I feel like it has become a thing for me to say, “It has been forever since I posted.” Well, it has. It’s actually been two years, if you don’t count that I actually have been updating the “Studios” page. No one will read this, not even my mother who has been a die-hard Dharma Chameleon reader, so it doesn’t really matter.
Yesterday, intertwined with an attempt to find summer in the Bay Area, I found water yoga. I found a swim club called Sonoma Aquatic Club that boasts an olympic sized swimming pool, an indoor pool, a spa and the lovely fact that all of them are mineral fed. If you live in San Francisco, you sometimes have to go looking for summer, and all of those pools and the 90 degree heat of Sonoma sure sounded like summer to me. A little water and sun was all I was really looking for but I also found this yoga class and was delighted. Read more…
So I went to Wanderlust in the city and here’s what I saw.
After visiting the Yoga exhibit at the Asian Art Museum, I visited another public institution (the library) and checked out this little piece of non-fiction (instead of buying it in the museum gift store).
As promised this book tells the story of the birth of yoga in America through the lens of Pierre Bernard. I’ve read about Bernard before, but this is a far more complete biography. It seems like perhaps there is a lot about Bernard that isn’t known, but this book seems to do a pretty convincing job rebuilding his story more than 100 years after it began.
While it seems like yoga is a thread that binds the story of Bernard it is by no means the only narrative in this book. There seem to be periods of Bernard’s life where yoga may have lurked in the background but was by no means his foremost venture or the most pertinent topic of this book.
All and all, I really enjoyed this book, mostly because it gave me one of those gilded glimpses into the rich past of this country. The end of the book made me sad. It traced the decline of Bernard’s career, his legacy and his life but it also was directly linked to major historical events such as the great depression and WWII. I can’t really imagine being a figure such as P.A. Bernard. He was a strong willed man from a family of relative nobodies, from the middle of nowhere Iowa; a man of modest beginnings. Through spiritual entrepreneurialism he was able to become a veritable celebrity; first in San Francisco, then in NYC and then finally in Rockland County where he built his empire. He weathered the Victorian Era’s tough morals, then Great War, only to flourish in the roaring 20’s amidst some of the most celebrated members of society. He barely held on to his empire through the depression and then sunk into oblivion and financial distress in the midst of a number of laughable ventures in his later life. He died a lonely old man, and shortly after his passing few remembered him as the great figure that built an empire on tantric yoga.
Damn, that is a tough ass break. And there I was thinking I’d be some sort of “yoga celebrity.” The moral of this story, yoga kids, is don’t quit your day job. Watch out Bikram, your day of decline is ahead.
So, I went to the Asian Art Museum today to check out its very well publicized yoga exhibit. I don’t know that I left myself enough time to explore it because here I am now, trying to recall it and all I can manage is a nagging reminder that the exhibit is about art (granted yoga is the subject of the art) and not specifically about yoga (I mean, that was my perspective anyway).
My thoughts right now, without researching the curation behind the exhibit, are as follows: there are now many new yoga books I want to buy/read; depictions of Shiva’s bull Nandi are rad and Nandi is a great name for a future pet; magnifying glasses are provided in the exhibit and are frequently necessary.
I have, however, now researched the curation behind the exhibit which is divided between three galleries and three themes; Yoga and the Body, Yoga and Power, Yoga and Science.
The first gallery I entered was, thankfully, I’m finding out now, the beginning of the exhibit (I could have easily entered any gallery and not have had a clue). This gallery was stocked with the old, foundational pieces that demonstrated yoga’s origins as a way to transcend the condition of human suffering. Here you can see a lot of really old sculptures, complete with missing limbs. Huzzah! My highlights here were the “yogini” sculptures which were used in demonstrating some key principles of the Tantra tradition. Ne’er was I aware of the flying, blood drinking yoginis. I consider myself educated now, and will probably, henceforth, avoid referring to myself or anyone else as a yogini lest I should conjure busty, bloody soaked, flying tantra ladies. Also in this gallery are some very intricate paintings that I spent time staring at in very close proximity.
In the subsequent gallery I finally figured out why everyone had been carrying around magnifying glasses and joined the crowd of people actually seeing the intricacies of the paintings. Apparently, this gallery’s main deal is showing “real and imagined” sites where yoga was practiced. That was obviously lost on me. I internalized a sense of amazement at the tiny tiny tiny details of the paintings, but also took notice of a few more things. It was in this gallery that I saw a concerted effort to show depictions of female yogis (notice, not calling them yoginis, GAH!), which I found interesting, and greatly appreciated. Also, I got to gawk and more 19th century depictions of yogins/fakirs which are always super interesting. (Envision men covered in ash, head topped with natty dreads, doing all sorts of craziness.)
After squandering almost all of my allotted time in the first two galleries, I got into the third and found most of the exhibits to be very familiar. Projected on the main wall were video clips of Krishnamacharya and Iyengar doing yogasana craziness. I had seen some of these already, but tried to watch anyway. The format of the video is very distracting and my brain refused to take in the information being presented. Can someone please tell me why it could possibly be a good idea to show 6 videos simultaneously, divided on a close grid? Ehhhh… Aside from all that, I skimmed through some of the modern, health related text and illustrations about yoga. There was also something about Vivekanada, but it seemed disjointed to me.
