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Getting back to basics: Ujjayi breath

March 3, 2015

Here’s a video to ground you back into the basics of your Ashtanga practice:

Pacific Ashtanga Yoga has put up about a dozen videos in the past month. Channel is here.

Posted by Steve

Could Modi’s push to claim yoga for India reveal yoga’s past — and the Yoga Korunta?

March 2, 2015

You’ve been thinking about where Ashtanga comes from, right?

Or so I assume, given my various social media feeds.

Now, you may be thinking: Isn’t  it your policy not to highlight what’s happening on social media because that’s what social media is for? Yes. But some ongoing yoga-related news in India plays a role here.

As we’ve covered, India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is looking to strengthen its claim to yoga — for a bunch of reasons that arguably are good and bad. Some more of that rationale is at this link:

If India recreates itself as the pioneer of yogic practices, tourism will increase. People from all over the world will come here to learn the art. With the Government in the process of expanding the privilege of visa on arrival to citizens from 150 countries, yoga hubs like Mysore are expected to witness an influx of foreign money.

Moreover, in a speech in 2013, Modi pointed out the long-term need of yoga instructors and institutions in battling stress. He argued, that with the future generation of the country producing stressed out individuals, yoga will become a lucrative profession in the form of stress management.

As I’ve watched this story unfold and then during the past day or so seen people again wondering about Ashtanga’s history — and the role played by the Yoga Korunta, that found but never seen collection of asanas — it occurs to me that Modi’s yoga push could end up with India’s finding evidence of this text. (Also, can you imagine more people going to Mysore?)

I’ll say right up front that most every time I’ve heard stories of the Yoga Korunta, I feel like they’ve been delivered with a heavy dose of skepticism. Given the oral nature of the teaching of yoga — and how much it was not mainstream for so many years — it makes sense to me that there isn’t such a text. It equally makes sense that as Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois wanted to legitimize what they were teaching (perhaps especially when it started under the patronage of the Maharaja in Mysore), there’d be the temptation to ascribe the asana sequence to a third, historical source.

At the same time, there are yoga texts (although our go-to one, the Yoga Sutras, famously are nothing like what the Korunta is claimed to be), so there is precedent for there to be something written down. But I also see where that’s an argument for why the Korunta might not exist — there would be the natural pressure to suggest the existence of a text akin to the Sutras and others.

I’m frankly not even sure how important an issue it is — although I understand why people would fixate on it. Whether one derives benefits from yoga is, to me, more important.

But if Modi continues pressing with his “yoga resurrection” effort, I’d think tracking down a copy of the Korunta would be a key piece to laying claim to India’s (pretty obvious) role. Apparently efforts to make such a discovery are getting some government benefit (from the same source as above):

“Yoga is India’s well acknowledged gift to the world. It is proposed to include Yoga within the ambit of charitable purpose under Section 2(15) of the Income-tax Act,” [Indian Finance Minister Arun] Jaitley said.

He further added: “The institutions which, as part of genuine charitable activities, undertake activities like publishing books or holding programme on yoga or other programmes as part of actual carrying out of the objects which are of charitable nature are being put to hardship due to first and second proviso to section 2(15).”

Yoga institutions will now benefit from tax exemptions, a move that will encourage more people to take part in the activity. After all, the benefit of tax exemption will be passed on to consumers in the form of reduced fee.

And it may just encourage someone to do some research and track down more evidence of yoga’s history in India.

Posted by Steve

Breaking news: Yoga’s a ‘growth industry’

March 2, 2015

This just in: Yoga’s hot.

Not hot, like Bikram or its “haute” imitators. Hot as in, “Man, where can I invest my money?” hot.

The USA Today — perhaps the very pinnacle of “mainstream media” — catches us up on this surprising news:

Other signs that yoga is a growth industry:

• The Wall Street Journal recently reported that some yoga classes are so overcrowded that peace-seeking yogis are getting into fights over mat space.

• Lulelemon, best known for its flattering yoga pants for women, has started openingstores just for men.

Yoga Journal, a print and online magazine, is celebrating its 40th anniversary and “business is booming,” with a growing print readership of 2.1 million and more than 5 million online page views a month, says editor in chief Carin Gorrell.


So why the growth now?

“Number one is accessibility,” Gorrell says. It used to be you did yoga at a yoga studio. It wasn’t available in your gym. There weren’t that many DVDs. Now it’s offered in pretty much every gym on a regular basis. It’s everywhere.”

Indeed, fitness professionals ranked yoga among top-ten trends for 2014 and 2015 in surveys for the American College of Sports Medicine.

But yoga is seen as more than a fitness tool. It’s increasingly seen as therapy for the body and mind, Gorrell says.

Case in point: since 2012, Medicare has covered cardiac rehabilitation programs that include yoga. The programs also include a vegetarian diet and meditation.

In the USA Today’s defense, it is tying this news to a new survey from the National Institutes of Health. So it isn’t as though the yoga news is news to them. Necessarily.

Posted by Steve

‘A different sort of CEO’

March 1, 2015

The creep, creep, creep of meditation, mindfulness et al continues. The latest sign? Aetna. Specifically its CEO. From the New York Times:

In case there was any doubt, Mr. Bertolini, who runs one of America’s 100 largest companies by revenue, wants to make it clear he is a different sort of C.E.O.

