Back to the Future of Yoga

Yesterday, Kausthub Desikachar (my teacher’s son) published “The Future of Yoga – an Editorial.” Although I could provide counter-arguments to just about every assertion he makes about the sorry state of “modern yoga,” I will respond here to two specific points – one cultural, the other philosophical – based on a 1992 interview I conducted with his father while in Madras on an extended study visit. These points provide illustration of how far I believe Kausthub has strayed from his father’s perspective.

During that visit, Desikachar politely declined an invitation I had extended to be a keynote speaker at the upcoming 1993 Unity in Yoga conference where we would celebrate 100 years of Yoga in America. Instead, he offered a taped interview, during which I was accompanied by Paul Harvey, from England, and Adrianna Rocco, from Italy.  At the end of a wide-ranging conversation, Desikachar addressed the future of Yoga in America:

LESLIE: Let’s just say that through some magic, this microphone is hooked into the future, and it’s next year at our 100th anniversary of Yoga in America celebration. Is there anything that you would feel safe saying to this group of 500 Yoga teachers and students concerning the future of Yoga?

DESIKACHAR:  I always feel that the future of Yoga in America is safer in the hands of Americans. Perhaps much more so than in my hands, because I am a stranger to America.

Speaking in Madras, in my own culture, I cannot envision the future of the United States – it is very difficult. So these people who are concerned about the future…must know that this (India) is a different culture, different traditions. As an Indian, I may not be able to do justice to the future of America. My culture is different than America’s. Even when I know so much about the West, I am very much an Indian in my heart.

And then when we speak about the future of Yoga, we are talking about the future of Man. This is very important – we are not talking about the tradition of Yoga for the future, we are concerned about the future of Man…which is one word, but the man of Italy is different from the man of the United States, and definitely different from England!  (Adrianna and Paul laugh)

This is all I would say: “Let the future of American Yoga be in the hands of those Americans who are concerned about the future of Man!”

Kausthub is certainly entitled to his opinion about what he perceives as the wayward path that “modern yoga” has taken but – based on these quotes – I am pretty confident that sitting in Chennai editorializing about how Westerners choose to practice is clearly not something his father would have endorsed.

Philosophically, it appears Desikachar also had a very different perspective than his son as far as the definition and role of ego is concerned. In yesterday’s editorial Kausthub wrote:

“…Yoga practice today has thus sadly embraced a form of narcissism and focuses too much on the egoistic side of humanity. This is also a very dangerous path to tread, and also contrary to Yoga’s belief of diminishing the ego…”

From that same interview with Desikachar in 1992:

LESLIE: In your broad experience these last 20 or 30 years teaching both Western and Indian students one-on-one, have you found that the concept of surrendering the ego is helpful or harmful for people when they get the notion that surrendering is something that will bring them peace?

DESIKACHAR: Many people have tried it. It has not worked.  (laughter)  The problem, whether it is Indians or others, is because, “What is it that I am surrendering? I don’t even know what I am surrendering!”  This is not a very happy situation and I’m sorry if people are trying to surrender and then feel bad about it – you cannot really verbalize these phenomena because it is something much deeper.

This is why in India great teachers like my father have said the act of surrender is the last stage of a person’s life. It is called Prapatti…which is not possible for a young boy. One has to go through a lot of evolution – one has to suffer a lot – one has to experience life – one has to enjoy life, and then one has to build up devotion. Then, maybe at the end of the whole story, maybe surrendering is finally possible. So it’s a long project. It’s not a one-day project for that to be really an act of surrender.

LESLIE: Is it possible for you to clarify what is meant in Yoga by the term ego or the term that gets translated as ego, and what role it plays in the process and eventual goal of Yoga?

DESIKACHAR: Regarding these questions, my reference is Patanjali. I want to make this very clear because that is the text on Yoga. There are thousands of ancient texts on Yoga but the most important text, the most accepted text, the fundamental text on Yoga is Patanjali. So my response is now based on his teachings, the very practical teaching of Patanjali.

Now, because of the proximity between Patanjali’s speaking and what is known as Samkhya, which is another of our schools, somehow this word ego has entered the field of Yoga. As far as I understand even if I myself have said it, there is no word called ego in Yoga. The word ego itself does not appear in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. Does it?

