30 October 2009

it truly IS the Kali Yuga

The Kali Yuga: the "Dark Age" lasting 432,000 years...when avarice and wrath are common, rulers become unreasonable, cowards have the reputation of bravery and the brave are called cowards...and lies are passed out as truth.

"In the age of Kali, every virtue had been engulfed by the sins of Kali-Yuga; all good books had disappeared; impostors had promulgated a number of creeds which they had invented out of their own wit. The people had all fallen prey to delusion and all pious acts had been swallowed by greed....

In the age of Kali duplicity, perversity, hypocrisy, malice, heresy, pride, infatuation, concupiscence and arrogance etc. pervade the whole universe....

In the age of Kali there is no contentment, nor discernment, nor composure...Envy, harsh words and covetousness are rampant; while evenness of mind is absent....

Self-control, charity, compassion and wisdom disappear while stupidity and fraud multiply to a large extent. Men and women all pamper their body; while slanderers are diffused all over the world...."

(excerpts from the Tulsi Ramayana.)

As roseanne wrote, it sure does seem like the end of yoga as we know it....

I saw this over at YogaDork and shook my head. Just when you thought the commercialization of American Yoga couldn't get any worse, eh?

Everything eventually comes full circle. I used to be a fitness instructor and saw things come and go. Is that tai-bo guy still around?

This is why I say the "new yogi" will be a "radical yoga traditionalist."** Two teachers I consider radical traditional yogis are Paul Grilley and Mark Whitwell (uh, and me, too, because like Paul I'm a traditionalist but don't mind killing yoga's sacred cows on occasion.)

Yup, Playboy Yoga, no chanting and no Sanskrit for sure (but does she eat granola?). No clothes either, because you can download her naked yoga (which will be a boon for everyone who searches for "naked yoga" and hits on this blog post so knock yourself out.)

Talk amongst yourselves.


**"radical yoga traditionalist" concept originating here, comment #6. if that inspires you, then please give credit where credit is due. or else I'm calling Bikram's lawyer regarding copyright.

28 October 2009

just when you think you've had enough....

...someone says something nice.

The longer I teach, the more I read about the corporatization of American yoga, the more I was thinking that I should quit teaching group classes and just concentrate on my own practice (which is very free-form but that's another post), find my own yoga tribe and disappear somewhere...

then someone tells me how I changed their life.

I was going to drive into Chicago this morning to take a class at the studio where I trained. I live 45 miles straight west of Chicago and on a good day it might take me 75 minutes in the morning -- a bad day would be 2 hours. It was 7:30 am and I was leaving for a 10 AM class. So I get into my car, leave the garage, turn on the radio, and heard about how bad traffic was all over Chicagoland this morning. The traffic announcer said that three lanes were down on the expressway I take and it was a parking lot. I pulled back into my garage.

Since I was dressed for yoga I decided to go to another studio to a friend's class, she teaches "Tantra Yoga" in the style of Rod Stryker. I got there and set up and a woman came over and said "Hi, Linda. How are you?" I don't get to this studio on a regular basis so I don't know the students and I was surprised someone knew my name. I said hi, fine thanks, how are you?, and she said, "I remember your class. It changed me."

Now my brain is working overtime...OK....she looks a little

I said, "I'm sorry I don't remember you...where did you take my class?" She mentioned the studio where I used to teach, two years ago. She told me that I taught my yin-yang yoga class (actually a workshop) and that I did a chakra meditation afterward.

She said that she had barely done yoga before walking into my workshop. She said that the chakra meditation had "blown" her apart. I can't even remember what I did because I never, ever remember what I do from class to class -- I channel yoga. Seriously. She motioned from her crown to her root and said "everything opened up. I was like, 'wow'." Her eyes glowed from the memory and she gave me a big smile.

I thought, but did not tell her, that I did nothing, she did it all. I merely gave her a road map.

