31 August 2010

upon further reflection on the yoga noise

This is me after my head exploded over the latest furor about the way yoga is advertised in America.

OK, not really, but after the requisite three days all things pass and we move on, right? Wrong.

Once again an advertisement for a yoga book created a firestorm in the yoga blogosphere. Maybe the fire was not as widespread as was created by the Judith Lasater letter to Yoga Journal or the naked ToeSox ad, but it did generate many comments here and at Svasti's place. So let's just move on. Wrong.

Just for the heck of it I looked at Tara Stiles' twitter feed to see if there were any more comments about her book other than for yours truly, Svasti, and Blisschick. Over 90% of the tweets are consistently hugely complimentary. Obviously detractors are in the minority. But then I found this one lonely tweet amongst the cacophony of Stiles' cheerleaders:

"I feel you sold out Yoga to Honda. If you want to model for products, fine. Just keep yoga out of it. Just my 2 cents."

You see, I thought maybe my last post about her appearance on the morning show in New York was over the top, that I was picking on her too much. But you have to admit that the Dunkin Donuts commercial before her fry the fat yoga show was a priceless piece of irony. There could not have been a better juxtaposition of two images to make a point and that's the essence of satire.

Then I read what a well-known yoga teacher said about comments on yoga blogs being divisive and not in the spirit of being a yogi (I don't know if the comment was about the TS discussion, but it made me wonder.) Also, some commenters feel that whatever brings people to yoga is fine and that ultimately they will learn that yoga is so much more than a way to burn blubber and fry fat on the mat.

So am I just a big ol' meanie?

Last night this foggy menopausal brain thought about all this in the context of being "yogic."

In the first place, this has nothing to do with Tara Stiles as a person. I haven't called her any names and I am sure she is a good person in her daily relationships. She must be a good yoga teacher (whatever "good" means to some people) because if she wasn't she would not have reached the level she has, she would just be another unknown yoga teacher. Or maybe she just got some lucky breaks. Her karma.

But what is true (and it's not only my opinion but that of others, read the 20+ comments here) is that she sold out yoga for her own purposes just to make a buck. Because what other reason would there be to so blatantly cater to women's insecurities about their bodies in her atrocious marketing campaign? To use advertising language that is no better than what a cheap diet aid uses for marketing. To further perpetuate the notion that screams at us from every cover of every woman's magazine at the supermarket checkout line that there is something wrong with us, that we need fixing, that we are always lacking. As it said in the above tweet, keep yoga out of it. If you put yourself out there in the way you advertise your product, then you'd better be willing to take the heat.

Go ahead and call me unyogic, but that's not yoga. Which leads me to my second point.

I am so tired, saddened actually, that in this Americanized yoga business anything can be called "yoga" and that makes it yoga. No, your morning stretches using yoga poses are not yoga and just because you call them yoga doesn't make it so. Calling a dog a cat doesn't make it a cat. I consider myself fortunate to have been exposed to yoga and meditation back in the prehistoric times of my college days when yoga and those who did it were considered weird -- there was a reason they called us Freaks.

I started reading books about the Eastern wisdom traditions when I was in high school. I am passionate about all the teachings (if you are also reading the Avadhuta Gita raise your hand) and do my best when I teach to honor the Krishnamacharya lineage. Yoga is very precious to me -- I am grateful and blessed that I have opportunity and freedom to travel to India to study in the heart of yoga. So pardon me for feeling protective and angry when people bastardize yoga for their own purposes.

Being "yogic" doesn't mean being peace-love-dove all the time. The ancient yogis, the sramanas, were rebels, they were spiritual warriors against the status quo. Buddha was a radical -- he went against the stream and said to look at reality as it is, not as what you want it to be.

Accusing someone of not being a "yogi" or of not being "yogic" is a cop-out. I will always remember what Jack Kornfield said in our first retreat for my training at Spirit Rock -- that anyone who thinks that someone on the spiritual path should not still get angry has a kindergarten view of spirituality.

Chogyam Trungpa taught the way of the spiritual warrior. He said, "Warrior-ship here does not refer to making war on others. Aggression is the source of our problems, not the solution. Here the word “warrior” is taken from the Tibetan “pawo,” which literally means, “one who is brave.” ... "And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.‎"

That cave in India is looking pretty good right now.

30 August 2010

burn your blubber and fry your fat

....after you eat those Dunkin' Donuts.

I almost blew my chai out my nose all over my keyboard when I saw that. Irony rules.


YogaDawg once told me that some things are too ridiculous to satirize, but check out his link.

No further comments are necessary although I'm SO disappointed -- not one mention of bra fat.

I'll go sage myself now.

29 August 2010

seva is sexy

"Yoga is about GIVING. Not taking. That’s how I get my calm and my sexy. I don’t need no special book and unrealistic promises to deliver that."

Those words are from Svasti's great blog "Body image issues, yoga & Tara Stiles is a sell-out" that was in response to Stiles' atrocious ad for her new book (I am loathe to give it any more publicity.) The amazing and heart-felt comments from readers on my blog about it make me think that a yoga revolution is in the air. At least I hope so.

What I found so appalling in Stiles' ad was the language: "banish belly fat, FAST"; "a YOGA-SLIM body in just 15 MINUTES A DAY!"; "size 8 to a size double 00!"; "combat bra fat with one easy move." This one was the kicker: "Reshape your body. Learn a fabulous new way to balance WIDER-THAN-DESIRED HIPS."