LESLIE: Are you referring to Ahamkara?

DESIKACHAR: There is no word Ahamkara in Yoga Sutras. You go from the first sutra to the 195th sutra – there is no Ahamkara in the whole Yoga Sutra. Some people have used that word, but it is not Patanjali’s fault.

LESLIE: Has Vyasa used that word in his commentary?

DESIKACHAR: Yes, that is what I mean – some people might have used it – I might have used it, but according to the authority (Patanjali) there is nothing…Patanjali is very intelligent about this. First, he never used the word ego. Second, he talks about mind only. Mind with good associations and mind with bad associations (asmita). One is desirable, one is not desirable. So in Yoga we don’t even have this problem.

LESLIE: So, Yoga would speak merely of a collection of associations between the mind and some objects, but not a distinct identity or entity in and of itself which can be isolated as an ego. Am I understanding correctly?

DESIKACHAR: I don’t think ego can be just taken out of my pocket and kept here – “This is my ego.” Because the word Ahamkara itself was defined by my father as “where something that is not me is considered as me.”

According to this, to understand ego I have to understand myself. I have to understand what is not myself. How many people have the good fortune to understand that? So without understanding that, how can I even take it out of my pocket and throw it anywhere?

So in Yoga we are not worried about this question. We are quite happy that we don’t have an ego problem. (laughter)

LESLIE: So if we were to make a radical statement here, could we say then that a useful way for people to practice Yoga would be for the purpose of creating a strong, integrated ego or identity?

DESIKACHAR: Without using the word ego, because I know very little about that.

LESLIE: Identity perhaps then.

DESIKACHAR: All I want to say is; “I must know something about myself before I know what I’m doing with myself.” That I would say.

Not only did Desikachar avoid employing Freudian terms such as “narcissistic” and “egoistic” in conversation about Yoga, he was explicitly on record that the fundamental Yoga teachings do not even contain the concept of “ego,” let alone prescriptions for “diminishing” it.

The above quotes from my 1992 interview with Desikachar have been edited for brevity and re-ordered for clarity. Click here to read the full, original transcript on my e-Sutra blog.

UPDATE: Not sure why I didn’t think to include this in the original post when discussing yogic concepts of ego, but Desikachar engaged in a remarkable dialogue with his long-time student Hellfried Krusche in a book recently translated from German to English: Freud and Yoga: Two Philosophies of Mind Compared.  HIGHLY recommended – as I say on its back cover: “This gem of a book is a must-read!”

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Off the grid(ish), then back in the saddle

LK writing Truro

Greetings from Truro, MA and my annual Cape Cod writing retreat, where the days are unstructured, the sunsets are gorgeous, and data is at a premium (no wi-fi means everything goes through my cellular data plan).

I have several writing projects into which I am eagerly diving, and by which I expect to be consumed right up until the end of the month.  Then, it’s back to a busy teaching schedule in August.

First, I lead my 10th summer immersion at The Breathing Project August 8 – 12th: “Transformation Through Relationship.”  There are a few spots available, so there’s still time to sign up.  This year, we have a truly international group of students joining us from as far away as Australia, Rio de Janeiro, Israel, Sweden, Germany and Toronto.  U.S. visitors are coming from New Mexico, Minnesota, and of course, the tri-state area.

Then, the following weekend, I’ll be making my first-ever visit to the Atlanta area on August 20 – 21st to teach “Breath and Asana: an Individualized Perspective,” at East Cobb Yoga in Marietta, Georgia. I’m very much looking forward to sharing the essential teachings of individualized yoga with a whole new group of students.

The very next weekend, August 27 – 28th I am  returning to Portland, Oregon.  We have been invited by a new studio, yogaRIOT, to teach a practice-heavy weekend of classes and workshops we’ve titled: “A Breath Centered Approach to Asana.”    The event has just gone on sale, and you can get special early pricing right up until July 31st.

Once September rolls in, you’ll find us touring in the U.K. with teaching dates in Belfast, Glasgow and Cambridge.  More details on those gigs soon.

