Updates — changing the blog; YTM; Keiko Fukada

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The headline here today is that I’m trying to decide whether to basically let this blog go dormant, sleeping on a tree branch, or else transform it.

Yoga Teacher Magazine is commanding more of my time, and we’re also in need of some blogs on that site to keep interest going in between issues.

So I’ll be blogging on YTM. Of course it will evolve in some fractal manner, but I’m thinking that’s where I’ll put my observations regarding yoga and teaching yoga, as well as any news related to the magazine itself.

Now I wouldn’t mind occasionally blogging about other stuff in my life, from just general bullshit to stuff like karate, but the one dilemma there is that this is called YogaTeacherMan. So if I decide to keep this active I may come up with a new title.

In other news, here’s a lovely article (shout out to Richard Dweck for the pointer) about the passing of Keiko Fukada. She went further in judo than has any woman ever, passing away earlier this month in San Francisco, at the age of 99. Great story, read the Times article here.

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Gathering the posse

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So I’m spending some time practicing a form of spiritual duty which doesn’t come easy to me: publicity dharma. Trying to, like, “raise awareness” of Yoga Teacher Magazine through, like, social media reach out.

So here on my YogaTeacherMan blog I’m going to continue, whilst grinding my teeth and cringing, to encourage you, my followers, to help me out on this. (The one factor which makes all this sales pitching less onerous is that I really do believe wholeheartedly in this product!) So here’s what you can do to become a complete follower of the magazine. And by so doing you will earn my eternal gratitude, at the very least.

1 – Visit the site at http://www.yogateachermag.com (or just click here).

2 – On the site, sign up for the newsletter. I swear you will not be inundated with all kinds of spammy news. Every once in a rather bluish moon you’ll receive a tastefully done newsletter detailing what’s going on with the magazine, recent activity and upcoming changes.

3 – You might check out the section about how to participate, if such an activity would appeal to you. It’s on the right hand column under CONTRIBUTE.

4 – On Facebook: you can like both Yoga Teacher Magazine and Ivan Nahem Yoga Vortex.

5 – Follow yogateachermagazine on both Pinterest and Twitter. I am especially enjoying the Pinterest page, so please follow! It’s fun to just relax and throw images around, and categorize them – very right-brain activity, quite soothing. Even if you’re not a member of Pinterest, you can just click here to view.

6 – Comment!

7 – Subscribe to this blog, if you haven’t already!

Thank you so much!

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

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Letting It Go

So I changed the header subtitle from something about teaching and learning restorative and vigorous yoga, to simply: letting it go, as you can see above, in the header. One reason for this is that I’m not actively teaching restorative yoga (kind of an oxymoron I know!), so it’s just not accurate.

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Anyway, I want something that regularly reminds me to just let it go. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I hold on to stuff too hard, and fuss with it, and I just need to lighten up and let it go.

One time I was at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, an open air theater, and we were up on the grassy knoll above the seats, watching a bunch of bands, I only remember Steve Miller band. Anyway, a long time ago. And there were some black guys near us, and one of them apparently dropped a candy wrapper, like an M&M’s wrapper, and it started sliding down the hill, and he started to go after it, and the other dude said, “Let it go man, it ain’t real.” We cracked up, and I’ve always remembered that. Not that I believe in littering, mind you, but there’s some wisdom in there. Let it go man, it ain’t real.

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New Magazine Launched YAY

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MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT EVERYONE:

my online magazine, YOGA TEACHER MAGAZINE, is up and running as of today!

Please visit at http://www.yogateachermag.com

We’ve been working on this since the summer, and I’m quite proud of it, I must confess!

ENJOY!

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William J. Broad, “Wounded Warrior Pose” Part 2

Respect the code of silence!

Respect the code of silence!

So this is a continuation of my analysis of William J. Broad’s article “Wounded Warrior Pose.”

Referring to this issue of men and yoga, Broad writes, “I stumbled on the issue after my book, published in February, laid out a century and a half of science and, in its chapter on injuries, contradicted the usual image of yoga as completely safe. The yoga establishment makes billions of dollars by selling it as a path to healthy perfection. Predictably, it responded with sharp denials.” Well, we’ll probably never know whether Mr. Broad stumbled upon or rooted around for this issue. And may I suggest one reason yoga has been able to sustain an image of safety is because it is relatively safe. Who would call any physical activity “completely safe”? As for the critiques he characterizes as “sharp denials,” I wonder does he include contemplations such as these from knowledgeable yoga teachers Leslie Kaminoff (here and on video here) and Mark Stephens (find it here)? To imply they were fueled by financial concerns, you really must be joking! And who is this embattled yoga establishment, exactly? Where are they located? Does Broad really think there’s that sort of homogeneity in the yoga world?

He then attempts to back up his provocative statements with some statistics. I’m going to do a more thorough analysis of his analysis of federal data relating to yoga injuries, because at first glance I’m skeptical. I’ll get back to you on this.

