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Archive for January, 2011

Last week, The New York Times featured an article profiling Andrew Vollo, a professional taxi driver in New York City who has quietly been teaching yoga to other cab drivers at LaGuardia Community College in Queens.  Mr. Vollo’s class, which he promotes by papering the city with his fliers, is popular in part because he is one of them.  A lifelong New Yorker, his “‘dese’ and ‘dem’ lexicon is part of his skill set as the de facto guru for some unlikely disciples. The son of a welder, the veteran of years behind a taxi’s wheel, Mr. Vollo embodies the spread of yoga across traditional barriers of gender and class.”

Mr. Vollo’s goal, he says, is to manage the “physical and psychic toll of their jobs”:

“I really think I’m chipping away,” Mr. Vollo, 56, said of the blue-collar aversion to yoga as stuff for hipsters, yuppies and space cadets. “If I get nine people in a class, that’s fantastic. They’ll learn enough exercises to loosen their back and legs. I’ll tell them how to eat better, give them breathing exercises. Because if you’re driving in pain, you’re going to be a nasty person.”

Mr. Vollo also described how he came to yoga and eventually brought yoga to cab drivers:

Mr. Vollo discovered that resistance firsthand over the course of his career. He had begun studying yoga, as well as tai chi, when he was driving a cab as a college student in the 1970s. In the process he moved from the Roman Catholic observance of his youth to considering himself a Taoist, albeit one who still attends Mass with his wife and son.

Intermittently over the decades, he tried to evangelize for yoga among drivers, sometimes persuading three or four to study together for a few sessions, then having years pass without any interest. In 2004, as the director of LaGuardia Community College’s educational program for taxi drivers, he gave another push.

He passed out fliers to dispatchers and brokers and at driving schools. People laughed. People ignored him. One office manager kicked him out. But somehow he got his first four students to enroll.

Mr. Vollo has been pretty vocal about spreading his message.  He has been profiled in the New York Daily News, and People Magazine.  For more information, you can read the full article at the NYT, and you can visit Mr. Vollo’s website.

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Last week, The Financial Times profiled Russell Simmons, hip hop pioneer and co-founder of Def Jam Records.  Simmons, an avid yoga practitioner, is currently promoting his new book Super Rich: A Guide to Having it All, and is apparently spreading the word by inviting unsuspecting journalists to yoga classes.  Enter FT journalist, Vanessa Friedman, who accompanied Simmons to a master class at Jivamukti Yoga Center in New York City:

Jivamukti, a form of yoga that began in New York in 1984, involves practice both physical (the positions) and spiritual (chanting and a dharma discussion). Simmons has been a devotee for more than 15 years. He will do almost any kind of yoga – Ashtanga, Hatha, Iyengar – though rarely Bikram (which involves extremely hot rooms and heart-rate-elevating speed) but Jivamukti is his favourite, because of the teaching and philosophy.

Simmons was introduced to yoga by “Bobby Shriver and his girlfriend, Emma Watts, who is now President of Fox movies and used to be my intern, because I wanted to see hot girls, and I knew I’d be in a class with 58 women and us two guys.” They went to Maha Yoga in Los Angeles, to a class taught by Steve Ross (who is known for using loud rap music) and Simmons came away amazed. “All this noise that was always in my head, and which I associated with my success – this anxiety that I thought fuelled my drive – had stopped; I was totally calm, but I also felt so relieved, and I realised that was what I needed.” He went back the next day, and never stopped.

“It doesn’t get any easier,” he says, of both the postures and the philosophy. “You just realise how much more you have to learn.”

Simmons credits his yoga practice with being the catalyst for his vegan diet, practice of transcendental meditation, becoming an animal rights activities, and running several charities.  For him a daily practice is key:

He meditates for about 25 minutes every morning, does yoga for at least an hour and a half every afternoon, and meditates again at night. It is, he says, the part of his day that is “non-negotiable”.

“They know,” he continues, talking about his staff, “that every day I have to do yoga. It’s the most important thing in my life.” It is, he says, the place where he gets all his ideas and inspiration, where he can “quiet his mind”. This despite the fact that he prefers to practise in a class, and the more crowded the better.

“I like being surrounded by people who are also dedicated to yoga,” he says, which is why he asked me to join him at the masterclass, a three-hour session taught by David Life (Jivamukti’s co-founder) to 250 students.

