Friday, January 29, 2010

What I Meant to Say...

A big thank-you to all the comments on Monday's post. After reflecting on many of them, I think some clarification is due.

I don't think "celebrity yoga" has come close to running its course, unfortunately. What I meant, is that I don't see the A-list yogis (to borrow terminology from Yoga Dawg) being replaced any time soon. That crowd came of age in a time when there was little opportunity for mainstream America (or anywhere else) practice with a qualified teacher. If you weren't near a good-sized city, you had to do yoga with your VCR. These yogis delivered the goods consistently, so you could take an effective class with them every morning in your living room and enjoy a conference class every once and awhile. Anyone interested in yoga had been exposed to their teaching and, as a result, they became famous for their expertise. Thus, A-list.

Not to say that they didn't deserve the attention. And they all use their position for the greater good of the discipline (for the most part), so I don't begrudge them their fame.

But now yoga is everywhere. And everyone wants a piece of the pie. So there are lots of inspiring, wonderful teachers with large followings, but not on the scale of the A-list. That's what I meant. These days, for every calm, clear, student-centered instructor, there seems to be a goofy, overreaching striver who will do anything to get some attention. Market saturation is being reached.

I hope there are some great teachers who do get the national attention they deserve. And I hope the strivers shut up after their 15 minutes and figure out some other fitness trend to exploit. It's a much bigger field now, so there will always be a greater number of notable teachers because of the higher demand and varied audiences. I just wonder if that kind of A-list longevity is still possible...

My wish is that people would realize that and stop shooting for the sun, publicity-wise. Be happy with the attention you do get and the DVDs you do sell and stop pandering to the advertisers and the media that want more skin, more products, more self-loathing. What about focusing on teaching? How's that for a novel idea?

Or better yet, bail on yoga altogether. It seems like the martial arts could use some new spokesmodels--plus that's a better place to jump-start an acting career. Steven Seagal is getting a bit long in the tooth, doncha know...

[If you persist on ignoring my advice, at least pander correctly--with Yoga Dawg's Steps to Yoga Stardom]

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The start of something beautiful...?

I'm going to go out on a limb, here, but I think the days of the Celebrity Yoga Superstars are coming to an end.

Certainly the days of trying-to-make-a-buck-out-of-yoga are still completely with us (see Yoga Inc.), but I think the notion of an iconic Spokesyogi is so very last decade. Sorry gang, I really don't think there is another Shiva/Rodney/Seane/John/David/Gurmuhk out there.

It's not because they're irreplaceable--it's just not the same world that it was in the 1990s, when yoga instructors were few and far between. For a regular practice, you had to turn on the VCR. As we moved through the last two decades, yoga's popularity exploded (
look at Roseanne's yoga timeline for the 2000s' developments). By now, almost everybody has access to a yoga class, whether at the nearby YMCA or neighborhood studio or on iTunes. Nobody needs an introduction to yoga, because it's everywhere. And people are getting the word from their friends and relatives about yoga's benefits--they don't need some scrawny, stretchy kids showing off their pincha mayurasana skills to serve as an introduction (like that would make you want to take a yoga class, anyway).

Maybe it's time for the sexy bendies to start focusing on something else besides building up their "brand." Seriously, where will it possibly lead? Even with the support of the yoga industry behind them, the trademarked, merchandised yoga business model doesn't have much of a future. Herding cats, baby. Like every other subculture on the Internet, you can find just about any type of yoga to practice--for Athletes, for Mothers, for Golfers, for Christians (dear god--Son Salutes?). There's no way to build up a critical mass of followers without exhausting yourself shilling shoes and lip gloss, appearing on talk shows (in competition with rock star wives) and, perhaps every once and awhile, teaching a 200-person workshop. You might make some money at first, but it's not sustainable--and are you really helping anyone deepen anything with the headsets and adjustments from assistants?

I say all of this is very, very good. No one should have a monopoly and everyone should have access to the close attention of a trained instructor. I hope the days of the Superstar are over. Those crowded workshops are fun like a rock concert is fun but is anyone really improving their practice during one of those?

I'm not sure what set me off, but it seems like we're heading into the next round of look-at-me/shop-with-me YouTube yoga moments. Maybe it's time to move onto something new.

Friends, it's 2010,
let's keep it local and personal. If the foodies can do it, why can't we?!?

(P.S. For re-presentation of some of these points, see 1/29's post..."What I Meant to Say...")

Monday, January 18, 2010

Practice Makes Perfect

"This is nothing. Right now we are just practicing..." --Bajante Sujatha, Buddhist monk, Blue Lotus Temple.

I attended another installment of the meditation class at Lazy Dog Studio in nearby Roscoe. I hope to make it every month; while I can get myself into a comfortable seated position and hold it for a half a hour, I can barely keep my mind focused for five minutes. Definitely something I need to work on.

I was frustrated this week because, once we began the meditation, I was all over the place. I may have even fallen asleep a few times, because my head tipped forward violently in that way it used to during a boring university lecture. Shades of History of the Renaissance. I tried to exude loving-kindness, but I was off my mindfulness game. However, that frustration dissolved during the discussion after.