I stood there, stunned. Many of you think I am Ms. Yoga Snark, but I'm here to tell you, I have self-esteem issues as a yoga teacher. Even though I study at one of the most prestigious yoga schools in the world, I still think I am not good enough. I think that I am nowhere near worthy enough to teach globally next year, that I do not deserve the opportunities that are coming my way.

When she finished her story I told her how grateful I was to hear her compliments. She said, "it was because of you and your class that I decided to do teacher training" (which she is currently doing.) I stood there amazed. One class and a woman whom I never saw again. Until today.

Never underestimate the power of yoga. And I will never underestimate myself again.

There was a reason I did not make it into Chicago this morning. I needed to be reminded that I am worthy.

26 October 2009

and the beat goes on....

I promised to write about the talk I went to about whether American yoga is in crisis, but I won't. That ship has sailed. In the meantime the discussion continued over at elephant journal "Real Yoga Practiced Here" and at Brenda's house with her post "Whatever happened to dignity?" where she said, "And yet even the yoga community seems full of practitioners keen on branding themselves and selling yoga shoes to "help spread the word"--as if the word wasn't spreading just fine on its own without a lot of pictures of hot, young bodies doing arm balances." Even Rainbeau Mars kept popping up to let us know that the "Rainbeau Mars Lifestyle" is really all about just spreading the word about yoga (and buying Adidas clothes) and if y'all don't see that then y'all are just haters. Nikki asks whether we are practicing real yoga and Diane muses about yoga group think.

Our judgments (whether about yoga or anything else) are based on our experiences and assumptions. So for people who believe yoga is just another fitness class, then American yoga is not in crisis. If one sees yoga as a deeper spiritual (whatever that word means to you) or personal exploration, then one might think American yoga is in crisis if one sees the emphasis placed only on the physical.


You do your yoga and I'll do mine. My yoga contains asana+pranayama+meditation plus occasional chanting and mudras. That's what I teach and if someone walks into my class and doesn't like what I do, there are a gazillion yoga teachers out there, find someone else. Simple. And metta to you.

But putting your leg behind your neck or even both legs does not impress me. Children can do that. Show me how you live your life. Show me what you can give up on a 10 day retreat without complaint. I also don't care how many translations of the Vedas or Upanishads or any other yogic text you've read or whether you can chant the Sutra-s backwards.

I have over 1000 hours of training and teaching experience; I've been told I have a "beautiful practice"; I have a closet full of yoga books some of which I've read more than once. But if I was still operating on automatic pilot, if I was still reacting to things inappropriately, flying off the handle (and I am NOT saying I do not get angry), or treating people badly, what good did all those yoga hours do for me? So is yoga an exercise or is it about transformation? Is it about the journey or the end result?

I returned to yoga in the mid-'90s for a purely physical reason just like many people come to yoga. I returned to yoga to help rehab my severely arthritic shoulder from arthroscopic surgery. But as soon as I started moving my body in that beginning yoga class, barely able to move my right shoulder even after 8 weeks of PT, that whole mind-body-prana connection kicked right in. That bhavana was like an IV. I was introduced to yoga via meditation over 30 years ago when I OMed with Allen Ginsberg, so that barely sprouted seed laid dormant for a very long time until it was watered at just the right time. Conditioned Genesis in Buddhist talk.

So don't talk to me about Forrest Yoga or Jivamukti Yoga or Bikram Yoga or Anusara Yoga. I don't care about names with capital letters. Yoga is yoga and why practicing "just yoga" isn't good enough anymore is beyond me. I've heard Krishnamacharya's son Desikachar say that yoga contains X, Y, and Z and if it doesn't contain that, then you're just doing acrobatics. As I've said more than a few times about this thing we call yoga in OM-merika, you can call a dog a cat all you want to, that still doesn't make it a cat.

As Nikki asks in her blog post "Is my yoga practice making any inroad in how I function in life?" Or as one reader said in my post "I am my shadow self", "if Yoga isn't pushing you outside your comfort zone, it ain't really Yoga."

