JP and the Saloon

October 25, 2014

As I was getting ready for work the other day, I heard a commercial from a hair-cutting establishment that caters to “men.”   Or shall I say “real” men since their schtick is to make a connection between “real” men and “faux men” by presenting images that no “real” man would do or participate in, thus risking the loss of their “man card.” Their commercials end with the obvious – that “real” men would go to their hair-cutting establishment.

This is one silly commercial in a procession of a long list of silly commercials that I usually ignore but this one day the connection the commercial made was that if you were “on your way to Pilates?  Lifetime revocation!” (Revocation of your “man card” – whatever that means).

Did I really hear what I think I heard?  Do the people who created this advertisement know anything about the Pilates Method or Joseph Pilates?

My brain, being of the analytical kind, immediately went into factoid mode, complete with hypothesis and summarization of this advertisement, the type of person who would design such an ad and the type of people who would buy into this image of what a “real man” does.

Hypothesis #1: The person(s) who designed this did no research on Joseph Pilates.

Joseph Pilates was a product of the German turnplatz rage. Germany was big into physical fitness and encouraged its population to engage in all types of fitness activities. The Germans believed that a strong, healthy, fit population was good for the nation.

Over the course of his life, Joe was a boxer, circus performer, wrestler and all-around athlete. His method was first based on mat work and was a combination of Swedish calisthenics and yoga. His first students were soldiers and police officers whom – and I think I can speak for most well functioning people – would qualify as “real” men.

Pictures of Joe in his twenties and thirties – and even his sixties – reveal a very fit man with a physique that would be admired today with its six-pack abs and sculpted muscles – and certainly equal to the models you would see on any men’s fitness magazine.

Summary #1:  The person(s) who designed the ad were too lazy or careless to do this research since it is easily found in the library and on the Internet.

Hypothesis #2: The person(s) who designed this ad know nothing about the Pilates Method itself.

The Classical Pilates Method was first developed as mat work and was a combination of Swedish calisthenics and yoga. Later on, as Joseph Pilates began to work with larger populations, he created various apparatus to accommodate the needs of those populations.

The Classical Method has been watered down and mixed with everything from kettlebells to boxing to ballet barre because, well, the Classical Method is just simply too hard for anyone who lacks the discipline to work with control, precision and concentration.

This Pilates stuff that you find in so many local communities; this stuff that caters to people want to say they are doing the real thing but don’t actually do the work is a blight against what Joseph Pilates intended his work to be. No doubt Joe himself wouldn’t even recognize much of what is touted as Pilates.

My guess is that the ad designers for this men’s hair-cutting place are more familiar with these foo-foo styles of Pilates. Which says a lot about the amount of energy they put into their research.

Summary #2: The person(s) who designed the ad were ignorant of the original Classical Pilates Method itself and made assumptions.

So – was the ad team playing into stereotypes of what is stored in their limited mindsets?  Or…….

Was the ad team made up of lazy, careless, ignorant people who made big, broad general assumptions and who didn’t bother to do any research?

Hmmm…it would be interesting to have been in the meeting when they developed a description of their target market.

IAYT Announces Certification Programs – Gulp

Sunday, October 5, 2014

As someone who has practiced Yoga Therapy for almost twelve years now, I am greeting this announcement with some apprehension. I am not sure how IAYT is going to determine the necessary criteria for someone who wishes to become a Yoga Therapist and who will be making the final decisions on this.

And how will those of us who have been practicing yoga therapy for years and learned our craft from our own practice as well as books, teachers and travelling to meet and work with other teachers be recognized by IAYT?

My hope is that when the IAYT arrives at the final decisions it does so with an enlightened mind and a heartfelt desire toward inclusion. My hope is that the board of IAYT is full of open minds towards those of various approaches to treatment rather than a group of people operating as a clique.

I have seen organizations come into being under the auspices of  “furthering the growth of our passion” but instead become focused on power-grabbing for a select group of individuals. I have seen organizations come into existence and demand dues from its members solely to continue the life of the organization, rather than serve its members as organizations are supposed to do.

I was trained in the early 1990s at the Pilates Studio of New York. At that time, there was a trademark on the Pilates name and only those associated with that school could call themselves Pilates teachers. The trademark was tossed out in 2000 and Pilates is now in a rather sloppy mess due to the greed of the fitness industry and its need to dumb things down for mass consumption. Who knows really what Pilates is these days?  (In the span of fourteen years, I have heard the word “pilates” used as a catch-all word or as part of a combo-hybrid fitness class. Pilates has been combined with yoga, kettlebells, bands and balls to name just a few of these combo-type classes. The creators of these hybrids claim they are evolving the method when the reality is that these hybrids are just more weak and flat exercise programs guaranteed to be forgotten within a year).

