Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Yoga Is...

91 years old. That's what's up.
There's a great conversation going in the yoga blogs about the commercialization/sexualization of yoga and the commodification of women's bodies in the process. A regular complaint in the blogs and their comment sections is the lack of diverse images of yogis, particularly in advertising for yoga products. The predominant image of yogis being fit, bendy, young white women has been accused of scaring away people that might benefit enormously from the practice. Being a rabid yoga evangelist, I can't tell you how many times I've been told by someone that they're not "young/thin/flexible enough" to do yoga...and you can't blame them for believing that when the images they are exposed to show them physical forms that they don't apparently resemble in poses that seem laughably impossible.

Today I came across an article about a nonagenarian named Bernice who is being touted as the "world's oldest yoga teacher" by the Guinness Book of World Records. It got me thinking about the need for yoga role models like Bernice to rally support for the practice in the yogic minorities to which they belong. We don't just need people like Bernice to be out there teaching, though. We need a diversity of images of what Yoga Is to bring people beyond the current assumptions and stereotypes. Intrigued by this idea, I began spelunking around the interwebs and came across beautiful images and stories outside of the typical yoga culture. Here are a spattering of them to give you an idea of what Yoga Is...

Meera, the Celestial Big Yoga Singer
Meera Patricia Keer's big project Big Yoga has made yoga accessible to literally every body, particularly to, as she put it, "older clientele, or anyone with stiffness, extra weight, or injury." Her goal was to create a yoga that was BIG, expansive and inclusive, and I would say she has succeeded admirably.
Abby Lentz

Also working is this area of yoga is the indomitable Abby Lentz of Heartfelt Yoga. She founded HeavyWeight Yoga which is "especially designed for full-bodied people allowing for complete stretching and body renewal" and is "about the 3 A's: awareness, acceptance and affection." Her style is easy enough for people with no prior experience and she gently encourages students to push to a place of "sweet discomfort," to work their edges and expand what they are capable of in their bodies.


Nikki (on the right) as a great tree
Nikki Myers is a for real, for real yogi who has walked the long, hard path and come out the other side with a wealth of heart and wisdom to impart to students. She created the innovative relapse prevention program Yoga of 12-Step Recovery, pairing the mental and spiritual components of the 12-Step model with the physical component of yoga to holistically treat addiction as the mind, body and spirit dis-ease that it is. Her goal is to bring yogic 12-step meetings into every city, making it just as accessible as other types of 12-step meetings, like AA and NA.






Class with Project Air Founder & Director Deirdre Summerbell
Four years ago, two volunteers from the NGO WE-ACTx began a yoga pilot program for HIV+ women and children of the Rwandan genocide. It was so effective and wildly successful that in short time, with support from the Ray of Light herself, Madonna, Project Air was born. In addition to using yoga to help these women and children manage the devastating aftereffects of genocidal rape, there is trauma counseling, meals and clothing for those who need it.


          
Yoga joy at Project Air.



The Dhamma Brothers
The application of alternative rehabilitation methods in prisons first came to my attention a couple of years ago with the release of the documentary The Dhamma Brothers, about the seemingly unlikely success of a Vipassana meditation program at a maximum security correctional facility in Alabama. Since then, organizations like the Prison Yoga Project have sprung up to spread and support yoga programs in prisons. A prison yoga program in Illinois was actually initiated by an inmate and boasts two thriving years and 150+ students participating each week. Internationally, yoga is being used in prisons all over Mexico to help break the cycle of addiction and violence with great success. This is not overprivileged, white lady yoga, my friends.


Asana in Mexico.

It is deeply refreshing and inspiring for me to look at everything that yoga is and can be in reality, as opposed to the sterile, skinny, whitewashed image perpetuated by yoga publications and companies. Let's allow yoga to be a celebration of ALL human forms and ALL physical realities, regardless of skin color, economic and social standing, criminal record, weight, age or level of flexibility. I will leave you with this photo of the prisoner-initiated yoga program in Illinois, and a quote from its first teacher, inmate and yogi, Bartosz Leszczynski:

“Yoga is the best classroom for everybody, no matter who you are. Whether you’re a saint or a sinner, no one makes any judgments.”
Ideally, wouldn't that be the case? THIS IS YOGA.

4 comments:

  1. Great post! Really nice job collecting info and images - thanks.

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  2. Thank you so much Carol! It's so kind of you to stop by.

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  3. Thank you so much for this. Where I practice, here in Brattleboro VT (Solar Hill Yoga with Scott Willis) - we mostly look like these images. I'm starting Scott's teacher training and hope to be one of the role models you speak of. Scott certainly is. I'm sending him this - he will appreciate it.

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  4. Patrica, thank you so much! This warms my heart immensely. You will be an incredible contribution to the yoga community and conversation. I'd love to hear more about your experience of yoga as you go through your teacher training process. Namaste friend!

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