Ashtanga, and Eddie Stern, make the New York Times weddings section

I know there’s a whole group of people who ravenously consume the New York Times wedding/celebrations section. The Times, for those who don’t know, pick at random — i.e. pick people of some repute, ill or not, scions of families familiar and those with particularly dramatic tales of love — to document.

This week, a yoga wedding makes it appearance: that of teachers Erika Halweil and Corey De Rosa. Their story features death, broken relationships and, eventually, love. Here’s why it popped on our yoga screen:

Mr. De Rosa, now 40, grew up in a big Italian family in Hempstead, N.Y., played soccer and studied art at the State University at Stony Brook, then spent years in Manhattan working in restaurants and partying. In 2003, while living in a loft in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, he started biking across the Williamsburg Bridge every morning to practice Ashtanga yoga with Eddie Stern, a well-known teacher in SoHo. “I needed to transition from my party life into my balanced life,” he said. “It takes a long time. It’s not easy.”

Three years later, he opened his own Ashtanga studio, Tapovana, in Sag Harbor. He painted the walls dark red, installed almost-black wood floors and put yellow candles everywhere. “It was like a womb,” he said. “It took you somewhere else.”

At first, he was terrified, not at all sure he wanted the responsibility of owning a business. “You always need to go a little further than you think you can in order to make progress,” said Mr. De Rosa, who in a single conversation might discuss Hindu deities, the connection between the knees and the ego, an energy healer he admires, Indian spices, juice cleanses and his ideas about love (timing is everything).

You can read the rest.

Posted by Steve

 

Selfies prove it: Yoga (at least in America) isn’t religious

Sure, we’ve been having a bang-up discussion about whether yoga is religious in the comments section of this post (post the Encinitas yoga trial verdict).

Turns out, we didn’t have to waste all that virtual ink. Because this story in the New York Times pretty much confirms that yoga isn’t religious. Headline? Yoga practitioners gaze at their inner selfies.

Here’s your definitive proof of yoga’s own inner self(ie):

But unlike most other Zen seekers, before she does her first downward dog, she sets the timer on her Nikon camera to photograph herself every two seconds. After all, about 245,000 people who follow her on Instagram are waiting to see the results.

Ms. Kasperzak (@LauraSykora) is one of the most popular in a group, most of them women, who post pictures of themselves posing in side crow or handstand on the photo-sharing app, often wearing brightly patterned leggings.

[snip]

Ms. Turner likes flamboyant leggings from brands like Teeki or Black Milk Clothing. A pair that looks like a mermaid’s scales are a favorite, and a recent shot of her in a standing bow-pulling pose shows her in lower half clad in fuchsia-and-orange stripes. “Fashion and yoga are kind of similar,” she said. “With both I like to be lighthearted.”

Some more-traditional practitioners might disparage what they consider to be purely ego- or vanity-driven selfies. After all, isn’t yoga supposed to be about turning your gaze inward?

I’ll repeat that if you didn’t catch it: “Fashion and yoga are kind of similar.”

The good news is this can be part of Exhibit A if the appeal comes as expected in Encinitas.

Is there a facepalmasana?

Posted by Steve

And now, back to aging and yoga

We’re done with the Encinitas yoga trial. For now.

As a few commenters have noted, interesting issues are at the center of the case, some Ashtanga-specific and others more broadly related to yoga here in America.

I suspect we’ll touch on them between now and when the trial resume in a month or so.

For now, though, back to another fav topic: yoga and aging. The New York Times has posted the third and final part of its Q&A on the topic. One excerpt:

Q. Can you recommend a suite of yoga poses that concentrates on breathing and balance (easier to harder) for older yoga folks? Thanks. — Steve G., Baltimore

A. Steve G. of Baltimore, I would begin with the tree (vrksasana), breathing in as you raise your arms, culminating as your hands meet above your head, and exhaling as your arms come down, is a very good start. Use a wall behind you or a chair in front of you if you need it at first. You might follow this with warrior I (virabhadrasana I), inhaling as the arms rise. The downward and upward dog (adho mukha and urdhva mukha svanasana) are good, and reasonably gentle. Then you might try twisting poses like marichyasana and matsyendrasana, where your job is to try to equalize the inflation of right and left lung. Finally, headstand (mirsasana), also with suitable props, is another good balance and breathing posture. For every variation, exhale as you bring your legs down; inhale as they come up.

There are a lot more questions to be read. But are there any topics over the trio of posts that got missed, do you think? Are there Ashtanga-specific issues? (Maybe from all those chaturangas?) Perhaps if you raise a question, someone will be able to provide some useful insight in the comments.

Posted by Steve

 

Sun salute flip book, KD, the Smithsonian and more

A quick list of things you ought to check out.

  1. David Robson has posted a Surya Namaskara Flip Book.  Flip it and have fun. (Seems to fit in with our jumping back themes of late.) You might also want to read the introduction. Nice, quick take on ye olde Ashtanga practice.
  2. If you missed Tim Miller’s blog post this week, go back and read it. I guess it it sort of Part II on the passing of his mother. Speaking of Tim, the 2014 dates for his Maya Tulum week are up: Feb 1 – 8, 2014.
  3. For those in Los Angeles, the Krishna Das documentary will be playing at the Nuart for a week, beginning at the end of the month. And here’s all the theater  where it is scheduled to screen.
  4. Yeah, we sort of missed it (we blame the move!)… the New York Times ran answers to questions about practicing yoga as you are. But the good news: Part II just came out, so we’re not lagging there. (Just be warned, the answers include this: “I believe the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar are the most anatomically sophisticated and therapeutically oriented, but there are many other good types of yoga.”)
  5. We’ve already reported about the Smithsonian putting on a show about the history of yoga. Now comes word that it will be crowdfunding in support of the exhibit. Blame it on sequestration.

