Yoga master BKS Iyengar leaves this life

It’s a sad day when we have to bid farewell to one of the cor­ner­stones of mod­ern yoga as prac­ticed around the world. BKS Iyen­gar died of kid­ney fail­ure on August 20 in Pune, India:

BKS Iyen­gar, who helped bring yoga to the West, has died
Iyen­gar had been ill for weeks, accord­ing to the Times of India, and had been suf­fer­ing from heart prob­lems. Admit­ted to the hos­pi­tal on August 12, Iyengar’s con­di­tion had wors­ened in recent days, and he was put on dialysis.

There will be an out­pour­ing of grief, grat­i­tude and remem­brances, as well as attempts to take stock of the state of yoga with the death of one of the three major Indian prop­a­ga­tors ( Pat­tabhi Jois died in 2009 and TKV Desikachar is in ill health) who took the man­tle from T. Krish­na­macharya. Iyen­gar left a legacy of lit­er­a­ture about hatha yoga, pranayama and other tech­niques, as well as a focus on the health-​​giving poten­tial from the practice.

I’ll prob­a­bly have more to say later.

Featured treatment of macho yoga

I don’t have much time right now to cri­tique this arti­cle from the NYTimes Mag­a­zine about Dia­mond Dal­las Page and his macho ver­sion of yoga:

The Rise of Beef­cake Yoga
Together, Page and Aaron devel­oped a hybrid of Ash­tanga, a pop­u­lar “power” yoga, and Iyen­gar, a more ther­a­peu­tic form. Page added some strength-​​building moves for key mus­cles groups — the quads, the core — and also built in tra­di­tional cal­is­then­ics, includ­ing push-​​ups. He incor­po­rated some­thing he calls “dynamic resis­tance,” which calls for engag­ing all of the body’s mus­cles and then mov­ing against that ten­sion. And he tried to avoid all that namaste stuff. “That’s the first thing that makes peo­ple go, ‘That’s too froufrou,’ ” he says. “There’s cer­tain yoga ter­mi­nol­ogy that I don’t use. I want to make peo­ple laugh.”

The Amer­i­can mix­ing bowl or melt­ing pot or what­ever else you want to label it is intro­duc­ing new influ­ences into yoga prac­tice. More are on the way. What­ever floats your boat seems to be the rule.

Should Yoga Be Exempt from the “Yoga Tax”?

Now that yoga stu­dios in the Dis­trict of Colum­bia have been lumped together with fit­ness cen­ters and tan­ning stu­dios for the pur­pose of pay­ing the local sales tax, some advo­cates are advanc­ing the argu­ment that yoga is not really (or exclu­sively) a phys­i­cal fitness activity.

City Desk Should Yoga Be Exempt from the “Yoga Tax”?
The Yoga Alliance, a national non­profit yoga advo­cacy orga­ni­za­tion that boasts more than 50,000 reg­is­tered yoga instruc­tors as mem­bers, argues that yoga is not actu­ally a fit­ness pro­gram and should be exempt from the new sales tax that has come to be known as the “Yoga Tax.”

This whole debate gets into the shift­ing def­i­n­i­tion of yoga in the U.S. main­stream cul­ture and mar­ket­place. On one side, Chris­t­ian crit­ics say that yoga is a reli­gious pros­e­ly­tiz­ing activ­ity. The coun­ter­ar­gu­ment is that it’s not reli­gious, spir­i­tual at most, and, more commonly, physical as prac­ticed in the United States. Oth­ers lament that the “yoga indus­try” is mak­ing bil­lions of dol­lars a year, which con­tra­dicts the whole claim that yoga stu­dios should be exempt from sales taxes.