Now, back to writing, then another sunset.  Here’s last night’s…truro Sunset 2016

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Live long enough, you become part of yoga’s institutional history

The past few weeks have been chock-full of interviews with all kinds of interesting people. My general takeaway after being called upon as a historian and rabblerouser is that, 37 years into this field, what I really am is a yoga-elder with an intact memory!

I met with an old friend and Berkshires neighbor Michael Lee, founder of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, as part of preparation for a keynote address he is delivering at the upcoming SYTAR conference in Reston, VA. We shared anecdotes and perspective of over 30 years working in the field of therapeutic yoga, and I was able to provide him archival photos to add to his slide show.

While in Laguna Niguel teaching a marvelously engaged group of students at You and the Mat, I met with Anna Dubrovsky as a follow-up to our article in Yoga International, “3 Reasons to Curb Corrections in Yoga Class.”  It was a wide-ranging and frank discussion, from politics to practice, that may lead to a follow-up piece for YI.

A day or two later, Julie Selby interviewed me on behalf of an ongoing Yoga Alliance project aimed at gathering perspectives about how to best serve the yoga teaching community. Some of you may know that I haven’t always been a supporter of the Alliance, but I continue to be impressed by the current board’s insight and direction. This was a very productive and frank discussion, none of which was off the record, and I’m counting on some of my ideas being delivered directly to YA’s leadership.

Scholar and historian Natalia M. Petrzela is researching the intersection of fitness and yoga culture, a topic about which my personal history provides a unique perspective. After two hours of intense discussion, we barely scratched the surface and both look forward to an open-ended follow-up in the next weeks.

I find it mind-boggling that the obscure, non-commercial activity I began teaching in 1979 has transformed into a genuine multibillion dollar industry, being written about by serious journalists, researched by powerful trade associations and studied by post-doctoral scholars.

Amazingly awesome indeed.

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Teachers and Students: Rule Making, Rule Breaking


Back in February, reporters for the Daily News and NY Post either accessed court records or received a press release pertaining to a sexual discrimination lawsuit filed by a former Jivamukti Yoga teacher against a senior teacher. The complaint contained enough details of intimate encounters between these two teachers to make for the kind of tawdry click-bait tabloid reporters lust after.

The complainant’s attorney apparently made his client available for a photo shoot in his office, as he prepared to try his case in the court of public opinion.

I read the initial news stories and formed my own opinions based on nearly four decades in this field, my personal history of student-teacher-guru dynamics, as well as my inside knowledge of many of the guru-teacher scandals of the past.  I kept my opinions mostly to myself until I was contacted by Michelle Goldberg who asked to interview me for a piece she was writing for Slate that would focus on the “cultish” environment at Jivamukti.  Michelle and I had a maintained a friendly connection since I had invited her to present an evening talk last June at The Breathing Project discussing her just-released book about Indra Devi “The Goddess Pose” so I agreed to the interview.

Over the course of about an hour, Michelle and I discussed many things, including my history teaching at Jivamukti in the early days (1992-1994) at their Second Avenue studio. I named a few other people I thought she should talk to who had more intimate knowledge of the current atmosphere at Jivamukti, but it never occurred to me to ask whether anyone had agreed to be quoted on the record.  Apparently, I was the only one.  To be fair, had I been offered the option of being quoted anonymously I would have declined because in my opinion anonymous online commentary is cowardly.  Though I was quoted accurately in the final article there was far more that wasn’t quoted.

I enjoyed reading the Slate piece. I like Michelle’s writing style and she treated me fairly as far as she quoted me. Predictably, she chose the most controversial things I said for her article. I have no problem with that – she was doing her job, and doing it well.  I even called to leave Michelle a congratulatory message the day the article came out.  I thanked her for quoting me accurately and helping me sound critical without trashing anyone personally.  As it turned out, not everyone agreed and some people felt very personally trashed by what I said. They wasted no time condemning me as an insensitive, brutish “victim-blamer.”

The most notable criticism came via Matthew Remski who interviewed the complaining teacher and her lawyer, as well as Sharon Gannon and David Life.  Matthew gave me a chance to respond to their points of view (which I did), and to retract any of my quotes (which I did not). Matthew did include small excerpts of my lengthy reply in his blog post on the topic.

