My playlist

my playlist

Yes, there are no songs. No Karsh Kale, no Moby, no Krishna Das. I never play music in my classes because that would detract from the teachings and concentration needed.

On a deeper level, every asana is a song, a story, a melody that can only be heard with the ears of each cell in the body. This is my playlist for tonight’s forward bending yoga class.

It may not be popular with the fitness crowd, but that is not who I want as my students. I want students who come to class to learn Yoga. I want to teach the asanas deeply and sincerely. My instructions are my lyrics, and my sequence is the playlist. The student’s inner voice is the true music.

In Savasana, Pratyahara is the goal. The non hearing of the outside world is a boon to the consciousness. Unfettered by music.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

Can advertisers stop marketing Yoga as soft porn?

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Lululemon’s Facebook marquee

 

Someone in the blogosphere wisely stated that Yoga in the West can be compared to a “sassy teenager.” I can understand where that statement comes from seeing how Yoga has become more of an Instagram event rather than a practice to deeply understand one’s self. Advertisers of commercialized Yoga seem to be picking up on the “teenage mentality” demographic and are exploiting it to it’s fullest. All you see in Yoga magazines like Yoga Journal and websites like Elephant Journal are nonstop images of suggestive young women who are not even doing asana, but just leering at you in suggestive positions (see below). The odd paradox is that Yoga is seen as a primarily women’s only exercise in the US, but the way Yoga is being marketed looks like it would attract the male Hustler crowd.

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I shouldn’t mind, I’m a typical male, right?! Well I do mind because I am a serious Yoga practitioner and think that the practice is sacred. As I wrote in my last post, Yoga is marketed in a way that makes men feel unwelcome. Many male practitioners feel stepping into a Yoga class at a boutique studio is not too different than stepping into an illicit peep show in the seedy part of town.

I have my undergraduate degree in media studies and my masters in psychology. I know exactly what the mainstream Yoga marketers are doing. They are doing to Yoga what they have done to everything else in West…sexualize it to sell it. I am surprised at the lack of outrage by female practitioners when they see what is being promoted as “Yoga.” Last month Yoga Journal even tried to rectify the situation by showing a “plus sized model” on the cover. But this is all they could come up with:

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Yoga does not need to be marketed this way. In fact, it should not be marketed at all in my opinion. Yoga practitioners in the West need to stop with the paradigm that Yoga is something that needs to be proselytized. Yoga is a discipline and should be treated as such. The problem is that now people feel they are entitled to make a living doing Yoga after they spend 200 hours and $3000 USD to get “registered” as a Yoga teacher. This has made Yoga into more of a commercial enterprise than a practice to conquer one’s ego. Until that paradigm changes, Yoga Journal will become the new Maxim, and Yoga will continue to be dominated by the #namasteeverydamnday Instagram crowd.

Yoga is marketed to keep men away

 

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Ixnay on the Hombre: This display says men need not apply

 

I was strolling in a sporting goods store this weekend with my wife as she was looking for new running shoes. We were in the women’s section of the store, and there was a huge display that said YOGA. There was a life sized female mannequin doing Natarajasana (see above) wearing the “sweats du moment” that the yoga fashion companies are dishing out. I was surprised how vast the area was, when a scant 10 years ago there were no yoga parts of any sporting goods store. This seemed auspicious as Yoga seems to be more prevalent in modern culture. Then, I noticed a very disturbing detail. Amid the yoga sports bras and the yoga stretch pants there was no apparel to be found for men who do yoga.

If you read my blog regularly, you know my disdain for the “yoga inspired” fashion industry. This  post is not about that. It is the fact that men are not even invited into the conversation of yoga in subtle ways (like not offering men’s yoga clothing). At the same store a few months back, I asked the clerk if there were any men’s yoga shorts. He pretty much laughed out loud and was looking around to see if my buddies had put me up for some sort of prank. “Yoga shorts for men?!” he said, “We have plenty of Yoga shorts for women…ha ha ha.”

Yoga is commercialized almost to death in the West. The Yoga fashion industry and fly by night teacher training studios have diluted the practice into the most easily pre-packaged form for the masses. Like Ballet, Yoga has been lumped into the “female only” category by mainstream Western Yoga even though in reality some of the best practitioners in either discipline happen to be male. It is almost a cliche joke to have a man walk into a mostly-female boutique studio. It is very much viewed like the wolf who wandered into the hen house. This video circulating around Buzzfeed which shows men’s first experience in a Yoga class is actually closer to the truth than a funny skit.

As I have stated before, the past umpteen covers of Yoga Journal feature lithe, petite women who are barely of age doing complex Yoga poses. In the month after his death, Yoga Journal didn’t even mention B.K.S Iyengar on the cover. In fact the last man I remember seeing on the cover was Richard Freeman about 10 years ago. Of course in modern times, a cover featuring a middle aged man wouldn’t sell. It seems that Yoga Journal has to have a sensual model on the cover move issues off the shelf because its readers don’t give a rip about the philosophy anymore.