Eventually out of the ruins, an organization called the Pilates Method Alliance arose in response to all those people who heretofore were prevented from calling themselves Pilates teachers but who were chomping at the bit to get into the Pilates action. The members of the PMA board included teachers who worked with Joe (who began calling themselves the “Elders”) as well as several others who represented themselves as those who would lead the way into the future of Pilates.

No one seemed to notice or question how many of those board members were equipment manufacturers.

Today, the Elders who have not died by now or left on their own have been essentially pushed aside by the remaining members. The remaining members that were not equipment manufacturers now work for those equipment manufacturers.

The PMA now touts a certification but what does that mean? There are so many different approaches I am left wondering as to who gets to decide what is there to be certified about?

Pilates certifications these days are often conducted by the equipment manufacturers themselves – Balanced Body, Peak, Stott – thereby making the chances of most of today’s Pilates instructors nothing more than employees and/or representatives of the company they bought their equipment from, rather than teachers of the method itself. There are a few exceptions – Romana’s Pilates is one example.

To further dumb down the teacher, the product and, unfortunately, the end result, these corporations offer franchises for purchase. That’s right – just like your local Curves.  How much education do you really think is required when a corporation is eager to sell one of its franchises?

This is what the PMA organization has done. Not bettered the Pilates method. Not promoted Joseph Pilates’ vision of his work. Not secured the integrity of the method.

Who really has been served by the PMA?

To that end, I defy anyone to tell me that yoga is better off today with the formation of Yoga Alliance.  Yoga has been going along nicely for thousands of years without any help from meddling, power-hungry people, thank you very much. People who wanted to be yoga teachers travelled to study, practiced diligently and after years of this decided to become teachers often with their teachers’ encouragement.  It is a noble practice and profession but it has been turned into a corporate, materialistic, elitist stretch program complete with a sexed-up image.

When one of these “teachers” suggests a teacher-training program to a student, it is often motivated by financial need, rather than whether the student is ready. Hell, by today’s standards the only “readiness” a student needs is that he/she’s 1) gone to class for two weeks, 2) she really likes the whole yoga image thingy and 3) she’s got money to blow.

The great Vanda Scaravelli once said, “Be careful, very careful about organizations. Yoga cannot be organized, must not be organized. Organizations kill work.”  She was right.

It is somewhat amusing to contact the YA for some kind of member service question. The answer I usually get is that “well, we haven’t resolved that issue yet.” The issue I had is one I’ve had for three years. Now, they can’t resolve member issues but they can sell you the latest Richard Karpel online video on how to make more money by selling stuff and whatever and it only costs a couple hundred dollars! (As of this writing, Karpel has resigned but I am sure a like-minded individual will replace him).

So again, I ask – who is really being served here?

That is why I greet the announcement from the IAYT with some trepidation. I have hope but I also have realism.

But if it’s just another way for another clique to get control of something, I won’t be too surprised.


Dear Swami Sensei

September 19, 2014

Dear Swami Sensei -

I am a 48-year-old woman whose last child just went off to college. I am feeling lonely and without a purpose. I cannot decide what I should do with my life. My friend Tiffani from my “sometimes book, always booze”-club has lingerie parties where she sells edible panties and my other friend Britni from my bunko group has a Pampered Chef gig.

I was watching Oprah and I saw that she’s decided to become a “spiritual” coach. And I thought – hey, that sounds pretty cool. Maybe I could do that, too.

My question is: how would I go about being my community’s “spiritual coach”?

Would I have to start going to church or something? Would I have to read a book?

Is there just a Facebook page I could look at instead – preferably one with pictures?

Thanks bunches!  :) :) :)


Dear Missy –

Namaste. You’re letter is very intriguing. And perplexing. Please understand that I am all truth and sometimes, well, truth hurts.

I admire your desire to become a spiritual guide and while I would not wish to put a sardhaka on your dreams, I feel I must tell you that, contrary to the popular belief that we are all equal, there are, in fact, many types of beings in the world.

In other words, you are one type of being and Oprah is another. Or, as we say in my neck of the ashram, she is “the” Oprah.

She is one of only the few beings that “become” just by uttering the words. No education necessary. Her experience alone has validated her superior spirituality over others.  She is one of a special group of people known as the “Maha Shirshas” or “Big Heads.” Some of my friends here in Pushpat say it’s just another rich American with hubris but I remind them that such cynicism would be frowned on by our beloved Patanjali.  Then I tell them that they are just jealous.