Aging carries a surchage

I took my first yoga class in 12 days. It was a sim­ple hatha class at Thrive Yoga with Jane Stel­boum. Some would con­sider it a leisurely paced class; oth­ers would walk out because it did not include any major vinyasa sequences. It knocked the beje­sus out of me. We held war­rior II and lunges for what seemed like ages. I took child’s pose in sur­ren­der. As I write this, my hips, groin and back are aching. It is a phys­i­cal pain that would intim­i­date a novice because yoga is sup­posed to be exer­cise for wimps.

Because I’ve bro­ken through mul­ti­ple lay­ers of hard­ened fas­cia and let the yoga poses and align­ment seep into my mus­cle mem­ory, I find that I sink into the poses deeper. Because I’ve main­tained my range of move­ment with my main­te­nance rou­tines of stretch­ing and restora­tive, I dive into a hatha pose with­out instinc­tive resis­tance push­ing back. So when I dig that deep, I’m expos­ing whole bun­dles of mus­cles that have rarely been extended like this from a pos­ture of weakness.

For nearly two weeks, I’ve shirked yoga class for what seemed like valid rea­sons (work, fam­ily, writ­ing projects, sched­ule con­flicts, can­celled classes, laziness, and rea­sons that I don’t want to con­fess in pub­lic), and I never picked up the slack with my home prac­tice. And I was already in a deep deficit of phys­i­cal con­di­tion­ing. I am not even talk­ing about recov­er­ing my sta­mina to what it was a year ago, after yoga teacher train­ing, or three years ago when my par­ents health started going bad.

I swear I will not let this hap­pen to me again (he said for the umpteenth time since tak­ing up yoga!)!  Only 10 min­utes, 20 min­utes of vinyasa or weight-​​bearing poses on non-​​class days would go along way to sus­tain­ing performance.

At work, on the yoga mat, in front of a com­puter screen or with a blank sheet of paper and pen in hand, wher­ever, I am dis­cov­er­ing that aging car­ries a sur­charge. I am going to be 65 years old in seven weeks. My body and mind degrade auto­mat­i­cally, notice­ably, relent­lessly, unless I make a con­scious effort to cul­ti­vate resilience and hardiness.

Post­script: the pain hurts less the morn­ing after.

Curvy Yoga founder Anna Guest-​​Jelley to teach a class in DC

I think this news is just as big as Shiva Rea or any other big-​​name yoga teacher giv­ing a work­shop in the DC area. Curvy Yoga founder Anna Guest-​​Jelley will teach a class in D.C. :

 The Wash­ing­ton Post says:
Anna Guest-​​Jelley thought some­thing was wrong with her body, so she went on 65 dif­fer­ent diets. Then, 15 years ago, she tried some­thing that actu­ally made her feel bet­ter: yoga.

But instruc­tors didn’t always know what to do with her larger frame, and prod­ded her into uncom­fort­able, squished posi­tions. Guest-​​Jelley remem­bers think­ing, “This isn’t being talked about. I must be the only one who expe­ri­ences it,” she says.

So the Nashville, Tenn., res­i­dent got teacher train­ing and devel­oped Curvy Yoga ( Since 2010, Guest-​​Jelley has cer­ti­fied 158 instruc­tors world­wide — includ­ing one in D.C. and two in Alexan­dria — in her hatha-​​based body-​​positive yoga for peo­ple of all shapes and sizes. She’ll teach a class in D.C. next week.


Small victories, distant defeats

Today — I mean, yes­ter­day — I made myself go to the fit­ness cen­ter on the first floor of my work­place and put in an hour on the sta­tion­ary bike and the ellip­ti­cal trainer. I had already put in a full day of work, plus an hour of online train­ing, so I told myself I could not let myself slide another day with­out get­ting some exercise.

Or I could keep going down to the base­ment garage  and drive off to restora­tive yoga class and chill out. But I would prob­a­bly talk myself out of restora­tive because I should really get my prana flowing.

So get­ting out of the ele­va­tor, I turned left, walked down a long cor­ri­dor and ended up in the fit­ness room., watch­ing the depress­ing news on CNN about Isreal/​Palestina and Ukraine and…  I worked up a sweat and did not attempt to read or lis­ten to music.

