‘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