Playlist 4/1- April Dawns

Like everyone else in this neck of the woods, I’ve been having a hard time with our winter that seems like it will go on forever.  So something as simple as March turning to April feels like a thousand flowers blooming.  (the onset, at last, of fifty degree weather, and the start of baseball season didn’t hurt either) To that end, all of the songs on this week’s playlist begin with the letter A, Sesame Street style.  It started as a gimmick, but I’m really pleased at how it turned out- Enjoy!

April In Paris             3:22    Thelonious Monk             Genius Of Modern Music – Vol. 1

Attaboy                       5:43    Yo-Yo Ma,                                          The Goat Rodeo Sessions

African River              5:45    John de Kadt and John Hughes  This Rhythm Is Not Mine

Afro Blue                    5:14    Robert Glasper Feat. Erykah Badu  Black Radio

All Day Sucker                       5:06    Stevie Wonder                          Songs In The Key Of Life

Another Day              3:21    Al Green                                                 Everything’s OK

All Good (feat. Chaka Khan)                        5:00    De La Soul      The Best Of De La Soul

Around The World In A Day 3:28    Prince & The Revolution   Around The World In A Day

All Or Nothing At All              3:38    John Coltrane                    Ballads

Alexandre                  5:49    Caetano Veloso                                   Livro

Anthem for the Earnest       6:38    The Bad Plus                          Suspicious Activity?

Azawade                     8:12    The Touré-Raichel Collective           The Tel Aviv Session

All We Are                  3:37    Matt Nathanson                                 Some Mad Hope

As Praias Desertas                3:32    Luciana Souza                        Brazilian Duos

Another Chance                    6:54    Pat Metheny  One Quiet Night


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The ten year itch- the semantics of yoga (Part 1)

(the second in an occasional set of posts reflecting on ten years of serious yoga practice)

Doing what I do, I find myself with people that love yoga, who do enormous amounts of yoga, and like to talk about yoga.  A lot.  Over the past ten years, I’ve had any number of fantastic conversations concerning yoga- the body, anatomy and yoga, philosophy, integrating yoga into everyday life, travel for yoga, teachers, and even against my better judgement (gasp), gossip.  In these conversations I’ve learned a tremendous amount.  That said, for 2014 one of my few wishes for the yoga community at large is that we retire any conversations that include the phrase:


(I put it in caps because it is usually accompanied by some sort of exaggerated gesture or “humph”)  I’ve heard dozens and dozens of variations on the theme- it’s not yoga because the teacher cusses too much or moves too fast or isn’t vegan and didn’t mention Iyengar.  It’s not yoga because the music is too loud or we used too many props.  (or not enough)  It’s not yoga because the studio doesn’t recycle enough, or uses aggressive business practices, or paints its walls the wrong color.  This is not by any means a new phenomenon- my personal favorite is a quote attributed to Bikram about Baron Baptiste as he was getting big: “That’s not yoga.  That’s Jane Fonda.”  (Never mind that Jane Fonda made some DVDs in the 80s that made the general public aware of yoga in the first place…)

I’m exaggerating, but not by much.  And I get it- my yoga is beautiful, nourishing thing that has had a profoundly positive impact on my life, and I’m protective of it. And when I get protective, it’s a small step to carping about how other people can’t possibly be getting what I’m getting from it if it’s presented like THAT.

But here’s the rub- to say “that’s not yoga” is to try to put yoga in a box that is  much, much too small to contain it.  (If in doubt, just take a look at the Smithsonian’s current exhibition on yoga.  Hoping to get to it.)  To wit, here are just a few of bits of conventional wisdom and/or academic research about yoga, with the occasional anecdotal evidence thrown in*:

Yoga is a 5,000 year old path towards spiritual liberation.

Yoga is a $10-12 billion dollar industry in the United States

Yoga asana is an ancient system of movement and breath.

Yoga is culled primarily from European gymnastics infused with the politics of the Indian independence movement.

Anyone can do yoga.

“I’m so intimidated by what I see in a yoga class I’ll never go back.  It’s not for me.”

To be a real yogi you have to be a vegan.

My yoga teacher hunts their own meat.  With a bow.

Yoga requires nothing but a body and an intention.

