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Archive for September, 2010

Oh my god, I can’t believe I almost didn’t make it.  That was a first.  I hope I get out of here before my meter expires.  L.A. Whatever, meter maid. Bring it.  I did put quarters in the meter, right?  Of course, I did.  Okay, stop thinking.  Seriously.  

I have other things to do. I really don’t feel like being here.

Shit.  I need to remember that I have to get lemons at the grocery store.  If I don’t, the salad dressing won’t taste right and then my delicious dinner is basically ruined.  And, laundry detergent, so I can wash those jeans. Lemons. Laundry detergent. Lemons. Laundry detergent. Lemons. Laundry detergent. Okay, stop thinking.

I can’t believe Gary wore just his underwear to class today.  Again.  Hitting the power switch to my brain…NOW.

I’m so glad I got this spot and not the one behind him.  

Did I close the backdoor?  Because if Finch gets out again and starts running around the neighbor’s yard like a wild animal…Sweet Fancy Moses, has it been that long since I shaved my legs?  I think maybe I really left the backdoor open.  How could I have possibly?  Oh, this is bad news.  This might require yoga stoppage. Wait, I couldn’t have just not closed the door.  Stop it.  Stop it.  You didn’t.  This is just your brain.  This is your brain being wild and crazy.  And now you’re brain is going to stop so you can do some yoga.

Breath.  Focus. On. The. Breath.

Yeah, but…

Breath.

Did I tur…

Breath.

* “Yogash Chitta Vritti Nirodhah” is the second of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.  It has been translated a bunch of different ways, including: “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.”  Or, as my husband puts it:  “Go do yoga. You’re getting nutty.”

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Remember the scandal and media frenzy surrounding Dahn Yoga in late 2009 early 2010?  For those of you who do not recall, yogi blogger  extraordinaire, YogaDork, was following the story, and you can read all about it here.   Apparently, it looks like two lawsuits filed against the organization were very recently dismissed!  The following is from a press release, which was obviously generated by the Dahn Yoga organization:

Facing multiple charges in lawsuits by former employees, Dahn Yoga & Health Centers, Inc. recently secured two important victories in Arizona and Virginia cases. The court rulings are victories for Dahn Yoga and the company’s founder, Mr. Ilchi Lee, as they dismiss key elements of the lawsuits against them.

On August 25, 2010, in the case Barba et al. v. Lee (Case No. CV09-1115-PHX-SRB), the United States District Court for the District of Arizona dismissed Jessica ‘Jade’ Harrelson’s claims of alleged sexual assault by Mr. Lee, as she provided information to the Court which discredited her earlier statements. The dismissal of her claims reflects previous assertions by Mr. Lee and Dahn Yoga that Ms. Harrelson’s allegations were fabrications.

In addition, the plaintiffs in the Arizona suit had attempted to argue “undue influence,” one of their key theories underlying charges of brain washing and cult manipulation against Dahn Yoga. However, Judge Bolton rejected those arguments, dismissing all Arizona claims related to undue influence.

Dahn Yoga and its affiliates have also filed counterclaims against the plaintiffs in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona for conspiracy and interference with existing and prospective business relationships.

In a second case, Myers v. Lee (Case No. 1:10-cv-00131-AJT-JFA), on September 21, 2010, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, ruled to dismiss Andrew Myer’s claims against Dahn Yoga, Mr. Lee and other defendants for RICO, fraud, Virginia Consumer Protection Act violations and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Judge found insufficient support for elements of some claims and lack of jurisdiction to uphold others. As Dahn Yoga has asserted in the past, the weakness of the claims has been revealed in court.

Dahn Yoga & Health Centers, Inc. (www.dahnyoga.com) provides personalized service and exceptional facilities that teach a stylized practice of yoga based on Korean traditions. The word “dahn”, meaning “energy”, emphasizes the mind body connection as the key to health and well-being. Ilchi Lee founded the practice in Seoul before opening the first U.S. Dahn Yoga center in 1991. Throughout his three-decade career, Ilchi Lee has continuously strived to develop new ways to share his practice and experiences. Acclaimed for health and wellness innovations and the integration of ancient and modern, Dahn Yoga has an extensive network of highly-respected facilities and instructors in seventeen states, and numerous affiliates around the world.”

I haven’t been able to very to any degree of certainty the grounds for dismissal of these two claims, and I haven’t been able to find any news on this, but I will definitely keep you posted.

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Have I mentioned that I started practicing yoga at the insistence of my mom because I was nervous Nellie?  It was July 2004, and I was studying for the bar exam.  I credit yoga for giving me the tranquility (and confidence) to pass that miserable exam.  Turns out, I wasn’t that far off . . .

