What we can learn from the naked yoga Kardashian tale. Seriously

OK, readers. Sit back. I’m going to go as “bloggy” as I can here. When you reach the point you can no longer bear with it, realize that chances are I quit reading, myself, even sooner.

Due to serious and significant work-related travel, I was unable, in a timely manner, to respond to the wonderfully provocative challenge on Thursday from Rose at YogaRose.net to talk about the Kim Kardashian naked Ashtanga teacher story. Bobbie, instead, felt obliged to do the heavy lifting in my absence.

Naked yoga scene, via the Hollywood Reporter

Well, as I traveled today, and watched the coverage (more at Claudia’s terrific virtual home, too) unfold, I actually discovered substantive in the tale.

Yes. Substantive. I just connected substance and Kim Kardashian. Don’t tell me I don’t know how to “yoga” things together.

But first off, a correction. Some people seem to think KK’s first foray into celebrity-hood was via her sex tape with rapper Ray J. While that may have been when she busted on through, she already had a leg up as the daughter of attorney Robert Kardashian.

Robert Kardashian, you’re thinking. Robert Kardashian. I know I know that name.

Indeed you do. He was OJ Simpson’s defense attorney during… well, if you don’t know when, knowing KK may be the least of your worries.

Let’s fly from there, as if through an airport, to the substance of the KK story. If you missed it, this weekend, on her reality show, KK and her sister, also KK if I’m not mistaken, had a “naked yogi” teach them yoga. Skip a few key details (not by me, but via the editing of the reality show) and you have the end of KK’s marriage to an NBA player. Which already happened, and the show aired this weekend. Ah, the future in which we live!

But here is the substance, from the Hollywood Reporter’s coverage of the sordid tale and its central “playa”, yogi Ralph Craig:

As to future TV appearances, Craig would not be averse to doing a yoga reality show. “That was how yoga became popular in the United States. There are many older adults who remember that yoga show in the 60s. And there are so many random shows about fitness. But fitness is much more than just being fit.”

That stopped me. Does yoga — and even more specifically, Ashtanga — need a reality show to boost interest, take it to whatever the “next level” is given that yoga is something like a $6 billion industry in America these days? Maybe, I thought. Maybe this is something that could work.

Of course, it maybe couldn’t. I am aware of the Kino MacGregor pilot that had many abuzz this past spring. And I do think it is a lesson for us as we consider this point.

Back in the 1960s, TV — media in general — was vastly different from today. You could have some vaguely counter culture person appear on TV, demonstrate a few yoga poses, gently urge viewers to calm their breath and seek inner peace and, if all went well, build a whole PBS pledge drive around it.

Today, “reality TV” is actually less real. It is what we see the Kardashians putting on. It is “Survivor” and, amazingly, may have its most “real” example in American Idol. It also is, I think, why the editing of the Kino pilot rubbed some people the wrong way. Viewer expectations are that the “real” lives of people who would be on TV are a whole lot more interesting and full of drama than our own.

After all, if not, why not just live our own lives, right?

Still, I wonder if there is some middle ground, some Patanjali-approved direction that could succeed and spread the message of yoga, the way an introductory TV show to yoga might have in the 1960s. Who might star in it? Is it Kino? (Does anyone know the status of that show?)

If you don't know him, your loss

What about any of the Confluence teachers? Could a slightly more dramatic “Ashtanga New York” (as if the month after 9/11 isn’t dramatic enough) work on Fox with Eddie Stern? Why not? How about David Swenson on the Travel Channel? He couldn’t do an Anthony Bourdain-style look at his travels? Richard Freeman could put something together for OLN, bringing in rock climbing, hiking, snowboarding, etc., right? The remake of Hawaii 5-0 is still on, last I checked. What about at least a guest spot by Nancy Gligoff? Build off the Kardashian “reality” with a script that has a celebrity couple come to Maui for a combo yoga retreat / couples therapy (without going anywhere near the horrible movie of the similar themes) and then have one get murdered. In comes the 5-0 team.

Any and all of them would make compelling ambassadors for yoga and Ashtanga. They already do. So why not go to the “next logical step?”

