Quit meditating, already

It’s been a while since the New York Times published something seemingly intent on irritating yogis, meditators and other alternatively bent thinkers.

If you’ve missed those NYT pieces, fear not! It’s got one in the paper this weekend:

I AM being stalked by meditation evangelists.

They approach with the fervor of a football fan attacking a keg at a tailgate party. “Which method of meditation do you use?”

I admit that I don’t meditate, and they are incredulous. It’s as if I’ve just announced that the Earth is flat. “How could you not meditate?!”

I have nothing against it. I just happen to find it dreadfully boring.

“But Steve Jobs meditated!”

Yeah, and he also did L.S.D. — do you want me to try that, too?

“L.S.D. is dangerous. Science shows that meditation is good for you. It will change your life.”

Will it?

You can get a pretty good sense where it goes from that. It is by a contributing opinion writer for the paper, Adam Grant, who is a professor of management and psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

My main problem with the piece is that it doesn’t really feel like he provides much support for his argument that other activities can do as much good as meditating. And he makes some thinly veiled references to what I assume are the occasional lost soul who tries some Eastern or alternative path and dies (for any number of reasons). But he doesn’t provide any actual examples.

It also seems the whole point of the piece is he’s annoyed by those evangelists he addresses in the first line. But, as with so many piece in the Times, there’s no evidence to support a claim the writer makes.

Really? You’re being stalked? Maybe rather than writing an Op-Ed you should either call the police or find out what it is about meditating that turns people into sociopaths.

Posted by Steve

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Ashtanga Yoga New York announces final day on Broome Street

This is news I wasn’t expecting to have to share for a little while still: Broome St. Temple and Ashtanga Yoga New York’s last day in its current site (which Guruji dedicated and taught at after 9/11) is Aug. 31.

Eddie Stern has posted the news on AYNY’s website:

It seems that our time to vacate 430 Broome Street has come a little early. We were given notification on Friday that there is a new tenant coming in, and the owner would like us to vacate 30 days early, as he is entitled to do. So, as of now, barring any bizarre twist of fate, our last day on Broome Street is August 31st. It is of course kind of brutal and crushing.

Eddie goes on to list seven more points, which you might want to check out even if you aren’t a regular (or occasional) student there.

This space — which Eddie describes as “our ever changing, humble, little yoga school” — is extra high-profile because of the post-9/11 classes that Guruji led (captured in the documentary Ashtanga Yoga New York). I think it fair to say it is one of those Ashtanga shalas that have extra juice, due to the teachers and students.

I can only imagine the range of emotions that regular students there are feeling — let alone Eddie and his wife Jocelyne. Bobbie and I had the lucky opportunity to practice there for a handful of days two winters ago (when winter was in full effect in New York). I’ll admit, I first wrote “last winter” because it seems so recent — it actually is 18 months or so ago. But being there, in a crowded and dedicated space, remains a very present memory, if that makes sense. I think during those days — we were there for a workshop with Eddie and Robert Moses — that Robert described how holy sites are all linked by whatever thread or line or connection you prefer. The Broome St. Temple was one of those spots, because of both the dedication, power and persistence of the yoga being practiced there as well as the temple, itself — Ganesh, Siva, Hanuman and more.

The really meaningful yoga spaces I’ve been fortunate enough to practice in share that … oh, what to call it? Energy? Vibration? Hum? It build up, as day passes after day, and more tapas seeps into the bones of the place. That tapas, I suspect, will be one of the things people miss — even if they don’t precisely know that’s what they’re missing.

But the good thing is this: There’s more tapas to come. So whenever AYNY ends up — Eddie promises it will be downtown — it will once again be a place where that tapas, that heat, that dedication builds up.

Here’s hoping they have a smooth transition.

Posted by Steve

AYNY gets the NYT treatment

And not for the first time.

This one’s a quick mention in a brief feature on how Maxwell Ryan — who owns Apartment Therapy Media — spends his Sundays:

YOGA AND ART Then we will go to yoga. It is down the street on Crosby and Broome Streets. She will pack a bag with her drawing kit and will sit in the changing room and draw while I’m in class. Then, if we haven’t had breakfast at home, we may go to breakfast at Café Select. Usually we get the muesli pancakes with fruit compote and maple syrup, and a side order of scrambled egg.

There’s a photo that calls out Ashtanga Yoga New York explicitly. Click on the link above.

