by Allie Berger
What is “Somatics”?
In today’s world of easy exchange of ideas and information, it is not uncommon for dancers (especially Modern dancers) to be familiar with a variety of “somatic practices,” including yoga, and to incorporate them into their training. Similarly, many yoga practitioners have become accustomed to asana classes that incorporate flowing, dance-like movement sequences. But what do we mean by “somatics,” exactly? And what are the relationships among this field of somatic practices, modern yoga, and modern dance specifically? There are many ways to enter into this dialogue, but I’d like to begin with a contemporary figure named Sondra Fraleigh.
Fraleigh is a professor emeritus of Dance at SUNY Brockport, founder of Eastwest Somatics, creator of Land to Water Yoga, and author/editor of several books, including, most recently, Moving Consciously: Somatic Transformations through Dance, Yoga, and Touch (Illinois, 2015). I have chosen to begin with her partially because her work embodies the overlapping of dance, yoga, and somatics, and partially because of my own connection to her. Though I have never met or studied directly with Fraleigh, I took a semester-long course in somatics taught by one of her certified trainers and approved as equivalent to Eastwest’s Shin Somatics Level I certification. The coursework of Shin Somatics, reflecting Fraleigh’s eclectic background, includes techniques from various somatic modalities, including Feldenkrais Method, Alexander Technique, CranioSacral Therapy, Myofascial Release, and yoga. (She developed her own method of yoga during a spontaneous asana practice following a meditation at the Sri Aurobindo ashram in India.) Coincidentally (or perhaps it was less of a coincidence than I think), I entered into this study of somatics the same year I began practicing yoga, and I encountered both in the context of earning my degree in Dance.
In the prologue to Moving Consciously, Fraleigh traces the term “somatic” to the Greek soma, meaning “body.” However, she notes that, more accurately, it is shorthand for the combined concept of soma-psyche, the complete entity of body/mind/spirit, or “embodied conscious awareness” (xxi). Somatic movement practices, then, involves intentional observation and application of kinesthetic experience. In general, somatic modalities have the aim of bringing the practitioner to greater self-awareness through observation of subtle movement patterns. The practitioner is guided, through verbal cues, hands-on work, or a combination of both to experience a new way of patterning his/her movement, a new way of experiencing and being in the world.
The historical intersections between yoga and other somatic and dance practices are too complex to outline in full here, but I’d like to highlight a few of the key figures and movements involved. First, and perhaps the simplest to trace is Ida Rolf. She developed a technique called Rolfing, or Structural Integration, designed to work with fascia and the body’s relation to gravity. She received a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Columbia, but around the same time (1920s) she was also a student of the famous/infamous Tantric yogi, Theos Bernard, and her work might be seen as an integration of these two seemingly distinct paths.
There were also several Europeans whose techniques inspired somatic practitioners and modern dancers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of these men, as Mark Singleton points out in Yoga Body, was Frenchman Francois Delsarte, whose American students included Steele Makcay, Genevieve Stebbins (who created a method of harmonial gymnastics based on his work), and Annie Payson Call (who developed a gentler system of relaxation and gymnastics based on Stebbins’ work). The work spread back across the ocean with a British student of Call’s, Frances Archer. Her contemporary, Mollie Bagot Stack, founded the Women’s League of Health and Beauty, incorporating yoga asanas she’d learned with the popular harmonial gymnastics of the time. (Singleton, 143-151) Other notable followers of Delsarte’s technique were F. Matthias Alexander (founder of the Alexander Technique) and pioneers of modern dance, Isadora Duncan, Ted Shawn, and Ruth St. Denis.
The other influential Europeans during this time were Swiss music teacher Emile Jacques-Dalcroze, founder of Eurythmics, and Hungarian-born dancer Rudolph Laban, founder of Choreutics/Laban Movement Analysis (LMA). They directly influenced Mary Wigman and Hanya Holm, two of the early German modern dancers who helped to shape the form. Laban in particular has had a lasting impact on modern dance and the development of somatic practices. There are several extensive certification programs in LMA, and his students have continued to expand on his work. Of particular note is Irmgard Bartenieff, creator of the Bartenieff Fundamentals, a way of working with movement based on six developmental patterns.
Although it’s not clear whether or not she studied directly with any of these figures, Mabel Todd (1880-1956), founder of Ideokinesis, was at least indirectly informed by the harmonial religion/harmonial gymnastics prevalent at the time. She was certainly situated at a geographical advantage for encountering such ideas, having been raised in Syracuse and educated at Emerson University in Boston. She combined her own experiences of physical rehabilitation with courses she took on movement and vocal techniques to create her method, which combines anatomical information with metaphor to help facilitate the practitioner’s deeper understanding of posture and movement. Her work, in turn, has inspired many others, including Martha Graham dancer Eric Hawkins and founder of Body-Mind Centering, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen.