Posted by Steve

Yoga as ‘an old person’s sport’

Tied into the request for questions about yoga and aging we noted yesterday is this piece now up at the New York Times. (In one of those Internet vagaries, I’m not sure how it wasn’t prominently attached to the piece we linked to yesterday.)

Yoga and aging has been a central theme at both of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluences. At this year’s event, I’d hazard a guess that at least a third of the questions on the subject came from people who have yet to face it for real. They’re just getting prepared.

I suppose it is good that it’s on people’s minds. It may be a difference between the first wave of Westerners who took up asana practices and the second, who had the benefit of that first group’s knowledge and guidance (and mistakes).

From the piece:

Dr. Fishman noted that aging brings impairments of range, motion, strength and balance that can require modifications, even among veteran yogis, like using the support of a chair or the wall for many poses. In addition, students may begin to feel the effects of arthritis, injuries and other ailments that may require students skip certain poses altogether.

Someone with osteoporosis, for example, may want to avoid headstands and poses requiring extreme spinal flexion or extension, while someone with glaucoma may want to avoid taking the head below the heart in poses like headstand, handstand, shoulder stand and standing forward bends. When in doubt about the safety of practicing with any specific medical condition, Dr. Fishman recommended working with a doctor.

Fishman is the one who will be answering questions, to be posted next week.

One thing I note is that the only “style” of yoga I see is Iyengar. I assume its slowness and deliberate nature appear more suited to the aging yogi. And that may leave Ashtanga out, a bit. I’ll be curious as to which questions Fishman answers and just how the whole thing seems to define “yoga.”

Posted by Steve

What you can learn from Indian newspaper matrimonial ads

One of the off-hand lessons we got during our Indian Yatra from Robert Moses earlier this year was:

“Make sure to read the matrimonial section while you’re reading that [newspaper].”

At first, we were both confused and shocked. But then we took a look at the lines and lines of carefully constructed ads. He was right. These sections in the paper were a window into society that helped flesh out everything else we were seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and feeling.

On Saturday, the New York Times’ Indian blog dove into the same topic:

In case you were curious, the new ideal Indian man is very fair, very handsome and works at a Multi National Company (MNC) in the National Capital Region (NCR).

Since we haven’t yet had a timelier or more accurate monitor of the notoriously changeable Indian society than the matrimonial pages in our Sunday newspapers, it is with unquestioning awe that I receive revelations such as the above every week.

Movies-shovies, culture-shmulture and Desi youth pastimes.

No, they haven’t lost their edge in the face of what seems like an overwhelming threat from matrimonial websites. Instead, their reputation as a reliable source for cultural shifts is vindicated because of the inherent limitation of space (3 cm by 5 cm) that makes people prioritize their biases, compelling them to choose between desired attributes such as, say, wealth and sophistication.

As the Times goes on to say, these ads provide a sense of both the aspirations of the county as well as the ongoing persistence of some customs:

It might mean a job at a corporation with operations in more than one country, but the three-letter acronym actually stands for a way of life that is most aspired to in New India, in which it is supposedly possible to marry into a home theater-fitted apartment next to a golf course (or an F1 track) and order Mexican takeaway for dinner. It also means that one could be a managing director in Noida and the other a sales representative in Ranchi — but as long as they work for an MNC, any MNC, they are together in this extended fairytale.

The whole thing, as I suppose Robert Moses would say, is worth reading.

Posted by Steve

Blog highlight: How Ashtanga can wreck your ego

Note: While we are in India, we intend to post new items if we have the Internet access. In the meantime, to keep our mojo going, we’re running some of our most popular posts. This post ran a year ago — in other words, it’s been a year since the whole “how yoga can wreck your body” kerfuffle! Time does fly.

***

The New York Times Magazine has an article today titled in typically provocative style, “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body.” It’s really long, extremely anecdotal (recounting individual cases dating back to the early 1970s), and, as usual, heavily based in the writer’s individual experience. (And in one of those bizarre editorial moves that indicate desperation for zaz on the webpage, seems to be illustrated by the zany antics of the cast of Godspell.)

Anybody who reads this blog has no doubt been injured practicing. I’ll let you judge the essay’s purpose yourself, but it comes down to this:

A growing body of medical evidence supports [yoga teacher Glenn] Black’s contention that, for many people, a number of commonly taught yoga poses are inherently risky.

No kidding? I did not know that.

When I injured my knee last year, a colleague at work asked me how I did it. “I was doing a crazy yoga pose (kapotasana, actually, but “crazy” for short). “I’ve had the same surgery,” he said, “I was chasing my daughter’s pet rabbit in the back yard.”

When I explained what I do to my friend and physical therapist,  Tom Hendrickx, he said, “You don’t do yoga. You’re an amateur athlete.”

We don’t blink when someone says “I broke my leg skiing” or “I strained a hammie kicking a soccer ball around.” Why is it the media seem so shocked when a yogi pushes her body past its limits and, surprise, suffers an injury? When I asked Tom if he thought I should quit Ashtanga, he said, “I think you should do what you love. Just don’t be stupid.”

Exactly. All of William Broad’s stories in the article are studies in stupidity. My own is no exception. It wasn’t kapotasana that tore my meniscus. It was my ego. Broad seems to blame a “naïve” belief  “that yoga was a source only of healing and never harm.” Yoga, like all powerfully transformative philosophies, has an inherent paradox that each practitioner/student must work out: It’s self-interest that gets you to it, but the first lesson is the emptiness of self-interest. The instant your attention flags, your ego appears, and injury is inevitable. Simple as that. And as complicated as that.

Posted by Bobbie