‘Pride and ego are everywhere’

I haven’t seen it during the past month its been online, but apparently Namaste, Bitches is rolling along with 160,000 views. And now a story in the New York Times.

Why am I telling you? Mainly because Eddie Stern is quoted:

“The ancient guru-shishya relationship in India was meant to offset inappropriate behavior,” said Eddie Stern, a veteran New York-based yoga instructor who has a long list of celebrity students, including Madonna. “Without the system of checks and balances that the teacher, or guru, is supposed to provide, the student can become proud, and that feeling of pride leads to the subtle idea that ‘I am free to behave as I want,’ which is not spirituality, but hedonism.”

The series sounds like what you expect: a parody of some of the worst aspects of the yoga industrial complex.

There’s a link to the series in the Times story, but it is pretty easy to find.

Posted by Steve

‘Real thing that made Iyengar special was that his focus on the physicality of yoga’

If you haven’t noticed already, BKS Iyengar would have turned 97 today. (Check the Google Doodle for an all-too-easy Kapotasana.) TIME magazine looks back on Iyengar’s influence:

In 1947, despite the fact that many celebrities (Aldous Huxley, for example) had become fans of yoga, TIME noted that it was “still as mystifying as Sanskrit to the average American.” Those who did practice yoga outside of its homeland tended to be more interested in its spiritual benefits than its physical ones; even the Beatles, who helped make the name of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi world famous in the late 1960s, were open to changing their philosophies and not just their bodies.

That was right around the time that Iyengar released his 1966 book.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

More coverage: Telegraph, Mirror, Christian Science Monitor.

Posted by Steve

Richmond City Jail abruptly cancels its yoga program

Well, this isn’t the type of news I’d want to break into our semi-retirement to report. But…

Apparently, the much-lauded yoga program run by Robbie Norris in Richmond has been shut down. You can find our past coverage here.

And here’s the report from Style Weekly:

The reason, according to the jail, is that instructor Robbie Norris breached the rules for volunteer conduct. But he says the jail was merely seeking an excuse to terminate the program, which had been on the verge of a planned expansion.

Sarah Scarbrough, internal program director at the jail, says an internal investigation found that Norris breached “several of those code of conduct protocols.”

She declines to name which policies were violated, but says that because of the nature of his work, Norris was given a pass on a particular rule that requires a foot of distance between volunteers and inmates.


Norris says Scarbrough reprimanded him for going to his classes without an escort, but he says he only followed deputies’ orders — if they told him to get off the elevator alone and walk to the desk, he did. Norris says he did nothing inappropriate, and that the jail is choosing to enforce the regulations now. His requests for an explanation have gone unanswered, he says.

You can read more at the link, including some ideas of what might be behind the sudden decision. Robbie — as you might expect — is trying to find a new avenue to help inmates and others out. Here’s hoping he finds one soon.

Posted by Steve

Why yoga isn’t cultural appropriation and when you can catch ‘Yoga Hosers’

I’ll just encourage you to read this piece at Slate by Michelle Goldberg, who wrote the recent biography of Indra Devi. She discounts the recent cancellation of a yoga class at the University of Ottawa over cries of cultural appropriation. The key idea:

In the case of yoga, it completely ignores the agency of Indians themselves, who have been making a concerted effort to export yoga to the West since the late 19th century.

Back then, Indians saw getting Westerners interested in yoga as a way of undermining British colonialism. Britain’s colonial administrators tended to be contemptuous of Indian religion; indeed, they treated the purported backwardness of Indian thought and culture as justification for their continued rule. Indian nationalists believed, rightly, that if they could popularize their spiritual practices in the West, they would win support for independence.

That makes sense. And she notes such efforts still exist, such as the International Day of Yoga push by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

On a decidedly different topic — or maybe not, maybe it is a form of cultural appropriation — we know when Kevin Smith’s movie Yoga Hosers will have its premiere: at Sundance.


Did you get in your daily cultural appropriation?

It’s hard not to deliver this one with comment, so I suppose I’ll first say that my natural sympathies lie with the victimized and the marginalize. And I’m very cognizant of how easy it is to judge someone based on your own experiences and biases.

I also remember the value of calling power into question as a youngster. It is a critical part of the growing process; I tend to suspect those who didn’t go through that phase are the ones who cause the most problems when they are adults.

Still… this one may push me close to the edge of reason. A free yoga class at the University of Ottawa has been canceled due to concerns about cultural appropriation. The best coverage is from the Ottawa Sun:

Student leaders have pulled the mat out from 60 University of Ottawa students, ending a free on-campus yoga class over fears the teachings could be seen as a form of “cultural appropriation.”

Jennifer Scharf, who has been offering free weekly yoga instruction to students since 2008, says she was shocked when told in September the program would be suspended, and saddened when she learned of the reasoning.

Staff at the Centre for Students with Disabilities believe that “while yoga is a really great idea and accessible and great for students … there are cultural issues of implication involved in the practice,” according to an email from the centre.


Acting student federation president Romeo Ahimakin denied the decision resulted from a complaint.

