Tag Archives: news

Taking a step back from blogging and yoga

It’s been a while. I have not posted anything here for three months, the longest period I have ever gone without blogging since 2000 (before this blog started in 2004, I had another blog at Peruvian Graffiti). Moreover, I have not written anything substantive since last year, just a couple of quick shots from the hip and photos.

Why? The yoga scene has changed

When I took up yoga, pranayama and meditation, there was only archipelagos of content online across the Internet. I had my list of a handful of blogs, instructional sites, and, of course, Yoga Journal. Now there are abundant resources  available on the Internet, from streaming classes to forums, so many that I have given up trying to track them. Any yoga instructor worth their salt has a branded blog, with an apparel line, DVDs and books. More importantly, regional portals are providing local coverage of the yoga community, and diverse special interest groups (Yoga Service Council and International Association of Yoga Therapists, to name just two) are coalescing around yoga issues.

Even in the early 2000s, the mainstream media rarely covered yoga and related stories so I found it helpful to draw attention to major news stories and commentary that showed the spread of yoga in American culture.  I get Google alerts about yoga news stories everyday, and coverage ranges from quotidian (new studio opening on Main Street, park classes on Sunday) to PR (the fascination with yoga pants) to major (yoga macho Bikram Choudhury loses his copyright trial and the running suit about yoga in California public schools).  We even read about how the Indian government and Hindu culture is reacting to the assimilation of yoga within American society.  We even see yoga postures showing up in commercials and meditation getting billed as the latest productivity enhancement.

Yoga is moving beyond novelty and  trendiness. Increasingly voices are coming forward to ask questions about broader issues, to interpret major challenges to how yoga is practiced in America (insert links here  when I have time to dig them up).

Given these shifts over the past decade, I find it hard to register in my two cents in the blogosphere.

Why? I’ve changed

Last Friday, I took my first restorative class in three months. I’ve not taken a hatha class this year. That does not mean that I don’t practice yoga. I do everyday. I’ve intentionally down-throttled my practice from “trying-too-hard” to just trying to master one pose, savasana.

When I realized that I did not want to keep up a running commentary of yoga events in the news and elsewhere or try “big think” on yoga in America, I thought I could stay focused on my own practice, an aging, white male in search of the double whammy of physical exercise and mindfulness, with healing his subtle wounds as a bonus. But if my own practice is lying motionless on the floor, there’s not much to write home about. Of course, there’s a lot more going on under the skin, but that comes with its own risks.

I’ve also become more agnostic about yoga since about four years ago and even more so since I finished my yoga teacher training two years ago. Patanjali does not make easy sense for me; releasing the tension in my myofascial system does.

In a different vein, my wife dislikes that I reveal my inner life on the Web. I’ve become more aware of how the Internet gives unfiltered access to anyone who wants to search for dirt. I think twice before revealing my private thoughts. I’ve already written enough about my physical and mental health for a prospective employer to hesitate before hiring me. With a name like mine, though, I have a degree of deniability or security in numbers. But just knowing my LinkedIn or Facebook page would be enough to dig up my personal history or commentary about my former bosses or whatever.

Even making quick posts to Twitter or Facebook or Instagram makes me feel scattered all over the Internet.

So my original motives for blogging about yoga have faded, leaving me with the need to find another reason for writing. It’s going to require me to write my way forward.

Healing trauma through yoga reaches the miliary

The military is opening up to non-traditional ways of treating trauma in veterans and wounded soldiers.

Warrior Pose — One way to help veterans with PTSD? Lots of yoga. – The Washington Post
Starting Friday night and running through Sunday, Thurman and 17 yoga teachers from five states will be gathering at Yoga Heights in the Park View neighborhood of the District for yoga for PTSD and trauma training. The studio will host workshops specifically designed to heal and help veterans suffering from both the emotional and physical wounds of war.

I am late with the blog entry, but I have to register the article.