Uh, Tara, don't you think a little thing called BONE STRUCTURE might have something to do with that? How is feeding into women's insecurities about their hips in any way "yogic"? How about preaching acceptance about those "wider than desired" hips instead of trying to change something that is impossible to change because of BONE STRUCTURE?

I am still reeling from the possibility of bra fat. With homeless children on the street, genocide, floods in Pakistan, and starving people all over the world, now I have to worry about my back fat. Holy Shiva, what's a grrl to do?

The ad has nothing to do with yoga and has everything to do with what is wrong with with, well, everything that is wrong in this culture. Everything has to work fast -- "15 minutes" -- and if it doesn't we move on to the next best thing because our brains are no longer wired to stay with anything longer. We have the attention spans of flies, just look at some children.

I remember what Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote in Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness. He said that ADD and ADHD are not the problems of children where the only solution is to medicate them with potentially harmful drugs; he believes that ADD and ADHD are signs of a dysfunctional family unit. In other words, YOU HAVE TO CHANGE YOUR LIFE-STYLE.

And that is what weight loss is all about. It's not about "210 proven yoga moves" you can do in 15 minutes. I should know because I used to weigh about 200 pounds in the late 1970s. It was a life-style change. And because I used to weigh that much is why I can comment on bullshit ads that promise the impossible.

Personally I think that every dime Tara Stiles makes off the book should be donated to a place that helps young women with eating disorders.

"You may not be able to change the world, but at least you can embarrass the guilty." -- Jessica Mitford

How does a "yoga" book that promises results in just 15 minutes a day speak to the fact that yoga is a life-long process of transformation, 24/7? A process where the results are seen in months and years and not minutes. You operate on faith because there are no guarantees.

As I said in my previous blog, I am so over the excuse of how all these so-called "yoga" books or DVDs are just about "bringing yoga to the people, it's all good, so don't be a hater." If you want to bring yoga to the people then teach in a prison or a homeless or domestic violence shelter year after year, don't write a book about how to get rid of your bra fat. Now I am back to my post title.

Like Svasti, I get my calm and sexy from seva which is karma yoga in a domestic violence shelter. It's true the women ask me about losing their belly fat from their pregnancies -- there is nothing wrong with wanting to look good and feeling healthy and sexy. But I can assure you that they care more about ridding themselves of emotional demons and nightmares. The classes are pure joy and joy is big-time sexy. I'll be getting a double dose of sexy because after about 10 years I've been asked to teach twice a month.

Every class is wonderful but last week was more so than usual. I did not teach a traditional yoga class but used movement in general as a stress reliever -- we jumped and gyrated and shook those wider than desired hips. I had them do Lion's Breath which they really got into after I told them how lionesses hunt and feed and defend their children while the lion sleeps all day. They could identify with that....and you've never heard louder roars.

I tell them that they are my teachers, these poor Hispanic women who own no yoga mats, no Lululemon pants, and come to my class after standing all day at factory jobs. Many of them do not have the luxury of even 15 minutes a day for themselves. My 90 minute class once a month may be the only time they have for themselves. Do you really think they care about bra fat?

After our movement I did yoga nidra with them. Some started crying afterward because of the effect it had on them. One woman was there for the first time and after class she was speechless for more than a few moments because the effect was so profound. When she could speak she asked the group leader if she could talk with me any time she felt bad. The yoga had created trust. The group leader translated and I had to tell her that while I understand Spanish, I am no longer fluent in speaking it so I could not answer her, but if she would like a private yoga therapy session with the group leader translating, I would be happy to do it for free.

Then I felt the shift. Sometimes psychic shifts are so potent that you feel them physically and suddenly everything falls into place. The verification that what I have done for almost 10 years is my true path. It was a physical confirmation. No more second guessing.

My path is no longer teaching in studios, it is about truly bringing yoga and meditation to the people. I have plans in the back of my brain and all things happen when they are ready to happen. My yoga therapy training in India next year will be the icing on the cake and my decision to pursue a masters in transpersonal psychology never felt so right. It's all going to meld together and it will take longer than 15 minutes.

Damn, I'm sexy.

28 August 2010

you're too fat and not sexy -- so buy my book!

Do you want to be slim, calm, and sexy in just 15 minutes a day? Get rid of your "bra fat" and go from size 8 to a size 00 IN JUST 15 MINUTES A DAY?

"Bra fat"? What a loser you are to have BRA FAT!

Click here for full marketing piece.

I don't care if Tara Stiles is nice person. I don't care if she has done legitimate yoga videos in the past. This is a complete sell out for the almighty dollar. Don't even try to sell me on the "yoga for the masses" excuse. It's pathetic, and frankly, she should be ashamed for allowing herself to be talked into shilling for this trash. That is, if any convincing was really necessary -- somehow I doubt it. But if asked about it, I am sure we would hear the typical higher-lighter-brighter-peace-love-dove-I'm-just-bringing-yoga-to-the-people crap.

We've come such a long way since yoga was brought to America.

Watch this video. And then decide which images you want your daughters to see.

25 August 2010

The Magazine of Yoga interviews

It was my supreme pleasure to interview with Susan Maier-Moul, the editor of the fabulous Magazine of Yoga. I can't remember exactly how we connected, maybe it was via a comment I wrote on her site, but I was honored and humbled (and also excited!) that she asked for an interview. Talking with Susan was like talking with a sister or an old friend so I hope we can meet in person one day!

