Tag Archives: Yoga in America

NY Times critic makes trip to see DC yoga art exhibit

Holland Cotter, the New York Times staff art critic, published an article about the “Yoga – The Art of Transformation” exhibit at the Sackler Gallery on the DC Mall (only until January 26). He liked it:

NYTimes.com Eons Before the Yoga Mat Became Trendy
The fact is, yoga was always rational, and more so in its old, extremist forms than in its present domesticated version. How else would you characterize a spiritual discipline that directly and boldly addressed life’s most intractable problem, the persistence of suffering, and took practical, but radical steps to do something about it? To alter the rules of the existential game, it redefined the possible. What’s great about the Sackler show, apart from the pleasures of its images, is that it not only lets us see the history of that practice in action, but understand how radical it was — and is — and take that seriously.

Cotter has a good eye for revealing details and incarnate contradictions, which he sprinkles throughout his article. This was not a fly-by snapshot that he fit in between New York galleries and major artists: he saw the art and let it affect him.

Yoga and its application in health and wellness

Photo: ornamental shrine in bronze, India
Siddha Pratima Yantra, Western India, dated 1333 (Samvat 1390) Bronze, 21.9 x 13.1 x 8.9 cm Freer Gallery of Art, F1997.33

The next major event of the Yoga: The Art of Transformation exhibit is the Medical Yoga Symposium to take place on the weekend of January 11-12, 2014. The first day with the theme of “Discovery and Didactics: Professional Perspectives and Personal Stories” will be in the Meyer Auditorium at the Freer-Sackler Gallery while the second day (Master Classes, Experiential Workshops,  3-hour intensives and Discussions ) will take place at the Marvin Center of the George Washington University. Participants should be prepared to get down on the mat.

The event will be led by a lot of heavy hitters in the American yoga scene, especially those devoted to yoga therapy and related applications, as well as medical researchers, doctors and psychiatrists—more than 20—too many to list here so you can consult the flyer or the website for more details. It is shaping up to be as thought-provoking and body-shifting as the yoga symposium in November.

The event is being organized by the Gallery, the Center for Integrative Medicine at George Washington University Medical Center and Therapeutic Yoga of Washington, DC. Because the two-day event is not only an exposition, but a teaching event (attendees are eligible for continuing education credits), it comes with a cost: $180 the first day, $100 the second day. Student and group pricing is available.

Topics include:

  • Evidence-based Integrative Health Practices
  • Yoga Practice in Modern Society
  • Yoga as a Therapeutic Intervention
  • Transformations in Modern Medicine
  • Scientific Research on Yoga and Yoga Therapy

“Yoga: The Art of Transformation” exhibit will remain at the Freer-Sackler Gallery until January 26, when it will go on a road show to San Francisco and Cleveland. Several special events are planned for the final week.

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.

Symposium’s message: yoga is more than vogue, Part Two

Photo: yogi seated in purification circle
Ascetic yogi in India – photo by James Mallinson

Following up on my previous commentary on the yoga art exhibit, I want to express my frustration about trying to make meaningful remarks about the exhibit, symposium and catalog. Here we have a major trans-global intellectual enterprise about yoga, past, present and future. Major authorities participate in the conceptualization of the the enterprise, its visual nature fills the eyes with light, the juxtaposition of artifacts sets off ripples of imagination, the road map points in multiple direction of investigation and meditation.

I see a picture of an Indian ascetic seated in Lotus pose and I myself am seated in easy pose (Western hips don’t lie), and I feel a connection across the centuries, across the oceans, across the cultural and language barriers.  I can feel it in my bones, tissues,  blood and breath because yoga affects the physical bodies of all human beings the same way—it’s in our DNA, our genetic code. But the meaning is not. That’s why the physical practice, hatha yoga, is the most easily and directly assimilated by Westerners. Continue reading Symposium’s message: yoga is more than vogue, Part Two

Being inspired by art in a yoga class at the DC yoga exhibit

Every Sunday, the Sackler Gallery’s Art in Context offers the chance to practice yoga in one of the Yoga: The Art of Transformation exhibit’s salons. You will have to register ahead of time, and the class has a cost of $15, about what you’d pay in a yoga studio. There are specialized classes for kids and seniors. If you are interested, you need to hurry because most of the slots are sold out, even into January.

Washington Post – Sackler’s ‘Art in Context’ lets participants practice yoga in the gallery
The marble jina from that first room was in Susan Levine’s head throughout the class. “It looked so relaxed, but really very aware. That’s the essence of meditation,” said Levine, who lives in Rockville. The other image she couldn’t shake: The black-and-white video of two legendary teachers, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya and B.K.S. Iyengar, that played on a screen right next to where the mats were rolled out. “It’s history looking down on you,” she said.

You can’t just throw down a mat and start doing a Sun Salutation while you’re touring the exhibit. The Smithsonian requires a certain decorum and protocol. Of course, I dont’ think a guard or monitor would stop you from slipping into Warrior II when you feel inspired.

My YTT pals are planning to visit the exhibit this Sunday, unless they chicken out with the excuse of overbooked schedules and family duties.

