May 10, 2013
Last week, I attended the Authentic Pilates Union Conference. This group of individuals is rather new and this was my first attendance at their conference. The APU is a group that is committed to maintain the structure and integrity of the Classical Pilates Method as taught by Joseph Pilates and passed down to his teachers: Romana Kryzanowska, Kathy Grant, Carola Trier to name a few. These teachers then passed their knowledge onto the next generation and so on as the Classical Method is an oral tradition – there are few, if any, written notes by Joseph.
The people who organized this event were efficient and seemed to process all requests in a calm and kind manner even with a lot of busyness around between sessions. I also had the opportunity to study with teachers who I’d never studied with before.
But what I found most interesting was that there were attendees at this event who were not classically trained; their Pilates training was in some hybrid of the method. Certainly it is legal now since the destruction of the trademark to make “pilates” anything you want. Pilates was never meant to be physical therapy, done with music, watered down or chopped up into pieces the way circuit weight training is but there are any number of “pilates” programs that do just this and I think it is because the classical method is just too hard both mentally and physically. Concentration, mindfulness and pushing just a little into that fear zone so that you are mentally strengthening is not something our culture likes to do. Pushing into physical edges is just as uncomfortable – most of us just want to swing around a heavier kettlebell and call it a day.
A few years ago, I even had a client visting from out of town who told me she practiced a hybrid method. When I had her working in the Classical Method, she just couldn’t do it. The second day we were together she said, “Pam, I just don’t want to work this hard.” By the way, she was all of thirty-three so this was not a matter of age.
While these hybrid methods are often touted as “evolved,” they are just brought to a level of blandness. The Classical Pilates Method, developed almost eighty years ago, is still the most effective Pilates workout.
And so, as I attended classes and met many people I was struck by the sad fact that if the Pilates community had come together pre-2000 – rather than setttle into bickering over who owned what – then perhaps we would have seen something like I experienced at the APU event years ago. Here were people who were schooled in other methods open to learning the Classical Pilates Method. And those I talked to were won over by Joseph’s work in its original form. No doubt their teaching will have been changed by this experience.
It is ironic to me that this event was a “bringing together” of minds. It brought new minds to the original Pilates work. It allowed those of differing backgrounds to appreciate that original work. It allowed an open forum of questions and people got their answers without judgement or condescension.
The Pilates Studio of New York tried to get some uniformity by insisting it owned a trademark but in the end did not have the money or power to stand up to the massive numbers of lawyers and fitness organizations eager to get their fat little fingers into the Pilates potential money pot. Those of us who were schooled in the Classical Method then stood by as countless “pilates” programs popped up – often developed by yesterday’s aerobics instructors!
But not to fear, as it turns out. It will be Joseph Pilates himself together with those of us who are determined to keep his work alive that will do what the Pilates Studio of New York could not. It is better that we come together from a place of shared belief rather than from a dictate.
I think that the APU event represented the right step in this direction.
I recently received a newsletter from Yoga Alliance regarding the issues of copyrights, trademarks and branding. It is so sad to me that this issue has to even be brought up – let alone discussed – within the yoga community. Anyway, here’s my take on this whole subject……
April 19, 2013
There have been several lawsuits recently brought by Bikram Choudhury against studios and teachers over intellectual property infringement. The yoga community watches with baited breath to see how this one plays out. My opinion is that in most legal cases the term “legal” is not synonymous with “ethical” or “moral” and we should keep that in mind while these cases get dragged through the courts.
Bikram certainly stirs controversy. I have read interviews with him and he’s saying some pretty foul things that should not be coming from the mouth of a yoga teacher. But I do have admiration for this man who brought a new way of yoga to the U.S. I do recognize that he’s been doing this for years – since the l970s. He enjoyed success for a long time and was recognized for his unique brand.
At this point, I will seemingly venture off topic here as I disclose that I am also one of the Pilates instructors who became certified at the Pilates Studio of New York when the Pilates trademark was in place. A great benefit to the public was that the Pilates work was standardized and if a client traveled across the country, they could be assured that the quality of a Pilates lesson was intact wherever they found a Pilates instructor.