This past Wednesday, I decided to deliver a heartfelt talk on this topic for my monthly members event at The Breathing Project.  We made a video recording and have edited the 90-minute talk down to about a half-hour – which is still pretty long, but if you stick with it, I can guarantee it will at the least provide food for thought. If you have limited time, skip ahead to the 25-minute mark to hear how rules, ethical guidelines, vows and boundaries can actually provoke transgression.

I may have more to say on this topic in the future, but for now, this was the most efficient way to get a response out there.

As always, feel free to leave a comment.

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Breath-Centered Yoga Therapeutics: A Four Day Immersion in Southern California

YATMI’m excited about my upcoming return to Laguna Niguel’s beautiful You and the Mat studio for a four day immersion in my favorite topic: Breath-Centered Therapeutics. The 4- day series of workshops take place from May 20-23, and will feature a clinical observation day.

Sunday’s session will be Respiratory Yoga Therapeutics: Clinical Observation – offering a rare glimpse into what happens in a private therapeutic yoga session. Through observation, questions, discussion and exchange I will demonstrate the principles of how to customize yoga practices, read the body to identify patterns of holding and tension, offer hands-on assists from an anatomically-informed breath-centered perspective, and explore yoga philosophy with anatomical understanding of the human system.

Three guest clients will have a unique opportunity to work one-on-one with me on specific respiratory issues to build awareness of their particular pattern of holding tension and receive support and encouragement from a group of people interested in their wellness.

I’m inviting you to help us find great clinic guests.

Do you have a challenging client or student or know someone (even yourself!) who could use this kind of breathing help? The person need not be a yoga practitioner, but should be experiencing some kind of breathing disorder or challenge. The time commitment is 1-2 hours on Sunday May 22, 2016.

Please invite anyone you think is appropriate to complete a clinic guest intake form. The deadline for submission is Sunday May 15 at midnight. We will be emailing all who have submitted an application by Tuesday May 17 informing them whether they are on the schedule.

Help us get the word out!   Thanks.

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2015 – It’s been a helluva year…

This map shows where I traveled in 2015
Lower numbers in the chart are as of December 12, and don’t reflect the days or mileage for our return trip to New York on December 15. The 39 cities on the chart are inflated since they count every time we returned home to New York. The actual number of cities we visited is 26.

Tonight in Paris, after finishing my last day of travel teaching for 2015, Lydia and I exhaled deeply and decided to map all our teaching travel for the year just ending.  Seeing it all in one image fills me with many emotions.

First and foremost, I feel gratitude for the fact that I can do what I do. When I took my first asana class at the New York Sivananda Center 1978, I could not have imagined how profoundly my life would be transformed. I wasn’t alone.  Over the last four decades so many others have been touched by Yoga, the world has turned into a place where someone like me – who is profoundly unemployable in any other field – can travel the globe sharing these teachings with the sincere, dedicated groups of lifelong learners we call Yoga Educators.

So – in tribute to this amazing year of teaching, travel, learning, and connecting – I am going to give a shout out to all the folks who made it possible for me to spend 127 days of 2015 journeying more than 90,000 miles* to 26 cities, seven countries, and meet close to 5,000 students in my classes and workshops. It has truly been an honor and privilege to spend time with the amazing students they gathered in their diverse spaces around the world:

