Tag Archive for 'New York Times'

In the Amazon, the Insects Love Me

In the Amazon, the Insects Love Me

I’ve been in the Amazon two weeks now—it’s a wild place. Rough, tough, with an edge of violence. Even its insects are aggressive. I’ve been suffering from all kinds of insect attacks—and mosquitoes are only the beginning.

My first day on Ilha de Marajó, where the police ride water buffalo (no kidding), I went without bug repellent—July is the low season for mosquitoes, and they weren’t bothering me particularly. I ate dinner at a beach shack blasting telenovelas (soap operas) the only restaurant open near my isolated pousada. I even stayed outside reading into the evening without any kind of protection. I had some lofty idea about building up antibodies by allowing a few critters to gnaw at me for a while.

Needless to say, within a few hours my pale, North American limbs were dotted with red spots every centimeter. They would have made a perfect poster for DEET: “Don’t mess with the Amazon, kids, or this could happen to you!”

I was soon taking tumeric (to counter inflammation) and applying tea-tree oil to the bites (a strategy recommended by Carmen, an Italian woman I met in Belém) making me smell like a cross between a curry and a dentist’s office.

Then I arrived in Santarém, a small river city on the Amazon about equidistant from Belém and Manaus. I stayed in the cheapest recommended hotel near the busy waterfront, Hotel Brasil. My room had a cheap lock on the door, and its polyester sheets looked like they had not seen the laundry in months. The mattress had about the same comfort as an old chewy pancake.

The room had a window and a fan, but somehow still no air. The next day, after hardly sleeping for the heat and the mosquitoes, the back of my left arm had an odd bumpy texture. I felt along it with my right hand. What was this?? Then I looked—completely chewed up. Gross. I suspected the mattress. For sure, it was a breeding ground. Fleas? Or some Amazonian species of noxious bug?

So there I was with my lumpy arms and my red Dalmatian legs strolling along the river-front of Santarém. Ah, life in the Amazon was good. I ate my packet of fried bananas (they were stale), bought from a grumpy lady in a headscarf, and drank a fresh coconut juice from a woman who could hardly interrupt her gossiping to attend to me. Wasn’t traveling great! This was the life!

Just then a Peruvian clown, also staying at Hotel Brasil, recognized me. He came over. He was so poor that he hesitated to pay the R$2 ($1 US) for a fresh coconut juice.

We walked out onto a floating dock where locals were fishing under the full moon, throwing the silver fish into the middle of the dock.

“How old do you think I am?” he asked. Juan Carlos had traveled from Lima to the Brazilian Amazon, selling bracelets and earrings to make money along the way. He hung them on a black cloth stretched over a wooden frame. He also juggled plastic pins at traffic intersections while drivers waited for the light to turn. Both earned him a few reals, pennies really. Brasil, a nation on the rise, has become expensive.

“Uh… 40.” I said, sort of annoyed at his question.

“Nossa!” he exclaimed, “Not that old! I’m 38!” But pretty close, I thought. Life on the road hadn’t been super kind to Juan Carlos.

“No family, no place to call home?” I asked. With his dreads and slightly swollen face, he looked a bit worse for wear. He seemed to be sharing a room at Hotel Brasil with a hippie chick with a grim expression and dreadlocks held back under a bandana. She also sold jewelry. She never looked happy—or trustworthy. Perhaps she needed better drugs. Juan Carlos said she stole from him in Parantins, at the Boi Bumba festival. The room they split cost $15 US. Not a whole lot to squabble over.

The next day, I joined the NGO Saude é Alegria (health and happiness) for a 4-day boat-tour of remote communities on the Rio Ararpiuns. We crossed the Amazon and the Tapajós rivers to reach the arching Ararpiuns. I was now living completely in Portuguese. People kept saying how good my Portuguese was, but I could not communicate complex ideas and I couldn’t jump into conversations. It was very challenging. I was living in the realm of “the gist of things” with the vocabulary of a 7-year-old.