With the loss of the trademark, that is no longer the case. Within the pilates community, there are debates on even key foundational elements within the work so the quality of instruction is variable. The training programs are varied in content and depth and are often chosen on the basis of the quickest and cheapest way to get a piece of paper so that the legal counsel of a fitness facility is satisfied that lawsuit risk will be held at a minimum. The quality of instruction to a client is of minimal concern. After all, with “pilates” being a generic term now, it’s all the same, right?
Yoga Alliance’s recent newsletter on the Bikram lawsuit and its comparison to the Pilates one asserts that all it took to destroy the Pilates trademark was Current Concepts’ claim in U.S. District Court. It’s not quite that simple and tidy. It was a lot more than that. Maybe Current Concept’s claim started the ball rolling but if it just ended there, I believe that the trademark would still be valid. No, it was also the money and the numbers of people behind that lawsuit who had much to gain from the trademark’s destruction. Witness the plethora of pilates videos, supplies, pilates music and pilates clothing once that claim was settled. Witness the varied levels of training programs for pilates “certifications.” Witness the speed with which the fitness industry – which was losing people to boredom of its programs – start salivating over the possibility of putting pilates in their facilities thus grabbing that baby boomer population. Witness how many facilities have and are still popping up offering group mat, chair and reformer classes.
This was not about introducing clients to this wonderful bodywork; it was not even about teaching. It was about money. It still is.
Which brings me back to the Bikram cases. No doubt Bikram came to this country to achieve the American dream. He did everything an entrepeneur would do: create a product and sell it. He became successful. He probably thought that was the end of it and all he had to do was sit back and enjoy the harvest.
What he didn’t foresee was the American legal system of the 21st century. What I don’t think he had considered were the numbers of people in this country who have no second thought of taking another’s idea and, with a few tweaks, market it as their own. Many who wanted to teach Bikram’s style but didn’t want to get certified by him simply bought his book and went out and called their classes “hot yoga” (or “steamy yoga” or whatever). Throw in a few alternate poses – maybe a Boat Pose – so that it is not exactly like Bikram and voila! we haven’t really violated the Bikram copyright, right? Anyone with half a brain can see what’s really going on here. Legal? Probably. Violation of Bikram copyright infringement? Probably not. Ethically challenged? Hmm…..
Anyone heard of the Yamas and Niyamas?
While I don’t have any love for Bikram I have even less for those individuals who steal from others so that they can make money as quickly and effortlessly as possible. A few years ago, I taught yoga classes to a group of about eight individuals. Imagine my surprise when I met someone who was taking a yoga class at our local YMCA from one of my students. This woman began showing me her yoga “class set”. It was exactly from my class! Now, I don’t mean to sound all uppity but my classes combine many elements from dance, pilates, movement work in addition to yoga to create an “experience.” There is nothing out there like it and it is developed from HOURS of my own work, downstairs in my basement; just me, my yoga mat and notebook. Because I am a TEACHER. And that is what TEACHERS do. After I got over the intial distaste of what this student did, I moved on without bringing it up to her. It was a nasty lesson and while it left me a little cynical towards those who call themselves teachers, that was the worst of it. Certainly, I wasn’t clinging onto the creation of what was mine because I had to let it go so that I could move on; however, I also believe that if you’re creative, that talent will never leave you. There is always more.
But it’s also allowed me to feel a little of what Bikram must have felt somewhere along the way. And I am surprised that the yoga community has not stepped up to deal with both the “aparigraha” and “asteya” inherent in all of those connected with this case. It’s a big problem in the yoga “industry” right now that will take us further down the road of becoming even more cheapened.
