The Apple Watch is not what I expected. Yes, it is beautiful. You can stand in the shower and watch water bounce off the screen as if it were a lotus leaf. The details of the hardware can be stunning like that.
But most of the features that really excited me when the watch was introduced have turned out to be disappointments. As a physical activity tracker, it's mediocre. The messaging system, which Apple seemingly lavished attention on, is no better than regular old texting. The hyped "crown" scroll wheel for navigation is a rarely used little flourish.
And yet, I still love the watch. I never want to take it off.
It is a secondary device, a powerful extension of what your phone can do. And so, you must have an iPhone to use an Apple Watch. The watch uses the phone's data network to do any and everything. With a glance, I can see the time, the date, my next calendar appointment, the temperature, my day's physical activity and the watch's battery level.
So why do I love it?
It lets me do the business of communicating without the temptations that come with my phone. That was Apple's pitch in the weeks leading up to the launch in late April: that this would be a device that gives you back time and even focused attention. I was skeptical, given that its primary function is to notify you that stuff is going on on your phone. And yet, it does work.
Before I got the watch, every text message or notification was an opportunity for prolonged distraction. I had to pull out my phone, and once it was out, what was there to prevent me from checking my Facebook page or Twitter or Instagram, or maybe all of them?
With the watch, the message comes in, and I can deal solely with it, without those other icons tempting me. And the watch parses incoming messages, anticipates my response and provides a few contextual answers, like, "I'm on my way" if someone says, "Are you there yet?" or "Yes" and "No" when it detects that kind of incoming question. The computer's textual interpretation is not that deep, but it doesn't have to be to give genuinely useful options. Between the auto-responses, and using voice-to-text, I find I don't need to type anything for most of the exchanges that I have during the day. The voice-to-text feature is particularly impressive. As long as the answer isn't too complex, the Watch handles most text-message level communications with ease.
When you sync your watch and phone, watch apps that correspond to your phone apps just appear. And the genius of the watch is that its apps work differently from the ones on your mobile device. Each tends to deliver a single function through the watch. If it's Uber, that function is to call a car. If it's Trulia, it's to look for home listings right around you. If it's ESPN, it's to give you scores for your favorite teams. Bloated apps get stripped down to their essential utility.
The single-serving app is a radical idea. And it doesn't always work well. The Twitter app lets you read the 5 most recent tweets in your feed. It feels silly. Instagram's app, on the other hand, is almost a recreation of its phone app, and it feels bulky.
While many people worried about the Apple Watch's battery life, I can say that it's good enough to easily make it through a day, maybe two with light use, and charging is rapid. But what I did not anticipate was how much of a drain the watch would be on my phone. I still have an iPhone 5S, a phone that's a little over a year old, and it hasn't made it a full day since I got the watch, even on days when I'm not using it heavily. One night I went to bed with the watch on and my phone next to me at 100% charge. When I woke up, seven hours later, despite not having touched my phone or my watch, my phone's battery life had dropped to 69 percent. That's a lot of battery to lose for a night's worth of idle chatter between my watch and phone.
In fact, the watch has taken such a toll on my phone's battery that I bought one of those cases that contains an extra battery. If you've got an older phone model, expect similar problems.
Unlike the smartphone, which transformed the way I did just about everything, the Apple Watch slid into my life seamlessly. Within days, it had become an essential part of how I communicate with others and parse my days. The watch is not the revolution that the iPhone was. Rather, it's a reaction to the power and addictiveness of our phones. A helpful supplementary tool to manage my own psychology. And for me, at least, that's been worth the price.
That yoga pose you've been practicing may not be as ancient as you thought. In fact, journalist Michelle Goldberg says that most of the poses that we do in modern yoga classes have no antecedent beyond 150 years ago.
"Probably the greatest myth is when you do these poses, when you do sun salutations or the warrior poses, that that there's some sort of continuity to what yogis were doing 3,000 years ago on the banks of the Ganges, and that's just not true," Goldberg tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.
Goldberg is the author of The Goddess Pose: The Audacious Life of Indra Devi, the Woman Who Helped Bring Yoga to the West. Her book traces the modern Western practice of yoga to a Russian woman named Indra Devi, who was born in 1899 with the birth name Eugenia Peterson. Devi became interested in yoga after reading about it in book written by an American new-age thinker. She studied the practice in India before introducing it to political leaders in Russia and Shanghai and, in 1947, bringing it to America, where her students included Hollywood celebrities like Greta Garbo and Gloria Swanson.
"[Devi] was the one who took yoga from being, what people in the West tended to imagine as sword swallowing and circus tricks and domesticated it," Goldberg says. "The idea of yoga as a system of wellness for modern women that helps you [to] better equip yourselves for the many challenges of the modern world, that all comes back to her."