But even more challenging was trying to understand the mameluco —the river dwellers who are descendants of native people and escaped African slaves (caboclos are descendants of native people and Europeans, specific to the Amazon). Even the people from São Paulo (Paulistas) had trouble understanding them.

But everyone understood my bug bites. The bites drew comments. The weirdest of the bites happened near the village of Arimum. We were on a forest walk to look at medicinal trees. The next day I watched an enormous, bulbous blister grow on my left knee. It was like a bug had pitched camp and inflated its own command center there.

The blister was so weird and ugly that it even weirded-out the mameluco who’ve lived in the Amazon—with its birds, animals, fish and insects–for thousands of years. There was no medicinal tree, apparently, for me.

After much discussion, the local medicine woman and the head guy agreed that I had been bitten by a forest insect that lived in wet areas (everywhere, basically) called “taxí” (ta-shee). The bug’s tactic was to leave a trail of urine (“xixí”–shee-shee) so acidic that it literally burned the skin. What wasn’t blistering was angry and red, as though slashed with a hot iron.

It was gross, but it was fascinating. The locals and my NGO companions kept asking to look at it, staring with bulging eyes and mouths agape. Then they would invariably shake their heads, “Nossa Senhora!”

After two days of commentary, Nelso, the nice kind of head guy of the village of Atodí, who wore a knock-off Nike shirt, jean shorts, and bare feet, recommended gently puncturing it. He took a spiny needle from a nearby Amazonian tree. They were practically spitting out sharp needles.

“Is it clean?” I asked dubiously. Although this might not have been the right question. Maybe I should have asked, is it poison-free?

“Sure, sure it’s clean,” he said. “It’s from the forest.” In my book, this doesn’t count as clean. He wiped it on the ground. “Don’t worry.”

I sat on a concrete slab outside the newly constructed eco-tourism bathroom, and he knelt beside me with the forest needle and a ribbon of toilet paper. He punctured the bulb and gently squeezed the liquid out onto the absorbent paper. It didn’t hurt but the blister also didn’t want to drain. Command center was not about to evacuate.

After several minutes, a small crowd was gathering. “It will fill up again,” Nelso said, touching the tender red areas carefully. “But puncture it again and it will drain completely the second time.” He shook my hand to say goodbye without looking me in the eye. I wasn’t sure if this was local custom– habitual shyness–or if he was completely disgusted.

I returned to Santarém and the bug infested hotel—this time armed with a hammock that I strung up between the walls. Before bed I slathered on anti-bacterial cream and hosed myself down with bug spray. Then I slept with the windows open and a thin sarong completely pulled up, even over my head, in spite of the heat. The last frontier might just possibly be my face. No way was I going to wake up looking like Elephant Man.

After surviving the mosquitoes, fleas or miscellaneous jungle-bugs, Peruvian clowns, and taxí, I decided to head to Alter do Chão, a little beach town, for a few days of R & R.

There I met up with Ana who I’d met on the NGO adventure. She’d encountered Marcos, a lonely Paulista, at our pousada. Together we hired Raimundo and his boat to go an hour across the Rio Tapajós to visit Dona Rosalinda.

Dona Rosalinda is a different kind of river dweller—she lives in the river not alongside it. Her house is on stilts. Part of the year is it almost underwater (though in recent years, it has been partially submerged as the water levels have risen. She copes by lifting everything–sofas, beds, tables– up onto temporary wooden beams).

Raimundo’s boat pulled up to Dona Rosalinda’s door, and—braless and almost toothless after a whole life spent there raising 10 children—she came out to help us tie the boat. Her 9-year-old granddaughter, Eloise, dressed in a pink dress and pigtails, bounced along behind her.

We weren’t there for 10 minutes before Dona Rosalinda noticed my damaged left leg. “O que isso?” What’s this? She said looking a bit horrified. Ana, taking pity on my Portuguese, explained: It was the work of a forest bug that left a trail of piss that burned her leg….

