Too Old For Yoga Pants? Depends.

I knew I must be showing my age when I opened my goody bag for this year’s Yoga Journal Live in NY conference and found a box of Depends Undergarments.

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A yogi for more than 15 years, I don’t feel the same zing when I attend these conferences, which seem to be giving way to festivals and social media. The yoga-lebrity doesn’t shine as bright as in years past, when teachers like Rodney Yee could create buzz just by walking through the hallway.

Although I’ve grown weary of yoga marketing and practicing in hotel conference rooms, I’m sad to see Yoga Journal Live go out of style. Materialism can be fun.

Even though I’ve grown weary of all the yoga stuff, including jeweled malas and $80 tops sold in the market place, I do acknowledge that the yoga I once knew is getting wrinkly. When I walked around the Midtown Hilton today, I felt like a step aerobics teacher hanging on to the last scrunchie. We conference-goers aren’t as perky as we used to be, or maybe there are just fewer of us. The millennials certainly aren’t hip to this scene, which may explain the adult pull-up diapers in our goody bags. While yoga is just as wanted and needed as it ever was, the accoutrements have become as passé as the leotard and as run-down as an un-toned pelvic floor.

My personal practice feels more authentic than ever, even though I’ve given up jump backs and headstands. These days, my regime looks like lying around on the floor. I’m still not ready for Depends.

But I’ll let you know for sure after I give them a whirl. I am an open-minded yogi, after all.

Grammar Check: Why Celebrities Should Read ‘Elements Of Style’

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I know this presidential election gets people emotional, but that’s no excuse for bad grammar, especially if your name is Madonna. Take a look at Madge’s recent Facebook post promoting Hillary:

I love that the Material Girl has no shame, but her first sentence makes me squirm. Here’s a breakdown of her misdeeds, according to the fourth edition of The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White: 1) Bitches is a name or title that deserves parenthetic treatment when used in direct address. The Blonde One is talking to we bitches as if we were right there beside her. Therefore, “bitches” needs a comma. Ex. Bitches, are you in my gang??? 2) Because her statement is a sentence and not a title, Madonna really should ease up on the capitalization. If she wanted to pen a book, like The Catcher in the Rye or A Tale of Two Cities, she would have to italicize and use lower case letters for prepositions like “in.” Ex. Bitches, Are You in My Gang??? 3) Finally, no need for three question marks when one would do. With the way Madge zips through time zones, I recommend simplicity, especially when thumb typing on tiny keys.

As you can see, 29,000 people liked her shabbily written post. More than 2,000 fans actually shared it, which means Madonna is a person of influence. We have free speech in this country. I support her right to be offensive. She can continue to offer free fellatio to Hillary voters, but first, she has to polish her communication skills.

Bitches, are you in my gang?

 

Review: J. Brown Gets Tough

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Gentle is the New Advanced,” an online tutorial series, is J. Brown’s love note to any instructor who has ever felt like a fraud with a jacked-up neck and broken heart. His students, fellow instructors, nod and share their own views while sipping tea in a cozy Massachusetts studio. With creaky floor boards and snow falling against a picture window, this setting presents itself as an affordable retreat, a chance to earn Yoga Alliance credits without leaving home. Brown’s philosophy lands on all of us who pushed through the power vinyasa years only to collapse in a wasted sweaty heap, the only way we could experience savasana.

Through four practice sessions interspersed with four lecture/conversations, Brown admits to sacroiliac instability, possibly from all the full splits he forced upon himself in his twenties. “Man, why did I do all those hanamanasanas?” he laughs in Part 6 — Lecture: Practice Technique. His illustrated workbook highlights a 1997 photo of Brown in an impressive bow pose, toes pointed and chest lifted to the heavens. His practice looks much different today, due to chronic inflammation and a growing maturity that informs his methodology.

In his “radically transparent” style, Brown talks about his mother’s death, an event he sought to understand while simultaneously pushing away his emotions. Despite his advanced asana practice and travels to India, he couldn’t answer a simple question: How does this feel? Numbed out, Brown confesses to practicing and teaching so much that Mark Whitwell encouraged him to get a girlfriend. He did. Today, Brown lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children.

