in review, the personal is still political

original upload by BAM’s Blog

Unless you’ve been in yoga nidra for a week, then you know that Judith Lasater’s letter to Yoga Journal about how she felt about nudity in yoga advertising set the yoga blogosphere on fire. In case you missed her letter, here it is:

“Yoga Journal was born in my living room in Berkeley in 1975, where I was one of five yoga practitioner-teachers who gathered to create the magazine. I have loved the magazine ever since. But I’m concerned about ads that have stimulated both confusion and sadness in me about where the magazine is now and where it is headed.

I am confused because I do not understand how photos of naked or half-naked women are connected with the sale of practice products for asana, an important part of yoga. These pictures do not teach the viewer about yoga practice or themselves. They aren’t even about the celebration of the beauty of the human body or the beauty of the poses, which I support. These ads are just about selling a product. This approach is something I though belonged (unfortunately) to the larger culture, but not in Yoga Journal.

Finally, I feel sad because it seems that Yoga Journal has become just another voice for the status quo and not for elevating us to the higher values of yoga: spiritual integration, compassion and selfless service. My request is that Yoga Journal doesn’t run ads with photos that exploit the sexuality of young women in order to sell products or more magazines. Thank you for your attention and willingness to hear another point of view.

Judith Hanson Lasater
San Francisco, CA”

The comments both pro and con about Lasater’s letter flew fast and furious in Roseanne’s blog (cited above) and in elephant journal. There was overwhelming support for Lasater on her Facebook page where she said that it was not her intention to harm Yoga Journal: “It is my intention to open the dialogue and be clear about what my values are.”

Indeed she did.

Both Brooks Hall and Carol Horton wrote eloquently about the maelstrom. But Nikki Chau said on her Facebook page that Lasater’s letter to Yoga Journal “was *not* about the Toesox ads with Kathryn Budig.”

Whew. And now it’s my turn.

Brooks said that how we react to seeing nudity is personal. Of course it is, and to that I say, the personal is political. I am not a feminist scholar but I am a feminist, a word that many women nowadays shy away from.

“The personal is political” was a mantra of the ’70s feminist movement. The saying comes directly from an essay written by radical feminist Carol Hanisch in 1969, and was a way to convey to women who were suffering in silence that their individual experiences were, in fact, instances of cultural sexism.

The sentence indicates that many of our personal problems, and specifically women’s personal problems throughout history, have been political — sometimes created by, definitely supported by, and ultimately addressed by politics. In this case, the politics of advertising.

“Sex, Lies, and Advertising,” was an article written by Gloria Steinem for Ms. Magazine in 1990. She discussed the aspects of feminism and how advertising venues such as magazines use women to sell products. Advertisers have been using women to sell products since the late 1800’s, but according to Steinem, using women became the natural way to advertise and sell products, but is it right to do so?

Advertisers use women to sell anything and everything. Madison Avenue knows that beautiful women are the tools that draw in consumers to buy the products that they supposedly need and ultimately want to buy. That’s Advertising 101. Using a naked woman in yoga product advertising is no different from a using a naked woman to sell a car. Just because it’s yoga, that makes the ad more “artistic”? A naked body is a naked body whether it’s used to sell a yoga mat or tires. Why are some in denial that in the advertising game a naked body = sex or at least sexiness? Advertising is about selling fantasy. At least the ads for porn are honest, they know what they are selling.

So whether or not Lasater was writing about the ToeSox ad in particular doesn’t matter. What would the reaction be if a naked male yogi was only wearing socks? The fact is that a naked man would never be used to sell those socks. Ever.

That’s the whole point.

I have no idea who Kathryn Budig is and I am sure no one forced her to take off her clothes. She probably was paid good money to pose naked and ToeSox probably sold a lot of socks. She has the right to take off her clothes for commercial purposes and ToeSox has the right to make a profit.

But I can tell you that every time I saw her ad in Yoga Journal I rolled my eyes and said “again?” The ad does not make me want to run out to buy something I don’t need and it does not make me aspire to be her as some commenters at elephant journal have suggested.

So when I read Lasater’s letter I yelled “right on” just like I did when I marched for women’s rights back in the day. Then I started reading the comments directed toward Lasater’s supporters and that’s when the personal once again became political for me.