Dona Rosalinda went to get a needle and rubbing alcohol. In a scene that was starting to feel familiar, we gathered around my grotesque knee and the commentary began.

“Never seen anything like it!” exclaimed Dona Rosalinda.

“Didn’t know it was possible!” said Raimundo.

“What a sight!” said Marcos.

Dona Rosalinda handed me the needle. I punctured the bulb. It had, as Nelso said, risen up again, though not as far. As before, it didn’t want to drain. Big tears of liquid formed and slowly dropped down my leg.

Dona Rosalinda asked to take a turn with the needle. She leaned in close, and with a shaky hand, stabbed away. I got the feeling she enjoyed it.

We stood around for a long time, watching the blister’s water plop down my leg. Then we got in the canoe and Eloise piloted us through the half-submerged forest (sometimes called the Enchanted Forest) crashing into spiny trees and thwacking us with low-hanging branches.

“Cuidad, Eloise! Tem pessoas atras!” said Raimundo was was paddling at the back. “Careful of the people behind you!”

The canoe, with 5 people on board, sat low in the water. Ana was afraid that a jacaré (cayman) would swim up into our laps. Marcos was afraid of swimming snakes, cobras in the water. We saw a sloth descending a tree, quite quickly for a sloth, and several birds, large and small, bright blue, black, and bright yellow. Eloise talked nonstop. It began to rain.

Dona Rosalinda invited us to stay for lunch since it was now pouring. She threw 5 small fish on her makeshift barbecue—metal skewers over bricks—including a piranha that she fed to the dog, Poeta. Eloise made instant rice in a small dark kitchen. Dessert was guava paste in condensed milk on toothpicks. After, we sat in the living room that was plastered with glossy posters of Virgin Mary festivals. Arrangements of plastic flowers sat on piles of disorderly clothes and trinkets. We drank extremely sweet coffee.

When the rain cleared, we said goodbye and Raimundo took us back over the Tapajõs. The river was very windy and choppy. For an hour we sped along slapping the water with spine-jamming bumps. We were sprayed every few minutes by the struggling river—completely soaked. My blister was draining the whole time, mingling its infected waters with the river’s.

But it was a great day—surprising, interesting, fun, unusual. We’d seen dolphins, an eagle, two kinds of monkeys in the trees along the river. I was surprised that people could live that way, literally in the river, for generations. The colors were intense and beautiful. Eloise was confident and charming. There were hugs all around as we left. Dona Rosalinda cried.

But I was even more surprised when I got back to the pousada (inn) in Alter do Chão that evening to see that the reluctant blister was almost completely dry. Then I realized why: my knees were burned. I’d been sitting in the wind and the sun on the open boat, not feeling the heat because we were wet the whole time.

Perfect, I thought. A perfect end to an ugly mess. Now both knees were equally red, pulsing with discomfort. Que mais? What next?

Get Real: Controversial Writer talks about “The Science of Yoga”

New York Times senior science writer, William J. Broad came under fire in early January for his article How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body”. In it, he recounted shocking stories and studies of yoga-related injuries. The article enraged parts of the yoga community who felt it scared newcomers and discredited yoga.

As provocative as the article was, Broad’s book, The Science of Yoga, is solidly researched—and fascinating. He reviews 150 years of studies, giving readers a very good idea of the scientifically measured benefits (healing, inspiration, sexual power) and the dangers (physical injury, group thinking) of yoga asana practice.

I had the chance to interview WJB about the whole experience.

YN: Were you surprised by the response to the NYTimes article?The Science of Yoga by William Broad

WJB: I was surprised by lots of things. On the one hand there was lots of email about, “if you think that’s bad, let me tell you my horror story.” Spinal infarcts, vertigo, that kind of thing. But I also got extremely un-yogic responses like the bitter invective from a 30-year veteran yoga teacher who said, “Go fuck yourself,” and a yogini in L.A. who said, “You are a jerk, you don’t know anything about yoga.”

