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Archive for the ‘Bikram’ Category

 

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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Ah. Let me dream of it for a moment. The day that I might waltz into my boss’s office and declare that in exchange for gracing him with my continued brilliance, he shall employ, during my working hours, a highly qualified yoga instructor to be at my ready.

This is a reality for some people, my friends. And one of those people is Lady Gaga.

Apparently, while The Lady was in Dublin, Ireland, performing three sold out shows this week, a spy at the Four Seasons Hotel in Ballsbridge spilled the beans to a reporter at the Evening Herald newspaper some of her contractual demands: a “highly qualified” Bikram yoga instructor to be available round the clock.

Sigh. One can only dream.

Have a great weekend everyone! Have a safe and Happy Halloween!  If you haven’t already, check out my Halloween post over at Elephant Journal. It’s good stuff.

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Let me back up a bit. Remember the whole sh*t storm started by Albert Mohler a few weeks ago? He’s the head of Louisville’s Southern Baptist, Albert Mohler, who blogged about his thoughts that the practice of yoga is at odds with the beliefs of Christianity.

Well, ladies and gentleman, stop the presses because Bikram Choudhury has weighed. During an interview with Clifford Pugh of the Houston-based daily digital magazine CultureMap, Mr. Choudhury was asked to respond to the recent hoopla. In typical Bikram awesomeness, his response will likely send you laughing into your weekend

Choudhury scoffs at Southern Baptist Seminary president Albert Mohler’s recent pronouncements that Christians should not practice yoga because it has a spiritual aspect meant to connect with the divine.

“What he said is normal but the way he said it is totally ignorant,” Choudhury said “If you do yoga, you have good health. It’s a preventative medicine.”

And, he maintains, no one in the western world understands spirituality, anyway.

“So far in my life, no western man, including the Pope, can answer this question: ‘In one sentence, what is spiritualism?’ So when people talk about spirit in the western world, we Indians laugh because if people can’t learn A,B,C,D, how can you explain Shakespeare, Byron, Shelley and Keates?”

And he shrugs off criticisms that he copyrighted his 26-posture sequence, even though yoga is a 5,000-year-old tradition that cannot be owned, to create the “McDonald’s of yoga.”

“Nothing bothers me,” he replied. “I’m bullet proof, waterproof, wind proof, money proof, sex proof, emotion proof, stress proof, strength proof.”

Yup. You can read the full interview with CultureMap here.  And, if you enjoyed these…um…hard-hitting philosophies, you can check out some of my favorite quotes from him courtesy of YogaDawg via YogaDork.  Enjoy the full moon tonight and have a wonderful weekend!

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Jerry Brown's Official Governor's Portrait

Tuesday, November 2nd,  is a very important day in this country, whether you are a Democrat or Republican, Christian or demon yogi – yes, that’s right, it’s Election Day! In my neck of the woods, by the end of next Tuesday a newsworthy contest for governor will have been decided between former e-bay CEO, Meg Whitman, and current California State Attorney General, Jerry Brown.
Why is this relevant to my little blog about yoga? Why my friends, because Jerry Brown is a yogi. While this fact alone should not persuade you to vote for him (just because you do yoga doesn’t make you a good politician…and until very recently I thought I had never met a yogi I didn’t like), I do find it fascinating as there aren’t many politicians in this country who would openly admit to a serious yoga practice. And, no, Sarah Palin in tree pose doesn’t count.
And Mr. Brown admits more to just practicing yoga. In fact, in February of this year, his campaign accepted $25,000 from yoga gangster, Bikram Choudhury. So, in the spirit of election season, I am posting portions of an interview that Mr. Brown gave L.A. Yoga Magazine during his 2004 election for Attorney General. The entire interview is worth a read (especially if you are a Californian and you are looking for his take on the issues), but the following are selections concerning his spiritual practice and yoga practice:

Jerry Brown, Mayor of Oakland, former Governor of California and three-time presidential candidate, is running for Attorney General. Brown studied for the Catholic priesthood as a young man, and years later spent time in Japan studying Zen Buddhism as well as in India working with Mother Teresa…

…We sit down. Suddenly he gets up again and runs upstairs to shave since he hadn’t known photos would be taken. We are interrupted frequently by the ringing of his cell phone, assistants asking how much longer this interview will take or someone pulling him outside the room to talk out of earshot. Yet through all this, Brown focuses his attention on whatever is in front of him. He doesn’t lose his train of thought and although impatient at times with questions he deems lengthier than they should be, he is present, gracious, and true to form, tenacious and opinionated.

Due to the many interruptions, we are running over. People are filtering in for a previously scheduled strategy meeting in the same room, so Brown decides to move the interview a few floors up, where he lives.

Here in his home, another side of Jerry Brown is on display and following the interview he shares stories of his collection of artifacts, a private side of his life. A large statue of Kuan Yin graces the dining room. He is eager to explain the meaning of an ornate cross, given to him by Mother Teresa, which comes from the hidden Catholics of Nagasaki. On one side it is a plain cross, a Buddha is on the other side. Should the authorities come knocking at the door, it can be turned around quickly. Zen art and hundreds, maybe thousands of books add to the mystique of the man as a renegade spiritual philosopher politician. He turns on a CD of Gregorian chants that were part of his recent wedding, asking me if I recognize them.

