All posts by Michael

Fake, Evil, Spiritual, Commodified; What’s the Truth About Popular Yoga?

An interview with Andrea R. Jain who wrote Selling Yoga: From Counterculture to Pop Culture lays down some pretty heavy timber on pop analysis of yoga’s introduction into American mainstream culture and even the sniping from India about Western yoga being a bastardization of yoga’s true essence:

Fake, Evil, Spiritual, Commodified; What’s the Truth About Popular Yoga? | Religion Dispatches.
The key message for Selling Yoga’s readers is that yoga has been perpetually context-sensitive, so there is no “legitimate,” “authentic,” “orthodox,” or “original” tradition, only contextualized ideas and practices organized around the term yoga. In other words, the innovations unique to pop culture yoga do not de-authenticate them simply because they represent products of consumer culture.
Postural yoga is a transnational product of yoga’s encounter with global processes, particularly the rise and dominance of market capitalism, industrialization, globalization, and the consequent diffusion of consumer culture. To reduce its innovations to borrowings from, or the mere commodification of, otherwise authentic religious wares, however, would undermine the narrative and ritual functions and meanings of yoga for many of the practitioners I engage with in my study—the insiders to modern postural yoga.

This means I’m going to have to buy another yoga book on Amazon for my Kindle. At least, it will not crowd my bookshelves or weigh down my shoulder bag. It was published in December

Jain also points to another book, Heaven’s Bride: The Unprintable Life of Ida C. Craddock, American Mystic, Scholar, Sexologist, Martyr, and Madwoman by Leigh Eric Schmidt. He tells the story of of a modern hero, Ida C. Craddock (1857-1902), “whose life, though tragic, reveals important themes in the early history of modern yoga.” Schmidt has written about the American religious experience.  Religious Dispatches posted an interview with Schmidt when the book came out.

Sunset on Half Moon Bay

Photo: sunset on the Pacific, near SF
The magical moment on the Pacific Ocean: surfers on the lazy waves, the sun kisses the sea and the light turns golden.

I’m just beginning to process my photos from my November trip to San Francisco to visit with my son, Matt. On Thanksgiving Day, after visiting the SF wharves and the Golden Gate Bridge, we headed down Interstate 280 and then cut over to Half Moon Bay, arriving just in time to catch the evening light show.  It was worth the trip.

Where I’ve been spending my time

Photo: a work station in an office cubicle
It’s not the same as a yoga mat.

It’s not as welcoming as a yoga mat, but it’s where I spend most of my waking hours, learning the ropes at LCG Inc., building working relationships with my peers and plying my trade as a writer-editor-researcher. The company is about a tenth of the size of my previous employer, but I probably do 10 times more work. I used to say that I worked in the Prop Shop; now I am the Prop Shop. Even though we have not presented a proposal since I’ve been here (mid-November), mainly preliminary responses, I always got a clogged to-do list and a stack of tasks. There’s all kinds of writing and thinking that needs to go into preparing to bid for a Federal contract.

LCG is a different kind of corporate animal. It’s small business working in the Federal health IT sector and grants management. It’s a challenge to understanding the details of each field. We’re working with 17 agencies on the IT side and even more on the grants  management side. I have to create a kind of scorecard to keep track of all the clients, acronyms and players. It’s also in Federal government so there’s all  kinds of changing taking place in the way that information technology is handled.

Just as with DMI, the company gives me a laptop that I can take home with me, usually on weekends. Most work days, I don’t have time to check my personal mail, Twitter or Facebook accounts during business hours. I don’t even think about it. It’s a heightened focus that can stretch over several days. I sometimes have to force myself to pack up my bags and leave the office.

Yoga slows down

For the past four-five months, I backed off my practice and focused on restorative or yin yoga classes. Plus, the holidays were particularly disruptive of my normal routines, getting to the gym and class. I’ve had to take time off work to deal with dental surgery and that time has to be made up, assignments delivered on schedule, and lessons learned. Thrive Yoga is on my way home, not 10 minutes from the office, but I still find myself driving past it because my discipline has been sapped by my workload.  But that’s precisely when I should be going to class.

I wrote this entry last night, but my blog security system locked me out after midnight so I could not post it until now.

 

Spreading the vibes through public services

Increasingly, specialized non-profits and service organizations are spreading the use of yoga and meditation in schools and underprivileged communities, what in yogic philosophy is known as seva. Here is a story from Canada:

Toronto Star Yoga program teaches kids how to cope with stress at school and home
The goal isn’t really to teach kids about poses, explains New Leaf’s executive director Laura Sygrove, who co-founded the organization in 2007. Rather, it’s to teach them how to understand the connection between their emotions and what they feel in their bodies. New Leaf’s work is rooted in a growing body of research showing yoga and mindfulness can support young people who have experienced forms of trauma.

ysc-logoThis service movement has grown so much that it has started coalescing in broader organizations. The Yoga Service Council is organizing its third conference  for May14-17, 2015 at the Omega Institute. It has a really impressive list of founder and member organizations, as well as participating faculty (almost a Who’s Who of yogic leading edge thinkers in North America). The YSC has also brought out its first journal issue.

