Archive for the 'Celebrity' Category

Oh, the Annoyances of Yoga Class

Yoga class etiquette. When to make noise, when to shut up, how to dress, even how to unroll your mat. Pretty common sense stuff—but not, apparently, common-sensical enough. Showcased Sunday in the Grey Lady, NY Region, are stories of yogis’ transgressions.  “Stretch etiquette for yogis.

The reporter finds that lots of things anger New York yogis, from leaving class early to skimpy attire:

Some men take a minimalist approach to yoga wear, and not everyone is pleased about having a sweaty, stripped-down man within arm’s reach. “There are guys in European bathing suits,” said an outraged Kendra Cunningham, a yoga lover and comedian who lives in Brooklyn. “We’re not in Capri here; it’s Cobble Hill.”

And she has prominent quotes from the excellent yoga blogger Yoga Dork. Here commenting on B.O.:

No one smells like a rose in yoga class. And you shouldn’t, because some people are allergic to or just dislike inhaling perfume. But body odor shouldn’t make you gag, either. Foot odor can be even worse. “I can handle B.O.,” the Dork said, “but there is nothing worse than stinky feet when you are mat-to-mat and you are upside down and close to people’s feet.”

It all comes down to knowing where you are and who’s around you. In fact, the people who are the most disruptive probably just need more yoga.

Then they might not have to arrive in such a key-clanging whirlwind and leave early, before the final relaxation they desperately need.

Yoga 2009: 10 Highlights

What happened last year? Did it pass like a kidney stone or like savasana? Lots of subtle changes for me personally, and a big leap into the blogosphere for Yoga Nation. Part of me wishes I had a time machine to go back ten years (if I knew then, what I know now…) and another part looks forward to the madness and the mystery of a new year.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s see what happened in 2009….

1. Fierce Club opened in Nolita. Sadie Nardini, of Bon Jovi yogi fame, not only opened her own kick-ass studio in Nolita last March, but later in the summer she also joined up with YAMA, an agenting enterprise for enterprising yoga teachers. Yes, folks, the future is here…

2. The movie, Enlighten Up!: A Skeptic’s Journey into the World of Yoga, launched to mostly positive reviews (and some grumbling from yoga teachers) proving that yoga can entertain Americans for at least an hour and a half on the big screen. Director/yogini, Kate Churchill, and skeptic/subject, Nick Rosen, tussle and tumble around the world looking for the truth about yoga.

3. Inappropriate Yoga Guy “Edited” Yoga Journal. Yoga Journal spoofed itself in this 5-part online mini-series in which the unforgettable, and wildly inappropriate, Ogden, took over the inimitable magazine offices as a hazardous (and sometimes naked) “guest editor.” Went live April Fool’s Day.

4. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois passed. One of three Indian grandaddies of modern, Western yoga, 93-year-old Pattabhi Jois, passed away in May, and was fetted through the early summer. The memorial held at Donna Karan’s Urban Zen headquarters on June 14 in the West Village created even bigger buzz than the first ever NYC Yoga Journal Conference in May.

5. Licensing Issue ravaged New Yorkand is not over. Should yoga studios pay large sums of money to New York state to be “licensed” to train yoga teachers? Widely seen as a pitiless money-grab, this proposed legislation threatens to shut down many tiny yoga studios that rely on teacher-training programs for basic income. (For this issue, yoganation was also a momentary guest-blogger on the illustrious YogaDork.)

6. On the other hand, Brent Kessel made clear that yoga and money can live happily together. Financial advisor and long-time ashtanga-yoga practitioner, Kessel wrote a practical, inspiring and possibly profitable book called It’s Not About the Money (which it never is: it’s always about the junk in your head). Read my interview with him on Frugaltopia.

7. The inaugural Wanderlust Yoga and Music Festival rocked Lake Tahoe in July. This ingenious festival blasted open indie minds and took over taste-making in the yoga world. Who said yoga can’t be radically cool? Driven by yoga and music-exec power couple from Brooklyn, Wanderlust will happen in three locales in 2010. Thank you, Yoga Journal (San Francisco), you may now hand over the reigns. The young uns’ (uh, Brooklyn) got it from here.

8. Celebrity Yoga Teachers—Problem? In late August, YogaCityNYC sent me to report on the Being Yoga conference upstate. The question: Is a media-friendly yoga teacher the natural outcome of yoga’s presence in America’s consumer culture? The peaceful yoga crowd at Omega had a lot to say. READ my final article. …..(One source said: “I’ve never had a PR agent or invited myself somewhere. Everything has happened because of the shakti manifesting in me.” The next day I got a message on Twitter inviting me to review her latest DVD.)

