I think one of the most prolific and dangerous myths of modern culture is the glorification of youth. The unquestioned premise that the aging process leads one away from some fictitious nirvana of prepubescent bliss is silly, consumer-driven, and largely responsible for the misplaced priorities of our hyper-materialistic world. Chronological aging isn’t an option, it’s a reality. And anyone caught up in a culture that tells you that the older you get the less beautiful, capable, or valuable is doomed to live an unhappy life. In yoga I find a similar bias, for youth conveys a certain suppleness, a steady supply of strength and bravado, and a sense of joy and ease in movement not often found later in life. Actually, that’s not true at all, but that’s probably what you think. The physical body is but a manifestation of the whole person, and the people who move best are merely young at heart, which can be just as true of someone with a head full of white hair as it is for anyone else. But if you make the mistake of projecting the ageist propaganda into your yoga practice you will create self-limiting beliefs that will stop you from experiencing your best self. You are responsible for co-creating your reality, and if the underlying premises to your experience of aging are fundamentally flawed, you will manifest them anyway. You can choose to see yourself as limited, or you can choose to see yourself as capable, as beautiful, and as… [Continue Reading]
The Adamantine® Yoga sequence of postures is an opinion written in movement. It is a composition of form, breath, and beauty that would at first glance appear to be for the purpose of performance or for exercise only, but it is actually a formula for a healthy, happy, and more peaceful person. Other compositions of movement do exist in disciplines like dance or the martial arts, but it would be rare to find one that was intentionally composed with the ultimate goal of not just transforming the physical body, but rather the whole person. But that’s what yoga is, and that’s exactly what yoga does. So when a non-yoga practicing observer notices only the most superficial layer of the practice (the physical postures) it’s not surprising that they might come away with some criticisms. And I’m writing this piece to challenge one. “Why would you do that to your knees?” a physical therapist recently asked one of my students in shock as he witnessed the modifications for Sage Posture 2. This challenging pose requires both deep hip and (to some degree) knee lateral rotation and is used in preparation for Lotus posture, the meditation seat which concludes the Adamantine® Yoga sequence. Well, here’s my reasoning: In my mind, the human body is a blank canvas upon which an infinite number of possibilities can be mapped. Although to some degree genetics, proportion, and circumstance can dictate which unique path you as an individual might excel at, to a much larger degree… [Continue Reading]
Yesterday afternoon I had a private session with a student of mine and her husband. Both are in their early sixties. Usually when a committed student brings their non-practicing, significant other to visit the studio for the first time, they come with a mixture of mild curiosity and a moderate amount of skepticism. But this time was different. I had been warned in advance that her husband was not only already stretching regularly, but was significantly more capable than she was in the postures she had shared with him. This time it was me who was skeptical. Most people’s idea of what it is to be flexible is a shade off of a yoga teacher’s definition, and most men in their 60’s certainly don’t fall into this category. However it was my turn to be surprised. He moved wonderfully. He could fully express some of the more challenging postures in Adamantine® Yoga with ease, and even had a few party tricks to show me that involved a range of motion that would be difficult for anyone to duplicate, even an experienced yogi. How is this possible? It turns out that for the past twenty years or more he has been doing a series of stretches (not yoga) that he created for himself from his experience of being a college athlete. With few exceptions he had independently mapped most of the bodies major movements and had come up with something that resembled a rudimentary form of Adamantine® Yoga. He does this… [Continue Reading]
Maybe it’s just me, but growing up in the early 70’s and being witness to the dawn of the information age has made me keenly aware of just how much the world has changed as a direct result of the access we have to technology. I still remember my father writing long and complicated directions when I ventured out on my first road trip using a folded, paper map. Today I shudder to think of driving across town without Google telling me exactly what to do. As a child whenever I read books there was a dictionary near by, and our shelves were lined with the most recent edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. That was as close to a universal source of information as the average person had access to back then. When I was bored I would leaf through the pages and marvel at all of the strange and exotic peoples, plants, and animals scattered throughout the world. Perhaps one day I came across an entry on yoga. I doubt it, but if I did, it would likely have been brief: a few short paragraphs on the major divisions and perhaps a photo or line drawing of a yogi in meditation. Nothing more. But today if you search the subject of yoga on the internet you could sift through information for the rest of your life, and I think that might actually be a problem. Information does not equal understanding, and there may very well be too high a… [Continue Reading]
