Temple Tour of South India/Tamil Nadu Yatra — it’s a GO!

cropped-india-om1.jpg  Details are finalized, the hotel rooms are booked for 20 travelers and this trip –

SEPTEMBER 8-22, 2015

is a go even if there is only one person who wants to travel with a seasoned Indiaphile such as myself….(and one person has already signed up!)….

“Forget the travel section of The New York Times, Lonely Planet and all those travel sites written by twenty-somethings. If you want to experience the REAL India, check out Linda’s blog. I first “met” Linda through her blog several years ago and was struck by her humor, honesty and down to earth attitude about everything Yoga. When I found out she was a fellow India lover I reached out to her for advice about where to study, where to stay, and where to shop. She knows her stuff. And she will lead you to places that you will not find on a travel website or a map. I don’t know what I would do without her.”
Alyssa T., NewYork

I hear many yoga teachers say “if only I could go to India….”  Well, here’s your chance because I am offering a 5% discount off the $2695 tour price to studio owners and teachers who bring two or more of their students with them.   That is enough to pay for your travel insurance and to buy lots of gorgeous Indian textiles.  A percentage of what you pay will be donated to The Banyan women’s shelter in Chennai, India so by attending this trip you are engaging in COMPASSION IN ACTION AND SEVA.

The ancient texts of India contain the stories of the making of the Universe as well as tales of the many gods and goddesses. Many places mentioned in these texts are fully alive today and are important places of yatra (pilgrimage) where vast temple complexes arose. Within these temples daily worship is performed to the resident gods and goddesses in a tradition that is thousands of years old. To those who believe, the Divine is more easily intuited, recognized, or experienced in these temples.

North India sees more tourists than the South but having traveled to India 8 times since 2005 I believe South India, and Tamil Nadu especially, to be a very special place. For me, it is very different from North India. India can be intense but I find Tamil Nadu to be “softer” and it can be an easier landing than North India for first time India visitors. But whether North or South, India is my heart’s home.

We will stay in 4 and 5 star hotels, eat vegetarian food, and travel comfortably from town to town. We will have morning yoga and meditation practice every other day. A guide will travel with us to answer questions and discuss our experiences. Arrangements can also be made with local priests for the proper performance of any rituals you may wish performed.

We will have ample time for the usual sightseeing, shopping, and exploring that travelers enjoy. The pace will be relaxed and sometimes the travel will be hours between each town – since this is India, always expect the unexpected!

Included in the Land Cost of $2695:
This trip will be 15 days with the first and last days being for arrival and departure. I want to keep your expenses reasonable but your stay very comfortable. Meals will be South Indian vegetarian which can be spicy. You receive breakfast but you must pay for lunch and dinner – eating in India is very inexpensive compared to the West. Travel will be in a comfortable bus and any entry fees (for one visit) are included.

The above price includes:
–15 night accommodations, DOUBLE OCCUPANCY ONLY. Single Supplement is $750. I will assign a roommate, however, if none is available you must pay the Single Supplement.
–Daily breakfast.
–One South Indian cooking demonstration with farewell dinner on last night in Madurai.
–All applicable tax on hotels/transportation.
–All transfers, sightseeing, excursion by Air-conditioned mini-bus or larger bus.
–English speaking guide throughout the tour.
–Adequate mineral water during the tour available in the vehicle.
–Entry fee to the monuments during sightseeing for one visit.

In 15 days we will go to:

CHENNAI
MAHABALIPURAM — a UNESCO World Heritage site
KANCHIPURAM — famous for silks
TIRUVANNAMALI — walk around the holy mountain Arunachala and visit the Ramana Maharishi Ashram
PONDICHERRY — visit Auroville International Village
KUMBAKONAM — GANGAIKONDACHOLAPURAM — SWAMIMALLAI – DARASURAM
TRICHY — TANJORE
RAMESWARAM — where Hanuman lept across the ocean to Lanka to save Sita
MADURAI — visit one of the greatest temples in South India and have an evening cooking demonstration at our hotel followed by farewell dinner
BACK TO CHENNAI

“Trip of a lifetime” can be an overused cliche, but in this case you WILL have the trip of a lifetime, guaranteed.