YN: Do you attribute this to the growing pains of what you call Yoga 2.0, “the modern variety” of yoga, especially in the West?

WJB: I hope that’s what it is! That’s part of my naive optimism. Science demonstrates lots of benefits of yoga—neuro-transmitters that help your mood, help your sex life and so on. The science also clearly demonstrates that yoga as we know it contains alluring myths such as, that yoga helps you lose weight, or it’s the only exercise you need, etc. This just isn’t true.

I hope the outcry is part of the process of starting a conversation. And I’m hopeful that there’s a growing realization that yoga can be better. Which for some people is a contradiction. They think, yoga is ancient and what can be better than that? But the science says that there are issues and it can be better.

Another surprising aspect of the feedback has been the depth of the reform movement. I had no idea. People using props, Iyengar teachers tailoring poses to people rather than the other way around. There are dozens of groups, schools, and styles that are working hard to provide this evolutionary agenda. That delighted me.

YN: So the reform movement would be more in the direction of Yoga 3.0 or 4.0.

WJB: Of course, those are arbitrary numbers. Yoga is this thing that’s being born all around us.

YN: What were some of your favorite “me too” stories from the letters you received?

WJB: Some of them moved me almost to tears. Two people who stand out are former studio owners, who say, ”Woah, you ain’t kidding. Do we have things to tell you,” such as a lifetime of surgery and therapy on their own spines. In one case, one of them had been working with celebrity yogis, creating curriculums. She was forming very visible programs and was very much in the mainstream.

YN: Speaking of reform, have you heard of International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT)?

WJB: I talk about IAYT in the chapter on healing. For 3 years I was a member. I’d send them my membership fee and they’d send me a credential with gold fancy lettering. I’ve seen them hanging in yoga studios—I hope they stop that practice because it’s just about the $75, not about having an actual diploma.

To their credit—because what I want is for yoga to become more professional—they are trying to create standards and schools with standardized curriculum. That’s great! I’m hoping for yoga doctors, myself. I think it’s an outrage that we spend 10s of billion dollars on fix-this, fix-that pills when anyone who does yoga seriously knows it’s a better way. Yoga done right is grown up. It says, “I take responsibility for myself and I have control over what I do” in a way that popping pills doesn’t.

So, I applaud them but on the other hand they did send me three fake diplomas

YN: So you think they don’t go far enough.

WJB: There’s a lot of guru worship out there and cultish schools finely dividing themselves into factions and sticking to what they think is the truth. That’s why science is so powerful because it looks at what is real and what is not real. It can be more objective.

The Science of Yoga is the first book to look at the century and a half of science on yoga. The science can illuminate a lot of what are bogus claims and what are understated truths.

YN: It seems like you’re saying that yoga is both much better and also worse than we thought. It’s much more extreme—handle with care!

WJB: Exactly. In my own practice, I did it for stress management. But fundamentally, yoga is much more extreme than a stress management system. As a science journalist I was blown away by the mysteries of the practice.

YN: Can you give an example?

WJB: How low can the human metabolism go while maintaining a level of consciousness? Is suspended animation possible? We can actually go into a deeper hibernation that a turtle or a bear—that’s quite amazing.

How possible is continuous bliss—sexual, or whatever you want? Some people can so stir their inner fire that they enter these states of continuous ecstasy that is allied with sexual ecstasy. Possibly these are states of enlightenment.

YN: You say that you started to research in 2006—did the subject matter require more research than you expected?

WJB: I thought I was going to do it in 9 months but it took 5 years. In many cases, the science was more difficult than I thought.

The sexual chapter alone took 3 years. There was some evidence to wrestle with. Some research said that yoga makes sex hormones decline. That wasn’t intuitively right to me and had not been my experience. I put that away for a while. When I’d go back to it, I’d still think that it didn’t add up. Then some advanced yogis talked to me about continuous bliss and all kinds of stuff, and then things started falling into place. But it took time.

