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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.

Stubdog: Half-Price Yoga?

According to the ad copy on Flavorpill’s “thehookup,” Stubdog offers half price tickets on music, comedy, dance, special parties—and YOGA.

Is that yoga classes, yoga events, yoga fashion trunk shows? Not clear. A quick search of the site turned up zero offerings in any of their cities currently (Houston, Los Angeles, Dallas/Ft Worth, New York).

But a half-price anything is worth it these days. So I pass it along to you, dear reader. Maybe while you’re waiting for a yoga class to pop onto the list you’ll catch an Afro-Cuban extravaganza or the next Eddie Izzard?

Stubdog for Event Tickets – Houston, Los Angeles, Dallas/Ft Worth

Bollywood 101

Bollywood 101, a great film series, has been happening this fall at the Ossining, NY, Public Library. The last screening is this Saturday at 4pm. Don’t miss it!

It’s run by my friend and colleague, former punk rock East Village 80s bartender chick, grammarian supreme, and all around excellent person, Carolyn Lengel.

With her husband Mike Enright, and daughter Harriet, they not only curate the film series, they make these great YouTube videos as promos, interviewing themselves (here Harriet delivers her commentary while hanging laundry) and Bollywood experts while showing clips from the featured film.

From Carolyn’s message:

Escape to the Ossining Public Library at 4 p.m. on Saturday, December 5, for the grand finale of the “Bollywood 101” film series, LAGE RAHO MUNNA BHAI (2006), a completely charming movie about a Mumbai gangster who falls in love and begins to see visions of Gandhi.

What better way to get in a holiday mood?

Even if you can’t make it to Ossining, you can join in the fun from the sidelines. Watch theYouTube videos and join Bollywood 101 on Facebook. Stay tuned!

Eating Meat–or Not?

It’s true that I eat meat: the humanely raised, grass-fed kind. I have been surprised by how many restaurants offer it. There’s even a full on BBQ place that’s all organic near where I live.

In fact, to eat good meat that’s not full of hormones, antibiotics and that won’t contribute to any being’s misery has been my New Year’s resolution for a few years running. (Sometime towards the end of the year I find myself at a dinner party or in Chinatown breaking it, hence the need for a re-up.)

With the end of the year approaching there comes a slew of help from the New York Times, and, of course, literary star, Jonathan Safran Foer whose recent book is Eating Animals, and why we shouldn’t.

Mitchell Feinberg for the NYTimes

Mitchell Feinberg for the NYTimes

I have to confess that these days I eat mostly vegan anyway. No dairy, no sugar, no meat, no wheat (not that vegans avoid gluten). It’s not quite a question of ethics, but what is easier to digest. And what will keep me healthier now that it’s plague season. (The subway: H1N1 incubator?)

According to the Times, 1% of Americans in 2009 are vegan, and it’s getting easier and easier to find vegan food. Not just at ethnic resautrants such as Indian and Thai, but in mainstream America. A 17-year old Long Island boy—a vegan—managed to instigate a slew of vegan fare at his father’s pizzeria where he works. It attracted a vegan crowd.

Moo-Cluck Bakery on Long Island sells retail and wholesale. And it’s not just the vegans who like their cakes: the bakery owners, “took a box of several dozen Moo-Cluck cookies to a family Christmas party of 30 people last year, intending it for a vegan relative.

“The vegan arrived too late to enjoy the gift. Half an hour after Ms. Cummings brought them into the house, the cookies were gone, she said. “All the nonvegans ate them.”

If cutting out meat, dairy, and sugar seems dire to you, consider this: vegans eat cookies like everyone else.

Here’s a cookbook to prove it: Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar: 100 Dairy-Free Recipes for Everyone’s Favorite Treats by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero (Da Capo).

That’s sounds like holiday fun (though the reviewer of her sister’s vegan cookies in this article thought they tasted “like homework.”)

Decide for yourself. Make your own resolution.

LuLu or Cult: Clothes Call?

The NYTimes Style section today (The Critical Shopper) goes after the LuLu culture, focusing on the boppy, sunny, perky, happy, can-do, yes’m attitude of the staffers. The writer walks into the flagship store in Manhattan (sounds like the set-up to a joke) and “A nanosecond after I entered, a spunky girl greeted me with a “Hi!” as if she were my life coach or wife.”