“I can’t really get into my practice unless I have a great yoga mat.” (there’s a brand that uses this pitch, I won’t indict by linking to them…)

I could keep going ad nauseam, but you get the idea.  Now, if we want to argue about what is good, useful, and safe in a yoga practice, that’s a different conversation, one that needs to keep happening and one I’m happy to be some small part of.  (see the forthcoming part 2)  And I think those first two are at the heart of a lot of the tensions we’re seeing in the yoga world, because some smart yogi somewhere along the way said something like trying to marry spiritual liberation and material success was like trying to fit a camel through the eye of a needle…  (but, that’s certainly another conversation)

That said, arguing about what is and isn’t yoga- why?  What are we trying to prove?  Is that a positive use of our time?  The less we treat yoga, or a style of yoga, or even our practice as a sacred cow, the better.  The more we examine what we (and others) are doing, why we’re doing it, and how useful it really is in our bodies and our lives, the more chances we have of making things better for ourselves and others on any number of levels.  And from my point of view, that’s the best yoga their is.

*I debated whether or not to link to relevant resources about these quotes, and decided I didn’t want to create a rabbit hole.  That said, if you think I’m making these things up, I’m happy to send along the relevant links.

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Playlist- week of 1/14

I haven’t posted one of these in awhile, and I really like this one, so here you go:

My Ship                      2:43    Jane Ira Bloom           Sixteen Sunsets

Tor-Cheney-Nahana    6:56    Winter Ceremony     Sacred Spirit

32 Flavors                  3:47    Alana Davis    Blame It On Me

Precious Jewel           3:48    Pat Metheny & Charlie Haden         Beyond the Missouri Sky

Sacred Love               6:03    Sting   Sacred Love

Lillie                5:23    We      As Is.   Electronic

Kinks Shirt                 3:00    Matt Nathanson        Last of the Great Pretenders

San Francisco             2:53    The Mowgli’s Love’s Not Dead

Passport                     5:26    Joe Lovano Us Five    Bird Songs

Tell Your Heart I Love You               4:30    Stevie Wonder           A Time to Love

The Heart’s A Lonely Hunter                       4:02    Thievery Corporation           Cafe Lounge

I Don’t Wanna Wait              3:29    Rosi Golan      The Drifter and the Gypsy

Here and Heaven                  3:53    Yo-Yo Ma         The Goat Rodeo Sessions

Full of Light                4:39    Meg Hutchinson        The Living Side

Ten Mile Stilts                        4:51    The Wailin’ Jennys    40 Days

Peace Memory                       6:13    Pat Metheny  One Quiet Night

One note: “32 Flavors” is a cover of an Ani DiFranco tune.  When I was in college, Ani was a buzzword, the kind of artist who inspired the Lilith Fair to be created, but a little to edgy to actually perform there.  I used the cover because it works better in class, but I highly recommend Ani’s version:

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Looking at what I see

This weekend I was in Austin, TX for Acrogasm (yes, that’s what it’s called, and every joke that could happen does).  It’s a fantastically fun high level AcroYoga workshop, where we do things like this:

1558561_10151904518692098_2116569807_n  As a warm up…  My friend Shana clearly loved this move…

When I wasn’t busy with people climbing all over me, I got to catch up with friends, eat Tex-Mex, and generally decompress.  I don’t travel a ton, but when I do I tend to walk a lot more; I’ll try to take three different ways to the same place just to see more little things.  And there’s plenty for me to take in there- the beautiful, stark landscape, the cool little bits of public art all over the place (Boston does cows, Austin does guitars), the difference in fauna (many more cacti and agar plants in the front yard).

And it hit me as I was walking- when I’m traveling I tend to notice more, because it feels new and special and novel.  Traveling opens up me up to my sense of wonder, seeing the remarkable in the everyday.  But do I really need travel to do that?*  I live in a place with a ton of interesting structures, natural and otherwise, and interesting people and places and music.  I just notice less.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m not one for big New Year’s Resolutions.  Working little things consistently creates bigger change for me.  And one things this trip reminded me of was my potential for wonder, and how fantastic that feels.  (and as one who has a lot of big creative projects unfolding, wonder is a useful creative tool)  And now that I’ve been reminded of that capacity, I don’t need a plane ride to find it.

(*To be fair, I won’t see this everyday):


Photo credits: Earl McGee– thank you for all the time you put in with us this weekend!

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Lulu postscript: shearly ridiculous- or comeuppance?

A few last (please God) words about the latest Lululemon kerfuffle, wherein Lulu founder Chip Wilson offended, well, damn near everyone when he blamed women’s thighs for the recent shearing problems with the company’s pants.

– Keep in mind that Lululemon is first and foremost a fashion company, and a publicly traded one at that.  Shareholders ultimately don’t care that Lulu sponsors all kinds of fitness classes or puts people through Landmark Forum training; they care that Lulu makes more money per square foot than any retail chains except the Apple and Tiffany stores.  And, the fashion industry is not exactly known for an inclusive or progressive attitude towards women’s bodies- see this recent article about a whistleblower at Prada, or the continuing controversies about the size of models at runway shows if you need any reminders.  Given that context, should we be surprised?

