Archive for May, 2009

YJ Conference a Whole Lot of Fun

When I signed up for the Yoga Journal conference, I was sad knowing that I could only attend one workshop at a time. How to choose? Ana Forrest? Shiva Rea? Rodney Yee? David Swenson?

But each one has been so good that I’ve forgotten any regrets. How could I think of anything else when Gary Kraftsow —a man with sweet gravitas—is explaining the cakras?

Kraftsow teachingKraftsow’s Cakra chartGary KraftsowGary Kraftsow w/ student

Or, when Roger Cole shows us the four ways to stretch a muscle. It’s more than interesting, it’s riveting. (We did mostly hamstrings, which I’ve overstretched on this body.) Dive deep, bring up pearls.

I’ve also really appreciated the humor here—Judith Hanson Lasater is a firecracker sending hilarious (and too true) comments fizzing and popping around the room faster than a Catherine Wheel. (“I gave up the idea that you could make anyone do anything when I had kids.”)

She seems to instantly read bodies. Then she instantly—with permission—tells (or shows) the owner what’s going on and how to work with it. Trust the body, she says, it’s trying to tell you something. (She was able to tell me something about my stuck left pelvis—a puzzle that’s eluded me for years.)

Also a laugh a minute—who’d have guessed—eminent professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, Robert Thurman. Buddha’s First Noble truth? Life sucks! How to detach yoga students from their obsession with the body? Tell them to watch The Matrix or Star Trek.

Reasons to meditate on happiness for all beings? “If your enemy was happy, do you think he’d be running around enemying on you? You want him to be happy!”

This humor would not resonate as well without presenter’s deep knowledge and abiding passion for their subjects. And, I have to think, their fearlessness in the face of dark or ugly news: we’re all going to die. They seem to get that, as much as anyone can. We humans are infintessimally insignificant.

And their self-driven, but not (seemingly) self-ish desire to know more, be more, grow more, enter more fully into some nourishing mystery seems to help as well.

Thurman: yoga’s true meaning: to yoke yourself to ultimate reality (nirvana, bliss) and unyoke yourself from limited reality (suffering).

The original purpose of asana: to get the body settled for meditation. This is not news. But it was fun to hear it from him. And in case you are wondering, Patanjali agrees with Buddha—life does suck!

MC Yogi at YJ Conference

Arrived skeptical, came away kinda impressed. MC Yogi rapped the story of Ganesh to the swaying, clapping, wooping of tired yogis at the YJ Conference in NYC.

MC Yogi

MC Yogi 2

MC Yogi Crowd Pleaser

Ana Forest Demo at YJ Conference

Ana Forest asana demonstration: you wish!

Ana Forest demo

Ana Forest demo 2

Ana Forest demo 3

Heavy Hitters of Yoga Biz at First YJ Conference

I walked around my Brooklyn neighborhood tonight trying to come back to earth. Breathe! I just got done with the 2-day “Business of Yoga” workshop at Yoga Journal‘s first conference in New York. I am way overstimulated.

Judging from my texts and tweets from Thursday and Friday, I am super glad that I do not run a yoga studio. What a headache! I’m a writer not a marketer!

And yet, I do run yoga retreats, and I do want to write more about yoga and business (and the business of yoga).

What I learned: the (global) recession doesn’t stop people from opening yoga studios. When Bob Murphy of MindBodyOnline (the next inline to be a big stats provider to the yoga world) asked who was planning to open a studio, about half the people in a room of, oh, 50 -70, shot up their hands. Jeez.

Average annual profit at a yoga studio: 17%. Yes, ladies and gents, it’s still a labor of love.

And as Connie Chan, founder of Levitate Yoga (which, at 7 months pregnant, she just sold) outlined, owning a studio means dealing with: lawyers, accountants, landlords, NY State, and the Feds, and that’s even before you’ve auditioned teachers, painted your walls, and installed check-in software. Oy!

And then there are the licence centers that offer teacher training programs. (See Yoga Dork’s astute rundown of the complex—and exceedingly compromising (perhaps crippling)—issue.)

People have come from Russia, Poland, Germany, Canada, Brazil and other parts of South America to learn how to either run their existing business better or how to start on the right foot.

Charlie Barnett who left finance in America to open Yoga Flow in Sao Paulo said he couldn’t imagine doing some of the (very practical) things that the (very experienced) presenters were suggesting—such as drawing up a budget for his studio. In Brazil, he said, things are about 15 years behind. (Not to mention that you have to monitor the banks down there (money disappears from your accounts) and internet service (including networked servers) cut out at least once a day, leaving you, jack-of-all-trades to get systems up again).

