Asthanga: The best yoga for strength

Hey, if Shape magazine says something, it has to be true, right?

I just saw where the mag listed Ashtanga as the best yoga for strength. Here’s why:

While several styles of yoga can help strengthen your body, ashtanga’s heavily repeated series of vinyasas—chatarunga (a yogi push-up), up dog, and down dog—between each pose (and on each side!) is guaranteed to make you strong and fierce, says Lauren Imparato, a certified yoga instructor and owner of the I.AM.YOU. Studioin New York City. Holding the poses, with this repetition of vinyasas in between, will develop targeted muscles in every part of your body, including those you never knew you had.

Find it: Imparato recommends looking for classes with names like “led primary series” or “basic ashtanga.” And, if you are comfortable simply watching and following along without a teacher giving instructions, look for “mysore” classes.

And, because we all know that “the more you know … ” the better, here are the other “winners”:

Best yoga for beginners: Iyengar. “This slow-paced class incorporates props such as straps, blocks, bolsters, and blankets in order to aid in more precise postures and poses and will challenge your body in a safe, educational manner, [Sara] Ivanhoe says.”

Best for stress: Hatha. Are you with me when you say, “Huh?” Isn’t that pretty much any asana? Well, in this case, Shape claims it is “a yoga style that focuses on balancing your entire body’s energy as well as deepening the mind-body connection and stretching tight muscles via poses, deep breathing, and meditation.”

Best for athletes: Power yoga. Not Ashtanga? Well, there is this caveat: “Ashtanga and vinyasa styles also often fall under the “power yoga” umbrella.”

Best for “revving up your sex life”: Kundalini. “Breathing exercises, including the alternate nostril method, are also used to unleash your sexual energy, and don’t be surprised if the teachers have long beards and are wearing white.” Hold on while I get to a class.

Best for meditation: Anusara. Style makes no mention of John Friend.

Best for quick weight loss: Bikram.

Best for “recovering and healing”: Restorative. OK, now we’re just getting kind of ridiculous, right?

Best for flexibility: Yin. OK, I better pay attention to this: “Yin yoga has a more passive approach to flexibility, allowing your body to release into poses and postures versus actively powering through them.” Apparently is focuses on connective tissues. I’m just going to pretend I didn’t read this one.

Best for spirituality: Jivamukti. Hope there aren’t any Jivamukti classes in schools! “Upbeat or mellow music usually sets the tone for the class, and chanting, breath awareness, flowing sequences, alignment, and relaxation are all practiced to incorporate the five tenets of jivamukti yoga: Sanskrit scripture, devotion to God (bhatki), animal and environmental rights (ahisma), music, and meditation.”

Posted by Steve


Breaking down whether yoga can be copyrighted

We’ve been following the Bikram — Yoga to the People lawsuit, for two reasons: 1. It seems a fairly central issue to the business of yoga, whether one person can copyright a set of poses as Bikram has done (or, perhaps, tried to do). 2. Bikram’s among the most entertaining figures in yoga.

Our past posts on this are all here. Probably the key post is here.

What it all boiled down to is whether Yoga to the People’s Greg Gumucio — a former right-hand man to Bikram — can use the sequence of 26 yoga poses, set in a hot situation, that is “Bikram Yoga.” (By extension, also, whether others can do the same.) The latest policy statement from the U.S. Copyright Office would seem to suggest he could, and that Bikram doesn’t have as firm a grasp on his form of yoga as he’d like. Today, Forbes broke things down a bit more:

Categories of Copyrightable Subject Matter

Works of authorship that can be protected by U.S. copyright law are currently limited to the following eight established categories:

  1. literary works;
  2. musical works, including any accompanying words;
  3. dramatic works, including any accompanying music;
  4. pantomimes and choreographic works;
  5. pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
  6. motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
  7. sound recordings; and
  8. architectural works.

The categories are non-exclusive, but only the U.S. Congress may create new categories. Congress did not delegate that authority to the courts or the Copyright Office.

Although a compilation may be based on the selection, coordination or arrangement of uncopyrightable elements (such as facts or data), must those elements relate to the foregoing categories of authorship or could they relate to other categories? In other words, could the selection, coordination or arrangement of uncopyrightable subject matter constitute a protectable compilation? After a lengthy analysis, the Copyright Office concludes that to be copyrightable, a compilation must relate to one of the eight established categories. So a collection of 100 rocks would not be protected by copyright since rocks are not protectable subject matter. However, a list of the names of an author’s 100 favorite rocks would be a protectable compilation since such a list may be considered a literary work.

Forbes then explains that according to the Copyright Office a set of yoga poses or a brief set of dance moves wouldn’t fall under any of those eight categories, including the choreographic one, because “a choreographic work must be a “composition and arrangement of a related series of dance movements and patterns organized into an integrated, coherent, and expressive whole” and “[s]imple dance routines do not represent enough original choreographic authorship to be copyrightable.””

That sounds to me like there’s a distinction being made between yoga (specifically in this case) and more creatively focused works, i.e. a novel, movie or piece of art. (Is there an argument to be made to the contrary?)