Then, I got home, had din­ner and found myself sit­ting in front of the TV, sucked into watch­ing Front­line: Endgame about our wrong­headed adven­tures in Iraq over the past decade. I wanted to go upstairs to do some­thing pro­duc­tive, or med­i­tate, or do some restora­tive yoga, or my pranayama, or my bed­time sequence of ten­sion releas­ing stretches.

But I sat there par­a­lyzed by the sheer grav­ity of America’s involve­ment in Iraq and the scars that it’s left on our men, this coun­try and the Mid­dle East. And in my small way, I had sur­vived that tragedy.

I finally climbed the stairs, sat in my study, and started office busy-​​work. Mid­night and I started writ­ing this blog. What can I write about?

I did not go to my yoga class today. I did put in an hour of aer­o­bic train­ing. I made appoint­ments to get new glasses and check my teeth. I did put in a pro­duc­tive day at the office, turn­ing another professional’s tor­tured tech­ni­cal prose into some­thing that made sense. I did not dis­cover any shin­ing truth in my journey. I did not fuck up the world in any trau­matic way. For most humans, that daily entry in life’s ledger would yield a profit.

Amen. Shalom. As-​​salamu alaykum. Namaste. Hallelujah!

Thieves in the Temple

This is not the first time that I’ve heard of theft in DC-​​area yoga stu­dios, but Amy Dara gives a first-​​hand account of con­fronting a team of purse thieves while teach­ing a class:

Maybe you’ve heard the chat­ter in the Wash­ing­ton, D.C. yoga com­mu­nity: there are two young women steal­ing wal­lets from stu­dents’ bags dur­ing yoga classes at D.C. Metro Area stu­dios. They’ve struck in Ten­ley­town, Bethesda, and Kens­ing­ton. They entered the stu­dio while I was teaching.

When stu­dents are on the mat, they are espe­cially vul­ner­a­ble because their focus is on their prac­tice, not their per­sonal belong­ings that may be stashed out­side the room, in the hall­way, in shelves or the dress­ing room. Stu­dio oper­a­tors may not turn up their alert­ness until the first inci­dent hap­pens; they trust their clients, too. Because most stu­dios have lim­ited space, it’s not always fea­si­ble to allow non-​​yoga items to clut­ter up the floor.

When I used to go to yoga in down­town DC after work, I arrived with my work para­pher­na­lia, includ­ing a lap­top. Now, I’ve got­ten into the habit of leav­ing my wallet, smartphone and non-​​essential items in my car when I go into the yoga stu­dio, not because of fear of theft, but a desire to lighten my load phys­i­cally and men­tally when prep­ping for class. Of course, that’s not pos­si­ble for peo­ple who don’t drive to class.

Some explaining to do….

What sparked my inter­est to get into frac­tured fairy tales as a writ­ing assignment?

Graphic: fairy godmother with wandI was raised on the Rocky and Bull­win­kle Show and I loved the “Frac­tured Fairy” Tale seg­ment. There are 91 car­toons in this series, all writ­ten by A.J. Jacobs (not the cur­rnt jour­nal­ist and best-​​selling author by that name), accord­ing to Brown­ie­locks. You can also find the orig­i­nals on YouTube. I loved the play­ful­ness with lan­guage and lib­er­ties taken with the stan­dard plots of the fairy tales. Just a quick Google search reveals many writ­ing prompts using the con­cept as a start­ing point, most for ele­men­tary school level, but not entirely.

In my teen years, I watched a Jew­ish come­dian (the face is in my head but not his name) who retold Bible sto­ries in a “frac­tured” style and I even took a few stabs at writ­ing comic scripts along those lines. It got me in trou­ble with sev­eral peo­ple in my dad’s con­gre­ga­tion who did not like the irreverence.

