Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Beating a Dead Horse...

...cuz I'm nerdly that way, I wanted to draw your attention to a study released earlier this month. A group of marketing prof.s writing in the Journal for Consumer Research, observed that looking at an advertisement of a beauty or fashion product caused female undergraduates to have a negative view of themselves afterwards. However, looking at a picture of makeup or high-heeled shoes outside of the context of an ad did not affect the viewers' self-esteem. They suggest that the fact that the item is featured in an ad may be a message in itself--this picture is to remind you that you should buy this product because of your lack of smooth skin, thick lashes, etc.

This study didn't consider ads featuring the human body, but it isn't much of a stretch to consider the implications when looking at an image of an impossibly thin and flexible body doing, say, a difficult arm balance. Especially in the context of selling something. Those that argue that this kind of imagery is empowering and uplifting may want to think again.

I'm just sayin'...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Man with the Child in his Eyes

My Goodness, it's almost been a month since last I wrote. I guess that's what happens when many final projects and final finals converge. Still, the last thing got handed in yesterday, so here I am. Whew.

Last week, I decided to mix it up a bit in class. Usually we work our way up to a pose, moving through a variety of preparations, so the final asana comes easily and with grace (for the most part). On Thursday night, I switched the order, so we moved from Sun Salutes into standing poses right away, and then came to the floor for forward bends, etc. It was a nice change, and we were so chill by the time savasana rolled around, the room was completely silent for 10 minutes. No rustling, adjusting or shifting...just release.

When we finally came up and opened our eyes from namaste I was struck, in particular, by how much one of my students looked like his 5-yr-old daughter. Startlingly so . And I got to thinking, I wonder if we all have a moment
at the end of class when a shadow of our young selves passes across our faces . Brows soft, jaws released, cheeks plump from lying down, awareness in the present moment. Yoga as Time Machine.

And there might be something to that. A NYT article a couple weeks back describe the achievements of a 91-yr-old Canadian, Olga Kotelko, who holds 23 Masters Records in track-and-field events. Exercise physiologists are studying her closely to see what it is about her body that allows her to continue to exercise with such intensity. More and more evidence demonstrates that regular exercise into one's 70s and 80s can have a significant effect on cellular health (the mitochondria, to be specific)(Question #3 on the Human Bio exam) and slow the inevitable deterioration of the muscles and joints. These are all studies on aerobic exercise, but I wouldn't be surprised if the same thing was learned about yoga.

See what you see after your next class. Watch your face, and others' when you finish. Then go home and look at your baby book or or class pictures. Freaky.

*cue Dr. Who theme music*

Friday, November 19, 2010

Yoga 2.0

The revolution may be blog-ivized. Each month brings a new set of revelations/discussions/confrontations on the interwebs about the state of yoga, and it is fascinating. Commodification, teacher training, and, now, what the ancients were really saying (or not). Carole H. has given the matter a lot of thought (Fakirs and Oprah-fication); Susan M. converses with various scholars (Mark Singleton and David Gordon White) about yogis, Pantanjali, the sutras, and the scene in India B.C.E; Jill Miller weighs in on The gals at Recovering Yogi have no patience for any of it. Good stuff. Check it out, report back.

I remember reading an article in Yoga Journal awhile back about the history of yoga
, which pointed out that most of the poses we do are only about 150 yrs. old. Still being a bit new to the literature, I found that rather surprising, but also very comforting. Okay, my reluctance to chant and expound on the niyamas wasn't completely out of line...most of my practice was fairly removed from the more mystical elements of yoga. And definitely my teaching (as I've said).

I felt unsure about my mastery of the texts, how I didn't really understand a lot of them and didn't have the proper framework to consider their relationship to what I thought was yoga. Scholars spend their whole careers studying this information, how could I possibly measure up. Now, the scholars are providing useful explanations and maybe it's the gurus who are a bit confused.

Remember, yoga is not a religion (and if you forget, reread Charlotte Bell's post). The ancient texts were very organic and definitely not set in stone. Much of the tradition was oral. No one has a direct line on Pantanjali's purpose for writing the sutras or how it relates to our practice of yoga today. There is no Truth that only adherents are privy to. As with much of human endeavor, it's all a part of the messy political and social agendas of the times--then and now.

Of course I'm not saying yoga is just asana. Or that anyone is off the hook for knowing the eight limbs or having a meditation practice. Or that anything can be yoga. But I love that it feels like (post) modern yoga about to be the next, big wiki-project. What do we keep? What no longer makes sense? Who are the false prophets, the sacred cows who no longer enthrall? Who is going to represent?

This latest round of discussion seems more thoughtful and erudite (only one commenter suggested Jill needed to do more yoga)--or maybe we've just lost the crowd who googles "naked yoga."

Anyway, there's a lot to consider, and I'm sure we're only just starting. But still, I kind of feel like we're at the cusp of something new, don't you?

The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner...

Friday, November 05, 2010

Knowing and/or Not Knowing

I am not a religious person. At least not in the sense that I attend a service regularly, or follow any specific texts, or can verbalize how my world is controlled by something greater than me. I have strong beliefs about a variety of things and my own explanation for how "it" all works, but I keep that to myself. I think religion and spirituality are such intensely personal systems, that I don't want to talk about them or, frankly, hear about them. I'm glad people believe--I probably don't believe the same thing--but if it makes them act in a kind and considerate manner, I'm all for it.

Charlotte Bell wrote a beautiful post (and had lovely responses to the comments) at elephant journal last week about yoga evangelism, that I found very inspiring--both in how I think about yoga, but also how I teach it. It sort of fits in with my analogy of yoga as a language--many different dialects, same grammar. One isn't better than the other (I exclude goofy hybrids that seem to be mostly about monetizing the practice); certain types resonate more than others, depending on the practitioner. But, as Bell notes, once you've been bitten by the yoga bug (drunk the kool-aid?), it's very hard not to proselytize. To be Born Again and want everyone else to be saved as well.

I certainly can relate to the urge to convert. And I wish most people would at least try yoga once, willingly, but I keep that to myself.

Since I don't want to be preached at, I find myself drawn to low-key classes, without a lot of extraneous discussion. More action and contemplation, and less talk. I can chose to study with a Master, or read a text, but when I go to my usual class I just want Hatha. Maybe Pranayama, but I don't really need to hear about the other limbs. I almost feel like those are my own responsibility to deal with, by myself, at a time when I'm not distracted by other people or activities. It can all come back to inform my practice, but just quietly in my head, not my ears.

So, that's how I teach. I may touch on other topics, but very little and rarely. I don't really feel qualified to teach yoga philosophy, and I think those are things best explored alone or, at least, in a different atmosphere than a hatha class. I think the physical work brings you to a place where you are more open to the philosophy and it makes sense, but I think the student needs to take it from there. I can give suggestions, but I'm not ready to lead. And I'm not sure I want to--back to the whole intensely personal thing.

Am I still teaching yoga? I think so. I see my students start to change and hear them talk about ways of thinking, that indicate something else is going on beyond increased flexibility. Maybe they don't have the vocabulary to describe it yogically, but I'm pretty sure they Know.

So when I say Namaste, I mean it, but I'm not going to elaborate, either...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

But can it validate my parking ticket?

Not too long ago, I was trying to cheer up a friend about a professional set back he'd experienced. I jokingly suggested he take an "external validation" class--and then realized my Freudian slip; I'd meant to say Education class. But I wasn't really wrong. I've noticed marked differences in the way the class is run and how performance is evaluated in both my Ed. and Science classes, and it's very interesting.