  • Los Angeles, California – Larry Payne and his YogaRx Therapy training at LMU
  • Winter Haven, Florida – Kerry Wilson at Inside Out Fitness
  • Austin, Texas – Laura Forsyth and Lori McDougall at Yoga Yoga
  • McCall, Idaho– Debra Murphy at Shanti Yoga Studio
  • Sydney, Melbourne, Freehold, Australia – Michael de Manincor and Lisa Grauaug of Yoga Institute of Australia
  • New York, New York – Renee LaRose, Alden Conant and the entire team at YJLive! Conferences
  • Washington, D.C. – Rexx Samuell and his team at Buddha B. Yoga Studio
  • Lambertville, New Jersey – Sue Elkind, Denise Orloff and Caroline Joan Peixoto at Dig Yoga
  • Monroe, New York – Nicole Lewitan at Ananda Ashram
  • Glasgow, Scotland – Mark Russell of Kridaka Yoga
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota – Sarah Jane Wroblewski at the Yoga Center of Minneapolis (special shout-out to her wife Kim Bartmann for making us so welcome at a number of her retaurants)
  • New York, New York – Everyone at the Breathing Project and all the amazing students who showed up for my “Transformation Through Touch” summer immersion
  • Honolulu, Hawaii – Rich Girolami of Silk Bridge
  • Madrid, Spain –  Blanca San Roman of Dhara Yoga
  • Vienna, Austria – Florian Reitlinger and Brigit Pöltl at the Yoga Zentrum Mödling
  • Asheville, North Carolina – Stephanie Keach and Julia Albertson, Asheville Yoga Center
  • Milano, Italy – Giulia Borioli of the Milano Yoga Festival, and my translator Vittoria Frua
  • Encinitas, California – Monique Lonner of Soul of Yoga
  • Cologne, Germany – Sonia Bach and her team at the yogaloft Cologne
  • Paris, France – Alia M’Hamdi Bolt of AliaOM Yoga

We’re almost finished nailing down an equally exciting teaching schedule for 2016.  As soon as dates are confirmed, they will appear on my Calendar Page. I will be starting off the year with my first-ever appearance at the San Francisco YJLive! event and would love to see you there!

Finally, Lydia and I would like to send a special thank you to my agent, Ava Taylor and her amazing team at YAMA Talent. Ava is an amazing partner, a great friend and a true trailblazer in the field of professional management for yoga talent and event production. She also showed us a great time in Cologne, Germany (photo evidence below).

The fabulous Ava Taylor showing us a good time in Cologne.

* Lower numbers in the chart are as of December 12, and don’t reflect the days or mileage for our return trip to New York on December 15. The 39 cities on the chart are inflated since they count every time we returned home to New York. The actual number of cities we visited is 26.

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Breath Education Myth #1 – Diaphragmatic vs. …?

Lung Tree Early Bird
Our amazing symposium “Breath Education — Art Science and Soul” is starting to fill up.  Don’t miss your last chance to attend at the early registration rate, which expires in one day (Sept 12).

As a lead-up to the event, our presenters will share their favorite breath education myths, which they will debunk at the event.  For me, myth #1 is probably the most pervasive one in the field: the term diaphragmatic breathing itself. If I had my way, I’d completely banish the term from breath education.

ALL breathing is diaphragmatic.  No living person should ever be told that they aren’t using their diaphragm unless they suffer from paralysis (and in that case, why would you say it to them in the first place? — they already know).

The term “diaphragmatic breathing” is as redundant and silly as the term “foot walking.”  When that term gets used, it’s intended to distinguish healthy breathing (diaphragmatic) from some other pattern an educator has judged to be unhealthy, but it would be absurd to say the unhealthy pattern is “non-diaphragmatic.”  The real issue isn’t whether the diaphragm is working or not, it’s whether it is able to work to its full efficiency without undue obstruction.

For a fuller explanation, and SO MUCH more, sign up now for “Breath Education — Art Science and Soul” at The Breathing Project!

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Join me for a symposium: Breath Education: Art, Science & Soul

lung-tree_422-v2Ten years ago, I produced a weekend symposium for Kripalu called “The Future of Breathing.” To celebrate the anniversary of that wonderful event, I’ve put together a lineup of friends and esteemed breathing experts who will join me at The Breathing Project in October.
Event details are below and early discounted registration is now open. There is limited space at this intimate event, so sign up soon! Future e-Sutra posts will feature interviews with all of the presenters.

Saturday & Sunday, October 24–25, 2015, 9:30am – 5:00pm

The Art of Breathing Coordination and the Kinesthetic Voice
with Jessica Wolf & Lynn Martin

The Physiology of Healthy Breathing
with Dr. Robert Fried

An Embodied Inquiry into Internal Respiration
with Amy Matthews

Essentials of Diaphragmatic Biomechanics
with Leslie Kaminoff

IS THIS SYMPOSIUM FOR YOU?