Of course, you may try to become a spiritual coach just by your words, too. Try this on your next trip to Starbucks: when you get to the front of the line, turn around to the folks and pronounce “I just had an AHA moment!”  If someone doesn’t then hand you a Depends, you might just be onto something.

Do not despair, Missy, if this spiritual coaching thing doesn’t pan out for you. There are many quick and easy things for you to try to find purpose in your life. I think teaching stretching classes are real big in your country right now but I think in America, they are called yoga certifications.

And if that doesn’t work out, maybe you can get a Pilates Barre franchise.

Sat Nam,

Swami Sensei

P.S. – What is Facebook?

Present-Moment Living and the Authentic Life

August 30, 2014

I think that most people live in the past, the future or in fantasy. In all of those cases, we are creating some memory of greatness that we either were or will be despite evidence that may indicate otherwise.

When we live in the past, we often believe that somehow life was perfect then. We knew everything, had everything. But somehow, in the present, all of that has been taken away. Usually some greater power (usually God) is blamed for taking it all away.

When we live in the future, we believe that our wanting it badly enough and putting it on a list will make it so.  We imagine that, one day, we will reach perfection and everything will make sense in our lives. We will make the right choices, live the right way and be happy. (It is interesting to me that we are not ready to make the right choices now but we truly believe that something in the future will change all of that).

When we live in fantasy, we tend to cook up an image for ourselves that is not aligned with our truth, but rather with the truth of others – whether it is what the media or our peers tell us is the truth.

The trouble is that none of these options work out well for our lives. Living in the past suggests that you are not good enough now; the future depends on a list of “to-dos” and not the now; and fantasy is well, just a fantasy. It is unachievable if it is not aligned with your true self.

The woman of sixty-three who dresses in leggings and midriffs and starves herself because she wants to weigh the same as when she was eighteen and the most popular girl in school; the overweight person who chronically stuffs himself with junk food after a stressful workweek promises himself on Friday that he will start a stringent diet – on the following Monday; the person who acts hard and tough in her career (because that’s what strong women do according to Cosmo) but who really would like to be a housewife and take care of kids – all of these people are doomed to frozen lives, unless something happens to bring them to present-moment living.

Very few of us embrace the present moment although all the yogic texts, Buddhism and great spiritual teachers tell us that this is where happiness and peace are to be found.

However, what they did not know was how different our world is than when they wrote their guidelines.  In our adrenaline-jacked, 100 mph, multi-tasking world, being in the present moment is well, boring and often frustrating. Our world is a “just add water and stir” kind of world where everything is to be had right now whether it is the purchase of a cup of coffee or a fitness certification.  Beating ourselves up with work, or exercise, or multi-tasking is often admired in our culture. What is not addressed is that, in time, that “beating up” mentality leads to outcomes we don’t address: addictions, depression, fatigue, breaking down.

There is a delusion about “striving.” Striving is working toward a goal, not straining or forcing toward a goal. It requires focus, persistence and consistency – all to be found in the present moment. A successful diet program requires small steps done consistently and takes time. A crash or fad diet can result in weight loss – if you’re able to stick with it – but the results are usually not long lasting in which case I would suggest that that diet is not successful at all. In addition, there is no way of knowing what the deeper physiological costs of such a diet is until later on.  In much the same way, it is impossible to work out for three hours straight one day to make up for the last five days without working out and expect the same results. Doing fifty leg lifts instead of ten focused ones is not better and the only result is that you get really good at doing leg lifts.

So, if we are not used to present-moment living, how do we acquire the skill to not only live in those moments but to be comfortable with them?

Classical yoga gives us the opportunity to be healthy in our minds and spirits by addressing these very issues.  Since classical yoga does not follow a rote set of asanas, the student is somewhat compelled to be in the moment physically since they do not know what’s coming next.  A good teacher – one with proper education as well as the wisdom that comes from experience – guides the student from one asana to the next based on what that student needs now (which may be different tomorrow).

In a classical yoga session, the student will come into moments where they are uncomfortable.  They may be asked to be still for a longer time than they are used to; they may be asked to do an asana that they don’t like because it doesn’t come easily. In these moments, a teacher can be there to encourage you but it is you who must become your own voice of strength.

What goes through your mind in these very moments? If it is anything other than being at peace and steadiness then there is your work. This is where you work on being steady in those uncomfortable places.  This is where you work on present-moment being.

Notice the messages that flood your mind. Most of the time they are there to distract you; the mind can be stimulated by external or internal factors but it really prefers the external so that’s where it will try to take you. If all you’ve ever done is react every time an external stimulant flags your attention then why would you expect something different?  You will have to train yourself to not react.

