We have another kerfuffle about the intersection between “yoga business” and high-minded, spiritual pursuits, in this case the yoga gear maker lululemon athletica (branding wants lower case) and the Dalai Lama’s Center for Peace + Education agreeing on three years of funding for the Center’s activities:
The Globe and Mail – Lulu-Lama? Partnership between yoga wear maker, Dalai Lama sparks outcry
They cited the disconnect between a luxury retailer that sells pricey fashions such as $100 yoga pants and the Dalai Lama who preaches a modest life and advocates for the poor. Others said they were offended that “politics” play a part in Lululemon’s marketing, and several said they would stop shopping at the chain.
Given that many yoga hardliners distrust lululemon, is this move nothing more than PR gesture to acquire a spiritual smokescreen for its corporate greed?
Given the poor rep that lululemon has acquired over the past few years, what does the Dalai Lama get out of this arrangement? Just money?
Should we ask the Dalai Lama to show us his entire list of donors to find more contradictions?
For that matter, who else is lululemon backing financially? After all, it’s tax deductible.
Why do a sizeable part of the reaction see the move as mixing business with political causes? Oh yeah, the Dalai Lama was the head of the Tibetan government in exile before stepping aside recently.
Does this alliance mean that lululemon will change its marketing target to become more encompassing of lower-income yogis and yoginis? Is lululemon going to open more outlets to avoid the criticism that they sell $100 yoga pants? Why do we have to fly to Orlando or upstate New York (Woodbury)?
Over the course of our European trip, we relied on our iPad, Kindle Fire, Galaxy smartphones, camera batteries, electric shaver, and backup batteries to carry out basic functions that kept us plugged into our information and communication. Because T-Mobile is our wireless provider, we had relatively inexpensive phone coverage in port in Europe (we have not gotten a bill yet so I may withhold judgment on that sales pitch). We had a voice line and messaging, maybe e-mail as well, but quality varied from country to country If we were sailing close shore, we might pick up the available wireless carriers.
On board, the options were less than optimal. Ships use a satellite-based communication service (Imarsat). For passengers it is a throwback to the days of America On Line and Compuserv: NCL charges by the minute for use of Wi-Fi, Internet access and phone. They did have WiFi from stem to stern, but you paid for the Internet access. At Kasadasi, we skipped the excusion so that we could spend the afternoon in Internet cafes and Starbucks using the free or inexpensive WiFi and Internet access. We had several loose ends in our travel plans that had to be locked down ASAP to allow us to enjoy the vacation.
But the real problem was recharging all our devices. While on the cruise, it was easy to go ashore for sight-seeing and return to recharge our batteries, using both European and US electrical outlets in the cabin. Before the trip, I had purchased one travel universal adapter and surge protector, but that was not enough. In Spain, I bought a phone charger with European plug., which helped. When we struck out on our own and did not have the convenience of European and US outlets, it was more complicated. All US-style plugs were useless. In France, I bought another adapter/surge protector, which also came with a USB outlet, the equivalent of having another European plug. When we were able to stream electrical current to four devices, the routine became manageable.
But an additional problem turned out to be getting reliable USB cables. I’d find out that a phone or device did not charge at all overnight so I had to troubleshoot the problem. Two cables wore out quickly from rough treatment while traveling. I had left a zipped packing bag that had extra USB cables at home so I was already under-equipped. In Barcelona, I bought two USB cables that did not function (what do you sell a customer you know will never come back?).
I found myself getting up in the middle of the night to check on charging and switch out devices. At each port, I looked for a convenient electronics store or wireless service center. Sometimes, it was just a question of not having enough time to stop at a store without being left behind by the guide group. Other times, I could not bring myself to buy at jacked-up prices for tourists. Finally in Paris, I got a new USB cable, plus the adapter/surge protector.
Now I understand the TV commercial showing travelers huddle around power outlets in airport terminals, trying to recharge their phones, tablets and laptops. It’s similar to being a smoker, having to plan your life around when and where you can find an appropriate place to light up and feed your habit. Our addiction to connection and information is what shaped a lot of our planning in Europe.
More evidence that yoga and related disciplines can help heal the body and mind of people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or PSTD:
Washington Post —Yoga helps war veterans get a handle on their PTSD.But the new study is the first of its kind to provide scientific support for the benefits of yoga’s breathing techniques for PTSD patients in a randomized and controlled (though small) long-term study which monitored effects of yoga over the course of the year.
Washington Post—At the Phillips Collection, viewing art through mindful meditation:
As with traditional yoga practice, the mindful viewing program focuses on breathing and its restorative power, says Kanter, who teaches at Yoga District in D.C. and Willow Street Yoga in Takoma Park. “Even just slowing down the breath, noticing and deepening the breath,” she says, can trigger “your relax-and-renew response. When you can mindfully attune to your breath and start to influence it, you trigger deep changes in your body. So that immediately has an impact on how you feel.”