–  I’ve had or watched several interesting and valuable conversations about this, both in person and on social media. One theme that kept coming up is that Lulu buyers in general and the yoga community in particular bears some responsibility for this s%*tshow.*  We- teachers, students, studios- let Lulu become something bigger than a clothing company, and let it have an outsized voice in shaping how the yoga community perceives itself.  Many of us started believing, even if it was subconsciously, that somehow wearing that brand equated with being a yogi.  Now, Lulu and their marketing certainly had something to do with it, but I’ve spent a fair amount of time at their stores, and I’ve never seen anyone put a gun to a customer’s head and say “you MUST buy”.  (or “you must be an ambassador, or…”)  If you are affected or offended by this latest controversy, this is a good opportunity to examine what “stuff” you’re bringing to your mat, be it your $200 outfit or an obsession with getting a handstand or your being pissed off if the teacher plays that song you don’t like.

– There’s another idea I want to throw out there, and I’ll be returning to it several times in upcoming post: the dynamics of white privilege in the American yoga scene.  (there’s sexual privilege too, but I’ll save that for another post)  I plan to flesh this out as I go, but here’s the gist: yoga is an ancient practice with most of its roots in funky corners of India, but your average yogi in the west is an affluent (or at least middle class), white American female.  You know, the kind of person that has the means and inclination to drop a hundred bucks on a pair of gym pants.  Obviously, yogis come in all genders and preferences, shapes and sizes, but these are the folks that keep the studios in business and Lululemon’s stock price rising.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of white privilege (or bristle when you see anything about race), here’s a primer– skip to the “daily effects”.  Or, for the ribald among us, here’s Louis CK’s much less academic take (WARNING- not safe for work, or children, or bunnies, or the squeamish)

I remember I was in a teacher’s group or a training- I’m fuzzy on the details- and an African-American woman in our group said that it was a huge thing for her to be able to trust our (white) teacher.  And our teacher, a person I love very much and think very well of, was floored- the fact that someone wouldn’t automatically trust them because of race had never, ever occurred to them.   That, in a nutshell, is white privilege at work.

I feel like asking the handful of people I know and like who have in some form come to Lululemon’s defense: do you have any idea how privileged, and how (I hope) naive you sound in making a defense?  That somehow it’s okay that someone was paid less than a dime an hour in Bangledesh or China, likely in terrifying conditions, to make your $120 pair of pants, and then hear the company who paid that wage tried to defend it as a noble good?  That it’s okay for a company not to make sizes that would fit more than 30% of women in America, and when they ask tell them to make it a goal to fit their pants?  That “celebrates” one of the yamas, a sacred principle of yogic behavior, by spelling it out in wine bottles and hypodermic needles? Or what it feels like to work your ass off for victims of domestic violence, probably for crap money, and then have your local Lululemon store make fun of you?  How would you react if you were on the receiving end?  Would you tell your friends to shop there?

And, I’d love to see more leaders in the yoga community do the same.  I bow to the folks who have said publicly that they won’t frequent Lulu, or teach in Lulu- and (oddly, to my mind) faced some backlash for it.  I also invite Lululemon ambassadors, people I know are kind, sincere and good-hearted folk, to speak publicly, maybe resign, maybe not, but at least put out statements saying that our community won’t accept or tolerate this behavior that alienates and excludes people from our community.  Certainly not from a sponsor.  To make it abundantly clear that we are about YOGA, the path to liberation, and not what you wear to yoga class or a slogan on a bag.  It would be a brave and yes, yogic thing to do.

* Thanks to my friends Nicole Burrill (aka the Sassy Yogini) and Reina Shanti Lovelace for really driving the conversation about the community’s role in Lululemon’s ascent.  I liberally stole from them.

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The Ten Year Itch- part 1

“I’ve got news for rejoicing/now a new sun is rising/I count my blessings.” – D. Marley

Not too long ago, on my commute to the South Shore to teach my saxophone kiddos, I bumped into my friend Roberto Lim.  Roberto is an accomplished yoga teacher and senior assistant to Shiva Rea, in addition to being just a great guy.  We were chatting about life and yoga and the various dramas on the yoga scene, when he said something that really hit me.  He quoted a very senior teacher, I’m forgetting now who, who said something like “Yup, ten years in, that’s when the practice really starts.”

Then, just to drive the point home, a few weeks later at AcroYoga teacher training, AY co-founder Jason Nemer said that in some of the traditions he’s studied in, the standard is that after ten years of practice, then you can teach, and after ten years of teaching you can teach teachers.