Simmons says most of his new book Super Rich was inspired by yogic philosophy:

“I wanted to do it, because the text is really derived from yoga, though most of the people here would probably think it was baby food,” says Simmons. A teacher, Ruth Lauer-Manenti, came up and he told her that she inspired him, and that he had put a story from one of her dharma talks in his book. She smiled and said thank you and then told me: “Russell comes and supports everyone; he attends class with all the newest teachers. He is so humble.” When we went into the ballroom, she took the mat next to his. Before the class, I had explained that, while I have done some yoga, I’m not that familiar with it, and he said, “Don’t copy me! Copy Ruth.” Then he told me not to worry, everyone just did the best they could. When Simmons talks about yoga he is very serious, and I asked him if he had ever thought about becoming a teacher himself.

“I live with a woman who has gone through the Jivamukti program, and did her apprenticeship, but I can’t remember my Sanskrit, and I forget half the names of the postures,” he says. (Simmons was divorced from Kimora, the mother of his two daughters, in 2009 but they are still friends.) Then he laughed, and knelt on his mat, and Life began to murmur instructions: “Downward-facing dog to plank; bend knees and chin; upward-facing dog to downward-facing dog; jump forward, straighten legs, prayer up, bend back, dive down, step back to downward-facing dog.” Trying to follow along, I looked over at Simmons, and he – who is responsible for 13 different businesses and foundations – had a face as clean and cloudless as a summer sky.

Gotta love Uncle Russ.

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No stranger to controversy, Tara Stiles is at it again.  Many of you might recall the Slim, Calm, Sexy Debacle that took place not so long ago.   Yesterday, The New York Times profiled Ms. Stiles and effectively dubbed her a “rebel” yogini.

I won’t post the article here, but I will encourage you to go and read it.  In profiling Tara’s approach to yoga, the article seemed to expose a lot of issues and concerns than many people have been discussing lately about where yoga is headed these days.  In fact, the NYT profile seemed to make three very controversial points:  First, it established Tara’s approach to yoga as one that is completely different from most other styles of yoga — in other words, decidedly not elitist and exclusive.  Second, it introduced her so-called “user friendly” approach to yoga and essentially described it as an approach which proudly defies the customs and traditions of an ancient practice .  Third, it hinted at Tara’s lack of qualification in teaching yoga.

In short, the NYT profile has caused quite a shit storm in the yoga blogasphere.  To start, two very famous yogi bloggers, YogaDork and Linda Sama (who was profiled here on Yoga Tattuesday recently), were quoted as being two vocal Stiles critics.  But it also set off a frenzy of comments over at YogaDork’s blog.

Some take issue with Tara’s designation of yogis as snobby and elitist.  Some ask why call Tara’s style of practice yoga at all?  Other commenters get caught up in Tara’s refusal to answer questions about where she received her training, which she essentially calls useless (but, in the same breath discusses her own teacher training program for which she charges $2,500 a pop).

As for Tara, we know one thing’s for certain:  there ain’t no way she’s getting mixed up with those dirty little things called rules.  According to Tara, a life with rules is a “mind-set that limits people dramatically.”

Thoughts?

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This week’s edition of Yoga Tattuesday comes from sunny San Diego, California, and appears on the foot of yogini Lindsey Anne Johnson.  Here’s a picture of Lindsey’s tattoo:

Lindsey’s tattoo, which appears on her left foot, is the word “prana” written in sanskrit.  As many of you yogis and yoginis know, the word “prana” is sanskrit for “vital life”, but it is an unbelievably dense and complex concept.  Essentially, the notion of “prana” stands for the idea that that there is a vital, life-sustaining force or energy contained within all beings.  It is a central concept in yogic and ayurvedic traditions (and is similar to the Chinese notion of Qi) where prana is believed to be contained in the breath, the blood, and other bodily secretions.  Oh yes!  In fact, in yoga, the breath is seen as a gateway to the world of prana and so the practice of pranayama (or simply, yogic breathing exercises) is a practice in which the control of prana is achieved by controlling one’s breath.

Lindsey says that she got her tattoo after her mom passed away.  And while the tattoo was born out of grief, it has encouraged Lindsey to keep going.  In fact, as Lindsey says, getting the tattoo was a simple reminder of one thing:  to breathe.

Lindsey has been practicing yoga since her first class 13 years ago.  She is currently a freelance writer and social media consultant.  You can check out her websitelindseyannejohnson.com.  While this tattoo is her first tattoo, she says she’s contemplating another one.  We’d love to see it when you get it, Lindsey!

Until then, thanks for sharing your story and your tattoo with us!

If you, or someone you love, has a yoga-inspired tattoo and would like to share it here, please complete the contact form on my Yoga Tattuesday Submissions page.  I look forward to seeing your yoga-inspired tattoos!

