National Public RadioIs This Your Brain On God? is a five-part (full week) look (or should I say “listen”) at how spiritual experience can be understood. Listen to the radio feeds, and also check out a couple of videos, as well as some illustrations of the geography of the brain.
I’ve only caught part of today’s broadcast so I am going to have to hold back on any definitive opinions, but this is a subject that fascinates me so I will catch up tonight and follow the rest of the week.
Seane Corn was the focus on a Speaking on Faith feature on Yoga: Meditation in Action in September last year (How I missed this, I don’t know. I suspect it was because I was absorbed by my injured knee). I’ve mention her before in the blog because of her yoga outreach program, Off the Mat, Into the World. There is a podcast or you can listen online, but there’s a lot more to explore that goes beyond the radio program. As a teaser, The video that follows is from Yoga Journal’s Yoga from the Heart and was recorded at a conference. Seane mentions that she practices as a prayer for her father fighting cancer, and that touched me because my brother is going through the same struggle. I was in awe of Seane’s control and pace during the Sun Salutation.
Roscoe Beck, Mr. Cohen’ s musical director, says that even on the longest flights Mr. Cohen sits cross-legged and straight-backed in his seat, in a monk’s posture. Asked whether he also does yoga to build strength and agility for his stage shows, Mr. Cohen, his demeanor courtly but reserved, smiled and replied, “That is my yoga.”
So now I have a reason to explore the music archives for Cohen songs, and to listen for the intention that inspired them and moved him towards Zen discipline in the latter years of his life.
By the way, the Times journalist Larry Rohter, author of this profile, is an old Latin America hand whom I met in my days in Peru. That goes back 30 years.
CHANT 4 CHANGE, January 19, 6:30 pm – 11:30 pm, at Church of the Holy City:
Celebrate the Inauguration of Barack Obama on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with sacred activist Shiva Rea, world-renowned kirtan/chant artists Jai Uttal, Dave Stringer, Gaura Vani & As Kindred Spirits and 400 other conscious revolutionaries.
I suspect that this event is going to sell out very quickly. It’s a relatively small venue. You can buy tickets at Brown Paper Tickets at $70 a piece. It’s for a good cause.
Back in late June, I mentioned that I had been offered a chance to join Gaia Yoga. After a slow start due to a hectic schedule, I have started to follow the program on a daily basis and have now finished up my third week. Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman are the teachers in this intensive yoga immersion program. The core is in three formats:
Videos of demos: these are Flash videos with very high production values, both in terms of visuals and audio. I’ve seen a good number of yoga DVDs. These are up there with the best ones for beginners. Each week’s material is divided up into 10-12 segments that can be viewed independently. Yee and Seidman take turns demoing the poses and vinyasas. They provide a huge volume of insight and tips into the poses. It reminded me of all the good hands-on workshops that I’ve taken in the past two years (Beryl Bender Berch, Jordan Bloom, Alan Finger, Desiréee Rumbaugh) because all the good teachers pound away at reinforcing the fundamentals and the details of the poses, even with experienced practitioners. You can come back to these videos repeatedly to review the instructions, see the adjustments that Yee and Seidman make to each other, and catch something new that you had missed the first or second time around.
Audio podcasts: you can listen to these daily practices, either in your browser, in an audio application or downloaded and save as a podcast to be played in your MP3 player. These sessions, narrated by Yee or Seidman, are 20-35 minutes long and follow up on the points made in the video sessions. The audio is useful because it makes me focus on my body, rather than peeking up at a computer monitor or TV screen.
Visual sequences of each daily practice: these are photos of Yee and Seidman in the poses of the sequences, which gives visual queues to those who may not know the Sanskrit names of all the poses yet or may be unsure about all the components of the pose.
What sets this system apart from DVDs, podcats, or books is that it’s linked to a time schedule. The videos are the foundations for the weekly focus (standing poses, backbends, twists, etc.). Then the audio recordings become available at 24 hour intervals. Four podcasts are for daily practices, and then a fifth one has just pranayama and meditation. Finally, the seventh day is a rest day. It’s not possible to rush through the work program because you have to wait to become eligible, but you can always go back to review. This is necessary because the program imparts a lot of information that has to be linked to the mind and the body, and it can’t be done if the yogi is skipping ahead.
There are other features to the program, like community forums, blogs, and personal pages, that I will cover in future entries.
As I’ve mentioned before, a rep from Gaiam Yoga Club invited me to test their program free of charge for 13 weeks or about three months. The way I’m going, I won’t finish the whole “12-week” program because I have skipped a week or a night of checking into the web portal to take the next lesson so I’ve fallen behind. The Gaiam Yoga Club cost about $65 a quarter (MLS: this online service has undergone a lot of changes since I originally used it. It is not clear that the original Yee-Saldman videos are still available, but Gaia has expanded its cast of teachers and styles).
