Category Archives: Yoga in America

All the repercussions of the introduction of yoga in the United States, including the market

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.

Venting about yoga cliques and Sanskrit names

Irasna Rising in elephant journal makes some cogent arguments that I’ve been thinking for a while, but have not had the time or energy to put into a coherent package:

Why I Left Yoga (& Why I Think A Helluva Lot Of People Are Being Duped)
Sanskrit, like Latin, is a dead language. Let it go already. The Catholic Church let go of the Latin Mass after Vatican II back in the early 1960′s. Chanting in sanskrit does not make you look cool nor does it make you an automatic Hindu. Or, an authority on yoga, Vedic studies or Indology (yes, that is a real academic subject.) Nor does having a made up Sanskit-derived moniker name make you any more real either with names like Blissananda, Ganeshananda, Serenityananda etc.

This compacted extract is just one of seven points that she makes about how yoga is unfolding in the States. Irasna (her byline is Earth Energy Reader) is an ethnic Sikh so her comments carry some weight.

Photo: a foot on a yoga mat
Getting off on the wrong foot: our grasp of yoga is unbalanced.

On the other hand, we should note that there is no one “yoga” grafted on soccer moms, super models and gurus-in-training that obsess about having flat abs, round buttocks and enlightenment. Although there are plenty of aspiring people who would love to play “yoga cop” to enforce authenticity and the Yoga Sutras, there is no orthodoxy, no doctrine, no dogma, no priesthood for North American yoga. That option started fading away about the same time my generation got over their Woodstock high and ashrams were tainted by sexual scandals. In a more contemporary vein, there is no “American yoga industry” just because Under Armour wants to steal market share from Lululemon, and every yoga studio has to turned into a boutique and a teacher training academy. That is a cash flow problem.

What we have are three distinguishing traits of the North American yoga scene: (1) a capitalist marketplace that wants to dress everything up as a brand, (2) an enormous spiritual hole in our collective psyche stemming from our Judeo-Christian roots, and (3) a groundswell of psycho-somatic suffering (trauma) that Western medicine and psychiatry are unable to soothe, much less heal.

I am sure that I could think up other factors in the yoga enigma, but this venting will allow me to get back to my own personal contradictions and inadequacies. And I’m not leaving yoga. Yoga is not a place; it’s a state of mind-body.

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

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.

Yoga and football players! What about the desk jockeys?

In the wake of the Seahawks’ Super Bowl victory with the “aid of yoga and meditation,” I unphased by the chatter on blogs and online media about this being a turning point for the acceptance of yoga into mainstream America:

NY Times Title for the Seahawks Is a Triumph for the Profile of Yoga
Men and athletes doing yoga is not new. Basketball’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was an early proponent, as was the tennis star John McEnroe. Most recently, Andy Murray credited part of his recent tennis success to Bikram yoga. Stanford’s football team has incorporated yoga into its training program.

Every training season for every major sport has a surge of news articles about coaches, trainers, physical therapists and the players themselves taking to yoga to gain an edge or prevent injury. Even if asanas may not be explicitly part of a training routine, you just have to look at the warm-up  exercises (stretching)  to see that yoga has been assimilated by the modern physical conditioning disciplines.

Photo: yoga class in Warrior 2 pose
Jenny St. Clair leads her sequence of poses, including Warrior 2, a pose that is a lot harder than it looks.

I am far more deeply concerned about grandmas, plumbers and desk jockeys who would have to catch on to the glaring truth that physical exercise—preferably yoga, but even a 30-minute walk—would instigate a dramatic shift in their quality of life. One of the most eye-opening experiences during my yoga teacher training this past summer was the demo class that we put on for “friends and family.”  Bless their souls for venturing into a yoga studio in support of my classmates. Many of those novices had serious difficulty getting down to and up from the floor, much less doing a downward-facing dog or triangle pose. Several of them had to leave the room after 20 minutes.

I am not looking down my nose at them because I’ve been practicing yoga for 10 years or am a few hours away from being certified as a teacher. The past six months have been a humbling experience for me because I have seen how easily my “command of yoga”  slipped into a tenuous toe-hold on the mat. For any one, an injury or illness provoke a sharp drop-off in well-being and resilience.  Fortunately for me, I could fall back on meditation, pranayama, self-massage, restorative yoga and other approaches to keep a handle on my mind-body connection. I had an acupuncturist, body worker, chiropractic, ayurvedic healer and physicians to help me.

Who should yoga evangelists be preaching to?

Yoga advocates don’t need to get giddy about which sports team or star athlete is sweating in a Bikram class. They need to convince senior citizens and keyboard (white-collar) workers  that even simple routines can improve their flexibility, balance and body awareness, as well as assist the body in fighting off disease and the brain in holding off cognitive decline.

By the way, yoga may have given some kind of competitive edge to the Seahawks over the Broncos, but it won’t compensate for the fact that the players are bashing each others’ brains out and twisting their limbs in configurations that exceed any asana’s potential to mortify the flesh. Any for my own defense, I did yoga while watching the Super Bowl came until I became so bored with the game that I decided to sort my socks (I was far more focused matching pairs).