April 12, 2013
Inversions and Shoulderstands
A few weeks ago, an acquaintance of mine was showing me a few yoga moves she learned at a local fitness studio. She showed me a few inverted poses that she thought were “fun.” If indeed these things are being done in fitness, yoga, gym clubs – whatever – they need to be addressed. So, keep these things in mind if you are a teacher or have your own practice:
1. WEAK CORE CONTROL: A person with weak core control should NOT be in a shoulderstand. Period. My acquaintance could only get her legs up and over her head by force, momentum and – once she gets her tush off the floor – the rest is by pushing it upward with her hands. Coming down is easy – hey, she just falls. No control. Now, I don’t care if the instructor to whom this woman went was “certified”, if she had great-looking tattoos or if she has cool-looking yoga clothes. The fact that she “helped” this woman into shoulderstand demonstrates ignorance and is potentially dangerous.
Unfortunately, my acquaintance thought it all funny and harmless that she was flailing on and off her neck and spine in Shoulderstand. She actually chided me for the look on my face as I watched her do these gyrations – probably because I looked like Edvard Munch’s The Scream painting.
If the instructor’s goal was to take this woman into an inversion then I think the better choice would have been Viparita Karani (Legs Up The Wall pose). No, it is not as dramatic and maybe not even as “fun” but all it takes is one misplaced force of energy on the way up or an uncontrolled falling down to wreck your neck. Once that happens, you may face NEVER doing shoulderstand. Or a whole lot of other ones, for that matter.
Students should be able to lift their bottoms with muscular control to intiate the shoulderstand. Yes, the hands are used in shoulderstand but they are used to support the weight of the body, not to thrust it into the air.
Without this muscular control, bones, joints, disks are placed in potentially dangerous positions. Oftentimes, the damage is done on a more insidious level and one day – BAM! Years of sloppy technique just gave you a cervical injury.
I have a friend from Yoga Therapy training who was doing yoga back in the 1970s. She fell out of shoulderstand one day (after 10-12 years of practice!) and was rushed to the hospital. The doctor told her she had bone spurs on every bone in her neck. She had nerve pain down her arm and as of the last time I saw her she has yet to even try shoulderstand or plow.
2. KNOW YOUR NECK ANATOMY: In my own practice, I don’t do Halasana (Plow), Classical Sarvangasana (classical-style Shoulderstand) or Karnapidasana (Ear Pressure Pose). My neck just doesn’t like it.
I have a long neck. When I am standing and lower my chin toward my throat notch, it doesn’t touch. My friend Kim is totally opposite. She drops her head, and her chin is happily sitting at the top of her throat. It’s just our differing anatomies.
Now the only way I will get my chin to my throat notch is by force. And I don’t think you need to be a genius to realize that force on the neck is a good thing. What to do?
First, know the purpose of the pose and why you’re doing it. Hopefully you are doing these asanas for health and not for ego-driven ends. There are many yoga asanas and variations that share benefits. For example, Half-shoulderstand is just as good as full Shoulderstand. And for beginners, Viparita Karani works. Iyengar yoga suggests folded blankets under the shoulders to help keep the neck long but this is not efficient in a flow class.
It is also important to know your particular posture pattern, especially as it relates to your neck and upper back. Flat upper backs, neck thrust patterns, tight pectorals, excessive kyphosis in the upper back, weak neck flexors/extensors – these will all have an effect on your ability to do, enjoy and reap the benefits of these poses. Corrective movements may need to be added to your particular practice so that you can dive deeper into the asanas.
April 7, 2013
Yoga For Introverts?
A few weeks ago, I received an email from a Yoga instructor I admire very much. He did a mass mailing of this email wherein he asked for feedback on our experiences of introversion. He was going to do a class on Yoga for introverts and wanted some stories, I guess.
The way this request passed through my brain filter left me finding his email a little condescending. At the very least, it was demonstrative of the lack of understanding of what introversion is. Or maybe, as a lifelong, A -Number- One Introvert it sounded as if it was something that needed to be treated and if so, here’s a tidy little yoga practice for it. Anyway, I know that he never meant to sound disrespectful because he’s not that kind of person. This is my stuff and it’s just as likely that I interpreted the email in the wrong way. Or maybe I just need to write about this.
Let me just say that there is a difference between introversion and introspection. As more of an introvert, I find my own company a lot more interesting than that of most people. I have a rich, inner life and nothing is more sweet to me than a week of indulging in my music, books, my dance and yoga practices and writing.