In recent years, following a near-death experience, Mr. Bertolini set about overhauling his own health regimen, as well reshaping the culture of Aetna with a series of eyebrow-raising moves. He has offered free yoga and meditation classes to Aetna employees; more than 13,000 workers have participated. He began selling the same classes to the businesses that contract with Aetna for their health insurance. And in January, after reading “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” the treatise on inequality by the French economist Thomas Piketty, Mr. Bertolini gave his lowest-paid employees a 33 percent raise.

Taken together, these moves have transformed a stodgy insurance company into one of the most progressive actors in corporate America. Most health insurance companies are thriving, largely because of increased enrollment. Aetna’s stock has increased threefold since Mr. Bertolini took over as chief executive in 2010, and recently hit a record high. It’s a decidedly groovy moment for the company, and Mr. Bertolini is reveling in his role as an idealistic, unconventional corporate chieftain.

“We program C.E.O.s to be certain kinds of people. We expect C.E.O.s to be on message all the time,” he said. “The grand experiment here has been how much of that do you really need to do?”

On a February day in Aetna’s Hartford headquarters, there were experiments all around. In a conference room downstairs, a meditation class had just concluded, and employees were returning to their desks. Nearby, preparations were underway for a new yoga class, starting in a week. And in his corner office — where a golden statue of the Hindu deity Ganesha was arranged next to an antique grandfather clock — Mr. Bertolini eagerly shared the most recent data from Aetna’s meditation and yoga programs.

There is the requisite “hang on a second”:

But not everyone believes that meditation and yoga are appropriate in the workplace. A recent article in The Harvard Business Review cautioned that “mindfulness is close to taking on cult status in the business world,” and it enumerated ways that a meditative disposition could backfire in the office. Stress can be a useful prompt to engage in critical thinking, noted the author, David Brendel, and is not something to retreat from through meditation. And even as Aetna and others chart what they say are the health benefits of mindfulness and yoga, not all researchers are convinced.

The piece in the Times is adapted from an upcoming book, Mindful Work: How Meditation Is Changing Business From the Inside Out, by David Gelles.

Posted by Steve

Another new (old) talk by Richard Freeman goes online

February 28, 2015

Curl yourself up for an hour. There’s a new Richard Freeman talk up on the Yoga Workshop site. Link is here, and a super quick description:

Practicing Yoga in the Face of Adversity

Whether it’s a personal difficulty, or a political travesty or even a war, life seems often to toss adversity our way. This talk was recorded on October 20, 2013.

Yes, it’s from a while back, but as best as I can tell it’s just gone up here.

Posted by Steve

Colorado won’t license yoga teachers (plus Pat Robertson and an Irish priest)

February 27, 2015

I’ve decided to start this post with: Pat Robertson and an Irish priest walk into a bar…

Sadly, the punchline ain’t funny. Before we get to it, though, some “good” news. As we highlighted last month, Colorado was looking closely at a law that ostensibly regulated yoga teacher training programs. The new focus freaked people out, and in response the state’s Legislature is now moving through a bill that would exempt yoga teacher training programs from state regulations.

And a state lawmaker did crow pose at his desk! More from the Denver Post (including a picture of said pose):

They said yoga teacher training isn’t the same as programs that train students to be dog groomers or truck drivers.

“For most, yoga isn’t a profession; it’s a passion,” agreed state Sen. Laura Woods, R-Arvada. “For years, the yoga teacher training schools have been operating without government intervention. In all those years, we do not know of a single complaint against the yoga teacher training schools.”

Now, the bad punch line. Yes, Pat Robertson said doing yoga tricks you into praying in “Hindu.” And, yes, a Catholic priest in Northern Ireland — which means I’m pushing it calling him an “Irish priest,” I know — equated yoga with Satanism.

Posted by Steve

Practice vs. practicing

February 26, 2015

With Bobbie heading down the crazy road that is Third Series, my ego is taking a bruising as she arm balances with one leg this way, back bends that and altogether makes my puny, mostly Primary practice, look pathetic.

Or, at least, pretty easy by comparison.

And so I haven’t been able to resist adding something a little more challenging in, usually at the end, and not every time. Pincha Mayurasana here, maybe, some Second Series-type headstands there.

Yes, it’s “officially wrong,” whatever “officially” means. But it’s also fun — and I think “fun” seems to get a little lost too often with so many people seemingly so serious about their practice, or sadhana. (And how often do I say something about Ashtanga is “fun”? Next to never.)

A challenging pose, especially I think near the end of practice, also is a nice microcosm or synecdoche for the full practice, which is a challenge and a task itself. Something that ought to feel like a bit of an undertaking. In that sense, the specific focus, the hard work, the thought (perhaps just 1% of what you’re doing, of course) involved mirrors how one ought to approach the full 75 or 90 minutes of practice.

It’s a nice little reinforcement of what you ought to be doing. A moment captured for greater use.

It also feels pretty good, on a purely physical level, to challenge your body in different ways. While Ashtanga’s asana sequence is wonderfully wide and varied, it still is limited somewhat (at least until one’s doing Second and Third, too). So an arm balance, for instance, is a nice counter — or maybe addition — to what’s going on.

On the downside, working on one pose repeatedly — one you haven’t “mastered,” so to speak — takes away from some fundamentals of the Ashtanga Vinyasa practice — i.e. breathing. It’s hard to keep that deep, even breathing going when the main thought in your head is, well, to make sure that head doesn’t slam into the floor. Drishti’s gone, of course.

But those can be recaptured the next time on the mat, and perhaps some of the focus and the “I managed to do that” — from “practicing” — can come along to help deepen the full Ashtanga practice.

Posted by Steve