I am very impressed with the hotel choices the tour company has made which will make for a soft landing in India for first timers.  The last time I was in some of these towns I arrived with only a backpack, having taken a bus through rural Tamil Nadu and staying in $10 or $20 a night rooms.

I have seen tours of this nature advertised for twice as much and you would get less than what I am giving you.  The price is less than what most yoga teacher trainings cost nowadays and frankly, India can teach you much more — it will take you out of your comfort zone but you need to be open to receive what Ma India will give you. My first trip to India was transformational and where I am taking you, it can be the same for you.  Read about my India adventures here.

If you want complete information give me your email address and I will email you my informational flyer.  My website designer is busy configuring my Event page on my site to take credit card payments.

IF NOT NOW….WHEN?

Gangakodaicholapuram, 2008

Me, Gangakodaicholapuram, 2008

Spiritual Tour of South India, September 2015: Update

This 15 day tour is continually being tweaked and the details and pricing are being finalized for September 2015.  I am looking toward having this trip start the day after Labor Day, 2015, so as to give an extra travel day.  Fifteen days is two calendar weeks.  This is going to be an amazingly awesome tour of South India!

YOGA STUDIO OWNERS AND YOGA TEACHERS WHO BRING
TWO OR MORE STUDENTS WILL RECEIVE 5% OFF THE TOUR PRICE!

Because hotel prices are less expensive in September, the anticipated cost of this tour will be less than I originally anticipated.  Right now I am estimating the trip to be about $2,600, with a single supplement making it $600 more.  Bring your students and receive 5% discount — that can pay for your travel insurance!  You will be offering your yoga community an amazing opportunity to see the Heart of India with you AND a seasoned 8 time traveler to India.  We will practice yoga and meditation in the mornings where possible.

I shot the photo below on my first trip in 2005.  Mamallapuram is a UNESCO World Heritage site where you will explore the mythologies of India.  Mahabs (as I call it) was a thriving port about 1,400 years ago where hundreds of craftsmen worked to create some of the greatest shrines and sculptures of India.  You can visit the shops of the modern stonecutters and buy your own statue of Patanjali.

This will be a trip of a lifetime. 

Ask yourself: if not now, when?

Mahabalipuram, UNESCO World Heritage Site, 2005

Mamallapuram, UNESCO World Heritage Site, 2005

Spiritual Tour of South India: Proposed Itinerary

It is never too early to start planning and saving for a trip to India, especially if it is your first time.

I am using the tour company I used for my trip to Rajasthan this year because I was so happy with their customer service and they have come up with an amazingly awesome itinerary.   It is so amazing that even I, an 8 time traveler to India, am impressed!

I am planning this trip for September 2015 when the hotels are less expensive and the timing gives prospective travelers one year to save.  A friend told me she saves every $5 bill she receives for her vacation fund.  It all adds up!

Also, as I did with my yoga retreat trip in 2013, a portion of what you pay will be donated to The Banyan women’s shelter in Chennai, India.  Go on this trip and you are helping women.  Compassion in action.

Where possible we will have time for Yoga and meditation as well as discussions regarding our experiences.  We will have one guide throughout the entire trip.  You will have ample time for the usual sightseeing and shopping.  Travel between towns will be via a comfortable bus.  The complete trip will be 15 days with the first and last days being for arrival and departure.  Final pricing yet to be determined however I estimate the final price to be under $3,000, excluding your airfare to Chennai.

You can Google all of these cities to learn where you will be going!

The bottom line:

1.  if you come on this trip it will be a trip of a lifetime;

2.  you will help women in a women’s shelter in Chennai, India;

3.  it will be the trip of lifetime

IF NOT NOW, WHEN?

NOTE: O/N = OVERNIGHT IN A CITY

DAY 01 : Arrive Chennai. O/N stay at Chennai.

DAY 02 : Leave Chennai to Kancheepuram (75 kms / 02 hrs), visit Ekambaranathar Temple (element of Earth) & Kailasnatha Temple (shiva temple).  O/N stay Kancheepuram.