While I like people, I find long amounts of time with them exhausting. I feel as if I have to play a role and keeping up my stage act takes a lot of energy out of me. Here’s another thing about my introversion:
I don’t want to do anything to change it.
All of my life I have been told I think too much, analyze too much, spend too much time alone and have too much imagination. I have been told I should leave my books and “play with my cousins” when they visited which was as fun for me as getting a flu shot at the doctor’s office. I have been told to sit and talk to my relatives lest I been seen as an unfriendly child when in fact my relatives spent the time talking about who died, who was running around on who and comparing all the kids in the family.
For much of my life, I felt like an outsider, as if everyone got a manual on how to live life except me. My family did nothing to make me feel okay with that and most of the time I was shamed for it.
It’s not that they were particularly bad people; they were just all extroverts who really couldn’t understand me and probably wondered how I came to be in their family.
It took me many years to learn to love that introvert part of myself. When all else in my life fell apart it was the dancing, writing and music that held me together. It was also all that time thinking and analyzing that allowed me to examine my life and move forward with many positive changes. It was the alone time and imagination that sparked the creativity in my yoga choreography – allowing me to develop asanas for all ages, sports and fitness levels. And it is that ability to choreograph that has allowed me to create a yoga philosophy that is all my own.
Introspection is something completely different from introversion. While introspection is part of introversion, introversion is not necessarily a part of introspection. Perhaps a yoga sequence can be developed to encourage introspection but I wouldn’t want a yoga sequence for introversion. I am perfectly happy with the introvert that I am.
April 3, 2013
A few years ago, I began receiving an email newsletter from a guy that I will hereto refer to as Steroid Steve (if there is someone out there on the blogosphere who goes by “Steroid Steve” I will just say that this guy is not him). As near as I can figure it, this guy was a gym goon who found out he could make more money figuring out ways market his services rather than doing any client training. So he gave up pumping iron and turned in his cooler of protein drinks for marketing schemes. One goldmine he’s tapped into is apparently marketing bootcamps, the latest hot new trend. He actually offers somewhat of a marketing package kit for – get this – less that $100 (which will only be for TODAY only; after midnight it goes up to $ 400!!). In these media packages he offers email contents for your newsletters plus tips on nutrition, training and fitness. He also gives you tips on how to CRUSH your competition! One of the bootcamp owners who subscribes to Steve is in our area; I will call him The Beav. Fresh out of college, he wanted his own business quickly so he subscribes to Steroid Steve. I met The Beav on a couple of occasions and found him full of bravado but as totally inexperienced as one would expect. Every sentence he spoke included some reference to “The Research” as if no one else around him was even half as smart as he was. But my real question was: if you value education so much, why would you turn to something like Steroid Steve’s unrefined marketing strategies? You’ll just do it yourself. Unless you’re in a hurry, I guess.
Anyway, The Beav put me on Steve’s mailing list so this is how I am getting these newsletters. I would ask to be removed but, really, these newsletters are quite entertaining and I love to laugh. I especially enjoy the professional touches of the countless times “S—” is in the article OR how he spells out A-S-S – with dollar signs for the “S”‘s! Classy!
The latest email newsletter from Steroid Steve suggests that you must “crush your competition. You must pulverize other fitness providers who may pose a risk to your cash flow. You must have “shared enemies” with your clients – be it Zumba, Pilates, Yoga…because these are just gimmicks.”
Let’s see: Yoga – 2,000+ years old, Pilates – 70+ years old…..Bootcamp – 2, maybe?
Which one of these is more likely the gimmick? A trend?
And “shared enemies?” Really? Wow. I thought it was about fitness and wellness. And everyone has a choice on how he or she can best achieve that. I didn’t realize we had to get all Game of Thrones about it.
And so, it was no surprise to me to receive The Beav’s bootcamp newsletter describing a new class where they practice breathing exercises – “which are better than yoga and Pilates because we’ve done our research!” Right. New ways to say “inhale/exhale”? I don’t think so. I think that The Beav recognizes the benefits of yoga and wants a piece of the action; but to call it “yoga” would jeopardize his Steroid Steve cred.