Why do you yoga? Not "do yoga" because yoga is about undoing, not doing. Yoga does us. I've always thought that the reason more people don't yoga is because stepping into yoga takes courage and many (most?) are afraid to see what might come up.

The abused women I teach at the domestic violence shelter don't care about Lululemon pants, an Adidas lifestyle, about chanting Sanskrit, about your favorite translation of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, or whether I can stand on my head in the middle of the room. They care about changing their lives. They care about how focusing on the breath can calm the mind. They care about relieving their suffering, moment by moment. If someone with the idea that yoga is just another way of working out looked into the room and saw our yoga, they might be confused because we're not in pretzel poses or trying to perfect chaturanga dandasana. We're not sweating. We're sitting. Breathing. Maybe facing a few those demons....mindfully.

"Can we do hatha yoga (or any other form of bodily training) with the same wisdom that guides vipassana practice?....

A specific example from my own practice and teaching: I do viniyoga, which emphasizes constant awareness of the conditioned movement of the body and breathing in all postures. This helps bring about a more vivid quality to the breath sensations, making breath awareness meditation more accessible. This is an asset for yogis engaged in ànàpàna-sati [mindfulness of breathing], especially for those with faulty breathing habits, which can incline the mind to distraction. If the postures were practiced with the same deliberate mindfulness used, for example, in walking meditation, such conscious breathing and movement would not only facilitate meditation practice-it would be meditation itself....

That's just it. It's not about chakras or kundalini rising, as valuable as this approach may be. It's just that when I do yoga, I do vipassana."

BODY PEOPLE, MIND PEOPLE, by Larry Rosenberg

You do your yoga, I'll do mine.

20 October 2009

visionary art

Visionary Artist Francene Hart


16 October 2009

Friday's yoga thought

"Daily Yoga practice may include Asanas, Pranayama and Meditation in proper proportion, so that the yoga diet is balanced." -- Srivatsa Ramaswami

In this recent discussion of what yoga should have in order to be called yoga, who can argue against having a balanced diet?

Resources for mindfulness meditation practice: "Mindfulness meditation: The Shambhala Sun offers a diverse selection of teachings on mindfulness meditation, from the Theravada and Insight traditions of Buddhism."

And here's an oldie but a goodie: Killing Yoga's Sacred Cows



13 October 2009

is there an "American spiritualism" like "American yoga"?

Yes I know I promised to write a review of the talk I attended about whether American yoga is in crisis, but I think that topic is a very small part of a much bigger picture. So I will throw the question out there: what are we lacking that make people do this:

James Arthur Ray's Spiritual Warrior Event Kills 2

I've never seen the movie The Secret so I have no opinion about Ray and what he puts out, but know many people who have and who have thought it the greatest thing since sliced bread (I'm dating myself with that phrase.) I've also heard many New Agey people talk about the Law of Attraction (and who hopelessly confuse it with karma) and just have to wonder: why do you feel you are so utterly lacking in anything? It is almost a luxury in this country -- one of the richest countries in the world with so much material and yes, non-material, things available to us -- to feel that we lack anything! I have met people in India who have nothing compared to westerners yet are content. But I digress.

The psychology of people who will blindly follow a "guru" (whether American, Hindu, Buddhist, etc.) has always fascinated me so when I read Brenda's post about American false idols I had to ask, what are we looking for when we follow a "brand name" in yoga and spirituality?

Speaking of false idols, read these posts:

The Unquestioned Gurus of the Religion of the Self (that contains the great subheading "Psychopaths as Teachers of Right Living.")

The Cultivation of Inflation and The Culture of Narcissism in Personal Development

One of the comments to the first link was this:

"...that you can't just take the most sacred ceremonies from another culture that you do not belong and have not paid any dues too (sic), mix it with whatever you feel like and sell it off as a business venture. for decades actual native americans have tried to warn the white culture about fraud ripping off and bastardizing their culture and ceremonies. no one listened opting instead for the glittery promises of the new age gurus and plastic shamans."

I found that one comment (especially about paying your dues and mixing things up and selling it as a business venture) on point with the recent discussions about western yoga. Just sayin'.