“What I’ve been found, no matter what age we are, we can build healthy muscle tissue or we can rot. And the choice is always ours. And I’m not into rot.”
Forest Yoga classes are intense and physically demanding, focused on physical core strength and body integrity. They hurt, but I know that they target areas that I need to strengthen to get to the next level. I find it a nice counterbalance to vinyasa classes that emphasize ease of movement, balance and flexibility. There are not many instructors that are certified to teach Forest Yoga, so probably the easy way to incorporate some of her techniques is to her DVD Strength & Spirit at her website. If you want to read articles and interviews, she has an exhaustive selection.
The program of videos, podcasts and print media runs for 12 weeks, and is meant for the beginner who is practicing at home. My first impression is that it’s a really polished product, with high production values on the handful of videos that I’ve seen so far. There’s a lot of material to be absorbed, even when you’re not starting from scratch. Normally, this online service costs $5 a week, billed quarterly (every 13 weeks). So I am being offered the equivalent of $60 to participate, assuming that the invitation was for the whole program. I just wanted to get that out front from the beginning.
What surprised me the most is that given the high profiles of Yee and Saidman on the yoga scene, the backing of a major retailer in the lifestyle business, like Gaiam, and the strong investment already made in the product, I’m surprised that I had not heard about this service before. It was launched in May, but I have not seen much promotion for it, and I do get a fair share of yoga-related e-mails for products, retreats, and other matters. For instance, I was trying to find a graphic, a banner ad or something like that to illustrate this blog posting, and I google the web for the one displayed here. There was no spot on their website that offered graphics or a media kit.
I did five miles of running on the Mall at lunch time, into the cold winds coming off the Potomac. It was the first outside run that I’ve had since before Christmas, though I did make it to the gym for the treadmill several times. I thought I has not lost much strength over the holiday break, but I felt exhausted by the time I got home.
I am still concerned that the pounding of running will erase the benefits of my yoga practice. I remembered an interview that I heard on NPR about chi-running, a concept started by athletic trainer Danny Dreyer. I looked up his website and found his approach to be a technique that melded well with yoga and mindfulness. The technique combines “the inner focus and flow of T’ai Chi with the power and energy of running to create a revolutionary running form and philosophy that takes the pounding, pain, and potential damage out of the sport of running.”
I ordered his book and DVD. Expect reviews shortly after they arrive in the mail. Meanwhile, you can check out what other people think by consulting testimonials or by reading a collection of longer articles. You can get a clear idea about the program by going through a few of these online resources. This NPR story is a good start.
Thanks to Daily Cup of Yoga, I ran across a recent audio interview with Krisha Das on CBC Radio. [MLS: A shame, but the archive only goes back to 2009 now.] I’ve commented before that he’s kinda been the soundtrack of my yoga practice. The lengthy discussion centers on his spiritual practice that parallels his experience with kirtan music. It really gave new insight into his music. I’ll Krishna Das speak for himself.
Rodney Yee used to have a blog at Yahoo Health. I checked it out a couple of times a while back, and then forgot about it. Yee has moved up in the online world. His new on-line home is at Lime.com’s Yoga section [MLS: Lime.com has apparently gone bust and disappeared from the web, and Yee moved on to Gaiam Yoga Club]. He has a TV show, as part of Lime’s ambitious project to bring healthy living to the big time, and has been doing short video blogs [no longer available].
Of course, Yee has been in the news a lot recently because of his marriage to NYC yoga studio owner, Colleen Saidman, which got covered in the NY Times (sorry, but the story has already been archived). But you can get a bitchier version of it at New York Magazine. Souljerky has another take on the mess. Yee divorced his wife of 24 years. A few years ago, he had an affair with a student, which became an example of how to betray the student-teacher relationship.
In my own home yoga studio, Thrive Yoga, we’ve gone through a stretch that calls into question of incarnating the yogic ideal : the two owners of Thrive Yoga have parted ways. Kim Groark was the more advanced teacher while Susan Bowen had the good business mind. Over the past two years, they lost their shared vision of what they wanted to make of the studio. I don’t know any of the details, just that at the end the tension hung like incense in the air of the studio. Susan bought out Kim’s share of the business, and Kim “decided to leave Thrive Yoga to pursue a different path,” as the announcement stated. More experienced yoga entrepreneurs have told me that studio partnerships rarely work out. Yoga teachers who strike out on their own, setting up their own shops, want to have full control over their business and practice so there’s going to be an innate contradiction in a joint venture.
I felt disconcerted by the whole shift: I had gone to Kim’s classes more frequently because I was drawn to her flair for teaching (influences of Kundalini, Shiva Rea) and the classes fit my schedule in the evenings. I was also concerned about the long-term viability of the studio because I get classes (2-5 times a week) at no charge, in exchange for hosting, maintaining and updating the website. I would find it had to pay for a year unlimited pass, which is what I would need for the same privilege. The split took me out of my comfort zone on the mat.