Common Methods/Divergent Goals?
Singleton asserts that the popularity of harmonial gymnastics was one factor that primed the West for postural yoga. (144) At the very least, I think we can say that postural yoga appealed to (and still appeals to) a similar audience as those who embrace other movement practices aimed at deeper self-knowledge and intentional engagement with the world. Historically, new movements in the arts around the turn of the 20th century coincided with new ideas about religion; we might even say that there was a thirst for religion to embrace the body while there was a desire for the body to include the spirit.
Today, I see postural yoga and other somatic and movement practices as inhabiting a similar methodological space. Some forms of yoga can placed under the larger bracket of somatic practices because they assume a holistic view of self and use intentional movement experiences to increase self-understanding and engage in self-transformation. (I make this distinction of “some forms” knowing that some postural yoga can be performed mechanically and as a way to overcome rather than embrace the body.) However, the danger, if there is one, in grouping many diverse techniques under a single heading, might be in overlooking their potentially divergent goals. Some techniques, such as Feldenkrais present themselves as purely functional; the goal is to increase awareness of the physical body, with no explicit mention of the soul/spirit/psyche. There is still the implication that the self is a multi-faceted whole, but the presentation is secular. Yoga is certainly portrayed as a purely secular in many situations as well, but at least as often it contains an explicit spirituality. And, of course, deeply imbedded in its history are ideas of karma and liberation. So, while it is possible to practice yoga as both a spiritual and a somatic practice, it is important to note that not all yoga is somatic and not all somatic movement practices have the same goal as yoga.
Fraleigh, Sondra, editor. Moving Consciously: Somatic Transformations through Dance, Yoga, and
Touch. U of Illinois P, 2015.
Singleton, Mark. Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice. Oxford UP, 2010.
by Allie Berger
Who has the Authority to Teach Yoga?
On the surface, this seems like a simple question with a simple answer: a certified yoga teacher has the authority to teach yoga, right? However, this answer brings up more questions, such as: Who has the authority to certify a yoga teacher? And, must a teacher certify separately to work with specific populations, like pre-natal, children/teens, veterans, prisoners, and/or to present classes with a specific focus such as restorative? Are “official,” approved trainings the only way to gain the necessary authority, or does “outside” training and experience count toward one’s credibility? Inevitably, such inquiry leads to a discussion of the role of Yoga Alliance in organizing and standardizing yoga teacher trainings, as well as the role of the student in discerning which teachers are qualified to teach.
First, let’s look at who/what Yoga Alliance is and how it attempts to standardize yoga training. According to information on their website (www.yogaalliance.org), the organization started to take shape in the late 1990s and officially gained 501(c)(3) status in 1999 when two groups, Yoga Dialogue and Unity in Yoga, combined. At that time, they established a small office in Reading, PA that housed only one salaried employee. They moved to Arlington, VA in 2009 and eventually branched into two organizations, maintaining the 501(c)(3) as a charity under the name Yoga Alliance Registry and obtaining 501(c)(6) status for Yoga Alliance, a “membership professional and trade association.” For our purposes, it’s more important to look at the Registry and its guidelines for membership of schools and teachers.
As a teacher, the minimum requirement for registering with Yoga Alliance is to complete a 200-hr training with a Yoga Alliance-registered school. All hours must come from the same training; a teacher is not permitted to combine hours from multiple trainings to meet the 200 hours. Additionally, as a membership organization, Yoga Alliance charges an annual fee of $55, plus an initial application fee of $50. So, for a new teacher registering for the first time, the total fees would be $105. They would then continue to pay the annual fee each year, plus an additional $50 application fee any time they upgrade their designation, from 200 hours to 500 hours, for example, and for any specialty certifications they might acquire, such as Children’s Yoga. To maintain status as an RYT, a teacher must also complete 45 hours teaching and 30 hours in continuing education every three years. These hours do not need to be completed with a teacher or organization registered with Yoga Alliance, but if coming from an outside source, must be “Someone who has both professional experience and substantial education related to one or more of the Yoga Alliance Educational Categories. The Provider must be able to document or demonstrate his/her relevant experience and education, and may provide Continuing Education only in their area(s) of expertise.”
