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 (source:, 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: … Continue reading The meaning of retreat

The significance of straight A’s and perfect asanas

I first heard about yoga competitions a year or two ago, watching a TV news reporter interview three competitors, a female champ, plus a boy and girl. The kids, in particular, were fascinating to watch. Their lithe bodies moved smoothly into advanced asanas. Both seemed reserved and introspective, as if yoga were an oasis for them, a better fit than soccer or skateboarding. Still, the whole idea of a yoga competition bothered me. If we turn asana into a competitive sport, what  happens to the larger meaning of yoga? Even as a regular student in a regular class, it’s easy … Continue reading The significance of straight A’s and perfect asanas

Are you WDWG?

In the 1980s, my friend Laura moved to San Francisco and landed a job at Kelly Services (aka Kelly Girl), the iconic temp staffing agency. She applied to be a temp but ended up hired as an in-house typing instructor (despite forfeiting her own typing test twice due to panic attacks—but that’s another story). “When people applied for work,” Laura told me, “the interviewer would mark their files with special codes if they presented well. If they wore appropriate, stylish clothes and had their hair (and makeup for women) done well, they were WDWG. Well Dressed, Well Groomed. “If they also … Continue reading Are you WDWG?

In defense of race and ethnicity

Okay, that title is a red herring. But I’d like to add to my last post, in which I posited that race and ethnicity should not matter. I still believe that quick judgments based on those characteristics are wrong, whether when choosing teachers or friends or sushi chefs. That said, isn’t there something delightful about entering a 100% Japanese sushi bar? I love the “irasshaimase!” (“come in!”) from a kimono-clad proprietress and waitstaff and probably all the chefs themselves, clean-cut men, modest yet glowingly confident, with meticulous hands and supreme knowledge of all edible sea creatures. If you speak Japanese, you can banter … Continue reading In defense of race and ethnicity

Does race or ethnicity matter?

On a recent trip to San Francisco, a friend suggested dinner at a sushi restaurant that I’d never tried before. I’m always up for sushi, so I readily agreed. At the restaurant, I was relieved to find an unpretentious neighborhood fixture—run by Japanese people. I must admit, whenever I see a Japanese restaurant with non-Japanese owners and chefs, my knee-jerk reaction is to write it off. I immediately assume that it’s a mediocre, copycat place, falling short of an authentic experience. Is that fair? Are Japanese people born with a knack for slicing perfect slabs of maguro and hamachi? Of … Continue reading Does race or ethnicity matter?

The few, the proud

On a recent flight from Washington, DC, I sat beside a guy in a buzz cut, wearing a Washington Redskins jersey. We chatted about the range of team logos you see in DC. (In 24 hours, I saw two Stanford Cardinals, a couple in an Oakland A’s cap and a Bowie State tee, two unrelated Michigan fans, a UCLA Bruins tee, and a bunch of orange Clemsons, for a game in town. Home pride at the national capital?) We were flying from DC to Charlotte. For me, it was a layover before my flight to California. “I’ve been to California … Continue reading The few, the proud

Yoga with music?

Do you prefer doing yoga to silence or to music? At gyms, community centers, and other non-studio settings, most teachers play soft, instrumental, unidentifiable New Age-y music throughout the class. At Iyengar, Ashtanga, and most serious studios, music is not a component. (Some flow teachers such as Shiva Rea do emphasize music in their sequences. Apparently, Rea might have six to a dozen “helpers” marching around to assist students, but she holds tight the deejay mantle and picks particular songs for particular sequences.) The first yoga class I took was at a university gym. My teacher played music (although she never … Continue reading Yoga with music?

adidas + yoga = ?

A recent post on it’s all yoga, baby quipped about an “adidas yoga” class, offered at the 2009 Yoga Journal Conference in Estes Park, Colorado. A barrage of mostly anti-corporate comments spurred spokesmodel Rainbeau Mars herself to type up an ardent defense. What’s the big deal about yoga branding? Corporate sponsorships? Yoga spokesmodels? Yoga models? ISSUE #1: Materialism Some believe that a yoga practitioner who signs on to represent major corporations like adidas is “selling out.” They find it incongruous that a yogi would promote material trappings, especially expensive or unnecessary things (who needs yoga shoes, after all?). I agree … Continue reading adidas + yoga = ?

The Call of the Fame

Bear with me as I follow up on my prior post, “Who the heck is Tara Stiles?” If that was my first question, my next thoughts, after my friend Michael mentioned this unfamiliar yoga personality, went like this: “Am I out of it? Should I have recognized this name?” I’d considered myself quite up on all things yoga. Unlike the most serious, old-school yogis, I enjoy knowing yoga in all aspects: the sutras, the Indian gurus, the fashion trends, the iconic teachers around the world. While I study primarily the Iyengar method, I’ve explored Ashtanga, Bikram, and Yin yoga, and … Continue reading The Call of the Fame

At the movies: Enlighten Up!

I’d been curious about the 2008 yoga docudrama Enlighten Up! and finally saw it today.  You probably know the setup: Filmmaker and yoga fan Kate Churchill chooses a non-yogi, out-of-work journalist Nick Rosen, to immerse in yoga for six months. Her objective: to see whether he’ll undergo any transformation. The film opens with a montage of quotes by famous yogis, including Rodney Yee, Cyndi Lee, Natasha Rizopoulos, Baron Baptiste, and Gurmukh. (With their words cut into sound bites, they all come across as idiots. Whatever you think of Yee, he appears the most likable and least la-la-land-ish.) Once Churchill chooses … Continue reading At the movies: Enlighten Up!

Who the heck is Tara Stiles?

In an email exchange several months ago, I mentioned my long interest in yoga to Michael, a magazine editor friend. “The path of the yogin is a difficult (and impecunious) one,” he wrote back. “You could always do what Tara Stiles did and become a YouTube sensation.” Tara Stiles? Who the heck is Tara Stiles? I Googled her name and found her website, her HuffPost blog, her Couch Yoga video on YouTube (which has garnered almost 115,000 views to date), and hundreds more listings. Born in 1981, Stiles grew up in rural Illinois before claiming fame as a Ford model … Continue reading Who the heck is Tara Stiles?