Sujatha was talking about how you choose whether to be happy or unhappy about a situation you find yourself in. You can get mad that your airline gate has been changed three times (holiday travel theme), or you can be grateful for a bit of exercise. You have to wait and wander no matter what, but you control your reaction to the disorganization. He reminded us that the most important thing about meditation was being able to apply your mindfulness to the outside world--in class there is nothing to make you angry and you can focus your thoughts without distraction, it's outside the studio where it is really work.

I thought that had a nice to parallel to yoga. Of course, we love the stretch and the strengthening of class, but it is all just "practice" for our real lives. Yamas and Niyamas and all that. Your real yoga is how you live your life and let that stress relief and centering carry over into the times when you'd rather be tense and grouchy. Drop those shoulders. Take a deep breath.

So, I have to work on those fluctuations while meditating, but I feel pretty good about my ability to pull out the quiet mind when I need it. Just not in class...and, therefore, I have to practice.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Aaahhh, much better

Well, that took forever. I finally updated my blog layout and links, something I've been meaning to do for months--nay, years--but never had a morning in which to do it. Friday opened up, and I really wanted to cross this off my long-term to-do list, so here it is. Cleaner, hopefully easier to read, and more 21st-century/second-decade. Bring it up to date, sister!

It was fun trying to think of an image for the header. What's the perfect picture to signify yoga? An ohm symbol? Something India-ish? Marigolds? Vrksasana (which seems to be the quintessential symbol of yoga in advertising)? How does one depict energy, calmness, strength, peace, vitality, longevity? I came up with water. Blood seemed good, too, but I wasn't sure a picture of that would be particularly soothing. (Thanks to my bro-in-law for his photo of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of England)

What's your perfect yoga image?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Leaving the Biz (for an afternoon...)

They say that once you start working in the Biz (Show Biz, that is), you will never just watch a play or movie again. Unless the production is mind-bogglingly great, you will always notice an unfastened hook, a weird lighting shadow, an inconsistent sound cue, or an awkward blocking choice. Since it's your job to reveal the script in costume, set design, action or words, you watch all other attempts to do the same. Usually with a critical eye. Which isn't to say you can't enjoy the production, but you are always aware of what's going on behind the scenes.

The same could be said of teaching yoga. At least for me. While I enjoy the practice and being released of any responsibility to other students, I'm almost always watching. How is the teacher handling adjustments? How is his/her form? What's the energy of the space? How are the students responding? Can I remember that sequence for my class? The fluctuations of the mind usually aren't too calm.

That is, unless the teacher is mind-bogglingly great.

I went back to a teacher I really, really like in Madison today (Nicky Plaut). I had taken a few of her classes almost five years ago, but have been very much out of the habit of going to a regular yoga class. One resolution for this year was to get back into some one else's studio and revisit student-hood. How nice to be in the hands of a teacher with decades of experience and a quiet, forceful presence. What a good reminder that Virabhadrasana I and Bujangasana and Setu Bandha Sarvangasana can be very, very difficult poses--no need for bells and whistles and show-offy arm balances. My legs are killing me!

for an hour and half I found myself in the place of a true student--following directions, being adjusted, depending on my breath to get me through a pose, and being grateful to some one with more experience for my practice. What a nice feeling to be back out of the Biz for awhile...

Monday, January 04, 2010

What is The Thing?

With each passing year (Happy New Year, btw), and each passing job, I've come to realize that--with humans--the Thing is never really about the Thing. An angry toddler isn't mad that you gave him apple juice, he's mad that he feels woozy after a really long nap. A theatre director doesn't really hate a particular costume, he just can't get that actor to stop messing with his hands. You don't really hate that guy in his S.U.V., you just don't like being cut off in traffic (and the subsequent feelings of being out of control of your environment).

I am a big believer in Socrates' maxim that "an unexamined life is not worth living." (Therefore, I blog?) I think it's important to take a closer look at why you have made certain decisions or taken specific actions. Especially if that activity makes you sad or angry. Something is going on and it's probably a lot deeper than the incident that sparked those reactions. Do you really think that grocery checker wanted you to have bruised bananas?

With all the resolving going on these days--what with the new year and new decade and all--I came across a interesting excercise in John Mora's Triathlon 101
(more on that project later), to help determine why you decide to pursue a certain goal. He suggests you start a list of reasons for why you are doing something, maybe 5 items or so, and then keep coming back to the list and try to come up with 50 different reasons. By really thinking about your motivations, you get closer to the true reason you are doing something and also can deepen your resolve to see it through (or, perhaps, you'll see that the activity isn't such a good idea after all and should be let go).

See what you come up with...sometimes the big, overall reason is obviously #1; sometimes the true rationale for change is more sneaky. Why do we decide to "resolve" anyway, especially if it's the same resolution every year (and, therefore, never achieved)? Maybe it's time to tweak the goal or even discard it. OR, better yet, by looking at what you are trying to change, you will discover what you really want to do and can set that as your goal.

Anyway, I thought it was an intriguing exercise. I hope you all (in the Northern Hemisphere) are keeping warm--I resolve to go put on another layer...