Archive for the ‘Westernization of Yoga’ Category

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.”



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From today’s edition of Barron’s:

With all the momentum behind the name recently, t’s easy to think that yoga-wear juggernaut lululemon (LULU) can only head higher, and naysayers are simply peddling sour grapes.

Yet Gap (GPS), which today said it will open the first store for its Athleta brand of women’s active-wear in San Francisco, may change that, according to Wall Street Strategies analyst Brian Sozzi.

“Athleta represents the first credible threat to Lululemon’s yoga apparel market dominance (wide moat business this is not),” Sozzi wrote in a research report. “Athleta’s product offerings are not the mediocre quality women’s athletic garb increasingly sprouting up at Target (TGT) and Kohl’s (KSS). It’s quality product at an attainable price.”

Sozzi also argues that Gap is “hungrier” than lulu, and its aggressive drive to grow earnings and revenue should make Athleta a formidable player in this lucrative market.

Barrons.com has warned investors previously about lulu’s sky-high valuation, as recently as yesterday, when the stock popped on an increased fourth-quarter forecast.  In November, we also wrote bullishly about Gap.

What do you think?  Will Gap’s Athleta finally be the brand to give Lulu a run for its money?

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I haven’t read Claire Dederer’s memoir Poser: My Life in 23 Yoga Poses, just yet.  But it is on my list.  I’ve been following the reviews, though, which have ranged from the positive (The Seattle Times called it “absorbing” calling Dederer’s voice “unusually genuine” and filled with “ubiquitous wit and honesty”) to the downright harsh (Rowan Pelling from The Telegraph declared that reading Poser solidified his New Year’s resolution: never to try yoga!)

Here’s the review from my hometown paper, The Los Angeles Times, written by Judith Lewis Mernit:

“Going to yoga was part of my goodness project,” writes Claire Dederer in her memoir, “Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses.” In the liberal Seattle community where she begins that project, it’s also the thing to do: Doctor, neighbors, even a homeless guy tell her to get on the mat, in part to heal a bad back after having a baby.

But goodness as it turns out is elusive and not terribly interesting for the same reason most books about yoga are unreadable: No one wants to hear about how good you are. We want to hear about how you tried to be good and fell short. And by doing just that, “Poser” achieves something rare: It’s a contemporary book about yoga that doesn’t leave you squirming, suspect or bored.

A significant part of “Poser’s” readability comes from Dederer’s willingness to own up to trivial but self-exposing details — how her belly went soft after two cesareans, how she struggled not to resent her husband’s expansive writing career, how one night she denied her two children a peek at the falling snow because “I didn’t want to deal with their joy.” She frames each testimonial with a yoga pose: She convinced herself she was too weak to do chaturanga, the slow descent from push-up to the floor, just as she had believed her marriage “was too fragile to hold up to the rigors of the truth.” Hanumanasana, or splits, represents Dederer and her family’s return from a two-year sojourn in Boulder, Colo., and the “feeling of energy, and connection, and difficulty and joy as I leaped over mountains toward my old life.”

The yoga analogies aren’t all airtight: There’s something reckless about Dederer having shoehorned a reverie about foehn winds — those hot breezes that rip down mountain slopes — into a chapter named for seated forward bend, which is perhaps the least windy of all yoga’s asanas. But the fact is, foehns are fun to read about, and so is Dederer’s over-examined life: “Poser” is the output of a curious, vivid mind, one that opens every box and asks questions about its contents. Sometimes the answers are confounding. Often they’re maddeningly simple.

I flatter myself that I enjoyed Dederer’s book so thoroughly because we have so much in common — I too had a feminist-influenced mother who defected from married life in the 1970s; I share her suspicion of American yogis who suddenly embrace all things Eastern. I’ve also followed her same rough yoga path — from discovery (when the poses deliver “a dossier of information you’re not sure you really want”) to goal-seeking (I will get this leg behind my head if it kills me!) to the humble acceptance that yoga makes fools of goal-seekers (“The longer I do yoga, the worse I get at it,” Dederer admits. Oh, yes.).

But factually speaking, many other women will locate themselves in Dederer’s words much more precisely than I do, and people who never do yoga will too. The illusion of commiseration here is really just a triumph of truth-telling, of a writer having the courage to confront her limits and sit, uncritically, in the messy present. Like a yoga pose, it doesn’t have to be perfect to be exquisite.

When I initially heard about Dededer’s book, I thought, ugh! This is just the latest edition of gimmicky chick-lit riding the Eat, Pray, Love wave. The arrival of this book officially signals that yoga has  become the vehicle for delivering the latest hackneyed story of self-discovery and near mid-life crises.  While Dederer very well may be riding the EPL wave, I somehow think Dederer seems to have more to offer than Gilbert did…But I’ll save the rest of my thinking and sharing until after I read it.