His methodology now focuses on breathing through core moves — including leg lifts, sun salutes, and bridging — that are building blocks for what are considered flashier Instagram moves like titibasana and side crow. When combined with ujjayi breath, each “easy” asana develops its own personality and level of difficulty. Perhaps I can let go of my flying crane pose with less risk of injury and more room for growth. 

In one of my favorite discussions, a teacher mentions the death of her father. His illness and passing presented itself as physical and emotional pain. She desperately needed to stop “performing” in her classes. Rather, she wanted to offer authentic techniques, something she could do by herself in private. Yet with pressure to maintain large class sizes, some instructors call out intricate sequences they don’t have the energy to do on their own. “If you don’t have the discipline to do this practice at home, I don’t think you have a leg to stand on,” Brown remarks.

Examples of exhaustive, repetitive asanas include headstand and shoulderstand. After a student injured his neck and never wanted to go back to yoga, Brown stopped teaching these poses. “They’re the king and queen of asanas, but I don’t care,” he laughs. Jump backs with percussive donkey kicks fall into the category of compromising behavior. While he doesn’t want to impede on anyone’s fun, he encourages jump backs for those who have first found their “floaty cloud” capabilities. In forward bends, knees can bend. In bridges, he invites full wheels, only if they feel right.

After all that breathing, “feeling right” is easier to judge, which is really the point of it all.

 

I’m Just Here For Savasana

“Final rest” can lend itself to macabre thoughts. Contrary to the cute T-shirt slogan, the pose is serious – even difficult. In Sanskrit, sava translates into corpse. When we practice savasana, we arrange our limbs in a funereal manner, sometimes with a bolster under the knees and a blanket beneath the head.

In America, we don’t like to talk about death, even though we see it each time we read about another shooting, another vigil. In less sensational terms, how many of us have lost jobs, family members ,or even a beloved restaurant that closed and gave way to Starbucks? These are all deaths, but in our culture, we don’t have a healthy collective way to process or celebrate them.

When I approached my 40s, I wanted more calm in how I approached change. The laugh lines around my mouth reminded me that my body was only a temporary structure for my infinite spirit. While my muscles loved to run and stretch, my soul — which was so big it frightened me — also needed tender care.

For my body, I began researching anatomical donation. Eventually, I donated it to a major hospital (I’m still using it right now), even going on a tour of the gross anatomy lab and attending cadaver memorials. In order to move forward, I wanted a better relationship with letting go.

To my surprise, med students often told me about unusual forces within the lab. Their beloved cadavers — spread open with bone saws — held secrets of scars and old surgeries that made them as real as any yia yia or abuela. Despite religious beliefs, many of these future doctors felt like the bodies watched them, not in a threatening way, but with the benign matter-of-factness of elderly aunts at a wedding.

In the memoir Body of Work, author Christine Montross, a doctor and poet, describes cutting off the face of Eve, the cadaver she shared with her fellow students, one of whom had a panic attack. “Despite the inertia of the dead,” Montross writes, “they actively affect us. Even now as the term winds to a close.”

In Thai medical schools, Montross notes, cadavers are especially holy because most citizens are Buddhist and therefore reluctant to intervene with reincarnation. Students refer to their bodies as “great teachers,” giving them ceremonies before and after dissection.

In a dance of intimacy unknown to most of us here in the West, Thai medical students memorize their donors’ names, forever walking with the dead in order to heal the living.

When we lie down for savasana, we are likewise communing with our ancestors. Corpse pose is not for the weak, a powerful conduit between space and time that is more than a slogan.

This article first appeared in YogaCity NYC.

PsychoBarn Is Home In NYC

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PsychoBarn on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City

Cornelia Parker’s site-specific sculpture, “Transitional Object (PsychoBarn),” is strangely at home on the Met’s rooftop garden, high above Central Park. I recently watched the sunset while leaning against the PscyhoBarn’s roped-off porch. Sipping beer and chewing expensive chips, I noted — once again — that New York is one weird city, especially at dawn or dusk when subterranean worlds collide with the respectable daytime veneer. Parker expertly caught the shadowy mood with her installation inspired by the Bates’ family home, the classic American red barn, and by the lonely paintings of Edward Hopper.