DAY 03 : Leave Kancheepuram to Tiruvannamalai (130 kms / 03 hrs).  Visit Arunachaleshwarar Temple (Element of Fire), circumbulate Arunachala Mountain
O/N stay at Tiruvannamalai.

DAY 04 : At Tiruvannamalai visit Sri Ramana Mahrishi Ashram.  O/N stay at Tiruvannamalai.

DAY 05 : Leave Tiruvannamalai to Pondicherry (100 kms / 0230hrs drive). O/N stay at Pondy.

DAY 06 : Visit French quarters (old part) of Pondicherry & Auroville International village.

DAY 07 : Leave Pondicherry to Kumbakonam (180 kms / 04 hrs drive),  enroute visit Chidambaram Sri Nataraja Temple (Element of Sky), and later continue to visit Gangai konda Cholapuram (Shiva temple). O/N stay at Kumabakonam.

DAY 08 : At Kumbakonam, visit Kumbeshwarar temple (Shiva), Swamimallai Temple (Murugan), Darasuram Iravateeshwarar Temple (Shiva).  O/N stay at Kumbakonam.

DAY 09 : leave Kumbakonam to Trichy (110 kms / 03 hrs drive), enroute visit Tanjore Sri Brahadeeshwarar temple (Shiva) and Tanjore Palace with Art Gallery. O/N stay at Trichy.

DAY 10 : At Trichy, visit Rock Fort Mountain temple (Ganesh), visit Srirangam Ranganathaswami Temple (Vishnu), Thiruvaanaikovil Sri Jambukeshwarar  Temple (Element of water). O/N stay at Trichy.

DAY 11 : Leave Trichy to Karaikudi (90 kms / 02 hrs), on arrival visit Chettinadu village well known for their architecture and Chettinadu food and where group can witness the Chettinad cooking demonstration at the hotel.

For more info of Chettinadu, please visit  http://www.srmuniv.ac.in/downloads/chetinad.pdf

O/N stay at Chettinadu.

DAY 12 : Leave Karaikudi to Rameshwaram (150 kms / 0330 hrs drive), O/N stay at Rameshwaram.

DAY 13 : At Rameshwaram for full day visit of Sri Ramanthaswami temple. O/N stay at Rameshwaram.

DAY 14 : Leave Rameshwaram to Madurai (175 kms / 04 hrs drive), visit of Tirumalai Nayak palace and Sri Meenakshi temple with rituals. O/N stay at Madurai.

DAY 15 : Full day free for independent activities and connect evening flight at Madurai airport to Chennai.

elephant pondy

Getting blessed by Lakshmi, the temple elephant, at Ganesh temple in Pondicherry, 2011

who wants to go to South India?

Tamil Nadu to be exact.

Meenakshi Temple, Madurai, 2006

Meenakshi Temple, Madurai, 2006

Nandi, Thanjavur, 2008

Nandi, Thanjavur, 2008

Last year I led a group of stalwarts to Chennai for private classes at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Madiram and then on to Varkala, Kerala where I led a yoga retreat.  You can read a review of that trip  here.   A few told me it was their trip of a lifetime.  :)

This year my friend and I were going to lead a two week yoga retreat in Varkala, Kerala but we had to cancel because there was no interest in it whatsoever.  We were both very bummed about it.

Ironically, after that cancellation three people contacted me about leading a trip to India in the future.

If you have followed this blog since 2005 you know how much I love India, especially South India.   The typical tourist trips to India usually go north — Delhi, Agra, Varanasi, Rajasthan, the Buddhist circuit.  There is nothing wrong with those areas, but in my opinion, the South is special and overlooked by the usual India tourist.  Actually, overlooked is how I like it because where I go I am usually the only Westerner.

I first traveled to Chennai to study at KYM in 2005 and have been returning yearly.  I always go to the South first.  I realized on my Rajasthan trip this year that I truly am a South Indian Girl.  I always tell first-timers to India that the South is a bit easier place to land.  I have been to Haridwar in the north, jumping into the Ganges at the Kumbh Mela in 2010.   I’ve been to the opposite side of India, in Calcutta to Kali’s temple where I got hit with a shakti blast so hard I almost fell down.  I rode a motorcyle into the Thar Desert in Rajasthan this year.  But Chennai in Tamil Nadu is my home.  One day I hope to live there for 6 months out of the year.