The Ed. class tends to be more nurturing: we discuss and respond a lot and, when mistakes are pointed out, it's usually as part of a larger, positive comment. The Science class is a refreshing change from those back in the dark ages of lecture, lecture, lecture (now it's lots of doing, not much sitting), but there is regular assessment and you know exactly where you stand point-wise (i.e. exams, quizzes, assignments). So it can be externally validating, if you are doing well, but not so much if you forgot to do the reading.

The education class is an advanced class, so naturally there is more synthesis and discussion going on than the Intro class. But I think both approaches have their benefits; however, like everything (say, yoga snark, for example), it takes a light hand. I think it's important for students to feel safe to be wrong; I think it's important that students--eventually--get their information correct. I think different viewpoints are a crucial part of seeing the big picture; I think that some people confuse opinion with fact, or want their opinion to be considered fact, despite proof to the contrary.

Both approaches work for me. It seems like they should be contradictory, but I find the combination kind of soothing. I can enjoy the energy of debate (albeit very gentle and supportive) in one; I enjoy feeling like I'm laying groundwork in the other. I don't mind loosey-goosey part of the time, but the Type A/Big Sister/Striver in me likes to have a number in hand.

And, as we continue to talk about how to train yoga teachers, I see the need for both in a YTT syllabus (obviously, we don't need a lot of facts and hard assessment in a regular yoga class for practitioners). You have to understand (maybe there is a better word) yoga from both a personal and a physical perspective. These are the metaphysical benefits and this is the muscle that needs to be open for a Down Dog to happen. This is the way you might feel during pranayama and this is a Sanskrit name for Extended Triangle. One type of information is easy to present, one isn't.

With a really well-crafted YTT program, both would happen at the same time. As with any good class, a teacher can encourage and allow students room to experiment, but also correct mistakes and get the misdirected back on the right path. You should have a good feeling about what (how) you are learning, but you need structure. How to insure that? Probably a system of assessment that includes both written elements and observation by peer teachers. A guarantee that the teacher trainers have been trained to teach (for public school education, you are trained by education professors, not your colleagues). A set of standards that should be met--altho they can always be expanded on.

And, I suppose, if you're really paying attention to your yoga practice, you can eventually dispense with the need for external validation, all together. But for most of us mere mortals, that's an assignment we're still working on...

Thursday, October 21, 2010


...Group Projects! *yelled with a frustrated roar, like Charlie Brown**

I can't stand group projects. I'll bet this animosity can be used as a pop "psychological test" to assess my self-esteem/ my impatience/ my competitiveness/ my ability to work well with others. I hated them as an undergraduate and, now back in school, I am completely reminded of why they drive me nuts. They're right up there with partner work in yoga class (there's the yoga tie-in).

I can totally see the pedagogical value of both: students learn to cooperate, they can to do more work than they would alone, the teacher can see them in both leader and follower mode, there aren't as many final projects to grade (or asana to oversee). Check with me in a couple of years, and maybe I'll be won over.

But, for now, they make me feel at the mercy of other people's work habits. And hog-tied to their issues with deadlines. I get it, this is what working with young people is like, but my old brain cells don't bounce back from a lack of sleep like theirs do. I can't think about pig dissection at 6am when trying to proofread a final draft before printing. And I certainly don't have patience for paper jams at that hour.

I like working with other people. I like sharing ideas and debating. But then I like to hole up with my books, paper, and computer and digest all of it by myself. I like the energy of a group class and seeing a teacher's take on a pose or series. But then I just want to do it alone, in my own space on my mat.

Selfish? Individualistic? Just a grump? There are plenty of group projects in my future (why, there's a lab report next week), so I'm taking any attitude-adjustment you folks can pass out.

How do you get through a project or partner work with a smile...or at least a sense of well-being? What am I missing?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Art. Teaching. Nature. Nurture.

Back in the old days, we used to argue, my costume design colleagues and I. Can you teach creativity? Can you teach some one to be artistic? We were learning all sorts of skills in grad school--draping, millinery, drawing, conducting fittings, sweet-talking actors; but it seemed some talents that makes one a Master of Fine Arts were to be picked up by osmosis--taste, a sense of proportion, successful color combining, communicating character through clothing.

Some of us "got it" (or, maybe we already had it) and some of us didn't, but I'm not sure the fault was with our education. Maybe there are some things that can't be taught...

I wonder if this isn't the same thing with teaching, itself. I often think of the teachers that have most inspired me and the qualities they possess--it seems to boil down to their "energy," whatever that is. Are they engaged with their students? In the present moment? Not married to the lesson plan? Can roll with the energy of the room? Passionate? Funny?

Of course you can learn subject matter and classroom management. You can learn how to structure class time and explain the important information. But can you learn how to convey a sense of calm authority and compassion, of dedication and deep interest? Some of it just comes with experience but, I think, some of it is innate. Either you have it or you don't.

Presumably, most people who go into teaching do it because they love it (it certainly can't be for the money). Of course, it's a way to support a more esoteric area of interest--probably the case with a lot of college professors and artists--but, to stick with it, you have to find something compelling about the profession.

So, if some one thinks, "I want to teach," is that enough? Can they really learn to be effective? Affective? To inspire students? To transcend the subject matter? What qualities do you need to truly wear the mantle of "teacher" and can some one else give you that information? Or are you born with it...

I have my opinions, but I'd love to hear yours--all you teachers and students out there.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I Can Stand the Rain (but Ann Peebles is still awesome)...

Ah, perspective. We can always use more, right? The Big Picture. Don't Sweat the Small Stuff. Yoga for Cynics had a couple of lovely posts last week from the thin air above the tree line about how geology clears the mind, and they inspired me this week. Yoga, mountains, ocean, parenthood, death--the Big Things help you deal with the little things. I'd like to add to the list: Weather.

A couple of times this month, I've had to grin and bear it in less-than-ideal conditions. It's been very freeing. I participated in a triathlon three weeks ago in the rain (partially pouring, partially misting), which is not my first choice for two hours of heavy exertion. But that's sort of the beauty of an outdoor race--you do your thing no matter what is coming down on your head (except, of course, lightening). Once you accept that you are just one small person being pounded by water from the heavens, rather than running for shelter or warmth, it's sort of interesting.

It's the same for snow or heat or wind. When you stop fretting about discomfort or inconvenience, it's kind of fun. And obviously you can't do anything about it, so there's no point in getting worked up about it. It gives you perspective.

Which is why I love yoga outside. We did it last weekend by the river. The wind topples your Vrksasana; the ground is too bumpy for a graceful Parsvakonasana; you have to squint while you salute the sun. You are forced out of your patterns and have to adapt--as a result, you get to see a lot things in a new light. And you get fall color. Of course, I'm not advocating anything crazy or dangerous, but, in past Februaries, I've had a lovely, blissful 15 minutes doing Supta Baddha Konasana in the snow.

As the Midwest marches resolutely towards winter, this attitude change is invaluable. When the going gets rough, take yourself outside: get rained on, blown at, soak up the sun. Don't let the little people get you down...but do Bundle Up!

[GTTSB Redux: Nicole, at All Things Healing, has asked to republish some old posts on their site. I figured, why not, let some dear friends see the light again...)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Oversight, Undersight...Who's Watching?

I was bidden by the ever-watchful Roseanne at it's all yoga baby, to think about yoga teacher training standards, so I am. I had hoped her post would generate more discussion--I guess it can't all be naked yoginis--but stayed tuned for her follow-up. I'm sure it will be full of interesting things to think about.

So, My Two Cents.

