Thursday, April 13, 2006

How many yogis does it take...

On Sunday I joined about 1400 other folks at a big hotel in Back Bay for a yoga conference- classes, workshops, shopping, all things yoga. I’ll talk about specific workshops later, but for now some general impressions. (I’ll also try to follow only one train of thought at a time, hence the footnotes.)

A life spent primarily around musicians (in New York in particular) and then on a cruise ship can definitely dull one’s response to the surreal, but Sunday morning did sharpen it up a bit. At the same facility as the yoga conference (a fairly sterile hotel/convention center combo) was a conference of medical laser specialists and some kind of kiddie cheerleading competition [1], so you would be alternately passing men in long robes and headdresses, middle aged women with yoga mats on their shoulders wearing that post-exercise sweat glow, very uptight-looking guys in three piece suits[2], and ten-year olds wearing short, short cheer uniforms with bulldogs (I think) painted on their faces. At nine in the morning. Oh, and right outside was a big Italian saints-day parade, with little brass bands warming up next to paper-mache floats decorated with plaster statues. Add a couple of midgets and I think you had a David Lynch film right there…

My work has never forced me to do many conference-type junkets, save the IAJE, but they’ve always struck me generally as schmooze-fests, where you go to see and be seen and then if you’re dumb lucky you learn something. As a musician, I’m in a business where networking is everything, all the time, so it’s refreshing to go to a conference where it’s well down the list of priorities. Most of the people here- young, old, men, women (mostly women), black, white, brown, yellow (mostly white) [3]- were really there for themselves, to improve their practice and/or their teaching, and to get inspired. The vibe of the place was overwhelmingly warm and positive, all heartfelt. That in itself is quite remarkable. There certainly is a power in positive intention, and moving that intention into practice, really any kind of practice, and it was certainly present there. The challenge, as many speakers noted, is to move it beyond the conference.

Individual class notes soon…

[1]- I have very few “if I were king” kind of wishes, mostly ‘cause I don’t want to be king, but abolishing organized cheerleading is definitely one of them. Watching these kids, and the parents and other various hangers on, and all the DRAMA, was downright disturbing, especially contrasted to all the fairly placid yogis and yoginis floating around them. Girls no more than 13, and probably mostly younger, are popping dolled up like Brittney Spears, very bare midriffs, very short skirts, way too much makeup, bouncing around to music that is (almost) explicitly about sex. There’s no way you can tell me this is healthy for a kid, no @&*%ing way. I’m sure there are a few girls who find camaraderie, boosted self esteem, etc, but there’s many more who are damaged by a rather twisted sense of body image, all the peer pressure, and the fact that you are celebrating being the backseat attraction to the usually boys sports team. (As I was going up the stairs, a girl near me looked at the cheerleaders and thought out loud “it took me five years of therapy to deal with THAT.” ‘Nuff said. Let’s chuck it completely, encourage these girls to dance, or play a real sport, or take yoga, and let the loud kids in the face paint lead the cheering at the games- they do a better job anyway…

[2] I think everyone needs to go to one of these medical junkets, just to see another example of how messed up the American health care system is. The vendors’ area was huge- bigger than every room the yoga conference was using combined- and full to the gills with various medical device and drug companies pushing their product, and doling out freebies. And who pays for it, ultimately- you guessed it- us. I think the FDA allowing drug companies to advertise will go down as one of the most catastrophic mistakes the government has made in the last thirty years. (And that’s saying something.)

[3] God these notes are getting cranky. This conference, and the yoga community in general, is overwhelmingly white, upper-middle class, and female. I’m not the first one to note this, but I echo the cry that this is ultimately a problem that needs to be addressed by the community. Let me speak specifically about gender, since I’m most comfortable here. For whatever reason, yoga initially caught on in the States with women. (Kind of ironic, since for hundreds of years in India women were forbidden from practicing.) And as yoga has gotten bigger (now a multi-billion dollar industry), it has rode the horse that brung it, so most of the marketing is towards women, and the public perception of yoga is that it’s a “girly” thing.

This is neither entirely true nor entirely untrue. Yoga is ultimately a spiritual discipline to encourage self-discovery and wholeness, and certainly your race, gender and sexuality will eventually find their way into any such process. But hopefully, to reach a place of wholeness- in yoga called Samadhi, you will transcend those monikers. And physically, there is enough strength work in yoga to challenge the strongest person, and enough stretching work to challenge the most flexible. And, unlike just about any other form of exercise, the two must work hand in hand- Handstand, considered a strength pose, doesn't work unless you can get full extension in your arms and pull your shoulders down your back, for instance.

I wish yoga could and would do more to invite men in- both physically and spiritually there is much yoga offers that is missing in both men’s fitness and men’s spirituality in this country. I’m not alone here, at least on the physical end- last year Peter King’s preseason column had an anonymous quote from a NFL GM saying that all NFL coaches should demand that their players take yoga to avoid some of the devastating joint and muscle injuries they are seeing in abundance. Tom Brady, no girlie man, raves about power yoga. Spiritually, yogic philosophy, and even an asana practice, creates a space that is a blank slate, where the goal is not more reps or bigger muscles, but an honest look at where you are physically and emotionally, and an invitation to open up to grace in that moment. We all need that. I don’t have a solution, but I’d like to see more done about it. (Oddly enough, on cruise ship X, 80% of my consistent yoga students were guys. None American. Go figure.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When we are born our brains are like empty computers waiting to be fed information. As we grow our peers act as our programmers, they supply us with the knowledge which we channel through the conscious mind into the subconscious (our hard drive). The subconscious mind is the biggest hard drive ever developed - it stores everything we come in contact with and by no means is all of this information of a positive nature.
All that we have heard, touched, smelt, tasted and seen are stored in the recesses of our minds. The subconscious mind holds on to this information until we need to recall it. For example when you were young your curiosity lead you to investigate your surroundings. When you approached a substance that was dangerous, such as fire, your parents or guardians would most likely have rebuked or scolded you if you ventured too near the flame. Perhaps you may even recall an incident when you were physically burned. Your subconscious mind then began to relate scolding (or pain) with the intense heat of the fire and would therefore feed the feelings of the scolding incident back to you whenever you got too close to fire again, thus acting as an early warning system.
This is the mechanism used by our brains to learn. It is also the same method employed by the mind in every situation. The subconscious mind has a tendency to emulate what it sees - it tends to replicate its environment. This is why so many people find themselves in similar relationships and situations that they saw their parents in while they were growing up. Most people also hold very strongly or similar views of their parents.
Think of a time when you gave yourself praise. What words did you use? Do you use the same words that your parents or peers used when they were praising you? The same is applicable when you scold yourself.
Watch your internal dialogue. Look at it closely. It takes diligence to change the way you think. When you notice yourself thinking a negative chose to think the opposite. This way you neutralise the negative thought. Now the think the positive thought again! You have just reversed the negative thinking in that moment and remember you only have this moment. No other time exists!
Daydream about what might be. Imagine things they way you wish them to be. If you catch yourself thinking "this is just a daydream - a fantasy" then stop! Think the opposite. It is not a daydream it is your reality. Now think it again.
By doing this simple procedure you will begin to retrain your subconscious mind to think positively and you will ultimately begin to consciously create a life that dreams are made of! personal development