Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Yoga Sex Cult?

This spring, the yoga world was rocked by a scandal involving John Friend, the "founder" of Anusara Yoga.  I use scare quotes because, frankly, trademarking a style of yoga (Bikram, Jivamukti, Ashtanga, etc.) so that an individual can profit from in financially and in terms of fame is the height of arrogance and greed and represents the opposite of what yoga is.

These teachings have been around for several thousand years, free and available to anyone who proved himself (yes, yoga has a tradition of male-centricity) to be a worthy pupil.

Back to the scandal. Last fall several senior teachers, including Christina Sell and Elena Brower (now the "founder" of Virayoga), resigned from Anusara, Inc.  After the allegations of sexual and financial misconduct hit the blogosphere in February on YogaDork, Brower wrote about her experience with Friend and with the organization. The alleged problems include Friend's involvement in numerous relationships with employees and students as well as financial improprieties. Anusara, Inc. offered its employees a pension plan but seemingly discontinued contributions without notice, which put the organization into some hot water with the Department of Labor. Friend issued a letter  that included an apology for his "poor personal decisions" and subsequently stepped down as CEO.

Quel dommage!  So we discover, once again, that our leaders can be deeply flawed; that men in power are all-too comfortable having romantic and sexual relationships with people they have power over (gross!); and that organizations themselves become corrupt through and through when people are aware of this behavior and protect it. Yadda yadda yadda, as they used to say on Seinfeld. This situation angers me--abuse of power and arrogance are two things I really despise--but mostly, I feel sad for the people who trusted and believed in John Friend: his teachers really did think he was a gift from god.  He let them down. Big Time.

So along comes William Broad, the New York Times journalist and author of the recent book, The Science of Yoga (which I have just started to read), fresh off what must have been a punishing book tour because I saw him EVERYWHERE (well, in the places I tend to frequent: Colbert, "Fresh Air"...). And what does Mr. Broad--whose book has been touted as an indictment of yoga because he argues that a few poses can be dangerous for some people (duh!)--contribute to the conversation? He tells us that we can hardly be surprised, since yoga began as a sex cult.  WTF?

I hesitated to even provide this last link because the article is so problematic: a number of experts and long-time practitioners have criticized Broad's misrepresentation of the history of Tantra and his inept citation of the studies he draws upon, so I will let them handle the rebuttal.

I say, thanks but no thanks to your approach to the science of yoga, Mr. Broad.  I have heard you describe the supposed damage yoga can do to bodies--and all I can conclude is that you don't know what yoga is, despite your having supposedly practiced since the 1970s.  In several interviews, you recounted doing your own body harm because you were trying to show off for a younger woman in your yoga class!  Stop the presses: if you are acting from ego as you practice asana, I guarantee that you WILL hurt yourself.

Yoga is not a competition, it is not a body building technique, and it is not a workout.  Asana practice is meant to keep the body healthy so that you can do the real yoga: quiet the mind, relinquish the ego, and connect with the single source of all existence.  It has nothing to do with gymnastics, with impressing anyone, or with abusing anyone (including oneself!).  I am disappointed both in John Friend-- I expect that men in power will behave this way, but I hold out hope they won't--and Broad, someone who professes to be a yoga practitioner and who has been given free reign as a commentator on contemporary yoga, who has blown it so badly. I guess Mr. Broad is living proof that yoga is the practice of a lifetime--mastering a few poses does not a yogi make.

As my teacher counsels, learning to follow the dictates of yama and niyama (yoga's ethical principles and spiritual disciplines) must precede the asana, breathing, and mediation practices (which make up the eight limbs of classical yoga).  More important than putting the leg behind the head is being a nice person.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Girl Talk

On the day of the all-important Michigan primary, I should be obsessing over the last ditch effort by Sanctimonious Rick to tumble Mechanical Mitt, both proffering their utter disregard for women as the reason they should be elected. I should be fuming over His Ranine Highness Newt declaring himself Emperor of all fossil fuels, claiming he will lower the gas price to $2.50 per gallon when he is elected.

Instead, I find myself intrigued by a recent New York Times article by Douglas Quenqua on the linguistic importance of the words of young women.  Quenqua's piece solved a mystery for me: it told me why I cringe at the language habits of girls--worrying that they undermine their credibility and mine--while also finding utterly compelling the inventiveness, freedom, and sassiness that go along with creating a language style all one's own. 

My sister and I were lovers of language from an early age--possibly due to the fact that our Italian grandparents spoke a beautiful version English that, at the time, was called "broken," lapsing at time into their mother tongue, a Northern Italian, Piemontese dialect.  My bilingual father's linguistically complex insults, delivered with the vigor of a slam poet surely also played a role. My sister and I created imaginary friends with elaborate names and insane accents; she and I and my best friend Julie established the E club--everyone in the club acquired a new name that ended in E.  What fun that was.

Quenqua's article points out at the micro level what the Republican primary is making evident at the macro level: women can't get no respect, no matter what we do. From the article: “'If women do something like uptalk or vocal fry, it’s immediately interpreted as insecure, emotional or even stupid,' said Carmen Fought,  a professor of linguistics at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif. 'The truth is this: Young women take linguistic features and use them as power tools for building relationships.'”  I ask: with a name like Dr. Carmen Fought, how could you not rule the world?

Here we are, decades "after" feminism, after Title IX, after the Lillie Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (oh, right, that was just signed in 2009).  Women have been earning more bachelor’s degrees than men since 1982 and more master’s degrees than men since 1981. They earned more than half of all post-secondary degrees in 2008, according to the AFL-CIO. And the things that women do with their speech and their voices are considered stupid and insecure, just because they are women.