So, why is this important?  Well, better decisions are made from a place of centeredness and calmness. Those qualities can only be found in the present moment. I don’t know one person who wouldn’t like to make better decisions whether they involve personal, business or social choices.

Focus becomes laser-like in the present moment. Think of the last health crisis that you or a loved one faced.  I’ll bet there was no monkey mind to distract you then but where was it?  Did you make a conscious effort to get rid of the monkey mind? No. You just didn’t give it the attention that it wanted.  Sure, maybe it was by default but now you have proof that you can do it – whether you are in crisis or not.

Present-moment living deepens relationships and experiences. Imagine meeting a friend for lunch and she spends the whole time checking her smartphone, greeting other people or interrupting your chatter to tell you all about her exciting experiences?  These are the people who, in later years, will regret not being in the present moment. I often hear from older people that they wished they had been more aware of others and appreciative of their lives in their younger days. This type of regret may be something that you yourself have experienced. Recognize that it is only by living in the present moment can we experience the full joy of being with those that we love or truly absorb what it is we have to learn.

Casting Off The Cloak

August 23, 2014

True story #1: I was teaching a yoga vinyasa when a small voice in the back asked: “Can I do this other pose instead of the one you’re asking for? I do this other one much better.”

True story #2: In another class, I had a student who made a habit of asking others in the class what they were feeling. This student was particularly limber and she asked a rather stiff girl this question while they were in a straddle pose. It was clear that this limber student had a need for attention.

Both stories are examples of what Classical Yoga identifies as the poisonous Ego identity.  The Ego is false and needy. It does not act in your best interest; it acts in its own best interest.

When a student indicates that they are at an Advanced level, it is understood that one is advanced at a mental, spiritual and physical level and of those, the physical is the least important. While it is common for a beginner yogi to ask others “what they are feeling, anyone with a year or more of practice would – and should – know better.

Likewise, substitution of one pose for another that you “do better” suggests that this student lacks the fortitude to tackle what is hard for her – or to even try. She would rather do something that is easy for her. (Interestingly enough, this student often complained that her own practice had become boring. Hmm, wonder why?)

In both cases, we can see that Ego played a big role. The term “ego” carries a lot of baggage in our culture and when you say someone has a big ego, you’d better be prepared for a fight. So, let me see if I can clarify ego from the perspective of Classical Yoga.

Certainly, there is your identity. You may be a mother, a father, a stay-at-home caretaker or an entrepreneur. It is who you are in your daily life.

And then there is this cloak of persona that most of us tend to wear. I suspect we develop these cloaks because we don’t feel that we are enough as we are. Our cloaks make us feel bigger, better and more important than other people.  This cloak is the Ego that Yoga warns us about.

We know that the cloak is a phony. What we don’t realize is that the cloak is also a prison.  When we are wearing our cloaks, we can’t make a mistake or do something silly or – God forbid – fall out of our Crow Pose. What would people think?  So we choose what we are good at. Every. Time.

And yet, every successful person – yoga practitioners included – will tell you that they learned more from their failures than their successes. A “safe” life, inside your cloak, is barely any life at all. There is no growth, no maturity, and certainly no liberation.

It is said that how you do your yoga reflects how you approach your life. Imagine if you chose to live your life as if you’d stayed in First Grade in elementary school. Certainly, you’d have fun; after all, it’s First Grade!  You’d know everything because it was the same stuff you’ve been doing for the last thirty years. Think of how impressed all the new kids would be to see you master First Grade poses!

Maybe that’s enough for you. And that’s okay. Those yoga Stretch and Tone classes are just fine.

But isn’t there a small part of you that looks at those people who are beyond First Grade, struggling in their practices with new ideas and concepts and says, “I want to be there!” It probably won’t be fun at first but something inside you recognizes it as a chance for growth.

Classical Yoga asks us to face these growth challenges not just as learning new gymnastics or a great stretch for the body but also stretches for the mind and the soul. It asks you to face fears, feel small sometimes, and fail other times. But you will grow into a more realized person and free human being.

And you can’t truly do that without throwing off the cloak.

Blind Faith

False Prophets and Blind Faith

July 20, 2014

I was raised Catholic but, like many Catholics, distanced myself from my religion as I became more aware of the “we know best” attitude of the Church. I was taught to obey without question, to accept without question and to repress any feelings that ran incongruous to the Catholic teachings.

This attitude of complete obeisance also pervaded my home environment, even when it conflicted with my gut instincts. So I grew up feeling one way on the inside (which I was told was not right) and acting differently on the outside (which I was told was the right way). The conflict between these two choices caused me years of mental anguish and emotional pain.