What strikes me about most of the yoga teacher trainings floating around, both completely legitimate and less so, is the limited oversight. I am steeped in the culture of educating (high school) educators, right now, and much of the discussion revolves around setting standards and then making sure they are reached. How all this evaluation happens, of course, is always a source of contention, but--on the whole--teachers are expected to meet certain standards, to teach specific information, and to make sure their students are competent and capable upon graduation.

With profit-driven YTTs, I wonder how much quality teaching can be assured and produced. If the justification for running a training program is to keep a studio afloat, that seems like a rather tenuous base for instruction. That's not to say there aren't a lot of good YTTs out there, but who would know? There's no system of evaluation for these programs, no qualified review board to make sure the Yoga Alliance standards are actually met, no continuing assessment of teachers once they have graduated. Well, I should say, no generally-recognized system.

It's a bit like herding cats--many traditions have their own methods of evaluation and don't see the need for external review.
Maybe that's enough for students familiar with that tradition and seeking those kinds of teachers. But for the general public, the numbers don't really mean anything because the YA-approved programs are basically self-reporting. They can say they are training capable teachers, because they've filled out the paperwork and paid their dues.

I'm not saying the Alliance standards, themselves, are lacking. Actually, I think they're quite thorough for a good, solid grounding in the basics. And once you actually start teaching, is when you really learn how to bring yoga to your students. But, how can anyone outside the yoga world understand what it means to say you have completed a teacher training? That you are "certified?"

Every once and awhile I take a look at nearby programs, thinking I ought to get some letters and numbers after my name. And every time I get discouraged by the idea of shelling out thousands of dollars for something that has very limited meaning. What's the point? Even aerobics instructors and personal trainer have standards and affiliations that require testing and re-testing, that make a lot of the YTTs look like opportunists. Enter your credit card number, here.

Organizing an oversight body would be a huge task. Some states are starting to require that training programs justify themselves. It's kind of a mess. But, leave it to the Canadians to initiate a conversation about how to start this process, instead of bickering about individuals' rights to make a buck, like we always do in the US. Maybe inspiration will come, maybe a movement is beginning. There are rumblings...

This seems to be a season of reflection and inquiry into the nature and future of yoga in North America; I hope the topic of teaching training will be an important part of the discussion.

Monday, September 13, 2010


We got our first Human Biology exams back today. No unpleasant surprises for me (or pleasant ones, for that matter...I knew I'd get the passive diffusion question wrong), but some of the class was extremely disappointed. Judging by the discussion we had about a graph on heart disease, the big problem was with reading and interpreting data--or lack of data--correctly.

This is not a post about math literacy, so stick with me.

Several members of the class misread an uptick in heart disease in 2000 as the result of 9/11. This stunned the professor, partially because they got the date wrong, but partially because they actually thought this might be the cause of an additional 100,000 deaths over the course of five years. I was fascinated.

This is primarily a class of freshman. They are a group of 18 year-olds who were in 4th grade when the World Trade Center and Pentagon were hit. To them, it is the defining (inter)national event of their young lives. Maybe it seems entirely plausible that this tragedy would result in so many heart attacks.

I think of 9/11 as the defining moment of the 2000s, but certainly not my life. Maybe it's just a perfect storm of the growth of the internet, the 24-hr-news cycle combined with two wars started by the Bush Administration, but as we move into the last year and a half of this decade it seems like the legacy of Sept. 11 is a nation that wants everything black and white.
If you're not with us, you're against us.

What is encouraging is that these kids don't seem so quick to define the enemy. They mostly worry about money and if they'll have a job upon graduating. They're okay with gay marriage and immigration. It's the older generations that want it crystal clear...and want to get mad about it in the process. We see it in the mid-term elections, we see it on the news channels, we see it the response to a straightforward plea for less sexist yoga advertising.

So maybe the end result of 9/11 will be more heart disease, if everyone over 30 keeps working themselves into a lather of hatred over what the "other guy" is trying to pull. Why agree to disagree when you can point and call names?

But I'm hopeful. They may have been wrong about question six, but I think these teenagers realize there is a lot of gray. That it's mostly just confusing, instead of obvious. Maybe they can take some observations they made as children, and move beyond this era of Us and Them. That sure would make my heart beat a little faster...

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Good Things Come...

... to Those Who Wait. But who has time to Wait, anymore? Or the patience to Wait? Can't the microwave pop that corn any faster?!?!

Patience is a virtue. Or was--maybe it's more of a lost art. I try to remind myself, especially when dealing with the Big Picture, that things take time and will reveal themselves eventually. With instant downloading, instant messaging, yoga in 15 minutes-or-less, it's hard to remember that most of the things that matter are not quick. They need to unfold at their own pace and rushing them will just foul everything up. Anyone who has ever dabbled in watercolors knows exactly what I mean.

But can you teach it? How do you convey the idea that you can't have a thing immediately, just because you want it? Is it simply a matter of experience, age? Do you have to sit, miserably, watching the black pigment soak across your entire sheet of expensive Arches watercolor paper before you get it? Burn your hand on a hot pan full of fresh chocolate star cookies (a painful bit of negative reinforcement for the 6-yr-old yesterday)?

I wonder if there is a way to learn patience through positive reinforcement. The more effective examples seem to be the lessons learned when you're not patient; especially because you have to be patient to see the fruits of patience. So maybe it is an age thing. Somewhere you have to find a source of calm, quiet reserve to allow stuff to just happen.

Obviously, yoga is great training for this (I guarantee it will take a lot more than 15 minutes), but you have to go into the practice already ready to slow yourself down. The realization sets in pretty quickly that it is "slow medicine," but even accepting that fact requires a bit of self-discipline. I have students who took a few months to get that, but when they finally stopped fighting, it was a beautiful thing. But I don't really think I taught that--I think they had to figure it out themselves.

So, again the question: Is it a learned skill or is it an acquired habit? Can some one show you, or do you have to discover it on your own? Sunny-side up or Over-easy?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Message on a bottle...

...or on a television show, or in front of the classroom, or in an advertisement, etc. It's impossible to pinpoint exactly where our subconscious gets the material that forms our self-image. It's even harder to decipher how the mind mashes up that information to create our worldview. Psychotherapists can spend years trying to help a patient unravel this complex web of messages, that can be so debilitating and destructive. Even if it isn't affecting your quality of life, that inner critic can be pretty opinionated.

Part of my motivation for pursuing science ed, is sort of a response to the teenage me. Despite showing some aptitude in science and math, I was bound and determined to avoid those subjects at all costs. Why? Because I was too artsy and journalistic for science? It was just for nerdy boys?
It was too hard? I'd be hard pressed to say where these ideas came from, but that was the basis for my prejudice. And what a shame, because I think I cut myself off from some really interesting opportunities by listening to that misguided inner voice.

Even with only four classes this past week, already I've heard many of the same misconceptions about studying the sciences from my young classmates, that I entertained in my late teens. The message is still loud and clear from somewhere--artists don't do science, math is too hard, it's gross/boring/hardhardhard. It's an uphill battle against an unseen enemy, but I would love to be a teacher who could change that message.

I would hope to inspire kids to see the subject matter as intriguing, something to explore. I became a yoga teacher, partially because I was so taken with the discipline that I wanted to learn how to show my friends and family what an amazing practice it is. I loved the subject; I wanted to share the subject. And so it goes with biology.

By helping kids learn to explore the natural world, to investigate a problem and discover the answer, comes learning how to think for yourself and forming ideas based on your own experience. How about that as a useful, subversive tool? Get something pierced, if you want, but a truly radical act is thinking for yourself.

And the sooner they get that message, the better.