On the book, 14 Lessons in Yogi Philosophy and Oriental Occultism, by American William Walter Atkinson, which sparked Indra Devi's interest in Yoga
Indra Devi discovers this book in the library of a Russian aristocrat. ... This was the sort of book you would find in the library of a bohemian Russian aristocrat. She finds this book, she thinks that it's a sort of dispatch from this other-worldly land. It kindles a fascination with India that will carry her throughout almost a century, but really it's Indian wisdom as refracted through a sort of American self-help writer, and I think that exemplifies, again, the sort of mash-up that we see both in her life and her thinking, but also in yoga as it has come to us today.
On why yoga is aerobic
Krishnamacharya was the yogi in-residence at the Mysore Palace, and the Maharaja of Mysore was this very progressive nationalist figure who really wanted to unite the best of the East and the best of the West. And so he sponsored Krishnamacharya to run a yoga school in the palace. Krishnamacharya — because a lot of his students were young, royal boys — created a system that would sort of capture the animal energy of an 8- or 9- or 10-year-old boy. So he put in things that if you do yoga now are really familiar to you — the jump backs and the chaturanga, which is the sort of half-push-ups and these very fast, flowing movements that we call Vinyasa — he created a lot of those things.
On Krishnamacharya teaching Devi
She was a woman in her 30s by the time she came to [Krishnamacharya]. At first he wanted nothing to do with her. ... He said, "I don't teach women and I don't teach Westerners." He wanted her to go away and she basically went over his head. She went to her friend, the Maharaja. She had this lifelong talent for cultivating people, for getting people to want to do her favors. Probably the most supernatural thing about her was her astonishing charisma. She went over his head, she went to the Maharaja. The Maharaja basically said, "Krishnamacharya, you have no choice, you have to teach her." He finally gave in, he grudgingly started giving her lessons. And when he saw how dedicated she was, he sort of relented and eventually developed enormous affection for her. And after he had taught her many of his secrets, he kind of came around ... and saw that yoga had a lot to offer people outside of his own purview and he charged her with teaching a lot of what he had taught her.
On Devi teaching yoga in the U.S. in 1947
First she goes to Shanghai and she has a yoga studio in a villa that had been owned by Madame Chiang Kai-shek, and she's there during the Japanese occupation. After the war, she sails for Hollywood and she opens up one of the first yoga studios. There had been a couple of yoga teachers here and there in the United States. There was a brief yoga panic in the United States in the 1920s. ... You can see a lot of tabloid news stories about lecherous yogis luring women away from their marriages and families, but there hadn't really been very many yoga teachers in part because the Alien Exclusion Act kept South Asian immigrants from coming to the United States. So she opens a studio in Hollywood. She has some connections from her Shanghai days, people who are now in California who introduce her to various figures in Hollywood. They introduce her to Aldous Huxley, who is a famous writer who has kind of a longtime interest in Eastern spirituality. And so she opens this studio. And soon she has all sorts of famous actors and actresses as clients who are doing headstands on the sets or sitting in lotus pose, and she becomes a sort of minor celebrity.
On the idea of the "self" and yoga
One of the transmutations that's happened as yoga has made its way from East to West and back again and back again is that the idea of "self." In most interpretations of classical yoga philosophy or Hindu philosophy "self" means the connection to the divine, the things that transcend the ego or the things that transcend individual subjectivity. But "self" in the Western interpretation obviously is understood very differently and is understood as kind of the ultimate in individual subjectivity. So classical yoga, which had originally been about obliterating the "self," obliterating individuality, obliterating everything that connects you to the world, becomes — as Indra Devi teaches it and as its gradually assimilated to the West — a way of having greater efficacy in the world and kind of developing your own personality. It's a complete inversion of how it would be understood in classical Hinduism, but anyone who has any familiarity with American self-help culture will know what I'm talking about right away. This has become so much a part of the culture you barely even notice it.
On how modern yoga compares to ancient yoga
There's no mention of warrior poses or sun salutations in any ancient text at all. That might be a little disillusioning to some people, [but] what I hope and what it ultimately meant to me, is we don't have to feel so anxious about the authenticity of our modern practices because like anything ... it's a modern adaptation and that might, I hope, let people feel a little less anxious about adapting it for their own needs.
Fresh Air Weekend highlights some of the best interviews and reviews from past weeks, and new program elements specially paced for weekends. Our weekend show emphasizes interviews with writers, filmmakers, actors and musicians, and often includes excerpts from live in-studio concerts. This week:
David Oyelowo On Acting, His Royal Roots And The One Role He Won't Take: The British-born Nigerian actor talks about playing an American veteran in Nightingale, the reasons he stays in character for weeks at a time and his aversion to playing "the "black best friend."
A Critic Takes On Cannes: Highlights (And Lowlights) Of The 2015 Festival: Critic John Powers returns from the French film festival to talk about this year's new international films. Top among his picks is The Assassin, a martial arts film by director Hou Hsiao-Hsien.
You can listen to the original interviews here: