On Oasis for Democrats

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Published at The Australian online, September 6

BOOKER welcomes me to the Oasis and wanders barefoot through the space. She points out the restaurant, the lounge, the meditation centre and the yoga studio. We stop for a while at the "lyfe kitchen" and check out the steel-cut oatmeal and wholegrain pilaf. This menu hasn't been designed by anything as clumsy as a chef. A team of experts has worked on it to produce the tasty low-calorie food, with its gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options.

 

Next we go to the spa area - where massages are on offer, along with foot reflexology or even a facial. I decline, because something else has caught my eye - a room full of air nap cocoons (or green silk sheets suspended from the ceiling that you curl up and sleep in).

The extraordinary thing isn't that such lifestyle luxuries are on offer in uptown Charlotte, the steamy southern city hosting the National Democratic Convention. The weird part is that a news website is giving it all away for free.

The Huffington Post's Oasis is a 21st-century bubble in the heart of the convention neighbourhood. Its "oil and candles" vibe fits neatly with the website's left-of-centre tone.

The Huffington Post has become one of the most popular news and political websites in the US.

It aggregates some content and creates much of its own (politicians, celebrities and academics write many of the blogs). Last year AOL bought it for $US315 million.

The website has partnered with the "yoga activists" Off The Mat to make the centre happen and delegates, journalists and politicians have come in droves. Occasionally the website's founder Arianna Huffington holds court.

It's a place to recharge both your holistic battery and your iPhone battery. (The wi-fi password is "relaxation".)

Charlotte is a hot town. (It always feels like it's about to rain and the air has a faint whiff of barbecue.) In addition, the place is crawling with journalists. There are 15,000 media people covering the convention and about 6000 delegates.

So with that in mind, I sip my pomegranate and decide I would rather be in the Oasis than the media centre. For the next couple of hours, I'm ready to be a dharma bum.

I take a workshop with meditation guru Sharon Salzberg. We close our eyes, drift off, listen to breathing and "go away and come back".

When the class is over she thanks the bloke sitting in front of me, who, it turns out, is Ohio congressman Tim Ryan. Ryan took up meditation after the 2008 election and wrote a book about it called "A Mindful Nation".

Salzberg suggests reading his book but Ryan is more direct: "You don't have to read it, just buy it."

After meditation comes yoga, and Booker is back again, this time leading me and half a dozen other people through an hour of "downward dog" and "warrior" poses.

It's an excellent session and on the way out, I bump into the "monk dude", a yoga and music guy from California who tells me he's a worldly yogi. (It quickly emerges he's from Wellington, New Zealand.)

The Monk Dude is looking for a column in the Huffington Post and thinks he might be a chance to get one if he spends some time at the centre.

He also gives me a flyer. "Yoga Votes" it reads. The monk dude tells me that 20 million Americans do yoga and need to turn out to vote, and that yoga practitioners mostly vote Democrat.

And that's when I realise I need to get back to the convention.