Tamil Nadu is rich in history and spirituality because of the multitude of important temple towns.    The history of the Tamil language and its literature is equally as rich as the Sanskrit language and its literature, but unless one travels to South India, it remains unfamiliar to many if not most.  An important Yoga text came out of  Tamil Nadu, written in Tamil.

Because I love showing people My India, I have decided to investigate leading a SPIRITUAL TOUR OF SOUTH INDIA in late 2015.  It would be 15 days which if you count the days on a calendar it is really two full weeks, not a full three weeks.  The trip would be a Tamil Nadu temple yatra and where possible I will lead Yoga classes.

I contacted the tour company I used for Rajasthan this year to put together a preliminary plan.  The time frame would be September 15-29 or October 1-15 or October 26-November 9, whichever they can do.   You would fly into Chennai and we would bus it around Tamil Nadu from town to town ending up back in Chennai.  I MAY do an extra week in Varkala, Kerala on the beach for people who wanted to stay longer.  Maybe.  That would be an extra cost.

The cities I have planned are (two days in each):
Chennai;
Tiruvannamalai — visit Arunachaleswara Temple,  climb or walk around Arunachala and visit the Ramana Maharishi ashram;
Auroville/Pondicherry — visit Auroville and relax, shop in Pondicherry;
Chidambaram; visit Shiva temple, where Shiva is in the form of Nataraj;
Thanjavur and Srirangam — side trip to Swamimallai and Gangakondacholapuram possible?  Rest in Tiruchirappali or maybe Kumbakonam?;
Karaikukudi and Rameswaram — the water ritual inside the Ramanathaswamy temple;
Madurai — temple rituals, shop — good day to have a South Indian cooking class OR have a South Indian dinner prepared for everyone for last night;
back to Chennai to fly home.

You can Google all those places to see what’s what. 

Right now I estimate the approximate cost to be $2000-2900, excluding flight, taxes, tips, meals (which are CHEAP in India.)  The optional extra week in Kerala would be an added cost.

Serious inquires only.  Let me know your interest.  It is never too early to plan your first trip to India.

If not now….when?

Gangakodaicholapuram, 2008

the walking wounded: when Love and Yoga aren’t enough

screamBy now the world knows that Robin Williams killed himself.  How shocking it is when someone who appeared so manic, so funny, suddenly decides they no longer want to live because the pain of their life — no matter how “good” or successful it looks like to outsiders — becomes too much to bear.

I tried to kill myself when I was 16.

I have had the rep for a long time of being some type of bad ass bitch.  One who always tells it like it is, no holds barred, a Kali Ma.  I have heard that local yoga teachers consider me to be “hard to approach.”  I have been told that I am not the type who “gives hugs” to people.  I’m the bad cop to your good cop.

My humor has always been self-deprecating and I always put on a good mask.  I hate talking about myself and any time someone asks me how I am or what I’ve been doing lately I usually redirect the conversation back to them or onto another topic — because if I told you how I really felt you’d probably run away.

Depression is always a few steps away.  A number of years ago PTSD reared its ugly head again after a huge emotional incident that brought back buried memories of emotional abandonment.  Here I was a woman in my late 50s and feeling like a blubbering baby on the inside when I had to put on the happy face to the outside world, the wise teacher face to my students.  I was dying inside.

When I feel it sneaking up I am mindful of the physical sensations.  I do my breathing, I am aware.  I’m a yoga therapist, I have the tools.  I’ve been trained very well.  The best teachers about suffering are the ones who have walked through Hell, not the ones who have only read about it.

But sometimes all that Love and Yoga just isn’t enough.

Every day I make great effort to wake up grateful for what I have and I truly am.  I am blessed to live where I live, to have the house that I do, to be able to travel to India 8 times.   People tell me “I wish I were you” or “I want your life so that I can [fill in the blank.]”  And I think, really?  If they only know what a mess I feel like I am most of the time.  Never envy someone else’s life because you don’t know the shit they’ve been through.