I just happen to be reading The Stand these days, a perfect summer epic about a world-wide pandemic. As a red sun flared through the trees and pleasant buildings of the Upper West Side, I thought of Rita Blakemoor and Larry Underwood stepping over dead bodies in the Lincoln Tunnel during a hail storm.

Like Parker, Stephen King knows a thing or two about fear.

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Art illustration from Stephen King’s The Stand

 

 

Gods That Breathe Through Dust And Darkness

I fell in love with Sharon Watts’ wonderful Om From India article last year in YogaCity NYC that discussed Indian gods. An artist herself, Sharon appreciates the moxie of fellow adventurists like Mark Baron and Elise Boisanté. Through frequent travels to India, the couple has amassed one of the world’s largest private collections of Indian god prints from the 19th and early 20th century. Their detective work inspired filmmaker Rachel Fedde, who’s making a short documentary about the prints. Pieces of the Om From India collection have been acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among others. 13133298_1380145138678766_3479102306728472513_n

For a year, I thought about the fiery images in Sharon’s article. Because of monsoons and poor framing techniques, these lithographs often have torn edges and missing chunks. But Mark and Elise possess full, breathtaking prints meant to be the gods themselves.

In need of the divine in my own home, I scheduled an appointment with Mark and Elise, not expecting the expansive assortment Mark kept pulling out from a wooden filing cabinet. Each time he opened a paper and plastic-covered print, my nose twitched from the dust. My brain rushed with little pops of adrenaline. Unfortunately, I had only scheduled an hour and 15 minutes for this grand adventure in a New York City apartment.

I will be back, with permission to lithograph stalk.

 

 

Channeling Mom, I Sewed My Own Lululemon Pants

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When Bloomberg News reported the $400 yoga legging trend, my stomach convulsed into spontaneous nauli. Disgusted by this—and my reliance upon these clothes as an instructor—I developed a plan. I would learn to sew my own yoga pants. With my head full of dreams, I decided to skip beginner patterns and committed to a more outrageous venture: By September, I would recreate my favorite Lululemons. Purchased in 2007, these pants still performed gravity-defying properties on my aging backside.

For encouragement, I called my resourceful mother in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

“You’ll hate what you make,” Mom said. “Trust me. It’s cheaper to buy what you want.”

I suspected she was right, but still, thanks for the encouragement Mom. She’d engineered my childhood wardrobe, from Little House dresses to Brownie uniform, until I reached high school and begged her to stop. I can still see her, pins in her mouth, draping patterns on my elongating pre-teen body. For two decades, I’ve lived in big cities, losing daily physical contact with my mother. Now I secretly wondered if my mission wasn’t just about the garment industry. Maybe it was a homage to home and to Mom.

Having re-mastered basic skills, I located a patient teacher, Rachel Blackmon, through my Inwood community Facebook page. We agreed on lessons for $40 an hour, staying within a budget of about $200.

When I met Blackmon in her sunlit apartment, I knew I found my guide. Dressed in a floral skirt of her own invention, she offered red wine while her son played in the bedroom. Like me, she competed in 4-H in her hometown of Boulder, Colorado. Unlike me, she continued through high school and her recent job transition, from middle school teacher to CEO of Rachel’s House of Craft.

“What’s more fulfilling?” Blackmon asked me. “Buying or making? There’s something about creating with the hands that rekindles home.”

Blackmon invited me to touch several samples of knit, one of her favorite fabrics. On her dining room table, she pinned and traced my Lulus onto pattern paper, a maneuver that resembled dissection. Before our next lesson, she recommended two places to purchase fabric: a Mom & Pop in the Bronx and Mood Fabric in the Garment District. As a die-hard Project Runway fan, my ears heard only Mood, the source of sewing porn.

