What I am thankful for…

It’s Thanksgiving Eve here in America. I thought I would pause to reflect on what I am thankful for during this time of festivities.

1) My wife. She has travelled all around the world with me and has stuck by me every step of the way on my crazy Yoga path, with my blogging, with my jobs in the mental health profession, and on every other endeavor I have pursued. She has the best sense of humor and is the glue that holds our family together. I love her very much.

wifey

 

2) My mom. She is the reason I moved to Hawai’i. That was one of the best decisions of my life (although I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone). At 69, she continues to grow younger than me every year. She is breast cancer survivor of 25 years. Her faith and spiritual power make me look like an amateur. This woman can perform miracles! She handily won an art competition with her Picassoesque painting and continues painting as a serious hobby.

mom

3) My teachers. Ray Madigan and Shelley Choy have taken me under their wing and have given me the tools to flourish as a Yoga teacher. With their tutelage, I was able to go head to head with the best in my assessment and come out certified. They have given me wonderful teaching opportunities and have welcomed me with open arms to their studio.

ray and shelley

4) My job. In 2008 on this date before Thanksgiving, I remember finishing my work as a case manager only to come home and read the paper that all the funding had been cut for the program I was working for. I was unemployed soon thereafter. Today, I am gainfully employed and am appreciative of the chance to make a living in Hawai’i helping people with severe mental illness. To avoid any kind of a HIPAA violation, I will instead show a rainbow I photographed during a morning commute to said job.

rainbow

 

5) My family. Luke and Toshiko took me in as their son-in-law and we all live in the same big house. To communicate with them you have to shout (because Luke is hard of hearing) and speak a hybrid of Japanese and English (because Toshiko doesn’t speak English that well). This makes for an often hilarious daily adventure. Luke has had a tough year with health issues, but that does not get in his way. He is a retired Master Sergeant from special forces and a retired labor and delivery nurse.

Also, my brothers Mark and David. Mark lives in here in Hawai’i and my brother lives in New Mexico. Both have given me much support over years. My Dad who lives in New Mexico also gives me wonderful support and guidance.

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6) My Stepdad Tim. I have know him since I was four and he has taken great care of my mom during all of her ups and downs. His sense of humor has gotten us all through tough times. He still makes the best pasta sauce and biscotti from his family’s recipe.

Tim

 

7) B.K.S. Iyengar. He passed this year but has left such a legacy that he is still very alive through his writings and through his teachings. He will go down in history of one of the great men.

guruji with patanjali

 

Happy Thanksgiving all and thank you very much for doing yoga!

You will not get rich teaching Yoga or blogging…and that’s not the point

 

lonely road

Making money teaching Yoga is a lonely road

I don’t want to sound like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, but after reading two somewhat unrelated blog entries, it occurred to me that people are actually upset when they can’t make a living teaching yoga or blogging. I read this post which was recently Freshly Pressed about a blogger who sounds disenchanted with the whole process after her blog reached 1.6 million hits. She aspires to become a professional writer, but even after one of her posts went viral she has yet to receive a writing contract or some other form of salvation for her hard and talented work. Another blogger wrote a post on why she quit Ashtanga Yoga and lists one of the reasons as that she cannot make a career of teaching. “Unless you will be moving to a town where there is not a single Yoga teacher within a radius of at least 50 kilometers, do not open a Yoga studio,” she says in the post.

Both writers are talented people who are worthy of making a living from their wonderful contributions in blogging and yoga. But who sold them on the idea that blogging and yoga teaching would be a way to riches? As both a blogger and a Yoga teacher, both of those entries hit close to home. There was a time when I really wanted to make a living teaching Yoga, but the reality is that to do so would consume so much of my time and resources, that I would actually wind up hating Yoga. I had similar delusions of grandeur about blogging. When I first got over a 100 views in one day I thought “wow, maybe this will lead me to be able to quit my day job.”

I used to write for a newspaper and had also worked in television news. It was fun for a few years, but I really started to hate it when day after day of deadlines led to more days of deadlines. There was no end to it, and that is why I switched professions. My feeling is that if I had to write a blog for a living, the quality of my posts would go down significantly because I would be trying to cater to some audience or to make some advertiser happy instead of writing what is in my heart.

To date, I have not made one red cent from my blog. Nor have I attracted one student to come to my class after reading my posts. I have even checked out other yoga bloggers who make money doing so. Matthew Remsky seems to be doing well. He is asking for $30,000 CAD by December 1 in donations to fund a yoga book he is working on. So far he is up to $13,200. Even if he does not make his goal, 13k is not a bad figure for simply asking for it.

But in real life, how far would $13k take you? You surely could not pay off your mortgage on that (although you could pay rent for a few months). This represents someone who is actually making money by blogging about the topics I write.

I read about B.K.S. Iyengar and the many years he went with only a handful of students. He stuck to what he loved doing and eventually it payed off. It was many many more years than most would have patience for in this “become-a-yoga-teacher-in-200-hours” era.

What blogging has done for me is to refine my ideas about the subject. By exposing my ideas to the blogosphere, other great bloggers have given me feedback on my ideas to help further develop and nuance them. Writing about Yoga has allowed me to slow down and really think about the process in teaching. I noticed a marked change in my teaching when I started blogging . It is not certain whether my students have noticed, but since I started my blog my class attendance has increased and I have gotten more teaching opportunities. Next week in will increase teaching two classes per week to three classes per week.

So the short of it is that blogging has enhanced my Yoga teaching, and teaching Yoga has enhanced my blogging. It is a mobius strip of activities that has not so much made me financially better off, but has made a huge difference in my personal satisfaction of both crafts. Who knows, maybe one day I may get a book deal.

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!