I was emotionally and physically abused by my mother.  Or the woman I thought was my mother because my sister could have been my mother.  I moved out when I was 18 and never looked back.  When the woman who raised me wasn’t bragging to people about how brilliant I was in school she was telling me I should have been an abortion.

I found out last year that I was lied to about my heritage — I am not 50/50 German-Polish as I was told, but I am Polish-Native American-Mexican, proven via three genetic tests.  Someone has some ‘splainin’ to do but anyone who could tell the truth of my birth is dead.  I was ecstatic to finally confirm what I have always intuited but I very quickly nosedived into rock-bottom despair because of the lies that were told to me.

I was sexually assaulted in college before the term “date rape” was invented.  After that I was in an abusive relationship where my drunken boyfriend would throw me up against a wall, wrap his hand around my neck and push me up until my feet were off the ground.  But I still managed to get As in all my classes and my teachers loved me.

I watch how much I drink because I know I could very easily fall back into using alcohol to dull the pain.  I wasn’t called the Acid Queen for nothing.  When my first husband pushed me into the edge of a table and I cracked my back the doctor gave me Valium for the pain.  I quit that shit cold turkey and it wasn’t easy.

A person can seem to have it all and yet, there is something missing.  Something unnameable.  It feels like a deep and unfathomable emptiness.

It is a terrible feeling of isolation and disconnection from everything and everyone.  The so-called “yoga community” makes me laugh because depressed people do not need to hear that they should “manifest abundance”, that they should “ask the Universe” for Love and Light, or that they should not feel the way they do because it will only “attract” more negativity, or that they need to do 108 sun salutations and namaste everyone or whatever the fuck.

Fuck that New Age Rose Colored Glasses Shit.

What depressed people need is kindness and understanding just like with any other disease.  I always refused to take medications because I took enough mood altering drugs when I was young and I know I have an addictive personality.

Sometimes I am so damn tired.  Tired of giving so much of myself emotionally to everyone and not getting it myself, feeling unsupported with unequal exchanges of energy.  It is why by the end of each year I can’t wait to spend a long time in India in order to get nourished and nurtured.   This year that feeling has come way sooner.

And here’s a clue:  when someone is saying how “tired” they are or how “done” they are, wake the fuck up and listen to them.  Don’t tell them, “I’ve been hearing this from you for a long time” or “shut up and snap out of it.”  Dealing with a depressed person sometimes requires a lot of patience.

Can we make the Robin Williams tragedy a wake up call?  Can we make it okay to be able to reach out when we need help?

I have always felt uncomfortable reaching out and asking for help.  I implode instead of explode.  I could kill myself and you would not find  me until weeks or a month later —  because most people think I am so together and “out there” and never once think that I could easily swallow a fistful of pills with a bottle of gin and lie down in savasana.

I learned at a very early age how to go away quietly.

My life story is probably why I love working one on one with students, especially people dealing with trauma.  It takes me outside myself.  I recently adopted a cat because she was in a cage for three months.   I had an epiphany in the pet food store where she was up for adoption:  as I petted her I began to weep because I realized that no one wanted her like the way my mother (or the woman I thought was my mother) really did not want me.  It’s probably why all my life I’ve fought for any underdog.  It’s probably why I always butted heads with the powers that be and walked to the beat of my own drummer.

Yoga and meditation saved my life but it is always a thin rope to hold on to.

It can snap at any moment.

So before you think someone is a tough, bad-ass bitch, realize that you never really know anyone’s back story of pain and trauma.   Don’t be surprised to learn that sometimes the strongest or the funniest person you know are one day away from ending it all because they are just so damn tired and done.

But I keep hanging in there.  Because Yoga is about Life (Krishnamacharya.)

the whiteness of yoga: time to change the question?