The new approach benefited from yoga therapist Elizabeth Lakshmi Kanter‘s insight. The Phillips will make the program available via a smart phone app. Many European museums already hand out headsets that provide information and commentary in the language of the visitor, but I did not notice any mindful tones in the narration of the headsets that I used.
Proponents of mindfulness have long emphasized the power of breath in managing stress. “It’s like we mimic the relaxed state by breathing more slowly,” says Klia Bassing, a mindfulness meditation instructor and founder of Visit Yourself at Work, a stress-reduction program based in the District. “It’s a state in which the body is more able to heal.” That shift, she says, can stay with you beyond the immediate experience, such as contemplating a work of art. “A body at rest will stay at rest,” says Bassing. “A body at nervousness will stay at nervousness.” (Does using a cellphone as a medium for mindfulness disrupt the mindful moment? Not necessarily, says Bassing: “It’s still effective in bringing the body and mind into a state of present awareness.”)
I could have used more than a mindfulness app when Teresa and I were trotting through museums during our recent trip to Europe. We were there in September and early October when crowds had dropped off a bit. But it was hard to slow down when thousands of multinational tourists are being herded through the Vatican museum and St. Peter’s Basilica. You almost feel bad when lingering in front of a particular art piece because you’re holding up others.
Of course, you can develop plenty of mindfulness while waiting in long queues to buy tickets, get in the front door or get passed security.
You can only take in so much visual input and stimulus, especially at the major European museums that flaunt their riches with national pride. During our trip, there were several moments when we had to say “Stop, enough is enough.” At the Orsay Museum in Paris, after feasting on Impressionist artists all morning, we walked out and found the sun light a relief from the overpowering brilliance inside the museum. We sat by the Seine River, ate some fruit, and let the emotional overflow spill into the river.
Irasna Rising in elephant journal makes some cogent arguments that I’ve been thinking for a while, but have not had the time or energy to put into a coherent package:
Why I Left Yoga (& Why I Think A Helluva Lot Of People Are Being Duped)
Sanskrit, like Latin, is a dead language. Let it go already. The Catholic Church let go of the Latin Mass after Vatican II back in the early 1960′s. Chanting in sanskrit does not make you look cool nor does it make you an automatic Hindu. Or, an authority on yoga, Vedic studies or Indology (yes, that is a real academic subject.) Nor does having a made up Sanskit-derived moniker name make you any more real either with names like Blissananda, Ganeshananda, Serenityananda etc.
This compacted extract is just one of seven points that she makes about how yoga is unfolding in the States. Irasna (her byline is Earth Energy Reader) is an ethnic Sikh so her comments carry some weight.
On the other hand, we should note that there is no one “yoga” grafted on soccer moms, super models and gurus-in-training that obsess about having flat abs, round buttocks and enlightenment. Although there are plenty of aspiring people who would love to play “yoga cop” to enforce authenticity and the Yoga Sutras, there is no orthodoxy, no doctrine, no dogma, no priesthood for North American yoga. That option started fading away about the same time my generation got over their Woodstock high and ashrams were tainted by sexual scandals. In a more contemporary vein, there is no “American yoga industry” just because Under Armour wants to steal market share from Lululemon, and every yoga studio has to turned into a boutique and a teacher training academy. That is a cash flow problem.
What we have are three distinguishing traits of the North American yoga scene: (1) a capitalist marketplace that wants to dress everything up as a brand, (2) an enormous spiritual hole in our collective psyche stemming from our Judeo-Christian roots, and (3) a groundswell of psycho-somatic suffering (trauma) that Western medicine and psychiatry are unable to soothe, much less heal.
I am sure that I could think up other factors in the yoga enigma, but this venting will allow me to get back to my own personal contradictions and inadequacies. And I’m not leaving yoga. Yoga is not a place; it’s a state of mind-body.
When the idea of taking a Mediterranean cruise came up, I thought it was a good, leisurely option for seeing as many European cities and countries without being shuttled between hotel and airport, with reliable living quarters and food, and a high degree of security. Twelve days, five countries, and two days at sea to relax and recover. And you do need to recoup because the one-day visits (really just six to ten hours) to each city means that you keep a frantic pace. It is not immediately evident that the places you want to see are not in the seaport, but inland. Florence, Rome, Naples and Athens all require a minimum of 40 minutes or more to get to the tourist sights. We had great weather, sunny and barely a drop of rain, but that meant we were outdoors a lot, sweating and panting.
My days of backpacking through foreign lands are long ended. I dread the thought of being thrown into a setting in which I don’t know the language or the culture and stick out like a hapless gringo wandering through a street market. Because most of my past travels have been in Latin America or Spain, I’ve been used to speaking the native language and breaking the stereotype of the “ugly American.”