Monday, August 23, 2010

It's the Transitions that'll kill ya...

Forgive the triathlon analogy, but it's on my mind these days (one more in September). So...multi-sport...swim/bike/run; the trick is to maintain your exertion level so you're working hard, but not working too hard. You can't blast into the swim and wreck your lungs for the bike, pedal like a maniac and fry your quads for the run, and, well, you just have to struggle through the run to get to the bagels. But, you also can't ignore the transitions--water to bike seat to open road. You have to change clothes, add equipment, grab a quick drink--and the time you spend is included in your final count. No lollygagging.

The trick is to finesse the transitions so, after a mad scramble, you can smoothly move into the next event--for which you've trained and have some time to settle into a rhythm and just focus on the task at hand.

And ain't that just like life?

It's the in-betweens that will lay you low--the changes in routine, the stopping short, the sharp left turn. They can be exciting, upsetting, re-energizing, alarming. They are the start of something new and, no matter how prepared you are, they are disruptive.

Here I am at the beginning of a transition. Tuesday morning is my first day back in school...25 years after the last first day of undergraduate school. Teacher Training, ladies and gentlemen, but this time it's for Biology. This is a trial semester--do I like teaching adolescents science as much as I like teaching adults yoga? Is this really what my contribution to the world will be? Protozoa?!?!

Hopefully this is a disruption that will lead to a smooth, focused ride. Eventually. I'm thrilled on a variety of levels, anxious on others. And I'm very, very curious how it will all play out (oh thank gods for pranayama!).

Back-to-school outfit is chosen (casual, but not too young), equipment is laid out (yay, new notebooks!), a Clif bar tucked into the purse. I'm as ready as I'll ever be for this transition. Hopefully, I don't need a helmet...

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Good Olden Days

This post is dedicated to all of you out there, who remember your first typewriter. [For the rest of you, Granny B has a tale from when telephones were connected to the wall and you had to flip the record every 20 minutes]

I had a brand, new electric model that I carted off to college. A graduation present. It was so fancy that it could remember the last five letters you typed, and erase them. No White-Out for me! (Four years later, I owned my first computer--a little boxy Mac SE with a screen like a postcard--and the typewriter was mothballed.)

Back in those days, you composed in a notebook, with a pencil or pen, and then rolled a piece of typing paper against the platen (crrk, crrk, hopefully the top edge of the paper was even) and typed up your piece--remembering to hit the return key (electric) or carriage return lever (manual) when the warning bell went off to roll the paper up a line. Woe to she who forgot and ran out of space for a word... (margin release key, hyphen) It was a slow process that required forethought, a variety of accessories (aforementioned White-Out to paint over mistakes; carbon paper, if you wanted a copy), and time. To "send," you folded up your piece of paper in an envelope, addressed it, and pressed a licked stamp on it before taking it to a mailbox.

Back then, an argument with some one you didn't know might play itself out in letters-to-the-editor or some other published space. Rebuttals weren't remotely immediate and there was time to think about the conflict, perhaps deciding your response wasn't even worth the effort. To fly off the handle at a stranger took at least three or four days, depending on your distance.

I suspect part of my discomfort with the whole tenor of last week's debate, was how fast it happened. While I see myself as completely computer-literate, it is my second language...I'm an ex-pat from the Land of the Analog. Clocks with hands. Typewriters. Phones with cords. Television knobs. Trying to keep up with all the comments and related blog posts was exhausting and the speed that opinions were posted gave me whiplash. A perfect storm of emotion and reaction. Often missing a pause for reflection (myself included).

And I'm glad we were all able to participate. How cool is a global discussion? But I still get agitated arguing with a person I've never met; forming opinions based on a single, careless adjective. ("How dare he call me jealous!") I lost a lot of sleep worrying about my own snippy comments, fired off in a moment of viewpoint-defending passion. How so not like me--a yoga teacher! A Midwesterner! A lot of anxiety was generated as I operated outside my usual contemplative, non-confrontational zone.

I guess that's life as an immigrant...never completely of one land or another, fondly remembering the traditions of Old Country, but embracing the innovations of the New. I'll have to remind myself, in the next go round, to keep a dictionary handy and remember cultural niceties. Don't gesture with the middle finger or stick chopsticks straight up and down in my rice. So to speak...

We still have a shelf-full of 45s and 12" singles, by the way (ask your parents about that, my dears...)

Monday, August 09, 2010

What are you lookin' at?

What seems to be missing from l'affaire toesox (as Carol Horton sensitively discusses here), is any acknowledgment of the difference between the way women and (straight) men perceive the use of naked women in yoga imagery. Or any imagery, for that matter.

In her book,
The Male Brain (2010), Louann Brizendine takes a close look at the chemistry of the male brain, as a follow-up to her earlier book The Female Brain. In her article "Sex, Mating and the Male Brain," she reminds us the main goal of any species is to procreate; to that end, the male brain has evolved to specifically seek out a female that offers the greatest potential to meet that goal--young, shapely, healthy, and not pregnant with another man's child. She writes, "Researchers at the University of California found that it takes the male brain only 1/5th of a second to classify a woman as sexually hot or not. This verdict is made long before a man's conscious thought processes can even engage." She also notes that the male brain has an area for sexual pursuit that is 2.5 larger than the female brain.

So, perhaps, therein explains part of the gulf between the "what's the big deal?" camp and the "How can you not see the big deal?" camp. They are seeing different images, while looking at the same picture.

The history of Western art is full of pictures of naked women (none of them selling any yoga accessories, by the way), often depicted in all their reproductive glory. Until very recently, almost all of these were painted by men for the use and enjoyment of other men. That's who had the power, the money. Whether immortalizing a mistress (Louis XV's, in this case), celebrating a munificent donation to the church (many an altarpiece), or serving as a beautiful decoration in a palace, wealthy donors regularly requested the inclusion of the idealized female form as a part of the composition.

Francois Boucher's Mademoiselle O'Murphy (1751), from the Wallraf, Richartz Museum in Cologne.

We've been looking at examples of beautiful naked women on display for a male audience for centuries, nay millenia. It's a hard habit to overcome and has become the standard for us all. As Carol astutely notes, "But that’s the thing about the dominant culture: If it’s invisible to us – if we uncritically accept it as normal and natural without reflection – we get sucked into it and end up reinforcing its norms unintentionally."

So I wonder if we're stuck in a place where the twain-shall-never-meet. One group hopes to challenge a status quo, that is reinforced both by culture and biology. The other sees nothing wrong with the status quo. Some want pretty, some want realistic. I'm hopeful we can talk; I'm hopeful we can stay civil--How about fair amounts of each aesthetic?

This issue is obviously much bigger than the yoga world. I guess that's why I got my feelings hurt this weekend by so many of the comments on elephant journal (and that's exactly what it was, feelings getting hurt, I should not be taking so much of this personally). Judith was so calm, so reasoned in her letter, I thought it would inspire a really good conversation about the contemporary yoga industry and where it seems to be headed. Maybe some one would have insight into why naked yoga ads are a good thing and make me question my assumptions. Instead it was internet-commentary-as-usual: emotional and defensive and far from the original ideas in the letter or roseanne's post.

Maybe the topic is too confrontational, too raw. Maybe this is the same old battle being fought. I had hoped this conversation could be the start of something beautiful, but I am wary.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Whose Beautiful is it, anyway?!?

With each of my pregnancies, I couldn't wait for the 20th week to roll around. That's the week you get the ultrasound that--usually--shows the sex of the child, if you want to know it. And I wanted to know. While I would have loved any child and was just hoping for healthy, I was also crossing my fingers that both babies would be boys.