Entering, I imagined the voice of Tim Gunn, warning me to “make it work.” With three levels, Mood was the Capitol. Jo-Ann Fabric was merely a colony.

Impervious to pain, I danced through aisles of notions and faux fur until I was stopped by Jonae, an “ex-con design student” with torn jeans and an Afro.

She led me into a Brothers Grimm forest of knits. My hands reached for a grayish-black material, then to a bolt of stretchy denim. “You’re not allowed to make jeggings,” she gasped. Overwhelmed, I grabbed my first choice, a gray-black ponte. A blend of rayon, polyester, and Spandex, the ponte shared qualities with my olive capris. Jonae cut a yard-and-a-half for $12. “No more murder pants for you,” she said, referring to the 2011 bludgeoning death of a Lululemon sales clerk by a fellow employee.

Jonae was a poem.

After I washed and dried the fabric, I went back to Blackmon who spread it onto her table. “I have a philosophy,” Blackmon said, smoothing wrinkles. “Sometimes we avoid what is most healing to us. It reminds you you’re a physical being with an end. We avoid the things that self-sustain because they connect us to our mortality.”

For the next three Wednesdays, Blackmon coached as I cut, ironed, and basted parts together. Then came my first fitting: a moment of truth. The pants were going to be beautiful. All we had to do was rip basted seams and re-sew with permanent stitches. Confident, I agreed to finish my project using the $10-per-hour unsupervised option. I stitched. Blackmon did laundry. When Blackmon checked on my progress, she turned pale. I had sewn the outer seams together without incorporating the gusset. In a matter of minutes, my promising pants had turned into a long-waisted pair of bootie lederhosen.

“You’re going to have to cut the seams, which means we now have less fabric,” she said. “This ponte may stretch enough to fit you. But you may need to give them to someone who is smaller than you.” I walked home close to tears.

For the final lesson, Blackmon gave me healthy discounts. We would be done in an hour, she said. We were so close.

Four hours and several thread balls later, I did indeed have a pair of pants. I tried them on in her bedroom. Fantastic! But I had mixed feelings. More flattering than the Lulus, they were also more expensive at more than $300 in cloth and instruction.

“This project was difficult,” Blackmon said. “There was an impenetrable quality to the fabric. We solved the problem by changing needles, from ballpoint to a sharp universal. Every fabric has its surprises.”

I wasn’t convinced.

“If you make them again, it would be easier,” Blackmon coaxed. “You were learning a lot at once. I suggest you take a break from knits and go with wovens because you can take out the stitches without ruining the fabric.”

We agreed to leave the pattern at her apartment. I would tackle the pants again, once I’d mastered easier projects. In the meantime, I wore my pants to Jivamukti. They held up in hanuman. They also rocked in CrossFit. Stok
ed, I walked into Lululemon on 14th Street.

“What do you think of my Lulus?” I asked, glowing. “Is there anyone I can talk to about the care and fit of a pair of pants?” A friendly clerk pointed to the manager. The manager directed me to media relations online. I tried the same dialogue at Athleta and Old Navy. I got the same results.

When I sent emails to the media departments of Gap Inc., which owns Athleta and Old

Navy, I heard nothing. When I wrote to Lululemon, I received this from a p.r. person: “Thanks for your email and for thinking of Lululemon for this opportunity. We’d like to respectfully decline . . .”

Yoga For My Favorite Netflix Homocide Detectives

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Like a lot of New Yorkers seeking quiet and inner stillness, I brag I don’t own a TV. What I omit is that almost every night, I pull down the shades, crawl into bed, and scarf down Netflix murder shows from the theater of my laptop. My favorites are River, The Fall, Broadchurch, and more recently for me, The Killing. If you know these shows, you may notice the common denominator: None of these grisly plots take place in New York. In other words, my viewing of sociopaths and stalkers feels like a vacation, simply because the action takes place in Belfast, Broadchurch, London, or even Seattle.

Also, each of these programs focuses on one major crime for full, whole seasons. American crime shows give me whiplash, fitting way too much info into too few episodes. With these slower-build dramas, I feel invested in the well drawn characters and the twists and turns of fine writing.