I started practicing yoga in 1995, but 2013 is my tenth year of very serious yoga practice.  In 2003, in my last semesters of grad school, I found a little Monday night pranayama/meditation class at Back Bay Yoga (then a hole in the wall two floors up from the infamous Little Stevie’s Pizza on Boylston) and started taking classes at studios around the city, eventually falling in at Baptiste Power Yoga, then at Back Bay Yoga, then at South Boston Yoga and elsewhere.  My first teachers there were David Vendetti and Baron Baptiste, respectively, both of whom later both trained and employed me.

With that in mind, I’ll be posting occasionally over the next little while about what my practice and teaching are like, ten years in, and what I’ve seen, and see, in the larger “yoga world”.

Let me start with the overwhelmingly positive- me.  I can’t imagine what I’d be like without a consistent yoga practice.  I can say with near certainty that yoga has saved me a hell of a lot of money on medications- I live a (mostly) pain-free life in my body, and I haven’t needed the (prescribed) psychotropic drugs that have come in some ways to define my generation, despite some genetic predisposition to things like SAD (light disorder).  Things that would send me into a tailspin ten years ago I now have tools to work through.  I’m generally a lot less “in my head” than I was in my 20s, and in my body, able to be more present, and I know yoga is a big, maybe THE reason.  I am grateful to all of the teachers who have helped me move in this direction, and I feel amazingly lucky to get to share what I’ve learned with all kinds of people.  (too many to name, and hopefully I’ll name drop all of them in this series)

There’s an NPR interview with Seane Corn, one of my early yoga heroes, talking about what makes yoga special on  a very basic physiological level, in very clear, understandable language.  (studies are starting to back this up)  She says that most exercise is good for the body and the mind-body connection, but yoga, due to its emphasis of connecting breath and movement (and body and mind and spirit, and yin and yang, and…)     and on creating down regulation as a part of practice (every style of yoga, almost without fail, ends in savasana, a completely passive resting post.)  To put that in your day, I say with certainly, changes your day, and since today is all you ultimately have, it changes your life in little, but obvious, increments.

It’s funny, I was lucky enough to hang out recently with some old college friends (members of the amazing band Kneebody), and they kept saying “so I hear you’re a yoga master now!”  Which is flattering (and speaks to the power of Facebook photos), but it’s most decidedly NOT the case.  Ten years into serious practice, I can certainly do a lot of things in and with my body that I didn’t think imagine, and have a much better sense of what yoga is and what it can do to the body, the mind, and perhaps to bigger things too.  I have moments, sometimes, that I can only describe as transcendent.  But I still say dumb, thoughtless things, eat and drink in unwise ways, and generally don’t behave in a way that lines up with what I want to be as a yogi, never mind a “master”.  The odds of me deserving that title in this lifetime are pretty slim, and I’m okay with that- don’t think I want that crown.  (more on that later)

I was in a teacher training (I honestly don’t remember which one at this point), and early on one of the facilitators asked us “why yoga”?  And a bunch of answers kicked around, until someone said “we do yoga because it makes our lives better.”  And I feel like living proof of that.

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Poise beats pouting

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of heading down to Austin for my youngest cousin’s wedding.  Between the largest gathering of family we’ve had in awhile, a fantastic rendezvous with the Austin AcroYoga community, a fun little Yoga Tune-Up workshop (complete with many, many ball jokes) some amazing eats and music, and a lovely ceremony, we had a great old Texas time (I have the boots to prove it).

One of the highlights of family weddings is welcoming the other folks who are, like it or not, marrying into our family- siblings, parents, cousins of the bride or groom. (in my house they’re jokingly called the “outlaws”)  Every wedding brings a new batch of folks into the fold.  They’ve taught me baggo, some line dancing, and hell, thanks to the “outlaws” there’s another yoga teacher in my family.  This merging was in some ways even bigger; Josh, my cousin’s new husband, has a lovely five-year old daughter, who was one of the stars of the weekend’s events.  In an elegant gesture, before the vows were exchanged, she was asked to come up and acknowledge the creation of this new family, with her squarely in the center. It was lovely, and touching and…

She really wasn’t having it.  Whether it was all the people or all the commotion or just (understandable) fatigue, she made it tremendously obvious that she’d much rather be on her grandma’s lap then at the center of the ceremony.  So, without much fuss, the couple and the minister just brought the ceremony to her.  And for the rest of the night, she was fine.  No fuss, no drama- it was in it’s own way just perfect.

In other hands, I’m not sure everything would’ve gone so gracefully, but here it certainly did.  I was tremendously grateful to witness this, not just because all ended well, but because it was a reminder to me that our practice is not for the easy moments, but for the challenging ones.  This is why I do yoga- in the hope that the poise I uncover on the mat will translate well beyond it.


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