There seems to be a new study out every week extolling the benefits of practicing yoga.  In August 2010, in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine published a study conducted out of Boston University School of Medicine examining the effects of a yoga practice on mood and anxiety.  Individuals with symptoms of anxiety or low mood have been documented to have decreased GABA levels (or, gamma-Aminobutyric acid, a neurotransmitter).  This study first looked at whether or not those levels were increased with a practice of yoga, and whether or not exercise in general caused the increase in these GABA levels.

The study compared two groups of individuals with no significant psychiatric disorders who were assigned either to practice yoga or engage in a “metabolically matched walking intervention” for 60 minutes 3 times a week for 12 weeks.  Ultimately, those individuals who practiced yoga observed a greater improvement improvement in mood and a greater decrease in anxiety.  Clinically, these same individuals also demonstrated an increase in GABA levels.

Apparently, this study has been groundbreaking.  This was the first study of its kind to demonstrate the correlation between increases in GABA activity and improvement in mood and anxiety.  Because pharmaceuticals shown to increase the activity of the GABA system are used to treat mood and anxiety disorders, this study could represent a new avenue for mental health professionals to use in the treatment of anxiety and mood disorders.

Can you imagine a prescription for yoga . . . covered by your health insurance?

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Ode to My Jade

This is a little something I wrote to honor my sweet little yoga mat.   The following is not an advertisement, nor is it the result of any sort of sponsorship from the company.  I actually just really love my yoga mat.

Ah-hem.

Ode to My Jade

On many a cold wooden floor you have laid,
Steadfast and sturdy, ‘neath my sharp shoulder blade.
You whisper, “I’ve got you”, and have never betrayed,
When teh room is so hot that I’m nearly sauteed,
Devoted you cling, as sweat drips, I have stayed.
You are tender when an ass of myself I have made,
And down come my bones; in a heap I cascade!
Upon you, I’ve cured up alone and afraid,
Then basked in the joy of love’s sweet serenade.
And when out of life’s lemons I’ve made lemonade,
You’ve offered me stillness amidst the parade.
You’ve been here through it all – through the sun and the shade.
No matter my doubts, or my questions, you aid.
With abiding support, you never have strayed,
Notwithstanding my mindset, or how much I have weighed.
With you, my dear friend, I have played and I’ve prayed.
But amongst all your rivals, there’s just no upgrade.
And though someday your rich, jasmine color will fade,
Together we’ll be until I’m an old maid,
‘Til my bones are weak and your edges are frayed.
So, forgive me these verses, which may be cliched,
But there’s one thing in life I never would trade,
My trusted old partner in asana, Jade.

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Last week, Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, posted a blog essentially stating that yoga poses a threat to the Christian faith.  While I briefly discussed Mohler’s post on my blog, I failed to realize that his post was a reaction to his own interview with Stefanie Syman posted on his website.  You can go to his website and listen to her interview, but I’ve posted the highlights here:

Mohler: Can you separate the physical aspect of yoga from its spiritual foundation in Hinduism?

Syman: First of all, yoga is not just part of Hinduism, yoga is part of Buddhism and Jainism, too.  And Hinduism is a term that was applied pretty late in the game to really diverse Indian religious practices.  So, the answer is, in some ways, yes, since yoga isn’t really owned by a single religion.  And, as a practical matter, what people have done is to take pieces of it – the physical poses, the breathing exercises, meditation – and practice them in the context of their own faiths, or kind of in a more secular way. I do think it begs the question of what you get when you do that, because yoga has very specific aims and there are slightly different theologies depending on which type of yoga you’re practicing and which philosophical system it is associated with.

Later in the interview, Syman responds to Mohler’s confoundment over the “strange story” of yoga being practiced by millions of people in America:

Well, this is kind of at the core of what makes yoga so powerful in America, which is it [yoga] says you can use your body to transcend mundane existence. So even if you’re just practicing yoga as a form of exercise, in the back of your mind, you know that if you, perhaps, pursued it further, there’s this whole other dimension, this rich field of possibility of transforming your body and having spiritual realizations by using your breath and your body right now, here, in this life. And, I think that promise, whether or not many people ever take advantage of it, or attempt to get to those deeper layers of yoga, is what really makes it so appealing.

Mohler and Syman also discuss the role of sex in yoga.

Mohler: How does [the sexual aspect of yoga] get transformed in the United States?