As has been the case til recently in the US, in Brazil mingling money and yoga is very much frowned upon. But still a studio’s gotta survive.  Ganesh Das, managing director of Jivamukti Yoga School, suggests thinking of money as necessary energy, “At Jiva, money is a form of energy that the center needs so we can use the school as a platform for change in this world. Therefore, you have energy coming into our school through purchases that keep operations going, and it goes to teachers as energy that then goes through their teachings and then comes back to us in a circle.”

In fact in the US, says Brent Kessel, financial analyst, ashtangi and YJ columnist on money, says we’re moving away from an Innocent/Idealist/Caregiver dominated way of running studios. As more people make career changes midlife, they’re bringing more level-headed (Guardian), entrepreneurial skills (Empire Builder) attitudes to running yoga studios. (For example, see Yoga High and Mala Yoga in New York.)

Ana Forrest‘s marketing manager Lynann Politte showed us how to brand: color! image! message! consistency! and Beverley Murphy (Bob’s wife) demoed guerilla marketing techniques—yes, those postcards *do* have an effect; yes your most dedicated students are worth your love and attention; yes, you do need to have specials if you want revenue.

All in all it was a pretty interesting couple of days, but as I drift towards bed I’ve got dollar signs in my eyes where there used to be meditating yogis. Guess that’s the bottom line talking, huh?

Yeeehaw! Cow Girl Yoga

Every year there are articles about doing yoga outside. I’ve written about it, too—as a detractor.

B.K.S. Iyengar says we need a clean, open space, free of bugs and other distractions to practice yoga–this often does not describe the great outdoors!

Flies and bees buzz around your head, needles and leaves fall in your eyes, creepy crawly things appear from the earth and then swarm your feet. On a New York rooftop, the noise of horns, engines, and shouting is often unnerving.

But here’s a kind of outdoor yoga I might get into: Cow Girl Yoga!

In Montana! Horses! Meadows! Wildflowers! Smell of saddle soap!

Big Sky Yoga Retreats in Bozeman, not far from Yellowstone National Park, offers 5 days in the wilderness to “improve your saddle skills” (hello!) as well as your asana practice and overall well-being.

Cow Girl Yoga

Photo by Larry Stanley c/o Big Sky Yoga 

BSYR says, “Imagine a week of yoga and horses – a girl’s dream come true. Explore how both can put you in touch with your potential and teach you a lot about yourself. We’ll practice yoga, spend time with horses, and kick up our heels in cowgirl-friendly Bozeman.” (Sorry, guys. Seems like this fun’s for girls only right now.)

First Cow Girl Yoga retreat of the year is May 31 – June 5. Followed by 3 more through the summer, as well as several long weekends.

The only downside is the expense ($2,750 for 5 days, plus travel and car rental) and the corporateness of it. It is after all, Cow Girl Yoga™. And you know how the combo of corporate and yoga gives me the willies.

(But then they just go over the edge by partnering with Dude Girl —an outfitting company for dudettes on horses and yoga mats–!)

Yoga Beneath the Whale

Not news so much as—wow!

Take Adrianna Gyorfi, 23, entry level exhibitions travel coordinator at the American Museum of Natural History. Just got to New York. Landed a job. Doing yoga. Well, doing yoga beneath a multi-ton plaster cast of a life-size blue whale, hung from the museum’s ceiling.

Care of the New York Times: “Among her job’s perks: yoga beneath the museum’s famed suspended blue whale.”

AMNH Whale

Here it is. Imagine: nose to nose.

Adrianna says: “I came here and I’d taken four yoga classes in my life; I’m not a Zen sort of California resident. I got a museumwide e-mail and signed up for yoga classes. We had it in the Hall of Plains Indians, but when we couldn’t have it there, we had it under the whale. That was amazing. It was after-hours and very relaxing.”

After hours and extra super beyond terrestrial. Oceanic!

May Brings World Laughter

I didn’t understand one iota of Laughter Yoga at all until I saw scenes of it in Kate Churchill’s movie, Enlighten Up! (A small group of older Indian men and women stand around doing simple stretches and laughing helplessly. It was absurd—but also sweet and simple, and utterly harmless.)

Yesterday in Central Park under changeable skies, the New York chapter of Laughter Yoga celebrated World Laughter Day. Who knew?

yoga laff in the park

According to World Yoga Day’s web site laughter, “directly impacts one’s electro-magnetic field and creates a positive aura around that person. When a group of individuals laugh together, they create a collective community aura.”

Back in New York, the New York Daily News reports: “There’s certain things you can’t do while laughing: fighting, arguing, being mad.”  True!