9. BKS Iyengar turned 91. Really, you need to see Enlighten Up! the movie just for the scenes of Iyengar talking about the meaning of yoga—not empty New Age spirituality, but real internal work, with a few beads of sweat and social service thrown in. For his 91st birthday, this tremendous force of a man requested that students hold a fundraiser to benefit his ancentral village of Bellur. If everyone gave $3, more people could eat.

10. The Yoga Clothing Wars continued with lots of news about LuluLemon throughout 2009. Their stock was up, their stock was down. We loved them, we were peeved. Mostly we were conflicted about the giant success of a giant “women’s activewear” company. Good news: they have excellent yoga clothes for men. More good news: they are inspiring small yoga clothing companies, too. More good (-ish?) news: they are EVERYWHERE. Planet Lulu!!

HAPPY 2010, yogis and yoginis! Here’s to a happy, healthy, inspired, productive, restful, and OM-ing new year.

Celebrity Yoga Teachers–Problem?

Late in August, YogaCityNYC, a New York yoga blog, sent me to Omega for their Being Yoga conference.

There, I interviewed a lot of high-profile yoga teachers-–Shiva Rea, Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, Dharma Mittra, Sharon Gannon and David Life, Tias Little—about what they thought of their status in the yoga world. (Rodney Yee was there, too, but he wasn’t giving interviews.)

Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman
Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidmain, photographed by Michael O’Neill for Vanity Fair, June 2007

I also interviewed Glen Black who has taught and practiced for 38 years but in contrast to everyone else, has actually avoided the spotlight.

The result of my weekend in Rhinebeck, NY? An article on celebrity yoga teachers. What do we do with them? What do we think about them?

Is a media-friendly yoga teacher a natural outcome of yoga’s presence in America’s consumer culture? Turns out the peaceful yoga crowd at Omega had a lot to say, as well…

Read the article and send in your thoughts…. had any experiences with”celebrity” yogis?

Wanderlust Not Woodstock; Props from NYTimes

A bristling bouquet of Wanderlustees arms raised in high lunge.

That’s what you see on the front of today’s NYTimes Arts section, some high profile coverage of yoga’s rock’n’roll bonanza last weekend in Lake Tahoe.

What’s more, John Friend and Duncan Wong front the pack of sun drenched yogis gathered for class at the top of Squaw Valley Mountain to put their arms vigorously in the air.

(Love the headband, no-shirt, sunglasses, crushed straw hat look of yogis practicing outdoors. See the physical paper today and the multimedia show on the Times’ site.)

For all those likening the festival to Woodstock Festival from 1969, the yoga at least has a pretty updated feel to it—even if joints were also smoked in the non-yoga hours. (And according to my sources, the Kula village had an almost bougy vibe at times, Burning Man flashbacks (for some) notwithstanding.)

Jon Hyde for NYTimes. John Friend and Duncan wong lead yogis at Wanderlust

Wanderlust 2009

Woodstock 1969

Woodstock 1969

Reconciling the inner rocker with the outer yogi wasn’t a problem for most people says the Times —and most people I’ve talked to who were out there.

In fact, I’d wager that strict righteousness that keeps yogis from rocking out (literally and metaphorically) only describes a few yogis these days, not the majority. That’s just some kind of bad hype that’s been hanging around.

Jon Hyde for NYTimes. Shiva Rea gets a groove on at the main stage.

Shiva Rea rocks out on the main stage. All color photos by Jon Hyde for NYTimes.

The Times article points out some of the downsides of the festival—the head-scratching combo of indie music (and its fans) and yoga (with its devotees).

“Frankly, when I heard about it,” said Mr. Bird, the singer and multi-instrumentalist who was a headliner on Sunday, “my first reaction was, is that going to work, because some of the bands don’t exactly spell inner peace, musically — nor do I, lyrically.”

The rapper, Common, who replaced the sick Michael Franti last minute, was too lewd for some yogis, and some musicians such as Kaki King could not get their heads around the yoga angle.

“I’m not going to do the hippie dance,” said Kaki King, the Brooklyn-based guitarist and singer who performed early on Saturday on the mountaintop stage. “I’m going to put shoes on and I’m not going to drink any mold” (a reference to kombucha, a fermented tea). And, she continued, “I’m not going to do any yoga.”