I have a lot of respect for the Magazine of Yoga. I think it's a true magazine, instead of print, online. During the Yoga Journal/nude ads debacle, people asked "what else is there?" The Magazine of Yoga will fill your yoga reading needs with authenticity, no egos, and no BS, unlike some "yoga inspired" quasi-magazine sites.

The Magazine of Yoga's tagline is "Real Life is Real Yoga." Simple, and similar to this blog's tagline "yoga is life", a quote from Krishnamacharya. In Susan's words:

"The life you’re living is the yoga you’re doing.

The Magazine of Yoga is focused on yoga as a practice of effectiveness in this world and this life. We don’t write specifically about yoga as spiritual because that would be redundant.

Life is spiritual, being you is spiritual. There’s no place you can go to get away from The Universe. Not even the office."

So check out The Magazine of Yoga and, oh about me! We had so much to talk about that we had to do it in two parts...

Part 1

Part 2

After reading my interviews, this is what a yogi friend (a mantra teacher) in India wrote to me:

"...gave a glimpse into HOW MUCH DIFFERENTLY the aasanas are practiced in US. What is considered as standard practice (slowness and more time on one aasana) in Bhaarat, is a matter of much discussion and debate in the US. Here, one is considered an aasana-siddha if one can maintain that aasana for one-sixtieth of a day (ie 24 minutes) according to the paatanjala suutra "sthiram sukham aasanam". Also the mind must be focussed on the breath or the chosen chakra / diety for the entire 24 minutes."

Yoga IS different in India, as I have said all along.

So now that you've read my interviews, if there are any studios out there who would appreciate the eclectic style of this yoga renegade, feel free to contact me. I love teaching to new yoga communities! Have yoga, will travel! My original Australia teaching plans all fell apart, but I would love to visit and finally meet the yoga bloggers from Oz (you know who you are!)...hint, hint....

21 August 2010

and it begins again

Have to get a new visa and back in Ma India's arms at the end of December. Two weeks at KYM then 5 weeks until I land in Mumbai (where I have never been) for a month-long yoga therapy training in Nasik. My longest trip yet.

My gut is telling me this is the icing on the cake before I move on to getting a masters in transpersonal psychology. Somehow I know that in the future my teaching and this will be used together....all things reveal themselves when ready. Conditioned existence.

After all these years it's all coming together, but first I have to go home.

ferry to Dakshineswar, Kolkata

three generations, Bhubaneswar, Orissa

Kolkata street food

kumkum, Haridwar

the last word on Eat Pray Love....

...I hope.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Back in Black - Eat Pray Love
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

I heart Lewis Black.

18 August 2010

irony rules

Ahimsa aside, if you do not see the irony in this you need one tight slap and told to snap out of it.

A yoga teacher friend sent me this basically asking "what the what?!?" This was in an email she received from Yoga Journal Online.

"Find personal yoga teachers expensive?"

Say what? Uh, thanks, Yoga Journal (and yes, I know it's not Yoga Journal specifically but the advertiser), but does it really benefit all the yoga teachers out there for your advertiser to put the idea into peoples' heads that private teachers are too expensive?

HELLO!! I'm trying to GET more private students, not drive them away! Thanks for nothing.

"Private yoga lessons directly from India"

Hmmmm....let's see. I call Dell and get to talk to someone in Mumbai. Same with American Express.

Now we're outsourcing yoga classes to India!

Forget the gym, forget the yoga studio, forget the private teacher. I will get on my computer and gosh darn it all to hell I can get a real authentic Indian to teach me some yoga.

Woo-hoo! No more stinky studio mats and gross toenails on the floor! No more people coming in late and leaving early! No more cell phones ringing in class! I'm just gonna order me up some yoga in the privacy of my bedroom! YAY! Who needs to interact with teachers face to face, I can shut it down and get a pizza in the middle of the THAT'S a slice of yoga heaven!

And to think I made four trips to India and paid all that money to KYM.....what an idiot!

Click the ad and it will take you to Divine Wellness where you can sign up for a free private yoga lesson so knock yourself out:

"Private Yoga Lesson is conducted online using web camera. You get the same experience as a teacher guiding you step-by-step and continuously modifying the program as per your readiness. Only the teacher is across the internet. Even better, our qualified and experienced teachers are in India, the land of origin of Yoga."

I like the "even better" part because yes, the most "qualified and experienced teachers are in India." The next best thing is teachers who train in India and that's me. So call me! I need more private clients. Will yoga for food, rates negotiable.

Go ahead. Get your free lesson and let me know how much they charge. Then I will tell you how much private yoga classes REALLY are in India. I'm rolling my eyes now.

If I had a webcam I would get that free trial and report back, but, hell...I don't even own an IPod.

Wait a minute....why didn't I think of this?

DOH! I need one tight slap.

17 August 2010

a marriage of Yoga and Buddhism

I have written before about Michael Stone here and here so I was happy to receive his upcoming book to preview, Freeing The Body, Freeing The Mind: Connecting Yoga & Buddhism. It is coming out in September with a Forward written by Robert Thurman:

"Those deep into Buddhism can find a lot to help their understanding and meditation practice in the wisdom and embodying practicality of the Yoga tradition. Those deep into Yoga can find enriching dimensions in the Buddhist Yogas presented herein. And the broad range of readers can find practical help, methods, and tools for a better health, life, and state of mind in the integrated paths presented."

This book is an absolute must for anyone who wants to explore and better understand the "inter-being" of Buddhism and Yoga. For me, it is a joy. I believe it will become one of the "go to" books for a combined study of these two subjects. If I had my own yoga teacher training it would definitely be on my required reading list.

