Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

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.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

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?

Read Full Post »

 

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.

Read Full Post »

 

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?

Read Full Post »

Last year, the U.S. Federal Marshalls held an auction selling off Ponzi-schemer Bernie Madoff’s glitzy, glamourous, and ill-gotten goods. Last week, the feds held another auction, this time selling off Bernie’s more mundane items.  Prior to last week’s auction, the media was offered a glimpse of the items, and The Wallstreet Journal was there to chronicle what have become intimate glimpses into a man very few people understand.  According to reporter Juliet Chung, among the items are Bernie’s underchunders, CDs (Jimmy Buffett or Rod Stewart, anyone?), black velveteen slippers monogrammed with “BLM”, books including one penned by yogi-doc Dean Ornish called Eat More, Weigh Less, and…

…Bernie’s yoga mat…

In March 2009, Bernie Madoff pled guilty to 11 counts of federal crimes including securities fraud, money laundering, and perjury. Yesterday, The New York Times reported that last week’s auction netted a cool $2 million dollars, which seems like a drop in the bucket considering the $10-20 billion dollar Ponzi scheme he ran.  However, it most certainly means something to the beneficiaries of the auction.  That’s right, Bernie’s goods – undies and all – were auctioned off to benefit his victims, who included public school teachers to small town pension funds, many of whom lost their life savings. Bernie Madoff is currently serving 150 years in federal prison.

This story always makes me so sad.

Read Full Post »

 

Photo Courtesy of The Boston Globe

 

In tomorrow’s edition Home and Lifestyle section of The Boston Globe, journalist Linda Matchan tackles some huge issues in an article entitled “What Happened to Yoga”.  She does it by traveling to Down Under Yoga, a yoga studio in Newtonville, Massachusettes, where Aussie owner Justine Wiltshire Cohen has assembled some internationally recognized yoginis – Natasha Rizopoulos and Patricia Walden among them – to not only teach some in depth workshops, but to participate in a summit on the future of yoga in America.

To illustrate some of the problems with yoga in America today, Matchen interviewed none other than Stephanie Syman, author of The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America. During the interview, Syman outlines the issues:

[Yoga is] recombined with dominant forms of the culture; it’s very malleable that way,’’ said Syman. There is yoga for every taste, energy level, and aspirant — hip-hop yoga, hot yoga, rock pop yoga, weight loss yoga, Christian yoga, even “Yoga Booty Ballet,’’ which bills itself as a dynamic fusion of yoga, booty sculpting, and cardio-dance. If there is any doubt that yoga has left the ashram and joined the mainstream, consider that yoga was part of this year’s Easter Egg Roll festivities on the White House lawn.

It’s also been “monetized,’’ Syman said. Practiced by celebrities, fitness buffs, and fashionistas, yoga is a $6 billion industry with some 16 million American followers. Many of those millions are pouring into the trendy lululemon yogawear stores — purveyor of $90 yoga mats, $25 yoga water bottles, $40 yoga towels, and other nonessential yoga accessories such as yoga thong underwear and an $88 “yoga mat carry system’’ with a “Helmet friendly design.’’ [So you won’t hit your head with your mat while riding your bike.]

The article also touches on the recent debacle, which I wrote about, regarding the sexualization and Westernization of yoga, which is obvious in many of the advertisements in the popular yoga magazine Yoga Journal:

Even the venerable magazine Yoga Journal, considered the bible for yoga practitioners, has evolved from a nonprofit publication founded in 1975 in a Berkeley basement to a glossy magazine with celebrities on the cover and sexy ads for pricey yoga gear, a trend that’s infuriated one of its founding editors.

“I feel sad because it seems that Yoga Journal has become just another voice for the status quo and not for elevating us to the higher values of yoga: spiritual integration, compassion and selfless service,’’ Judith Hanson Lasater wrote in a recent letter to the editor.

Yoga Journal’s editor in chief, Kaitlin Quistgaard, said she “completely respected’’ Lasater’s letter, “but we also need to run a commercial venture. . . . We are Americans and one thing Americans do is shop and like nice things. And one of the ways we identify ourselves is having a certain look. The yoga industry does support our desire to create self-identity through what we wear or what we purchase.’’

Cohen seems to set a new standard for taking yoga back:

Her website makes it clear where she stands on the question. “We believe that yoga studios should act in ways that are consistent with the teachings of yoga,’’ it says. “We will never sell plastic water bottles that go into landfills [becauseahimsa means ‘do no harm’]. We will never sell $150 yoga pants [because aparigraha means ‘identifying greed’]. We will never accept offers from companies to promote their gear in exchange for free publicity or products (because satya means “truthfulness’’). We will never brand, trademark, or pretend we’ve made up a new style of yoga.’’

The article is packed with the biggest issues facing yoga today.  Matchan even goes so far as to address what she calls the the “irksome” trend of Anusara yoga and yoga rockstar John Friend:

One brand, though not the only one, that seems particularly irksome is the growing Texas-based global empire of Anusara yoga, a relatively new hatha yoga system founded by John Friend, who teaches worldwide and sells clothing, jewelry, and music. He blogs, tweets, and characterizes himself on his website as “one of the most charismatic and highly respected hatha yoga teachers in the world.’’ Friend was recently featured in a New York Times magazine article, which he noted in a three-page rebuttal posted on his website was “the largest article on yoga ever published in a major newspaper. . . . For me, it is another clear sign that Grace supports Anusara.’’

“The minute yoga is packaged and branded, you’ve lost it,’’ Wiltshire Cohen contends.

You can visit Cohen’s website at www.downunderyoga.com, where she outlines her yoga manifesto.  You can also read the full text of the article here.  What say you, yogis?  These are some pretty huge issues.  I say at the very least, kudos to Cohen for tackling them.  Maybe we need some more summits like this one?


Read Full Post »