I’m sure you’ve seen the Equinox yoga video by now; I saw it — via another Ashtangi’s blog — but didn’t watch it until a day or two ago. I must have been bored.
But now, there’s a quick reason to do a few things:
- Admit we have seen it, so you don’t think we live under an Ashtanga rock.
- Provide something close to valuable in relation.
We’ve now done No. 1. As for the second item, we have Eddie Stern to thank. Stern gets a call from a Washington Post blogger in a piece titled, “Who owns yoga?” which I’ll quibble with a little — the title, that is. Ownership probably is not exactly to the point, but it isn’t the writer’s fault, I don’t think. (If I’m not mistaken, this is the same Post blog that helped push the “who owns yoga” argument into the mainstream last year. So it might be just continuing its yoga conversation.)
The better title, and the question at the center of the piece, is: “What is yoga?”
You’ll not be surprised that the answer the writer, Lisa Miller, comes to is, “Not this.” From the piece:
The video is “just emblematic of the Western commercialization of yoga,” [Suhag] Shukla [managing director of the Hindu America Foundation] says. “You know, the whole purpose of the physical asanas [poses] is to prepare your body to sit still and focus. It’s not about having a cute ass.”
And then we get to Stern:
I asked Shukla to suggest an American teacher who practices yoga in a way she believes is consistent with its Hindu roots, and she pointed me to Eddie Stern, a teacher with a studio in an unglamorous building in downtown Manhattan. Inside, he has built a temple — complete with incense and statues of the gods Ganesh, Shiva and Hanuman, to which he gives daily offerings of food and flowers. In the temple, Stern teaches difficult Ashtanga yoga poses, yes, but also chanting, meditation and Hindu philosophy, a fully integrated practice for busy New Yorkers.
Stern has the visage of someone who has discovered the secret to something. He’s monkish but youthful, unwrinkled and lithe. When I asked him whether gym yoga qualified as real yoga, Stern, in his wisdom, declined to condemn.
“It’s hard to whitewash an entire genre of yoga,” he said. “The people who are going to a gym yoga class are going because they hear the word ‘yoga.’ They’re not going to spinning, or aerobics.” In other words, they’re looking for something. “And what we have is really, really good, and powerful and deep. Really, really deep.”
Ironically, Stern’s values jibe more closely with those of religious conservatives than with the shallow purveyors of (Eastern or Western) spirituality prevalent today. He believes that religious practice should be difficult and that nothing worth having, doing or learning is easily attained. By those lights, Briohny Smyth’s performance in the Equinox video is awe-inspiring, regardless of her underwear.
The lesson from Stern’s non-judgement is pretty clear. But that still doesn’t mean I’m going to post the video.
Posted by Steve