His take is that it’s all a bit culty. Not just out on the LuluLemon-covered streets (which is what New York Magazine’s juicy LuLuLemon article this past summer was talking about), but in the store itself.

LuluLemon works hard to create such boppy attitude in its educators, with personal growth coaching that sometimes includes a session at Landmark Forum.

This is not very “yoga,” but it is to be expected if you are to create a brand that appeals to the public on a global scale. Lululemon understands that we like our enlightenment to be results-oriented, self-esteem boosting and comfortable so that we can flop on the couch after doing our inner work and watch “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Hmm, true: how many of us like our enlightenment to be results-oriented? Many, I’d guess, though we’d never say, “Oh, checked in with Brahman, supreme cosmic spirit from Hindu Vendanta philosophy this morning, cross that off today’s to-do list.”

Aside from using the word relentlessly relentlessly (well, twice, gad zooks! “relentlessly sunny”, “relentlessly cheery”), he also does his bit to give the back story on Chip Wilson and review the clothes. He likes the selection of men’s clothes. He seems to practice yoga himself. He’s a fair reviewer, not beneath a bit of ribbing:

Some of the get-ups are insanely garish. Run Ultra pants have black and white swirly striped panels over purple fabric and look like something Patricia Heaton wears on one of her 14 sitcoms; cropped bottoms with green plaid fabric around the waist is fine if you want to look like a Scotch tape dispenser while you are in Uttanasana.

Any Lulu article must discuss the unusual materials in their clothes, and Albo obliges. And, like the NYMag writer, he takes a shot at the purpose of wearing those hot pants anyway (hint: it’s not all about “wicking away moisture”):

The materials, with names like Silverescent and Luon, are obsessed with wicking away sweat and therefore suit the typical yoga-goer’s secret mantra: I am willing to bow to an elephant-headed god, but I refuse to look skanky when I walk to my car after class because there might be a hot guy around.

It seems we can’t get enough of LuLu, even if we’re making fun of her: she’s an easy entree into yoga culture for, well, people who perhaps relate more to the lifestyle aspect of yoga than the, say, sutra-studying aspect. And she provides an opportunity to play in the entertaining contradictions in this yoga-saturated moment.

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.

Do Yoga…. Naked!

Hot Nude Yoga has been a thing for the gay community for some time already. But efforts to cross-over into the hetero side haven’t seen much result.

Today I learned that Naked Yoga NYC: Asana Exposed has been offering a full schedule of classes since January 2008 at a secret location in midtown Manhattan. “Sensual shaman” Isis Phoenix leads the way.

“This liberating practice began in May 2007 and due to increased popularity has opened its own sacred sanctuary Phoenix Temple in midtown Manhattan, an urban celebration for the holy body and sensual spirit founded January 2008. ”

Yes, these naked classes are co-ed.

“We are reclaiming and celebrating our bodies,” said Phoenix, who starts each class with a disrobing ceremony,” as reported in the New York Post last summer.

“The first 10 minutes of class for anyone who is new, there’s always a sense of trepidation,” said Phoenix. “It dissolves very quickly.”

Naked Yoga NYC

You can take group classes or privates with any of the luscious ladies who staff Naked Yoga NYC. In group classes, choose from a menu of erotically-named sessions: “Sensual Candlelit Nude Yoga,” “Bare Energy Yoga,” “Naked Yoga Basics,” “Basin of Power: Goddess Pelvis Ritual for Women” or “Chakra Intensive: Lovers’ Workout.”

Not being a nudist myself, I have a hard time understanding how yoga gets better sans clothes.  Isn’t it just….messier and more distracting? As the center acknowledges on their FAQ page, things do “come up.”

“Erections come up and go down and are part of being a fully functional being and living in a body. No part of the body is ever shamed or discouraged. Part of this practice is about healing and removing shame and guilt from all areas of our body and accepting the beauty of the body in the totality of expression. Bodies are honored in all shapes, sizes and energetic flows.”

No touching, no late entry, no early departure.

And no giggling.