Seeming to sense trouble here he goes on offense: “Some yoga practitioners will surely see my analysis as unconvincing. That’s O.K. It’s the kind of topic that can only benefit from thorough discussion — as well as rigorous new studies that can rule out the possibility of false clues.”

Well, okay. Here is where I give Broad some benefit of doubt. In fact, yes, let’s talk, let’s get some actual solid evidence going! And anyway let’s talk about it, surely. There is some benefit even in sensationalism, if it gets an issue raised. Certainly the yoga community − if not the yoga establishment − can do with discussions of the particular reasons why men should be cautious doing yoga.

And yet one can’t begin every class with a lecture on different approaches that students should adopt according to their gender. I have classes where some of the men are more limber than the women. You never know what the parade will be. I truly have to question making physical types into stereotypes.

In fact I suspect that some of Broad’s skewed perception is due to the fact he isn’t in the trenches. Despite his vaunted love of yoga, he doesn’t attend yoga classes, apparently. I’ve heard him interviewed on Irish radio and I understood that he has a practice he’s stuck to for many years that he does daily, but he didn’t mention attending classes. Now a home practice is a wonderful thing, but if you’re talking about what goes on in yoga classes, attending some classes might be a good idea. Instead most of what we get with Broad is hearsay, Internet talk, about yoga.

Take this line: “Men who are breaking the code of silence are doing so with physicians in hospital emergency rooms, who in turn report their findings to the federal government.” One would think there might be a movie or at least TV series potential here – Those Few Brave Men Who Broke the Yoga Code of Silence! In fact in the reception areas and locker rooms you’ll hear your share of bitching from either sex about injuries. And where else is it protocol for a teacher to actually elicit information about injuries and conditions before class formally starts? Doesn’t happen before your Boot Camp workout, but it does happen in yoga class.

Then the solutions he sets forth to this yoga-wrecking-male-body dilemma probably took him about ten minutes to research at the keyboard. “All-male classes, by definition, avoid the flexibility gap between women and men and instead play to masculine strengths.” He namechecks some of these brands, such as Broga, yoga for bro’s.

I suppose it can’t hurt, unless one’s expectations are not met, but I wouldn’t know, I will admit to never doing a Broga class, so I can’t comment. But I also wonder about the idea of playing to strengths as a real solution. We can improve what we do well, and it soothes the ego, surely. But in the long run − and yoga is all about the long run – if we restrict ourselves to what we can do easily doesn’t that inhibit growth? I can do Chaturanga all day, but so what? I might also try for a better Parivrrta Trikonasana (Reverse Triangle).

Because what this article should be saying, I believe, is that one of the main reasons men should in fact do yoga is because they are not so flexible. If you’re already a member of Cirque du Soleil, you don’t need yoga so much. But most men really could benefit from yoga, just to keep relatively limber. Muscular suppleness is a key factor in retaining agility, and in keeping healthy, not to mention a backing off from stress. Reactions to Broad’s article in Twitter trackback contradict this objective: “I knew there was a good reason I hate yoga!!”

As I’ve mentioned we tend to continue along the line of least resistance, and so it’s fairly easy to restrict our activities in ways that isolate our talents and therefore keep us on a familiar basis with our limitations. So even men engaged with shaping their bodies will concentrate on adding strength to strength. Runners might be nurturing tight hamstrings. The true warrior looks at what his weaknesses are, and works on minimizing them; so if we are not so flexible, then what are the tools we can use to loosen up (in all kinds of ways)? In my YogaWorks 300 hour teacher training there was a bodybuilder who was there just for this reason, and he was greatly admired.

Beyond discussion, the real answer to the yoga/men dilemma is always going to be decent, perceptive instruction. Poor teaching can potentially injure even the most flexible student. Even flexibility can have its pitfalls. The teacher has to be able to assess each student, and make the effort to keep them engaged yet not force them injuriously past their edge. Anyone who teaches beginners classes must observe, must see, must sense, with safety the first concern. And teachers should be on the lookout for the safest and clearest ways to instruct the poses, with modifications for those who need them. The real answer for men, then, is not necessarily special segregated classes, but that they start with an experienced teacher in (duh!) a beginner class, and work their way toward great facility. Only the ill-advised will try to run before they can walk, and that said, sometimes mistakes will be made.

The truth is, yoga can work with any body; the constricted, the stiff, the injured, the limited. Often the obstacle to a healthy practice isn’t the male body but the male ego. And I use the phrase with some discretion because this so-called male ego, this over-competitive drive, is itself gender bending these days. I see lots of competitive women in life and in yoga class. Broad reports: “Women say men push themselves too far, too fast.” Perhaps there are women who say this, but loads of women push themselves, too, look in the window at Jenny Craig. The need for the wow factor is ramping up in the studios, and yoga practice is becoming more intense, more rajasic.

So here are some things men really do need to know as they start practicing yoga. You are starting from a flexibility deficit. Don’t worry about it. This is an arena where women will more naturally shine, where they will most likely grab the brass ring faster than you. Don’t worry about it. Let it go. Some of those women, as well as some men, will shine, and you can admire that. Come back into your own body and see what you can do. Pay attention to your body, your instructor, your instructions. If a teacher pushes you too far, find another teacher. Yoga will improve your body slowly, it will improve your strength and your flexibility, but you’re not there to show off. Let it go. Letting the ego go, that is the ass-kicking yoga.

