Archive for November, 2008

South Pole Yoga

While on a 5-month assignment as sous-chef at a South Pole research station, Kundalini/Anusara teacher Michele Gentille volunteered to teach yoga. Since her departure in Feb 08, star student Don Potter has taken over.

Michele writes: “Don was a first time student who got hooked and now leads the entire construction crew in yoga every morning for their mandated stretches. Don is in good physical shape to begin with; his summer project was to rollerblade from Seattle to NYC. Not sure if he made it the whole way…”

Below, at the South Pole gym: staff in standing forward bend. Padded bums ahoy! 

South Pole Yoga(photo care of South Pole station staff) 

Yoga Woman

A clever letter to the editor from October spells out a flattering portrait of  Yoga Woman (except that in this portrait, she’s only suburban instead of also rural and urban). She is the one person keeping the household together, in contrast to Patio Man who’s been taken by surprise by the economic downturn. I like how the letter-writer manages to make a feminist as well as yogic statement.

“Yet Yoga Woman doesn’t expect government to swoop down and come to her rescue. She does expect it to have sound judgment and make solid, educated decisions that will right the country. Yoga Woman is nothing if not formidable. She is the suburban force behind the change that’s taking place this election cycle.”

The letter-writer, from San Francisco, was responding to columnist David Brooks’ editorial.

Trouble in Malaysia

Normally, I don’t report on yogic news outside of the US, but the idea that yoga has been banned in Malaysia by a body called The National Fatwa Council is definitely news.

This story has been circulating in smaller international papers recently but last week NPR picked it up.

The objection is similar to that of some US Christians and parents: that yoga’s spiritual roots in Hinduism could interfere with the dissemination of the ‘true truth.’ The NPR story, reported from Kuala Lumpur, says, “News of the yoga ban prompted activist Marina Mahathir to wonder what the council will ban next: “What next? Gyms? Most gyms have men and women together. Will that not be allowed any more?”

Well, the council also outlawed tomboys. That’s right, it’s illegal to be a girl who looks or acts too much like a boy.

Move aside Salman Rushdie. It’s fatwa yoga time. 

Nov 29, Epilogue: Apparently, the Malaysian Sultans who each take turn as king, were not amused by the fatwa council’s recommendation, and issued a rebuke to the decree, which might still be overturned.

Yogi Cameron

Care of the UK’s Daily Mail comes news of an American ex-Vogue model turned yogic healer. Yogi Cameron, based in NYC, will travel anywhere in the world to give a 24-hr treatment of yoga asana, ayurvedic massage, health and life counseling.

It’s true that many people need to take care of their health basics much, much better. We’d all be better off for it. But the fee to fly Cameron from NY to Hampstead, England, for a 24-hr private, according to the UK rag, is 20,000 pounds (about $40,000 US).

‘Scuse me while I spit out my soup. Uh, wa?

Alignment Off the Mat, Too

Walking is something Johnathan FitzGordon got interested in years ago–I remember him chatting about this after one of his fun and exploratory classes at the old Brooklyn Yoga space. Now the NYTimes caught up with him–as, it seems, have some others concerned with pain management, health, and basic skills of life.

FitzGordon, who just can’t follow a line of teaching if it doesn’t interest him, is a deeply curious guy. And usually he is spot on about anatomy. I like how, in the quoted passage below, we see him looking at his students not just on the mat, but off, too. Ideally yogis bring awareness to everything, not just to class. 

“Few of us think we need a course in walking any more than we’d need a course in breathing, but Mr. FitzGordon insists that most Americans don’t have a clue how to step, a problem he first noticed among his yoga students. “People would enter with terrible posture,” he said. “Then they’d do beautiful yoga, and listen to everything I said about alignment. As soon as class ended, they went straight into the bad posture.” “

Read it in the NYTimes.    

Washington State to Tax Yoga

In a creative effort to raise money, Washington State has decided to slap a 9% sales tax on every yoga class, reports King5 news.

They can justify the tax by classifying yoga as physical fitness and you can just imagine what yoga studio owners have to say about that. “Yoga is not mere physical fitness, dear Mr. Tax Collector, come in and let us show you the path to enlightenment….”

Not only do people now have to pay 9% extra, but some studios are being required to pay back taxes on this initiative. Fun! Try finding an extra $10,000 hanging around at a small or mid-sized yoga studio.

The very cool Anne Phyfe Palmer, owner and director of 8 Limbs Yoga Centers of Seattle, says yoga centers are trying to come to an agreement with the Dept of Novel Tax Ideas. Clearly someone in the picture is not clued in to the higher aims of the practice.

Watch the video of the King 5 segment here.    

Epilogue, Nov 29: The state dropped the plan, after realizing it was a bit off in its conception of yoga.


A Stroke of Insight

This video of Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroanatomist, explaining her experience of having a stroke, rocked my world last week. Not only is she a great presenter (watch all the way til the end for some potent stuff), but her insight explains what happens to our brains during that ecstatic feeling that sometimes comes with meditation (or when you hang out with a flaky friend who also happens to be uncannily tuned in). Turns out that left brain (verbal, analytical) and right brain (sensual, process-oriented) stuff is pretty profound.

Taylor is a brain scientist from the Midwest which makes her insights even more profound—her training and cultural background make her a straight-shooter. She’s not given to hyperbole; she looks for reasonable theories.

The talk was posted on TED: Ideas Worth Spreading in March, 2008.


Urban Zen gets some Luv

The NYTimes, my hometown paper, which appears perhaps a little too much on this blog, reported last week on the much-deserving organization, Urban Zen.

The initiative is forward looking (read article here). As the Times says, “the Karan-Beth Israel project will have a celebrated donor turn a hospital into a testing ground for a trendy, medically controversial notion: that yogameditation and aromatherapy can enhance regimens of chemotherapy and radiation.”

“Karan” is of course Donna Karan the fashion designer, whose husband passed away of cancer in 2001, and whose colleague and friend passed away this past September.

Her organization, Urban Zen, wants to bring otherworldly kinds of healing to very sick people. Rodney Yee and his wife Colleen Saidman will oversee the 15 teachers who will bring yoga to cancer patients. Karan pays their salaries.

We’ve all heard a story or two of yoga miracles and cancer miracles. Mind over matter, positive thinking over negative diagnosis, the power of practice,  can all be powerfully healing impulses. As well, a deep resolve to be in tune with change, rather than resist it—as the late Iyengar yoga teacher, Mary Dunn, wrote in her online cancer-journal— can make one’s situation easier to accept, and sometimes even, sweeter.

There will be skeptics to this Urban Zen project, but with any luck there will also be many beneficiaries.


Off the Couch and Onto the Mat

This feature of mine, “Off the Couch and Onto the Mat,” was just published by Conscious Enlightenment Media.

The piece looks at the influences of yoga on psychology and vice versa–how psychotherapists are using yoga techniques in their practices, as well as how more yoga teachers are getting degrees in Western psychology in order to better help their students. It’s a new trend!

The piece s running in CE’s 5 magazines: GAIA (NY), Conscious Choice, (Chicago & Seattle), Whole Life Times (Los Angeles), and Common Ground (San Francisco). It’s the same article, but with a different sidebar for each city. (NY: there is no link yet but you can pick up the print copy at a yoga studio.)