Saturday, February 20, 2010

Tough Stuff

I will say this about the Olympics, I do like seeing hard work be rewarded. For the most part, those athletes hurling themselves around on the ice and snow have worked really hard to get there, and I appreciate the effort. I'm especially impressed with the women snowboarders, skiers, and hockey players--what a bunch of strong, muscle-y chicks. The New York Times has been covering their training routines (here and here) over the past few weeks, and it's cool to see them in their workout gear running, lifting and--ta da--doing yoga.

And I see their strong, healthy bodies, and read about their determination and how they see themselves as role models for girls, and I think where are yoga leaders who look like that? Who have hips and thighs and meat on their bones and take on the boys at their own game? It's like we get stuck with yoginis who look like willowy figure skaters, fretting about food and starving themselves for their sport, while the winter sports crowd gets these tough gals.

Now, of course, I know yoga is not about surface and appearances; but I also know that that is how it is marketed by the mass media and even by the Yoga Establishment. And we ALL know that these images are pervasive and deeply, deeply damaging. Women have curves, women have babies that stretch out their insides, women have a greater percentage of subcutaneous fat than men. As long as these facts are treated as faults that must be fixed by diet, exercise, and surgery, women will be taught to see their bodies as the enemy, instead of as amazing machines.

I want to focus on the amazing. Bring on the Lindsey Vonns, the Maelle Rickers, the Jenny Potters of yoga! Give me some one that insipres me--who I can identify with, instead of make me feel like I should skip dinner! Where are ya, Sistahs?

Let's develop that brand...

Monday, February 15, 2010

Essence and Intention

I came of age during the culture wars of the early 1990s. Fresh upon graduating with a B.A. in Art History, I headed to Washington D.C. with an internship at the Hirshhorn Museum of Modern Art. This was the summer of 1991--a month after Tiananmen Square, two months after Senator Jesse Helms went after the National Endowment of the Arts for funding the work of such controversial artists as Andres Serrano and Robert Mapplethorpe. The Corcoran Museum decided to cancel its scheduled summer show of Mapplethorpe, to try and remove itself from the controversy. The DC Arts community rallied together and had protests and parties all over town. Mapplethorpe's work was projected onto the exterior of the Corcoran and the photos in question were displayed at another gallery space in town.

It was a heady time for a young art historian, and many heated discussions were had--Were these photos just pornography? Was "Piss Christ" government-sponsored blasphemy?
What do we want the country's art to say about us as a nation? Is this stuff even art, anyway? Congress responded by slashing the NEA's budget, and the question of what is "good" art that deserves state support still challenges us today.

Of course, our "what is/isn't yoga" discussions are nowhere near as loaded or vitriolic. But I've been reminded of the definition I cobbled together back in those days as to what really qualified as art for me. It all goes back to intention--if the piece in question is intended to communicate something to some one else, using an artistic medium as the expressive language, and the communication is relatively successful (whether agreed with or not), then it is art. Art is communication about the human condition--it needs a person with a message, a way to convey the message, and another person to receive it.

This had worked pretty well for me and I think it works for yoga, too. It is the intention behind the action that determines if something can be seen as yoga. If you are approaching an activity with an open mind and clear sense of purpose with the intention of discovering the true essence of the action in question--then it becomes yoga. So a cup of joe?--maybe or maybe not--but if you are coming to that cup of liquid with the intention of savoring it as an experience in and of itself, then I think you could call it yoga. If it's a quick slurp while glancing over your email, probably not.

Why quibble over definitions? Mostly I'm just working this out for myself. I've been puzzling over what I call "my" yoga and if I think that's a legitimate label. Since my exercise in defining art has helped me over the years in my creative endeavors, I figured like to have a way to think about my yoga practice, as well.

And, or course, I love a good discussion and the input I get from all of you out there--it almost always forces me to rethink and reevaluate. So, tell me true, how do define your yoga (if you define it at all...)?

(Robert Mapplethorpe, Derrick Cross, 1985)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Guru Dr. Feelgood ?

Last week's discussions of yoga as a marketing tool for the Sensory--nicely discussed by Yoga Spy and It's All Yoga, Baby --got me to thinking about the cavalier way we use yoga to describe everyday experiences. It seems to come up all the time--parenting is my yoga, blogging is my yoga, eating a delicious burger is my yoga. I'm as guilty as the next yogi in applying the label of yoga to tasks that are both pleasurable and arduous. Is this legit?

On the one hand, it seems completely logical that an activity that requires close concentration or mindfulness or charity could be considered a part of one's practice. If I don't take a deep breath and turn away from that screeching toddler I am going to throw something or kick the cat. Okay, so it's a rather non-traditional use of pranayama but isn't that the point--being able to call on those skills in times of need? But maybe it's the practice of yoga outside of real life that allows us to survive these situations successfully (as a wise monk once said), and not real life as yoga itself.

What about something lovely and delicious--is eating chocolate yoga? hanging out with friends? the perfect cup of coffee? I think it's good to be able to submerge yourself in an activity and revel in your enjoyment, but is that really practicing yoga or just having a good time?

Perhaps this is just quibbling about semantics, but it seems like we hear it a lot these days. I'm getting suspicious. Is this just a way to paint any experience with a glossy coat of yoga to make it seem more significant or impressive? Maybe we need to celebrate our daily life as its own thing, and keep yoga out of it. Or at least let yoga become a part of how we survive the day-to-day, but not necessarily yoga as an act of survival.

I dunno. I have mixing feelings. I kind of like the idea of *insert activity* as yoga because it makes me feel good about the activity, but it does seem a bit of a cheat. Or maybe not. I'm taking any and all commentary--where do you stand?

Sunday, February 07, 2010

That's What I Said...

...although not so eloquently, perhaps.

In today's NYT, Deborah Solomon interviewed Douglas Coupland, the originator of the term "Generation X." Her interviews usually seem to be edited to make the interviewee come off as a hypocritical demagogue, but
Coupland holds up well. He seemed prepared.

This part of the interview caught my attentio

How would you define the current cultural moment?
I’m starting to wonder if pop culture is in its dying days, because everyone is able to customize their own lives with the images they want to see and the words they want to read and the music they listen to. You don’t have the broader trends like you used to.

Sure you do. What about Harry Potter and Taylor Swift and “Avatar,” to name a few random phenomena?
They're not great cultural megatrends like disco, which involved absolutely everyone in the culture. Now, everyone basically is their own microculture, their own nanoculture, their own generation.

It reminded me of our discussion of the twilight (in my opinion) of the yogi megastars. I thought his comments, in reference to popular culture, was also relevant to the yoga world. Do you?

Thursday, February 04, 2010

"Surviving" Teacher Training

I owe a debt to Miss S (Yoga, Dogs and Chocolate), for my next My Yoga Mentor article. She did a wonderful post of suggestions for getting thru a teacher training with a minimum of bruised body parts and psyche, uh, parts. With her permission, I snagged the idea, and am in the midst of gathering sources and arranging interviews.

I have a good idea of what I'd like to ask the experts, but I wondered if any of you have some questions you'd like answered. What were some of the challenges you faced in training programs, and would have liked advanced warning about? Or strategies for dealing with them? Anything that came up after you finished?

I'm all ears...or eyes, I guess, since I'm reading the comments!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

You see, I was being ironical...

Apparently, some Christians beat me to the punch. Instead of Yoga Cage Fight , it's "Xtreme Ministries--where feet, fist, and faith collide." Wow, the mind boggles...

(Thanks again, to JRR for the logo)