Not to get into my life story, but I’m no prude. I’m not an anti-pornography feminist like Andrea Dworkin was and I’ve sat naked in the communal hot tubs of Esalen. But what was more offensive to me than seeing a naked woman used to sell a yoga product YET AGAIN, were the comments that if we disagree with ads using nudity, then we must:

1. hate nudity;
2. hate the female form;
3. hate sex
4. have a problem with our own sexuality;
5. be repressed;
6. be close minded
7. etc., etc. etc.

From elephant journal, posting its Facebook comments:

“In my opinion “it takes one to know one” and if anyone sees anything perverse about a girl with no clothes on, then the perversion is in their head in the first place….I would hazard a guess that the Ladies…probably wish deep down that they could be in that pic as well!”

[this guy doesn't even know how sexist that statement is -- so much for sensitive yoga guys.]

“Those offended may need to seriously consider gaining a deeper relationship with that oNe in the mirror there.”

we all need to get a little more comfortable with sex and the nude body (our own or otherwise)”

“It’s sad when our culture looks at beautiful photos like these and automatically switches into auto pilot and think – SEX. Are we really that much out of tune with our bodies and self.”

One female commenter told me that my “tone is full of rage not compassion. Relax. It’s an ad. 30 seconds from now another will take its place and it will be forgotten.”

Yes, and that’s the problem.

As for the armchair diagnosis of “rage”….what?  Say again? I’m getting a flashback of being told that we were a bunch of angry bitches.  I’m waiting for the “and you all need to get laid” comment.

My oh my….the more things change, the more they stay the same. Still. Even after almost 40 years.

To those comments I say: BULLSHIT.

I’m not as eloquent a writer as Judith Lasater, but I cut to the chase.

Those are the same types of comments I heard as a young feminist back in the early ’70s…that just because one is offended by a naked woman selling cars, perfume, clothes, or yoga crap that we don’t need, there must be something “wrong” with our outlook, there is something “wrong” with us. We were patted on the head with the comment “lighten up, honey, it’s no big deal.”

Yes, it IS a big deal in the larger context.

The larger context is not that nudity is used to sell a yoga product (and a half-naked woman is used in the latest issue to sell a Yoga Journal conference) — the problem is that naked women are STILL used to sell everything. As Cyndi Lee said at Roseanne’s blog: “It is NEVER okay to use women’s bodies to sell ANYTHING EVER. Not in Yoga Journal or any other medium. If you don’t get this, then learn about the awful things that are being done to women all over the world right now because people view them as objects.”

Lasater’s letter started a powerful discussion on the commodification and values implicit in yoga ads. What is interesting to me is how so many of the commenters on elephant journal and Facebook got caught up in the nudity issue and thereby missed the essential point: that Lasater’s letter was a question on “where the magazine is now and where it is headed.” If she attacked anything, it was the status quo. To those people who can’t see that, I say take off your blinders.

We’ve become blind to the use of women’s bodies in advertising, whether it is “artistic” or not, and our blindness is avidya, i.e., “not seeing.” Yoga is supposed to be the means by which our blinders are removed so that we can awaken from our avidya.

As Gloria Steinem asked in 1990, can’t we do better than this?

Anne Cushman asked the same question in 2003 with her article in the Shambhala Sun, “Yoga Chic and the First Noble Truth.” Anne says that yoga and meditation are ultimately about turning our eyes away from the airbrushed images of the outside world and looking deep within our own hearts.

“It’s not that there’s anything wrong with these yoga pin ups, in and of themselves…The problem comes when we start to compare ourselves with these glossy images and imagine how utterly happy and fulfilled we would be if we looked like that….

 

So lately, I’m looking for a different kind of image to inspire my practice. The book I’m shopping for would show pictures of all sorts of people doing yoga and meditating. There would be old people, fat people, scarred people, profusely hairy people, people with bad skin and big noses, people with thighs riddled with cellulite, people with droopy breasts and flabby thighs and faces etched with lines from hard living. There would be people with cerebral palsy, people gone bald from chemotherapy, people paralyzed by drive-by shootings, people who’d lost limbs in wars. Some people would do the poses perfectly. Others would do them clumsily, propped up on sandbags and bolsters, unable even to touch their fingertips to the floor.

 

All of us would be reflected in this book’s pages.”

Why are we satisfied with the status quo?