If our culture is so in need of opportunities for ridicule, couldn't we just heap that opprobrium on some more deserving targets? You know who I'm talking about...the privileged, self-serving, ruling class (men and women) who mangle the English language to "rebrand" ideas to suit their agendas. (And I am not referring only to politicians here--although there are many who qualify).

My first nomination: Frank Luntz, the strategist and pollster who worked for Pat Buchanan, Ross Perot, Frog Prince Newt Gingrich, and George W. Bush. He taught Bush how to obfuscate the consensus among most climate researchers regarding global warming. I'd like to begin my campaign there--what would you call a person who refuses to address real problems because doing so doesn't rack up profits for them and who manipulate language to make it impossible to communicate clearly, inventively and poetically (which might open up our imaginative, problem-solving capacities and even create some common ground). Would you call someone like that insecure, emotional or even stupid?

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Politics of Canine Cute

And now for something lighthearted.  Sort of.

I have been quite amused by the feud brewing between Uggie the Jack Russell terrier from The Artist (the odds-on favorite to capture a number of Oscars this Sunday night) and Blackie, the Doberman Pinscher from Hugo, Martin Scorsese's love letter to early cinema.

Both films are actually pretty delightful. Since I resent pretty much everything about 3D--the money the studios and theaters have invested, the money we have to spend on weird glasses that we are supposed to "recycle", and the fact that 3D looks nothing like stereoscopic vision and I feel like I'm a character in The Emperor Has No Clothes every time 3D is discussed--The Artist has the edge, as far as I'm concerned.

This year, for the first time, the Golden Collar awards were announced; a new awards racket created to recognize the best performances by animals in film and television.  Before you scoff, take note: there is some history behind this issue. Rin Tin Tin earned the most votes in the acting category at the 1929 Academy Awards, but it the victory was wrested from the noble Shepherd's crusty paws by industry insiders who didn't think it was such a good idea. If you don't believe me, read Susan Orlean's biography of the Amazing Alsatian or read about it.

Back to the feud. Seems Blackie the Dobie was completely snubbed and was not even nominated for a Golden Collar.  Now, that's an insult. So the film's director, Martin Scorsese, penned an op ed piece in the LA Times attributing the oversight to that fact that, like most of Scorsese's stars, Blackie had taken on the challenge of playing the antihero. Had worked against the grain of the tastes of the American movie going public. And I tend to agree with Marty: any little bantam weight four legger who sports a little fuzz on his face--and this means you Uggie--can play cute. What's not to like? But Blackie the Doberman--a female whom Scorsese refers to as "enormous and . . . handsome"--had to master dignity, menace, and all that 3D nonsense all at once.  Blackie, you are my hero.

Now don't even get me started on Fifi, the Dobie who made it to the final round at Westminster this year, only to lose out to a Pekingese.  Fifi was robbed!

Republicans in Your Vagina

Can you think of anything less appealing?

I borrowed this title from a cartoon circulating on Facebook that depicts a male gynecologist giving his female patient the bad news. It so perfectly captures the feelings so many women, including my women friends, are experiencing these days with  Republican presidential candidates outmaneuvering one another to demonstrate their fear of women's sexuality and reproduction, their lack of respect for women, and their need to exert their inner Papa Hemingways. Rick Santorum thinks women who use birth control are immoral. Huh?  Mitt Romney's wife drives a couple of Cadillacs. What the what? I am not sure I can reproduce anything that His Ranine Highness Newt Gingrich has said on the subject, but take one look at Callista and you pretty much know everything you need to know. I have said on many occasions that the fact that Newt Gingrich has had three female partners in one lifetime is a sure sign the patriarchy is alive and well.

So women are angry enough to fight back! Huzzah! And prepared to fight funny, which I always appreciate. Congresswoman Jane Stokowski from Illinois mentioned today in an MSNBC interview that there was a proposal afoot to require that men taking Viagra watch a film about the drug's possible side effects (the specific symptoms to be depicted remained unspoken; I myself was hoping they were making reference to the 4 hour erection).

I just want to make sure I have this right: Rick Santorum, and his straight Capital C Christian followers, no longer have sex after the possibility of reproduction has passed?  Or do the men simply stop having sex with their wives and move on to younger women of child bearing age?  Don't get me wrong, I applaud those who choose celibacy because it offers emotional healing and/or spiritual development, and I recognize the struggles they face.  All I ask is: 1) please don't choose celibacy, Monseigneur, then take advantage of kids that you have authority over and 2) please don't be a hypocrite, whoever you are.

It boggles the mind that it's taken this long for the "mainstream" to recognize the radical and dangerous gender politics of the Republicans, or to develop the courage to speak out.  Better late than never; women who don't have money or geography on their side have born the brunt of the war on women's health over the last few decades.  But we might be poised to reverse this toxic trend before we find ourselves playing out Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

First Blog

Although I am new to this blogging business (late to the party, as usual), I have plenty of ideas and opinions, so I think I'll be able to catch up in no time at all.

Two loves in my life --yoga and films--are reflected in my username. But I couldn't leave out my faithful canine companions, so they give this blog its name.  No one does upward facing dog better than a long-legged lurcher or sighthound.

Facing upward is also a useful metaphor for my life right now: I am trying to detach from the inevitable distractions and concentrate on what my yoga teacher calls "the goal."  Self realization.

Of course, the job, the election, the "awards season" in Hollywood, and all sorts of ridiculous things get in my way on a daily basis. And I'll probably be writing about those things here too!

Thanks for reading.  More soon.