So, after much work, I freed myself from any restrictions placed on me by someone who suggests that they “know” and I do not. They may indeed “know” but I am entitled to question to see if it is authentic in my own life-or determine if they are just to sell me some b—s—.

Yoga philosophy is all about this level of freedom. I believe that level of freedom is what all of us want. What we are seemingly unwilling to accept, however, is that that level of freedom requires a great deal self-responsibility.

I suggest that even though yoga is more popular now than it has ever been at any other time in this country (although Amrit Desai would say that what is popular is not yoga), too many American-style yoga participants (I hesitate to use the term “student” as students study on their own as well as participate in the classroom) gladly turn over their mental and emotional care to those who profess to “know.”

There is no need for Yoga “life coaches,” for example. The study of Classical yoga is in itself a life coaching.  My favorite ad of the week came in an email offering a yoga “get-away” to a Caribbean resort where you can sail the sea with a certified “Dolphin Energy Healer.” Not a regular dolphin energy healer, mind you, but a certified one.

That term implies that they “know” and you do not. As if you were to take a boat out into the sea, came across some dolphins swimming alongside you and felt something deeply connected to Nature, it would not mean as much as if you’d taken a certified dolphin energy healer along.

How about the wealthier yoga teachers among us who, while excoriating Monsanto and other corporations for environmental destruction, will turn around and offer us yoga “enlightenment” trips to the Swiss Alps?  How do you suppose one gets from the USA to the Europe?  Hmmm?

Can you say “carbon footprint”?

And yet, these trips and get-aways will be well-attended because we want what these people say they can give us: peace, contentment, and connection and we will pay whatever we can for as long as we can to try to get that.

All of our lives we are told what to wear, what to say, how to act. Our socio-economic class and mindsets determine whether we vacation in Panama City or St. Thomas, whether we drink beer or wine, whether we shop at Kohl’s or Niemann-Marcus. We turn over our self-esteem to anyone who looks like they are in the class we aspire to be in. We turn to celebrities we’d like to be friends with for anything from their political views to their favorite iPod tunes.

And now we’re doing the same thing in yoga and other types of mind-body modes- at least in this country. We’re turning to celebrity yogis or “certified” healers to show us the way to happiness and freedom, instead of spending time with ourselves. Yet the yogic texts are very clear on this – they tell us that no one can show you your way to happiness; only you can show you.

It is amusing, in a sad sort of way, that so many people who will scoff at religion and the church – any church – because of a perceived repression of their rights will blindly follow some skinny tattooed guy in tights because he just looks the right part.

Yes, YOU can do yoga

July 17, 2014

What is your knowledge of yoga?  Is it stretching for stretchy people? Is it for young, fit – and preferably blonde – types?  Do you have to give up your religious beliefs and become pagan?  Buy overpriced outfits? Become a vegan?

In other words, when you think of yoga, does an image come into your mind that maybe doesn’t look like you?

Well, we can thank the marriage of the fitness industry and marketing together with the selling out of the yoga industry for those images because the truth is that  yoga is for all of us. Especially interesting in yoga is the fact that as one gets older, one gets better with yoga provided he or she has a consistent practice, of course.

I have taught yoga for over thirty years but have made a decision in the last few years to distance myself from what I term American yoga. I do not teach this American-style yoga which has seemingly applied a fast-food mentality to a beautiful system of health in order to make a buck off everything from videos to music to yoga shoes.  American yoga teachers are often aerobics- cum- yoga teachers after some weekends of training. Teacher training has become big business and often just includes field trips to other yoga studios, sing-alongs and learning new tricks.  Certification is no assurance that your “teacher” will know what the hell they are doing – or why.

And by the way, Yoga Alliance does not certify teachers just in case it comes up in the future.  If someone tells you that they were certified by Yoga Alliance, they are intentionally misleading you or just careless. Either way, those qualities are not what you want in a yoga teacher, either.

No, I teach what I call Classical Yoga.  Classical Yoga is designed individually and for individual needs.  Why is that important? Because Classical Yoga (CY) for thousands of years has been a system of health for so many people and, much like going to the doctor, no one prescription is applicable to everyone.

Alignment in the asanas is important but there is no one “perfect” pose that one should aspire to. The perfect pose is the one that is perfect for you. How do you find the perfect one for you in a class of thirty people?

Even something deceptively simple as breathing exercises must be tailored to individual needs which may change daily – because we as humans are different every day. The wrong breathing practice at the wrong time can agitate the mind and/or certain physical conditions.