For me, yoga is a vehicle for transformation and that value is lost when we settle for the old, stale paradigms repackaged as “progressive” or “enlightened.”

In an effort to market their cigarettes to women in the late 1960s Virginia Slims used the ad slogan “you’ve come a long way, baby.”

Have we?

holding feet to the fire

I received an email today from Yoga Journal asking my permission to publish my email to them as a letter. This is what I had to say about their ad choices:

“On page 53 of the latest Yoga Journal there’s an ad for Slim Quick Ultra Calorie Burner to lose weight. In the same issue there is a story that the healing power of yoga will cure what ails America without pills or surgery.

Some magazines don’t accept advertising for products that are anathema to their magazine’s philosophy.

Apparently Yoga Journal does not have those same advertising ethics.

I think that Calorie Burner is for everyone who wants to look better in those naked yoga classes.

Just sayin'”

Yoga Journal may not consider moi as having one of the best yoga blogs (but YogaDawg stuck up for me), but they love my letters! Years ago they also published one of mine about how yoga is not one size fits all.

Somebody’s gotta do it…..


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really?

On page 53 of the latest Yoga Journal there’s an ad for Slim Quick Ultra Calorie Burner to lose weight. In the same issue there is a story that the healing power of yoga will cure what ails America without pills or surgery.

Some magazines don’t accept advertising for products that are anathema to their magazine’s philosophy.

Apparently Yoga Journal does not have those same advertising ethics.

It would have been funnier if the ad was on a page that faced a story about yoga being about learning how to accept yourself and how you are perfect in this moment just the way you are. But that’s my sense of humor. Not everyone’s cup of chai.

I think that Calorie Burner is for everyone who wants to look better in those naked yoga classes.

Just sayin’

age before beauty


(a crazy old yogini)

I’ve written before about how according to Yoga Journal the only good yogi is the young, white, skinny woman sans cellulite and wrinkles. Two years ago when I was 53 I wrote this post about American yoga and ageism. So I was glad to see the latest issue of YJ devote a few pages to American yoga’s spiritual elders: Patricia Walden, 62; Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, 67; Sharon Gannon, 58; David Life, 59; Angela Farmer, 71; and her partner, Victor van Kooten, 69.

I like the phrase “spiritual elder.” I attended a Buddhism workshop at the Omega Institute over July 4th weekend that was led by Lama Surya Das. Lama Surya referred to an old woman as a “spiritual elder.” She said she’s a former Quaker and she asked many questions and challenged Lama Surya on some things he said. Every time she did, he’d smile and they would spar a little. Toward the end of the workshop he referred to her as a spiritual elder, that unlike the East, in this culture we lack spiritual elders, that we look at certain pop celebrities as our new “spiritual elders”, that is until the next big book comes out then there’s a new spiritual elder.

Like the older yogis in the latest YJ, my yoga practice has also changed the older I’ve become. I wrote this post asking people to get real about their practice if they’re in their 40s, or 50s, or 60s. No offense to the young teachers out there — we all start out green and we can and do learn from everyone no matter the age (I have a 17 year old student who has been with me for three years and she’s a joy)…but I’m just not drawn to a younger teacher. Go ahead and call it reverse-ageism if you want to (I’m too old to care.) I am certainly not saying a young teacher does not know anything or that I know more or that seasoned people like me know everything. I’m saying that there is much to be said about life experience. It’s not all about what you read in the yoga books. I did not become a yoga teacher until I was 48 and frankly I am very grateful for that because for me the difference between 28 and 48 is not just 20 years but light years. You’ll see. Maybe it’s time that younger teachers start listening to us crones in our 50s and 60s. It’s good to be a crone.

Not only my own practice, but my teaching has changed. I used to feel that I had to keep people entertained and like Angela Farmer, I also feel the atmosphere of a class. I want people to intuit their own practice and get out of their heads and into their bodies, I don’t want students to mimic what I do. The longer I teach, the less I demonstrate, the more I walk around the room, even with beginners. I hate routine, one foot has to be this way, the other that way, the arms have to be here or there. How boring. How rigid. How dull. That is yoga prison to me. I choose to be a rasa devi and move in and with passion.

Fancy arm balances and pretzel poses no longer impress me. Show me how you live your life and what you can give up for 10 days at a retreat without complaint — that will show me what you’ve learned from yoga. Show me your service and gratitude.