I believe that Bikram has compared his yoga sequence to a song, with each pose like a note strung together into an uniquely arranged whole. Where we’ve always had trouble with that comparison is that a yoga pose seems more like a whole song to us — already the sum of many parts, or notes. And so the set of 26 poses in Bikram’s sequence becomes more akin to his stringing together other people’s songs into a musical.

And then Bikram becomes like “Mamma Mia,” a collection of Abba songs. But in that case, whoever holds the copyright to Abba’s songs would have had to give the OK (or been involved, however the creation of that musical originally worked.) No one can get the OK from whoever “invented” Warrior Pose to use it.

Where we are, then, seems to be that past rulings in Bikram’s favor that a yoga sequence could be copyrighted were wrong. Just what that opens up will probably involve another round of court cases, of course. We are in America, after all.

Posted by Steve

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

Quick Saturday observation: Those Bikram yogis sure looked miserable

Bobbie and I just returned from a quick Los Angeles excursion to find some good Mexican food (success! Thank you, Atwater Village), and as we were walking toward the little hole-in-the-wall spot, out the doors of a Bikram studio came a class full of students.

It’s been a while since I ran against a tide of Bikram that way, and I was reminded of one thing: They looked miserable.

Now, I’ve only taken a few Bikram classes, and it was maybe eight years ago now. But I remember that feeling. The post-class moments, when you’ve sweated so much, can be awful. But you feel like you’ve exercised.

That’s the point, as far as I understand it. And there certainly is something cleansing about it, about such a full and hour-long or so sweat.

But … I don’t know. Something seemed missing compared to how I feel like Ashtangis seem after practicing. I know I’m biased, but … it isn’t something I can put my finger on, precisely.

It may have to do with how Guruji’s asana practice fits into the eight-limbs of yoga. While trying to avoid getting too touchy-feely, I guess I would say it is that un-graspable magic of the Ashtanga sequence. I know it doesn’t hook everyone, but I think everyone it does hook knows what I mean.

It’s what keeps the Ashtanga asana from just being gymnastics or exercise.

It did seem like all those Bikram folks had had a good workout.

Posted by Steve

Bikram lawyer says new copyright ruling ‘meaningless’ to lawsuit

While it does appear the U.S. Copyright Office has changed its tune about whether yoga poses can be trademarked, the lawyer for Bikram in his lawsuit against Yoga to the People is saying it doesn’t matter for their debate.

Robert Gilchrest points out that the Copyright Office has issued hundreds of copyrights for exercise videos.

“But now they’re saying they’re looking at it again and they’ve changed their mind?” he told Bloomberg news. “It is meaningless to this litigation.”

That’s obviously one side to the argument; we’ve seen pretty clearly what Greg Gumucio of Yoga to the People thinks.

I still suspect the final court ruling (and, if you are hoping to get some clarity around yoga’s freedom business-wise, you’ll want this to go to trial and for the two sides not to settle) will be what tells us where yoga as a business is headed.

Posted by Steve

Sunday conversation: Should yoga be ‘free’ to all people?

This week’s question is, really, the only one we can ask given the Yoga to the People vs. Bikram lawsuit and news.

For that background, check our posts here and here and here.

The question is, broadly, “Should yoga be free?” But what, exactly, does that mean? In the sense of the lawsuit, it means that no one — Bikram in particular — can claim a certain set of poses. But what of donation-based yoga? How critical is that?

And what of yoga’s larger mission? And what, precisely, is that larger mission? Is there even one?

Maybe it would be easier just to ponder: Should Bikram’s sequence of poses be open for all to use and follow?

Posted by Steve

Yoga to the People’s response to Bikram hinges on new copyright interpretation

Diving a little deeper into the Yoga to the People vs. Bikram issue, it looks like the key point to Greg Gumucio’s response is a new review by the U.S. Copyright Office that determines yoga and similar exercises can’t be copyrighted as “choreography”. Here’s the key section from Gumucio’s response, which we posted about earlier:

Fifth, the Choudhury Yoga Sequence is legally invalid because the Copyright Office has determined that yoga is not protected as choreography. According to a December 7, 2011 letter to Defendants from Laura Lee Fischer, Acting Chief of the Performing Arts Division ofthe Copyright Office, the Copyright Office previously “took the position that although functional physical movements did not represent the  type of authorship which Congress intended to be protected under the copyright law, [the Copyright Office] could register the selection and ordering of public domain exercises.” However, the Copyright Office recently reevaluated this position. “The Registration Program of the Copyright Office reviewed the legislative history relating to section l02(a) of the copyright law, and in conjunction with senior management, determined that exercises, including yoga exercises, do not constitute the subject matter that Congress intended to protect as choreography. Thus, we will not register such exercises (including yoga movements), whether described as exercises or as selection and ordering of movements.” (Emphasis added.) Attached hereto as Exhibit 3, and incorporated by this reference is a copy of Ms. Fischer’s December 7,2011 email to Elliot Alderman, counsel for Defendants.

That would be a change from the Office’s previous stance, and it does seem like it could be key to this suit. But while it seems to represent a change for future attempts to copyright any yoga sequence, I think the Court is still going to have to determine if it applies to Bikram and this case.

For those who want “yoga to be free,” though, it looks pretty good. Yoga to the People may end up living up to its name.

Posted by Steve