’t going to help.

Have you considered Zumba? ♥


Dear Steve,

I pass the same homeless guy panhandling on the street every day. I hate to turn away and do nothing to help him, but if I give him money I’m afraid I may just be feeding a bad habit. How can I help this person in a constructive way?

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Signed,
An Ambivalent Philanthropist

Dear AP,

I’m not sure that you can help this person in the sort of direct, verifiable way that Americans seem to require, unless you want to take him home and get him all cleaned up and give him a job, only to discover that underneath that crusty homeless veneer is a beautiful, intelligent person eager to redeem all who come near.

But outside the Hollywood dream bubble, your choices are pretty limited. You can give them some money, which may help them buy food or shelter, but may also help them buy booze or drugs. Or you can not give them money.

The larger issue here is that this panhandler is a visible reminder of the fact that this nation — despite its pornographic worship of wealth — has an awful lot of “have-nots.” You, as a “have,” are right to feel guilty about this.

So if you want to help, that’s good. But most experts on poverty (and certainly law enforcement officials) would tell you that giving money to a panhandler is something of a quick and sloppy fix. It alleviates your guilt without making much of an enduring impact.

It’s not that you don’t work hard for your money. I’m sure you do. And you deserve to spend that money how you like. But it’s also true that most Americans have way more money than we really need and that we choose, every day, to spend this money on stuff like $5 cups of coffee and $100 tennis shoes and $50,000 cars. The very engine of capitalism runs on a high-octane fuel of discretionary consumption.

At the same time, there are millions of people in this country, including children, who live in poverty, and billions of people all across the planet who really and truly need help in order not to starve, or die of disease. I’m not trying to bum you out, AP. Those are just the facts.

So if you want to help, that’s good. But most experts on poverty (and certainly law enforcement officials) would tell you that giving money to a panhandler is something of a quick and sloppy fix. It alleviates your guilt without making much of an enduring impact.

Their advice, generally, is to give money to charitable organizations that provide food, shelter, and job training to the homeless. If you need some help figuring out which charities are the most effective, and/or best reflect your values, you can do some quick and easy research online. ♥


Editor's Note: Readers, what do you think? Do you agree with Steve? Or would you offer different counsel entirely? Let us hear from you in the comments.

And what about you? Are you struggling with your own existential crisis? An etiquette issue? Mild forms of social self-recrimination? We can help. Send your questions: advice@wbur.org

This program aired on June 24, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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