I’ve read more than a few articles lately on how blindingly white modern American yoga still is and the cultural appropriation of it. In fact, I asked about the color of yoga back in 2007 when this blog was at its hottest. As they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

“Why Your Yoga Class is So White” is the latest from the Atlantic Monthly:

“The magazine images may seem like stereotypes, but they’re grounded in reality: About one in every 15 Americans practices yoga, according to a 2012 Yoga Journal study, and more than four-fifths of them are white.

“‘Racism is so implicit that you never even notice that it’s a white girl on the cover every single time,” added Amy Champ, a PhD from the University of California, Davis, who wrote her dissertation on American yoga. “But when you begin to ask yourself, ‘What does yoga have to do with my community?’, then you begin to question all these inequities.'”

The key goals of South Asian American Perspectives on Yoga in America (SAAPYA) as stated on their website are:

“…to revise the perception that yoga is an exclusive practice; to intervene in a largely segregated yoga environment; to ensure that yoga remains a resource for all bodies, all races, all classes and identities.”

[Emphasis supplied in both.]

“Columbusing” is a term used to describe what white people do when they “discover” something that has existed forever.  We can reflect on that as Western culture “discovers” mindfulness like it “discovered” yoga about 15 years ago. 

Before I definitively learned that I was Native American (after intuiting it all my life), seeing white people wear Native American headdress always bothered me tremendously.  Don’t ask my why it did, it just did, it looked wrong and felt wrong to me.  I’ve been told that’s my tribal blood memory.

The issue of the Color of Yoga in Modern America is always a dicey one.  My good friend and San Diego yoga teacher, Oreste Prada, deliciously turns the question around in his guest post where he asks, in essence, “why do white people care so much about whether people of color do Yoga?”  Spinning it around again, “why are white people in the U.S. so drawn to yoga practice?”  Do white people need Yoga more than other races do?  Excellent and provocative questions so here is what Oreste has to say….talk amongst yourselves.


 

“Over the last few years there has been much discussion online about the demographics of yoga classes particularly on the notable absence (or suspiciously low representation) of ethnic minorities, particularly Black and Latino, which comprise just over 12% and 16%, respectively, of the U.S. population.  Typically these discussions raise observations that quickly are treated as causal:

1. Yoga Journal (arguably the most popular yoga related magazine in the U.S.) shows mostly (some would say only) White women on their cover.

2. Yoga studios are located mainly in White neighborhoods.

3. Yoga classes are prohibitively priced for low income communities.

This leap from observation to causation is, of course, a dangerous one without looking deeper and dispassionately into income and race demographics, regional variations, and cultural differences between ethnic groups in the U.S.  It also tends to fall all too comfortably into inaccurate ethnocentric projections.

The underlying assumption is that, all things being equal, Blacks and Latinos would be drawn to yoga classes just as much as their White counterparts if only:

1. Media representations of yoga practitioners would show Blacks and Latinos.

2. Yoga studios were located in “ethnic” neighborhoods.

3. Yoga classes were cheaper so that Blacks and Latinos could afford them.

This assumption is just that, an assumption, and it misses an obvious question. 

Rather than ask why Black and Latinos don’t attend yoga class, is it not interesting to turn the question on its head and ask why are White people in the U.S. so drawn to yoga practice?

My friend Linda, who so often throws interesting and controversial topics at us often relayed from a different than typical perspective, recently posted on her Facebook wall an article on precisely this idea of the “Whiteness” of yoga in the U.S. and what many groups are doing about it.  It struck me that the author, all of the folks interviewed, and all of the commentators on the article, were taking this idea for granted that yoga was something everyone would (or should?) be drawn to and that the lack of representation of ethnic minorities came down to something that magazines, studio owners, yoga teachers, or the very White yoga community at large were doing wrong.

No one seemed to see the inherent ethnocentrism present in that assumption.  My comment to her post and now this subsequent guest post was born.

To be sure, this is not to discount the observations noted above.  They are, after all, observations of a reality that has presented itself.  I make just as many generalizations with my perspective (among them treating White Americans as a monolithic group which they most certainly are not.)  What I propose is that the reasons for this reality may not be what we assume them to be and that taking a step back and trying to better understand differences in culture and race are more meaningful ways to understand the reality. 