Yoga DorkSeattle Seahawks Changing Future of Football with Yoga and Meditation and Official Super Bowl XLVIII Yoga Game! and Super Yoga Bowl XLVIII: Seahawks vs Broncos

Yoga Confluence: Yes, the yoga team won the Super Bowl

Sexual Predators in the Yoga World

A link to this blog came through my Inbox this morning so I decided to pass it on since several of my YTT buddies have interest in  treatment of veterans for post-traumatic stress disorder and trauma, as well as the power issues in the yoga classroom. The site has been around for 30 months so there is plenty to chew on.

Sexual Predators in the Yoga World | WarRetreat.
Jillian and I feel obliged to mention this problem to veterans. Especially men and women who have suffered sexual trauma while in the military. We wonder if rape and sexual harassment go underreported in the yoga world. We wish someone would start keeping track. We understand, given the “celestial fog” many yoga teachers bask in, that reporting a popular person for inappropriate and abusive acts is beyond difficult. The last thing we want –is to ignore the issue, and send anyone blindly into a studio. Remember, you are your own guru.


Yoga for men? We’re missing the point

Here is DC yoga news that I feel qualified to comment on:

Washington Post Why yoga is still dominated by women despite the medical benefits to both sexes
Akula is like many women who do yoga and want their spouse or partner to give it a try. But the many myths about yoga stand in their way: Yoga isn’t a decent workout; it’s too touchy-feely; you have to be flexible to do it; men’s bodies just aren’t built for pretzellike poses.

Yoga requires a lot more skill that just doing repetitive exercises or jogging so it’s not something that someone is going to get a solid handle on in a few weeks. Plus, most males are coming from jobs where they have limited physical activity and their bodies are patterned into alignments (hunched over a keyboard) that resist yoga’s streetches. Most would not be in shape to play a touch football game. There are a lot of cultural barriers preventing men from joining the crowd at the neighborhood studio, as well. Continue reading Yoga for men? We’re missing the point

A new ethnic voice on the yoga scene

Kavita Das published an opinion piece about the distance developing between yoga in the Western world and the South Asian community. She’s also concerned that it is losing its spiritual dimension.

Quartz Any practice of yoga that isn’t spiritual isn’t really yoga
“Recently, I attended a panel discussion to launch the South Asian American Perspectives on Yoga in America (SAAPYA), a new initiative that seeks to restore yoga’s South Asian heritage. Specifically, the group was founded to provide a “platform and network for the voices of yoga teachers and students from across the South Asian diaspora.” Among its findings: a survey of more than two years worth of yoga journals yielded no South Asians on covers or articles authored by South Asians. Similarly, at a major yoga conference, out of 64 presenters, only seven of them were people of color. Of them, three were of South Asian origin; none was a woman.”

Continue reading A new ethnic voice on the yoga scene

Five reasons to think twice about enlisting in yoga teacher training

Assist in the transition into wheel at Thrive Yoga
Assist in the transition into wheel at Thrive Yoga

Recently I checked the class schedule at Thrive Yoga and realized that the original cast of teachers, except for Susan Bowen, the founder and owner, is no longer teaching there. Some current teachers were students on day one (along with me). That gave me pause.

I don’t know the reasons for the turnover. I know several have returned to their “real-life” professions or decided not to give up their free time to teach yoga. In addition, Susan has decided to use instructors that have gone through the Thrive Yoga teacher training program. Rockville is a suburban enclave with a handful of yoga studios spread out across the landscape while Washington, DC, or even Bethesda have more density in students and studios. Students also seem to churn through Thrive, with a few becoming the core constituency of the studio. Since I have not surveyed other studios, I don’t know if this flux of teachers and students is just how yoga works in the States.

But this realization made me examine the strange contraption called yoga teacher training (YTT), which seems to have become the main vehicle for propagating yoga across the American landscape. Just flip through Yoga Journal‘s print advertising or the local listing for teacher training, and you will see a mind-boggling array of options. What are we supposed to make of this proliferation?

Continue reading Five reasons to think twice about enlisting in yoga teacher training

Yoga fun in the sun

The summer season of festivals of yoga, music, feel-good culture and magic has begun. The first Wanderlust festival opened in Vermont:

Well+Good NYC –  Behind the scenes at Wanderlust Festival The Wanderlust Festival kicked off its third year in Stratton, Vermont yesterday. And Well+Good came to experience our first one ever (we had to check out the buzz), joining yoga and music lovers from the all over the northeast, who poured into the adorable ski village for four days of non-stop superstar yoga.

This spread has some nice photos of the activities.Wanderlust is the leading organizer of yoga festivals (seven in 2013), but there are others springing up all over the country, just as yoga conferences in the model of Yoga Journal have proliferate. There will be a yoga festival in Virginia in Labor Day weekend, Floyd Yoga Jam, but it’s hard to consider that in the DC area. It a five-hour trip down the Shenandoah valley. But I guess that’s the point. None of the festivals are smack in the middle of metropolitan areas: people want to get out into nature and landscapes.

Wanderlust does organize yoga in the city events, this year in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago.