Tag Archives: Yoga in America

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.

Fake, Evil, Spiritual, Commodified; What’s the Truth About Popular Yoga?

An interview with Andrea R. Jain who wrote Selling Yoga: From Counterculture to Pop Culture lays down some pretty heavy timber on pop analysis of yoga’s introduction into American mainstream culture and even the sniping from India about Western yoga being a bastardization of yoga’s true essence:

Fake, Evil, Spiritual, Commodified; What’s the Truth About Popular Yoga? | Religion Dispatches.
The key message for Selling Yoga’s readers is that yoga has been perpetually context-sensitive, so there is no “legitimate,” “authentic,” “orthodox,” or “original” tradition, only contextualized ideas and practices organized around the term yoga. In other words, the innovations unique to pop culture yoga do not de-authenticate them simply because they represent products of consumer culture.
Postural yoga is a transnational product of yoga’s encounter with global processes, particularly the rise and dominance of market capitalism, industrialization, globalization, and the consequent diffusion of consumer culture. To reduce its innovations to borrowings from, or the mere commodification of, otherwise authentic religious wares, however, would undermine the narrative and ritual functions and meanings of yoga for many of the practitioners I engage with in my study—the insiders to modern postural yoga.

This means I’m going to have to buy another yoga book on Amazon for my Kindle. At least, it will not crowd my bookshelves or weigh down my shoulder bag. It was published in December

Jain also points to another book, Heaven’s Bride: The Unprintable Life of Ida C. Craddock, American Mystic, Scholar, Sexologist, Martyr, and Madwoman by Leigh Eric Schmidt. He tells the story of of a modern hero, Ida C. Craddock (1857-1902), “whose life, though tragic, reveals important themes in the early history of modern yoga.” Schmidt has written about the American religious experience.  Religious Dispatches posted an interview with Schmidt when the book came out.

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.

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

Yoga master BKS Iyengar leaves this life

It’s a sad day when we have to bid farewell to one of the cornerstones of modern yoga as practiced around the world. BKS Iyengar died of kidney failure on August 20 in Pune, India:

BKS Iyengar, who helped bring yoga to the West, has died
Iyengar had been ill for weeks, according to the Times of India, and had been suffering from heart problems. Admitted to the hospital on August 12, Iyengar’s condition had worsened in recent days, and he was put on dialysis.

There will be an outpouring of grief, gratitude and remembrances, as well as attempts to take stock of the state of yoga with the death of one of the three major Indian propagators ( Pattabhi Jois died in 2009 and TKV Desikachar is in ill health) who took the mantle from T. Krishnamacharya. Iyengar left a legacy of literature about hatha yoga, pranayama and other techniques, as well as a focus on the health-giving potential from the practice.

I’ll probably have more to say later.

Should Yoga Be Exempt from the “Yoga Tax”?

Now that yoga studios in the District of Columbia have been lumped together with fitness centers and tanning studios for the purpose of paying the local sales tax, some advocates are advancing the argument that yoga is not really (or exclusively) a physical fitness activity.

City Desk Should Yoga Be Exempt from the “Yoga Tax”?
The Yoga Alliance, a national nonprofit yoga advocacy organization that boasts more than 50,000 registered yoga instructors as members, argues that yoga is not actually a fitness program and should be exempt from the new sales tax that has come to be known as the “Yoga Tax.”

This whole debate gets into the shifting definition of yoga in the U.S. mainstream culture and marketplace. On one side, Christian critics say that yoga is a religious proselytizing activity. The counterargument is that it’s not religious, spiritual at most, and, more commonly, physical as practiced in the United States. Others lament that the “yoga industry” is making billions of dollars a year, which contradicts the whole claim that yoga studios should be exempt from sales taxes.

On year after yoga teacher training

This MSNBC article comes one year after I started my summer intensive yoga teacher training at Thrive Yoga.

Yoga teachers: Overstretched and underpaid
In many respects – the low pay, the gig-based nature of the job, and the unpaid overtime – yoga is little different from other freelance professions in the new, service-based American economy. More than one person interviewed by msnbc compared teaching yoga to being a part-time adjunct professor, with all the job insecurity and irregular pay that implies.

The articles drives homes the message that it’s tough to turn yoga teaching into a viable profession in a competitive marketplace. Obviously, I decided that I did not want to pursue teaching even part time or as a fallback option. I’ve made a coldblooded decision to work on a career track that builds on my accumulated experience and skills — and brings a salary and benefits. I am in awe of those who decided to follow their heart down the yogic path.

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.