  • Do you teach or coach voice, acting, yoga, movement or fitness?
  • Do you work in a therapeutic context as a bodyworker, physical therapist, respiratory therapist or trauma therapist?
  • Do you engage with breathing as part of your therapeutic, teaching or personal practice?
  • Are you interested in what’s going on in related fields and modalities on the topic of breath?
  • Are you curious about where flawed assumptions, inaccurate anatomy and limited perspectives might be affecting your choices?

Join us for a special weekend symposium on breath education where we’ll dive into an expansive and inclusive inquiry into working with people and their breath. Leslie Kaminoff has gathered fellow practitioners and innovators from multiple disciplines who, like himself, are deeply engaged in questions around breathing and embodiment. Each presenter will present and share about what they’re curious and passionate about in the realm of breathing. The weekend will include lecture, interactive sessions, experiential learning, movement explorations and opportunities for Q&A.

The Art of Breathing Coordination and the Kinesthetic Voice
with Jessica Wolf & Lynn Martin

Join Jessica and Lynn as they co-present the following topics:

  • Introduction to Breathing Coordination
  • Animated film created by Jessica Wolf
  • Common misconceptions about breathing
  • Guided practices to enhance awareness of body, breath and voice
  • Development of kinesthetic voice related practices

lynn-martinLynn Martin teaches functional anatomy, Ideokinesis and Breathing Coordination at New York University, in the Tisch Dance Department, Tisch School of the Arts. Lynn has studied functional anatomy and Ideokinesis extensively with Irene Dowd, who teaches at The Juilliard School and who studied there with Dr. Lulu Sweigard.

For many years, Lynn Martin also studied Breathing Coordination with Carl Stough. As a member of the Board of Directors, she worked with The Stough Institute on special educational projects and was Associate Producer of a documentary video, Breathing: The Source of Life.

Her background also includes studies in AfroCaribbean music and dance with Montego Joe, Pamela Patrick, Pat Hall, Jean-Léon Destiné and Serge St. Juste. She studied voice with Conrad L. Osborne and has sung much of the great choral-orchestral repertoire with The Cecilia Chorus of N.Y. at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center.

A summa cum laude graduate of Fordham University, Lynn has also taught at the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies, the Westchester Conservatory of Music, Brooklyn College, the National Association of Teachers of Singing and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center. She maintains a private practice in Ideokinesis and Breathing Coordination and teaches workshops in New York City and Switzerland.

jessica-wolfJessica Wolf, M.AmSAT, is an internationally recognized teacher of the Alexander Technique. She completed her training at the American Center for the Alexander Technique in 1977 and is one of the few Alexander professionals who have been teaching for more than 35 years. Throughout her career, she has explored and conducted research in respiratory function.

In 1998, Jessica established the Alexander Technique program at Yale School of Drama, where she now holds the position of Associate Professor. In 2002, she became the founder and director of the first post-graduate training program for Alexander teachers in “Jessica Wolf’s Art of Breathing.” She has certified 60 Alexander teachers around the world. Other faculty appointments include the Aspen Music Festival, The Juilliard School, SUNY Purchase, Circle in the Square Theater School, Hunter College, Sarah Lawrence College, and the Verbier Music Festival.

Jessica created the first three-dimensional animated film of the respiratory system and published Jessica Wolf’s Art of Breathing: Collected Articles in 2013. She coaches many performing artists who appear on and off Broadway, as well as in film and television. Jessica travels extensively giving workshops to performers and health care providers.

The Physiology of Healthy Breathing
with Dr. Robert Fried

Dr. Fried will help us to define healthy breathing in terms of its physiological characteristics. He will explain and demonstrate the basic instrumentation for monitoring the measurable parameters of lung and blood gases, and heart rate variability. With the insights provided by such monitoring, Dr. Fried will show how it’s possible to identify common patterns of breathing that could adversely alter respiratory function, and reveal the adverse consequences of abnormal lung and blood gases on a variety of physical conditions ranging from heart and kidney ailments to anxiety and hypertension.

robert-friedRobert Fried, Ph.D., is Emeritus Professor, Doctoral Faculty in Behavioral Neuroscience, City University of New York (CUNY) and Emeritus, American Physiology Society (APS) (Cardiovascular and Respiration Div.), and world-renowned expert in the treatment of stress and anxiety.