The basic requirement to be a 200-hr Registered Yoga School is to submit a syllabus that outlines at least 180 contact hours, broken down into the following categories: 100 hours Techniques, Training and Practice; 25 hours Teaching Methodology; 20 hours Anatomy and Physiology; 30 hours Yoga Philosophy, Lifestyle and Ethics for Yoga Teachers; 10 hours Practicum. The other important qualification for a school is that the teacher trainers must themselves be RYTs, or “have a relevant degree, certification or substantial education in the subject that he or she will teach, which must be related to a Yoga Alliance® Educational Category, plus a minimum of 500 hours of teaching experience in that subject and/or the equivalent of two years of relevant experience in that subject area, as demonstrated by either documentation or an attestation by a RYS Owner or Syllabus Manager.” The Lead Trainers/Faculty have stricter requirements, and must have a minimum designation of E-RYT 200, meaning that they have taught for at least 2 years and 1000 hours after completing their 200-hour training. Schools are also required to pay application and annual fees. The minimum (a single designation) is a $200 application fee and $200 annual fee. If a school is applying to register multiple programs (200, 300, and 500-hour), both fees increase.
A New Guru?
Before Yoga Alliance, there was the authority of the guru. Certainly this tradition has been a longstanding part of Indian culture, but it also characterized the early transmission of yoga in the west. Some organizations, such as Siddha Yoga still embrace this model and uphold the grace of the guru and the power of shaktipat as ultimate authority. However, the spread of yoga in America has largely been a process of making the practices more public, more accessible, and more mainstream. Part of this process has also been a shift of power out of the hands of a single guru and into the shared space of student and teacher. I see the rise of Yoga Alliance as a natural expression of yoga’s integration with the ideals of secularization, democracy, and capitalism. In the absence of the authority of a guru, the yoga community looks to the authority of beaurocracy.
As with any governing body, Yoga Alliance has its benefits and drawbacks. It originally grew out of conversations among yoga teachers and a collective desire to organize in a way that would preserve the integrity of yoga as it continues to spread. This desire forms the spirit of the requirements for becoming a Registered Yoga Teacher or School in that they encourage both trainers and trainees to uphold a certain level of standards and to engage in continued education. They also strive to include all styles of postural yoga. This is both a strength and a weakness. On the one hand, it is a way to hold all teachers to a similar level of standards.
On the other hand, it is difficult to enforce the specific training needs of any one style, and once the training has been approved there is no foolproof way to evaluate its success (though Yoga Alliance has instituted a “social credentialing” program, which requires graduates of a training to complete a survey before they can register through Yoga Alliance). These standards are also directed specifically at postural yoga, perhaps in response to concerns of physical safety. And, of course, there is the concern present in any credentialing organization that not all teachers who complete the same training end up being equally skilled. Finally, there are many experienced teachers who trained before Yoga Alliance existed and who are not eligible to register through them (as of August 31, 2001) unless they complete an additional training through a Registered Yoga School. For more criticisms of Yoga Alliance, see the following article by James Brown: https://americanyoga.school/yoga-alliance-ruining-yoga/
Is There an Alternative?
There is no legal obligation for a yoga teacher to certify and register through Yoga Alliance in order to practice. Certainly, there are many studio owners who will only hire teachers registered with Yoga Alliance but there are other teachers and studio owners who uphold rigorous standards without participating in Yoga Alliance or its Registry. In fact, some teachers have expressed concern that the perceived authority of a Yoga Alliance-approved certification may give new teachers an inflated sense of knowledge. Similarly, a student might see the Yoga Alliance RYT designation behind a teacher’s name and take everything they say and do as truth without a critical eye, not unlike the way a student might treat a guru. Recently, a friend and fellow yoga teacher posted the following on Facebook (minor typos corrected for ease of reading):
Dear Yoga Community: My silence is taken as acquiescence and I’d assumed I was being compassionate; we’re both incorrect. A basic 200hour YTT entitles you to teach a basic yoga class in the style in which you’re certified. It’s not a cart-blanche license to teach specialty classes like yin, aerial, restorative, prenatal, kids yoga, or meditation. Teachers (and studio owners): Too many times I see new YTT graduates offering advice on diet, meditation or postural alignment, etc… stop; it’s dangerous, disingenuous and cheapens the profession-not to mention unethical and against Patanjali’s Sutras. Take the time and invest in specialized and advanced trainings where you must embody and master the techniques you presume to teach. You owe it to yourself and your students. Students: ask your teachers where and from whom they learned. Who are your teachers’ teachers? It is important and you have a right to know. Demand academic excellence and professional ethics; it is your time and your body. Jai Ma.
This post makes several assertions about modern yoga practices:
1. Most new yoga teachers have completed a single 200-hour teacher training.
2. Such trainings do not provide sufficient knowledge about teaching specialty classes or populations
3. The way to gain sufficient knowledge in these special topics is to take special trainings.
4. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is (or at least should be) a touchstone for all yoga practitioners.
5. It is the joint responsibility of the teacher and the student (and the studio owner, if applicable) to examine the teacher’s qualifications.