I live with chronic pain nowadays and like Buddha said, there is no escaping old age, sickness, and death. Yoga and my spirituality has made me comfortable with it all, even the thought of death. During meditations I’ve had visions of myself of what seems like 20 years from now — I now know where that place is, where I will be. Just burn this crazy old yogini’s body and throw my ashes in Ma Ganga. I will have been grateful for it all.

**************************************

UPDATE:


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my life on the yoga D-list

I returned yesterday from my Level 2 Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy training in Vermont to find out that there was a glaring omission in Yoga Journal’s story about yoga blogs — me. And how did I find out that Yoga Journal neglected me? From my brother from a different mother, YogaDawg. So just like a good brother he came to my rescue by mentioning me in his blog post about being anointed by Yoga Journal. He said that he “couldn’t let it go without giving you a plug at the end of my blog post”, reminding people that I continue to “kick yoga’s ass.” Thanks, bro!

Let’s see who else thinks that Yoga Journal should have put me on their A list of yoga blogs…Dr. Jay over at Yoga for Cynics who said “I think you should’ve been in the YJ blog list, too” and Yoga Dork who thinks that Yoga Journal should have also included “Linda’s Yoga Journey, Everything Yoga, Yoga Nation, Svasti and It’s All Yoga, Baby.”

I feel like Kathy Griffin. Kathy is a loud-mouthed, snarky broad from Chicago (what is it about Chicago women?) whose show My Life on the D List is hilarious (at least I think so.) The show follows her struggle as a self-proclaimed “D-list” celebrity to climb the Hollywood ladder.

Hey, wait a minute. This blog is about the same thing, only in a different world. This blog is about my journey up (and down) the yoga ladder and like Kathy, I’m also unplugged, uncensored, and unafraid to dish the dirt about what really happens on the yoga road. So how can Yoga Journal ignore me?

Yogini writers (real writers who actually get paid to write!) like Anne Cushman and Lucy Edge could not have been wrong when they wrote their kudos about LYJ. Over 30,000 global readers can’t be wrong. What’s a yogini blogger to do? I’m just so vaklempt that YJ writer Lauren Ladoceour did not think LYJ worthy enough to be listed on her yoga blog A List, especially not worthy enough to be called snarky and satirical! After four years and 300+ cathartic and snarky posts? Moi?!?

So just like Kathy Griffin who enlisted her mother, her assistants, and her Mexican housekeeper to call musicians to ask them to vote for her Grammy nominated comedy album (I know I am dating myself by calling it an “album”), I am asking all my lovely and faithful readers from all over the world to email Yoga Journal at letters@yogajournal.com to tell them how you feel about their glaring omission. In no uncertain terms. Let your throat chakra open up and speak your truth. Pretend that you’re calling Simon Cowell and voting for the next American Yoga Idol. Over 30,000 readers have passed through here so let’s see if Yoga Journal’s computers can handle all the emails! Yeah! Knock ‘em on their asana!

Listen, Yoga Journal, who needs your stupid list anyway? I will hold my head high and proudly channel Groucho Marx who said:

“I would not join any club that would have someone like me for a member.”

So there. Besides….

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL THE YOGA BLOGS WHO MADE THE LIST….SERIOUSLY. MY A-LIST OF BLOGS, YOGA AND OTHERWISE, ARE IN MY BLOGROLL, SO VISIT THEM.

YOU CAN FIND THE BOXER SHORTS AT KATHY GRIFFIN’S WEBSITE.

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a mile wide and an inch deep

I have to give Judith Lasater a big AMEN about her comments about yoga in the latest Yoga Journal.

On the last page (and it seems that YJ always puts the “old” yogis on the last page…hmmmmmm….), when asked the question, “what do you think of yoga’s evolution in the United States?”, Judith said:

“It seems a mile wide and an inch deep. I mourn the fact that many people in the United States know about asana just as a way of working out. To me, that’s not what yoga is. It can lead to deeper personal transformation.”

Thanks, Judith. I’ve been saying that for the three years I’ve been writing this blog, just click on the tag “Americanized yoga.”

When she was asked, “what lessons can you share about what you’ve learned?”, Judith said, among other things:

“Follow your nature. The practice is really about uncovering your own pose; we have great respect for our teachers, but unless we can uncover our own pose in the moment, it’s not practice — it’s mimicry…”.