On my way out I hit the gift shop and restrained myself. There were about 4 books I wanted to buy, and about 7 different flavors of incense. I purchased nothing. Hooray for me.
I enjoyed the exhibit, but feel like I could benefit from another trip. I also feel like I don’t want to pay for that, so if anyone wants to take me, I’m game. I mean, I guess it isn’t that expensive. To put it in perspective, a trip to the museum to understand more deeply the true nature of Yoga is about the exact cost of one 1hr yoga class at any given studio. Perhaps, the “yogis” of San Francisco can swap out their next power yoga class to really understand what it is they’re up to while gettin’ down on the mat.
Recently I’ve been making a concerted effort to get myself back on track to actually teach yoga. This book was part of the required reading for my training program, as Mark Singleton was to be a part of the guest teaching faculty. I picked it up a few weeks ago to re-read it because I was feeling like I needed some sort of quick connection to my not-so-recent yoga training, but as it would turn out the “origins of modern posture practice” is a very en vogue topic. With the arrival of the new Yoga exhibit at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, people are starting to talk about where our ever popular postural yoga actually comes from (I like to rudely insert myself into all of these conversations.) It has been very popular and colloquial to refer to yoga as an “ancient practice.” In some respects, and in some traditions this is probably true, but yoga asana as it is most often utilized in the western world is not quite so ancient.
Not to spoil any surprises, but Singleton argues that Western postural yoga (what pretty much any American or European refers to as Yoga) is not only relatively new, but also was fairly infamous, taboo and definitely not popular for most of its history.
Although the book takes a fairly dry-ish academic tone, the writing flows well and the subject matter and POV are compelling. If you’re at all interested in yoga history this is a fantastic book. If you take a couple of power yoga classes a week and worship at the temple of lululemon you may find this book to be a slightly tedious read. Personally, I found this book to be highly informative, enjoyable and a great piece of reference material from which I will be tempted to paraphrase endlessly until you’re bored to tears or driven nearly to a homicidal rage.
Singleton for the win!
Have you ever read the nutritional facts on a package of pasta? If so, I’m sure you’re feeling something like me, and Homer here. If not, I recommend doing yourself a solid and forgoing that particular information as you’re liable to find that your ideal serving of pasta is probably 2-4x the recommended serving and way more calories than you’re comfortable admitting you’ve eaten. If you’re in your late 20’s or over, this sort of meal will leave you feeling fat, lazy and old.
Remember when I started this blog in 2009 (5 years ago!!!) and I was unstoppable? I not only did yoga constantly, but somehow found the time and energy to then write about it (and do other stuff.) Since then, I’ve aged…I do only a fraction of that yoga, and for that matter, only do a fraction of the things I used to do. I notice some differences, and while they may be noticeable to me and perhaps a very discerning on-looker, I doubt they’re quite as overblown as they are in my own estimation. Still, I’m carrying extra weight, I hurt, and for the first time ever, I have fledgling love handles. It’s not ok. And yes, all this said, I did just eat a large bowl of pasta.
30 is on the horizon for me and since I uprooted myself 2 yrs ago with no particular plan in place, I figured there is no time like the present to devise one. Recently, I took a brief stay at the Sivananda Yoga Farm in Grass Valley (a retreat I’ve been visiting with building frequency) and did a bit of soul searching while I took some sun in between doing asana, meditating and eating (the three main activities on the ashram as far as I’m concerned.) A ticky-tacky written thought web produced a few conclusions as to what values/things should be included in my forward momentum. Those things are: Stories, Food, Nature, Fitness, and Design. I’m even hoping that I may be able to package them all into one. Most importantly, at least to this blog, were Fitness and Stories. This blog tells the stories of my journey towards mental, physical, and emotional fitness. Granted, I’ve got a long way to go, but I’ve also come a great distance already.
Since moving to San Francisco, I hate to say it, but I’ve largely lost my connection with the greater yoga community. I still keep a home practice and keep up with my personal teacher, and while that should be sufficient, it seems to not quite satiate me the way I had hoped to be when I began this journey. I feel like the missing component is “sharing”, coupled with “current events.” I’m out of touch with what is going on in the yoga community; I don’t know who’s who and who’s purveying what out here on the west coast (or anywhere for that matter), which is my new(ish) home. I’m a 500 hr+ certified teacher who has taught minimally but attends classes sparingly and snobbishly. Something is off.
Before I cross the threshold of my 30’s I’m hoping to shed a few pounds and shed a little light on my (yet) budding yoga career. I’ve started with trying to get back into group classes. I know I’ve said it before but the group dynamic is soothing and motivating in a way that I cannot find in my home practice. Also, most of these classes are geared toward physical fitness…so I’m bound to do a little calorie burning. I had a week where I got into classes 3 or 4 times and almost instantly I felt better and noticed that some of my chronic back pain was easing (although, my chronic hip pain seemed to be aggravated, d’oh!) I just know that even though no one expects a yoga teacher to be perfect, a well fit teacher is a much more convincing package…and I aim to offer it. I’m also hoping that along with doing of yoga (asana) that I can start to teach it. Recently, I wrote my first yoga sequence/class in years. SAD. And, WHEN (not if) I do get to teach that and other classes, guess who’s coming with me? That’s right…DHARMA CHAMELEON, and all of you (or probably just my mom…my most devoted reader.)