If you are very worried about safety, go Iyengar. It’s all about proper ways of doing yoga. Stay away from Bikram and Ashtanga. Investigate, research.

We can thank Mr. Broad for bringing up this subject matter in a passionate way, and for the notion that men and women need to respect disparities in typical talents. However the good news is that this isn’t too difficult to avoid yoga injury. If you are into extreme sports, running ultra marathons, for example, you are in a sense courting danger (not that that’s necessarily wrong). But unless you are way overzealous for your age and ability, yoga is pretty darned safe. It’s low impact, and it should be slow enough to allow for adjustments in the moment. It’s actually pretty tough to injure yourself, and Broad has to begin to understand this, and represent truly. I’ve been teaching steadily for nearly six years now, and to my knowledge, and knock wood, I haven’t injured a single student, beyond aches and pains the following day, and I’ve had scores of students tell me about how much relief they’ve experienced from all kinds of suffering. I know this doesn’t make for super controversial headlines, but it is, after all, the truth of the matter, which is that yes, yoga does present unique challenges for the typical male body, but we needn’t be so alarmed. It will work out. Come to class and see for yourself.

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William J. Broad, “Wounded Warrior Pose” Part 1

So I have perhaps too much to say about men and yoga and William J. Broad, so I’m breaking this into at least two parts. Actually, I may do a follow-up on some of the more technical, statistical stuff, so it may actually extend to God knows how many. Hundreds.

My regular yoga student Bob told me about an article in the Sunday Times about how men injure themselves doing yoga. Instantly I suspected it was another William J. Broad cry for attention and indeed it was.

One definition of broadside: “A nearly simultaneous firing of all the guns from one side of a warship.”

Another broadside by the Grey Lady.

Another broadside by the Grey Lady.

My previous comments on Mr. Broad’s infamous “How Yoga Wrecks the Body” earlier in this year which limps to a close can be accessed here.

So this one is called “Wounded Warrior Pose.” If you access it on the web, the URL is http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/23/sunday-review/the-perils-of-yoga-for-men.html?ref=yoga … Note that “peril,” classic yellow journalistic trope.

And speaking of journalism, with all due respect to William J. Broad as a yogi and a seeker, one of my concerns about his brand of it is that he seems to want to come off as the white knight, protecting yoga from itself for its own good. Oh God bless ‘im. If only it rang at all true.

As a senior science writer for the Times it is clear he is primarily a journalist, and one can nearly hear him stiffling his grunts with ujjayi breath as he struggles once again with how to turn his familiarity with yoga into another controversial headline. It is my contention that given the material (and there is indeed material here!), there could be ways to explore it which would benefit the yoga community. And other ways, well-demonstrated by Mr. Broad, which really don’t do any of us any good, because they are not rooted in truth (satya, in old school yoga), but rather in pandering to an imagined audience of yoga spectators/Times readers.

So in approaching this nasty beast, I would first throw a few bones. Yoga does in fact wreck your body… if, that is, you do it without guidance and without discrimination. And as for this latest brief, yeah sure man, yoga presents unique challenges for the typical male body.

Should we be alarmed? I don’t think so.

Take a slightly deeper than usual breath. and proceed.

Okay, I believe it’s true that women are generally more set for yoga. As Broad says, “Science has long viewed the female body as relatively elastic.” Well landsakes, I’ll bet it has!

So people tend to do what’s easy for them, starting at a (relatively high) baseline and working up from there, so this is one reason you do find more women engaged in yoga.

However, there are a few of us guys. Broad: “Guys who bend, stretch and contort their bodies are relatively few in number, perhaps one in five out of an estimated 20 million practitioners in the United States and 250 million around the globe.” Oh, so that’s only 50 million worldwide… nothing really.

He goes on to say, “The subject of male risk merits discussion if only because the booming yoga industry has long targeted men as a smart way to expand its franchise.” Actually the subject of male risk would merit discussion whether or not it might be a business concern, in fact that’s quite irrelevant. And my gosh Bill, we must be living on different planets, that’s all I can say. Where do you find this targeting, please tell me? I did some Google searches on terms such as “yoga targeting men” and I got about three hits, two of which referenced Broga, see below.

Tomorrow, hopefully!

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Yesterday’s post

I know I said I was going to post just about every day (no strict rules), then I missed yesterday.

Well, I started on a post. This is how far I got:

Because I was giving more thought to context I brought in more candles this morning which made the mood with the rain outside. I warmed up the microwave heating bags on the radiators and let them put two of them under their lower back arches, above the sacrum, and that’s how we began therapeutic class today. There were happy sighs.

So that’s yesterday’s post. After my second class yesterday a student asked me about the William Broad article in the Sunday Times, so that’s the subject of today’s post, which is not yet ready for prime time.

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