Mold! We love mold.

But even if it wasn’t all peace and love, the true spirit of yoga and love of a good time shone through for most.

Gregg Gillis, the mash-up artist who performs as Girl Talk, and whose shows resemble a raunchy spring break party, is about as far removed from peacefulness as possible. But many festival-goers said they got the same rejuvenating charge from raucous dancing as from mindful breathing.

“These are audiences with open minds,” Mr. Gillis said. “Even if they’re not into it, they’re not there to critique it. And if they like it, they’re not embarrassed to get into it.”

The future is looking bright for Wanderlust, which almost broke even in its first year—in the middle of an enormous economic depression. Not bad, not bad. And 2010? Well, they are “already considering expanding Wanderlust next year, to three events on three mountaintops.”

Yes, those hills will surely be alive with the sounds of yogis and music.

Sound of Music

Wanderlust Could Be Yoga’s Burning Man, says Ashley Turner

Yoga ticket sales at Wanderlust are closed as of Saturday afternoon, though tickets for music are still available. The yoga is hot, hot, hot!

In fact, Wanderlust is smoking hot, says Ashley Turner, LA native and bi-coastal yoga teacher who spent Friday and Saturday hanging with yogi friends at the festival’s yoga village.

I spoke to Ashley this morning. Because of a scheduling snafu (she had to teach down in SF on Sat), Ashley didn’t end up teaching at Wanderlust this year.

But she did attend the Friday night VIP party for teachers, artists, and sponsors, as well as the launch part for YAMA (yoga artists management agency. Yes, I know!!!! Weird!)

“Wanderlust is just a very cool idea. I don’t know why we haven’t had yoga conferences like it before,” says Ashley who includes live music in her Friday night classes at the legendary Exhale Center for Sacred Movement, in Santa Monica. She sees the blend of yoga and music as the way of the future.

“I just had time for one class, and I practiced with John Friend under a big tent in the yoga village right before sunset. The breeze was going with that hot summer air. It was amazing to practice in the elements like that.”

                                 Packed house this am for Janet Stone in the Yoga Tree tent @ ... on Twitpic

LEFT: John Friend sees a woman crying during his session. She’s joyously moved. From Ossumnis on TwitPic. RIGHT: Yoga Tree tent, Janet Stone class. From Phyzzyoga on TwitPic.

Turner didn’t have time for any of the big-ticket music events, so I asked her what the scene was like in the yoga village.

“The yoga village was amazing. Most of the teachers and a lot of the participants are staying in the village. You literally walk out the door and there are tons of restaurants and shops. Then at night with bands playing it had a Burning Man edge to it.”

“There were people in costume, on stilts, it’s a whole other artistic edge happening. That vibe adds another dimension to yoga, too. It’s like the mystics and wanderers wandering around us. It was so magical.

“My favorite thing was being with all of my peers from throughout the country converging at one point. All my best friends were there.

“Schuyler and Jeff [Wanderlust organizers] really nailed it. This is the next generation of yoga.”

Emergeny Appendix! Michael Franti Cancels on Wanderlust

News! Michael Franti, one of the big sells of the inaugural Wanderlust music and yoga festival in Squaw Valley, Nevada, this weekend, had to cancel due to appendicitis! Instead of playing the big stage at the big Saturday night concert, he was hospitalized and in surgery.


Best wishes for a speedy recovery, and a headline act at Wanderlust 2010.

But back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Note on Sunday: read Michael Franti’s letter to disappointed fans, explaining the pain that predicted the rupture.

Adi Carter Reports from Wanderlust

I caught up with Adi Carter, of Acro Yoga and Mindfulness Challenge fame, as she was waiting to board a “gondola” to the top of Squaw Valley Mountain to see Commons—Michael Franti’s replacement act—perform some Saturday night magic.

Carter’s favorite moment so far at the jam-packed festival was doing yoga on the VIP deck at the top of the Squaw Valley mountain.

“It’s a pretty cool place to do yoga,” she says, “different from being in a little room” as she has been down in the yoga village.

(VIP ticket-holders only get to experience sweeping views of the Valley, its terrain and forests, as they practice on the deck at the top of the mountain.)

Adi practiced back to back Saturday morning with Duncan Wong of Yogic Arts and then John Friend, founder of Anusara Yoga.

