Tag Archives: Beryl Bender Birch

Giving American yoga a bad name

USAToday Western influence turns yoga on its head in Mumbai: The veteran writer Gail Sheehy writes about how American yoga is feeding back into Indian culture and subverting the traditional discipline, but she gets something wrong:

Power yoga, an aerobic deviation, was launched in 1995 by an American woman, Beryl Bender Birch. It ignores the original concept of yoga, which was to be done in silence so the mind can develop awareness of the body.

Photo: Beryl Bender Birch signs a book after class
Continue reading Giving American yoga a bad name

Coming yoga events in the DC area

Beryl Bender Birch, the master instructor of Hard and Soft Power Yoga (within the Ashtanga school), is giving a weekend workshop at Georgetown Yoga on Friday, June 6 and Saturday, June 7. As noted here and here before, I participated in a Bender Birch workshop at Thrive Yoga. I really enjoyed the opportunity to benefit from her insight and inspiration and would recommend her to any serious yoga student.

At Thrive Yoga, there are a couple of great workshops coming up:

  • Govindas & Radha – Waves of Love Weekend on June 13-14. Govindas is a Rockville native who now lives in California and leads workshops that combine asana with kirtan, music, rhythm and joy. You can buy his CD at CD Baby. The Friday evening event is going to be a family affair in which you can bring offspring and friends for a single price.
  • Anusara Yoga with Desiree Rumbaugh will take place on the July 11-13 weekend. Desiree is an exception teacher and associate of John Friend. She has multiple two DVDs that deal with body issues through yoga. These sessions are going to be 2-3 hours long so that will really reveal a lot about Anusara’s approach to the body .

There is nothing like take an intensive workshop (just one session or multiple days), to break through barriers in your practice.

East-West Convergence

At the workshop this past weekend, Beryl Bender Birch drew a picture that caught my imagination. Back in the days of the Palace of Mysore when the trio of future gurus of classical yoga (T.K.V. Desikachar, B.K.S. Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois) were studying under Krisnamacharya, the father of hatha yoga (it’s his 1938 video to the right), the Maharaja of Mysore was also patron to Western gymnastics that was brought to India by the British colonial regime. The two groups of students stood at opposite sites of the courtyard that served as classroom, copying techniques from each other. She said that a lot of the sequencing of vinyasa come from that cultural cross-pollination. It struck me as ironic that the East-West convergence influenced the formation of classic yoga. And today you’re getting another round of convergence as yoga meshes with American (and other Western) culture.

You can see a historic video of Iyengar from the same period.

Milestone — being yoga

The workshop this past weekend was a milestone in my practice. I’ve been noticing a shift in my focus on yoga for several weeks now. I notice how incomplete I feel when I’m not able to get to class aBrnd how energized and alive I feel when I have done a good practice. When I was traveling, I made it a point to reserve an hour or two in the evenings to roll out my mat and do some work. What a glow this solitary practice gives to your body and mind as you move through the vinyasa moved only by the rhythm of your own breath! No instructor, no audio cues.

I came to yoga four years ago because I wanted to reap from its benefits — yoga for depression, anxiety, and heart aches; yoga to deal with back pain and aging; yoga for losing weight and gaining flexibility. The US market is full of this message. I still want those pluses, but I noticed that I am motivated less by the benefits and more by the practice itself. The most succinct explanation I’ve heard for this attitude is Shiva Rea saying that she was not interested in “doing yoga,” but rather in “being yoga.” That shift in focus makes a big difference. I not only get the same benefits as before, but they seem to be compounded because they are unencumbered by the resistance and tension that build up when I am specifically seeking an outcome; I become aware of other aspects of my practice that I failed to sense because I was targeting my efforts too narrowly.

In a sense, my purchase of a new mat and other paraphernalia and my participation in the workshop is a long-term investment in my yoga practice. It’s not just a hobby, a pastime or a fitness exercise, but an integral part of my self-image and a tool in my personal development. I am taking a stake in the future.

And this past weekend, I celebrated my four-year anniversary by tapping into a shared energy and flow with other yogis who also realize the prospects of the discipline and rejoice in the varied stages of practices that others might bring to the mat. In other words, no novice, no expert, just yogis sharing the reward of the practice. Beryl told us that in India yoga was originally meant to be practiced in a group setting, in the neighborhood shala with other practitioners. She was so right. I was fortunate to celebrate this milestone in the studio that has been my shala for the past three years.

Beryl Bender Birch at Thrive Yoga

I’ve just spent three days focused on yoga with Beryl Bender Birch at a Thrive Yoga workshop. I am writing this posting on a staggered basis because I’m still putting my thoughts together about the workshop.

Beryl has been a pioneer of introducing yoga in the United States, starting nearly 35 years ago. She now operates out of the Hard and the Soft Yoga Institute on Long Island and has taught several generations of yoga instructors. She built up traction teaching yoga to athletes in New York City in the 1980s. She coined the phrase Power Yoga as a more appropriate tag for Ashtanga yoga that American could understand. She also wrote two books, Power Yoga and Beyond Power Yoga: 8 Levels of Practice for Body and Soul, that were among the first to reach a broader audience.

We had four 2.5 hour sessions, one Friday, two on Saturday and one on Sunday. In the second Saturday session, we did a restorative pose for 15 minutes and closed with a meditation. In between, Beryl distributed a half dozen different translations (or interpretations) of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and had us read them out loud. Then, she led us in a discussion of what yoga is, why we practice it and what we want to obtain. That was one of the traits of her teaching. In our first class before doing a jump-back or starting ujayay breath, she held up her hand with about an inch between thumb and index finger and said, “Yoga is this much about asana.” The conversation was lively and informative.

For the actual practice, Beryl led us through the Ashtanga Primary Series. It was my first time following a traditional sequencing of poses, though many were modified for practitioners who had not mastered a specific pose.

I think that the appeal of a workshop is the chance to discover the alchemy of shared practice, bringing together an experienced teacher and a roomful of bodies and minds focused on getting the most out of the opportunity. 50-60 sets of lungs churning up the prana in unison — that’s some pretty powerful magic. Beryl did an excellent job of creating the right atmosphere. She always spent the first 30 minutes of a session building up a rapport with the students, giving us an idea of where she wanted to take us, letting us tap into her wisdom and getting a feel for how we could handle the work.

There were actually students who had not taken more than 10 hours of yoga before the workshop. On the other hand, several yoga instructors who had trained under Beryl also showed up for the workshop. At several points, Beryl stopped a student from doing the vinyasa and had them looked at other students as they did the practice: “You can learn as much from watching as from doing.”

Beryl had a nice gesture at the end of the final session: she brought out a box full of yoga books (a few courtesy copies but most purchased with her own funds) and she gave them away to the students. Spread the wisdom!