Buddha studied with diverse yoga masters on his journey towards nirvana. Buddha was a yogi so the Western interpretations of Yoga and Buddhism as being two separate paths never felt right to me in my bones. Just like the first Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation Training at Spirit Rock spoke to my entirety as a Buddhist yogini, so does Stone's book further confirm what I have intuited all along.

In his Introduction Stone speaks to how the oversimplification and misrepresentations of the two traditions disregarded how Yoga and Buddhism share the same ethical and philosophical components. Stone refers to Yoga and Buddhism as being like the ecology of trees -- while trees share the same characteristics and similarities, a maple and oak are different. The branches and leaves are different, they have different nutritional requirements, and they look very different from one another. But upon closer inspection, the similarities are clear -- root systems grow in similar ways, growth cycles follow the seasons in similar ways. So whether comparing trees or two wisdom traditions, Stone says that "when we look for parallel comparisons, we find difference, and when we look for difference, we find similarity."

But you don't have to take Michael Stone's word for it because various Buddhist and Yoga master teachers contribute the first 12 chapters of the book. Among others, Chip Hartranft and Frank Jude Boccio explore the way their own Buddhist and yoga practices interweave, setting their practices against the backdrop of traditional teachings. Daniel Odier and Eido Shimano Roshi explore the body from the Zen and Ch'an perspectives and in so doing break down the false view that meditation is a mind practice separate from the body. Victoria Austin writes from her perspective as both a Zen teacher and Iyengar Yoga teacher. Christopher Chapple, whom Stone refers to as "one of the most prominent Yoga scholars in the United States" and a practitioner, draws parallels between traditional Yoga and Buddhist teaching. New York yoga teacher Jill Satterfield tells her story about how she integrated Yoga and Buddhism not just in her teaching but also in a dramatic transformation in her own body and heart -- and it definitely is a dramatic story of self-healing because I heard her tell the same story at Spirit Rock. Finally, Sarah Powers speaks to her melding of Yoga and yin practices and Buddhist training and what it's like to practice Yoga and Buddhadharma day in and day out.

Stone's chapter is the last chapter entitled, "Practice Maps of the Great Yogis", where he writes of the wisdom of both the body and the mind as the ancients saw it in both traditions. In my experience I have found that some think that reading the ancient texts is a sufficient yoga practice (mind-stuff); others feel that asana is enough and never delve deeper into meditation and philosophy (body-stuff.) Too much of one and not enough of the other is a recipe for imbalance. An emphasis of one over the other further serves to separate the body-mind complex.

Buddha sat down to watch his own breath and knew that no insight was possible until his mind was settled and his body at ease. Patanjali wrote how asana and pranayama help with the release of effort, both physically and mentally. In the section entitled "Right Mind, Right Body"of this last chapter, Stone quotes Takuan who "reminds us of the immovable wisdom we find here in the body and awareness that is free from fixation and ambition." Takuan said: "The Right Mind is the mind that does not remain in one place. It is the mind that stretches throughout the entire body and self. The Confused Mind is the mind that, thinking something over, congeals in one place."

Stone then quotes the last line of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika:

"As long as the Prana does not enter and flow through the middle channel of one's mind and body, and the internal energy does not become stable by the control of the movements of prana; as long as the mind does not rest in the ease of the inherent resolution of opposites without any effort, so long all the talk of knowledge and wisdom is nothing but the nonsensical babbling of a madman."

Stone points out that the HYP ends with a "description of awakening as a mind at ease and a body dynamic and intelligent." So how do we use the body to study the mind and work with the mind through the body? Obviously asana alone has physiological benefits, but we need to remember that asana teaches us to work with the mind. "In this very one-fathom long body along with perceptions and thoughts, do I proclaim the world, the origin of the world, the end of the world and the path leading to the end of the world," Buddha said. That is, the end of suffering, nirvana.

All the contributors mentioned above are practitioners first writing from their personal experiences of practicing both systems for years. Stone says that looking at traditions like Yoga and Buddhism as mere philosophies without practice is not good science, good research, or good history. He believes that a pure intellectual approach leaves core teachings unexamined and in such cases "the scholar is blinded by his or her books."

Finally, there is an ample Notes section at the end of the book citing references for each chapter from the important ancient texts to the modern Buddhist and Yoga classics -- too many to list here but yoga and Buddhism scholars will not be disappointed in the breadth and scope of these references.

Stone's book, in his words, "attempts to describe not only the philosophical basis of Yoga and Buddhism but also what it's like to practice within and between these systems."

Enjoy the excerpt.


Freeing The Body, Freeing The Mind: Connecting Yoga & Buddhism
By Michael Stone

"Over the years, I’ve found it increasingly frustrating that Yoga is continually reduced to “a body practice” and Buddhism “a mind practice.” This makes no sense at all. Anyone who has practiced deeply in both traditions knows that the Buddha gave attention to the body, Patanjali the mind, and both traditions value ethical precepts and commitments as the foundation of an appropriate livelihood. I organize a community in Toronto called Centre of Gravity Sangha, a thriving group of people interested in integrating Yoga and Buddhist Practices.