The author of the post simultaneously insinuates that a 200-hour teacher training is necessary and also that it is not sufficient. I’m not sure I agree that an “official” (Yoga Alliance sanctioned) training for each individual specialization is what is necessary to prove one’s qualifications. Not all knowledge is so easily put into distinct categories. However, I do agree with the main point, which is that the prerequisite for teaching something is putting forth a genuine effort to become immersed in (I’m not sure I would go as far as to say “master”) and embody the technique. This requires humility and the ability to admit when something is beyond one’s level or area of expertise. The other point I think is important here is that it’s not only the responsibility of the teacher to uphold a high level of standards; students also play an important role in discerning which teachers have the types and levels of skills for their needs. In fact, encouraging students to become familiar with their teacher’s background furthers the democratization of yoga and makes Yoga Alliance (or any similar organization that might arise in the future) not the determining authority, but simply one factor among many to consider in a teacher’s resume.
By: Gabriela Ayala
There is a diverse and endless discussion on whether Yoga is a religious practice or not. I am not going to necessarily be arguing for one or the other. However, I will be taking an informal look into how the practice and teaching of Yoga can be considered an alternate platform to the lack of opportunity for women in established religious leadership. This is not to say that there are no women who hold religious leadership positions but that is not the norm. An article title recently posted by The Guardian reads Pope Francis Says Women Will Never Be Roman Catholic Priests. In this article Pope Francis explains that “Saint Pope John Paul II had the last clear word on this and it stand,” and when the reported asked again if he feels that this could never change, the pope replies, “If we read carefully the declaration by St. John Paul II, it is going in that direction.” The pope is using the thoughts of another man as proof as to why this particular tradition in the church should remain the same. I find this confusing coming from a man who has built a reputation on challenging many aspects of the church that no pope has done before him. I suppose challenging women’s leadership role in religion is a bit too far.
“The pope went on to say women did ‘many other things better than men,’ emphasizing what has been called the ‘feminine dimension of the church’.” This is an incredibly over-used statement in the history of mystical and religious practices. In the shadow of this statement many declarations are being said. It is saying that men are better suited to define all issues related to morality and faith. They are better suited to interpret biblical passages and other religious texts using his authority to reach the faithful. Lastly, cannot leave out the other major responsibility of the pope: he is most suited to run the billions of dollars that the Catholic Church controls in investments and properties. Why does it matter that women have a role in this particular field? I am going to focus on one main reason and I promise this will lead back to Yoga.
The first is that by never having a woman in this leadership role ever, there is a large population of practitioners of any religion that will never be fully considered or understood. It is a matter of perspective and representation. It is a recognition that each person has a unique perspective and voice that is worth hearing. Yogi, teacher, and healer Nischala Joy Devi gives the first translation of the Yoga Sutras, an ancient text that is considered the foundation for traditional Yoga, from a feminine perspective. While she takes a lot of liberty in how she translates the Sanskrit text and expansion on its meaning, the point is that she is giving a perspective that has not been seen or considered before this. With her interpretation we have a new way to consider an old text and thus to have a richer understanding. This same principle applies to the potential benefits of having more women in powerful religious leadership roles. It is not to say that the women would perform the role of the pope better than a man. She would bring a new perspective that would lead to a better understanding and truer representation of the populace of practitioners.
Yoga teachers and the roles of religious leaders have several overlaps. This does not apply to all yoga teachers but perhaps mostly to those who focus on social activism, healing, and therapy with their teaching. The main roles of a religious leader are as follow: witness, educator, advocate, mediator, direct actor. To witness means that “religious leaders are often embedded within their communities in the midst of conflict, and can assess and report on how the community is faring and responding” (Hayward & Marshall,11). To educate means that many “religious leaders activity educate members of their community through formal and informal teaching at places of worship as well as schools and universities” (Hayward & Marshall,11). To advocate means that “religious leaders may speak out in defense of a just peace” (Hayward & Marshall,11). A mediator means, “religious leaders can serve as trusted intermediaries to help communities or individuals settle disputes” (Hayward & Marshall,12). Lastly, a direct actor means, “religious peacebuilding action [which] includes direct intervention” (Hayward & Marshall,12). To summarize those roles a religious leader is someone who takes action, is a trusted adviser, a teacher, a guide, and a voice for the community. This exact summary can be applied to the role of a yoga instructor. In my experience as both a student and teacher, you look up to your instructor and you can feel that pressure and responsibility as a teacher. In this dynamic, I believe it is an example of something like a religious leadership role.