I think it is worth pondering the question of whether something within Yoga practice (as it exists in modern time) makes White Americans uniquely attracted to it.

It isn’t unreasonable that it would be.

1.  Yoga practice is individualistic.  Yoga practice is ultimately concerned with the Self.  Although we can argue that this Self is shared, we approach it through our own experience within our own bodies.  Yoga is not (with some exceptions) a group experience and it certainly isn’t a team effort.  It begins and ends with individual experience.

This might be very attractive to individually-minded White American culture.  But can we expect it to be attractive to cultures that place greater emphasis on family and community?  Looking at India, the birthplace of Yoga, which is very family focused, we see that most folks don’t actually practice Yoga.  Those that do are almost exclusively sadhus (who leave their families for spiritual pursuits) or folks involved in religious groups.  The householder yogi is a fairly modern concept as far as we know and he/she remains a minority in Yoga’s home country.  Within India itself the majority of practitioners (in non-religious) Yoga schools are Westerners and it has been the case for almost a decade now that there are many more practitioners of Yoga (asana) within the U.S. than within India (India has an overall population 4x the size of the U.S.).

2. Yoga offers spirituality without dogma.  Many yoga practitioners today come to the practice seeking a spiritual component in their lives.  Many are agnostic or have weak religious ties (both of which are much more common in White communities in the U.S. than in any of the ethnic communities).  Yoga can provide a much needed sacred experience for these folks.  The strong religious influence within Black and Latino cultures raises the possibility that the spiritual component of Yoga is not as attractive since those needs are already being met.  This idea is more compelling than the income argument given that Asian Americans (the only minority in the U.S. who earn a higher income then White Americans) typically have strong family and religious ties but also don’t rally to yoga studios.

3. Yoga classes offer a support system without community-mindedness.  Yoga teachers often talk about “group energy,” this ethereal quality that is formed out of the collection of students and teachers in the room, maintained by those same people and which benefits everyone.  Studios in general and classes in particular can be places where individuals feel the support of others and in the best cases have teachers who are invested in their growth and the realization of their potential.  For an individually minded culture this can be very attractive because you can pursue your own goals and growth with the indirect support of others, and by your presence and your energy you are helping others achieve theirs, all the while maintaining your space.  The best example of this juxtaposition of shared versus personal space is the yoga mat which has become a strong representation of an individual’s sacred space.  I have yet to attend a teacher training where the question of whether or not it is appropriate to step on someone’s mat doesn’t come up.  [Oreste, love ya, babe, but keep your stinky feet off my mat…I put my face on my mat!]

4. Yoga in the West is generally associated with the New Age movement.  The New Age movement with its non-dogmatic approach to spirituality and its emphasis on health and harmony has at its best been very attractive to Americans who resist and reject dogmatic religions but who seek a deeper sense of purpose and order to the Universe, especially if it offers a way to participate in it.  At worst, the New Age movement is viewed by (non-fundamentalist) White Americans as strange but innocuous.  For many it offers a vehicle to venture from yoga into other practices that might be interesting or even helpful for promoting health.  

This is not the attitude of the typically deeply religious Black and Latino communities that view the New Age movement with suspicion at least and contempt at worst.  New Age tenets and practices are disturbingly close to the ideas their churches warn against.  Individuals in these communities who practice yoga often face constant warnings by friends and family and can even experience alienation from their religious communities.  [my note:  I found this true when I was teaching Mexican women at a domestic violence shelter where the Jehovah’s Witness minister of one woman told her not to return to my class.]

Given the ease with which yoga practice fits into the needs of many White Americans perhaps Yoga in the U.S. is actually focused on the folks who would benefit the most from it.  

If this is the case, why are we concerned about representation and whether yoga practice makes it to other communities?  Is it a form of ethnocentrism to assume that something that White Americans have found useful for personal and spiritual growth is necessarily beneficial to everyone?  Or that others are not already experiencing the fruits talked about in Yoga through other means?

I’m not playing devil’s advocate here.  I was born outside of the U.S. and until I was 19 years old lived in a community that was almost exclusively Latino.  In that time I met many people who exhibited abilities not unlike the siddhis talked about in the Yoga Sutras and other yoga texts.  In the 15 years I’ve been a yoga practitioner and teacher, where I’ve been surrounded mostly by White Americans, I’ve met less people who exhibit those abilities.