For every complex problem there is an easy answer. And it is wrong. – H. L. Mencken Imagine for a moment that you have been given a very important task. You have been asked to develop a maintenance program for the most amazing vehicle ever created. Your goal is simple, empower all future owners with the means to keep it in tip-top shape. One of the most impressive aspects of this vehicle’s design is the ability to conform to the demands made on it. What you ask of it, it will adapt to provide. But fail to ask and the vehicle’s performance begins to decay. There are inherent limitations. Mobility is confined to certain directions at key centers or joints. However if you move the vehicle consistently through its full range of motion it sustains optimal function. This vehicle is of course the human body, and this process of neglect and subsequent decay is known as aging. And, as unbelievable as it is, the most popular maintenance program to date is running, which at first glance would appear to be an easy solution to the problem of maintaining optimal human health, but it is also wrong. Running can be reduced to a simple, repetitive movement pattern that promises cardiovascular conditioning at the expense of range of motion and joint health. Running was not intentionally designed as an intelligent response to maintaining optimal human health, it was accidentally assigned this role. Originally it was simply a means of moving from one… [Continue Reading]
To this day, I distinctly remember the night before my first yoga class. Standing in the tiny kitchen of my college apartment in Iowa City, right in front of the refrigerator, door wide open, I was deciding which sugary treat to shove into my mouth before going to bed. Excited about trying Bikram yoga the next day, I thought I would attempt a few stretches to see what I could do. As I bent over to touch my toes, I felt my spine round and the dull pain of inflexibility shoot up the backs of my legs and into my lower back. I was surprised to see that my fingertips only reached mid-shin. Not so good. Ugh. And that was the humble beginning to my yoga practice. I wasn’t a classically trained dancer. I didn’t practice gymnastics. I was, to be honest, as ill-prepared for movement as anyone I have ever worked with since. Even the most basic of postures challenged my body. Push-ups were impossible with my scrawny, little arms, and I thought my inner thighs were going to rip in half when I bent forward to Widespread Forward Bend. Since then things have changed. I’ve been practicing yoga for over eight years, and now, almost daily, someone asks me if I have a dance background. It happened again just this morning, a new student asked James if I was a former ballerina. Honestly, every time I hear this I just want to burst out laughing. Anyone who knew… [Continue Reading]
The pinnacle of mankind’s arrogance as I see it is buried in the very idea that a higher primate such as man, each of us just one of billions of our species, nestled sweetly on a planet, one of uncountable billions of planets in a dizzying array of galaxies, has within him or herself the capacity to contemplate ultimate reality as it is. And yet this is the goal of the practice of yoga. I’m going to say it, I think it’s a load of crap. I’ve encountered some very high beings in my lifetime, but to be honest I have never met (or even heard of) anyone who I thought really knew what the hell is going on. Not a priest, not a scientist, none of the yoga “gurus” I have studied with, not the Dalia Lama, and not the mythical saints and sages of the lineage of yoga. We are ignorant of the true nature of ultimate reality not because we aren’t willing to do the work, but because neither the software (our current cultural conditioning) nor the hardware (our physiological make-up, which has remained largely unchanged for the past 100,000 years) has been built to do the work. Where has it been written that a naked ape just a few thousand years into human history should be capable of such a feat anyway? But the myth permeates eastern spiritual traditions: Samadhi, Nirvana, and Satori are states of consciousness that have often been translated as Enlightenment by western… [Continue Reading]
When observed in isolation a single grain of sand can’t possibly exhibit the beauty of a wind swept sand dune. This is an example of an emergent structure that arises only when countless particles of sand gather together and form something greater. Likewise a single molecule of water doesn’t contain the quality of wetness, a single snowflake doesn’t require a shovel, and practicing yoga once in awhile will not reveal the potential of the discipline to profoundly alter the course of your life. An emergent property is a quality which a collection or complex system has, but which the individual members lack. And the spiritual qualities innate in the practice of yoga are of an emergent nature. A single practice doesn’t reveal much. But gathered in succession, day after day, over the course of a lifetime, something unexpected arises. Kindness emerges and anger fades. Contentment becomes a way of life and the mindless ambition for things to be other than they are disappears. Life becomes simple, once again.