I am not focusing on people who are considered famous in the yoga world, for they are not always the best leaders. I am focusing more on the potential of small scale leaders, the everyday yoga teachers. I am also not advocating for women to stop fighting for larger roles in organized religion, rather I am observing that being a yoga instructor can be a very powerful leadership role and potential proof that women would do well in major religious leadership roles. I am also not advocating for yoga instructors to be treated like religious leaders, that could be potentially dangerous. I am saying that being a yoga teacher is a huge responsibility. It is an opportunity for women to take on a unique role where her voice, instruction, advice, and presence is respected and listened to. While the west has done its best to secularize yoga, its undeniable that yoga originates from a system that is mystical, spiritual, and religious. Women have rarely had a respected role in the history of any mystical, spiritual, or religious practices. From that I conclude that the very role of a female Yoga instructor significantly challenges that history and creates the groundwork for an inclusive future in these sorts of practices.
by Megan Mack
Hell Bent chronicles the author Benjamin Lorr’s journey from his first yoga class though his first national asana competition. It is a story of the love, disillusion, and science behind Bikram practice. Lorr not only recounts his own experiences but conducts hundreds of interviews with yogis, doctors, and scholars in an effort to understand the both the draw and the impact of yoga. Lorr ended up in his first Bikram class by chance. He was twenty-nine pounds overweight, a zealous drinker, newly single, recently injured, and looking for a way to shed some weight. He decided to begin an exercise program and a Bikram studio just happened to be the closest health-clubish-venue to his home. With a constant practice Lorr quickly lost the weight and became enamored with the concentration and push that yoga asked of his body and mind. Lorr explains it as, “An hour and a half of staring at ourselves in the mirror, of self-critique being masked as self-improvement, of being told we are healing because we were punishing ourselves. It was and is irresistible” (213). However, he struggled with his love. He was aware of the controversy aroused by embracing the extreme heat, pain, perfectionism, and competition emphasized in a Bikram practice. Moreover, he was troubled by the moral shortcomings of Bikram as a guru.
Lorr writes with a tongue in cheek sense of humor. He is a hot yoga junkie, yet he is always looking at those more inside than himself and questioning. He is at the same time wary of the group and searching for inclusion. Lorr refers to himself as a skeptic addict. Unlike the controversial anthropologist who might compromise his/her impartiality when going inside the group, the closer Lorr gets to center the more distrusting he becomes. He intersperses excerpts of subjective personal practice with objective interviews.
Presidents, doctors, priests, teachers, gurus are supposed to be examples of impeccable morality but their ethics are not always in line with their ambitions. These figures often evince a belief in a higher standard than is their habit or ability. Bikram is an example of the modern guru as a celebrity surrounded by an entourage and groupies instead of just a spiritual guide with assembly. Beyond that, he is a multimillionaire business man with copyrights, clothing line, and business models, heading an empire that benefits from the failure to differentiate yoga as a spiritual practice from yoga as a commodity. Bikram’s blinding charm and charisma conceal his faceted and fault filled humanity. Lorr allows, “A better guru would never have been our mirror” (213). Many of the polemic aspects of his patented practice are exactly the same things that have given him a niche in the yoga world and contributed to his success.
One of the most contentious aspects of Bikram yoga is the heat. A Bikram sanctioned studio is a minimum of 105 degrees Fahrenheit and 40% humidity. The Bikram website gives the following reasons for the heat: “Keeping the body from overheating (contrary to popular misconception); Protecting the muscles to allow for deeper stretching; Detoxing the body (open pores to let toxins out); Thinning the blood to clear the circulatory system; Increasing heart rate for better cardiovascular workout; Improving strength by putting muscle tissue in optimal state for reorganization; Reorganize the lipids (fat) in the muscular structure.” These claims have all the appeal of the Western mirage of unproven scientific legitimacy. Lorr investigates the true repercussions of heated yoga with sweat specialist, physiologist Susan Yeargin from the Department of Applied Medicine and Rehabilitation at Indiana State University. The takeaway is that Bikram has succeeded in creating a human oven. Not only is the ambient studio temperature heating practitioners from the outside in but the muscles are laboring to create metabolic heat and heating the body from the inside out. Sweat is the body’s defense but it can only cool and lower the body’s temperature when it can evaporate. At an internal temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit organs begin to fail followed by coma and then death. Dr. Yeargin makes the point that while children tend to stop when their bodies give them signals it’s too hot, adults do not listen to their bodies, push through warning signs, and put themselves in greater danger. Alternately, Santiago Lorenzo of the University of Oregon speculates that much like altitude, heat can be used as an acclimatization method to stress the body and cause the body to adapt. Adaptations include a lower temperature at which sweating starts, increased oxygen consumption, higher plasma levels, increased exercise efficiency, less glycogen consumption, and lower lactic acid production. His study of twelve trained cyclists shows a cardiac benefit and marked increase in performance.