Because I love these characters so much, I have designed a yoga practice for each of my favorite Netflix detectives:

  1. The Fall: Stella Gibson, named after a guitar, finds stillness in repetitive solo exercise. When she’s not trying to capture her nemesis, serial killer Paul Spector, also named after a guitar, she enjoys swimming laps in local Belfast pools. She always swims indoors and alone. Played by Gillian Anderson, Stella is so cool under pressure that when she weeps over victims or journals about her nightmares, she becomes exquisitely human. For the one and only Stella Gibson, I recommend Iyengar. She wouldn’t trust anything with music or heart language, but she could benefit greatly from an obstinate focus on alignment and self care. For the complicated dreams, I would recommend she download iRest sessions with Richard Miller.
  2. The Killing: With all of Sarah Linden’s Seattle street smarts, she struggles to show her vast resources of love to family members, including her own son Jack. Instead, her heart bleeds for victims like Rosie Larsen. For Sarah, played by the petite but formidable Mireille Enos, I suggest family yoga, something taught in a social work setting, perhaps by her own social worker, Reggie. As an avid runner, she might gravitate more toward a vinyasa style. So would her music-loving preteen.
  3. Broadchurch: Detective Inspector Alec Hardy may be an annoying Scot who hates local fish and chips, but he cares deeply about solving the murder of young Danny Latimer. An outsider in this seaside hamlet in Dorset, England, he privately nurses a very sick, unhealthy heart. He believes that if he cracks the case, he will heal himself, or at least die with a clear conscience. For DI Alec Hardy, I can see him doing well with either yin or Kundalini styles, perhaps both once he is healthy enough to do more challenging krias. My reasoning is that Hardy has dwelling thoughts. While he could benefit from the forgiveness and yielding of yin, chugging through the chakras might do him good.
  4. River: My favorite Netflix detective may be DI John River, played by the amazing Stellan Skarsgard, whom I recognized from Good Will Hunting, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. In short, the man is a sensitive, complex giant on the screen. Because he sees and regularly talks to dead victims including his old partner, Stevie, River is especially awkward in almost all settings involving “normal” human interaction. But for all his visions, he’s less crazy than incredibly perceptive. The people near him love him and value his gifts. Yet they want him to find peace. That’s why I recommend iRest, offered in a one-on-one setting with his therapist.

Trump and Bikram Are Like Chocolate And Peanut Butter

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I was cleaning my apartment Tuesday night when I imagined Bikram’s balls.

Don’t judge. I don’t have a choice on these mixed-nut flashbacks. Neither do you ever since Bikram Choudhury, founder of the Bikram Yoga, described his heuvos as “atom bombs, two of them, 100 megatons each.” Thanks to his megalomania, the master and his Speedos are forever stored in my hippocampus, just as they are stamped in your brain along with other inconvenient images, including dirty feet and fish eyes.

In this particular sack attack, I was wiping down my kitchen sink when I was slapped in the head with a frank and beans epiphany: Bikram Choudhury and Donald Trump should be friends — possibly running mates.

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Here’s my reasoning. Bikram, as stated above, responds positively to weapons of mass destruction as symbols of power. Fat Man and Little Boy live in his trousers in a permanent state of detonation. The Donald believes Japan, which adopted a pacifist constitution after surviving these atomic bombs, should man up and get nukes.

Practically twins!

Additionally, Mr. Trump has an orange complexion, almost as if he were locked in a 105-degree room all the time. Mr. Choudhury believes his hot yoga routine is the only way to enlightenment. “Everything else is shit,” he has said.

Drumpf enjoys baseball caps on bad hair days, which are indistinguishable from his good hair days. Panty Man also likes billed hats, although it’s impossible to muss his flowing locks, brushed by attendants/slaves in his inner circle.

Obviously, these boys are groin-centered. And creepy. Who could forget the recent GOP debate when the Comb-Over King said this: “Look at those hands, are they small hands? If they’re small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee.”