I’ll let you know what I think.  Anyone out there read it yet?

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A Yogi Faux Pas?  VOTE BELOW!!

Yesterday, I posted this little news item on Elephant Journal, and it got a huge response.  So I thought I’d share it here:

Picture yourself traveling home for the holidays.

You’ve no doubt trudged through horrible weather to get to the airport, and braved the long lines at airport security. You finally settle into your seat and peer out the window to see that a blizzard has arrived.  The pilot gets on the intercom and tells you that, unfortunately, you’ll be stranded on the tarmac for several hours until  conditions clear for take-off.

You wish you could just concentrate on reading your book, but another passenger decides that now would be the perfect time to practice yoga…Now…In the aisles…Of the stranded airplane.

This scenario was not just a figment of my imagination…this was reality for several hundred people aboard Virgin Atlantic from London to New York City this week.

The perpetrator of this bizarre performance?


Yes, the Material Girl decided that there was no better place and no better time for her to get in a little asana practice than on the tarmac, in the blizzard, and in the aisle of that airplane.

The other passengers of the flight were none too thrilled. Said one passenger:  “It was bad enough having to wait, but then she started doing her yoga in the aisles.”

Luckily the unwanted in-flight entertainment ceased when a bus came to collect Madonna and her entourage.  The other passengers? They had to wait an additional 2 hours for a bus to arrive to transport them out of the plane.

The comments so far have run the gamut, but mostly in Madge’s favor.  Here is just an idea of what readers at Elephant have been saying:

Team Madonna!

Linda-Sama: On a 17, 18 or 20 hr flight to India you bet your asana I’m doing yoga. For one thing, it’s dangerous to sit that long without moving around (Deep Vein Thrombosis.) While I’m not doing sun sals in the aisles, I am definitely moving and stretching and doing what is called tadasana vinyasa. Usually I go in the back where the attendants are, where there is more room, and do some lunges, Warr 1s, whatever my body needs. On more than one occasion, the flight attendants have joined in! As for disturbing other passengers, most are passed out asleep, watching a movie, or on their computers…I think yoga in the aisles is far less distracting than a screaming child kicking the back of your seat!

Dawna: Amen, sister, to Linda-Sama; I totally agree that on a long international flight, it is far better for people to feel free to stretch and move than worry about what others think about their asana practice. Not all yogis are as dramatic as Madonna, nor do we have entourages or private transportation. Since we’ve got to stick it out, we better be practicing yoga wherever we can for our health and safety. I had a pulmonary embolism at age 33 and was in the best shape of my life, never smoked and was uber healthy. Or so I thought. So I know first hand that we all must do our best to be compassionate to ourselves, our loved ones, and our fellow passengers in these situations, and I support passengers who for their own health and safety are getting into the aisles and doing yoga!

Manohar: Are you serious? Who’s bothered by YOGA? Maybe if she was blocking the way to the bathroom (or booze cart) that would cause a stir, but then surely it wouldn’t matter what she was doing in the aisle but just that she was blocking it!

Kimberley Rome: Birdie, I always do yoga on a long flight. I usually go back into the area where the attendants hang out, but I have done it in the isle if there’s too much congestion back there because of the restroom line. What’s the big deal about moving the lymph, blood, oxygen and muscles around in a cramped, not too healthy environment. Personally, my hit is that if it was such a big deal, it was probably more the fact that it was Madonna, than the fact that she was doing yoga. People love to snipe about celebrity. I’ve never gotten anything but a smile from folks, and it’s way less intrusive than some uncomfortable seat mate slumping asleep into my chair space. Quietly doing yoga, being present, and breathing — sounds like practice to me. Stranded on the tarmac? I think we would have a much happier and more compassionate planet if people whipped out a few asanas in every stressful situation. Think about if those folks complaining had focused on their breath, instead.

Lauren: i always encourage my students to practice yoga on a plane, and i myself practice during flights as well. it’s so important to move and get the circulation going. as long as you aren’t in anyone’s way, i’m 100% on board for yoga on a plane!!!

Tobye: Used to do the 12 hrs from London to Arizona a lot. Defo did yoga in the back of the 747. The laneway between the toilets is just right for squeezing into Prasarita padottanasana…A lot of the exercises they give you in the little handbook on those long-haul flights are all yoga poses…Most yogin would seek a private practice somehow…or at least be discreet. That said, peeps do strange things when they get stressed. Madonna was probably trying to control her anxiety at being delayed…

Kris R: Give me Madonna doing yoga over a screaming, kicking child or obnoxious drunk anyday.

Sarah Jessica: I routinely do yoga during long flights, but I usually go back by the loo and the emergency exit. Last time, on a flight from London to the US in September, the flight attendant chatted me up the whole time and we compared notes on our respective home studios and practices. I’m pretty sure I didn’t bother anyone. The aisles seem a bit tight to me, but meh, I don’t see why it would be a big deal. If you are stuck on a plane, its much more difficult to listen to a child scream or cry (for the child and the passengers) than to watch (or ignore) a yogi or two.