He is the author of The Arginine SolutionThe Hyperventilation Syndrome, and The Breath Connection, and is former Director of the Stress and Biofeedback Clinic of the Ellis Institute for Rational Emotive Therapy in New York City, where he lives.

An Embodied Inquiry into Internal Respiration
with Amy Matthews

Amy will explore the movement of the breath after it enters the lungs, as it travels through blood to its final destination in the cells. This journey of internal respiration can be explored in relationship to any pattern of external breathing.

Embodying the processes of internal respiration can be a way to expand the experience of breathing from the landmarks of external respiration (thorax, lungs, ribcage and diaphragm) into an experience of breathing in every tissue of our body. We can also use this full body experience of our breath as a foundation for the exploration of a wide variety of specific approaches to breathing, and as a way to ground and orient our sense of self.

amy-matthewsAmy Matthews, CMA, IDME, BMC Teacher, RSMT/RSME has been teaching movement since 1994. She is a Certified Laban Movement Analyst, a Body-Mind Centering® Teacher, an Infant Developmental Movement Educator, and a yoga therapist and yoga teacher.

Amy co-authored with Leslie Kaminoff the best-selling book Yoga Anatomy, and together Amy and Leslie co-direct The Breathing Project, a non-profit educational institution in NYC.

Amy directs the BMC® & Yoga programs in NYC and Portland, OR for the School for Body-Mind Centering, and was on the faculty of the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies for 10 years. She teaches embodied anatomy and movement in the USA and internationally.

Essentials of Diaphragmatic Biomechanics
with Leslie Kaminoff

Leslie will provide an in-depth look at the structure and function of the diaphragm from a unique perspective – its oft-neglected role as a muscle of postural support. With so much popular attention being paid to the concept of “core support,” there is actually a dearth of well-defined, functional definitions of “core” that take into account the enormously powerful role the diaphragm plays in modulating our relationship to gravity. Through audio-visual presentations, kinesthetic and experiential exploration, and dynamic interaction, Leslie will lead participants in a transformative journey into their breathing, thinking bodies.

leslie-kaminoffLeslie Kaminoff is a yoga educator inspired by the tradition of T.K.V. Desikachar. For over three decades he has led workshops and developed specialized education in the fields of yoga, breath anatomy and bodywork. His approach to teaching combines intellectual rigor, spontaneity and humor, and is always evolving.

Leslie is the founder of The Breathing Project, a New York City based educational non-profit dedicated to teaching individualized, breath-centered yoga. His unique year-long yoga anatomy courses are now available online at yogaanatomy.net. He is the co-author, with Amy Matthews, of the best-selling book Yoga Anatomy.

SCHEDULE

Saturday & Sunday
October 24 – 25, 2015
9:30am – 5:00pm

LOCATION

The Breathing Project
15 West 26th Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10010
Directions

REGISTRATION

$375 early price/$350 TBP Members before Sep 12
$425 full price/$400 TBP Members

Email us at  with questions or for more info.




*  *  *

Cancellation Policies

  • Up to 2 weeks before – REFUND. Deposit will be refunded, minus a $30 processing fee.
  • Up to 7 days before – CREDIT. Deposit minus a $30 processing fee may be transferred to another workshop or course at The Breathing Project.
  • Less than 7 days before – No refunds or credits.
  • Transfer between in-person and online courses is not allowed.
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Who Owns Yoga?

Patent Gurus
illustration by Lydia Mann

 Who owns Yoga?

The Debate

With bragging rights to what has become a multi-billion dollar industry at stake, the debate over who authentically “owns” yoga has never been more hotly contested. In presenting my contribution to this dispute, it is not my intent to ignore or disrespect the many centuries of deeply nuanced inquiry concerning the origins, definition or practice of Yoga — that is not my focus here. Instead, I propose a single question that would inextricably link Yoga’s definition to what I consider to be its true origin.  And, the question is:

“Was Yoga invented, or discovered?”