Knowledge is good. Education is good. That is why I travel every year to study with a variety of teachers. I’ve done this for over twenty-three years. Wisdom is even better and comes with the experience of applying that knowledge with actual people and not test cases in textbooks.
Declaring a fellow fitness professional “the enemy who must be crushed” sounds like advice from someone who’s played too much Grand Theft Auto on his little XBox. Statements like these – intended to hurt and damage – are based on fear. Fear-based actions always result in negative consequences. Always.
I would’ve hoped that Beav the bootcamp owner would have – after a year in business – learned to respect that there are fitness professionals who don’t agree with his training style or his business model. And that that is okay. Real life is not a video game where you have to try to “kill” your competition.
I would have also hoped that The Beav, while clearly not having much respect for those of us who have worked on our own to build our businesses through education and hard work – and not by subscribing to some $100/year ready-made media kit – at least have more respect for his clientele by choosing to develop his own ideas rather than regurgitating someone else’s grunt and kill philosophy.
Sunday, February 17, 2013
Today would have been my father’s 79th birthday. Although he passed away fifteen months ago and the pain is more of an ache than that piercing sensation these days, I still feel that if I just call the house, he will answer.
My father died from complications of acute alcoholism. That is what is on the death certificate. But I think the alcoholism was only the vehicle of his death; I think that during his last years, he was surrounded by deceit, manipulation, loneliness and fear. Add a big dose of shame that underlies most addictions and it was all a recipe for destruction.
James Moody was born into a family of coal miners in a Western Pennsylvania coal patch town. He was the fifth of six children and the middle boy. He must have been an especially bright boy because by the age of 14, he was keeping the books at the company store, which was owned by his dad. Unlike his brothers, he did not take to boozing as a hobby, chasing women and fighting. When his siblings each turned 18, they were given a sum of money to do with what they pleased. My aunts used theirs for their weddings and my uncles used theirs for cars. My dad went to college in Pittsburgh.
I’ve always believed that my dad was a sensitive soul; he just hid it a lot because he was brought up in a culture where “real” men didn’t show their feelings. I also believe he was a genius who unfortunately was born into a family who, instead of caring for this genius, decided to shame him for not quite fitting in. As someone who was bullied herself, I think that this is one of the most painful things a human can go through – the pain of being on the outside, of being shunned for just being you.
Now while my father was not a big boozer at that time, he was introduced to drinking in his early teens by my grandfather. At some level, my father felt that the only time he “fit” in was when he had a drink in his hand. He had therefore always been a social drinker. However, later on when life began tossing him challenges as it does for all of us, he found his answer in the bottle. It was a quick fix, solace and numbed the pain. For a while.
In the late 90s, my father had a serious medical fallout from the alcohol plus numerous financial problems that both caused and were caused by the drinking. He made his way to Al-Anon but soon relapsed. He did not have a strong support system that assured him that relapsing was something many addicts face and so, he took his relapse as further proof that he was faulty at his core. More shame. Shaming an addict is like throwing gasoline on a fire to put it out.
As I had moved 600 miles away in 1995, I was completely unaware that he had relapsed. Until that day in 2011 when my brother called to tell me that my dad was in a coma. He died soon afterward.
My father had a great spirit, a vitality and a passion for his work so vibrant that it inspired me in my own work. But he was sick and because it wasn’t cancer, or heart disease, or some other “acceptable” illness, his sickness just got brushed aside as a character fault.
And it was a character fault but not his; it was in other people who were around him and did nothing because….. well, because, why exactly? Shame of their own? Laziness? Control? Indifference? I’ve never really known why. It makes no sense to me because I believe that if you love someone unconditionally, you’d climb mountains to help them. To just bury your head in the sand and ignore it sounds like not-love to me.
My spiritual beliefs tell me that wherever my father is, he is surrounded by the good, unconditional kind of love; they tell me he is healthy, healed and whole. Those beliefs have allowed me to continue my life without the heaviness of depression or bottomless anger at his death.