This is a bit disingenuous, because I have many friends with wonderful, smart daughters and I have many wonderful, smart friends and relatives who would be great role models. But, having negotiated girlhood in this culture obsessed with the female form, I wasn't sure I had the strength to negotiate it again with a little girl.

Boys don't have to deal with thong panties, makeovers, boob jobs, sexy dance class routines, and an overall message that the only thing that truly matters is how smokin' hot you are. And if you are bit short of smokin' hot, there are lots of products you can buy, operations you can have, to get you there. Advertisers are trying to figure how to make boys insecure enough to buy male versions of the lotions and potions, but they just haven't quite got it. Yet.

So imagine my delight with this week's (hopefully, this year's) yoga talking point--Judith Hanson Lasater's letter to Yoga Journal on using sex to sell in its advertising. (it's all yoga, baby will bring you up to date) I've written before about my frustration with the way yoga is marketed and the image the yoga industry has decided to present to the world. Unrealistic bodies doing incredibly difficult poses--yeah, that will bring 'em in!

My contribution to the discussion is just to put forth the question, to everyone who says this is just about appreciating beautiful bodies or offering something to aspire to: what message are you sending teenage girls, who are looking to the world for an idea of what womanhood will be like? What do we, as a culture, value in women and what are the most important attributes to strive for? A tight ass? Sculpted abs? Surely not...

And I'm not so naive to think that anything will really change in the overall culture any time soon. The media has figured out what brings eyes to screens, clicks to pages, and these are seriously entrenched strategies that seduce everyone. But it breaks my heart that the yoga world embraces it, as well. The one practice that shouldn't be about the external or cling to screwy standards of physical perfection, and yet--naked yoga socks ads (what is it with yoga products for feet?!?).

Please, yoga industry, think about the girls (and boys) and what message they are getting from your choices. I'm glad you can fund your teaching retreats and "reach" so many more students. I'm glad yoga is getting coverage in the mainstream press (altho some of that coverage we could do without). I'm glad you can put your foot behind your head. But, seriously, don't you see this kind of advertising for what it is? Do you really believe that every reader will understand your outer beauty is simply a reflection of inner grace?

Aren't we more sophisticated in our thinking than that? I hope the response this letter has generated will really encourage some thinking, some re-assessing. Many of us have been harping about this for years...maybe this is the push that will really lead to shove.

Let's Take Back Beautiful!

Monday, August 02, 2010

The comfort of ritual

It was a weekend filled with significant ritual, one joyous, one sad. Neither was about me (altho, technically, a child's birthday commemorates a day his mother completed a very rigorous task, but never mind), so I was merely a bystander. On Saturday it was a birthday party; on Sunday, a funeral.

Ah, the delayed gratification of summer birthdays--we were camping on Eamonn's official day, so we planned to have friends over the weekend we got back. The event was fairly low-key--water balloons in the backyard, temporary tattoos, soap bubbles, hot dogs and juice. The six-year-olds tore around the house, delighting in their own company, but very aware of the vital elements of the celebration. The event had a logical progression: play, eat, play, open presents, play, get gift bags. If something wasn't happening soon enough, a guest was certain to remind us of the next activity. Very ordered. As I said, a ritual.

There was the same sense of security-through-logical-order at the funeral of a dear neighbor the next day. He was a proud veteran of WWII, and had an honor guard and a group of navy men at the service to prepare the flag that draped his coffin. It was moving, especially the
meticulous folding of the flag, to witness this ritual of preparing a sailor for burial and the send off for his soul. Taps on a single bugle.

Participating in these juxtaposed celebrations made me think about the role of ritual in our everyday life. They unfold without surprise, designed to mark a significant passage and to give those near and dear to the recipient a role in the event. One prepares a birthday cake, one writes a eulogy, one lights candles, one says a prayer. They provide comfort by bringing structure to the unstructureable--growing up, death. It's a way to impose a sense of order over things we can't control.

As a householder, I appreciate that which gives comfort, even if--ultimately--it is just an illusion. My sons will learn soon enough that the future is unknown, unwritten. That their parents have created a very safe, but very small, world for them to inhabit and that everywhere else is a free-for-all. Dog-eat-dog. I explained to Eamonn that Mr. Jayson had died and that we were going to the service. He wanted to know why he died, why your body shuts down when you get old. But he seemed pretty accepting of the news, and I think this glimpse at death wasn't too upsetting or scary. Maybe (I hope) his own life seems endless right night now and that 91 is an unconceiveably long way away. Now is the time to focus on birthday guests and who gets what color balloon.

It was a weekend of reflection, with this contrasting events. Each tempered the emotion of the other, leaving me a bit pensive. But in a good way. I'm all for ritual and habit, if it helps smooth the passage of these affecting events.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The (in)finite foot

My Goodness. I emerge from the wilderness (canoeing in the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota), and the yoga b-sphere is alight with discussion. But, since I have little to say on John Friend, even less on Tantra, I'll leave that to those more knowledgeable (altho YogaDawg's comment on it's all about yoga has the wheels turning).

I was very taken with Brooks Hall and Bob Weisenberg's exchange on elephant journal. In fact, I've been thinking along those lines all week...lakes, loons, and pine trees will do that to a body. The infinite, the finite, what brings us back to center the most?

One discovery, this camping trip, is that I am no longer able to blissfully spend the night on the hard ground with just a thin thermarest under my body and a lumpy backpack under my head. Such stiffness in the morning! So everyday, I hobbled down to a gently sloping chunk of granite by the water and moved through a series of chest and shoulder openers and twists just to get the synovial fluids moving.

Bare feet on a warm rock, man, speaking of infinite joy. I just love doing yoga without a mat, in bare feet, in the great outdoors. I like to honor the sole of the foot as a sense organ, not just a mode of transportation. The sensations of temperature, texture, moisture, and shape under my feet contribute to the practice as much as quieting thoughts or stretching muscles. The uneven ground challenges the sense of balance (no headstands), as does the flowing water (Vrksasana was wobbly), but coming back to the base stilled each pose. And when that base is having its own heightened experience, the whole thing gets bumped to a new level.

Throw in a loon's
echoing call, campfire coffee (you could skip the mosquitoes), and there's my recent adventure...

[On another note--I was honored to be featured on The Magazine of Yoga's weekly Blog Fan Page, while I was off the grid. Such a thoughtful (and accurate) description of this blog...please take a look at other recommendations and enjoy Susan M.'s careful, researched descriptions.]

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sisters are doin' it...

Well, this sister did it. I finished my first outdoor triathlon this Sunday. It was an all-women's sprint (1/2 mile swim, 12 mile bike, 3 mile run), sponsored by TREK bikes, and it was phenomenal. Not so much my performance (I finished, so I was quite pleased with that), but this mass of super-strong, super-focused female energy. It was so inspiring to be a part of the whole thing.

You know where I'm going with this, don't you?

And, repeatedly, I thought to myself, why can't this be what the face (body) of womanhood looks like? Muscles,
hips, curves, tanned skin from spending time outside (not a machine), unfussy hairdos, smile lines, crinkly eyes, sandals you could run in. Guilt-free chocolate. All of us assembled in one place to challenge ourselves and our bodies...but happy about it, not hyper-competitive. You got the sense that people were proud of themselves, not feeling inadequate or ugly (well, except maybe for inner monologues during the run). A beautiful thing, to be sure.

