Sarah McLachlan, Yoga Journal, and real journalism

For Yoga Journal‘s 35th anniversary issue, the cover girl and feature subject is singer Sarah McLachlan. I’m not surprised: McLachlan perfectly suits the magazine’s image of yoga. She is attractive, health-conscious, white, and “West Coast”; she supports progressive causes; she’s famous but, like many readers and the editor in chief herself, she’s also a single, working mom who practices yoga. Reading McLachlan’s interview, I found nothing blatantly off-putting (the woo woo design concept wasn’t her fault). That said, I also found nothing compelling about her thoughts on Lilith Fair or surfing or motherhood or yoga. Without the celebrity hook, would that story have … Continue reading Sarah McLachlan, Yoga Journal, and real journalism

Flowers need not be flowery

Wow. Despite the ostensible demise of traditional journalism, the Times (which in the USA can mean only The New York Times) still has clout. One day, John Friend and Anusara yoga are merrily trotting along. The next day, boom! Everyone has an opinion about him, about the growing commercialism of yoga, about worldwide mega tours, about modern yoga’s authenticity, about “feel-good” words and effective teaching. When I wrote that I dislike “flowery” language, I essentially meant that I hate phoniness and showiness. An authentic teacher (a “deep person,” I might’ve said back in college) need not state the obvious. She … Continue reading Flowers need not be flowery

Why Anusara?

In yesterday’s New York Times Magazine, Mimi Swartz wrote a lengthy profile on John Friend, the Houston-based founder of Anusara yoga. I’d been curious about this new (13 years old) form of yoga, based on Iyengar yoga but with a “touchy-feely” overlay. The article made me cringe, I must admit. It wasn’t only Mr Friend’s commercial ambition, groupee following, and globetrotting to promote his brand. It was also simply his words: “We are,” Friend said, beaming, “the Yoga of Yes.” (YogaSpy: Uh, okay.) “There’s no differentiation between yoga philosophy and business philosophy,” he said of Anusara. “We honor spirit, based on … Continue reading Why Anusara?

Old yoga mats never die…

… They just fade away. True for you? True for me. I still use my first mat (now over 12 years old), which starred in my very-first blog post. It’s been washed countless times, and it’s disintegrating in high-traffic spots. I now flip it over and use the reverse side. It’s not my sole mat anymore. But why would I trash it? It’s a pebbly PVC mat with great traction and durability, but it’s not biodegradable. So I am trying to be eco-conscious by using it till it’s unusable. Recently, my yoga classmate Cheryl got a new Manduka mat (the PROlite … Continue reading Old yoga mats never die…

The great outdoors

In January, Katherine, a student of mine, vacationed in Waikiki. Slender and fit, in her 50s, she’s an avid beginner yogi and wanted to find a convenient yoga class. While I’m from Hawaii, I have no firsthand knowledge of Waikiki yoga; she ended up trying Dennis and his Chocolate-Pineapple Sports-Yoga Studio. According to Katherine, the instructor is fluent in Japanese and targets Japanese tourists for his outdoor classes, on the sand at Waikiki Beach or on the lawn at Kapi‘olani Park. The day she dropped in on his “park yoga” class, the 15 or so other participants were Japanese girls; Katherine … Continue reading The great outdoors

Sense, Sensuality, and Sensibility

In the New York Times article “When Chocolate and Chakras Collide” (January 26, 2010), yoga practitioners debate the yogic diet: Should yogis eat meat? Drink alcohol? Indulge in sweets and spices, onions and garlic? Traditionalists hold that ahimsa requires vegetarianism, and that one must avoid strong flavors, caffeine, and alcohol, which overwhelm the senses. Revisionists argue that the hardline approach is unnecessary, if one’s attitude is appropriate. Both views make sense. It seems incongruous that a yogi be pleasure-seeking; yet, sticking to the rules doesn’t guarantee saintliness. My two cents: CONSCIOUS EATING In the article, a group gathered for “vigorous, … Continue reading Sense, Sensuality, and Sensibility

Shopping, sales, and greed

Against my better judgment, I decided to “browse” at the after-Christmas sales last Saturday. Purchase #1: After a yoga class at the mega studio I’ve been featuring, I browsed through their book selection. While I’m an Iyengar devotee, I’m also curious about Yin yoga, and I was tempted by Sarah Powers’s Insight Yoga and Bernie Clark’s YinSights. When the staffer announced a 20% discount (that day only), I couldn’t resist and chose the latter. Purchase #2: While I’m dismayed at lululemon’s burgeoning empire and beyond-trendy vibe, I found my feet stepping into one of their boutiques and my hands rifling … Continue reading Shopping, sales, and greed

The mega studio versus what?

In response to my post  “The lure of the mega studio,” Ray wrote a thoughtful comment, asking me about my frame of reference. To what am I contrasting the mega studio? Since day one, my predominant practice has been Iyengar yoga. So, the studio attributes randomly listed below apply frequently (but not exclusively) to Iyengar studios. But the key difference is not the type of yoga but the teacher-student dynamic: is the teacher just leading a sequence of asanas (like a DVD come to life) or is the teacher actually teaching? Small-ish classes, ranging from 10 to 3o (unless a … Continue reading The mega studio versus what?

The lure of the mega studio

Since my last post about the biggest yoga studio in my town, I’ve attended five more classes there (12 total). I’ve seen four of their five locations so far. They’re all huge: I’d estimate that two have mat capacity for 40 to 50, one could hold 60, and the main studio might squeeze in 80. Of course, everyday classes don’t fill to the max. But they’re still large. On Sunday night, the Vinyasa Power Flow class attracted about 40 students, while the Yin class was a hit with at about 60. (One class that I took last week numbered seven, … Continue reading The lure of the mega studio

Peer-reviewed blogs

When I began my blog last August, I told myself that it shouldn’t matter whether anyone reads it. Blogging would be an outlet, a way to gather and release my thoughts (some fleeting, some fundamental) about yoga. As a writer, I process through words. I wanted a free, uncensored forum sans gatekeepers. Whatever the audience size, whatever the response, no matter. After all, words are my work—and also my play. I enjoy the process: choosing a topic, analyzing my thoughts, and crafting a sentence that makes the cut. Such an exercise sharpens my mind. So, why should I be delighted … Continue reading Peer-reviewed blogs

Yoga as performance art

What’s your take on yoga as performance art? I just viewed Seattle yoga teacher Theresa Elliott’s yoga-dance compositions, posted on Nikki Chau’s yoga blog. I’ve never met Elliott, director of Taj Yoga but I’ve gathered that she’s a serious and respected yogi. Clicking through her photo gallery, I immediately see that her asana practice is outstanding. Watching her perform choreographed yoga to music, I was struck by both admiration (“I want to lift into handstand from prasarita padottanasana!”) and mild dismay (“Should yoga be performed?”). I’m not adamantly for or against yoga performances, a yoga offshoot that’s been around for decades. London-based … Continue reading Yoga as performance art

The meaning of retreat

In the November 2009 issue of Yoga Journal, the article “great escapes” describes four types of yoga retreats: home, do-it-yourself (with friends), urban, and luxury. I was relieved that they covered a variety of retreats, which mean wildly different things to different people. The word “retreat” literally means to withdraw, and I subscribe to that definition. My ideal yoga retreat would be inwardly focused, a major departure from my normal life. By “departure,” I don’t necessarily mean leaving home. The setting can be familiar or foreign (although novelty does make an impression). Rather, this departure must be mental: a separation … Continue reading The meaning of retreat