A yoga mat that keeps you grounded

Photo: two yoga mats
The Barefoot Yoga Performance Grip Mat on top of my Manduka eKo mat: a little longer and a little narrower.

In 2007, I was desperate to buy a new yoga mat because my practice had outgrown the entry-level, low-cost one I’d been using. I had my eye on Barefoot Yoga’s Eco mat, an environmentally friendly combination of jute fiber and rubber, because it got a thumbs-up review in the New York Times, For Some Things, It’s O.K. to Be Sticky (Yoga Mats). I visited the online store repeatedly, but it was out of stock for months. Obviously, the NY Times article generated a lot of demand. I eventually ended up getting a Manduka eKo mat, as I reported in On Mats and Towels.

I’ve stayed loyal to Manduka since then. I bought another eKo mat at the end of my yoga teacher training in the summer of 2013 because the eKo mat was falling apart. The rubber surface was coming unstuck from the foundation layer, and the rubber was oxidizing so I no longer had traction, especially when the mat was moist. I hurt myself in a jump-back because my toes did not grip the mat.

Seven years later and still operating, Barefoot Yoga has the original Eco mat in stock, priced at $85. as well as an array of Barefoot Yoga-branded mats, and Prana, Jade, Manduka models. Barefoot Yoga has evidently decided that they are going to commit to earth friendly products.  As they explain on their site:

“Traditional mats can be an excellent surface for yoga practice. However, these mats are made from PVCs (polyvinyl chlorides) that release dioxins and other carcinogens into the atmosphere during manufacturing. Toxic additives migrate into their surroundings in the form of gas and small particles. Thousands and thousands of mats and other products are made with PVC, and none are biodegradable or recyclable. Hence the need for more eco-friendly alternatives.”

But if mats are eco-friendly and biodegradable, they age and wear out. That’s what biodegradable means, breaking down into non-toxic components over time. Sun light accelerates the process for rubber-based mats, as with my Manduka eKo mat. I also have a Jade Harmony mat, a gift from my daughter, that has lost texture and feels like an old, crumbling eraser. So there’s a downside.

Testing a new mat

Why do I mention all this? In early August I got an e-mail from Carolina Mills at Barefoot Yoga Company, Seattle, Washington, asking me to a do a review of one of their mats, either a Hybrid Eco-Lite Mat ($23.95 on sale, $26.95 regular) or a Performance Grip Mat ($59). I chose to test the second one, but I told her that I would not get to it until after I came back from my European trip, say October. Carolina sent me a demo right away.

The mat stats measures 24″ x 72″ x 4mm,  and weighs 5 pounds. It is made of Polymer Environmental Resin (PER). “It does not contain phthalates or heavy metals, and its method of production is completely non-toxic and latex free,” says Barefoot Yoga’s write-up. It comes in three colors, black, charcoal and espresso, a rather somber selection but that may have to do with the manufacturing process.

The mat comes with a lifetime warranty:

Lifetime warranty covers one-time replacement of your Grip Mat due to any defects that arise as a result of normal use of the product.

Considering the mid-range price and eco-friendliness of the mat, these terms are extraordinary.

Initial assessment

Photo: three yoga mags
You have three color choices: black, charcol and coffee, Sorry, no happy pastels. Photo: Courtesy of Barefoot Yoga

First, the mat is exceptionally light and compact, easy to roll up and slide in a bag (none of the struggle as with a traditional sticky mat). I have no problem carrying it around.  As mentioned, the mat comes in one size. In my case, I prefer a wider mat, say 26-27″, but I’ve discovered that I am not as picky as I used to be. However, if Barefoot Yoga wants to cater to male buyers (taller and broader), they might want to offer a selection of wider and longer mats.

Since getting back to my yoga practice, I’ve taken a low-key approach: yin, restorative and nidra yoga mostly, as I try to tame a Type A+ intensity that has predominated in my practice. The Grip Mat was designed for a more active practice so I have not put the mat through a stress test. Its grip should get better as it wears down. I wiped down the mat with a sea salt and water mixture, as suggested on the Barefoot Yoga FAQ page, to speed up the break-in process.

A few days ago, my daughter, Stephanie, told me that while I was traveling, she used my Barefoot Yoga mat for her practice. From the start, she found it had a great surface that kept her from slipping, even though it’s not “sticky”.

If you want cushion for hands, knees and feet, you may want to use a yoga towel or cut-up mat squares for padding. This mat is not a big, flat sponge.  Personally, I appreciate that I don’t feel as if  I am sinking into the mat. I am balance-impaired and have peripheral neuropathy. Too much padding introduces a kind of sensory noise. With the Performance Grip mat, I sense a firmer foundation under my feet, and I can move through my sequences with confidence. In fact, the more I use it, the more it grows on me (or under me).

Since this mat’s strength is durability under heavy use, I will come back later and review it for this characteristic at a later time.