I am pleased to announce that the yoga book I wrote an essay for is now out! Here is the skinny.
21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, and Practice
Edited by Carol Horton and Roseanne Harvey
Yoga may be rooted in ancient India, but it’s morphed into something new in North America today.
Precisely what that might be, however, is difficult to say. Yoga is taught everywhere from spas to prisons, and for everything from weight loss to spiritual transcendence. With its chameleon-like ability to adapt equally well to advertising, athletics, and ashrams, contemporary yoga is a fascinating phenomenon that invites investigation.
Written by experienced practitioners who are also teachers, therapists, activists, scholars, studio owners, and interfaith ministers, 21st Century Yoga is one of the first books to provide a multi-faceted examination of yoga as it actually exists in the U.S. and Canada today.
Given my background in both Zen and yoga, I chose to write about both of them.
Entitled "Bifurcated Spiritualities: Examining Mind/Body Splits in the North American Yoga and Zen Communities," the essay aims to consider ways in which fixations on the body play out for many yoga practitioners, with a corresponding mind fixation amongst many Zen practitioners. Another significant theme is the role of gender, and gender stereotypes, in both communities. And the ways in which all of this demonstrates the commonplace separation so many of us have with the planet takes up the bulk of the last third of the essay. Here is a teaser to introduce you to the flavor of the essay.
Since I have a fair amount of experience in Iyengar-based practice, I will consider his approach a little more closely. In Light on Life, Iyengar writes “Technically speaking, true meditation in the yogic sense cannot be done by a person who is under stress or has a weak body.” He goes on to explain that this “true meditation” isn’t just “sitting quietly:” it is a practice that leads us to “wisdom and awareness.” One of the ways Iyengar attempts to get around what appears to be a separation of practices is to repeatedly speak of how meditation is contained within all the other limbs of practice, including asana. Indeed, recognizing the interconnectedness of all the yogic limbs is a large part of the reason he has put so much precision and intensity into teaching asana over the years.
Many students, however, simply can’t experience that interconnectedness within the context of an asana-focused class. They are too busy taking in verbal cues, moving their bodies, and responding to physical adjustments. Furthermore, the entire way in which the practice is often framed – as being about exercise, health, or even wellness – adds another blockage. Even as someone who has long studied the spiritual teachings of yoga, my own experience in the classroom tends to be mixed. Sometimes, everything will settle enough to allow my mind to focus on the present. But other times, I am either trying to figure out what is being taught, or my mind is lost in thinking.
Like the other essays in the volume, mine is well researched, weaves in personal practice experience, and is the product of multiple revisions. In addition, the final section of my essay includes introductions to several "Mind/Body Bridge Practices" I have learned and practiced over the past decade.
I invite you all to go to our website, check out the rest of the material about the book, order a copy, and then send the link to your friends and family.