Category Archives: yoga

The Instagram Rabbit Hole

Last year, in June, I organized a yoga challenge for academics (see details here). It grew from a yoga challenge I’d had with two friends for a few years running each June. This year, I was traveling and didn’t get myself together in time to arrange a challenge for June so I decided to do one of the ubiquitous Instagram yoga challenges. I chose one run by Carmen Aguilar of The Lab, a studio in Chicago. It’s called the #hipsummerhip challenge and focuses on deep hip opening. I can always use some hip opening (though you’ll see that the second half of the challenge is cray!).

I am hoping to write up some reflections on the challenge once I am done. This post is more thoughts on Instagram itself and some suggestions on who to follow if you’re interested. I am intimidated yet fascinated by the yoga/Instagram phenomenon. Last year this time I didn’t even know what it was and now I am posting daily. At least, I am this month. The pictures to be found here simultaneously challenge and support my faith in humanity. Yes, the level of narcissism is higher than I want to imagine is real (and just when I think I have a handle on this and accept it, some instagrammer pushes beyond that limit of my imagination). But, the sheer creativity and courage to be found on this social platform redeems it as a viable medium for me. Also, it’s part of my new research project, so some of this really is research. Really.

Ok, so the yoga part isn’t so much part of the research. But it’s hard to look away. And in watching those I follow, I found that the challenges inspired yogis to practice regularly, if only to be able to post a picture on time. Granted, one can spend the time allotted to practice looking at pictures of other people practicing, but that’s fodder another post. Continue reading The Instagram Rabbit Hole

Yoga Is Conference

Ah, the wonders of the Internet and what it’s done for the study and practice of yoga. Witness, the Yoga Is conference, where, for just $39, you can virtually attend sessions with near three dozen teachers, most of them names you know and trust, including:

  • Rodney Yee
  • Shiva Rea
  • Dharma Mittra
  • Elena Brower
  • Kathryn Budig
  • Congressman Tim Ryan
  • …really, too many to list even the top ones.

The conference takes place from April 30-May 3, 2015 and there are will be classes and interviews each day. The $39 price I linked to seems to be a special. I am not sure how long that lasts, but the regular price ($79) is still a steal compared to in-person yoga conference fees.

The landing site for the conference asks for your email address to get more info. I am not sure why, but here’s a link to the screen I got to after entering my email. If that for some reason doesn’t work, here are a few screen shots of the post-email entry info:

 

Screen shot yoga is 1

Screen shot yoga is 2 Screen shot yoga is 3 Screen shot yoga is 4

Let me know if you “go” and what you think.

American Yoga

Often, when people find out I teach yoga, they ask “what kind of yoga do you teach.” My standard answer has become: “American yoga.”

Most people immediately get it. For many of us, our access to yoga, or to any form of mindful movement for that matter, is not directly connected to an ancient practice. Or even to a pretension to lineage. It is the yoga that is taught in gyms, community centers or corporate studios. Sometimes, depending on our disposable income and where we live, we may have access to smaller independent yoga studios but chances are the teachers in these studios were trained in American yoga as well.

In dubbing this practice American yoga I do not have ambitions of copyrighting some star-spangled, we-are-the-world, sequence of movements. What I mean is that the style exhibits the positives and negatives of the assimilation that happens to many cultural practices and products in this country. I am thinking along the lines here of American English, Chinatowns, and Tex-mex. This may put some purists off, but I am not sure how else to describe the yoga I practice and teach today.

rainbow yoga mats
What American yoga looks like to me.  (Photo by cheeseslave on Flickr.)

I have been thinking about this more and more recently given the push back against this form of yoga from various quarters: from members of the South Asian American community, most vocally via the group South Asian American Perspectives on Yoga in America (SAAPYA); from practitioners of long-standing yoga lineages; from non-practitioners who see the practice as materialist and elitist; from minority communities who note the increasingly white profile of yoga in the media; from women concerned about the body-image issues that the yoga industry perpetuates; and from the media itself as the increasing popularity of yoga makes the practice ripe for parody.

I want to quarrel with many of these objections to American yoga, but I can’t. Because they each have a valid point. They have a valid point because it is American yoga. These faults are part of the society at large and whatever is showing up off your mat is sure to show up on your mat. Also, my Caribbean immigrant self, a product of colonization and neocolonization and one of the most complex color-coded, class-conscious societies, identifies with cultural loss, particularly when loss is really the result of theft protected by institutionalized systems of oppression. And the academic in me, who works to make such systems visible and thereby less powerful is torn about the ways in which yoga shows up in this country.