Now, I usually prefer a mixed-gender group, but, for a first-timer, I appreciated the supportive environment...newbies, cancer survivors, sinewy veterans, but all chicks. While looking over the transition area, where 1683 bikes were parked with Elmo balloons and chalk greetings ("We're so proud of you, Mom!") marking peoples' spots, my friend observed, "I'll bet Ironman doesn't look like this." Sweet, a little silly.

For three or four hours, no one was worrying if they looked fat or old or boring. It was all about inner (and outer) strength; about being able to go deep inside and pull out the energy needed to finish. How refreshing. I wish it could be like that all the time, for everyone. All "you go, girl" messages, instead of "imagine what you would look like 20 lb.s lighter."

Wouldn't that be nice. I wish, I wish, I wish.

(P.S. If you're toying with the idea of a triathlon, can't recommend enough the site, Tri-Newbies Online for training suggestions, info, workouts, etc. It is a very sane, careful approach to training, with a lot of advice for first-timers. Yoga, of course, is a wonderful complement to it all, both physically and mentally.)

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Yo, Calliope!

Perhaps my most favorite thing to muse over is creativity. Just how do humans come up with their ideas? How do we keep generating new things to amuse, challenge, upset, inspire? The ancient Greeks (and, even more, Renaissance Italians) liked to personify the urge to create with a variety of female demi-goddesses. I guess it's easier to blame some willful divinity for your writer's block, than waiting around for your synapses to start firing.

My professional trajectory has been one that often intersects with one or another of the classical muses (altho these girl
s weren't really standardized and assigned specializations until Cesare Ripa's Iconologia in 1593); journalism (Calliope)-art history (Clio)-costume design (Melpolmene/Thalia)-and, in a way, back to journalism. It's been a mix of being creative and studying creativity and justifying creativity (to an actress whose ability to create is dependent on whether she thinks she looks fat or not).

The act of creation; some
times the urge and the ideas overwhelm in their volume, other times it's impossible to even get started. They say, it's a matter of the brain's ability to operate outside of usual patterns, often facilitated by letting the mind wander or doing something relaxing (like knitting or, ahem, doing yoga) to shift the task into an auxiliary system. Putting it on the back burner, if you will. But, it's funny how a deadline--decidedly not relaxing--can help accelerate the process. Sometimes the most brilliant work comes at the last moment (altho that's usually not the best strategy for something that requires careful proofreading). Adrenaline? Activated sympathetic nervous system?

However, like the ancient Greeks, to me it feels like some external presence/inspiration arrives after the usual pre-work puttering (facebook, putting away dishes, a round of shanghai). I get about an hour to an-hour-an-a-half of productivity and then, like a sputtering match, the words stop coming and my creativity flickers out. It's the same with writing or with drawing, whether being eloquent with words or proportional with a drawing of the human figure. Bye, bye, muse, and it gets all redundant and ugly. The steel doors come slamming shut. (I wonder what that sez about my brain's and prone to blowing a fuse?)

Anyway, interesting to ponder. Any metaphors you'd like to add? How does the muse visit you?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Don't Mess with the Mat...

I had my YIP class on Saturday. Lovely weather (I challenged the gray skies and they turned to power), devoted students; a delightful practice, all in all. As I was setting up--which involved picking up a few cigarette butts, tossing out a beer can and unrolling my mat--a couple was letting their dog chase a few ducks and take a swim. The woman looked over, saw my mat, and gathered her crew, "Oh look, I'm sure the ladies don't want to watch you and a wet dog while they do yoga." They hustled off.

Boy, I thought, yoga has arrived in Beloit, Wisconsin, if all you need to do is unroll a mat and your intention is immediately recognized. No asana, no chanting, not even students at that point, just sitting cross-legged on a mat in the grass and I might as well be unfurling a giant Om banner.

The ultimate yoga icon: The Mat.

More than Vrksasana or namaste or stretchy white chicks...when people see The Mat, they think of yoga. It delineates your individual space in a crowded class (don't step on any one else's!); its ritual unrolling symbolizes the beginning of practice. The colors and pattern represent your personality--soothing lilac, tropical hibiscus, punchy orange. Its material indicates your politics--eco-friendly, thrify, hedonist. Its carrying case a testament your craft cred(how many knitting patterns are out there for a mat bag?), or busy schedule (peeking out of your bulging backpack like a Frenchman's baguette).

[Maybe that's part of why the free mats at NYC's Yoga on the Great Lawn event were such an affront: crass advertising on that most sacred of rectangles! Treating The Mat like a stupid koozie or bumper sticker or ugly ball cap...the nerve!]

Of course, I kid. But as I mulled over the implications of this floppy piece of cushioning, I came to see it as truly symbolic of one's own practice. Your are your Mat, so to speak. Which begs the question...what if you don't use a mat? Purist? Cheap? Have a carpeted living room? Again, it's a sort of
psychological yoga test.

What does your mat say about you...?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Pardon me, your Yoga is showing...

I just got back from a wonderful weekend at the beach. Two dear friends from high school, sand, surf, and no responsibility. It was dreamy...although highly unsustainable. I jogged on the beach, read for hours (more later on Wendy Doniger's The Hindus), did a little yoga on the beach. Am in the process of acclimating to Real Life...

Yoga topical, this week. I'd meant to post before I left, because Yoga Spy left an intriguing comment last week about doing yoga in public and I found it inspiring, if a bit confounding. Now, It's All Yoga, Baby also has a post worth considering in this context, too. There's some back and forth about the giant yoga-in in NYC, but I haven't read up on that, seeing as I was "off-line" when it went down.

For me, our little session in the sand was just a quick amuse bouche. A little stretch-and-commune-with-nature, but nothing particularly deep or moving. However, doing it outside did mean we were on view, and one jogger going by was so distracted he wandered into the incoming wave. (n.b. we were 2 middle-aged ladies and one man in sloppy tees and shorts, no hot yoga bods, here) Still, we felt better afterwards and definitely more calm, so benefits were had.

Which gets me to my (and my fellow bloggers') point. Is yoga outside too distracting to count as yoga? Are you drawing too much attention to yourself? Are you too aware of what else is going on? Does this detract from the practice, or enhance it?

I see the point on both sides. I think a traditional practice--a withdrawing from the senses--probably is made more difficult by being outside, or at least in public with passerbys and whatnot. But I think a modern practice (so to speak) is improved; I think you become more aware of what you are doing and you become very sensitive to your environment. Instead of withdrawing from your senses, you withdraw from the distractions of everday life--demands, obligations, to-do-lists--and become more in tune with your body and your place in nature. One living being among many.

I'm all for quieting the monkey-mind, however it is accomplished. I like to keep the tool box filled, if you will. But I'm really interested in what the rest of you think. Wind, waves, and walkers or serenity, screens, and silence?

(Aah, Topsail Beach in North Carolina...)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Yoga al fresco

Barring any weather developments--this being the Midwest, you never know--I'm teaching my first outdoor yoga class in a couple of Saturdays. I love yoga outside; breezes, smells, flowers, grass, birds. A sensory smorgasbord to add to the mix. I think it makes you feel a little more one-with-the-planet-ish, and certainly more in-tune with nature.

I've done outdoor classes before and I thought I'd try to be a bit more connected to the location of the class, this time around. I usually pick a favorite sequence, maybe add a bit longer meditation or savasana, but this time I want to try something different. Try something that really takes us out of a basic practice, just by the fact that it's happening outside.

How? I dunno, I'm still mulling it. Because the ground will be lumpy and bumpy, I think we'll be on our feet or sitting most of the time, instead of lying down. Because we're in a beautifully-landscaped corner of Beloit's Riverside Park--garden on one side, river on the other, we'll keep our eyes open (focusing on flowers rather than just turning inward). Maybe not too many standing balance poses, but several seated twists to take in all the scenery.