Beth: Seriously, people pay good money for that kind of show!

Team Birdie:

Allyson B: public masturbation…

yogadarla: def a faux pas! people are already close enough. i really dont want people sweating and exhaling all over. it’s travel. do your yoga in your seat. sheesh! (i am a yoga teacher i LIVE for sweat and breath but if you need to stretch on a plane- walk to the bathroom)

So, what do you guys think? Let’s put it to a vote:

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It’s gift-giving season, and this post is for all you non-yogis out there.  The ones that are heading into the last week before Christmas filled with stress because you still have no gift for your wife/brother/partner/dad/best friend who loves all things yoga.  On the one hand it is a wonderful opportunity to supply him/her with a yoga arsenal – books, props, music, etc. – to support their yogic endeavors.  On the other hand, yoga and all things yoga is like a freaking foreign language to you.  You just don’t know where to begin.

In an effort to help narrow down your options, I have compiled a list of ten things NOT to purchase for your favorite yogi for Christmas.  Here they are, in no particular order:

10. The Inappropriate Neti Pot

You’ve heard your lovely little yogi talking all about wanting a neti pot, a nasal cleansing device which you can learn more about here. While this would make a wonderful and affordable stocking stuffer, be aware there are certain neti pots (like the one pictured above) shaped more like something one might “stuff” elsewhere, if you catch my drift.  So, for the love of all things ho-ho-holy, skip the phallic neti pots and stick with the more traditional version which is made with white ceramic and looks more like a teapot.  Like here.

9. A Stinky Mat

A new yoga mat is a fantastic gift idea.  But, unfortunately, a lot of them smell.  In fact, “smelly yoga mat” yields nearly 300,000 results on google. Yeah, it’s that big of a deal.  All yoga mats have a little bit of a smell, but some are worse than others.  I would suggest a mat made from natural rubber – still has an odor, but it isn’t overwhelming and fades quickly.  Bottom line: put your sniffer to the test this holiday season.

8. Trippy Meditation Glasses

Your daughter has recently started a meditation practice.  You’re not really sure what this means, but back when you were growing up meditation sometimes meant hippies and acid trips. You thought you might encourage a substance-free meditation practice with these neat glasses you saw online.  Stop. Put the credit card away and opt instead for a beautiful meditation pillow or zafu (my friend makes some cool ones here). Not only do these “Trip Glasses” reflect a total misunderstanding of meditation, but they come with the following warning: “Rapidly blinking lights may cause seizures.” Now that’s freaky, man!

7. Geri Haliwell’s Yoga DVD

What the?! Baby Spice has her own yoga DVD!?  Apparently, some time this year Geri Haliwell, the former Spice Girl, came out with a yoga DVD entitled “Geri Yoga”.  According to last week’s edition of the U.K.’s The Daily Mail, “Geri Yoga” was ranked one of the year’s ten worst celebrity fitness DVDs. Skip this one, Bub.

6. Man Yogi Shorts

Can’t figure out what to get your favorite Man Yogi? I know, Man Yogis are notoriously hard to shop for.  In part because there is not a whole lot out there geared specifically to men.  And what is out there can be a little…confusing. I can just imagine you searching for that perfect gift for said Man Yogi, it’s a little late at night, too much web surfing is making you a little nutty (pardon the pun) and you just don’t know what looks good anymore.  What I’m trying to say is…those little speedo-ish yoga shorts you’re contemplating? No. Guys shouldn’t wear sausage casings to a yoga class. Period. Why? Let me set the stage: crowded class + prasarita padottanasana (a.k.a. wide-legged forward fold) = I think you get the idea.

5. Cat Yoga Stuff

I can imagine your dilemma. Your favorite Yogini really loves her cat. She also really loves yoga. Here’s the thing: the two things often collide in very creepy ways. Remember the whole dogs playing poker painting? Kind of like that. So this year, leave the yogi cat thing off of your list of things to get her for Christmas.

4.  Dog Yoga Stuff

You can pretty much apply everything I said above to dog yoga things.  Sorry.

3. Doga Gift Certificate

And for that matter, “doga“.  Your boyfriend’s local yoga studio offers “doga” – partner yoga for people and their…dogs. Skip it, and opt instead for a 10-class package…for people.

2. F*UCK YOGA Flip Flops

Okay, I personally think these flip flops are awesome.  However, some yogis are verrrrrrry serious. And unless your yogi has a wicked sense of humor, take these bad boys off the list.

1. Yoga Snail

I’m not even sure what it is, but its the creepiest thing I’ve seen in years.  Steer clear.