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I’ve been bothered by something that has been buzzing online and in the media.  There is a video that went viral recently showing a woman named Lena Fokina swinging around an infant and calling it “baby yoga.”  I’ve been seeing it all week and debating whether or not to post it here. I have decided that I’m not going to post the video here, because I think it is disturbing, but I’d like to invite discussion about it. The photo above is one of the least disturbing images.  Initially, there was some question as to whether or not it was real or fake.  Apparently, it has been determined to be genuine.  TIME magazine’s blog posted the video in its entirety and you can watch it there.  You can read an interview with Lena over at DadWagon. Lena’s argument is that her practice strengthens the bodies of the infants and makes them more courageous…?

Check it out and decide what you think.  If you watch it, post your comments here.  Let me know what you think.

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photo courtesy Vancouver Courier

 

 

In today’s edition of The Vancouver Courier, reporter Megan Stewart profiles the yoga competition coming to Vancouver, Canada.  Her question is one that echoes each time a yoga competition makes in American cities…”can you win at yoga?”

Competitive yoga is on the rise but still doubted and even scorned by many in Vancouver where the practice is largely associated with meditation, well-being and personal growth rather than the competitive rivalries of sport.

But for Vancouverite Brad Colwell, president of the Canadian Federation of Yoga and the director of the Western Canadian Hatha Yoga Championships, the spirit of competition is aimed at self-betterment above bettering everyone else.

Ms. Stewart identifies the root of the yoga competition in the west:

Established by the World Yoga Federation, a non-profit organization run by the founders of Bikram yoga, and supported by a growing number of national federations, those … who promote competitive yoga also want it included as an Olympic sport.

In a November interview with the New York Times, Rajashree Choudhury, the spouse of the man named for the copyrighted series of 26 Bikram postures, said the inclusion of yoga in future Summer Games “is our dream.”

But the controversial practice of yoga competition draws many critics:

For the co-owner of Semperviva Yoga, a West Broadway studio and teacher training centre, the concept of Olympic yoga is “weird.”

“It’s a bit unfortunate because I think it scares people away,” said Gloria Latham.

The most fit may stand to benefit, she said, but added that an emphasis on physicality alone can be intimidating and detracts from the primary benefit of yoga, which she said is breath work.

“If I can’t put my foot behind my head, then I don’t belong here,” is one self-conscious doubt Latham does not want to see gain traction as competition drives a sense of contest and panders to ego.

“It makes you completely physically focused,” she said. “I don’t think you can benefit from yoga by focusing on only one aspect of the practice.”

Another Vancouver yoga studio owner and teacher trainer dismissed competition altogether. When shakti mhi was invited to participate in the Western Canadian Hatha Yoga Championships, she put the letter on her blog–along with a scathing reply.

“How can ‘hatha yogis’ and ‘championship’ be beside each other in one sentence, let alone in one room? I guess the biggest winner will be the biggest fool that believes the discipline of hatha yoga is for the purpose of showing off,” wrote the founder of the Prana Yoga Teacher College.

However, one can’t ignore the history of the yoga competition.  Which makes the yoga competition much more confusing for western yogis:

Competition is popular in India, where it was formalized in the late 1980s. The Yoga Federation of India has categories that distinguish between athletic and artistic yoga, “rythemic” (sic) yoga and synchronized pair yoga with a focus on presenting various postures to “perfection and relaxation without strain.”

Ultimately, Ms. Stewart writes, the competition is a “spectator sport”. The “competitors are beautiful, their postures mesmerizing.” As one competitor adds, “We want people to feel inspired to do yoga.”

As for Bikram, YogaDork recently wrote a blog post entitled “Cult Rock Star, Yogapreneur, Magic Genie Sex Machine”, which discussed an article in Details magazine profiling the Yoga Don, Bikram Choudhury.  It is a highly entertaining read.

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In the February issue of Shape magazine, cover girl (and Victoria’s Secret supermodel) Marissa Miller shares her secrets for a “hot bod”.  And they apparently do not include yoga.

Miller tells the magazine she prefers high intensity workouts as opposed to yoga and pilates:

“I go to a down-and-dirty boxing gym,” says Miller. “I don’t want to worry about how I look or whether I’m wearing the perfect outfit. For me, it’s about focusing. I’ve tried Pilates and yoga, but they’re a little too meditative for me. I need to really go for it, and do it hard!” Marisa said. “For me, it’s about focusing for an hour and a half on my work out.”

Thought I’d throw this up because I usually here about the latest celebrity who swears by yoga.  This was a nice change of pace. Otherwise…Marissa, let us know when your boxing routine renders your shoulders so tight that you’re unable to reach behind your back and pull your Vicky’s Secret thong underwear out of your ass crack.

 

 

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