My worry, however, is that the current backlash against yoga as it’s practiced in America today will obscure the benefits that it does bring to a variety of communities. The volume of various discourses in this conversation – on “restoring yoga to its roots,” on yoga as white and exclusionary, on yoga as too expensive, on the outrageousness of yoga attire and yoga instagram and yoga-themed whatever – make invisible the spaces that are working in the spirit of creating change from the quiet of committed, consistent practice.

I teach in one of these spaces. The picture of the young, white, lululemon-clad yogini that is held as stereotypical of yoga practitioners has little meaning in this space located at the heart of Brooklyn, near the aptly named “Junction.” My classes reflect the neighborhood with its dividing line of Caribbean and Orthodox Jewish populations. We have the occasional male student in class, but I am mostly teaching to women who have never practiced yoga before stepping into my class. I don’t know what the critics of yoga want it to look like instead, but I do know that I want to insist upon keeping the practice available and attractive to these students who find solace in this space.

I like to think of my American yoga class as a mindful mash-up of traditions. I play music I like, tracks that are certainly not “yoga music” but are consciously chosen to enhance both my teaching and my students’ practice. I use the Sanskrit names only on occasion and I do not chant, but I always close with namasté because despite the various parodies, the word still holds power. I ask students to dedicate their practice and sometimes we repeat a metta meditation at the end of class. My students know that this is a safe space where they can be brave and yet can choose silence; where they can laugh when they fall and cry in savasana; where they can be seen.

This is my yoga community. We are not often represented in the advertisements for or the arguments against yoga in America but we are here, making space for our practice whether or not others’ ideas of the practice make space for us.

the art of practice

So, I haven’t been blogging much in 2015. Ok, I haven’t blogged at all. I’ve had a lot of ideas, but just not made the time to sit down and write any of them out. In part, it’s because I have been doing a lot of writing on my new project and so I haven’t wanted to do any additional writing that I saw as “non-required.” But I’m trying to be better at exercising my writing muscle and that includes blogging. So, I’ll share how I’ve come to think of writing and yoga as parallel practices.

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Pattabhi Jois is often credited with saying “Practice and all is coming.” Consequently, Ashtanga practitioners are expected to practice six days a week, with exceptions only for moon days and menstruation. I know of no other exceptions. And the practice should be done first thing in the morning, partially for biological reasons, but also to ensure it gets done that day. If you stick to this practice, everything that will come from your yoga – poses, peace of mind, strength, clarity, etc – will come. If you don’t practice, then it’s simply less likely that any of those benefits will find you. Certainly not all of them.

Writing is similar. We like to think of the ideal situation where we have hours and hours of time to sit and meditate on a subject, maybe do some research, and then write. But for most of us the writing does not come easy. It turns out that here too, “practice and all is coming.” I have often scoffed at daily writing, but I’ve recently become a convert (at least, for the “required” type of writing…still working on blogging). In January I did a writing challenge with two friends. The idea for the challenge sprung from an article about academic productivity we’d been forwarded combined with our just having done a daily fitness challenge in December. We used Whatsapp for check-ins and basically, it worked in the following way:

Each day (Monday through Friday only) we stated a daily writing (either time period or word count) and we sent a “done” when we’d completed it. Our goals could be big or small and generally ranged between 30 minutes and 3 hours depending on what else we had happening that day. If we failed for that day, we put what we had done. There was a little to no conversation because we didn’t want to add to our reading load. The daily writing needed to be directly related to our research, not service or teaching.

At the beginning of the month, we also stated our goal of what we wanted to have done by the end of the month. In order to avoid the overwhelming fear of the blank page, I kept handy this list of “ten ways to write daily“(also suggested in the article above) for those days when I had no idea what I would do for even 30 minutes.

Surprisingly, at least to me, it worked! I finished all but one of my writing goals for the month, and on time. My colleagues were also similarly successful. Their support was, of course, a significant part of my success; but building the habit of writing daily – even if what I wrote that day would eventually just wind up in the virtual trash can – was the foundation for that success.

So, all that to say practice might not make perfect, but it does make “done.”

Sneaky moves

I’ve been having conversations with fellow academics lately about how to fit in movement and mindfulness now that school will soon begin, or has already begun, for Fall semester. It’s relatively easy to begin or recommit to a practice in the summer, when classes are out and you make your own schedule, but how to maintain this when the pressures of the semester begin to build and your calendar starts to look like an obstacle course?