And then there is Tim Miller’s show. Since he is the teacher I know best, and at risk of earning some kind of perpetual ban from Ashtanga Yoga Center, honestly, I can see him in the role of a less milquetoast Mr. Rogers. Maybe mix in a little of Eddie Murphy’s take from the old SNL. Tim could come in, take off his AYC pull-over, replace it with a different AYC pull-over, slide off his go-aheads, and sit down and talk to viewers about Ashtanga. Run it on Tuesday and call it “Tuesdays with Timji.” There could be a different lesson each episode, perhaps based on one of the Yoga Sutras or a bit of Vedic astrology. There could be a land of make believe behind his wall that looks suspiciously like Mysore, filled with coconuts, dangerous foods and a frightening rush of cars and scooters (in place of the train)…

Hang on a second. Forget you ever saw this post. I have to go get in line on the alley of broken dreams here in Los Angeles. I think I have come up with my ticket to fame and fortune.

Posted by Steve, with stepped-up irony

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Is one of the Confluence teachers coming to a town near you?

Today, the Confluence feels a long ways off.

Part of that, I know, is because it’s been a while since we got down to see Tim Miller. At the worst, we plan to alleviate that during the holidays, take a few days down in San Diego and practice at Tim’s and… do whatever one does when spending some time in San Diego.

Or not. I doubt we’ll go to Sea World or the Zoo.

I was just checking Tim’s travel schedule, and it looks like that plan will work out. And, heck, he’ll even be a little closer, at Diane Christenson’s shala in Dana Point, in early December.

Then I thought: Check all their schedules. So, for all of you, so you don’t have to keep up on the five teachers’ schedules, here’s what I can determine about where they will be in the near future

UPDATED JAN. 20:

Tim Miller

January 28, Maya Tulum, his teacher training

February 10, Las Vegas Yoga, Las Vegas (you’d guessed that, right?)

Richard Freeman

February 7, virtual

Nancy Gilgoff

After the Confluence: March 9, Miami Life Center

March 16, Los Angeles

Eddie Stern

February 11, Philadelphia.

March 27, Rio

May 11, Oslo

May 19, Helsinki

July 10, Zurich

Sept. 28, Durham

David Swenson

February 10, Miami

March 16, Kripalu

Posted by Steve

Breathless Ashtanga or, you’re probably doing it wrong

This is one of those posts done from atop my high horse.

Of course, my high horse in this area is pretty darn short — but in this rare instance, that’s precisely what (I think) gives me the authority to wax all high and mighty.

I see a lot of Ashtangis (and there’s another problem, I realize, I shouldn’t see anybody during practice) who motor their way through many of the standing poses in First. There’s a casualness to these poses or, even, a seeming rush to get on to … something. Later poses, I guess. Yes, I’m probably looking at you, Second Series practitioners.

What I figure they’re missing is all the benefits from First.

Kapotasana, via yogajournal.com

Now, I’ll take a quick step back and openly admit that my practice is far from perfect — it may be farther from perfect than any of the people I’m critiquing. But the result of that is this: I get something out of every pose in the First Series and the Finishing Poses. It might be the stretch (and strain) to reach my toes; it might be that extra bit of twist; it might be a little more openness in my shoulders from Urdva Dhanurasana. It’s certainly — these days — the strength of trying to pull back without brushing the floor.

I can imagine if you’re really flexible, Utthita Trikonasana maybe just seems like a bother. After all, down the road a piece is Kapotasana and more.  I understand the desire to get there.

The reason I react is pretty simple: I doubt I’m ever going to get there. And I see people who can really reach the full expression of some of these “simpler” poses — but they don’t. They move into it, take a few breaths and move on.

I’d kill to be able to do that. (Kill in the sense of Arjuna’s doing his duty, you understand.)

But, believe it or not, this isn’t meant to be just about me and my Ashtanga frustrations. (That could be a whole other blog.) It’s a reminder that all of the poses have value. And that value isn’t just the burning of bad fat that seems to be the benefit from most of First Series.

There’s that breath thing. If you’re zipping through poses or not being — I hate to use the word — mindful, you’re missing what’s the real point of the practice. Don’t take my word for it.