Syman:  As with everything, because it’s not part of our culture, we tend to take a kind of superficial and sometimes trivializing and problematic view of it.  Yoga really posits – particularly Hatha yoga, and tantric forms of yoga – that you can transmute sexual energy into spiritual realization, and that is by using your breath and your body to move what’s called Kundalini up the spine, up the Chakra system, which many people may be familiar with, and it really transforms your consciousness.  That’s not using sex specifically, that’s using sexual energy.  But there are forms of tantra that involve sex. And much of it involves visualizing sex. So, its sex as a visual metaphor for the unification of divine principles. But there are some forms of tantra that really do enjoin the aspirant to use ritualized sex for spiritual realization. Now this comes in this very arduous ritual apparatus that is quite tedious and involved. And most people, most Americans, wouldn’t have the patience to go even a tenth of the distance of what it requires in terms of preparation, and purifications, and meditations, and chanting and years of spiritual labor. But it does involve ritual intercourse. Of course, that fact opened the way for less savory characters to exploit this dimension as they did – and I believe some still do – to seduce young women, somewhat gullible young women who believe that they’re doing something sacred, and that will give them deep realizations.  So, someone like Pierre Bernard, at the turn of the century, used tantra as a form of cover or rationalization for something like sexual predation, although his sexual partners were willing at the time.  But he really did use tantra to take advantage of women at a time when premarital sex could ruin a woman’s reputation for life.

Mohler ends his discussion with Syman by asking her views on whether or not practicing yoga can be consistent with practicing Christianity.

Mohler:  Let me ask you another question, which is going to press upon you perhaps something that you didn’t intend to address in your book, but I just have to ask for the purposes of this interview and for my own personal interest: When you have this background in yoga, and an almost unprecedented knowledge of how it came to the United States and was received here, when you hear someone talk about the possibility of something like Christian yoga, does that make any sense to you?

Syman: In some ways it does.  I mean, if you look at yoga as a technology that can be used to transform your consciousness, used to get closer to the divine, then it does make a lot of sense.  If you’re looking to have the specific realizations outlined in the yoga scriptures, I think it makes a little bit less sense because you then have to take on more metaphysics and theology that those scriptures posit. And those are a bit different from what you’d find in Christianity, or Judaism for that matter, or Islam. So, I think it makes sense up to a point.

The conversation between Syman and Mohler was friendly and engaging; however, Mohler follows his interview with Syman by interviewing Douglas Groothuis, Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary and a “specialist on the New Age Movement”, who warns Christians that yoga is not merely about physical exercise or health.  During the interview, Groothuis states: “All forms of yoga involve occult assumptions,” he warns, “even hatha yoga, which is often presented as a merely physical discipline.” 

Mohler’s blog post was picked up by USA Today online, and spread like wildfire thereafter.  In fact, Mohler’s hometown newspaper Louisville Courier Journal printed a story stemming from Mohler’s post, and letters to the editor posted in today’s edition of the newspaper about Mohler’s statements weren’t very supportive.  Here is what the letters said:

Given the social, political, economic and environmental issues that society and churches are grappling with today, I was astonished to read Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler’s recent comments regarding yoga. I have practiced yoga for 12 years, and many of my fellow practitioners are some of the most compassionate, reverent, spiritual, selfless, and ethical people I have ever met.  

As with the case of which sports team emerges victorious, who wins an Oscar, and where you left your car keys on any given day, I’m pretty sure that God (or whichever Deity you prefer) has bigger fish to fry than condemning those folks on their mats, pursuing health of mind and body. I would suggest that President Mohler follow suit and focus more on the tasks associated with his position, and less on passing judgment of others. Namaste.

SUSAN MULDOON, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Why The Courier-Journal thinks that Albert Mohler’s opinion of yoga as a threat to Christians is newsworthy is beyond me. He is certainly entitled to his own personal beliefs as much as any other person. My objection is to the C-J giving over the space to his views, which for many of us elicit a “who cares?” response. To devote paper space to his bizarre beliefs provides him with a free platform to proselytize a version of Christianity which is anything but Christian. He has a blog already. Let’s leave it at that.

PAUL FRIDELL

As many athletes know, concerted physical activity induces a state of mind similar to meditation. This suspension of our conscious separation of mind/body can result in feelings of calm and oneness with the universe. I expect that this is also possible with the vigorous pursuit of dance, walking, and even work. But at the least, I can attest that by Albert Mohler’s theology, basketball and jogging are un-Christian.

DENNIS A. MARTIN

It has been and continues to be an interesting dialogue.  And while some suggest that Mohler’s ideologies aren’t worth the discussion, I wonder just how “fringe” his beliefs are.  Thoughts?