Wanderlust poster

“Yeah, Duncan Wong was pretty cool,” Carter reports. “He blasted Justin Timberlake. Then, in Warrior 1 pose, he turned on the hip hop super loud and told everyone to dance. We just broke out.”

“Wong is super knowledgable and a little crazy. That’s a great combo.”

Aside from rockin’ it out with yoga celebrities on the VIP deck, Carter has been teaching Acro yoga in the Yoga Village, where most of the yoga classes have been held. “I’ve been teaching slack line down in the jungle gym, romper room. It’s pretty cool.”

On Sunday, says Carter, the Acro Yogis might string a slack line across the swimming pool in the VIP area. I guess that might turn out to be slack line aqua yoga.

Stay tuned for more from Adi and others at Wanderlust this weekend.

Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough

I don’t often practice ashtanga anymore, but last Friday I needed to move. I needed something familiar and not to heady. I decided to take a led class just up the street from me where the teacher was good.

About 2/3 of the way through the zillion jump-backs and chaturangas, a car stereo outside the street-level studio started pumping out Michael Jackson. And we had him–crackly, staticky and super loud–for the rest of the class.

I’ve been hearing yoga teachers around the city talk about playing MJ in their asana classes. If you’ve ever had a yen to play Thriller in yoga, this is your week.

We could all probably do with a dose of  Don’t Stop til You Get Enough (a possible theme to any great yoga class) or The Way You Make Me Feel as we absorb the loss and celebrate MJ’s genius.



Pattabhi Jois Memorial NYC, June 14, 2009

Sunday, June 14, ashtangis and the greater yoga community of New York City gathered in Donna Karan‘s gorgeous Urban Zen space in Manhattan’s West Village for an evening of remembrances celebrating the life and legacy of Shri K. Pattabhi Jois.

Entering Urban Zen for P. Jois Memorial

The white space was hung with long yellow scrims that caught the late afternoon light and brightened the windowless space. The black cushions on the floor were strewn with the petals of red roses, and garlands large and small framed sepia-toned pictures of Guruji at the front of the space. Food was served the back–delicious spicy popped rice with chutney, and samosas and chai.

Jois the father

Four hundred people had RSVPd. Those who came were a good-looking bunch, with a lean, clean, healthy glow. Many had young children with them.  It was a grown-up yoga community, one that has weathered their initial zeal for yoga and matured into seasoned practitioners.

Representing the yoga world were Alison West (Yoga Union), Leslie Kaminoff (Breathing Project), Michelle Demus (Pure Yoga), Hari Kaur (Golden Bridge), Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman (Urban Zen), James Murphy (Iyengar Yoga NY), Carlos Menjiva (Jivamukti), and someone from Bikram yoga.

Jois teaching

On the walls around the space, photos of Guruji, his family, his students, and his travels over the years played in a continuous loop. After Eddie Stern, Jois’ long-time student, director of Ashtanga Yoga New York, introduced the evening, three Hindu priests changed a part of the Upanishads, 18 minutes of piercing, passionate sound meant to disperse the elements back into the world, to help Guruji on his journey. In the background of this austere music, was the sound of children chirping and playing.

Videos of Jois

“When a great person is born into the world, he affects everyone,” said Stern. “Regardless of whether they follow his teachings or not.”

Other speakers mentioned Pattabhi Jois’ generosity as a teacher, the inclusiveness of his sangha, and his “sympathetic joy”—his availability to all who had even just a flicker of interest in trying yoga.

“He took complete delight that someone was growing through their yoga practice,” said John Campbell, long-time student.

Ruth Lauer-Manenti, a senior Jivamukti teacher, relayed the story of how she first went to Mysore to practice with Pattabhi Jois. “Sharon Gannon [director and co-founder of Jivamukti] had just come back from Mysore. She was thin, thin, thin. She looked kind of green and she had a dislocated shoulder. She said, Ruth, you gotta go. So I went the next day.”

” ‘Yes you can’ was his message—it’s what so many of us took from him,” said Lauer-Manenti whose practice helped her to heal from a near-fatal car accident.

“He always wanted you to do your best, including making it to his birthday every year.”


Jois believed—in fact, he lived the idea—that yoga is the science of transformation: 1% theory, 99% practice. Yoga is mind control: controlling your helter-skelter thoughts and practicing love (plus a 2hr, 6-days-a-week, demanding asana practice) instead.

As he famously said, “Do your practice and all is coming.”

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