Thursday, March 22, 2012

What I really think about YOGAWOMAN….

Since yoga is my life, anyway you look at it, I feel like I have to make a few points that I could not (partly because of lack of time, and partly because I didn't want to rain on anyone’s parade) at the movie screening.

First of all, it’s nice to see that yoga is helping teens in trouble, kids, folks with cancer and building community in places like Africa. It’s great that there is so much interest and so much availability of yoga so that anyone who wishes could take part in the practice. Although quantity does not always mean quality and furthermore, individual results may vary, as everything depends on the practitioner's commitment to the practice and the skills of the teacher they go to. 

That’s “anyone” who wishes. Including man. Including “minorities.” Including people with limited income. Anyone and everyone.

I have the annoying habit of trying to put myself in someone else’s shoes and see what things would feel like from their perspective. So, I put myself in male shoes and discovered that if I was a man and never have tried yoga, seeing this move, would totally turn me off, unless I am interested in the view from downward dog during an all female class. It would sound to me that this practice, although it was started by men has now been transformed into a practice that is mostly beneficial for women and with all the female teachers out there, I would feel that no one would get it what it is like to be in a male body with its challenges practicing yoga.  So, I am likely to go back to drinking beer and watching my youth pass me by with all the aches and pains and hormonal changes that I am going through as a guy.

Second, I put myself in the shoes of a black male or female yoga student and was astonished to see that the only black folks featured in the movie where the ones in Africa. There are African Americans here in the West who are practicing yoga. There should be more, but how can there be more if this practice is now a “white, 25 – 50 years of age, with disposable income, image conscious, female” practice. So, if I am black, or latina, or Asian,  I don’t exactly fit the demographics. If I am a male of that kind, I am definitely out of luck.

Third, I am not sure that Yoga Journal’s poster children are the best spokespeople for yoga. I always say that my life became a lot better when I started yoga. It became a little better when I became a vegetarian in 1993. And it became absolutely awesome when I quit my Yoga Journal subscription in 2007. Why? Because reading beauty magazines only make you feel ugly! That’s what Yoga Journal is – a well researched and perfectly, demographically appointed magazine that tailors to the above described segment of the population. Everyone looks perfect in the Yoga Journal...I've got small boobs, a few wrinkles, my tops don't color match my bottoms, and i don't always feel like smiling and doing my hair perfectly. 

Also, what type of message does Patricia Walden send to all of her admiring students? With her 35, or more years of yoga practice and experience, inspiring others to live an authentic life, she can’t manage getting older without an upper lip filler gone so bad one can notice it from an airplane. So, how can someone who’s supposedly steeped in yoga and so influential stand there talking about self acceptance while parading a cosmetic procedure intended for women who can’t take it growing older?  (On that note – extra karma points to Angela Farmer for being all natural. )

Another case in point is the strongly overwhelming focus on “feel good” health benefits of yoga asana and just a two minute, brief mention of meditation. Why is everyone focusing on asana? Because that’s what makes women go to yoga – the promise of eternal youth together with nice butt, strong abs and increased libido. Yes, relaxing is nice too, and feeling more like yourself helps, but how’s one suppose to know what one’s self is when one is surrounded by so much Lululemon?

I am willing to bet the the average woman attending a yoga class at, say Exhale in Santa Monica, would be sporting enough expensive get up to equal the annual income of a family in Sri Lanka. And the pressure's on to keep up with the crowd, or else.... I saw a woman commenting on Facebook recently: "I am going on a yoga retreat! I better stock up on Lululemon!" Really? Common! Really? 

Mindfulness, equanimity, self acceptance, being a better human being, growing into your full potential…that should be the focus of everyone attending a yoga class. If this includes, mending your injuries, or growing more flexible, or shedding a few pounds, or lowering your blood pressure, so be it, but remember, there’s a bigger picture here and an asana class is just a door opening to a possibility not the end itself. It definitely would help if yoga teachers knew what they are doing, but hey, most of them don’t know which end of the yoga stick is up most of the time. 15 years ago, it used to be hard to find a bad yoga teacher. They were definitely a minority. Now, it's hard to find a good one. The bar is so low, that no one knows the difference anymore. 