Kudos to you, Judith. when I used the word “mimic” in this post, a commenter wrote me to say how dare I say that yoga students merely mimic their teachers. uh, yeah you do, each time your mind is out there instead of in your body…each time you are disembodied and not embodied…and each time you are not “in the moment” as Judith said. I’ve told my students many times, don’t look up here, look within.

Maybe Judith Lasater and I aren’t so far apart after all….maybe Yoga Journal should interview moi. or maybe I should write for Yoga Journal….how ’bout it, editors? I need another job because the yoga studio where I teach is closing at the end of the year.

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bhakti required

I find that the longer I practice, the longer I teach, and the more I meditate, the more I am drawn to bhakti yoga. maybe I should say that because of all of the above, my own bhakti has grown exponentially. I call myself Kali’s girl and when I was at a Krishna Das kirtan, he chanted the word “Kali” in a Durga mantra and at that moment it literally felt like I was hit right between my eyebrows and the tears started to flow. that’s bhakti. mantra chanting and kirtan are forms of bhakti yoga. I know a devout American Murugan bhakta who has never done one asana in his life, but he is a bhakti yogi.

I believe that bhakti, for the most part, is missing in Americanized yoga, at least in most of the classes I attend. I know that even chanting the single sound of OM can scare some people away from yoga — I’ve seen students leave classes if the teacher chants. I always open and close my classes with meditation and at the end recite the Four Immeasurables and chant OM MANI PEDME HUM. I would not be true to my heart if I did not teach this way.

So I give you the website Bhakti Collective. The Bhakti Collective is “composed of persons of various backgrounds with a common interest in bhakti, India’s tradition of devotional yoga. It is a non-profit organization based in New York, which serves as a medium for the exploration and sharing of the culture, philosophy and practice of bhakti.”

The Bhakti Collective has many interesting articles including this one, a critique on a Yoga Journal article about bhakti. in it, Kaustubha Das quotes Dr. Robert Svoboda’s feelings about bhakti in western yoga:

“Some Western yogis dabble in bhakti yoga through an occasional prayer or kirtan. But if you’re a serious practitioner looking to find union with the Divine, a more rigorous practice is in order.” Svoboda says the path of devotion involves total dedication and surrender.

Svoboda agrees that it’s good to sing bhajana (Sanskirt hymns) to get into a new space. But he cautions against thinking you can really engage in bhakti yoga by occasionally joining in a kirtan. “That in itself won’t be sufficient to have a transformative effect that will penetrate into the deepest and darkest parts of your being”, he says.

“I don’t think most people in the yoga community have a concept of the degree of emotional depth and intensity and texture that is necessary for bhakti yoga really to flower”.

Get out of your yoga body and get into some bhakti.

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why do you want to teach yoga?


I’m just throwing the question out there.  I know why I teach, but why do YOU want to teach yoga?

I suppose this goes back to the “how much is a yoga teacher worth?” question, and for those of us who don’t want to return to the corporate life, yoga teaching is my vocation, my avocation, and my personal dharma.  I know more than a few teachers who also do massage or another holistic practice or their yoga teaching is a “sideline” and they rely on another’s income (and health insurance.)

I know very few yoga teachers who totally support themselves by only teaching yoga. because of a life-changing decision I have made, I may have to get a part-time job.  but I know I will never stop teaching yoga and Buddha/Kali/Shiva willing, I will do this the rest of my life, either in the US or in India.  I still need to finish my Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation training at Spirit Rock, and in October I start Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy training. in late 2009 I plan on living two months in an ashram in South India studying yoga therapy with a swami.  this will require me to give up two steady yoga gigs, or at least get subs for them. as I mentioned in another post, for those of us who do these lengthy trainings, there is no guarantee we will have yoga jobs when we get back. this is the reality of the yoga biz. but this is my commitment to myself, to immerse myself as much as I can — at my age I have a lot less time on this earth than if I would have started this path 30 or even 20 years ago.

everything I earn gets plowed right back into my yoga biz (I’m incorporated.) I am over 50 and this is my life plan and nothing will keep me from it. I know this is my path and I have given it up to the Universe to follow this path for the rest of my life.

what will you give up to be a yoga teacher?