Happy Birthday, Dad.
January 26, 2013
Imagine yourself as a forty-five year old sitting at the kitchen table with your mother. You express how unmotivated and passionless you are, life is no fun, life is just hum-drum. Your mother responds by saying, “Hey! I know what would cheer you up! We’ll pull your old sandbox out of the attic and you can play in it just like you did when you were five! My, how you loved that sandbox! Won’t that be fun?”
Now, you’d most likely respond to this by wondering if your mother has completely lost her marbles. Yes, you loved that sandbox. But you were five. Things that worked then don’t work now. You’ve grown up.
So, why after twenty or so years of neglect, do otherwise educated adults jump into high-impact/high intensity activities like bootcamps, kettlebell classes and marathons without giving a second thought to the fact that they are now, well, grown up? Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with those classes – hey, I enjoy a big-time calorie burn as much as the next person – but the number of subesquent injuries that are resulting in a high drop-out rate for the 45+ year old age group is worth noting. Even the injury rate for yoga class attendees is too high.
Of course we have to first look at the classes themselves and discern whether they are truly about fitness at all or are they just sixty-minute ego gratification get-togethers? Is someone going into headstands in an open yoga class to achieve internal peace and enlightenment or is it more about eliciting oohs and aahs from the rest of the class? Are the plyometrics and pushups in a bootcamp class really about keeping your 50-year-old butt in top form or are they about bragging that you can do such things alongside the 25-year-olds?
No, I am not talking about that kind of stuff. Whether you do all of that – for whatever reason – is totally up to you.
No, rather what I am saying is that with the intelligence that comes with growing up and knowing yourself you can continue to do those classes and push yourself, if you want to, to new limits. And without injury! Surely by this time in your life you know about your physical abilities, your strengths and weaknesses. You know that if you have a tight back, weak core and can’t stretch your arms overhead to straight that maybe kettlebell class is not the smartest choice UNLESS you take measures to tackle your limitations. You probably shouldn’t do bootcamps if you have cranky knees UNLESS you take steps to keep those quad muscles in their best condition. You probably shouldn’t be doing headstands to strengthen your neck especially if your first yoga class is after age 30.
Growing up is not growing old. But trying to keep fit by doing the same things you did thirty years ago – without conditioning – can sure make you feel like it.
January 23, 2013
I am on an apparently large “Yoga & Pilates Community” e-mail list. Each and every day I average about ten or so yoga training schools advertising their certification programs. The proliferation of yoga teachers, yoga studios and yoga training centers takes me back to my old aerobics instructor days of the 1980s. Remember how everyone wanted to be an aerobics instructor then? And how many aerobics styles were there: we had high/low, low impact, Latin low, Hip Hop Funk, Disco Funk low, combo hi/ow and step, Funky step and slide……yada yada yada. Studios almost on every corner.
Didn’t even have to be a teacher or even interested in teaching. I can’t tell you how many instructors I interviewed for our club just wanted to make some money while they got a workout – students be damned!
And I see the same thing now in yoga clothes. It’s still the same mentality mostly; just a different uniform. There are so many styles, so many teacher trainings. Most of these “certified” instructors took a couple of classes and decided to become certified to teach. Certified these days basically means regurgitating someone else’s rules book.
The American marketing mindset has distracted the masses with clothing, sexy bodies, competitve calisthenics, water bottles, hippie images of everyone loving the environment, mats and special yoga socks (as advertised by a naked young woman – of course anyone who complains about this form of advertising is accused of being a prude. But I would ask the company that if they believe that the human nude is beautiful, when can I expect to see a 300 lb., 60-yr-old hairy man in Crow pose? With his yoga socks, of course!)
If yoga in its purest form teaches us non-attachment and we respond by buying all the accoutrement; if it teaches that we should love and respect each other and we respond bydisrespecting (sometimes violently) those whose opinions differ from ours; if it teaches us non-violence to ourselves and we respond by grunting and forcing ourselves into difficult poses to show off, then we need to give this thing a new name.