In the Buddha’s teachings, the body is used as the primary object of meditation, so that one can study the universe not through books or theory but through one’s subjective experience. Likewise the Yoga postures, when practiced with breathing and sensitivity, become opportunities for deep meditative insight because they are designed to calm the nervous system. This grounds us. When we move within the various shapes of the yoga poses and tune into the internal energetic patterns of our breath, we are working the habits of mind as well.. Though the Yoga postures we practice in modern Yoga studios have obvious therapeutic benefits at physiological levels, some teachers and schools seem to have forgotten how the postures also teach us how to work with the mind. And for most of us, our troubles are not simply in the body – primarily, trouble is in the mind. How can we use the body to study the mind and work with the mind through the body? By experiencing how the two are completely interrelated.

There is a fundamental affinity between mind practices and body practices. Think of them both as curves in a grand mandala that continually spirals in, on, and through itself with no beginning or end. When I work deeply with my mind, I only do so by giving attention to the body: I witness its processes, from breathing to listening or seeing. The same is true when I study the intricate holding patterns in the web of my body (called koshas in Sanskrit), I end up seeing where my mind sticks, where it can’t focus, where it gets caught in refrains of old tape loops. What I thought was “body” is mostly mental. The Buddha says “Leave the body in the body.” When the Buddha teaches mindfulness practices, he begins with the bare awareness of body.

“The old Indian practice of Yoga,” writes scholar Karen Armstrong, “meant that people became dissatisfied with a religion that concentrated on externals. Sacrifice and liturgy were not enough: they wanted to discover the inner meaning of these rites.”3 Turning inward means taking responsibility for the spiritual path by focusing on the microcosm of reality that exists in the body’s functioning in this and every moment. Although yogic practices can supposedly be traced back some five thousand years, and although yogins described their paths and discoveries in very different terms depending on their respective cultural vocabulary, they all share the same common focus: the body is the primary object of meditative inquiry.

When we begin by taking care of the body and paying attention to its workings, we find ourselves focusing the mind, settling the breath, and learning much more about the nature of reality than we’d know by extroverted thinking alone. There are some things we just can’t figure out with ordinary thinking.

Just resting in feeling the sense of the body without any notions or concepts, we begin to tune in to the glorious operation of the natural world that is only available to a quiet mind. Of course, the mind is not separate from the body in any way – it is just a seamless continuation of the sense organs. We begin with the body because it is always present – it is the very apparatus we need to receive and explore any corner of the natural world. We use “the mind” to explore “the body,” but as we get closer and quieter, we come to see that mind and body are inseparable. The seeker Uddalaka in the Yoga Vashista, a story that interweaves Yoga and Buddhist philosophy, enters a remote practice place and begins practicing Yoga. After some time he exclaims,

"Just as the silkworm spins its cocoon and gets caught in it, you have woven the web of your concepts and are caught in them.

. . . There is no such thing as mind. I have carefully investigated, I have observed everything from the tips of my toes to the top of my head: and I have not found anything of which I could say: This is who I am."

If we approach Yoga practices simply through books and words, and not direct contact with the physical and material reality of the body and breath, all we are left with is conceptual scaffolding. We can’t know these practices from the outside. They were never meant to be mere philosophy or codified ritual. Knowing about practice is not enough: we must drop our “knowing” and feel our way into present experience by seeing things clearly. By seeing, the old yogis are not referring to the eyes but to what the Zen tradition calls “the true dharma eye”——the eye that sees without clinging, without sculpting, without allowing what is seen to get stuck into the web of like or dislike. The spirit of Yoga and Buddhism embodies a radical approach to human experience - we begin practice through paying attention to what is here in this moment. Each and every one of us can wake up without needing to adopt a new ideology or belief system. When we return to present experience through the sense organs themselves——eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin, and mind—we enter the freedom of this very moment, and the old paths of the yogis come alive here and now. There is no freedom in just repeating the words and rituals of the old masters——we must express freedom and interdependence through the action of our whole being and community through mind, body, and speech.

Every morning we wake up under the same bright northern star the Buddha saw when he awoke one dawn in his early thirties. Every moment we breathe the same molecules of air that once nourished Santideva, Dogen, Thich Nhat Hanh, your parents and their parents. Perhaps practice also fulfills our responsibility to the yogi-poets and wanderers who long ago struggled with aging bodies, unreliable thoughts, and an imperfect culture. They took great care in putting together words and phrases to articulate their path: they tried to leave maps for us, so we can enter way life happens in a way that motivates us to meet reality in an embodied and creative way."

14 August 2010

things white people do

one interpretation of Kali
Given all the recent uproar about yoga advertising, I want to ask this question again:

why is American yoga such a white thing?

This post is from 2007 and three years later I am still asking the same question.

The Color of Yoga

I am white (but have been told "you're not all that white"), so why does this question bother me so much? Maybe because I grew up on the south side of Chicago? Maybe because I lived with Tejanos on the Texas/Mexico border? Maybe because my ex-husband is Mexican?

Don't know. But the way yoga is advertised bothers me, maybe because it seems so exclusive -- despite all the peace-love-dove New Age rhetoric -- when it should be inclusive of older, rounder, darker.

The ads in Yoga Journal for Kripalu are the only ones that are realistic because they have all colors, all shapes, and all ages.

You bet I am tired of the skinny, young, white women in yoga advertising AS IF that is the only type who does yoga in America. Brooks Hall is on fire with her post about....another ad using a skinny, young, white woman. How original Corporate America.

"slimmer calmer healthier" -- notice which word is first in the ad.

As someone who taught yoga in a community college to young women with eating disorders, these people just DON'T GET IT.