Changing perspective is really cool and a bit trippy outside, so I want to throw in some inversions--Down Dog, Prasarita Padottanasana and look at the tops of trees from the bottom of our feet. I always use a lesson plan, so I don't have to think about the sequence as it unfolds, but I will be a bit looser for this class. Maybe a nearby duck or goose or snake will present an opportunity to modify...snakes always liven the up joint.

I was initially inspired by this Yoga Journal piece, but I figured I'd turn to my favorite online resource--Y'all. So tell me, what yoga do you do outside? Why? What do you change? What changes you?
(Thank to OldOnliner for his gorgeous flickr photos of Riverside Park)

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Simpler Times

In last week's comments I said that one of the things that I like about my new exercise "regimen" is that it frees my yoga practice up to be more-than-exercise. But I've been wasn't that long ago (seven years ago, in my pre-teaching days) that it was just a part of the routine, included to help soften the edges of high-stress workdays and stretch out a tense body.

Sometimes I miss those simpler times, when awareness of the texts or history or different schools of yoga didn't seem to matter that much. Every Thursday evening, I put on my stretchies, gathered up my mat and water bottle and headed off to class for 1 1/2 hours of calming and strengthening. It was a temporary escape from my Washington DC life to put myself in the hands of a strong, experienced teacher, where all I had to do was follow directions and keep my mind clear.

I manage to take a class here and there (it's not easy being one of the few teachers in town), but never with that beginner's mind. I'm always collecting ideas for my own classes or sneaking peaks at adjustments or memorizing clever sequences--I know, I know, mind my own business--but, as they say, once a teacher, always a teacher. And, while I cherish my level of understanding, sometimes I wish it could just be easy again.

I guess that's the trade-off when you decide to pursue a beloved hobby as a profession. Your relationship to the activity changes and it can never be "just" something you do in your free time. You know too much.

Maybe that's what is so nice about the biking and running and swimming. It's "just" exercise. Of course I've looked at various training sites and read about strategies to improve, but it's still just something I slip into the schedule for an hour or so five times a week. No great thoughts, no strong emotion, just some sweat and work.

That would be a good summer goal--to make yoga easy again. Just do the asana and leave the rest for the experts (or for when I'm teaching). Challenging. Appealing. Possible? We'll see...

Monday, May 31, 2010

Listen, my children, and you shall hear...

I was supposed to run a quarter marathon yesterday. But, a convergence of (minor) misfortunes--a pulled adductor muscle, stomach flu, head cold--cost me three weeks of training and made running 6.5 miles seem like a very bad idea.

It's so hard to listen to your own advice. Pay attention to just yourself; modify the sequence to suit your body; only you can know if the pose is working or not. All fine and good to suggest during yoga class, but start me slogging down the street and it's all the old voices of junior high school track (too slow, too heavy) whispering in my ear. So, Mother Nature decided to get my attention with a mighty twinge in my right thigh. I thought I'd better listen.

In the beginning o
f this year I trained for, and ran in, a sprint triathlon. I had two goals: 1. To see if I could actually do the work without killing myself (yes) and 2. To tame my hyper-competitive spirit (sorta). Funny how that is such a problem for me--and maybe why yoga appeals so much.

I love swimming. I love riding my bike. Running makes me feel lumpy and slumpy and like I'm just pounding along. But, I enjoy the cross-training and I think it is good for me to have to work on something that doesn't come easily. That has a lot of voices attached to it. I have to remind myself frequently to just do the work and not focus on the fruits (thanks, B-G).

To me, the whole thing is a nice physical metaphor for life. Some things will come easily and be a delight, some things require a lot of work and are a challenge. How can you adapt your thinking so that you will be open to learning from both experiences? Maybe even find some joy in the rough stuff (or at least be at peace with it)?

The leg is fine, now. I have another triathlon in July, that I'm really looking forward to. My massage therapist noted that the yin meridian in my right leg was blocked so I'm working on getting the chi flowing. I went out for a bike ride this afternoon that was lovely. No voices, just breeze and open fields and bird song.

Doesn't that sound nice...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Fair Trade

What made Homo sapiens so special? Dr. Ridley argues that it wasn’t our big brain, because Neanderthals had a big brain, too. Nor was it our willingness to help one another, because apes and other social animals also had an instinct for reciprocity. “At some point,” Dr. Ridley writes, “after millions of years of indulging in reciprocal back-scratching of gradually increasing intensity, one species, and one alone, stumbled upon an entirely different trick. Adam gave Oz an object in exchange for a different object.” --NYT review of "The Rational Optimist", by Matt Ridley.

Even the most hardened skeptic of the self-expression free-for-all has to admit that plenty of nonprofessional creators, ignoring the wants and needs of the market, have produced priceless gifts for the rest of us to enjoy.--"Valuing $0" by Rob Walker, NYT Sunday Magazine.

Though the unwise cling to their actions, watching for results, the wise are free from attachments, and act for the well-being of the whole world.--Bhagavad Gita, 3.25

(Isn't it funny how things seem to coalesce when you're trying to come up with a blog post? All these quotes floated across my radar screen this past week, and all seemed relevant.)

I'm a big fan of Web 2.0, and all the kooky, wonderful free stuff that's out there for the downloading (plenty of shite too, I know, but that's part of the fun). I wonder if this is going to be the "good old days" that everyone refers to when we have to start paying for content and subscribing (not that that wouldn't be fair). And I'm proud to be a contributor to the kookiness which, by the way, has been for exactly four years on Saturday.

Sometimes I think about all the "unvalued" time I've put into this venture. By now, once-a-week for four years (231 posts), it's more like a hobby/habit than anything else. I feel obligated to stay current; I think about what I'd like to formulate into an essay; I get interesting feedback. [BrooksHall wrote a nice piece about this last week] By putting my little offering out there ("gift" seems too grand a title for these random musings), I feel like I've done my work and any fruits that result are a delightful extra. And there have been quite a few fruits (so to speak)--internet friendships, writing opportunities, teaching opportunities, new students, yoga-blog-community membership. Actually, a wealth of riches in exchange for about 45 min.s of my time every 5-7 days.

Would that my physical practice was so regular. But, in a way, they are of the same piece. Some people learn best by doing, others by reading. I float somewhere in the middle, as I like to think and learn and study in addition to do, and it all informs my work on the mat. This writing exercise, such as it is, has deepened my understanding of asana and pranayama and strengthened my teaching in ways I never could have imagined. I am a person of the book, to be sure.

Thanks, everyone, for accepting this little blog as an item of exchange. Unvalued it may be (at least as part of a market economy), it is priceless to me.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Deep Thoughts

Several things inspired this week's post: my 80-year-old teacher, Nicky Plaut; in Madison, Linda Sama's lovely, thoughtful birthday essay; a bit in the NYT's Science Times. Overall theme: the wisdom that comes with age.

I watched a beautiful, young thing jog around the track at the Y, today. At each pass by the mirror, she checked herself out and, by the end of the run had rolled her tank top way up and her shorts way down. I guess her hipbones needed to cool off. I thought about how much energy you expend on your appearance as a youngster--am I pretty/strong/buff/tan/thin enough? And, I guess,when you've got such smooth skin, such endless energy, and haven't tasted much disappointment, it all seems like something that really matters.