Modern medicine is beginning to appreciate how significant individual differences are in treating patients.  There is a growing number of doctors who practice what they term “functional medicine” which is looking at a person’s lifestyle behaviors in addition to their blood work and general observations to arrive at a proper treatment protocol. For example, depression is a common complaint and the response used to be to prescribe a pill and send the patient on his way. However, doctors who practice functional medicine understand that depression can be related to many factors: low thyroid function, folate deficiency, prediabetes to name a few.  Inflammation may be related to mental as well as physical stress that will not ease by just taking a pill.

Individual prescriptions for individuals in the pursuit of optimum health.

Classical Yoga works the same way. Best of all, CY helps you age in ways that allow you to move the process as effortlessly as possible; it allows you to maintain strength without encouraging degeneration; to keep flexibility of not just the body but the mind and spirit as well which often become stiff and angry in their own ways.

Aging brings its own set of unique challenges for the teacher as well as the student. Unfortunately, too many of these “teachers” have boiled down the “Over Fifty” classes to just lying around over bolsters. While that is certainly nice it ignores a large group of people who were active all their lives and continue to be so in their fifties and sixties but also recognize that they don’t want to beat themselves up in the competitive atmosphere of an American yoga class.

Middle-aged people and seniors should not have to choose either/or when it comes to yoga classes. It is unfortunate that this group is not often catered to but it is easier (as well as much more lucrative) to sell images to younger, impressionable people than older, wiser people who understand when they’re being played to.

Just remember that yoga is not the sexed-up, name-brand wearing, tramp-stamped product that you see advertised in magazines nor is it just for yuppie-cum-hippie types that you see coming out of the local Bambi-yoga studio down the street.

Classical Yoga is smarter, wiser and bigger than all of this and it will survive intact when the Twitter crowd moves onto the next thing that takes its short-lived attention.

Ugly Green Paint

July 6, 2014

When I was little – about 6 years of age or so – my grandparents lived in a house in a coal patch town in Pennsylvania.  I don’t remember much about the house itself but one thing I do remember is the rather strange green paint that seemed to be on every bit of kitchen cupboards, closet doors, chests and tables.  When my grandparents died, some of the pieces that were deemed heirlooms were stripped of this ugly green color and what was found underneath was beautiful deep-colored wood. My uncle and my parents took great care to refurbish these pieces and, as an adult, I couldn’t understand why anyone in their right mind would take these beautiful pieces and paint them!

What I learned was that when my grandparents were young newlyweds hardwood floors, wood furniture and wood closet doors were considered “old-fashioned.”  The “new” thing was to paint these things green (or a Pepto-Bismol pink), as that would make them more “modern.” Only much later did anyone realize that that belief was only a momentary trend and a delusion; it did not result in improving the furniture at all. The true beauty was to be found in the natural deep wood and craftsmanship of the piece.  In other words, the “traditional.”

Such is the way of American cultural trends. In the haste to “innovate,” “improve” or “modernize” we often ignore the fact that some things don’t need to be innovated or improved upon.  They are perfect just the way they are.

Sometimes, changes take beautiful things and turn them into junk. It can happen to furniture, Coca-Cola and even…yoga.

For example, I have an acquaintance who has signed up for a teacher training program at one of our local yoga studios. She recently made a comment that got my attention because I have noticed something like it in articles I have read on yoga sites. The underlying theme seems to be that traditions are “old-fashioned” and “out-of-date.”  These comments are often followed by a “new, improved and up-to-date” approach that is “more suited to these modern times.”   The result is classes without substance or depth but with plenty of sparkled-up surface.

For example, there is one yogi who advertises herself as the “Punk Yogi” and she’s got the full schtick going: hair in a punk style, clothes are punk style. The wording in her recent book is street and she tries really hard to sound rebellious but to me she comes off like Cher in Clueless – in yoga clothes of course.

Another friend in another one of these training programs, took a field trip to a studio where they had ropes and various props on the wall. She was all excited, as if she’d never seen such a thing.  I said that Iyengar has long used wall ropes and my studio has wall props as well.

She stopped mid-sentence and responded that yes, she already knew these things but that I was more “traditional” whereas this other place was offering a new kind of yoga wall ropes work.  She went further by stating how great such a thing would be for old people who couldn’t hold poses – hey, they could do it at the wall with support!

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that yes, and that is why Iyengar yoga has long used a variety of props. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that Iyengar already figured that out a long time ago.

I also didn’t have the heart to tell her that there is so much information about yoga that should be communicated in a teacher training course that there shouldn’t be any time for field trips.