"The ways of materialistic culture as seen in this advertisement seem to be trying to cleanse yoga of its Indian-ness, as if the strangeness of it is a form of pollution."

Yeah, let's just make everything white bread because that's what we are really comfortable with since yoga is a white thang anyway. Scroll down to read the Minority Yoga Report:

I could go on, but what's the point?

I teach to Hispanic women at a domestic violence shelter and they connect to yoga and meditation more so than many people I've taught at yoga studios. I can count on one hand the number of people of color I have taught in 9 years of teaching.

With the latest discussion about Yoga Journal, the mass-marketing of yoga, all the blah blah about how wonderful it is that yoga is reaching the masses, that more and more people are exposed to yoga, how yoga is so "mainstream" (and I do not believe it is)....where is the increase of people of color taking yoga classes?

Or have our white sensibilities forgotten them in all the rhetoric about how absolutely fabulous it is that so many more white people are taking yoga now?

13 August 2010

my Eat Pray Love Tour of India

“Eat. Pray. Fall in Love with [our] Inspirational India Tour.
Starts at $19,795 per person, based on double occupancy.”

I have an idea. I've done four trips to India so who better to lead you to the land of yoga, spirituality, and chillums incense?

extra rupees for medicinal plants

Have you always dreamed of traveling to exotic India?

a lot of incense needed here

"I Loved indian movies from age 5. Finally at the age of 35 i funally went to india (had a dream from early childhood)...To say I was deeply disappointed is to say NOTHIN I was in SHOCK!...."


"......It is such a pity that indian movies have NOTHING to do at all with real life... I wish India was a little close to the image you see in movies."

Well, I have your enlightenment right here. Pay me $20,000 and I will take you to lands like you've never dreamed of....THE REAL INDIA!

Extra charge for animal costumes.

09 August 2010

in review, the personal is still political

original upload by BAM's Blog

Unless you've been in yoga nidra for a week, then you know that Judith Lasater's letter to Yoga Journal about how she felt about nudity in yoga advertising set the yoga blogosphere on fire. In case you missed her letter, here it is:

"Yoga Journal was born in my living room in Berkeley in 1975, where I was one of five yoga practitioner-teachers who gathered to create the magazine. I have loved the magazine ever since. But I'm concerned about ads that have stimulated both confusion and sadness in me about where the magazine is now and where it is headed.

I am confused because I do not understand how photos of naked or half-naked women are connected with the sale of practice products for asana, an important part of yoga. These pictures do not teach the viewer about yoga practice or themselves. They aren't even about the celebration of the beauty of the human body or the beauty of the poses, which I support. These ads are just about selling a product. This approach is something I though belonged (unfortunately) to the larger culture, but not in Yoga Journal.

Finally, I feel sad because it seems that Yoga Journal has become just another voice for the status quo and not for elevating us to the higher values of yoga: spiritual integration, compassion and selfless service. My request is that Yoga Journal doesn't run ads with photos that exploit the sexuality of young women in order to sell products or more magazines. Thank you for your attention and willingness to hear another point of view.

Judith Hanson Lasater
San Francisco, CA"

The comments both pro and con about Lasater's letter flew fast and furious in Roseanne's blog (cited above) and in elephant journal. There was overwhelming support for Lasater on her Facebook page where she said that it was not her intention to harm Yoga Journal: "It is my intention to open the dialogue and be clear about what my values are."

Indeed she did.

Both Brooks Hall and Carol Horton wrote eloquently about the maelstrom. But Nikki Chau said on her Facebook page that Lasater's letter to Yoga Journal "was *not* about the Toesox ads with Kathryn Budig."

Whew. And now it's my turn.

Brooks said that how we react to seeing nudity is personal. Of course it is, and to that I say, the personal is political. I am not a feminist scholar but I am a feminist, a word that many women nowadays shy away from.

"The personal is political" was a mantra of the '70s feminist movement. The saying comes directly from an essay written by radical feminist Carol Hanisch in 1969, and was a way to convey to women who were suffering in silence that their individual experiences were, in fact, instances of cultural sexism.

The sentence indicates that many of our personal problems, and specifically women's personal problems throughout history, have been political -- sometimes created by, definitely supported by, and ultimately addressed by politics. In this case, the politics of advertising.

“Sex, Lies, and Advertising,” was an article written by Gloria Steinem for Ms. Magazine in 1990. She discussed the aspects of feminism and how advertising venues such as magazines use women to sell products. Advertisers have been using women to sell products since the late 1800’s, but according to Steinem, using women became the natural way to advertise and sell products, but is it right to do so?

Advertisers use women to sell anything and everything. Madison Avenue knows that beautiful women are the tools that draw in consumers to buy the products that they supposedly need and ultimately want to buy. That's Advertising 101. Using a naked woman in yoga product advertising is no different from a using a naked woman to sell a car. Just because it's yoga, that makes the ad more "artistic"? A naked body is a naked body whether it's used to sell a yoga mat or tires. Why are some in denial that in the advertising game a naked body = sex or at least sexiness? Advertising is about selling fantasy. At least the ads for porn are honest, they know what they are selling.

So whether or not Lasater was writing about the ToeSox ad in particular doesn't matter. What would the reaction be if a naked male yogi was only wearing socks? The fact is that a naked man would never be used to sell those socks. Ever.

That's the whole point.

I have no idea who Kathryn Budig is and I am sure no one forced her to take off her clothes. She probably was paid good money to pose naked and ToeSox probably sold a lot of socks. She has the right to take off her clothes for commercial purposes and ToeSox has the right to make a profit.