Take David Swenson’s:

Somehow we each have a deep inherent knowledge that if we control our breath we may control our mind. There is a yogic saying that states: “The mind is more difficult to control than the wind but if we are able to control our breath we may control our mind.” Yoga is built upon this simple concept. When controlling the breath the yoga practitioner feels a deep state of calm and an evenness of the mind. This is due to the regulated focus upon the breath during practice. This information that I have provided may not be scientific but I believe it to be true and I also believe that if you were to approach other practitioners of yoga they would also agree.

Or Richard Freeman’s:

Linking movements done on the breath set up a distinct sensation pattern in the nervous system which allows the following movement and breath to go to their full extension.

We’ve all heard an admonition to “breathe deep” in the Mysore room, right? We all know that the fundamental purpose of Ashtanga is that pesky Ujjayi breath (with even peskier mula bandha a close second).

It’s an easy thing to forget, though. So think of this as just a long-winded way to say, “Ujjayi!”

(I am curious if my sense that people are trying to get to the poses that “matter” is right. Is it?)

Posted by Steve

On Saturday, Swenson starts First Series teacher training

This time next week, there is going to be a tired group of Ashtangis wishing they had the strength to make it out to the bars on Austin’s Sixth Street.

But I’m thinking they will be heading to their hotel rooms and barely watching TV.

Despite that, we’ll all be jealous. They will be a few days into teacher training with David Swenson.

Like with Tim Miller’s trainings, Swenson’s seems clearly designated as not being some kind of certification. That’s out of Mysore, of course, with all the politics of that involved.

But it surely doesn’t mean that a week with Swenson wouldn’t deepen one’s practice immensely. Here’s a little description of Swenson’s program from his website:

It is NOT a certification course. Participants will receive a Certificate of Completion at the end of the course but NOT a Teaching Certification. Participants will gain great insights and depth of knowledge as to how to share the practice of Ashtanga Yoga with all levels of students. The information contained in this course is invaluable and will be beneficial to those already teaching as well as to students wishing only to attend to deepen their personal practice.This course will cover the teaching techniques of the Primary Series of Ashtanga Yoga. The participants will learn safe and effective hands-on adjustment techniques through partner work for all of the asanas, practicalities of conducting a class and yoga theory. This is a deep immersion into the details underlying the practice and teaching of Ashtanga Yoga. One need not be a teacher to attend or even desire to be a teacher. Many students have attended this course to merely enhance their personal practice. Those that do wish to teach however will find a wealth of invaluable tools to share with their students.

When I went to Tulum this past winter with Tim, my intent was “to merely enhance” my practice. It worked — wonders. And I only can imagine a week with Swenson would do the same.

Although, I’d likely be extremely weighed down by all the Mexican food I’d be sneaking. For my money, Texas Mexican food is the best you can find in the U.S. Puts my SoCal version to shame, which is painful — and depressing — to admit. I’m still on a quest to find some here that matches even the basic breakfast burrito you find in restaurants that occupy old Taco Bell buildings.

(That means, I’m open to suggestions for anyone in the greater Los Angeles area.)

A link to Swenson’s training page is here.

Posted by Steve

The illusion of advancement in Ashtanga

Bear with me here. This post may appear to wander, but be patient and I promise to connect the dots.

Flashback to January of this year. I was at my new shala, with my new teacher, Jörgen Christiansson. The shining day came, after three years of being “stuck” (as I perceived it), that I had an excellent kapotasana. And my supta vajrasana was righteous.  Jörgen approached me after class, and said, “Very good. Next time I’ll teach you the next few poses in second. You do second now.” This was the day I blew out my knee.

Major setback.

The setback has given me time to think. I’ve come to the unpleasant conclusion that second was a big ego party for me. And by “ego party,” I mean in my head, while I was practicing, there was a little ten-year-old girl going, “Nana nana, I’m doing second!” like, the whole time.

As I mentioned, blowing out my knee has given me a lot of time to think about this.