So it is worthwhile to ponder whether ethnic minorities not participating in Yoga is a problem at all.  The assumption that these communities need yoga practice seems to be at least as ethnocentric (so as not to use the overused term “racist”) as the idea that they are being excluded from the yoga community.

One additional note: I’ve made sweeping generalizations throughout but I want to draw special attention to one which Linda raised and which I think may begin to instruct how we can go back to using yoga to serve people as opposed to drawing more people to it.  

I have assumed that all Latino and Black individuals receive unconditional support within their communities.  This is not true for many marginalized groups: anyone who has encountered physical or sexual abuse, gay/lesbian and trans individuals, and even second generation immigrants (who often straddle conflicting identities) have many times been rejected by deeply religious and traditional communities.  For folks who have been alienated, humiliated, and experienced rejection by family and/or community, the tools and practice of yoga can be a Godsend for the very reasons that I’ve mentioned above.  It’s emphasis on individual work and worth can grow self-esteem, its dogma and judgment free spirituality can be a more tender surrogate for the religion that rejected them, and its sacred space with the support of teachers and fellow students can begin to rebuild a sense of social acceptance.

The way these groups would be brought to yoga, however, would likely differ significantly from what we normally consider when we imagine expanding the yoga community so it is more ethnically inclusive.  Representation on Yoga Journal’s cover, studios in ethnic neighborhoods and lower cost classes don’t serve these communities directly.”

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My students and LYJ readers have asked me for years to make a T shirt for my yoga business, Metta Yoga: Mind-Body Education, and they are finally here, finished today!

The letters mimic the logo font on my new website.  I chose this color because to me green represents EARTH — ECOLOGY — RENEWAL — NATURE — PRAKRITI.

Each one is individually silk screened by hand and is a unique piece of T shirt art, no two exactly alike, and made in America, not China.

I am not making a ton of money from the sale of these shirts.  They are $49.00 (that price includes shipping within the United States) and I will donate $5 from each shirt purchased to the ANIMAL RESCUE CORPS, an organization that saves dogs from fight rings and puppies from puppy mills.  A different charity will be chosen every few months ranging from Native American to women’s to animal charities.  Buying a shirt is COMPASSION IN ACTION so your donation from each shirt shows that you have group, rather than individual, mentality and that is wonderful for the world.

Seven shirts have already been sold sight unseen and I am humbled that two will go outside the USA.  The shirts are not your average yoga T shirt but those who know me know that I could never sell anything average anyway.

The 100% cotton jersey unisex shirts are pre-shrunk and I will have 20 medium, 20 large, and only 5 small and 4 XL.  View the American Apparel size chart here.

Leave a comment or email me at linda AT metta-yoga DOT com and we can arrange payment via Paypal.

In other news, the book that I was interviewed for in 2011 finally came out earlier this year.  Conversations with Modern Yogis features famous yoga teachers such as Erich Schiffmann, David Life and Sharon Gannon, Rodney Yee, Richard Freeman, Richard Rosen…and me.

Author and photographer Zubin Shroff contacted me three years ago and asked to interview me.  I was shocked speechless because I’m a full-fledged yoga nobody, certainly no rock star yoga teacher.  He contacted me because of this blog, calling me a fierce voice in the yoga blogosphere that needed to be heard.  I am honored and humbled to be considered a thought leader in North American yoga.  Now if I could only get people to pay for private yoga classes.

  “Presented with Shroff’s large format black and white portraits, Conversations with Modern Yogis highights the diversity of North America’s yoga thought leaders. The collection, guided by the wisdoms of many notable contributors, showcases the innovation, dedication and thoughtful rigor that can be found in contemporary yoga practices. Visually and narratively, this book moves the conversation about “the state of yoga” way beyond the mainstream depiction of “pretty young things” in the yoga workout studio.”

It’s an excellent book and not just because I’m in it.

Buy a shirt and get a new yoga book.

Thanks.