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Posts Tagged ‘United States’

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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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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photo credit: paul kitagaki, jr., sacramento bee

 

Yesterday’s edition of the Sacramento Bee profiled 50-year-old mountain climber Gabriel Amador, who, during his December 2003 attempt to summit New Zealand’s Mt. Tasman was caught in an avalanche that killed four climbers in his group.

Amador, one of only two survivors, spent a week in a coma after suffering from a broken neck, a fractured spine, two broken hips, brain swelling, and other injuries.

Despite two artificial hips, which makes the simple act of bending over to tie his shoes quite difficult, Amador has made an unbelievable recovery. He continues to be active hiking, skiing, biking, and in July of 2010 summited Stok Kangri, a 20,135 ft. Himalayan peak.

What does he credit a large part of his recovery to?

You got it.  Yoga.

“It’s just been phenomenal,” said Amador, a pension administrator in Roseville. “The biggest reminder of how it’s helped is every day, just putting my pants on. I can actually do that without holding on to anything for balance.

“Really, I’m not supposed to be bending more than 90 degrees. My doctor tells me that. But he also tells me, every time I see him, ‘I can’t stop you from doing what you love doing, but just be careful.’ ”

Part of that care is taking up yoga to improve his limberness.

It seems that Amador’s yoga class, a hot yoga class taught by veteran teacher Ping Yu, is filled with students recovering from physical and mental maladies.

Indeed, at one recent class Amador attended, several students came for help with assorted maladies. John Padrick of Fair Oaks is recovering from lower-back surgery. Jeff DeGroot of Citrus Heights is trying to avoid back surgery after he injured three disks several years ago.

Meanwhile, Julie Flora, a junior at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, said yoga has cured her insomnia, and real estate agent Nancy Knuth and nurse practitioner Holly Kirkland said the practices help them cope with stress.

Ms. Yu has admitted that Amador might be her most difficult project.

Hips are arguably the key to the balance and flexibility needed for yoga – throughout the two-hour workout, Yu repeatedly admonished students to “open your hips” – but the metal in Amador is anything but supple.

When he started attending yoga classes 10 months ago on the advice of a friend, Amador said he felt rigid and found it nearly impossible to follow Yu’s admonition to let his body “flow.” With diligence, Amador strengthened and elongated the muscles, tendons and fascia around his hips enough to nail nearly every pretzel-like pose Yu could throw at him.

For Amador, like many students of yoga, just getting a hang of the breath is a big challenge.

“Ever since the accident, I’ve just been fighting my body the whole time,” he said. “Yoga’s helped me to just relax. When you breathe, it’s amazing how much more you can do. She reminds everyone to keep breathing. When I’m grunting, I’m not breathing.”

And Yu, a slight, lithe woman who looks more 38 than 58, is not afraid to call Amador on it. She admits she was a little intimidated when she learned of Amador’s mountain-climbing exploits, but she knew she could help him acquire the grace and balance to go with his well- cultivated leg and cardiovascular strength.

“You can tell he’s very competitive,” she said. “So babying him is not going to work. You need to challenge him to bring it out. When I first saw him, I thought, ‘This guy doesn’t breathe.’ I go, ‘Come on!’ I put my fingers on his belly and say, ‘Give me some movement.’

“I say, ‘That’s not real breathing; that’s survival breathing. Bring it from deep.’ We go over this issue every time.”

That’s something Amador is likely to work on for a long time. Even though he’s back reaching summits, flexibility and breathing are mountains still to conquer.

“She’s right, you know,” he said. “When I surrender my body, everything just goes and flows.”

Yet another example of the healing power of yoga!

 

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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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For Yoga Tattuesday: U.S. Election Day Edition, I present to you neither a politician nor an American.  Instead, a Canadian yogi-slash-politica-researcher and inked-up mother of two named Stephanie Renaud.  Here’s Stephanie’s tattoo:

Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Renaud

As you can see, Stephanie’s tattoo is the “Om” symbol and it is located on her back over her heart chakra. While I have seen “Om” tattoos on many a yogi, I have never seen one quite like Stephanie’s.  Hers is drawn in green vines and accented with different flowers…how neat! She chose the symbol done in vines “because yoga is part of [her] roots.”   She explains, “It is what keeps me stable and strong in an unstable and crazy world.  The flowers are symbolic of things that have grown out of those roots, like my husband and children. I am planning to have a string of pearls woven through the vine to symbolize my grandmother who passed and the grand footprint that she left on my life.”

Stephanie is from Windsor, Ontario Canada, and came to yoga as many of us did – for its physical benefits – and found much more. Not only is she raising her two small children, but she works from home as a political researcher and teaches yoga to young children. Stephanie says, “I find so much strength and balance on my mat that I can carry into the world with me. As a working mom I often tell people I practice yoga because it makes me strong in my body, my mind and my heart.  Who couldn’t use a practice that does that?!”

In discussing this post for Yoga Tattuesday, I found Stephanie to be just as lovely as her tattoo. In addition to working, yoga-ing, teaching, and being a mom, Stephanie has a blog that she updates when she can called D”om”estic Bliss that you can read at: ompage-yogajunkie.blogspot.com. Thanks to Stephanie for sharing her story and her tattoo with us!

If you, or someone you love, has a yoga-inspired tattoo that they would like to share on this here little yoga blog, let me know.

How to participate:

1) Please email me photo of your tattoo: My email address is: yogabird03@gmail.com.

2) Along with the photo, please also include your name, where you’re from, what you do, etc. Be sure to include your blog, your website, etc., so that I can link to it in the post.

3) Please also include any information about how you started practicing yoga.

4) And most importantly, tell me why you chose your yoga-inspired tattoo!

I look forward to hearing from you and to seeing your ink!”

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