Posted by Steve

A tale of dosas … and murder

The New York Times Magazine today published online (and, I assume, this weekend will do so in print) a long story about the man behind the Saravana Bhavan vegetarian Indian restaurants that are, almost, everywhere.

Saravan Bhavan in Chennai, via the New York Times

As our headline (and the Times’, too) suggests, it isn’t just a story about the latest celebrity chef. The man who founded it and still is in charge was charged with murder in 2002.

Saravana Bhavan specializes in the holy trinity of south Indian snacks known as tiffin: dosa, idli and vada. All are made from ground rice and lentils, with remarkably different results. Dosas are crispy golden crepes that are most deliciously served with a masala of potato and onion; vadas are deep-fried savory doughnuts; and idlis, the south’s staple food, are pure-white saucer-shaped steamed cakes. At most branches of Saravana Bhavan in Chennai, you can also find for sale a little book titled, “I Set My Heart on Victory.” First published in 1997, the book is Rajagopal’s memoir and manifesto, a curious blend of mythmaking and self-effacement.

[snip]

In 2000, Saravana Bhavan branched out for the first time beyond India, opening a franchise in Dubai, where Indian expats vastly outnumber native-born Emiratis. According to Rajagopal’s elder son, Shiva Kumaar, the opening-day crowd was like “for a newly released movie.” They’d eventually expand to Paris, Frankfurt, London, Dallas and Doha, Qatar. The strategy is simple: open one restaurant in every city with a large expat Indian population. (One exception is Manhattan, which has two.) Prey on homesickness by importing skilled chefs to ensure that the food tastes just the way it does in Chennai. Don’t bother trying to pursue non-Indian customers.

I believe that this chain of restaurants was one of Pattabhi Jois’ favorites, and that we ate at one (and stayed in the connected hotel) on our last Yatra in India. (Maybe in Kanchipuram?) Part of the Times’ interest is because there are a couple of restaurants in New York, as noted in the excerpt above.

The Times story is a pretty fascinating read, which also touches on the rise of the Indian middle class, the further developments of the restaurant business and, of course, the murder part of the tale.

Posted by Steve

The NY Times finally gets to the Smithsonian yoga art exhibit

And I’d say the writer liked it:

The fact is, yoga was always rational, and more so in its old, extremist forms than in its present domesticated version. How else would you characterize a spiritual discipline that directly and boldly addressed life’s most intractable problem, the persistence of suffering, and took practical, but radical steps to do something about it? To alter the rules of the existential game, it redefined the possible. What’s great about the Sackler show, apart from the pleasures of its images, is that it not only lets us see the history of that practice in action, but understand how radical it was — and is — and take that seriously.

That’s the final paragraph. The full story is at this link.

Via the NY Times

We’ve covered the exhibit quite a few times. This piece by the Times is, I think by a pretty wide margin, the best, although it doesn’t exactly review the exhibit in terms of whether you should go see it. Instead, it traces yoga’s history pretty succinctly:

The origins of the ideas and actions we call yoga are obscure, and the visual history all but unstudied. The Sackler show is the first major art survey in the United States to tackle the subject. There is evidence that religious ascetics were wandering North India as early as the fifth century B.C., practicing meditation and breath control in pursuit of mind-over-matter transcendence. By the second century A.D. their methods had long since been absorbed into Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, and were codified in the Yoga Sutras, a philosophical treatise that doubled as a user’s manual and is attributed to a sage named Patanjali.

Patanjali was a pragmatist, not a mystic. He gives step-by-step instructions — sit still, keep clean, stay celibate, study scripture — on how to free the soul from the aching and twitchy body. He also implied that yoga could have other attractive benefits. If you got good at it, you might be able to read people’s minds, revisit the past, learn how to fly.

I like the description of Patanjali as a pragmatist. In a lot of ways, that sums up Ashtanga as Guruji presents it — and as “Patanjali yoga.” To the point yoga.

Perhaps my favorite snippet is this: “packs of dangerous goddesses called yoginis.” (Any modern-day yoginis care to comment? Or, perhaps more bravely, any yogis want to comment?)

For me, though, the biggest news is this (and I can’t believe I hadn’t seen it before): According to the Times, it will be at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco from Feb. 21 to May 25. I guess there’s an SF trip to follow our New York one.

UPDATE, Jan. 5: CBS News got to the exhibit, too.