Women are different, they say in the movie. Last time I checked all humans have mostly similar anatomy and suffer of mostly the same issues. Men and women alike get stressed, depressed, feel pressure to perform, anxiety and uncertainty. Fear is a universal human emotion. Everyone gets back issues, joint pain, headaches and gets heartbroken once in a while.  Everyone gets old. Everyone dies.

Yes, women have boobs and periods but guys have balls and penises and I know of enough nutcracker asanas that would totally justify a male uprising.  Guys have hormone changes too and go through midlife crisis. Unlike women who are brain wired differently for networking and multitasking, guys have no support networks, struggle with multitasking and have to watch themselves grow old without the support of “all guy yoga” in a world of estrogen driven yoga classes.

Here's why there are so few yoga guys in class. Not because they don't think it's good for them. Not because they don't enjoy an hour for themselves. It's because they think yoga is for women. Why would they  think that? Because everywhere they look there are women and the teachers are often women and a lot of the conversation and language used applies and concerns women, and a guy feels out of place. It's hard enough being a guy who doesn't know his big tow from his eyebrow, but being a guy in a class where women are looking down on you and are talking about their cycles, children, bed boyfriends and cooking dinners, while the teacher uses fluffy cupcake language you don't understand, and you get the picture - there are hardly any guys in classes. It's a girls night out.  

As far as I am concerned, yoga does not differentiate by gender, color and economic status. That’s because yoga is a state of being not something you do. We’ve re-qualified the noun of yoga as a verb and that’s when the trouble began.

Yoga was mostly a meditative practice with physical movement to enable that practice, keeping the body healthy and lively so the person is not distracted unnecessarily by trips to the doctor’s office. Yoga was mainly practiced by males because of the cultural context in which it originated, but aren’t we wiser than folks used to be a thousand years ago? If so, than we should learn to appreciate a balance between the sexes and rely on the wisdom of both male and female energy instead of choosing one over the other, or promoting one over the other.  We are all both! The face of enlightenment is Siva with a half male and half female face.  We need both, as people, as a culture as a world.

Sometimes it feels like women are more than compensating for being repressed over the ages by being extra self centered, more into self gratification and too negative about anything guy related....The message i often hear is that women will somehow fix what's wrong with the world. As if women are better than men and it's time that they stand up and make things right. That's just replacing one imbalance with another, as far as I am concerned. 

Finally, I would have loved to hear from an actual yoga spiritual teacher, male or female about the role of yoga in modern life. Instead, all we got was the next Yoga Journal Conference line up. What would Mātā Amtānandamayī Devī say? She hugs everyone!

It is human nature to swing from one extreme to another. Hopefully, we will swing back and actually stop in the center, where male and female manifestation will co-exist respectfully, mutually beneficially and harmoniously without the baggage of the centuries. Until then, I am not going to any “just for women” yoga classes. I will be one of the guys and I will be teaching yoga to humans - whoever they are.


Anonymous said...

You go girl! said...

"Suppleness is really fluidity. It transcends strength and weakness. When your body is supple, it feels like there's no barrier in you, you can flow in any direction, your movement is a complete expression of yourself."
- Emilie Conrad-Da'oud

Thanks Val for providing a place for us to become supple in body and mind - that's Holistic Movement Center. Thanks for providing dynamic yoga teachers to guide us in Vinyasa Flow. Most of all we thank you for your intelligence and wisdom; you are the role model we all can follow.

Jeff said...

Good job on the movie review. I'm a male practitioner and almost walked out of the movie. It felt like one long infomercial.

I've taken classes with Val for 5 years, and not once did I see her act disrespectfully towards a student.

I'm guessing that Anonymous above has had a personal chip on her shoulder for a very long time, and it has nothing to do with Val as a yoga or spiritual teacher.

Dear Anonymous, if you disagree with Val's movie review, great, let's hear it. But please don't dump your own negative drama and false claims about Val. It lacks tact, integrity, truthfulness, and makes you appear childish and petty.

MrsKur said...

<3 to you, Val! Always learning, questioning, discussion. Isn't the Buddha who said that those who challenge us the most are our teachers? You do an amazing job of keeping us students thinking. Blissful, happy, content...yes. But thinking also. This is the joy of being a part of the Holistic Movement Center! You are my teacher in every way!