Two things you really ought to read

You may have noticed that normally we don’t point you in the direction of online pieces that don’t relate closely to the Confluence’s (now) six teachers or to Ashtanga. (Very early on we did cast a wider yoga net, but no more.)

We assume you can find items at the big online yoga sites — elephant journal pops to mind — without our assistance, and that there are other avenues to get broader yoga news.

Time to break that usual M.O.

There are two pieces that are worth your time. One is on the Bikram-Yoga to the People lawsuit (which we did cover a bit ) and the other is an ej piece on the Primary Series.

Bikram, via the Dallas Observer

First, Bikram. The reason we point you to it — besides the fact I still think the lawsuit eventually will have impact on the yoga business here in America — is that the story is in the Village Voice papers this week. I’ve seen it both at Westword in Denver and the Dallas Observer, and I’m sure it’s in your local Voice alt weekly, too.

The title: “The Hot Yoga Wars.” And the first excerpt I want to share is:

Everyone here practices the Bikram method of yoga, a series of 26 postures and two breathing sequences performed for 90 minutes in a climate-controlled environment of 105 degrees. It’s the only correct way to practice yoga, Bikram insists. Everything else is “shit.”

OK, then. We’ve got Bikram Choudury in full effect. There’s plenty more of the usual boasting quotes from him.

The piece is a pretty decent read; perhaps more straight-forward, aside from the swear words from Bikram, than a typical alt weekly piece. Bryan Kest gets a mention as a model for Greg Gumucio, who is the other half to the lawsuit and Bikram’s former top assistant (and, apparently, masseuse).

Here’s, ultimately, why I think folks in the yoga community — including Ashtanga, as insular as we often seem to be — ought to read this:

Yet while philosophy remains the outer crust of the dispute between Bikram and Gumucio, at heart it’s a battle over money. Lot and lots of money. The industry is growing so fast that it’s expected to reach $8.3 billion in sales by 2016.

With that much at stake, it was only a matter of time until the lawyers showed up.

So be aware.

For Ashtanga practitioners, there also is the issue of lineage and “the right yoga.” Yes, we’re hearkening back to the Jois Yoga issue a bit, but tell me whether this doesn’t seem familiar:

Yet the Bikram-Gumucio feud has caused a nationwide divide, slicing the country’s yoga practitioners into two schools of thought. Much like warring religious sects, they practice nearly the exact same form of yoga, but speak slightly different dialects. In the end, it’s not a battle over questions great and eternal, but over the interests of two charismatic leaders whose followers are forced to choose sides.

For many Bikram students, there is a sense of profound respect and admiration for their yogi. And they invoke the yoga code: the belief that followers must respect the lineage and leader of the specific style of yoga they practice. Without properly trained teachers, students won’t get the proper benefits. And if the Bikram method is allowed to be diluted, a great tradition will be lost.

Fortunately, I think, the cooler heads who learned so much from Guruji have kept Ashtanga from going this route. (I’m not enough of an expert on the origins of power yoga and its split from Ashtanga years ago to say how similar that schism was.) Perhaps that reflects a difference between Guruji and Bikram and the lessons they imparted and the respect they earned.

I think there’s an example of the difference I’m talking about in the Voice story. It comes immediately after the two paragraphs cited above:

“I just know I wouldn’t be able to do that,” Tricia Donegan says of Gumucio’s discount studios. She owns a Bikram studio in New York and is best known as Lady Gaga’s instructor.

“I wouldn’t be able to pay the teacher the standard I want, pay for the heat system, the amenities, the shower, the space, the rent — keeping it the way it should be so the studio is not completely packed and crowded. … If he makes it more affordable to people who can’t afford it, I am all for that. If it starts to bring down the value of a yoga studio… then I think it becomes a problem.”

The difference, I think, can be found in the word “studio.” All those amenities that come with a Bikram studio — and I sure can see why a shower would be a plus — appear to be Donegan’s focus.

Why not focus on the “yoga?” If she had said, “If it starts to bring down the value of the yoga… then I think it becomes a problem,” I’d agree. But she is talking about the business, the walls and floors, the heating, the showers. I can’t imagine any of the Confluence teachers — or the other Ashtanga teachers I know and respect — focusing on the studio. Their concern would be the yoga, not the trappings around it.

The second item I’d direct you to is at elephant journal. It’s about Ashtanga’s Primary Series and how it provides the foundation — breath, bandhas, dristi — for the rest of the practice. It is by authorized teacher David Keil, and it is right here. For my money, this is the best line: “I often tell groups of students that just because they are doing the asanas in the sequence that is known as the primary series does not mean that they are actually doing the practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.”


Update: You could make it “three” things to read. David Garrigues has a new item up, also at ej. Since we’re point you there, anyway… have a look. It’s on Pratyahara. (So, does that mean don’t look?)

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

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