Posted by Steve

What the NY Times doesn’t get about yoga

Don’t go thinking that the last New York Times article about the danger of yoga (this time, for women, which I guess means we can expect dogs — from doga — will be the next subject) is totally in our rear view mirror.

It isn’t. The Times is still too big a media behemoth to ignore that quickly. (That’s just a fact of life in the U.S. For now.)

That doesn’t mean we have to take what it says lying down (in shavasana?). So, here’s a video that went up a week ago. It’s Leslie Kaminoff’s response:

Posted by Steve

NY Times writer at it again: This time, it’s women in danger from yoga

William Broad, the New York Times writer who ticked off a bunch of yogis (including Eddie Stern) with his book last year, and excerpted article in the Times, highlighting the dangers of yoga, is at it again.

Last time, it was mostly men who were at risk from yoga. With less flexibility than women, many tended to use their muscles to wrench them into poses, he said, resulting in injuries.

Now, it’s women he’s got his eyes on. From a piece in this Sunday’s Times:

Earlier this year, the picture of female superiority began to blur when a prominent yoga teacher in Hawaii wrote me about a poorly known threat to women.

The teacher, Michaelle Edwards, said that women’s elasticity became a liability when extreme bends resulted in serious wear and tear on their hips. Over time, she said, the chronic stress could develop into agonizing pain and, in some cases, the need for urgent hip repairs. Ms. Edwards sent me her book, “YogAlign.” It described her own hip pain long ago and how she solved it by developing a gentle style of yoga.

Her warning contradicted many books, articles and videos that hailed yoga’s bending and stretching as a smart way to fight arthritic degeneration.

I put her cautions aside. Finally, in late summer, I got around to making some calls.

To my astonishment, some of the nation’s top surgeons declared the trouble to be real — so real that hundreds of women who did yoga were showing up in their offices with unbearable pain and undergoing costly operations to mend or even replace their hips.

“It’s a relatively high incidence of injury,” Jon Hyman, an orthopedic surgeon in Atlanta, told me. “People don’t come in often saying I was doing Zumba or tai chi” when they experienced serious hip pain, he said. “But yoga is common.”

[snip]

Women’s hips showed particular vulnerability. By nature, their pelvic regions support an unusually wide range of joint play that can increase not only their proficiency in yoga but, it turned out, their health risks. The investigators found that extreme leg motions could cause the hip bones to repeatedly strike each other, leading over time to damaged cartilage, inflammation, pain and crippling arthritis. They called it Femoroacetabular Impingement — or F.A.I., in medical shorthand. The name spoke to a recurrence in which the neck of the thigh bone (the femur) swung so close to the hip socket (the acetabulum) that it repeatedly struck the socket’s protruding rim.

[snip]
Surgeons agree that women who moderate their practice can probably avoid hip trouble. Unfortunately, yoga teachers too often encourage students to “push through the pain.” That’s not smart. Pain is nature’s warning system. It’s telling you that something has gone awry.

Better to do yoga in moderation and listen carefully to your body. That temple, after all, is your best teacher.

This piece strikes me as having many of the same issues as Broad’s earlier work: It doesn’t put any of the number of surgeries in context. For instance, it quotes one surgeon as saying he does 50 to 75 surgeries on mostly women who were dancers or did yoga each year. But it doesn’t say how many patients, total, he has.  Another doctor sees roughly 100 middle-aged women per year. But how many total patients does he see? It doesn’t say.

There’s no baseline.

And that makes it sloppy journalism, which I can’t help saying seems to be Broad’s M.O.y

It also contains the same logical fallacies of Broad’s earlier reporting. There is a problem with causality here. You can’t just assume because women come in to an orthopedic surgeon’s office complaining of hip problems and these women also do yoga that yoga caused them. Or, following the line that Broad draws, that their teachers caused them by forcing these seemingly powerless women to push through the pain.

I should also note that the Times is famous, in its Style section, for doing “trend” stories that are anecdotal. There’s a whole arena of media criticism on those Times trend stories: Moms are drinking more often during the day; men are waxing their bodies more; kids are asking for more feng shui design.

Nothing to suggest, actually, that there are any trends. Just that the journalists heard these stories from a couple of people, typically in their NY social circles.

Broad’s work seems to fall firmly into this “trend” at the Times.

But… I’m sure it still will get lots of attention, beginning with us.

Posted by Steve