YN: Speaking of sexual bliss, I noticed that you refer to Tantra only as a sex cult. The Himalayan Institute, where I’ve been studying, takes pains to separate left and right-handed Tantra. You don’t do that. Was this a conscious choice?

WJB: It’s very much in their interest to separate left and right handed, isn’t it? Tantra is a muddy subject. There’s layer after layer of symbolic misrepresentation. It’s gets so convoluted and strange—it’s a deep well.

YN: It strays into the magical, for sure.

WJB: Tantra gets into magic and trickery, frauds and pretexts for having fun. And they call it spirituality. Then there are serial philanderers such as Muktananda and Swami Rama, their 60-yr old bodies humming with vitality and they’re going down on any woman who’s willing—it’s bizarre.

How can they rationalize that appalling behavior? There’s lots of literature about the hard effects of betraying that doctor-patient relationship. There are women traumatized by these swamis: he was their God and their God kept going down on them and doing these weird things!

YN: It’s hard to understand—puzzling and disappointing.

WJB: And yet it’s worth meditating on in the sense that it’s real so we don’t want to hide from it.

YN: Your parameters for “yoga” didn’t include much meditation and pranayama. I’m sure you know of the research studies done by Jon Kabat-Zinn (on mindfulness meditation) and Richard Miller (on yoga nidra/iRest). What was your thinking there?

WJB: Initially, I wanted to have the research to be physically-based, but then my research went over into neurological areas such as in the muse and sex chapter. There’s a hugely overlooked area in what yoga does as a powerful stimulus to creativity, for example.

It’s also because it’s the way the industry goes right now—so much of the yoga we do is physical and doesn’t tolerate any meditation or pranayama. This is not Patanjali’s 8-fold path. It may be a misrepresentative slice of what got shipped out from India.

RIP Jack the Cat

Maybe it’s pre-11.11.11 vibes—you know, on Friday we shift into the long-awaited Acquarian age, according to Yogi Bhajan. Oct 28 marked the long-awaited end of one big cycle of the Mayan calendar.

Or maybe it’s just me—I’ve  spontaneously stopped eating much meat or drinking much alcohol lately, and it’s making me sensitive to, you know, broccoli, kale, and stories about animals.

Jack in good health

This story about Jack the Cat really got to me today.

Jack the Cat escaped his carrying case before being loaded onto and American Airlines flight bound for California on August 25, where his owner, Karen, was moving.

Lost in the airport for 61 days, he fell through the ceiling at JFK customs on October 25 and was rushed to pet hospital in Manhattan.

American Airlines flew Karen back to New York to attend to her cat. But he was too weak from malnutrition and dehydration to continue on. On Sunday, after Karen had flown back home, Jack was put to sleep, surrounded by Karen’s friends and supporters.

Despite measures like a feeding tube, intravenous fluids, antibiotics and one operation, veterinarians finally recommended euthanasia.

“Forty to 60 percent of his body area was affected by devitalized tissue, tissue without blood flow,” Dr. Daly said.

A Facebook page devoted to Jack, Jack the Cat Is Lost in AA Baggage at J.F.K., had more than 24,400 “likes” as of Monday morning. On Sunday, a post entitled “RIP Jack — Full Info” reported that Jack had “gone over the rainbow bridge.”

Rest in peace, furry friend.

Sniff.

Adding “Namaste” to Bachelorette Parties

As reported in the New York Times today, more young brides are adding fitness to their bachelorette parties. And that includes yoga.

Are you surprised?

What surprises me (constantly, sigh) is the endless creative ways that entrepreneurs organize yoga for busy brides-to-be. Writes the Times:

It’s not just New Yorkers: The Los Angeles-based company Yoga for Weddings (slogan: “Bringing the Deep Breath to the Big Day”) offers private 90-minute classes, with a focus on “heart-opening poses” like the Cobra, for brides-to-be and their pals in nine United States cities (cost: $500). Innerlight Center for Yoga and Meditation in Middletown, R.I., started offering $200-an-hour bachelorette parties last year; already demand this year has tripled, said Kim Chandler, the center’s director.