Dissident parents continue resistance against yoga in public schools

And the next round of litigation over yoga in public schools got underway in California:

The Washington PostParents appeal judge’s ruling allowing yoga in public schools
Broyles filed a notice of appeal Wednesday Oct. 30 in San Diego Superior Court on behalf of parents who oppose the yoga curriculum in the Encinitas Union School District. Broyles first filed a lawsuit regarding the district’s yoga program last February on behalf of Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock, whose child attended El Camino Creek Elementary School in Carlsbad.

You can be sure that this suit will make it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Also see “Appeal revives school yoga lawsuit.”

Boffo review from WashPost on yoga art exhibit

Photo: entrance of museum with large banners
Freer-Sackler Gallery organized the first major exhibit of yoga-inspired art.

We can all breathe easier now. The media gorilla in DC town has issued a first opinion (Not just an announcement of the opening or the social buzz around it). The Washington Post critic Michael Sullivan issued his assessment of the Smithsonian’s exhibit on yoga art at the Freer-Sackler Gallery on the Mall:

‘Yoga: The Art of Transformation’ art review – The Washington Post
Whether the goal is awakening, enlightenment, power or merely good health, people practice yoga today for many different reasons. Yet few understand its tangled Indian roots. Originating more than 2,000 years ago as an offshoot of Hinduism by a group of ascetics who renounced society in order to end suffering, yoga gradually cross-pollinated with Buddhism, Sufi Islam and Jainism before flowering into what we know it as today.

Among its 133 artifacts (including sculpture, paintings, manuscripts, photographs, books, film clips and other materials), the exhibition contains many depictions of the practice that contradict the contemporary stereotype of yoga. Just saying the word now evokes a cliched image of a blissed-out hipster doing a downward dog on an expensive yoga mat.

All I need to do now is actually hop on the Metro to go downtown to see the exhibit. I’ve been consumed by resurrecting and updating another website and it has stolen all my time. I must make time for this, and not be like thousands of other Washingtonians who never take advantage of all the marvelous exhibits that go through DC museums and galleries, not to mention the permanent exhibits.

Even the Indians can’t agree if yoga is religious or not

…and they’re going to their Supreme Court to settle the matter.

The Washington PostIs yoga religious? An Indian court mulls mandatory school exercises
India’s school policy considers yoga an integral component of physical education. But the court has expressed caution, and is considering arguments that yoga has a religious component. The issue is complicated because India is a secular democracy but has pockets of Hindu nationals who would like to force their way of life on others.

India’s court system may not be the best place to get a quick and clear decision because it is famously slow and inept, but that’s India’s problem. The Indian political system is just as intertwined with religious and secular currents and the American one is. And that affects yoga is both countries.

The point is that there is no black-and-white, cut-and-dry answer as to whether yoga owes its impact to its religious roots or can be adopted without fear of being contaminated by pagan rites. As yoga practitioners and advocates, we’d be well-advised to tread carefully.  

Just in time! Yoga art exhibit to open tomorrow

Photo: image of a seated Buddha or yogi
From the exhibit

The Smithsonian’s exhibit of yoga-inspired art  is now going to open as scheduled because Washington’s political class decided that it had done enough harm and found a way to end the government shutdown. My yoga teacher training classmates at Thrive Yoga are planning to visit as a group next weekend.

Washington Post Alec Baldwin and his wife, Hilaria, bring glitz to D.C. yoga gala
“And really, what could be a better way to end this stressful week in Washington than an evening celebrating the art of staying calm? The black-tie, $1,000-a ticket evening (relocated from the gallery to the Mellon because of the shutdown) celebrated the debut of the Sackler Gallery’s “Yoga: The Art of Transformation” exhibit, which opens Saturday. Because there was no time to move the gala back to the museum after the government reopened, photos of sculptures and paintings from the exhibit were shown on video screens on the wall of the dimly lighted room, which piped in soothing, dreamy music throughout the night.”

Of course, the social events revolving around the exhibit give rise to a lot of frivolous reporting about the high-profile sponsors, like Alex Baldwin and his yoga teacher wife, and the usual cliches about yoga. But that’s the price to be paid for making it to the big time.  At least, Baldwin makes a show of not taking himself too seriously. The exhibit website lists dozens of events so multiple visits may be necessary to take in all the facets of the exhibit.

Growth potential in an unlikely group

An alternative online publication, CounterPunch, gives a new spin to the momentum building around yoga in mainstream North American culture by pointing out that the greatest potential for growth and benefit lies in the age group above 50 years old because of yoga’s ability to address many of the health issues confronting that group.

CounterPunch Are Seniors the Vanguard of American Yoga?
“Francina seems to take delight in defying conventional wisdom by insisting that older practitioners are often more flexible than students in their 20s and usually more patient and consistent in their practice of the poses.  She insists, in fact, that seniors, not shy away from demanding and vigorous practice for fear of getting injured, and should embrace yoga’s “advanced” inversion poses — the headstand and shoulder stand, among them – because these poses, in addition to their spiritual majesty, have unique anti-aging benefits, including their ability to “detoxify” the internal organs and to improve blood circulation to the brain – a key challenge as gravity and age naturally take hold.”

Continue reading Growth potential in an unlikely group