For more evidence of a potential GOP bro-mance ticket, I will provide ridiculous quotes. See if you can guess which pearl came from which guy:

  1. “I give every staff member of mine a car, something like a Jeep Cherokee.”
  2. “You know, it really doesn’t matter what the media write as long as you’ve got a young, and beautiful, piece of ass.”
  3. “The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.”
  4. “I should be the most honored man in your country.”
  5. “Why are your legs spread? Women should not spread their legs any time, anywhere! Only in emergencies.”
  6. “It’s freezing and snowing in New York – we need global warming!”
  7. “Why do you want to pay money to go to a hot room and torture yourself?”
  8. “I’m bullet proof, waterproof, wind proof, money proof, sex proof, emotion proof, stress proof, strength proof.”
  9. “I could shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”
  10. “Don’t throw up on the carpet. It’s new.”

Answers: 1. Bikram 2. Trump 3. Trump 4. Bikram 5. Bikram 6. Trump 7. Bikram 8. Bikram 9. Trump 10. Bikram

MNDFL Is Where The Boys Are

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Men trying yoga in this photo from washingtonpost.com.

I recently attended my first class at MNDFL, New York’s first meditation studio with gym hours.

Upon entering the swanky West Village space, I was blown away by the lush decor and the group of four men sipping tea in the inviting living room area. These were normal gentlemen in V-neck sweaters and scarves who have long escaped the snares of my eHarmony search engines. I’ve rarely seen more than a few of this endangered species in vinyasa, restorative, ashtanga, hatha, Bikram, Kundalini, Anusara, yin, aerial, aqua, power, hot, or even naked yoga (although there were more than the average clothed class).

Yoga Journal, which loves nimble cover girls, noticed the disparity. Recently, the publication conducted a survey. As you might have guessed from all the athleisure-wear, yoga practice is stretching like a pair of factory reject compression shorts. As of 2016, 36 million Americans practice asana, up from 20.4 million in 2012. Of that large group, 72 percent are women.

In my experience, yoga is the best place to meet legions of really attractive single women. Yet I remember the days when boys weren’t just potential sweethearts, but brothers and confidantes. I miss male friends. Yoga should be the best place to find them, an incubator of healthy communities on and off the mat. Maybe meditation was less intimidating.

As I approached the cloud of testosterone at MNDFL, I noticed they were sitting Don Draper style, with one ankle crossed over thigh. I tried not to alarm them for fear they would break formation and disperse into the ether. Not only did I hear chatter about gainful employment, I also picked up on how they expressed feelings. I had to investigate further.

One extremely tall gentleman, a triathlete who called himself Fernando, allowed me to interview him for a feature in YogaCity NYC. Through our discussion at MNDFL and others to follow, I collected evidence as to why males don’t flock to studios.

Here’s what Fernando said to me that I couldn’t fit into my published article:

Me: What is it about meditation that may or may not be more attractive to men than a yoga class?

Fernando: Fewer yoga pants. We have to look at them all day on the streets. Fine. We get it. You’re on your way to yoga. Always. All day. Every day. But a room full of those. The concentration of yoga pants is simply too much for most men. The visual effect is basically a naked ass covered in black or grey spray paint. That’s not conducive to concentration or introspection or even lowering your gaze. If the women wore burlap dungarees, men would do more yoga.

Me: What is it about yoga that may or may not be intimidating to men?

Fernando: For men, the main problem with yoga is what to wear. Sweats are too loose. Shorts are too loose. Speedos are for the pool. I’ve gone to Reebok and Lululemon and Nike, and they just don’t make yoga pants for men.

Me: Why are there fewer numbers of men in yoga in your opinion? Is it flexibility? I’m aiming to be helpful to yoga teachers. We DO NOT KNOW!

Fernando: I do think that flexibility is one issue. When the instructor says to lay your face down on your knees, or if you can’t, then do something similar, that might be tough for men to take. One thing is tone of voice. Some yoga teachers can speak in a “calming” whisper which can be more aggravating than relaxing.

More to follow on this important issue. I did tell Fernando about Moon & Son yoga clothing just for men.