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Stefanie Syman. Photo courtesy of Sara & Sarma Photography

 

During a little afternoon surf, I came across a blog post written by Stephanie Syman, author of The Subtle Body:  The Story of Yoga in America, with her reflections on the commoditization of yoga.  Her post grazes the surface of a debate that has been raging for weeks across the blogaphere.  I have yet to read her book; however, her post suggests how deeply she has researched the topic and makes me realize I am silly if I go yet another week without reading this book.  I’m posting the whole thing here for your enjoyment:

With the near simultaneous release last month of “Eat Pray Love” the movie and a Toe Sox ad campaign featuring a naked woman (save her “sox”) in various yoga poses, there is no denying we’ve exhausted yoga’s commercial possibilities. No doubt new yoga tchotchkes will be produced, and at least two more yoga memoirs are set for release this fall. But these are all variations on a theme. Like “Star Wars” or Matisse, the merchandising, advertising, and profiteering of yoga has run the full gamut, from action figures to deluxe vacations to how-to-books that apply yoga to almost every human endeavor (my personal favorite: “The Yoga of Time Travel”).

Now, there’s nothing left to exploit. But before you condemn any number of culprits (shareholders, American materialism, craven gurus, cynical marketers), you better understand that this process took some time — a century in fact — and yoga’s most committed followers have hurried it along.

During World War I, a select set — including, most famously Ann Vanderbilt and her daughters — was taking daily Hatha Yoga classes at a tastefully appointed, Manhattan townhouse on 53rd Street, complete with pristine studios, yoga mats, lithe young instructors, and a café that served health-building food. India was exotic, enchanting, and magical. (And Americans were far enough away to not be terribly bothered by colonialism’s offenses.) Yoga connoted magic and mystery, and yet, according to both Indian and American teachers, the discipline was scientific. This one was of its biggest selling points.

Within another decade, yoga had become a popular literary trope. Lily Adams Beck published romantic stories such as “The Flute of Krishna” in the Atlantic Monthly as well as several novels in which Westerners found redemption through yoga. Beck later wrote The Way of Power, a memoir cum guide book. Beck, like Elizabeth Gilbert, had been transformed by yoga, and she promised her readers that they too could peer through the “looking glass” to the reality beyond our ordinary senses. Published in 1927, The Way of Power preceded Paul Brunton’s far more famous book, A Search in Secret India, by seven years.

Both Beck and, to an extent, Brunton oriented their lives around yoga and made literary careers out of the subject. No one objected to this conflation of vocation and avocation partly because they presented themselves as ambassadors of India’s spiritual treasure at a time when travel to Asia was still difficult (it took weeks to get from New York to Bombay via ship in the 1930s).

Meanwhile, Paramahansa Yogananda had set up his own organization in Los Angeles, now called The Self Realization Fellowship, which ran his tours and published post cards, calendars, and other ephemera emblazoned with his image as well as a magazine and a popular correspondence course.

It wasn’t long before yoga was used to sell something else, something completely unrelated to the discipline. At first this seemed harmless enough. An ad in Life magazine featured two slim young women in a leotards, and another holding a book about Yoga. The copy read, in part, “So you’re having a go at Yoga… All of a sudden—Tiredsville.

What do you do? You sip a chilled 7-Up.” It’s 1963, Mad Men reign, and yoga is now shorthand for an active American life. Fast forward to 1967 and yoga was being used in much the same way, but to move a very different product—LSD.

The leap from leotards to nudity or from Beck’s travel tales to Eat Pray Love, is a relatively small one. And yet it marks a paradigm shift. One reason is scale. Yoga, as we’re frequently reminded, has become a multi-billion dollar industry, and so and it’s no longer possible to imagine yoga apart from money. And to associate yoga with money is to admit that it’s subject to the motives and corruptions money always entails.

And the second, perhaps more damning, reason is that we have a much harder time forgetting anything as a culture. Up until now, Americans would periodically forget about yoga. Zen, psychedelic drugs, Arica, EST—any number of other spiritual techniques might preoccupy us for awhile, and then, these would lose their luster, and another generation of Americans would “discover” yoga. No more. The beauty and curse of the web is how readily you can retrieve the past, via Google books, YouTube, or just back issues of your favorite magazines. Yoga is here to stay as are all of its crass permutations.

Sigh.  Even “pologa“?  Go on, click the link.  I dare you.  Thoughts?

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A study published in the September/October 2010 edition of Cancer Nursing confirms what many already know … that yoga heals.  This particular study shows that Iyengar yoga improves the quality of life of women recovering from breast cancer treatment.  The 12-week study performed at the University of Alberta, Canada, and spear-headed by Amy Speed Andrews, Ph.D., evaluated the quality of life and psychosocial functioning of women undergoing treatment or recovering from treatment for breast cancer.  Subjects completed questionnaires after undergoing 12 weeks of Iyengar yoga, and their post-program responses demonstrated significant improvement in mental health, vitality, and bodily pain.  The study encourages cancer nurses to use Iyengar yoga as a possible intervention strategy to improve quality of life and mental health of breast cancer survivors.

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