In col­lege, I ran into a free-​​spirited hip­pie who used ver­bal ren­di­tions of fairy tales to enter­tain young women (they loved him). I saw in him the seduc­tion of heroes, adven­tures, ogres and happy end­ings. As soon as our ways parted, I adopted the trick of telling sto­ries in fairy/​folk tale for­mat to influ­ence young women. I even used the fairy tale style in some of my poetry.

Years later, I returned to fairy tales after read­ing Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchant­ment: The Mean­ing and Impor­tance of Fairy Tales. The Freudian psy­cho­analy­sis prob­a­bly served to put a more intel­lec­tual veneer on my fas­ci­na­tion for children’s sto­ries that tell big truths and hid­den plots. By then, I had my own kids. I bought a multiple-​​volume col­lec­tion of fairy tales from a fab­u­lous British mail-​​order book­store and read from them to my kids. The books still have their place in a book­case in my home.

This entry is turn­ing into a thread with beads knot­ted at dif­fer­ent dates on the time­line, half stream-​​of-​​consciousness, half the mean­der­ings of Googling ref­er­ences and char­ac­ters. What I really wanted to say is that I enjoyed the process of tak­ing a sto­ry­line and inter­weav­ing dia­logue and plot twists, tweak­ing the stiff orig­i­nal ver­sion to make it more res­o­nant to a 21st cen­tury mind. Update: for that mat­ter, each fairy tale can have so many ver­sions (bowd­ler­ized, sim­pli­fied, country-​​ and region-​​specific) that there is no real virtue in remain­ing faith­ful to the sin­gle plot. It is the story-​​telling that appeals to both the writer and the audience.


A fractured fairy tale: Rumpelstiltskin

I have not been writ­ing much here recently because other affairs are keep­ing me busy.  As a lark, I want to include a writ­ing assign­ment that I dreamed up for my work colleagues:

Frac­tured Fairy Tales: retell a fairy tale in the first per­son from the per­spec­tive of one of the char­ac­ters (Cin­derella, a bear in Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the wolf in the Three Pigs). To add another level of dif­fi­culty, the writer has to include ref­er­ences to all five senses in the nar­ra­tive (sight, smell, hear­ing, touch, and taste). The fairy tale plot only serves as a start­ing point, and the writer can alter it to adjust to the char­ac­ter or make it funny or shorter, or give it a mod­ern twist . The story may have a dif­fer­ent end­ing than the orig­i­nal version.

Obvi­ously, this task is a change of pace and style from writ­ing tech­ni­cal pro­pos­als, but that was the point.  I pulled “Rumpel­stilt­skin” out of a bag, and the writ­ing process took on a life of its own. I will save the expla­na­tion of why I chose this writ­ing assign­ment for another entry because this one is going to go a bit longer than post blog entries.

So here goes. Con­tinue read­ing

On year after yoga teacher training

This MSNBC arti­cle comes one year after I started my sum­mer inten­sive yoga teacher train­ing at Thrive Yoga.

Yoga teach­ers: Over­stretched and under­paid
In many respects – the low pay, the gig-​​based nature of the job, and the unpaid over­time – yoga is lit­tle dif­fer­ent from other free­lance pro­fes­sions in the new, service-​​based Amer­i­can econ­omy. More than one per­son inter­viewed by msnbc com­pared teach­ing yoga to being a part-​​time adjunct pro­fes­sor, with all the job inse­cu­rity and irreg­u­lar pay that implies.

The arti­cles dri­ves homes the mes­sage that it’s tough to turn yoga teach­ing into a viable pro­fes­sion in a com­pet­i­tive mar­ket­place. Obvi­ously, I decided that I did not want to pur­sue teach­ing even part time or as a fall­back option. I’ve made a cold­blooded deci­sion to work on a career track that builds on my accu­mu­lated expe­ri­ence and skills — and brings a salary and ben­e­fits. I am in awe of those who decided to fol­low their heart down the yogic path.