I live in the Chicago area where there is a plethora of yoga teacher training programs all costing beaucoup bucks. this is where the yoga money is made, in teacher trainings and offering workshops.  a well-known American yoga teacher who was on the same retreat that I was told me that she rarely teaches group classes anymore, that she makes her money on her branded teacher trainings and traveling the world doing workshops.

when I was certified in 2002 there were only four training programs in Chicago that I knew of.  now almost every major studio both in the city and suburbs, and some not-so-major, have teacher training programs that train you in “their” brand of yoga.  and of course there are the weekend programs (become a yoga teacher in 16 hours!) and the online yoga teacher training courses where voila!…anyone with a computer can become a yoga teacher.  of course, not everyone who does a training wants to be a teacher, some do it to deepen their yoga knowledge.

for a while I thought of starting my own teacher training program, which would actually be unique in my area because I would incorporate yoga therapy and Buddhism, no other local training offers that. but I decided I don’t want to be tied down with that right now…my next two years are going to be for my own yoga sadhana culminating in the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, India in 2010.

so where are y’all going to teach?  after spending thousands of dollars on your training will you be happy making $4 or $5 or $6 when one student shows up to the studio?  I made $12 again last night. I used to teach at a studio where students paid $5 for their first class and the owner did not pay the teachers for those students because she would “lose money.”  some months I had so many first-timers in my classes I lost over $100 in monthly income. I’m not crying about this, this is the reality of the yoga biz.

people want yoga for the same fees that they are paying with their gym memberships. and everybody — every spa, chiropractic center, gym, and physical therapy office — wants in on what they view as big bucks to be made in yoga. the yoga biz in America — a gazillion dollar business according to Yoga Journal.

but who’s making the dough and where’s the dharma?

I have a friend who’s convinced that everyone doing teacher trainings nowadays are delusional, that they’ve all drunk the Yoga Journal kool-aid about becoming a yoga teacher.

have you?

response to "getting back to yoga"

(Please read Getting Back to Yoga, Part 1 and Part 2 in their entirety before reading this post.)

This post is excerpts from an email I received from a regular reader who is also a yoga teacher. She gave me permission to use it, with edits. she asked me to disguise her words because she is worried that she might lose her job if someone recognized her.

is that what the state of yoga in this culture has come to? think about that. that might be the bigger issue here. are we as teachers so afraid to call a spade a spade, so afraid to speak our truth about teaching and the state of yoga as some of us experience it that we are afraid to lose our jobs? a job that we do because we love it and not because we can make any type of money to support ourselves.

call it a yoga rant if you want to but it’s food for thought and I believe these things need to be said because the mainstream yoga media doesn’t talk about it. the mainstream yoga media is more concerned with marketing to the perfect yoga demographic. as my yoga cyberpal YogaDawg says, no yoga BS here.

I thought her comments important enough for a post of their own instead of in the comments section where they might be ignored.

“…this whole “Americanized” yoga thing is the same thing that is going on with our whole culture…skinny, tight, no wrinkles on a 65 year old woman, tummy tucks after babies, puffy collagen lips…I won’t even get started.

I had 30 in a class last night, way too many. After class a woman asked if I always do postures that you have to support your weight…she has a severe arm injury…no upper body strength at all. this is a public class, for the general population…this is not private instruction, which she needs.

I am working with a young man with rheumatoid arthritis. he was going to take a community class with a student teacher. When I heard that I told him absolutely not. I am working with him for free to keep him from injuring himself.

Yoga is advertised as a cure-all, body opener, strength builder, look beautiful like the pictures in Yoga Journal, your wrinkles will disappear as soon as you feel your breath….And everybody can do it, just modify a pose in a group class, no matter what the asana is.

A woman came when she was very pregnant and said, “I know you will modify every posture for me.” And what am I supposed to do with the 20 other people (half of which are new) in class while I am attending to her? And she was new to yoga. Not a good time to start when pregnant with your first child. I told her to start a prenatal program.

At one of the first classes I taught I was asked, “Oh wow, are you going to teach us those really hard arm balances and all that cool stuff?” I said, “no, that would not be me”, and the student hasn’t been back. they have no idea that you go to an advanced class or one-on-one to learn those asanas.