Another trademark of the Bikram practice is pain. Pain is expected and accepted in this practice. Lorr recognizes, “It feels like the worse type of adolescent masochism, Nietzsche filtered through David Blaine” (11). Pain is part of the lineage. It is what Bikram was taught and it is what he teaches. Bikram’s oldest student, eighty-three year old Emmy Cleaves says, “You need to learn to re-label the agony of stretching into the luxury of release” (117). Pain is also openly viewed as a Bikram rite of passage. Lorr chronicles numb fingers, black and blue hamstrings from over-stretching, throwing up, and hallucinations. He speaks of classmates and friends having their “regular” seizures. Bikram says “People come to me and think yoga is relax. They think little flower, little ting sound, some chanting, hanging crystal….No! Not for you! Waste of time! Here I chop off your dick and play Ping-Pong with your balls. You know Ping-Pong? That is yoga” (312).
In his own yogic journey Lorr goes from merely dealing with the pain to actively seeking it as he strives to become a competitive yogi and joins the Backbending Club. The Backbenders lead by Esak Garcia attend two week long intensives filled with almost continuous practice interspersed with eating and sleeping. Lorr describes that, “Backbenders are not like you or me. These are practitioners for whom two classes a day is an unsatisfactory beginning. Who sneak third sets into regular class. Who stay long after everyone else has left. Who work on postures quietly in the corner until the studio owner gently asks them to put on some clothes and leave. Bodies so finely muscled, so devoid of fat that they’re basically breathing anatomical diagrams. Innards so clean, their shit comes out with the same heft, virtue, and scent of a ripe cucumber” (8). This extremism is demonstrated by the Backbenders’ usage of their namesake pose. Backbenders wall walk sixty or more times per day pushing themselves to deeper and more intense back bends.
During such a retreat, when the author loses full range of motion in his left shoulder, he is almost congratulated and met with comparable stories from fellow Backbenders. Conflicting with the stories of damage and struggle, are the stories of the healing though Bikram yoga that Lorr uncovers. He interviews stroke victims, recovered substance abusers, the chronic pain afflicted, and disease sufferers who have found yoga therapeutic.
These explorations of the features of Bikram yoga lead Lorr to the broader questions: What is Yoga? and “How much of the yoga is the yoga?” (274). He contextually places yoga through light examinations of Feuerstein, Eliade, Patanjali, the Vedas, and Upanishads. Lorr concludes, “Yoga is simply one of those things impervious to certainty, as incapable of corruption as it is of authenticity. And no about of bossy, possessive attempts to claim a ‘real yoga’ will make it otherwise” (49).
by Megan Mack
“Sunny day sweepin’ the clouds away; On my way to where the air is sweet; Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?” How do yoga and children’s programming intersect? When I searched over 1000 channels for “yoga,” up popped a list of workout videos and an episode of Sesame Street, the long running children’s educational television show. The program opens with the instruction to keep listening for the word “balance.” The camera zooms in on a friendly, fuzzy, colorful street filled with Muppets listening intently to Leela (Nitya Vidyasagar), an Indian-American woman who runs the Sesame Street laundry mat, lead a yoga class.
As Leela instructs, the ambiance is filled with the twang of non-descript stereo-typically Indian sounding music. The inhabitants of Sesame Street follow along gamely as told “Breath in, breath out.” The stringed and stuffed practitioners demonstrate their versions of triangle pose. Leela then suggests that they all try a variation of the flamingo pose with arms opened to the side, balanced one leg with the other leg extended anteriorly. The group finishes the practice with a hearty “Namaste.” Telly stumbles upon the ending class and expounds: “What is that? It’s unbelievable.” He is given the answer, “It’s a special kind of exercise that comes from India. It’s called yoga.” Someone else jumps in to add, “And all that breathing and stretching makes you feel good.”
Is this an appropriate answer? Is this an overly simplified answer suitable for children but not adults? I do not think it is a wrong answer but merely incomplete. The extensive history of yoga makes it more than a one liner in the best of circumstances. Imagine LMU green-lighting a master in yoga studies program if yoga were commonly whittled down to the practice of amaroli. I have a measure of gratitude that the common and truncated definition of yoga is so universally acceptable and inoffensive. Asana is the calling card of yoga. For marketing, it stands apart and is easily recognizable. The common definition may not encompass classic yoga, but it is a good description of the majority of experiences.