One thing I find so inspiring about my teacher in Madison, is that even though she inhabits an obviously aging body, she moves with such grace and ease. I watched her feet while we were doing Adho Mukha Svanasana, and they looked so strong and balanced. Nothing scraggly or misshapen, no bulging veins or discoloration. Instead of seeing her body as something that must be tamed and offered up for others' approval, she presents it as an accomplice in good health. She works with it, rather than against it, accepting the limitations (she now uses a headstand-chair) but still moving through all the poses her much-younger students obviously struggle with. I guess that's what 50 years of yoga will do...coupled with a good attitude.

This is where Linda's post and the NYT article come in. Linda talks about the acceptance that comes with age, and the peace and calm that result from that acceptance. The article is about a study showing adults over 60 are much better negotiators, judges, and counselors because of their ability to see multiple perspectives and their recognition of the limits of knowledge. There is no black-and-white. (Well, as long as you're not an aging member of the Tea Bag Party) I guess you start to realize that all the fighting isn't worth it. There's nothing to Win and you just wear yourself out.

I'm still pretty early in my Middle Age, but I hope I to take all of this to heart and let it guide. They say that Youth is wasted on the young, but I think I agree with the other maxim that says, "you can have everything, just not at once." You don't get boundless energy and an unlined face with deep wisdom--that would be overwhelming. As I move towards more lines, though, I think I'm just fine with the trade-off.

Wisdom has more staying-power, anyway.

Peace out, y'all.

Friday, May 07, 2010

No Fruit for You!

Don't worry, I'm not about to go all Atkins on you. Myself, I can't think of anything more delicious than a fresh peach or tomato in season...but I digress.

This is Week One of elephant journal's discussion of the Bhagavad Gita, and what a response! 142 comments, with more accumulating. It's such an interesting mix, emotional responses from people who use it as a guide for living, academic responses from those who want to discuss translation and context, tentative responses, a few hot air responses (gotta admit, I hit the *scroll down* button whenever I see the word "ontological")--
all lovingly moderated by Bob Weisenberg.

We're reading Chapters 1 and 2 for next Monday. I am immediately taken with one of the themes of the second chapter:
"You have a right to your actions, but never to your action's fruits." (2.47)
and "Pitiful are those who, acting, are attached to their action's fruits." (2.49)
and "The wise man lets go of all results, whether good or bad, and is focused on the action alone." (2.50)

That's a lot of metaphorical produce! But I love it as an image and it is truly one of those things that can make you crazy--clinging to those fruits. Especially wh
en said actions concern another person. You do what you can, own the doing, but the result is not under your control. Worry, fret, get angry all you like, but you can't make those fruits be the way you want them to be.
I don't think this means be compl
acent. Since your contribution to the whole endeavor is the actions, those should be done as conscientiously as possible. I think you can even hope for a desired outcome--if you're still new to the wisdom business--but don't get too disappointed by what actually happens. Or too excited, for that matter (happy vs satisfied). It all could change in a matter of seconds.

It certainly isn't the first time we've been warned of this kind of attachment. Bhante Sujatha told a similar tale at a Christmas-time meditation I went to last year. Funny how this message seems to reach across time and cultures...says something of the quirks of human nature. Just. Let. Go.

So, plants those seeds. Nurture them, tuck mulch around them, sprinkle water, trim dead leaves. Appreciate the fresh salsa, but don't take the blight fungus personally when everything turns brown and falls off over the course of two days. (Man, I sure could have used the Gita during last year's gardening season...)

Wednesday, May 05, 2010


You can keep your stinkin' Olympics. What I wanna know is: If I do enough yoga, will I be able to do this?

In my humble opinion, the red gingham bloomers are way cuter than, well, just about anything in black lycra.
(Thanks Meikka C. for the link)

Friday, April 30, 2010

Achtung Baby

Setting: Kerbey Lane Cafe, Austin, TX, mid-1990s
2 young people eating lunch at a window seat and watching customers arrive...a white limo pulls up and a short, spiky-haired fellow gets out, wearing high-heeled cowboy boots and wrap-around glasses.
(snorts) Look at that guy, he thinks he's Bono!
(calmly) He's right.
(remembering U2 is in town) Hmph!

I was reminded of this scene from my past, while considering recent comments on my earlier post.

Seriously, if people are happy with their yoga classes and no one is being exploited or abused, is there really a problem? I certainly enjoy the discussion and crafting an argument can be a great mental exe
rcise but, at the end of the day, if some one thinks their brightest contribution to the practice of yoga is a pair of yoga shoes, maybe they're right. If shelling out for yoga pants can help assuage the fear of "camel toe" during class, maybe that's a good thing. Perhaps Led Zeppelin and 59 other sweaty bodies can be the path to inner peace (and a bargain, to boot).

The practice of yoga has been around for a long time and will survive any attempts at hybridization, branding, or re-imaging that the entrepreneurs can think up--whether I get mad about it or not. Come for the tight yoga bod, stay for the mental peace. Whatever.

So I'm going to try and stop caring (so much) about the trendy and get back-to-basics. Wanna join me? Bob Wei
senberg is hosting a book discussion group over on Elephant Journal; first text under consideration-Stephen Mitchell's translation of the Bhagavad Gita. As Bob says, this is one of the Big Three of yoga sources, along with the Sutras and Upanishads (I hope we'll read those, too). I'm looking forward to this; the combo of Bob's thoughtful discussion, comments from many of the usual suspects, emotional reactions, and intellectual exploration should make for a really lively and interesting mind-full. On Monday, we're starting with the Introduction (just 20 pages, there's plenty of time...).

Do come.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

By Any Means Necessary

Some good stuff this (and last) week: yoga for those who can (should) afford it, for those who can't, yoga for everyone. I am especially inspired by the discussion following Roseanne's post on mobile yoga and Linda's on donation yoga --are the hybrid yogas and cheap yoga a good thing, as long as they bring new students to the practice?

My comment to Roseanne was that strategies for getting-everyone-on-the-mat strike me as similar to those of trying-to-get-everyone-to-read. The reasoning seems to follow that it doesn't matter what people do, or the quality, but just that they are doing it--60 people crammed in a studio, rollerblade yoga, graphic novels. Who am I to say what kind of yoga/books people should enjoy...maybe these will lead them on the path to "harder" stuff and that these are the gateways to a more intense yoga or literary experience.

But maybe they won't.

And that's where my enthusiasm for the hybrids ends. I certainly don't have a problem with other forms of exercise borrowing from yoga or other reading material being considered a part of literature
(and I think some graphic novels are brilliant, but you don't read them like you read a page full of words) . I think both approaches miss the point--that these should be activities that force you to leave the external world and enter an interior one. Asana should help you get out of your body and books should challenge your imagination. It's hard work to exercise the brain, but that is what doing yoga and reading the printed word is to me.

So if the class stays focused on cost-cutting (meaning the factory-farm model, to borrow R's analogy) or trying to do the "best" arm balance or tightening your abs and glutes, I'm not particularly supportive. If the book feeds you all the visuals or dumbs-down the language or draws its characters from a TV show, I'm not thrilled. If that's really all some one is looking for, she's missing a lot. Maybe the whole thing.

But that's just my opinion. Maybe these options do create awareness for some people, or maybe they will want to seek a more challenging approach some day. However, it seems that if you offer people an easier way, they rarely decide to try something harder. And, since the easy way is usually the profitable way...well, you know how that story ends.

(BTW, this is in no way to denigrate the awesome, generous spirit in which most pay-what-you-can yoga classes are offered.
There are many wonderful teachers out there sharing their knowledge for free or on the cheap...not with an eye on the bottom line, but on spreading the love. I am grateful they can do that, and I hope people realize that this is a gift and not something to be taken for granted.)