But I can tell you that every time I saw her ad in Yoga Journal I rolled my eyes and said "again?" The ad does not make me want to run out to buy something I don't need and it does not make me aspire to be her as some commenters at elephant journal have suggested.

So when I read Lasater's letter I yelled "right on" just like I did when I marched for women's rights back in the day. Then I started reading the comments directed toward Lasater's supporters and that's when the personal once again became political for me.

Not to get into my life story, but I'm no prude. I'm not an anti-pornography feminist like Andrea Dworkin was and I've sat naked in the communal hot tubs of Esalen. But what was more offensive to me than seeing a naked woman used to sell a yoga product YET AGAIN, were the comments that if we disagree with ads using nudity, then we must:

1. hate nudity;
2. hate the female form;
3. hate sex
4. have a problem with our own sexuality;
5. be repressed;
6. be close minded
7. etc., etc. etc.

From elephant journal, posting its Facebook comments:

"In my opinion "it takes one to know one" and if anyone sees anything perverse about a girl with no clothes on, then the perversion is in their head in the first place....I would hazard a guess that the Ladies...probably wish deep down that they could be in that pic as well!"

[this guy doesn't even know how sexist that statement is -- so much for sensitive yoga guys.]

"Those offended may need to seriously consider gaining a deeper relationship with that oNe in the mirror there."

"we all need to get a little more comfortable with sex and the nude body (our own or otherwise)"

"It's sad when our culture looks at beautiful photos like these and automatically switches into auto pilot and think - SEX. Are we really that much out of tune with our bodies and self."

One female commenter told me that my "tone is full of rage not compassion. Relax. It's an ad. 30 seconds from now another will take its place and it will be forgotten."

Yes, and that's the problem.

As for the armchair diagnosis of "rage"....what? Say again? I'm getting a flashback of being told that we were a bunch of angry bitches. I'm waiting for the "and you all need to get laid" comment.

My oh my....the more things change, the more they stay the same. Still. Even after almost 40 years.

To those comments I say: BULLSHIT.

I'm not as eloquent a writer as Judith Lasater, but I cut to the chase.

Those are the same types of comments I heard as a young feminist back in the early '70s...that just because one is offended by a naked woman selling cars, perfume, clothes, or yoga crap that we don't need, there must be something "wrong" with our outlook, there is something "wrong" with us. We were patted on the head with the comment "lighten up, honey, it's no big deal."

Yes, it IS a big deal in the larger context.

The larger context is not that nudity is used to sell a yoga product (and a half-naked woman is used in the latest issue to sell a Yoga Journal conference) -- the problem is that naked women are STILL used to sell everything. As Cyndi Lee said at Roseanne's blog: "It is NEVER okay to use women’s bodies to sell ANYTHING EVER. Not in Yoga Journal or any other medium. If you don’t get this, then learn about the awful things that are being done to women all over the world right now because people view them as objects.”

Lasater's letter started a powerful discussion on the commodification and values implicit in yoga ads. What is interesting to me is how so many of the commenters on elephant journal and Facebook got caught up in the nudity issue and thereby missed the essential point: that Lasater's letter was a question on "where the magazine is now and where it is headed." If she attacked anything, it was the status quo. To those people who can't see that, I say take off your blinders.

We've become blind to the use of women's bodies in advertising, whether it is "artistic" or not, and our blindness is avidya, i.e., "not seeing." Yoga is supposed to be the means by which our blinders are removed so that we can awaken from our avidya.

As Gloria Steinem asked in 1990, can't we do better than this?

Anne Cushman asked the same question in 2003 with her article in the Shambhala Sun, "Yoga Chic and the First Noble Truth." Anne says that yoga and meditation are ultimately about turning our eyes away from the airbrushed images of the outside world and looking deep within our own hearts.

"It's not that there's anything wrong with these yoga pin ups, in and of themselves...The problem comes when we start to compare ourselves with these glossy images and imagine how utterly happy and fulfilled we would be if we looked like that....

So lately, I'm looking for a different kind of image to inspire my practice. The book I'm shopping for would show pictures of all sorts of people doing yoga and meditating. There would be old people, fat people, scarred people, profusely hairy people, people with bad skin and big noses, people with thighs riddled with cellulite, people with droopy breasts and flabby thighs and faces etched with lines from hard living. There would be people with cerebral palsy, people gone bald from chemotherapy, people paralyzed by drive-by shootings, people who'd lost limbs in wars. Some people would do the poses perfectly. Others would do them clumsily, propped up on sandbags and bolsters, unable even to touch their fingertips to the floor.

All of us would be reflected in this book's pages."

Why are we satisfied with the status quo?

For me, yoga is a vehicle for transformation and that value is lost when we settle for the old, stale paradigms repackaged as "progressive" or "enlightened."

In an effort to market their cigarettes to women in the late 1960s Virginia Slims used the ad slogan "you've come a long way, baby."

Have we?

02 August 2010

guest blogger Barry Wadsworth on "Yoga as Mindfulness Practice - A Buddhist Perspective"

Many of you know that my yoga practice is informed by Buddhism. I am unable to treat my physical yoga practice as anything other than a moving meditation or mindfulness practice. I have studied the buddhadharma for so long with various teachers in both the Mahayana and Theravada traditions that I think it's ingrained in my DNA by now! Yoga is my meditation and vice versa. In some of my workshops I've started to incorporate dharma talks on Buddha's Four Foundations of Mindfulness as they apply to the physical yoga practice.