Because it’s not Yoga.
In my work, I come across people who want to look better, feel better and move better yet the blockages they encounter are not physical at first, but rather emotional. It is certainly hard to get motivated to exercise and eat better if you are emotionally in turmoil.
Emotional turmoil can present itself as fear, anxiety, anger, jealousy, prejudice – any emotional state that you would identify as negative. While emotions such as fear and anger are sometimes good because they help protect our emotional boundaries, having these emotional states as a constant in our lives depletes us. Think of how you feel when you are around someone who is always negative. Nothing is good, nothing works out for them, the world is one big bad experience, blah, blah, blah. How do you feel after spending just a few minutes with them? Expansive? Joyous? No doubt you probably want to crawl back into bed and pull the covers over your head!
Now think of how you feel when you are with a joyous person and/or doing something you enjoy like playing music, gardening or writing. Expansive! This is an example of prana (life force) being fed with positive input. Prana can be depleted or expanded by yes, your diet and self-care but also by your immediate environment: your family and friends; activities and career; how you spend your free time. I don’t think we realize the damage we do to our prana by spending endless hours watching the 24-hour news cycle or cruising the Internet. You wouldn’t feed your body poison and expect it to operate properly yet we feed our brains and spirits with violence, fear and/or useless information and expect them to be healthy. And those choices affect your level of motivation. It is this depletion of of the spirit that is making it hard for you to to get motivated to care for yourself by improving your diet or getting on the treadmill.
Choose to be expansive in your life. Food, activities, friends – all of these variables carry the power to make you feel healthy and alive or small and shrinking. With this simple choice, you will not need post-its on the fridge with special affirmations to get you motivated. It will become hardwired into your very soul.
Last weekend I attended the Yoga Journal Conference in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. The classes I signed up for were a blend of old-school and new-school as I like to both connect with the wisdom of the eexperienced teachers as well as to keep my finger on the pulse on what is going on in the yoga industry.
Indeed, yoga has become an industry. It is fast becoming more about the clothes, the props, the “body beautiful,” and complicated asanas. There are now bootcamps and competitive events in yoga. These instructors – because they are certainly not teachers in my opinion – argue that competition has been the norm in India for years and they are not violating yogic principles just celebrating the art..
That may be the case but I doubt if any of the yoga competitions in India were conducted by individuals who got “certified” by some organization over the weekend. If we are comparing ourselves to the teachers in India – as if that is enough of a criteria by itself – then let’s make it equal in all parts. In India before a student becomes a teacher, they must be a student for at least ten years. Go to your local fitness center and ask the yoga instructor how many years he/she practiced yoga as a student before becoming certified by only one of many organizations who make a lot of money churning out volumes of these people.
Classical yoga has first and foremost always been about self-knowing and includes the physical but also how you feel about yourself, what goes through your mind every day, what memories you have that are still bogging you down. It includes the examination of the roots of the perpetual anger, fear, anxiety, and frustration that we may feel that poison your day’s routines and every relationship you have.
Memories and emotions live in the body and as Patricia Walden states, “your issues are in your tissues.” Thus the reason for asana to begin with. At the very simplest, when you do your yoga class are you competitve? Are there poses you avoid because you’re not very good at them? Are you rigid in your practice?
After our physical practice, traditionally we practice pranayama and meditation. The issues that were released from our physical practice can now be examined and processed by the Self – the deep inner mind of wisdom. In case this sounds too New Age-y, think of it this way: the “self” is the guy who cut off the little old lady in traffic and the “Self” is the guy that knows better and suggests that in the future, you try a little more graciousness. We are both of these qualities but very few of us ever connect with our Self. Examining this Self is what can result in powerful and positive changes in the quality of our lives. Merely having your hamstrings stretched does not result in enlightenment.
Many of the elders in the yoga community teach that the world we live in is created out of the conciousness we now possess. So, if the world is becoming more angry, more violent and competitive to the point that we feel okay about hurting others, then what possible good can come out of teaching yoga classes designed to be more competitive?