More good yoga from Richmond and David Swenson

Robbie Norris has highlighted another of the students in the Richmond City Jail — and as always, it is worth a read. Click here.

That story is compelling — how Ashtanga has helped curb a breathing problem. But I also was struck by this:

And thank you, David Swenson, for continuing to send yoga mats and “spineless” Ashtanga Yoga Practice Manuals.  Because hardcover books are not allowed, David sends manuals with the plastic spiral spine removed, so the pages can be tied together like this:


You’ll have to click to see the pic, as well as a photo of the letter from the student.

Posted by Steve

Eddie Stern: William Broad, you’ve been served

In just the past couple of days, Eddie Stern has tossed a lot up on his AYNY blog (and re-designed it again). We’ll to everything, if you’ve missed it, but we’ll begin with his (self-admittedly delayed) response to a William Broad article in the New York Times last fall:

As Broad’s by-line lists him as a ‘science reporter for the NYT’, there are, at the least, three characteristics to his writing that undermine his mission by negating scientific rigor, and also seem to be a catalyst of annoyance for many readers.

1. His research methods: “…in late summer, I got around to making some calls.”

2. The types of supporting evidence he cites: “I found that hundreds of orthopedic surgeons in the Mediterranean region heard a conference presentation in 2010 that linked FAI to middle-aged women who do yoga.”

3. His needlessly sensationalist tone: “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.”

The takeaway? Mr. Broad made some phone calls; surgeons (as they are prone to do) heard a paper read; and other surgeons, whose bread and butter depends on performing said surgeries, performed surgeries. This does not add up to a very deep investigation of the syndrome, or its true relation to yoga. The one yoga teacher referenced in his article, Michelle Edwards, is authenticated because she posted an article on the yoga website Elephant Journal—hardly a peer-reviewed portal of scientific rigor.

Now, there’s much more worth reading about the supposed injury that is at the center of Broad’s article. The above is just a wonderful takedown of Broad, who — in my opinion (fairly learned in this case) — seems to share an illness peculiar to New York Times reporters: a tendency to make illogical leaps when they go from writing articles to longer forms (mostly books). (For the latest example, Google “Jo Becker.”) I think there’s a certain, well, certainty in the NYT’s reporters that perhaps serves them well within the confines of a newspaper article, gives them the authority to package up an issue into its “first line of history” moment, but when tasked with more thoroughly examining an issue, that same certainty blinds them to their own mistakes, biases and blinders.

Eddie also provides some helpful exercises, complete with photos that “make me look as silly as possible.” For example:


Check out the piece for more, written from Eddie’s wise and learned perspective.

Eddie also has up two more posts, one another story from Robbie Norris’ prisoner yoga students:


I was heading 2 lunch at Richmond Jail when a clear & simple though hit me: “Da purpose of Life is 2 find something good 2 do wit’ one’s self… and in dat one find da will of God and happineness… since all dat iz good is from God.”

And most recently, he shares the story of a Sonima Foundation teacher:

This afternoon I was leaving the building and walked by the security desk, where three security guards were standing around one of my students. (I actually failed this student last semester—she was hardly ever in class and when she did attend, she was exceptionally disruptive. But I’ve been working extra hard to connect with her this semester, and things have improved.)
I said hello to her and she looked at me and said, “I need yoga right now.” I said okay, let’s do it. I asked the security guards if she and I could go sit outside the auditorium, where there is a table and some chairs.

Read on for what this yoga did and how it did it.

Posted by Steve

More firsthand, from jail, proof of Ashtanga yoga’s great impact

Robbie Norris from Richmond Private Yoga and his Richmond City Jail Ashtanga Yoga Program posted this week that his jail yoga program — in part supported by the Broome St. Temple — has gotten another three-year commitment of support to continue its work helping prisoners.

Here’s a a quick summary of the program via Robbie:

I teach the men two classes per week; one class is an hour and a half and the other is an hour and 45 minutes.  The chapel can accommodate up to 15 men, with mats an inch apart andthe pews upturned and pushed to the wall; usually eight to 15 men attend.  About half the students also practice daily on their tier between classes.  Each tier holds up to 100 men; visualize big steel cages with triple bunks and two-inch thick mattresses, in a very confined space — not an ideal space for yoga, but they find a way to practice.  I constantly remind them that the value lies in the commitment to daily practice, and assure them of the importance of establishing the discipline of dailiness while incarcerated, as the obstacles to the discipline “on the outside” are actually much greater— namely, so much freedom that can easily entail a million “reasons” not to practice.

The news about his continuing work is great, and he deserves a big congratulations for spreading Ashtanga to a population that can so greatly benefit from it.

How do we know it helps? Robbie’s got the firsthand proof from his students. Here’s one:

April 20, 2014
I am 31 years old and was introduced to Ashtanga yoga in the Richmond City Jail, of all places.  After 2 months of incarceration & being clean from drugs, I was encouraged by other members of my tier to participate in the 2 weekly yoga practices.  We all worked out together on the tier, so I expected yoga to just be an extension of our workout routine.
I quickly learned that there was far more to yoga than I originally anticipated; there was meditation and history.  After 4 months of regular practice, I have noticed changes physically, emotionally, as well as, spiritually.  Physically I have increased range of motion, greater balance and better posture than I have ever had in my life.  My morning yoga practices allow me to start the day with noticeable improvements to my general outlook towards life and problem solving abilities.  I find myself coming up w/ solutions that are more creative and effective, when I have practiced earlier that day.  Spiritually yoga has allowed me to be more aware of the world around me and our effect on each other.  I never thought I would find myself practicing any form of meditation, but despite myself, I have come to believe in its positive effect on my sense of peace.  Given my surroundings at the time, it was fairly obvious to me that “what I was doing” wasn’t working for me; and I am grateful that I was openminded & willing enough at the time, to try something new.
Doug Calder
I continue to be blown away by what Robbie is doing. Spreading his work is one of the nicest things about having this blog.
Posted by Steve