I remember being at one of David Swenson’s workshops when someone asked, “In dwi pada sirsasana, I can’t get both feet behind my head. How do I do that?” Swenson replied, “Will getting both feet behind your head make you happier?” Just this past summer, Tim Miller said the exact same thing to me when I asked about getting myself into supta kurmasana. Will getting both feet behind my head make me happier?

No. Yes. And No. Mostly no. See? This is what I’m worried about with the practice. I’m worried that I

Krishna stops time to teach Arjuna. I should be so lucky.

can’t shake off the deep desire to “advance.” I’m worried if I can only see a thing I’m trying to “do” with the practice, I will once again find my inner ten-year-old.

My good friend Suzy tells me avoiding second is not the answer. “Maybe your practice now is doing second without ego,” she wisely says.  I tell Jörgen I’m not sure I want to begin second again. He tells me, “You are not doing the practice. Guruji is,” and he points out, “Practice without attachment to results.” Jörgen is paraphrasing Krishna, I realize.

Which sets a new ego trap. I’m like Arjuna on the battlefield. Look at me bravely practicing second without attachment. Hooray for me! Ego, again. It’s inescapable. I wage a little war every time I step on the mat.

Here’s where I try to bring it all back home. I remember when I first started, years ago now, and I felt like I understood the relationship among breath, bandhas and dristi for the first time. I was doing my second suryanamaskara B. I reached up on an inhale, urdva drishti, and there was yoga.

It’s very hard to remember that nothing else matters but that–every asana, every breath, every day.

Posted by Bobbie

David Swenson on ‘internal strength’ from yoga

A quick video for your Saturday viewing pleasure, via the Omega Institute:

David Swenson, in some ways, always strikes me as the least stereotypical yogi of all the “big name” yogis. I always find that a little strange since he may have had more contact with more people than nearly every other yoga teacher. I — following the stereotype, I guess — would think the traveling yogi would be one who sent off the most counter-culture, “hippie” vibe.

Swenson doesn’t send that off. He does project a calm stability, which is the focus of the above clip.

Posted by Steve

Going to the Yoga Journal Conference? Freeman and Swenson will be there

What seems to be billed as one of America’s biggest yoga gatherings, the Yoga Journal Conference, is about to kick-off in Colorado.

Normally, my eyes would glaze over at this. But I checked out the list of teachers, and two of our Confluence participants will be there: Richard Freeman and David Swenson.

I suppose Freeman’s participation isn’t terrible surprising: He’s already in Colorado. And Swenson’s isn’t, either: He’s the traveling yogi, after all.

Here’s a link to Freeman’s list of classes next week. And here’s for Swenson.

A few highlights. First, from Freeman:

Come discover an energetic exploration of integrated whole-body patterns found in backbending. We’ll work with the internal alignment mirrored in the pelvic floor as it moves around the central axis of the body. Using these patterns–combined with integrated muscular patterns within the hamstrings, abdominal wall, shoulders, and arms–we’ll construct a series of deep backbends that are grounded, open, and free of pain.

Asana practice. (Sound familiar? It’s what he’s doing at the Confluence.)

Whether in a Headstand, an advanced arm balance, or even just standing in Samasthiti, the principles are the same: finding core strength and an integrating internal alignment with external forms to allow the natural intelligence to rest easily along the central axis of the body. Come learn a gradual and intelligent method of developing the core strength needed for arm balances. We’ll learn how to work with the rhythm of the breath to cultivate internal and external movements that make arm balancing and headstanding a healing part of the practice.

Asana practice.

Then, Swenson:

Explore some of the most dynamic and fun asanas in the Ashtanga system. Take a special guided tour of select asanas from the Primary, Intermediate, and Advanced Series. By breaking them down into their basic components, even the most advanced asanas can become more accessible. If you aren’t familiar with the more challenging asanas, don’t fear! Modifications will be offered for any level.

In this fun-filled exploration of vinyasa and arm balances, we’ll break down the vinyasa into its components and explore handstands and arm balances through the avenue of partner work. All levels can attend–even if you’ve never done a handstand.  (This should sound familiar; it’s what he’s doing at the Confluence.)

So, it can’t be all bad. But, I have to admit, the prices are pretty steep.

Posted by Steve