That’s a lot of cash for a little namaste with your girlfriends…. but it’s about priorities.

I’m guessing smart companies know that a few sweaty down dogs with your closest lady friends might work out better in the long run than a big drunken glitter-covered mess that you don’t remember well even the next morning.

Photo c/o the New York Times

Yoga + Infertility = Baby?

Women battling infertility is a familiar (though harrowing) story these days. Women using yoga to reduce stress and love themselves better is another familiar story. So it comes as no surprise that yoga is helping women to cope with the physical and emotional stress of infertility and its treatments…

It’s also not a new idea. My ob/gyn, Dr. Eden Fromberg, opened Lila Wellness Center in New York several years ago to meet women’s pre-and post- (and pre- pre-) natal needs. And there have been programs such as Receptive Nest, and studios such as Brooklyn’s Bend & Bloom, helping women to reach full “bloom” in their childbearing years. Other renegade yoga specialists have been helping women for years to make the all-important mind-body connection necessary.

But the NYTime’s article this weekend, “Yoga as Stress Relief: An Aid for Infertility?” raises this issue with a new twist: once-skeptical fertility professionals (doctors) are giving yoga the green light. The tide is turning in how acceptable yoga is to support women in their quest to become pregnant.

Medical acceptance of yoga as a stress reliever for infertility patients is slowly growing. In 1990, when Dr. Domar first published research advocating a role for stress reduction in infertility treatment, “I wasn’t just laughed at by physicians,” she said. “I was laughed at by Resolve, the national infertility organization. They all said I was perpetuating a myth of ‘Just relax, and you’ll get pregnant.’ ” At the last meeting for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, Dr. Domar, now on the national board of Resolve, gave multiple talks, including one about how to help the mind and body work together in infertile couples.

And this is a national phenomenon, not just a jag in New York or San Francisco where there are always a handful of people pushing the envelope.


Still, even with yoga’s help, infertility doesn’t sound like too much fun.

“A lot of people want to boil it down to ‘If you relax, it will happen,’ ” Ms. Petigara, a former in vitro fertilization patient who adopted a son, wrote in an e-mail. “I absolutely feel that yoga can have a very positive impact on infertility, but infertility is a lot more than ‘just relaxing.’ ”

Oh!!! As in, lie back and think of England? Well, yoga never was really about passivity.

If you happen to be dealing with infertility right now, you can attend the March 17th tele-seminar on “Yoga for Fertility” led by Jill Petigara, who teaches in the Philadelphia area. But you’ll have to Google the details.

Food for thought

New York Times Reports on Licensing Issue

Today, none other than Arthur Sulzberger’s 28-yr old son, A.G., reported on the still hot-ticket issue of licensing New York yoga studios. Thank you, A.G.! Your press helps the cause.

Yoga Association of New York (YANY) was officially ratified on Wednesday, at OM Yoga, at its second official meeting. For more news on what’s been happening since I last wrote, see my upcoming post on YogaDork. (I’ll remind you!)

Alison West

Alison West, president of the newly ratified YANY, teaching at her studio, Yoga Union. Photo for NYTimes by Ruby Washington.

For now, Sulzberger, who attended YANY’s first meeting, traces the origin of the conflict to the very creation of the Yoga Alliance in 1999. This attempt at self-regulation, according to Leslie Kaminoff of the Breathing Project, made yoga studios a sitting duck for cash-flow challenged government looking for new sources of income. (A government that thinks yoga’s popularity means that studios are raking in the big bucks.)

” “We made it very, very easy for them to do what they’re doing right now,” said Leslie Kaminoff, founder of the Breathing Project, a nonprofit yoga center in New York City, who had opposed the formation of the Yoga Alliance. “The industry of yoga is a big, juicy target.” ”

Sulzberger continues, “In New York State, though, teachers fought back, complaining that the new rules could erode thin bottom lines, contradict religious underpinnings and, most important, shut down every school in the state during an eight-month licensing period.”

