Category Archives: news

Current events in the United States and around the world concerning yoga and related affairs

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.

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 yogi gives his take on drug abuse and treatmenet

One of the most accessible online resources about substance abuse gets down with a leading advocate of including yoga in treatment:

The Fix The Next Phase in Recovery—The Tommy Rosen Solution
Ninety minutes later, having come through an intimate and powerful experience, I would be directed to lie down, relax completely, and let the full weight of my body rest upon the earth. This was savasana or corpse pose. The feeling was electric—energy humming through my body. I felt like blood was pouring into areas of my tissues that it had not been able to reach for some time. It was relieving and healing. It was subtler than the feeling from getting off on drugs, but it was detectable and lovely, and there would be no hangover, just a feeling of more ease than I could remember. I felt a warmth come over me, similar to what I felt when I had done heroin, but far from the darkness of that insanity, this was pure light—a way through.

Also see Yoga and Recovery: Three Ways to Start on The Path To Wellness.

Yoga helps war veterans deal with trauma

More evidence that yoga and related disciplines can help heal the body and mind of people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or PSTD:

Washington PostYoga helps war veterans get a handle on their PTSD.But the new study is the first of its kind to provide scientific support for the benefits of yoga’s breathing techniques for PTSD patients in a randomized and controlled (though small) long-term study which monitored effects of yoga over the course of the year.

The study cited in this article actually deals with the practice of sudarshan kriya, a sequence of breathing exercises created and promoted by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. But he does not have a monopoly on the benefits of yoga practice.

Please note that the article was originally published in The Conversation, September 14.

Yoga master BKS Iyengar leaves this life

It’s a sad day when we have to bid farewell to one of the cornerstones of modern yoga as practiced around the world. BKS Iyengar died of kidney failure on August 20 in Pune, India:

BKS Iyengar, who helped bring yoga to the West, has died
Iyengar had been ill for weeks, according to the Times of India, and had been suffering from heart problems. Admitted to the hospital on August 12, Iyengar’s condition had worsened in recent days, and he was put on dialysis.

There will be an outpouring of grief, gratitude and remembrances, as well as attempts to take stock of the state of yoga with the death of one of the three major Indian propagators ( Pattabhi Jois died in 2009 and TKV Desikachar is in ill health) who took the mantle from T. Krishnamacharya. Iyengar left a legacy of literature about hatha yoga, pranayama and other techniques, as well as a focus on the health-giving potential from the practice.

I’ll probably have more to say later.

On year after yoga teacher training

This MSNBC article comes one year after I started my summer intensive yoga teacher training at Thrive Yoga.

Yoga teachers: Overstretched and underpaid
In many respects – the low pay, the gig-based nature of the job, and the unpaid overtime – yoga is little different from other freelance professions in the new, service-based American economy. More than one person interviewed by msnbc compared teaching yoga to being a part-time adjunct professor, with all the job insecurity and irregular pay that implies.

The articles drives homes the message that it’s tough to turn yoga teaching into a viable profession in a competitive marketplace. Obviously, I decided that I did not want to pursue teaching even part time or as a fallback option. I’ve made a coldblooded decision to work on a career track that builds on my accumulated experience and skills — and brings a salary and benefits. I am in awe of those who decided to follow their heart down the yogic path.

Yoga as medicine gets a bad review

Brian Palmer is Slate‘s chief explainer and tackles the claims that yoga is medicine for many medical conditions.

Slate Does therapeutic yoga work? The best studies say no, but they don’t get much press..
Doctors eventually realized—most of them, at least—that prayer didn’t fit well into a clinical trial. Yoga doesn’t, either. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do yoga. By all means, do yoga, pray, and eat lemons, if those things bring you contentment. Do yoga especially if it’s your preferred form of exercise—exercise is a health intervention supported by thousands of clinical trials. But recognize the “yoga as medicine” craze for what it is: an indicator of the zeitgeist, not a scientific discovery.

I’ve commented on the trend towards prescribing yoga for all kinds of ills and flaws. Much of it goes back to the inception of modern yoga in India when its early advocates wanted to validate yoga within a Western, medicalized framework. In the States, the application of yoga as a therapeutic tool has also help it makes inroads into mainstream culture. There’s been a lot of bad science done around yoga therapy, which has compounded the problem. It’s hard to run standardized, double-blind studies on a massive scale on a practice that should be tailored to individual bodies.

But I also think that all this talk about yoga addressing medical conditions is wrongheaded. The practice of yoga is aimed at wellness, the holistic utilization regulation and balancing of bodily systemic functions (myofascial, neurological, circulatory, lymphatic, and others). You could focus a session exclusively on lower back pain, but the asanas and vinyasas would not affect just the lower back, but the whole body. The effects would be accumulative over time, not something like a round of antibiotics. In addition, yoga addresses mental states that Western-style exercise ignores and have a huge impact on well-being.

This article is the latest wave of skepticism about yoga, mindfulness and other things vaguely New Agish. You should also check out The Mindfulness Racket: The evangelists of unplugging might just have another agenda by Evgeny Morozov, a senior editor at The New Republic. He’s actually talking about another trend, the recommendation that people should unplug from their stress-inducing devices because Western society is too hyper-wired and needs to stop multitasking. The mindfulness thing gets lumped in because unplug advocates frequently cite that mind state as the counterweight to multitasking.

Yoga Poses in Israel

Love the photos. Yoga Poses in Israel.
Their students, taught in single-sex classes, are encouraged to come as they are, even in day clothes or long skirts, if necessary. The Kolbergs say yoga helps people who spend long days in prayer and study and aren’t physically active. But, Rachel says, “in our studio, we will never have practices that contradict our religion, such as mantras and chanting.

I guess they are not going to have any “naked yoga” classes.

Prison inmates take to yoga

It’s not “news,” but it’s published in the New York Times:

New York TimesIf the Sun Salutation Has to Fit Into a Cell
The class was the fourth that Jim Freeman, a lawyer turned yogi and the founder of Conviction Yoga, has led at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Powledge Unit in East Texas. For the inmates, the weekly two-hour sessions offer a reprieve from their cells and the boredom of prison life, along with physical and mental health benefits. And the Powledge chaplain said corrections officers saw better behavior from inmates who took part in spiritual programs that gave them a chance to exercise.

Yoga and meditation are increasingly used in prison. Good for the inmates, and bravo to the teachers mentors who take the lead in going into prisons. Now if we could only get the justice system to work right so that we don’t have the highest percentage of imprisoned population in the world.