It is truly sad that just anyone can call themselves a teacher – and I am not referring to any of my friends here but rather the people who call themselves their teacher trainers.  It is sad that yoga has been turned into a sexed-up, name branded fitness- without-brains activity; it is sad that more time is invested in the yoga “look” than the yoga practice.  Ugly green paint has been dumped over the traditional and yet those who are dumping the paint are telling us they are making it more modern.

It doesn’t need to be made more modern. Traditional yoga is always on the mark because it is concerned with people and people haven’t really changed. We still suffer from anger, frustration, job loss, divorce, grief over the death of a loved one, a health crisis. We still struggle with life’s changes. We need tools to make our way through that fog and those tools do not include a new pair of yoga pants or a new trick.

I have been part of the fitness industry for over thirty-four years. I have seen many trends come and go and they pass not because they are not valid but because most people get bored. They do not have the capacity to go deeper than the superficial – the look, the stretches or the physical tricks. Such is the mentality of the masses.

My hope is that a few of these people can see beyond the ugly green paint to connect with the beauty of the tradition that is Classical Yoga.

A Father’s Day For Me

Sunday, June 15, 2014

For those of us whose fathers have passed, Father’s Day is filled with memories rather than present moment experiences. Depending on your relationship with your dad, those memories can be bittersweet or better forgotten.

In my case, it is a bit of both. My father died almost three years ago from Korsakoff’s syndrome brought on by years of alcoholism and malnutrition.

“Toxic and metabolic encephalopathy” and “history of recurrent alcoholism” are on his death certificate as the causes of his death. These are not emergency room diagnoses – these diagnoses were years in the making and most likely known by the physician he’d gone to for a long time. Yet I don’t blame the doctor for anything; what he knew was privileged information.

I do, however, have a problem with those around my father who knew of his alcohol problem and chose to stand by and do nothing other than to shame and guilt him for being a failure for it. It is a big issue for me because I’d spoken out about what I suspected was a problem almost thirty years ago; it drove me to ACOA, Al-Anon and therapy. I begged for my family to rally around my dad, to get an intervention together and to understand alcoholism but I was told I was imagining things, that I was a drama queen and that I thought too much.

I’d eventually had enough and moved away from my hometown. A year later, my dad had a seizure, got scared and finally went to AA. He sobered up. I was ecstatic at this return to health. I sent him cards on his sober anniversary date and told him how proud I was of him.

What I didn’t know is that he fell back into drinking within two years of that seizure. I wasn’t aware of it because I’d only seen my dad once a year or so. Apparently, what I thought was fatigue was a hangover; what I thought was crankiness was withdrawal from alcohol. It turns out that a few days before I’d visit, he’d try to dry out. I didn’t smell the alcohol and didn’t see the stumbling so I believed my family when they told me he was just tired.

The last year of his life was the worst. My husband and I had gone home and Dad was angry, irritated and foul-mouthed.  It was a horrible weekend. As we drove back to Illinois, I turned to my husband and said, “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say my dad is back to drinking.” My husband asked, “How do you know he isn’t?” and I just scoffed at that idea, “Are you kidding? My mother almost lost her house years ago. She’d never put up with him drinking again!”  Surprise……….

Seven months later my dad was dead. He’d had another seizure, was rushed to the emergency room and never came out of the coma. The doctors just kept pumping alcohol out of his system but his brain was totally gone – literally and figuratively.

I think it has been one of the most devastating events of my life and not just because my dad died but also because of the events and fallout surrounding his death. There were those around him who could have helped him but instead either ignored or enabled him; there were others who used him and took from him but never gave back. Many of these people would profess that they “loved” my dad but what was their definition of “love”?

Certainly not my definition.

Another devastating thing was that I knew him when he was young, fresh, ambitious, healthy, gregarious.  I worked for my dad a year out of high school before I went to college. He was just starting his own business then. He worked very hard but he loved it; he was very passionate about his work. He had a unique ability to connect with everyone regardless of the business they were in and especially enjoyed young business start-ups.

My dad’s fiery passion inspired me and those days are my favorite memories of our time together. When I leave my studio at night, I believe I can feel his presence around me just like in the old days when we’d wrap up at the office and head home for supper.

My dad was funny, charming and curious about things. People loved being around him.

He was great at his work and became very well-known and sought-after as a management consultant and tax advisor. He’ d achieved everything he wanted.

But as life does for us all, it threw him some serious curves: he lost his best friend and mentor, my mother went through some health crises and the business climate changed.

I think that life does these things to challenge us to see what we are made of and while my father could handle any tax problem put before him, a culmination of catastrophic emotional events threw him into a tailspin.