Ahimakin said the student federation put the yoga session on hiatus while they consult with students “to make it better, more accessible and more inclusive to certain groups of people that feel left out in yoga-like spaces. … We are trying to have those sessions done in a way in which students are aware of where the spiritual and cultural aspects come from, so that these sessions are done in a respectful manner.”

Scharf offered a compromise, suggesting she change the name from yoga to “mindful stretching,” since that would reflect the content of the program and would “literally change nothing about the course.”

That compromise wasn’t enough.

I’m going to follow up my comment about the value of youthful challenging of power; one of the important lessons from doing so is the self-realization that results. I.e. coming to understand what you don’t know. That may be a factor here.

Posted by Steve

New study links daily coffee habit to long life

I’ll pull a quote right from NPR:

“In our study, we found people who drank three to five cups of coffee per day had about a 15 percent lower [risk of premature] mortality compared to people who didn’t drink coffee,” says one of the study authors, nutrition researcher Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health.

And I’ll admit, apparently it also is true of decaf. But p-schaw.

Here’s a link to the study in Circulation.

Posted by Steve


Your Iyengar guide to yoga poses on planes

You can tell — I’ve found — who the yogis are when traveling to India on the long, near day-long flight (from the U.S., at least). They get up a lot; you’ll find them around the bathrooms stretching; they might have their mat in their carry-on.

Writing from experience, it makes a lot of difference.

Now, if those yogis see this (meaning what I’m about to link you to), you’ll really be able to pick them out. Because they will be doing these Iyengar-inspired “in-flight” yoga poses:

Now, experts have created an in-flight yoga guide which helps keep the body supple during long haul flights and relieves tension in nervous fliers.

The ‘Yoga in the Sky’ guide was created by travel website Expedia.co.uk, which enlisted chartered physiotherapist and certified yoga teacher Dr Christopher Norris and experts from Iyengar Yoga Deutschland.

‘The benefits of practising in-flight yoga are extensive,’ Dr Norris said.

The link comes with handy-dandy illustrations.

Posted by Steve

One list of the best and worst places to be a yoga teacher in the U.S.

Thumbtack — a site that connects folks seeking services with people who offer them — has put together a list of the best and worst places in the United States to be a yoga teacher. Along with the average price for a private yoga class and the growth of yoga in any city or area, it also included its own metric, the Market Opportunity Index:

The MOI is an index of the number of requests per active professional on Thumbtack in that market. The more requests per professional, the more opportunity there is for pros to come in and clean up by meeting excess demand. The more saturated the market is, the fewer requests there are per yoga instructor, and the harder it is for a yoga instructor to find work in that market.

The best places to be? Nashville, San Antonio and Kansas City, Mo. The worst? Springfield, Ma., Oxnard, Calif (just northwest of Los Angeles), and Hartford, Ct. San Diego is also pretty low on the list.

Posted by Steve

Yoga Korunta? I’m still a skeptic

James Russell has posted a lengthy piece investigating one of Ashtanga’s great myths / stories / what-have-yous: the Yoga Korunta.

I think I’m on record as a skeptic. It sounds like something that could have been mentioned as a way to add authority to the sequence and system. Maybe a fairly off-handed remark, as something Pattabhi Jois said to a (perhaps annoying) student to get that student to simmer down.

That’s just my guess and sense of things. Or my sense of people.

I do know that I agree with Russell that I don’t think, ultimately, it matters if there was a Korunta. I’m not at all sure if anything matters other than the yoga you just did or are doing.

You can read his investigations and conclusions right here.

Posted by Steve

New study: If nothing else, yoga’s got a great placebo effect

A new study from the Centers for Disease Control suggests that of popular alternative wellness activities, yoga beats natural supplements and chiropractic care.

Link to the study is here. Its distilled down here:

Not only are yoga enthusiasts much more likely to report that their downward dogs and tree poses improve their physical and mental health, they are also more likely to report that yoga motivated them to adopt healthier behaviors, such as eating more nutritiously and doing more aerobic exercise.

Indeed, the study found people who take up yoga are four times more likely to say the practice inspired them to eat healthier and three times more likely to say it encouraged them to run, walk or do some other kind of regular physical activity than those who take supplements or receive chiropractic treatments.


There is no good evidence-based research to support claims that any of these complementary practices boost the body’s immune system or improve memory or other thinking skills. Yet many of the people surveyed perceived that they did — a finding that likely reflects the placebo effect.

Indeed, 82 percent of the yoga practitioners, and about 67 percent of the users of supplements and spinal manipulation said their overall health had been improved because of the complementary practices.

Yet, when asked if these approaches had made it easier for them to cope with their health problems, less than 40 percent of the yoga practitioners and the spinal manipulation users and only 25 percent of the supplement users said yes.

That last paragraph sounds a weird note to me. Perhaps there’s something to the idea of “ease” that doesn’t translate. I suppose I wouldn’t say my yoga practice has made it easier — it perhaps has made me more effective at coping with things, but it isn’t easy to do so.

Of note: Across the board, yoga outscored taking supplements and chiropractic care in terms of people’s positive experiences and reactions.

Posted by Steve