Roseanne's excellent posts on the branding of yoga caused spirited discussions as do my posts on Americanized yoga v. what I practice in India. So why isn't practicing plain old yoga good enough for us? Has yoga in its partnering with companies like Adidas and fila merely become part of this culture of narcissism? Has yoga in this country become a new religion of the self?

To those who stand around a yoga "master" who performs "advanced" asanas at a yoga conference and applaud and film it to put it on YouTube, are we not celebrating the cult of narcissism in a vacuous yoga celebrity culture that we at the same time scoff at?

Amanda wrote one of her always brilliant comments to this post:

"- I suspect the 'faddish' and 'hypercommercialised' nature of American yoga is what many people object to beneath this critique of contemporary yoga, but don't verbalise it as such.

- the question of authenticity also jumps out as an issue: does Anusara, Jivamutki, Forrest or whatever style of yoga represent an immature innovation based on shallow Western values such as commercialism and body image or true cultural change within yoga? (Only TIME will tell on this one!)

- babies teaching babies yoga. I agree but our western culture tells us we can do anything if we have the money. Thus, we see 23 year olds running yoga schools. (see my earlier point about paying your dues.)

- an unhealthy obsession with Patanjali's Yoga Sutra as 'the last word' on yoga at the expense of other texts. Hasn't anyone read Georg Feuerstein or Mircea Eliade?

- an obsession with difficult and physiologically/psychologically harmful or futile asana which 'apparently' grant one the body of a hyperflexible, twenty-something. Again, this is the current Western trope of youth/perfection/image that pervades every facet of our lives."

"If we wish only to teach poses or postures, it would be better to call what we do by a name other than Yoga." Donna Farhi in Yoga Beyond Fitness, page 125

I'll ask again as I did in this post, is Americanized yoga a mile wide and an inch deep? And if it is, I will ask again as I did at the beginning of this post, what are we searching for that so many of us unquestioningly put our bodies and minds and psyches into the hands of false idols, whether it's in the yoga world or elsewhere?

What say you, yoga teachers? Are you a fitness teacher or a yoga teacher? As a commenter said in Brenda's post, "We are (essentially) fitness instructors. We need to be happier with that role I think."

I don't know about anyone else but I have not spent $10,000+ to be a fitness instructor. I was a certified fitness instructor for a short time and I can tell you that as a yoga teacher what I do now is light years away from what I did before, which is why I think the "become a yoga teacher in a weekend" programs are a great disservice. BECAUSE I deal with peoples' emotions and psyches when I take on private clients, that's the main reason I'm applying for a certificate course in Jungian psychology, to learn even more on top of what yoga and Buddhism has already taught me about human psychology. Speaking of dealing with the mind, if I conducted my own yoga teaching training program each student would be required to sit for a 10 day silent vipassana retreat in the strict Goenka tradition. Talk about a brain enema. Teachers, know thyselves.

Krishnamurti said, "it is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.": " Krishnamurti suggests, it’s possible to think that we’re spiritually and mentally healthy because we share our mistaken values and understandings with those around us. Collectively, our ill minds create a society that is itself ill, and we consider ourselves healthy because we see our values reflected in our fellow worldlings."

I think I've brought up some more questions, so talk amongst yourselves.

02 October 2009

is American yoga in crisis? part 2...

From the last chapter of Yoga Beyond Fitness:

"If teachers grounded in the deeper message of Yoga are not available or do not share what they know, Srivatsa Ramaswami predicts 'the subject will die because every following generation will know less and less. And the lack of knowledge could be filled with innovations of novices, leading to corruption or the art dying itself.'"

I attended Tom's talk last night -- see this post -- and have a lot to say about it but y'all will have to wait until next week.

Until then chew on the above quote from my teacher, Srivatsa Ramaswami (Krishnamacharya's longest standing student outside of the family), whom Tom quotes a lot in his book Yoga Beyond Fitness.

Talk amongst yourselves.

To be continued....