Mindfulness in museums and sensuous overflow

The Phillips Collection is introducing a mindful approach to accessing the art work on display there:

Washington PostAt the Phillips Collection, viewing art through mindful meditation:
As with traditional yoga practice, the mindful viewing program focuses on breathing and its restorative power, says Kanter, who teaches at Yoga District in D.C. and Willow Street Yoga in Takoma Park. “Even just slowing down the breath, noticing and deepening the breath,” she says, can trigger “your relax-and-renew response. When you can mindfully attune to your breath and start to influence it, you trigger deep changes in your body. So that immediately has an impact on how you feel.”

The new approach benefited from yoga therapist Elizabeth Lakshmi Kanter‘s insight. The Phillips will make the program available via a smart phone app. Many European museums already hand out headsets that provide information and commentary in the language of the visitor, but I did not notice any mindful tones in the narration of the headsets that I used.

Proponents of mindfulness have long emphasized the power of breath in managing stress. “It’s like we mimic the relaxed state by breathing more slowly,” says Klia Bassing, a mindfulness meditation instructor and founder of Visit Yourself at Work, a stress-reduction program based in the District. “It’s a state in which the body is more able to heal.” That shift, she says, can stay with you beyond the immediate experience, such as contemplating a work of art. “A body at rest will stay at rest,” says Bassing. “A body at nervousness will stay at nervousness.” (Does using a cellphone as a medium for mindfulness disrupt the mindful moment? Not necessarily, says Bassing: “It’s still effective in bringing the body and mind into a state of present awareness.”)

Photo: tourist crowd in from on Michelangelo's Pietà
The crush of tourists at major museums makes it hard to appreciate the art work.

I could have used more than a mindfulness app when Teresa and I were trotting through museums during our recent trip to Europe. We were there in September and early October when crowds had dropped off a bit. But it was hard to slow down when thousands of multinational tourists are being herded through the Vatican museum and St. Peter’s Basilica. You almost feel bad when lingering in front of a particular art piece because you’re holding up others.

Of course, you can develop plenty of mindfulness while waiting in long queues to buy tickets, get in the front door or get passed security.

You can only take in so much visual input and stimulus, especially at the major European museums that flaunt their riches with national pride. During our trip, there were several moments when we had to say “Stop, enough is enough.” At the Orsay Museum in Paris, after feasting on Impressionist artists all morning, we walked out and found the sun light a relief from the overpowering brilliance inside the museum. We sat by the Seine River, ate some fruit, and let the emotional overflow spill into the river.

Photo: vaulted, glass roof of Orsay Museum, Paris
The interior of Paris’s Orsay Museum

Yoga Journal just screwed me royal

Cover art for Yoga Journal
September 2010

I’ve been a subscriber to Yoga Journal since I started my practice, about 10 years ago. I’ve read all their issues, cover to cover, except for the past year when things have gotten a bit hectic. But I’ve kept stacking the issues on my desk for future reading. The back issues fill up a bookcase shelf in my study.

More importantly, I’ve cited the magazine hundreds of times, to their pose listing, features, cover stories and other articles. I’ve even defended the magazine’s reliance on advertising to survive in a competitive marketplace. I saw it as a necessary barometer of yoga’s influence in American mainstream culture.

Today, the new editors of Joga Yournal released their “beta” edition of their website, designed to be more graphically optimized and ad-friendly.  I found this message after trying to load a JY link:

File Not Found
The page you are looking for might have been removed, had its name changed, or is temporarily unavailable.

Please try the following:

  • Check your spelling
  • Return to the home page
  • Click the Back button

Talk about playing dumb. They know why I got a 404 error.

Continue reading Yoga Journal just screwed me royal

Closure for Yoga: The Art of Transformation in Cleveland

Yoga: The Art of Transformation will end its stay at the Cleveland Museum of Art on September 7. It opened on June 22. It also had a term at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, February 21-May 25.  Thus will end the ground-breaking exhibit of Indian art and yoga that the Smithsonian’s Freer-​​Sackler Gallery put together.  Debra Dia­mond, the exhibit cura­tor, and a long list of collaborators and supporters should be pleased with its reception around the country. The videos from the “Yoga and Visual Culture: An Interdisciplinary Symposium” in November last year are available online.