The reality is that men need Yoga. Perhaps even more than women. I have seen men benefit greatly from practice. One of my students is in his 70s. He has the first signs of Parkinson’s disease. The symptoms have made him stiff. He comes to my class regularly and is able to now do Utthita Parsvakonasana better than many of the women in class. He has been coming to my class for about six years and always complains about how hard it is, but keeps coming back. He wears jeans (which is odd in Hawai’i) to class. You would never find him on a Lululemon display case.

The man is a retired chemistry professor. He corrected my teaching one time when I said “the shoulder is in the same line as the hip.” He said “it should be the same plane rather than the same line, because same line can be anywhere.” Since then I have always used the word “plane.”

The above example is why Yoga needs men and why men need Yoga. With all the mumbo jumbo I hear coming out of “woo woo” Yoga classes, we need instructions that are just outside of carpentry school for basic alignment. I don’t care how “spiritual” you are, if your hips are not on the same plane as your ankles in Prasarita Padottanasna, you won’t get your head to the floor unless you have a 5 foot torso and 3 foot legs.

Iyengar yoga resonates well with men. It requires the same or more discipline as someone who attains a black belt in martial arts. It is a very similar method. Most men who have had experience in martial arts understand this immediately when the step into an Iyengar yoga class. My uncle who studies martial arts said that the highest form of martial arts is healing someone. That sounds very similar to Yoga.

 

A sequence for men

Cavemen

Now that I have highlighted the fact that there are very few yoga resources for men, I would be remiss in my duties to not offer a solution. So here it is: a sequence for men. This sequence addresses men’s issues primarily prostate health and depression. I used cavemen for my cover photo of this post because that is how many men feel they are viewed when they walk into a boutique yoga studio. This sequence you can do in the privacy of your own home judgement free. I do this sequence frequently in my own practice. Enjoy!

Supta Padangusthasana I and II

supta padangusthasana guruji

Utkatasana

utkatasana

Virabhadrasana I

virabhadrasana I

Vrksasana

iyengar vrksasana

Malasana with sacrum on wall (bring heels to floor unlike photo seen)

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Virasana

prop virasana

Adho Mukha Virasana (classic with legs in Virasana)

adho muka virasana classic

Supta Virasana (with support)

supta virasana bolster

Supta Baddhakonasna with arms underneath to open chest and address stiff shoulders

Classic supta baddha konasana

Rope Sirsasana (if you have the means), otherwise Salamba Sirsasana

rope sirsasana with baddhakonasana  or Sirsasana N

Chair Sarvangasana

chair sarvangasana

Setu Bandha on two blocks or bolsters with feet same level as hips.

setu bandha

Savasana

savasana

 

Eat whatever you want during the holiday

holiday feast

It’s that time of year again. The Thanksgiving/Yule tide festivities are breathing down our necks. Now is the time of year we see all the posts on how to survive the holidays if you are on a Paleo diet or some other evidence-of-virtue low caloric intake plan. Panic sets in for many this time of year as is has for me in many Christmas pasts. “I am going to gain a thousand pounds” you say to yourself. So here is my radical thought of the day: eat what ever you feel like eating during holiday time with family and friends.

No I am not going psychotic. It has just been one of those years where I realize how fragile our loved ones can be and how quickly they can be taken away without much notice. Do you want memories of fussing at the dinner table because someone but real butter in your casserole? Or do you want memories of enjoying and being present with your loved ones during what could the last time you would be gathering all at once?

I come from experience. I was on a raw food diet for a time. Many people had to make accommodations for me during that time and it was not a pleasant experience. Come to think of it, I don’t think I was invited over for holiday dinner the next year.

Since then, I have found some sort of enlightenment, and realized I actually enjoy eating good food with my family. So here is my proposal to you: If you have a steady and regular yoga practice, you have my permission to feast with everyone else during the appropriate time. I think that by giving yourself permission to do so, you will have a much better attitude toward the holiday. If you are doing yoga properly, your body will tell you how to offset the large intake of food.

In terms of eating, I often think about the Buddha. He was a serious yogi who starved himself doing extreme acetic practices. He only found enlightenment when he ate a grain of rice that was given to him. He didn’t go overboard with it. He just realized that the practices were holding him back from his true nature.

If you are vegetarian or vegan, stay that way! Just enjoy what is given to you and you can eat and don’t feel guilty if everything isn’t just so. Holidays are sloppy. Families are sloppy. Friends are sloppy. Just use the discipline that you have acquired through your dietary practices to fully enjoy the holidays with a present and clear mind.

And by all means, enjoy your holiday!