“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.” – Richard Bach We are, each of us, born into a particular set of circumstances over which we have absolutely no control. To a particular set of parents, to a particular culture, in a particular part of the world. Each experience we have from the moment of our birth onwards builds a momentum that propels us into becoming the person we eventually discover ourselves to be, if we take the time to discover who we are at all. From there we have a choice, let that momentum continue to push us towards it’s inevitable conclusion, or struggle to change, to become the person we would prefer to be. I would prefer to be kinder. I would prefer to be stronger. I would prefer to be a force for positivity in my world. And a caterpillar would prefer to fly. To this end, the caterpillar willingly submits to a process of intense change by spinning an intricate web of silk fibers into a cocoon, and surrendering to forces it can’t consciously comprehend. And I submit daily to a rigid practice of 20 postures from which I can’t escape, and the power of which I will likely never fully understand. We both trust that on the other end of this transformation something beautiful will emerge.
In my opinion it should be considered a grammatical rule that the word “yoga” and the word “master” should rarely be combined. Not that such a state has never been attained, but that the overuse of the term risks diminishing the meaning. It is beyond the scope of this post (and my abilities) to describe what it may/may not be like to master the practice of yoga. I have no idea. Anyone who has yet to reach this pinnacle experience for themselves is not qualified to comment on the condition. But that said, I wish to briefly explore the type of dedication and commitment it might take to get there. And to share with you the solace I find in this realization. I had always heard that the path of yoga is long, but I couldn’t quite explain why. There are many challenging goals one can strive for in life that seemingly provide for some degree of expertise in a relatively short period of time, but this is not so in yoga. Often times when new students start the practice they equate the movements with some sort of exercise and expect to excel at it in a manner of weeks or months. Each time I find myself saying to them the very same thing. Your yoga practice is measured not in months, but in years. But how many years? I’ve often wondered that myself. But only recently did I figure it out. Popularized by the 2008 book “Outliers” by Malcolm… [Continue Reading]
Recently, internationally revered yoga teacher Kino Macgregor confessed to suffering a debilitating hip injury. According to a post made on her Instagram account, the injury occurred while assisting a student in an arm balance and was so painful that she was unable to bear weight on her affected leg. Having followed Kino on the internet for the last six years, I have always put her practice, teaching, and lifestyle on a bit of a pedestal, and yet something just didn’t seem quite right to me. How could someone who has become a YouTube celebrity and made an entire career out of spreading health and wellness succumb so easily to such a devastating injury? I thought back to some of Kino’s older social media posts. I remembered one photo where she was beaming in over-splits with her legs on two chairs, with a caption stating that her goal was to sink her hips all the way down to the floor. I remembered another video she posted where she had an assistant help her put both of her legs so far behind her head that she was able to bind both of arms over and around the tops of her ankles. Ironically, at the very beginning of this video Kino expresses that she is “always interested in working deeper in the hip joints”. While there is of course no way of knowing what exactly precipitated her injury, I believe Kino went too far. She claims that her countless photos and videos that… [Continue Reading]
Do you ever wonder why it is that so many people seem to get yoga wrong? To your average non-practitioner it’s just another form of exercise, like cardio-kickboxing or step-aerobics. But any seasoned yogi will tell you there’s far more to this than just getting your heart rate up and toning your thighs. To the over-zealous religious folks it’s a process of conjuring up demonic forces and/or converting to eastern mysticism. Gosh, I hope it’s not. I’ve spent far too long practicing yoga to find this out now. Which is it? Are we just exercising or do I need an exorcism? Anti-yoga sentiments once again became a hot topic in the Christian community when the recently retired Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska, wrote a letter in which he advised Catholics to steer clear of yoga because of its basis in Hinduism. He suggested they “take up other methods of exercise that don’t place their faith in unnecessary danger.” But this message isn’t new. Just search “Christians Against Yoga” and you will find dozens of articles condemning the practice and emphatically stating “Christians and Yoga Do Not Mix!” One article made the claim that “we as Christians do not want to make our minds more flexible.” I had to laugh out loud. It may well be that a more ironic truth has never been uttered. There’s even an organization that has blatantly ripped off traditional yoga postures and renamed them “Praise Moves” in an effort to make the discipline… [Continue Reading]