I thought I would have lots of time to write in my travel journal, review my photos and read through the backlog of my Kindle books. After all, I was a writer headed for a Paris café. Instead, as the resident cultural scout, I found myself reading Rick Steves’ Mediterranean Cruise Ports to research and plan what we would be doing in our next stop. Because urgency compressed our exposure to a few hours, I felt as if we were being spoon-fed each city, each country, without having a chance to dig deeper, wider, more curiously. But I kept telling myself that just walking through Rome or Istanbul even the pre-packaged tourist circuits, was a privilege, a banquet on its own, so open my senses.
Because of the “all-you-can-eat” buffets for breakfast and dinner on the Norwegian Cruise Line’s Spirit, I soon noticed that I needed to fit in some cardio work at the fitness center to burn off all the carbohydrates. By the end of the trip, I lost about eight pounds, part from pounding the pavement and part from a couple of bouts of dysentery. I should note that in both Rome and Venice we were encouraged (in Steves‘ book and by local residents) to drink the potable water from fountains and taps, a point of local pride.
Food was not the only thing that was filling me up: cultural saturation, at times, seemed overwhelming. Beauty-laden museums, Baroque churches, bustling marketplaces and throbbing public transport fill the senses with ancient vibes and contemporary thrills. There came a point when I could not absorb another Tintoretto painting of saints and angels shimmering under the arches of a cathedral. I just wanted to chill out. I had tapped into all my reserves of resilience and energy; all my spare memory cells were overflowing. I needed time, space and comfort to process all the experiences, and I was not going to find them while on the road.
I never got to write in my journal as much as I had hoped, and even then, I was playing catch-up, describing what had happened a couple of days before, never the gut reaction to turning a corner and being bowled over by the postcard setting of Venice canals and sunlight. But thanks to modern technology, we have plenty of memories, photos taken by Nikon, Samsung smart phones and Apple iPads. I can go back to those shots to pick up the internal narrative.
On our last days in Paris, I realized that I had not set aside adequate time for meditation or pranayama. No yoga classes; I did not pack a travel mat. I did do my restorative yoga in the evenings, but that was out of necessity because my muscles were quivering from the exertion of the day and I needed to soothe down to get to sleep. For the most part, however, I was always leaning forward, senses on hyper-alert to all the signals of life, moving towards the final flight home.
Following up on a note I posted a month ago, I wanted to clarify that all links to Yoga Journal articles are working correctly. The web development team probably put in a forwarding protocol that automatically sends the visitor from my site to the linked YJ web page. Of course, that it should have implemented that mechanism before switching over from the old site because the new design had been available as a beta for months. Luckily for me, the mix-up happened just as I was about to head off for vacation and did not have time to start correcting all the bad links that were showing up. Now that I’m back, I see that all YJ links on this site seem to be working.
Now if they could only find the right balance between being an advertising vehicle and the most prominent yoga advocate for the United States. If only there was an app for that.
Although I’ve been back from my extended vacation since October 4, it’s taken me a while to get my legs under me. My travels, spotty availability of Internet access and shortage of idle time determined that I could not post to my blog. I will giving an accounting of my awesome journey in installments because I am still processing all the events and experiences.
So what did my trip involve?
Four days in Barcelona, Spain because we never made it to Cataluña during our first trip to Spain in 2008
A 12-day Mediterranean cruise with port calls in Toulon, Livorno/Florence, Civitavecchia/Rome, Naples, Mykonos, Istanbul, Kusadasi, Piraeus/Athens, and Venice
Extra two days in Venice and an overnight sleeper train to France, an adventure in and of itself
Four days in Paris because my wife demanded that if we had we made it all the way to Europe, she could not leave without seeing Paris
A 28-hour return to the States on three separate flights (Paris, Barcelona, London, Washington), including a forced march through London Heathrow Airport security checkpoints, terminal trains, escalators, elevators and duty-free shopping malls
This itinerary is a really long time to be living out of a suitcase, no matter how tightly packed to meet airline baggage restrictions. And you still have to drag the luggage around when you’re not in a plane or cruise ship. But since my wife was in charge of planning the trip, she kept adding a day here, a weekend there, until it grew into 23 days. Continue reading →
I’ve been a subscriber to Yoga Journal since I started my practice, about 10 years ago. I’ve read all their issues, cover to cover, except for the past year when things have gotten a bit hectic. But I’ve kept stacking the issues on my desk for future reading. The back issues fill up a bookcase shelf in my study.
More importantly, I’ve cited the magazine hundreds of times, to their pose listing, features, cover stories and other articles. I’ve even defended the magazine’s reliance on advertising to survive in a competitive marketplace. I saw it as a necessary barometer of yoga’s influence in American mainstream culture.
Today, the new editors of Joga Yournal released their “beta” edition of their website, designed to be more graphically optimized and ad-friendly. I found this message after trying to load a JY link:
File Not Found The page you are looking for might have been removed, had its name changed, or is temporarily unavailable.
Please try the following:
Check your spelling
Return to the home page
Click the Back button
Talk about playing dumb. They know why I got a 404 error.