First, I recommend blocking off time for self-care in your calendar that is sacred. That means no moving it around for anyone or anything. That also means not choosing a time that you know will be challenged constantly. Everyone’s calendar is different, but after you’ve mapped class times, monthly meetings (the ones you know at the beginning of the semester), and other regular time commitments in for the semester, see what time for the week you can block out just for yourself. If you’re ambitious, maybe two blocks per week. Or, maybe that time period can coincide with your favorite yoga class or meditation sitting.

Second, try to work in short 2-minute breath meditations in the interstices of your day. (If you have no interstices, make some. If you can’t figure out how, reevaluate your scheduling…is it necessary to do everything back-to-back?) Just sit, close your eyes (and your door if you’re in your campus office) and count 15 deep breaths. That easy.

Third, sneak some mindful movement into your day. Below are some suggestions for various times.

Morning

Sun Salutations. These are a ready-made way to squeeze strengthening, stretching, and centering into your day. Too many benefits to name and if you do a few right as you roll out of bed, then you’re done for the whole day. See “5 Reasons Sun Salutations are the Best Way to Start Your Day” for some specific benefits and a visual guide to the traditional Surya A.

But what about when you’re having one of those days, when even rolling out of bed takes effort. For those days I just scoot down off my pillow and do a modified version on my back. The key is to move with your breath. Inhale, arms above head, exhale arms back down. You can add on by brining a knee to your chest on the exhale and hugging it in for a bit. Then alternating knees. Feel free to improvise. When you’ve done a few, bring both knees to your chest, roll to your right side, and push up to seated. Guess what, now you’re almost out of bed!

Throughout the day

As the title of the article indicates, these exercises can be done at any point during your day; so, for between classes, or during mandatory 5-10 minute writing/grading breaks, squeeze in the following moves described in “Anywhere, Anytime Pilates Moves You Should Squeeze into Your Day.” They help to bring your mind out of the academic trenches and move your body out of the perennial computer crunch. Some are designed to be done right there at your desk. I especially like any that make me take my shoes off and move my toes; there’s just something so decadent about that.

Evening

Technically, you could close your day with those bed salutes described above, but, for variety, try these “3 easy stretches you should do every night.” The first one is a bit confusing, but I think it’s your top leg that you should let hang off the bed. Also suggest you do that one last since who wants to then get up and do the other two?

Of course, there are lots of other ways to sneak mindfulness and movement into your day. I hope these few suggestions show how easy it can be. But even so, try to also get to a yoga or meditations class now and again throughout the semester to commune with other folks committed to this contemplative life.

Wishing everyone a great Fall semester!

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Time to Fly!

Kelly and Bernadette
Me providing support for my fellow teacher in training, Bernadette Wan Pacana.

Congratulations to my fellow graduates of the Spring 2014 500-hour Yogaworks teacher training program! We’ve been building a solid foundation and now it’s time to fly! Thank you guys for your encouragement, company, and spirit for the past six months.

The Future of Yoga Summit

Conferences seem to be (or be becoming) as popular in the yoga world as in the academic world. In the latter it’s more about attending than presenting, but nevertheless, they both generally involve relatively high registration fees and travel costs (or hoping that the one you want to attend is happening close by).

The Future of Yoga Summit (August 4-6) is free and requires no travel, no matter where you are. I haven’t registered yet so I don’t know what hidden costs might exist (and already I’ve noticed an “upgrade” option so there is money involved somewhere), but it seems a straightforward online summit about the state of yoga today and where some practitioners/leaders in the field would like to take it. The home page offers the following topics for the summit:

  • What’s revolutionary in the world of yoga – and where it’s headed
  • Exciting ways yoga can help transform culture and societal structures
  • Yogic wisdom for maintaining peace when facing social injustice
  • Ways yoga is contributing to resilience in youth and health and healing for ALL
  • How women’s experience transformed yoga in the contemporary world
  • The ways the Internet and technology is shaping yoga
  • The role of the guru, especially in light of scandals with prominent teachers
  • The most hopeful developments we’re experiencing in yoga today
  • Ways you can best contribute to yoga’s potential to bring positive change

A lot to cover in a few days, but doable in an online format. The list of featured speakers is fairly impressive and includes Cyndi Lee, Sean Corn, Hala Khouri, Suzanne Sterling, Judith Hanson Lasater, Richard Miller, and Shiva Rea.

It seems to be as geared toward regular practitioners (of all levels) as well as teachers and studio owners. Should be interesting. Will report back on what I’ve learned from my living room.