So, yogis, what did I leave off of the list?  What yoga gifts should your loved ones steer clear of?  For that matter, what are you hoping to see under the tree this year? Better comment now, Christmas is right around the corner!

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courtesy of the NYTimes


Yesterday’s New York Times profiled an emerging campaign backed by the Hindu-American Foundation called the “Take Back Yoga” campaign. The group encourages that yoga practitioners learn more about the ancient Hindu traditions which they say are the root of yoga practice.  While this is a seemingly small group of people, their message, or rather the question that their message raises – who owns yoga – has sparked an intense debate and has drawn responses from some heavy hitters on both sides.

In June, it even prompted the Indian government to begin making digital copies of ancient drawings showing the provenance of more than 4,000 yoga poses, to discourage further claims by entrepreneurs like Bikram Choudhury, an Indian-born yoga instructor to the stars who is based in Los Angeles. Mr. Choudhury nettled Indian officials in 2007 when he copyrighted his personal style of 26 yoga poses as “Bikram Yoga.”

Organizers of the Take Back Yoga effort point out that the philosophy of yoga was first described in Hinduism’s seminal texts and remains at the core of Hindu teaching. Yet, because the religion has been stereotyped in the West as a polytheistic faith of “castes, cows and curry,” they say, most Americans prefer to see yoga as the legacy of a more timeless, spiritual “Indian wisdom.”

“In a way,” said Dr. Aseem Shukla, the foundation’s co-founder, “our issue is that yoga has thrived, but Hinduism has lost control of the brand.”

The “Take Yoga Back” campaign had a somewhat quiet beginning:

The effort to “take back” yoga began quietly enough, with a scholarly essay posted in January on the Web site of the Hindu American Foundation, a Minneapolis-based group that promotes human rights for Hindu minorities worldwide. The essay lamented a perceived snub in modern yoga culture, saying that yoga magazines and studios had assiduously decoupled the practice “from the Hinduism that gave forth this immense contribution to humanity.”

Soon, Dr. Shukla made his argument in a piece for The Washington Post, in which he said that yoga had been the victim of “intellectual property theft”.  Didn’t take long for the likes of Dr. Deepak Chopra, an Indian-American writer who has made his living popularizing alternative medicine techniques as well as yoga.

For Dr. Uma V. Mysorekar, the president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America, the campaign represents the growing pains of the Indian-American population in the United States:

A naturalized immigrant, [Ms. Mysorekar] said Take Back Yoga represented a coming-of-age for Indians in the United States. “My generation was too busy establishing itself in business and the professions,” she said. “Now, the second and third generation is looking around and finding its voice, saying, ‘Our civilization has made contributions to the world, and these should be acknowledged.’”

It is an interesting debate that I’m sure is just beginning to rage.  Thoughts?

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Remember Pink’s Grammy performance this year?  Even if you didn’t watch the Grammy’s you might have seen it – the one where about half way through the song she sits in some sling-like contraption and manages to spin and flip and writhe around all the while (apparently) singing a song. It was kind of Cirque Du Soliel-esque.  If you don’t remember, I’ve posted a youtube clip of the performance below.

I digress.

The point is, someone decided that mixing that sling-like contraption with yoga would be a good idea. The result?  “Anti-Gravity Yoga”.  Here’s a description from the Anti-Gravity Yoga website:

AntiGravity Yoga is a fitness regime designed to increase one’s overall health and physical agility while having fun and creating beauty. AntiGravity is an acrobatic performance company whose daily workout utilizes the AntiGravity Hammock. The technique was created by gymnasts for the sake of exploring the air and has been modified and enhanced to fit into the yoga mold and to cater to the everyday athlete. By adding additional techniques from dance, pilates and calisthenics, AntiGravity has created a complete workout that is certain to get you in shape while realigning you from the compression of gravity. AntiGravity Yoga takes into consideration both meanings of the word — working to manipulate physics while staying lighthearted.

Sounds kind of fun…but also kind of sounds like it has very little to do with yoga. Here’s a ridiculous clip from Orlando’s Fox News station, where this activity – described in the piece as a fusion of dance, calisthenics, pilates and “the yoga” – is demonstrated.

Oh, the inhumanity of being a morning television news anchor. By the way, here’s the video of Pink’s Grammy performance from this year. If you want to skip the boring part, the good stuff starts at about 2:20.

Perplexed? I sure am.  Besides the ridiculousness of the segment from Fox News (I can’t imagine there was so little to discuss that morning that an entire 3 minutes was devoted to Anti-Gravity “yoga”. Must have been a slow news day….or, just Fox News), I’m not sure where the need comes from to tack the word “yoga” on to everything. I guess the fact that yoga is a $6 billion industry makes it a seemingly good business move. But c’mon, right? Don’t get me wrong, it looks fun…but I feel less likely to try it if it is being marketed as “yoga”…


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