Wow, I really took off on this one…sorry, but I do feel better….”

hey, even yoga teachers need to let off steam, none of us are enlightened yet.

and I totally get what she is venting about. because for as much as yoga is portrayed in western culture, for as much as we hear or read about it in the media (it had its 15 minutes of fame on Oprah), for as much as we yoga teachers like to think that yoga is “mainstream”…it’s not. yet yoga IS advertised as a cure-all (“GET THAT YOGA BUTT IN 20 MINUTES PER DAY AND OPEN YOUR THROAT CHAKRA, TOO!”), and as much as I believe in the healing power of yoga, this is a huge disservice. people who could benefit from private yoga go to group classes because they don’t know any better and end up getting frustrated or worse, injured, sometimes seriously.

as I wrote in my last post, I was taught that personal transformation can begin in a group class, but is accomplished by working one on one with a trusted teacher and having faith in that teacher. there have been many times when I have suggested to certain students in a group class that their needs would be much better served by private yoga sessions. yet, for some reason, the idea of private yoga classes in this culture is met with skepticism. it boggles my mind that people will pay someone $75 or more to clean their house or to pick up their dog’s poop (not to mention the money one can spend at Starbucks in one month), but the thought of paying a highly trained yoga teacher $75 or less for a private yoga session is anathema to them. people pay more than $50 for a pizza party for their kids.

it’s all about priorities….

reader warning: yoga rant!



My birthday yesterday got me thinking about aging yoginis….me in particular, but in general the use of youthful yoga images in the Western media to sell a product…yes, let’s admit it, yoga in the West is mass-marketed and a brand name in some cases.

Feminists say that the older woman, that is, a woman over 40, is invisible in modern society. I’ve read more than a few articles about how older Hollywood actresses believe that there are few good roles for the aging actress in a culture obsessed with youth and Botox.

I will throw the question out there: is Western yoga culture guilty of the same offense? Think about the covers of your favorite yoga magazines and the pictures that accompany the stories inside. Think about the ads for yoga products. How many wrinkles can you count? Indeed, how many rounder bodies do you see, the more zaftig, Rubenesque forms?

Vanity Fair has a slide show on famous yogis and yoginis (thanks, Marilyn!) and while the photos are fabulous and I was glad to see master teachers like Desikachar, Jois, and Iyengar, I noticed that there weren’t many older women. Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa was featured, and I’m assuming that Trudie Styler is over 40 since Sting is in his mid-50s, but where are all the older women? Surely Vanity Fair could have found more than two…or am I just being overly-sensitive? And if I am being hyper-sensitive about it, so what?

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m getting tired of seeing the young, skinny, cellulite-free bodies in Yoga Journal and other yoga magazines. I want to see people in my age group and older featured in the articles, and not just in articles about “senior yoga” in chairs or yoga in nursing homes! And I certainly don’t want to see a 20-something yogini demonstrating the asanas in an article about yoga for menopause! I want to see older yogis and yoginis as cover models, wrinkles, saggy breasts, and softer bellies included. But I guess we’re not the right demographic age group — after all, it’s all about who buys what.

I plan on practicing and teaching yoga the rest of my life and the current collection of popular yoga magazines just don’t appeal to me anymore. I used to read Yoga Journal cover to cover and save each and every issue — now I barely skim it and it gets recycled very quickly. At least the YJ interview in the latest issue (ahem…on the last page) features Patricia Walden, an “old” yogini. My favorite yoga magazine is ascent, founded by Swami Sivananda Radha — you can count lots of wrinkles in that magazine!

You may have seen the movie Calendar Girls where “old” Helen Mirren and her “old” friends take off their clothes for a fund-raising calendar. If someone somewhere would do a calendar like that featuring us older yoga bodies, honey, sign me up! Sing the Body Electric!

I Sing the Body Electric — Walt Whitman, 1900

“…This is the female form;
A divine nimbus exhales from it from head to foot;
It attracts with fierce undeniable attraction!
I am drawn by its breath as if I were no more than a helpless vapor—all falls aside but myself and it…

Hair, bosom, hips, bend of legs, negligent falling hands, all diffused—mine too diffused;
Ebb stung by the flow, and flow stung by the ebb—love-flesh swelling and deliciously aching;
Limitless limpid jets of love hot and enormous, quivering jelly of love, white-blow and delirious juice…

Be not ashamed, women—your privilege encloses the rest, and is the exit of the rest;
You are the gates of the body, and you are the gates of the soul…”