Men and “older” people: Yoga’s missing demographics

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An all men’s Iyengar yoga class in Israel

When I tell people that I am a yoga teacher, I usually get a chuckle. I don’t fit any of the preconceived demographics that are represented in the media about what a Yoga teacher should look like. I am male, I am in my 40s, I don’t have any tattoos, I am a bit chubby, and I haven’t changed my name to Suryachakra (my apologies to those of you who are actually named Suryachakra). Most devestatingly, I do not have an Instagram account.

Now that Yoga is becoming popular, media is portraying all practitioners as being 20ish young, lithe, women who wake up in Bakasana and float around all day like that on Instagram. While that has been a boon for young women who can certainly benefit from all that Yoga has to offer, many others feel “left out” and are having difficulty finding an entry point into the practice.

instagram bakasana

#Iseethiseverydamnday

In Yoga Journal, you will seldom find any of the models over of the age of 50 and certainly no men. If you do, they are in the back of the issue with some article entitled “yoga for the extremely elderly” (that was a joke). In Elephant Journal, all you read about is how to make a cool hip hop playlist or how to deal with your taking your boyfriend to class rather than actually learning how to practice Yoga.

Locally, if you go to your Yelp website, you will find 50 yoga studios who promote a synthesized crossfit “yoga workout” before you find anything that remotely addresses those who are injured, over 50, and/or male. And those are the “one star” reviews because those studios’ teachers do not allow people to do whatever they want and instead teach how to do the pose.

I know I sound like an old fuddy duddy, but Yoga in the West needs to grow up. How many times do we have to read #namasteeverydamnday before we get viscerally ill? I don’t mind that so many young people are into Yoga. But what happens is they get their 200 hour teacher training, take up all the slots at the McYoga studio, find a boyfriend or girlfriend, and poof! Gone with the wind. Then what happens is what ever teaching they learned goes with them and the teachings are eventually lost or eroded.

My students tend to be older. There is also a nice 50/50 ratio of men to women in my class. As I am getting a bit older, Yoga practice is becoming more of a requirement than a preference. If I don’t do my practice, I feel it! I suspect that is the motivation of many of my Saturday students. One student always tells me after class that she was hurting all week and finally feels better.

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My brother-in-law and his yearly yoga class when he visits from Germany

This December, Geeta Iyengar who is the daughter of B.K.S Iyengar, will conduct a 10 day intensive to celebrate her 70th birthday. You can guarantee that she will teach in full force as she has rented out a whole sports facility to conduct the workshop. If I even make it so 70, I will be grateful if I can do 10 days of anything, nonetheless a 10 day intensive workshop!

My teacher Ray is well into his 60s and can do Bakasana way better than most of these endless instagram images I am plagued with daily. For his recent assessment, he had to do Eka Pada Bakasana (one legged Bakasana) and passed with flying colors.

The point I am trying to make is that if you are “older” or male or injured, there are Yoga classes out there for you. Go online and find your nearest Iyengar teacher. If there are none in your area, read this blog and try to follow along. As the old saying goes “when you are ready the teacher will come” which I have always found the case to be with Iyengar teachers. There is one closer to you than you think.

Home Yoga Practice celebrates one year!

 

Gettysburg U. Parsvakonasna

I just got the one year badge from the folks at WordPress. It is hard to believe I started blogging 12 short months ago. What started out as an educational supplement for my Saturday students mushroomed into a blog that has been viewed by over 30,000 readers in 116 countries worldwide and translated into many different languages.

It has been a fun adventure to see the trajectory of my posts and where they ended up. A few memorable examples were to see my blog translated into Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Hebrew. It shows that Yoga is truly universal no matter which culture you come from. This is thanks to B.K.S. Iyengar and the method in which he taught.

my blog arabic

My blog translated in Arabic

Another fun experience was watching one of my posts go “viral” as it resonated deeply in the Iyengar community. It was reblogged on Facebook so many times, I had over 3,000 views in one day when I was used to only getting 50 hits. It showed me that I never know how many people will read a post that I intend for just a small group of people.

For new bloggers, I would take the approach that blogging is more of a journey than a destination. That sounds a bit cliche, but every post will have it’s own set of triumphs and tribulations as you are putting your ideas out to the world. And believe me, the world responds!

I have made many fellow blogger friends through this experience. Some have even threatened to attend my classes when they visit Hawai’i :) Anyone who reads this blog is always welcome in my classes.

I feel I have become a much better Yoga teacher through blogging. Teaching Yoga is so demanding mentally and physically, that it is hard to find ways to shoehorn all the teachings to your students in a 75 minute class. Blogging gives me the opportunity to share what I have observed in a non class format. I also get great feedback from other Yoga practitioners.

As I blog on to the next year, I would like to further illustrate that Iyengar Yoga is a serious practice, but one that can be accessed by anyone. And I will strive for this blog to be a resource to attract more to this style of Yoga. I would also like to share more of my experiences as a teacher and as a student, as well as passing on relevant news in the Iyengar community.

Thanks for making this a great year of blogging!