Give me Mysore or Give me Death!

We are now three days into the Swenson intensive and I am having a ball spending all day long with some of my favorite Ashtangis.  David and Shelley are so great.  Excellent teachers both -- patient and compassionate -- but beyond that, they are happy, lovely, inspiring people who seem to bring out the best in one another and, together, manage to make the possibility of finding love in this world look a little less dismal to the rest of us.  I am grateful for their joy.

I am also incredibly grateful for their practical and grounded approach to the practice: minimalist instruction, assertive and direct adjustment, case-by-case assessment over strict rules and prohibitions.  And best of all, no cheesy music or flowery yogaspeak.

Yesterday, after waking up embarrassingly late and dragging my frizzy, decaffeinated self to training for the day, I headed over to the local yoga festival to represent at the home studio booth for a couple of hours.  As I sat there on the sagging seat of a plastic folding chair, smiling at passersby with mats in slings hung over toned shoulders, surrounded by retail booths offering everything from chakra crystals-on-a-string to physic readings for the auspicious price of $108, I listened to the mellow-toned cacophony of four different yoga classes occurring all at once, strung together with sitar and didgeridoo, and I wanted to kill myself.

Truly.  It made me ill, such a stark and garish contrast to the quiet honesty I had been witness to for the better part of that day.  As a volunteer at the festival, I received a goody bag full of wastefully printed paper advertisements (one of which actually thanked me for making a positive difference in people's lives as a teacher of yoga and then encouraged me to get on the mailing list so that I could "get the latest designs before anyone else does."  Huh?), dietary supplements made with corn syrup and artificial ingredients, and a few Luna bars (You know -- it's like a Power Bar, but for a lady!)  Gross.  

THANK GOODNESS for people like Swenson who keep it real in a world of spectacle and facade.  And thank goodness for Ashtanga keeping it simple and straightforward, staying true to the power of the practice by making space for the meditation.


  1. Hahaha - "flowery yoga speak"...haha, and the free stuff - exactly! I was once at a running event for women, and the goodie bag contained among other samples some cardboard-y lose-weight flatbread crackers (because that's what every growing girl needs after powering through 5 k) and...dish washing liquid. Because now that we've all been running, there must be some dishes waiting at home? C'mon. I'm not much of a feminist like that, but I would have liked to see that at a men's running event...

  2. Megan, I love how clearly you are able to see what is yoga and what is merely yoga culture.

  3. Thanks, Rachel. I don't mean to sound disapproving of other yoga styles. It's just that, to me, yoga is about stripping away the unnecessary -- the materialism and emotional baggage -- but all we do with yoga in the west is accessorize and over-instruct to the point where the beauty and simplicity of the practice is completely overrun. I have a visceral reaction when I find myself in an environment promoting this type of behavior. I start to feel like a trapped animal and my brain stem says "fight or die!"

    I am passionate about the practice. That's all.

  4. Yup. You said it. I took my first hatha yoga class as part of a grad school curriculum back in 1998 (this was just before Madonna's and Gwynneth's celebrity helped bring yoga, and all the subsequent marketing mania that now surrounds yoga, to the forefront). We were lucky enough to study with the same excellent teacher for over two years. Recently, I opened a box full of old books and magazines and found a couple of old Yoga Journal mags from the year 2000. Wow. What a difference just ten years can make. Yoga Journal was so much "quieter" back then. Now when I open an issue I often feel assaulted! Too glossy and Madison Avenue-like, maybe? Anyway, I agree with you. Glad you're enjoying the Swenson intensive.

  5. "And thank goodness for Ashtanga keeping it simple and straightforward, staying true to the power of the practice by making space for the meditation."

    Hell yes.