Forgive me for a moment for sounding overdramatic, but I believe that the average person in the western world severely lacks perspective. And to be honest lately it’s been bothering me more and more. It started a few months back when I was on vacation. We stayed in a luxurious room with a whirlpool tub so big that I could barely sit upright without risking sliding to the bottom, a King sized bed, room service from a host of nearby restaurants, personal robes, and endless in-room entertainment options. The biggest problem I faced that weekend was figuring out where to eat. No joke. And truthfully, that weekend wasn’t that much different from my daily life. My problems simply aren’t problems, not really. But my lifestyle is by no means out of the ordinary. In fact, it’s likely a bit austere compared to the decadence of even your average modern person living in the western world. We live like kings. Better than kings, actually. Your average king hardly had the access you and I take for granted to the myriad of culinary delectables and libations that we can have at a moments notice. And even the most decadent of castles in the Middle Ages contained what most would consider a severe shortage of comfortable places to sit and would appear all but void of entertainment options Yet as a culture we are collectively more depressed, stressed-out, medicated, and inebriated than at any other time in human history, and in constant search… [Continue Reading]
“If I would’ve asked people what they wanted they would have said faster horses.” – Henry Ford One might imagine that the process of evolution that occurs within any complex system happens gradually over a long period of time. Surprisingly this has little support in evolutionary biology. Most species exhibit little change for most of their geological history, and when significant change does occur, it happens rapidly and in isolated areas. Often times these changes prove to be valuable adaptations without which the species wouldn’t have survived. Evolution isn’t a choice; it’s an imperative. We either evolve or die. Modern yoga, as a systematic methodology of transforming the human body as a means of seeking Self-realization, has been in a period of stasis for decades. The innovations that have occurred are nestled so safely within the boundaries of the current industry standard as to hardly qualify as innovations at all. To most people this does not appear to be a problem. With millions of yoga practitioners world-wide the current model would seem to be effective. But while it may be highly functional as a means of inviting people into the practice, the standard of teaching yoga in a group-led setting is an evolutionary dead-end. In the absence of radical change yoga is fated to become the exercise fad most people assume that it is, and in the great tradition of similar fads like Jazzercise and Tae-Bo the present day obsession with group-led yoga classes will eventually be seen as just… [Continue Reading]
Ultimately we all share the same fate. There are no survivors on this Earth, and in the end these beautiful bodies we are given are but temporary vessels. Why then should we devote ourselves daily to the pursuit of perfecting such an ephemeral vehicle as this? The answer is simple: our physical bodies are but the exteriorization of our spirit. The easiest, most elegant means of developing your whole self is also the most accessible. Movement as a means of personal transformation is within the grasp of virtually every human being, and it is perhaps the single most powerful tool we have available. All too often the physical body is ignored. This is a big mistake, or at the very least a missed opportunity. I can’t imagine living my life without my practice, and I am confident that I would be a very different person if I hadn’t encountered yoga. But yoga practitioners make mistakes, too. Most often they attach significance to the physical changes that inevitably occur as a result of consistent practice. But in truth, it doesn’t matter if you ever put your leg behind your head or hold the perfect handstand. The spiritually transformative power of yoga can be evoked through even the simplest of postures. It may surprise you, but the use of physical postures was considered a dangerous path in traditional yoga. The reason wasn’t because of the risk of injury but in the risk of greater attachment. Yoga seeks to reveal that part of… [Continue Reading]