With so many problems to address in the State of California, indeed the entire planet, and the 2006 elections already heating up, he intends this interview to keep politics in our awareness.

Julie: In what ways does your background as a former Jesuit and student of Zen Buddhism affect the way you live now?

(more…)

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There are a lot of very, very, very serious issues afoot in the American yoga community these days. Please allow me to refresh your memory. First, there was the brouhaha boiling between yoga and christianity. Then there was all the hubbub about sexy yoga ads. Not to mention, the hullabaloo over the commercialization of yoga by “rockstar” yogi, John Friend, and “slim, calm, sexy” yogini Tara Stiles. Heck, just last week, The Boston Globe featured a piece called “What has happened to yoga?” which discussed a recent summit of some pretty famous yogis who convened to discuss their concerns over the future of yoga in America.

All of this has caused a royal ruckus in the yoga blogosphere and in yoga studios across the globe.  Many of these debates have raged right here in virtual pages of our beloved Elephant Journal. There are those who say that these issues are just the natural growing pains of a tradition that is still relatively new to this country. There are others who are ready to exit yoga stage left altogether.

I say, now is the time – now more than ever – for a little kumbaya. And what better way to do it than by throwing your own yoga-themed Halloween party?!

Read the rest at Elephant Journal…It’s pretty funny.

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Bikram Choudhury on his throne.

I’ve been reading a lot of news involving Bikram Yoga lately.  Last week alone, there were three very popular news items relating to celebrities practicing Bikram Yoga. Prince Harry, David Beckham, even Lady Gaga was caught in her skivvies practicing Bikram on Capitol Hill.  Not to mention the news item involving some  investment company that wants to make a “rockstar” out of Bikram Choudhury, the man who “invented” this practice of yoga.

So, I feel compelled to explore this topic for a moment.  For those of you [yes, you, my adoring readers … all 3 of you] who don’t know, Bikram is both a person and a thing.  Bikram Choudhury is a man who invented a style of yoga he modestly called Bikram Yoga, a series of 26 yoga postures and 2 breathing exercises which is practiced in a room heated to 105 degrees.  When you break it down, it seems pretty good in theory.  What I mean is, I love everything that makes Bikram what it is.  First, I love heat and I love a good schvitz fest.  I love it so much that I crave getting into a hot car on a brutal summer day and just sitting for, like, 5 minutes before turning on the AC.  I could sit in a sauna until my ass melts to the bench.  Second, I love yoga.  26 postures, 100 postures, 2 postures.  However many you want to give me, I’m game.   Third, I love — in theory — a kind of crazy whack funky guru guy who tells it like it is.  A guy with such audacity he copyrighted a series of ancient yoga postures.  A guy who during an interview with Mother Jones magazine proclaimed, “I have balls like atom bombs, two of them, 100 megatons each.  Nobody f*cks with me.”  I mean, how is one not fascinated by a man like this?  The first time I read this quote, I was laughing for a week.  Wouldn’t you want to sit down and have a beer with this guy? Invite him over for Thanksgiving dinner? By the way, I’m so glad he clarified that he had TWO balls.

So, shockingly, I didn’t enjoy the Bikram yoga class.  Now, let me just say, that I didn’t walk into class with my nose in the air.  You see, when I lived in Chicago I knew this guy who lost 100 plus pounds after regularly practicing Bikram yoga.  Not only that, but he reversed several medical conditions — high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and adult onset diabetes — as a result of his practice.  And when I went to this Bikram class near my home in L.A., I was at the point in my life where my relationship with yoga was…well, let’s just say I was sleeping on the couch.  My point is, I approached the Bikram experience with an open mind.

Twenty minutes into class, I got yelled at by the instructor.  I should mention that when I am playing the role of “student”, I don’t really mess up.  In fact, in my whole life as a student, I have been yelled at exactly 4 times . . . which is pretty good when you consider that I endured 3 years of law school.  Moreover, the yogic offense that I committed was hardly one that fit the verbal beating delivered to me.  Apparently, this is an approach used quite frequently in Bikram classes as this is not the first I have heard of students being berated or downright insulted during class.  I have read articles describing Bikram himself sauntering up and down his classes wearing nothing but a banana hammock and a headband, lampooning his students for being too flabby.

The other thing I realized was that heating the room up to 105 degrees was entirely unnecessary.  Most of the time, I sweat a good deal during a yoga practice.  And I love it when a room crowded with people practicing yoga slowly heats up as our body temperatures increase during the course of the practice.  Walking into a 105 degree room felt a little unnatural.

As soon as the class ended and before we got out the door, I announced that I would never return.  Funny thing is, attending this class was just the thing I needed to make me realize how much I missed the “other” kind of yoga.   The kind of yoga Mr. Choudhury calls a “circus”.  Ultimately, while Bikram has been quoted as saying that “my” kind of yoga reminds him of a “Santa Monica sex shop”, it is thanks to him that I realized where I belong.

I’d love to hear your take on Bikram . . . the man, the myth, or the actual practice.  I’d especially love to hear from you if you have had good experiences.

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