Telly is upset that he has missed his chance to participate in yoga. His friends Elmo and Rosita offer to teach him what they did during class. They demonstrate postures that they call frog, crescent moon, flamingo, the salty pretzel. Telly rushes to try, only to be told that the first thing you have to do is breath and “You have to do a special yoga breathing.” While magical music plays, Telly is told: “Breath in, breath out, arms up, arms out, leg up.” He repeatedly falls over, getting more and more discouraged. Telly tries to stay balanced by holding onto his friends and holding onto stationary objects to no avail. What are our expectations of children’s participation in yoga and what they should gain from the experience? Should it be a gym class, a path toward enlightenment, entertainment, a lesson in ethics?
In Sesame Street the moral of the story is to “Keep trying. Don’t give up.” Studies of yoga for children show that it aids executive function development, weight management, psychological well-being, improvement of static motor performance, spatial and verbal memory test scores, intervention for attention problems, and relaxation. Are we trying to disseminate a lifestyle of health to the children? Are we sending kids to yoga to change behavior or improve them? Are we looking for a spiritual indoctrination? Or are we only looking for an alternate child care while yummy mummies do their own practice? Are some exercises suitable (other’s not) for children? Which ones? Are the goals for children different than those of adults?
by Danielle Tatik
What makes a perfect yoga experience? Is it the ambiance of the studio, the juicy sequence taught by your instructor, or dharma talk given at the beginning of class that struck just the right chord with you? Maybe it’s the eclectic music that helps you melt out of your mind, or the scent of the essential oil during shavasana? All these components together can be the perfect yoga experience. I mean, nothing really beats walking out of a yoga class blissed out of your mind with the scent of lavender lingering on your sweaty neck while you remember that day’s inspirational quote such as “we only seek that which we have found already” leaving you ready to take on the world. Still, I find something missing from this equation and must acknowledge that this experience would not be complete without the help of the perfect yoga pant.
The perfect yoga pant really can make for the perfect yoga experience. You might be thinking, “Yoga is about separating from the body and material possessions, working on how I feel on the inside not the outside isn’t it? So why does it matter what I am wearing?” Ok, yes, ancient yogis did wear a loincloth or some cotton fabric wrapped around their bodies, and rubbed ash on their bodies. But, the yoga we practice now is a far cry from the yoga of ancient India. We have contributed amazing innovations to the yoga world such as Sculpt Yoga, Buti Yoga, Hot Yoga, and Power Yoga. These styles incorporate some traditional practices and definitely calm the mind and bring relaxation into our lives but they are also strongly focused on the physical body and our outside appearance. This is not (and I repeat, not) a bad thing. In fact it’s wonderful. I am all for anything that makes me stronger, more confident, more aware, and feeling good about myself. So, how does the perfect yoga pant give you a perfect yoga experience? Let me count the ways:
1) Express yourself. Animal prints, chic black, sparkly, neon pink, NYC skyline, unicorns, pizza, palm trees… what’s your mood today? There is definitely a yoga pant out there to fit it. Are you feeling loud and proud? Reach for the hot pink! Are you feeling like your day could use a pick-me-up? Throw on that sparkly pair you have in the back of your drawer. Or maybe you are feeling like you want to let your inner cat- go ahead grab those leopard Teeki pants! You can also always grab those trusted Lululemon black wonder under crops, guaranteed to make you feel your best. Today’s selection of yoga pants allows you to express your inner yogini of the day. Nothing like a little color or fun print or a perfect fit to allow you to feel comfortable in your skin and drop into your yoga practice.
2) Move that awesome body! Each yoga pants is designed for a particular type of yoga. The right choice will allow your body to move from up-dog to down-dog seamlessly, melt into a long yin posture, move in Kundalini kriyas, sweat it out in Bikram, or shake that booty in a dance/ yoga class. It’s your choice ladies: tight, loose, crop, full length, short shorts, spandex, cotton, bamboo, or luon or luxtream. This is a very important decision, how do you want to feel during your yoga experience? Nothing worse than a constricting pant in a yoga class, or one that falls down your backside showing the top of your panties….so I urge you to think about the type of yoga class you are attending and what pant is going to make you the most comfortable and give you the best ability to do your yoga.
3) Sweat, Sweat Sweat! Are you a hot yoga addict? Or maybe it’s just really hot where you live? Either way, we all know the feeling of a sweaty yoga class in the wrong pants… they become thick and wet and heavy and stick to your skin so much it’s hard to stretch your legs apart. For this reason the yoga Gods have blessed us with the amazing lululemon sweatwicking pants which don’t hold onto your sweat and allow your skin to breath. We have also been given the Onzie line and their colorful patterned comfortable to sweat in pants and shorts, and several other brands designed for sweat. Don’t make the mistake of wearing your comfy 100% cotton yoga pants to a sweaty class, choose the comfort of sweat appropriate pants to support your hot practice.