Sonya Quintanilla, the Curator of Indian and Southeast Asian Art at the Cleveland Museum of Art, narrated the exhibit, accompanied by some pictures of the displays.

Continue reading Closure for Yoga: The Art of Transformation in Cleveland

Featured treatment of macho yoga

I don’t have much time right now to critique this article from the NYTimes Magazine about Diamond Dallas Page and his macho version of yoga:

The Rise of Beefcake Yoga
Together, Page and Aaron developed a hybrid of Ashtanga, a popular “power” yoga, and Iyengar, a more therapeutic form. Page added some strength-building moves for key muscles groups — the quads, the core — and also built in traditional calisthenics, including push-ups. He incorporated something he calls “dynamic resistance,” which calls for engaging all of the body’s muscles and then moving against that tension. And he tried to avoid all that namaste stuff. “That’s the first thing that makes people go, ‘That’s too froufrou,’ ” he says. “There’s certain yoga terminology that I don’t use. I want to make people laugh.”

The American mixing bowl or melting pot or whatever else you want to label it is introducing new influences into yoga practice. More are on the way. Whatever floats your boat seems to be the rule.

DC Council to lay tax on yoga studios and other fitness businesses

The issue of how to treat yoga studios under the DC tax code has come to the forefront again:

Washington City Paper Yogis Go Mad Over Proposed Yoga Sales Tax
Although the proposal doesn’t just target fitness studios, the tax has been dubbed the “Yoga Tax” by people who oppose it. The Council gave preliminary approval this week to charge the city’s 5.75 percent sales tax on services like health clubs and tanning studios that previously haven’t been subject to it. The sales tax would also extend to bowling alleys and billiard parlors, barber and beautician services, carpet and upholstery cleaning, car washes, construction contractors, and mini-storage.

Since this measure is part of the annual budgeting process for 2015, the time frame is going to make it hard to alter the decisions already made by the DC Council. Many critics say that the measure is a tax on healthy behavior, but yoga studios are still businesses that are subject to other Federal, state and local taxes. Mayor Vince Gray is a lame duck and has already lost a lot of his pet initiatives so he could not influence this decision one way or the other.

There was also an article in the Washington Post. Here’s the Facebook page of the campaign against the new “yoga” levy.

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.

File under “provisional”

The following articles should be read as a point-counterpoint about how we think we know our bodies, our brains, and how they all fit together, and how each individual human being is a unique creation.

NYTimes.com  – The Secrets Inside Us
Vesalius’s wasn’t the first book on anatomy, but it was the first detailed study based entirely on actual dissection of human cadavers — on scientific fact, not supposition. It systematically dismantled the error-filled doctrine of Galenism, which rested in part on animal rather than human anatomy and had held sway for 14 centuries.But in mapping the inner body, Vesalius didn’t get everything right — he didn’t correctly grasp the circulation of the blood, a discovery that the English physician William Harvey made in the 17th century — nor was his work immediately embraced by all. Revered in retrospect, he was not immune to criticism, or skepticism, in his day.

Through neuroscience we are discovering fresh dimensions of how our brain works, but these can easily be blown out of the water by the next round of discoveries.

The Guardian (UK) – Despite what you’ve been told, you aren’t ‘left-brained’ or ‘right-brained
What research has yet to refute is the fact that the brain is remarkably malleable, even into late adulthood. It has an amazing ability to reorganize itself by forming new connections between brain cells, allowing us to continually learn new things and modify our behavior. Let’s not underestimate our potential by allowing a simplistic myth to obscure the complexity of how our brains really work.

Our understanding of our bodies, brains, minds and souls should always be tagged as provisional, not locked into dogma or sound-bite ready one-liners that give the appearance of insight.