“For two hours, the group convulsed with laughter, ignoring trivial problems like the economic crisis or the flu pandemic.” A good way to spend your time!

According to Wikipedia, after 11 years in existence, Laughter Yoga now has 6,000 clubs spread over 5 continents. Its originator, Dr. Madan Kataria, of Mumbai, India, says that laughter can unite the world and bring world peace.

Yeah–a lot better than a a bag of anthrax could. Laugh away!

50 Years of Yoga: The Author of “The World’s Religions”

Huston Smith has done yoga every morning for the last 50 years.


According to Newsweek, Huston Smith is, “arguably been the most important figure in the study of religion over the past five decades.” So go look that up.

Huston Smith

Okay, since I know you won’t, I’ll tell you: In 1958, as a professor of religion, Smith authored a survey of major belief systems–Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and indigenous religions. Hence, The World’s Religions.

“…in his day, Smith was doing something revolutionary. Without oversimplification or condescension, Smith introduced Americans to the notion that the world is full of all kinds of believers and that an educated person might learn a thing or two from another’s faith. “The World’s Religions” has sold 2.5 million copies since publication. It has been reprinted more than 60 times.”

A decade or so later he started doing yoga. In fact, Newsweek reports that he practiced forms from each of the religions he explicates—yoga, Islamic prayer, Zen meditation, Christian prayer, etc—believing all are viable and lead to the same source. And pretty fun to try, too!

He used to demonstrate lotus pose on TV.

But now, at 90, with osteoporosis, he’s grateful to get into half lotus.

Upper East Side: Hands Off the Crackberry

Stress levels on Upper East Side are rising, the NYTimes reported on Friday. Impulse buying is down, as is luxury shopping. And while yoga is doing quite fine, thank you, bad behavior in classes is on the rise.

Put that crackberry down, Suzie!

The NYTimes reports from Pure Yoga, the Asian-inspired yoga boutique owned by Equinox Fitness:

“Ms. Demus has been battling a growing number of people trying to check their BlackBerrys and take cellphone calls in the middle of yoga sessions.

Her instructors “gently” tell them to switch them off and perhaps take a break from their worries. “It’s great for them to realize that the world will continue spinning,” Ms. Demus said, “if they let go for an hour.”

Pure Yoga May 2009

Image: Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times

Or maybe it’s the space-ship lighting at Pure Yoga making them frantic?

Ocean Breezes for Navy Lady

Phew, this one’s heavy–with a happy ending. From the Wall Street Journal.

In the early 1990s, Paula Puopolo was a trained anti-submarine helicopter pilot rising through the ranks in the Navy. Impressive.

In September 1991, she accompanied her boss to a military convention at which 200 fellow aviators—as a part of a sketchy hazing ritual—ambushed her as she came out of the elevator. They passed her from man to man, groping and fondling her in a drunken, testosterone induced hysteria. (Oh no!)

Puopolo’s complaints did not see justice done—in fact she was transferred and ignored until she went to the press. This was the early 1990s, remember. The military wasn’t so willing to deal with sexual harassment and assault.

Paula Puopolo in old flight suit in her Florida garden

photo credit: Mackenzie Stroh. Paula Puopolo meditating in her Florida garden, wearing her old flight suit.

Military career ruined, Puopolo sued for damages.

Though she ultimately won the case and a respectable settlement, Puopolo spent much of her life in tears, taking prescription pills. She suffered the defense attorneys’ slanderous accusations as well as the hostility of her home town and naval comrades.

That’s when she started doing yoga.

“I figured if I could trade 10 seconds thinking about my hamstring for 10 seconds worrying about the trial, it was a good swap,” she says. As the trial progressed, her yoga sessions grew longer: “It became a 90-minute window in the day when I didn’t cry,” says Puapolo, in the WSJ.

Eventually, in 2008, she used money from the settlement to open Ocean Yoga whose mission is “to empower our students to find and explore their path to health and well-being so they may feel better through safe, compassionate yoga teachings.”

Something she knows about first hand, I’d say.

In fact, she says yoga—inspired by John Friend’s Anusara Yoga—helped her stop taking medication and eased her anger at the attackers.  “The philosophy opened me up to the idea that I could really stop hating so much stuff.”

“Everybody’s got a story, everybody’s got something that really deeply informs the way they move for the rest of their lives,” she says. “In yoga you can work through the story to your benefit, you can use it to rise up. But in the Navy, those events? Tough s—, keep moving.” ”

In teaching yoga she says she does much the same thing as she did in the military—strives to be “a good leader and to get the best  from the people around her.”

A tough row to hoe, but lucky students of Ocean Yoga.

Hari Om Tat Sat, Paula.