“It basically destroys the essence of yoga, to control and manipulate the whole situation,” said Jhon Tamayo of Atmananda Yoga Sequence in Manhattan, shortly after receiving one of the warning letters from the state. “No one can regulate yoga.””

The dispute is far from over. But there’s a sense that YANY, at least, is in it for the long haul. And, in the immediate, there is some light at the end of the tunnel—stay tuned for my report via YogaDork! (With pics and docs)

(On another note, A.G. Sulzberger’s piece marks a nice departure from the usual isn’t-that-weird tone that a lot of articles on yoga take. Thanks again, A.G., for taking the cause seriously.)

Coming Back to Mainstream–It’s All Good

Last week, The New York Times’ Social Q’s column by Phillip Galaines ran a Q from a yoga student pissed off about a loud OM-er in her class. Here’s the letter, and Galaines’ reply:

“Spare Us the Om

A new person joined my yoga class and has a habit of yelling her “Om!” She ignores the soft beginning and jumps in with a deafening wail, which she continues long after the rest of us are finished. Any suggestions?

Leslie Dumont, Manhattan

Smells like a hit: “Downward Dog” starring Ethel Merman!

A Zen yogi would find a way to accept the deafening chant as a lesson in tolerance — which is probably why you came to me instead. So, if the Human Foghorn is really bothering you, ask your yoga teacher to intervene. Or take a deep breath as you sit cross-legged on your mat and repeat after me: “May this be the worst problem I have today.” ”

What’s so remarkable about this complaint and reply is not the content—who hasn’t been in a yoga class where someone chanted too loudly, off key, with bad breath etc? (or did something else that got under your skin)—but that a social ettiquette columnist for the New York Times knew how to answer the question.

Maybe he’s a yogi?

Or, maybe our culture is getting a lot more savvy about yoga.

Culturally, this is light years away from general consciousness about yoga 40 years ago. Not in a good or bad way—just different.

Compare this to the “feel” of this review of Paul McCartney’s benefit concert for the David Lynch Foundation from April– read it here–populated by people who really lived the ’60s. It’s got that groovy, pre-hippie, peace, love, and dope-smoking feel to it.

By contrast, the Social Q is very status quo.

(Cool thing is, the April benefit was to raise money to teach meditation to children. That’s right—says it right here:

“The concert was a benefit for the David Lynch Foundation, which seeks to teach Transcendental Meditation to a million students worldwide. “Every child should have one class period a day to dive within himself,” reads the manifesto at davidlynchfoundation.org. “This is the way to save the coming generation.” ”

McCartney, joined by Ringo Starr, sang some songs “that Mr. McCartney wrote during a 1968 trip that the Beatles (and Donovan) took to learn Transcendental Meditation at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in Rishikesh, India.” “)

In the end, it’s all good. Even the loud OM-er.

Recession Blues Quite Real for Yoga Teachers

A few weeks ago, the NYTimes Magazine did a piece on freelance professionals who are suffering under the recession. ( Dristi Yoga blog tipped me off—thanks Dristi!)

The opening anecdote gives a nice, succint picture of what it’s like to be a yoga teacher, recession or no recession. You freelance, you shuttle yourself around the city. At some places all your regulars show up, at others no one comes. You wonder if you might make more money doing something else.

Emily Bazeldon, the reporter, writes: “From Greene Hill, [yoga teacher Lisa] Feuer went to teach a prenatal class elsewhere in Brooklyn; she teaches in Manhattan too, and sometimes she crosses back and forth between the boroughs two or three times a day to get to her web of workplaces. “I spend a lot of time on the train,” she said on the subway to Greene Hill, “and it makes you wonder: If you had a regular job and you didn’t have all that travel time, would you make better money in the end?” She gave a small laugh. “But I love what I do. So I try not to think about that.”

So yes, love is the answer. And the desire to be free of the 9 – 5 shackles. But the article’s outlook is pretty dire.