For all of his strengths, emotional fortitude was not one of them. He felt emotions deeply but was ashamed to show them. Drinking made it easier to numb them and since he came from an alcoholic family, I think the genetic component just added fuel to the fire.

By the time the late eighties came, the problem was chronic and the personality changes were there. I had come back to Pittsburgh after spending five years in Tampa and noticed them immediately but wasn’t sure exactly what was happening. When I finally figured it out, I got myself to ACOA.

There is no doubt that my dad’s alcoholism hurt a lot of people. My dad had lost himself and chose a way of coping that resulted in devastation.

Yes, my dad was brilliant, funny, passionate and a joy to be around.  We loved to debate each other and I really miss that because I have no one to do that with anymore. He loved all of his kids a lot and in his healthier days, we enjoyed some really great times.

He hurt me when he drank. He hurt me when he died. It hurts me still that he died the way he did.

But I loved him very much.

Joe Would Cry…….

June 1, 2014

Today I found an old clasp-style envelope simply labeled “Pilates” on the outside. Inside were my application to the Pilates certification program offered by the Pilates Studio® of New York, a list of my fellow classmates and pictures. It is hard to believe that as of July, 2014, I will have been a Pilates teacher for 21 years.

I have seen a lot happen to Pilates in those years, too. When I first became certified, there were less than 500 of us nationally. In my hometown of Pittsburgh most people who were not dancers pronounced it PIE-lates – a two-syllable word.

The program I studied under was trademarked which I thought was a good thing. It keeps the riff-raff out.

Unfortunately, the trademark was a weak one and the riff-raff outnumbered us. Combine the riff-raff with class-action lawyers and you get exactly what we have today: a confusion as to what Pilates is and is not plus at least a dozen hybrids combining Pilates with Yoga, Ballet Barre and God knows what else. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone has created “hot” Pilates!

I also have an envelope full of correspondence dated at the time of the trademark lawsuit.  It is full of such meanness that it is hard to believe it came from groups of people who’d otherwise describe themselves as empathetic artist types.  The term “greedy” is used a lot as is “ownership of the method.” This is what the people who ganged up on the Pilates Studio® of New York (PSNY) would have you believe: that they were against ownership of the method since they felt everyone should be able to teach it.

I don’t think Sean Gallagher was completely blameless; I think the idea of a trademark is a good thing but I would have liked to have seen more effort made in forming a community rather than making enemies if someone didn’t agree 100% with him.

Anyway, after the trademark was busted, the especially tacky riff-raff held “victory” parties. Classy.

In 2001, the Pilates Method Alliance was formed. Why, I have no idea. What I was told was that an organization was formed to “bring everyone together.” In 2004, I attended a PMA Conference and I did not observe an organization seeking to bring anyone together.  I observed old teachers who were not associated with PSNY – but who had studied with Joe and Clara – basking in the glow of the sudden attention of it all. Basking in the glow of victory as it were. I learned nothing from these people. One woman just seemed to enjoy being the center of attention while she told funny stories. Totally worth my time – not. Others told tales of being certified by Joe (not true – Joe did no such thing), or by SUNY Purchase (Sorry, nope. SUNY Purchase never has certified Pilates teachers).  And others I felt just saw potential riches in getting on board with PMA.

I observed big Pilates equipment manufacturers selling their wares. Not a good sign of things to come.

While there was discussion on whether there should be a certification test or not, at that time no one could come to an agreement on just how that could be achieved. The biggest problem I saw was the conundrum of the “navel to spine” or “neutral spine” argument. The idea was sloughed off by saying that all schools were valid and the PMA was merely a way for all the schools to get together once a year to share ideas. Certification would be left up to each individual school.

But now, PMA has a certification test. Or is it Balanced Body? Or is it Stott? Or some other equipment maker?  Because it is not the individual instructors who run the PMA or control Pilates – it is the big equipment manufacturers. It doesn’t really matter because, as I see it, the PMA was just the vehicle to hand over all those instructors – past, present and future – to the makers of Pilates equipment and it sure ain’t the method the manufacturers are vested in!

And for all of the hot air about PSNY’s control of Pilates, the PMA is no slacker when it comes to digging its own dirty little claws into the thing, either. They have conducted their own PR onslaught of the fitness industry to boast that they are the “premier” Pilates program - of the world! (insert Dr. Evil laugh here).

The PMA has turned into the very thing it initally fought against. So I gotta wonder – what was the real fight about?  The Pilates method itself or the money-making potential?

Aaah…to reminisce of the days where you were taught by teachers and not by the machine.