4) Life happens! That it does. Sometimes your day is busy and you don’t have time to change after work to make it to your favorite evening class. Luckily brands like ALO and Beyond Yoga make chic looking yoga pants that can also be worn to work. Girls on the go need to be prepared for anything: that last minute drink date with the cute guy you’ve been texting, a stop at the grocery store, post yoga coffee with the girls. You can’t be expected to always have a change of clothes on hand. Luckily, you understand the importance of the perfect yoga pant and are already looking cute in your pant choice of the day. Just throw on that over shirt, and your boots, and you are ready to take on the world!
5) Confidence booster! Yes, I said it. Boost your confidence with your yoga pants. Why not feel your best while doing a practice to connect to your best self? We all know the feeling of the perfect yoga pant that hugs your booty just right, fits your waist perfectly, and is just your color, making you feel like the beautiful, sensual, powerful, amazing woman you are. Yes ladies, yoga pants have that power. So dig through your yoga pant collection, find the ones you love and keep them at the top of the pile. Or dare I say treat your self to a chic and functional new pair? Feel your best, be your best, and have the best yoga class you can. You deserve it!
By: Gabriela Ayala-Cañizares
I was hired to do the videography with my partner for a wedding this past weekend. Alongside us, capturing every moment of this day were two photographers. After a long day of work, we had a moment to sit down, eat, and chat. One of the photographers asks me, “what are you studying in school?” and I get to once again tackle the awkward moment when that person has to decide how to respond to, “a Master of Arts in Yoga Studies.” On an anthropological level, it is genuinely fascinating to see the range of responses that come from that answer. This particular woman answered with a phrase that has progressively bothered me more and more. She slowly responds, “oh, cool. I am totally not flexible.” I’d like to credit this answer to the possibility that in her head she is skeptical, “what in the world is that and what can you do with it?!” but the other factor is that flexibility has become a synonym to yoga in our culture.
Throughout my years of practicing and teaching yoga, I have come across this phrase a lot and it never used to bother me the way it does now. The reason for that is because a part of me believes that the general public’s understanding of yoga has changed for the better. By that I mean that people have started to understand that yoga is not all about the body. However, in my everyday interactions with people about yoga, people still seem to be pretty convinced that flexibility is a prerequisite to practice. I have spent a time trying to figure out the best response to this and the finest I’ve come to is, “Would you not join a Spanish class because you don’t know Spanish?”. While this has proven to be convincing to some people, it is not satisfying to me because it doesn’t tackle the main issues with that original statement. The first is this continued belief that yoga is just a physical practice. The second is that in believing there is a body requirement to yoga, the practice becomes exclusive, limiting, and intimidating. It is true that some people are naturally more flexible than others, thus it is seen as a characteristic you’re born with. Having a pre-requisite to yoga that is based on something you may or may not be born with is a dangerous connotation in my eyes and not something I want yoga to be related with. Many people know that by practicing yoga you can become more flexible but the aspect of coming into a room of people who can stretch farther than you from the beginning, is a little too much to handle for some people.
I am naturally flexible and when I first started to practice yoga, I cannot deny that it made me feel successful in the practice. I was never strong but I could become a pretzel and that felt like enough. Doctor’s explain that, “better flexibility may improve your performance in physical activates or decrease your risk of injuries by helping your joints move through their full range of motion and enabling your muscles to work most effectively” (Stretching: focus on flexibility, 2016). While all of this is true, flexibility is not as defined a term as it may seem and too much flexibility can actually cause more injury. I was satisfied with only focusing on my flexibility until I hurt myself from pushing it too far. I never took the time to focus on balancing this with strength. Why do we care so much about flexibility? It could be for health, but I would argue its more because of the images we see of yoga postures. They equate to an incredible level of flexibility. This is a type of flexibility that most of us cannot attain and it would not be healthy to try. It’s our competitive culture and our endless need to compare that stops those who may be interested in trying yoga but do not feel like they can.
For those of you who feel like your flexibility is less than adequate, the truth is it is not a necessary characteristic to practice yoga. Just as our bodies are unique in shape they are also unique in its range of flexibility. Whether you are feet or inches away from your toes, truly does not matter. It does not equate to your success in this practice. Your success is defined by you. If you are still concerned with flexibility, then I suggest playing with the idea of developing a flexible mind. By this I mean a development of skill that allows you to stretch your preconceived ideas of yoga, yourself, and life as a whole. This is most likely not an easier concept to convey to those who are insecure with their level of flexibility. Though it may spark more curiosity as to what the development of a flexible mind can look like in real-life. In the end, you may not develop physical flexibility or a flexible mind by practicing yoga. Like I mentioned before, whatever your idea of success is in yoga is defined by you. However, the idea of flexibility of the mind is healthy, inclusive, and self-empowering so why not start there? If it is what you want, yoga is for you.