Smithsonian yoga exhibit lectures now all online for you

I’d been paying attention to the Freer|Sackler Youtube page, figuring at some point they’d get up some things from the big yoga exhibit. I slacked off, but they are available at this link. They’ve been up a couple of weeks — and only have 60 or so views each, so I don’t feel like we’re too far behind.

I’m hoping that link works — it was a bit wonky for me. So, if it doesn’t, here’s one of the videos (it should be the first), and if you click through on it, it’ll get you there (no promises about where there is):

There is about four hours worth.

We still are planning to catch the show when it comes out to San Francisco, and I’m sure we’ll write something about it — although a little late to the party.

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

Indian Supreme Court to take up question of yoga in schools

If you thought the question of whether yoga can be taught in schools was somehow uniquely American, here’s something to check out:

Months after a US court ruled that yoga cannot be construed as an instrument of religious indoctrination, the Supreme Court in India is all set to dwell on the same question: If yoga can be made compulsory in all schools although it may be perceived to have religious overtone.

“Can we be asking all the schools to have one period for yoga classes everyday when certain minority institutions may have reservations against it? What kind of directions we may pass when these institutions may ask us why are you asking our wards to practice yoga when we don’t want them to practice (positions like) ‘pranayama’ or ‘shirshasana’,” questioned the court Friday.

A Bench of Justices H L Dattu and M Y Eqbal expressed its quandary over issuing court orders to introduce yoga as a compulsory subject in schools. “We understand its relevance but can we say yoga is a must? Suppose children from an institution tell us we don’t want it, what do we do? What if minority institutions assert their own set of rights and question our orders? They are not before us as we hear this plea,” noted the Bench.

At issues are classes on both pranayama and asana. Should we consider the Indian Supreme Court the ultimate authority on this one? (Here’s another story covering the issue.)

We might also see more court cases in the U.S. Here’s a story from New Mexico:

Yoga is taught at John Baker Elementary School in Albuquerque, but the term itself is taboo.

Physical education teacher Ann Paulls-Neal on Friday told a legislative committee that she refers to yoga as “stretching or mat work” to avoid any suggestion that the class is religious in nature.

Nonetheless, state Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, an evangelical Christian, questioned her about whether alternate activities are offered to children who object to yoga based on their religious beliefs.

Paulls-Neal said she had one student, a Jehovah’s Witness, who was excused from yoga on request.

She said her yoga class makes no mention of any religion, instead placing all the emphasis on physical activity and its importance in staying healthy.

Paulls-Neal, other teachers and a physician testified before the Legislative Education Study Committee about programs to combat childhood obesity.

Baldonado, R-Los Lunas, said his concern was that yoga is grounded in Eastern religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism.

We’ll see where that heads. Finally, and quickly, a few more out takes from the Smithsonian’s gala to celebrate the opening of its yoga art exhibit. This via U.S. News & World Report’s Washington Whispers:

Whispers asked the Baldwins who amongst the leaders on Capitol Hill might benefit from a little yoga posing. “Let’s get Mitch [McConnell] down on the floor and get him stretched out,” Alec Baldwin said, referring to the Republican Senate Minority Leader. Baldwin pointed to the $3 billion Kentucky dam project that got tacked on to this week’s debt deal. (The Kentucky lawmaker says he’s not the one responsible for the “Kentucky Kickback,” as some conservatives are calling it.) “I think Mitch should take some of that money…and get himself a mat and some blocks,” Alec Baldwin suggested.

Hilaria Baldwin mentioned Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. “Can I give a class to Ted Cruz? No?” she said. “I think Ted Cruz is beyond hope,” her husband interjected. “I think if Ted Cruz went to prison and studied yoga in the mountains for 10 years it wouldn’t help him.”

But then the couple reconsidered. “What about that bed of nails we just saw?” Hilaria Baldwin asked, noting a part of the Smithsonian exhibit. “I could see Ted Cruz on a bed of nails, yeah, that I could see,” Alec Baldwin replied.

“It’s not as torture, it’s to be able to deal with your issues,” his wife interjected.

There you have it.

Posted by Steve

Live, from the Smithsonian yoga art gala

Hey all.

We got sent a few photos of people arriving at this evening’s gala for the opening of the Yoga: The Art of Transformation exhibit. This is yogis welcoming people with sun salutes and arm balances.

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Photos courtesy of Emma Dinzebach from lululemon. The second from bottom is Peg Mulqueen, who we’ve linked to and has commented here.

Posted by Steve

Caffeine: The world’s most popular psychoactive drug

The I’m sure not coffee-fueled bloggers/writers over at Smithsonian magazine have answered a question that we’re too tired and sleepy to ask: Why we get addicted to caffeine.

And just so no one thinks we don’t realize there’s a teeny, tiny, itsy-bitsy downside to drinking coffee, we’re passing on how humans get too attached to what they claim is the “world’s most popular psychoactive drug”:

Soon after you drink (or eat) something containing caffeine, it’s absorbed through the small intestine and dissolved into the bloodstream. Because the chemical is both water- and fat-soluble (meaning that it can dissolve in water-based solutions—think blood—as well as fat-based substances, such as our cell membranes), it’s able to penetrate the blood-brain barrier and enter the brain.

Structurally, caffeine closely resembles a molecule that’s naturally present in our brain, called adenosine (which is a byproduct of many cellular processes, including cellular respiration)—so much so, in fact, that caffeine can fit neatly into our brain cells’ receptors for adenosine, effectively blocking them off. Normally, the adenosine produced over time locks into these receptors and produces a feeling of tiredness.

When caffeine molecules are blocking those receptors, they prevent this from occurring, thereby generating a sense of alertness and energy for a few hours. Additionally, some of the brain’s own natural stimulants (such as dopamine) work more effectively when the adenosine receptors are blocked, and all the surplus adenosine floating around in the brain cues the adrenal glands to secrete adrenaline, another stimulant.

Then it goes into an even more fascinating aspect: why we need more and more:

In people who take advantage of this process on a daily basis (i.e. coffee/tea, soda or energy drink addicts), the brain’s chemistry and physical characteristics actually change over time as a result. The most notable change is that brain cells grow more adenosine receptors, which is the brain’s attempt to maintain equilibrium in the face of a constant onslaught of caffeine, with its adenosine receptors so regularly plugged (studies indicate that the brain also responds by decreasing the number of receptors for norepinephrine, a stimulant). This explains why regular coffee drinkers build up a tolerance over time—because you have more adenosine receptors, it takes more caffeine to block a significant proportion of them and achieve the desired effect.

And the piece ends, as it of course should, on a high note: “The good news is that, compared to many drug addictions, the effects are relatively short-term.” After a week or two, you can break the addiction as you get all those receptors back to their “baseline levels.”

But why would we want to do that?

Posted by Steve