“Even in her best years, Feuer was never affluent, but with child support she was able to live what she considered a middle-class life. This year, however, because of the classes and students she has lost, Feuer is on track to make as little as $15,000, a 30 percent drop from the past. But because she is underemployed rather than out of work, she is not eligible for unemployment insurance. She also doesn’t show up in the unemployment statistics.”

Yikes! That’s pretty bad.

Times are hard for all freelancers, writes Bazeldon, but when the economy turns (whenever that is), things should pick up again. It’s just hard for the middle-class, used to its i-Phones and coffee shops, to slip into poverty. In the meantime, be extra nice to your yoga teachers—they might be on a steady diet of rice and beans with a side of water. And yoga teachers, creativity might be the answer….

Angel Franco for NYTimes

Angel Franco for the NYTimes. Karl Allen in Manhattan performance (as in performance art) space.

…As in, those with a creative streak seem to be doing better than most  with this best of this batch of lemons. They’re pursuing projects they never had the time for when they were running hither and thither across the city for work. “Defiantly upbeat inspite of grim circumstances” says this inspiring May 19 Times article. An inspiring perspective.

Anyone had a recent experience of losing work then gaining something unexpected and super?

“Yogi, Take Me to a Higher Place”

Practitioner at Kula Yoga Project, TriBeCa, NY

I’m thrilled to have another piece published in the New York Times’ Thursday Styles section. “Yogi, Take Me to a Higher Place” appeared on May 29, 2008.

Read the full piece here.

It was a pleasure to research and write this piece. I spoke to many, many inspired teachers and students who were eloquent and insightful. Would that there had been room to publish even half of their words. I love how people give so much in interviews. A 1200 word piece is a tiny space for the kinds of things one wants to say about advanced practices.

Here are some of great quotes that didn’t make it in:

Linda DiCarlo, President of the Iyengar Yoga National Association of the US defines “advanced” as having facility with the physical poses, a nuanced understanding of the body, and importantly, a deep and sustained meditative focus during practice.

“Beginners are counting the seconds until it’s time to come out—more advanced students will come into that same pose and take 30 seconds or so to refine it. Then they stay. During that experience their nervous system doesn’t jolt them to come out.” In fact, DiCarlo describes the subsequent effects on the intellect as meditative, soothing and delicious.

“Advanced is a little asana a lot of pranayama and then you sit—that’s the ultimate yoga practice,” says Annie Carpenter referring to meditation. “That’s when you get connected and changes happen in ourselves and we bring that into the world.”

“As you get more advanced that narrows the field. And it’s hard if there’s no guru in your town. ” Kino MacGregor’s teacher is in India.

“We have working people rearranging their schedule to come at 9:30am on Friday,” says Anne Phyfe Palmer, director of 8 Limbs Yoga Centers in Seattle. Richard Simone, 45, managing partner of the Global Capital Partners hedge fund in Manhattan, arrives early every day so he can make the advanced classes at Kula Yoga Center nearby. The classes start at 4:15.

Read blog comments about it:

MahaMondo: “I’ve been thinking about being a senior practitioner and its connotation as my teacher mentioned in passing last Saturday that it was MAHA I had brought my SENIOR energy to a studio full of newbies ( & their inseparable water bottles , chug-a-lug) . And on my way out of class this evening, I was asked, “How long have you been doing this ? ” My response being ” going on 7 years, but I’m still learning .” Peter Alejandro is based in LA.

Darren Main: Darren, a senior teacher based in SF, posted the piece in its entirety on his resourceful site.

Sophieherbert.com: Sophie Herbert says, “My teachers in New York and India, who I respect so deeply for selflessly and devotedly pursuing the path of yoga over a course many years, would never label themselves as accomplished or “advanced”.”

A Dissertation on Disillusionment: Blake Cooper grasps the issue of spiritual materialism implicit in the piece: “The duality below: the practicing of and passion for health and yoga vs. the perceived need to spend and accumulate in order to achieve its progress…”