Most yoga teacher trainings (at least the ones with which I am familiar) do not speak much of Buddhism (even though Buddha was most definitely a yogi) which is why I was so glad I found the first Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation Training at Spirit Rock in California. It was finally a training that spoke to my entirety and I am blessed to have been part of the first training with such wonderful teachers in both classical yoga and Western Buddhism.

I see no conflict with my Buddhism and my traditional yoga training in India at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram and with Srivatsa Ramaswami. It's all good and each enhance the other as far as I am concerned.

Vinyasa krama is what I have studied with Ramaswamiji since 2004 and it is the yoga style that I primarily use for my own practice (combined with yin yoga) and with private clients. According to Ramaswamiji, vinyasa krama yoga is an ancient practice of physical and spiritual development, and is a systematic method of practicing and adapting yoga for the individual. Krama is a Sanskrit word meaning “stages.” It is a step-by-step process involving the building in gradual stages toward a “peak” within a practice session. This progression can include asanas of increasing complexity or gradually building one’s breath capacity. In his book The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga, Ramaswamiji says that “by integrating the functions of mind, body, and breath. . .a practitioner will experience the real joy of yoga practice. . .Vinyasa krama yoga strictly follows the most complete definition of classical yoga.”

So I was glad to "meet" Barry Wadsworth when he made me an administrator of the Vinyasa Krama group on Facebook. He has just completed Ramaswamiji's 200 hour vinyasa krama teacher training and is also Buddhist so we had a lot to talk about. Our Facebook conversation about yoga and Buddhism morphed into his writing here...enjoy!

For those of you who would like to explore classical yoga with a true yoga master who studied with Krishnamacharya for over 30 years, Ramaswamiji will be teaching in Chicago during September.


"For Buddhists, the practice of yoga asanas as a method of mindfulness practice is especially meaningful. Although some traditional yoga teachers emphasize mindfulness of breathing in synchronization with the breath, the Buddhist context of using bare attention to penetrate the moment as a means to realization is not as emphasized or is missing. During Chan and Vipassana practice, especially on retreats, slowing down all activity to the point that you can peer into its very nature is essential and can lead to a very direct experience of impermanence and self-nature. This understanding and emphasis coupled with the practice of yoga asanas is particularly useful.

In the Yoga Sutras, there is the concept of uninterrupted, moment-to-moment one pointedness or focus. But the goal there is not realization of self-nature in the Buddhist sense, but realization of individual self (atman) as distinct from the citta vrittis. Of course, this is where Buddhism departs, with an emphasis on there not being an independently existing person, self, or soul.

Practicing yoga has been a kind of experiment for me. Can a practicing Buddhist practice yoga in such a way that the fundamental truths of Buddhism, suffering, impermanence, and no self (anatma), are not distorted or lost? I think the answer is definitely yes, but it requires a clear understanding of the differences in addition to the similarities of the two traditions. Otherwise, it becomes a confusing melting pot that doesn't do justice to either tradition. For me, the goal is not Patanjali's dualistic realization of individual self as distinct from phenomena and Universal Self (Purusha of Isvara). It's also not Shankara's non-dualistic realization that self is Brahman. Rather, it's the complete liberation from attachment to any notion of self. Once self is removed from the picture, perception is pure and everything is seen just as it is. This is true, unimpeded and boundless liberation. When the experience of self is lost, perception pivots on itself and myriad things sing in harmony with all other things, infinitely correlated, perfect and complete. Any clinging to "self" collapses this perfect harmony, the natural state of things, to self and other, internal and external, interesting and uninteresting, good and bad, mine and not mine.

One might say that one who experiences "aham Brahmasmi" (I am Brahman) also experiences this same non-dualistic reality and is not impeded by attachment or aversion to anything since everything is experienced as Self. Yet Buddha's awakening specifically had the characteristic of going beyond an eternal notion of self, even Universal Self, as the highest enlightenment. According to Buddhist sutras, as long as there is any identification with self, one is still trapped in the cycle of birth and death and not completely liberated. The wisdom of knowing the truths of suffering, impermanence, and no self engenders compassion for all sentient beings and frees one to act completely for the benefit of others, without regard to self. I've seen this selflessness in my Shifu, Chan Master Sheng Yen and in my Vipassana master, Ven. Chanmyay Sayadaw. They both have the quality of being completely present and available, fully there for you with no distraction, when you talk with them. Your ego could even get puffed up with the feeling that you were the most important person in the world to them at that particular moment. But, they also had the compassionate ability to deflate the ego when the time was right. I've noticed the same quality in the Dharma heirs of Master Sheng Yen and some of Chanmyay Sayadaw's disciples and lay students -- fully present, awake and clear, penetrating, insightful, patient, and compassionate. I noticed the same qualities in the Dalai Lama. The world needs more saints like these!

For Buddhists and non-Buddhists, practicing yogasanas with mindfulness can be very beneficial in developing a very direct perception, a bare awareness of space, time, motion and sensation. Deepening this experiences enables the silence of meditation to stabilize in daily activity and bring about moment-to-moment penetrating focus along with awareness unbound by the environment. The union of Buddhist understanding with mindful practice of yogasanas is particularly beneficial. I'm very glad to hear of courses being taught, such as those at Spirit Rock, that have this focus. This is bound to improve the overall landscape of Yoga as it is taught in the West."

Read more at Barry's blog Chan Practice.