If Yoga was invented, that means it didn’t exist on this planet prior to its development by ancient sages. Since those sages were Indian, their heirs could argue a claim to its authentic precepts, traditions and techniques — perhaps even rightful use of the word “Yoga” itself.

Many scholars, teachers and pundits assert this claim every time they cry out in the digital town square: “Yoga belongs to the Indian Vedic tradition!” This claim, of course, entitles them to proclaim everyone else to be stealing, corrupting, misinterpreting, misrepresenting, distorting, illicitly profiting from, or otherwise violating their sacred tradition.

I view this perspective to be fundamentally in error because Yoga was, in fact, discovered. I assert that Yoga could no more be invented or owned than electricity, gravity or respiration.

What the ancient sages discovered was: Yoga is an eternal, inherent attribute of nature that reveals itself as the tendency of living systems to seek equilibrium. The philosophy of Yoga seeks to understand that fundamental equilibrium, while its practice is the art of identifying and resolving any obstructions to this completely natural state.

Yoga, like gravity or electricity, is a force of nature which undeniably existed before we humans started recognizing or utilizing it for our betterment. My view has ample support in many traditional teachings, which I do not deny were codified by intrepid seekers dwelling on the ancient Indian subcontinent, and we should be forever grateful to and deeply respectful towards those pioneers who first delivered us Yoga’s potential.  But, to limit Yoga’s definition, application or availability based on the geographical location of its discoverers would be as ludicrous as the British claiming perpetual patent rights to gravity because Sir Isaac Newton happened to have been born in Lincolnshire.

Indian Givers

The “Vedic traditionalist” argument that Yoga has been misappropriated falls apart pretty quickly when viewed in the light of recent historical fact. The teachings of Yoga weren’t stolen from India by avaricious foreigners, they were given to the world by generous Indian masters.

My first Yoga teacher was Swami Vishnu Devananda — from Kerala by way of Rishikesh — whose guru Sivananda dispatched him from the ashram with specific instructions to spread Yoga to the entire world, which he did in his own charismatic, idiosyncratic, magnificent fashion.  My core teaching lineage is that of T. Krishnamacharya — no slouch when it came to Vedic scholarship — who declared Yoga to be India’s greatest gift to the world. Never having crossed the sea himself, Krishnamacharya – that most traditional of Vedic Brahmins – nevertheless lived to see that gift permeate every corner of the globe as his students unreservedly shared his highly adaptable teachings with anyone willing to simply show up, be still and try.

It’s important to note that upon exiting his teacher’s Tibetan cave 90 years ago, Krishnamacharya’s payment to his guru in exchange for the teachings was a promise to complete a life-long, arduous task: he was charged with becoming a householder, raising a family, and sharing what he had learned. For a high-born, deeply religious Brahmin scholar like himself, this was no small promise — in fact, it was the biggest promise he could possibly have made.  The India of 1925 had long rejected her own gift, and Yogis were held by most of society in the lowest esteem possible, associated with street beggars, fakirs, criminals and frauds.  The tireless work of Krishnamacharya and his contemporaries resurrected, in decades, what it took India centuries to discard.

The worldwide renaissance of Yoga could never have happened if those relentless, magnanimous, Indian masters had limited their teachings to the rarefied strata of the upper castes — the same Vedic banner-wavers who are now crowing so loudly about how misguided, unschooled thieves have absconded with their precious heritage.

Yoga, if it’s nothing else, is a living, breathing, adaptable lineage of learning — open to all.  It both transforms and is transformed by its practitioners. It belongs to everyone because it is part of how everyone’s living system operates. It would be the height of narrow-minded folly to think you can collect patent royalties on something that wasn’t invented in the first place. You don’t own Yoga. You can only own your Yoga.

Should you feel the need to admonish someone for not practicing or teaching a “true” Yoga, I urge you to reflect on your attitude and let it go — by offering it into the flame of Yoga — swaha. Why waste your energy obsessing about how anyone else — past or present — has chosen to interpret Yoga? It is quite literally none of your business. The dividend of this offering will be an enormous energy savings that can be re-invested into a far more profitable enterprise — uncovering your own true Yoga in the only place it’s ever been, within yourself.

……

The fire is hot, the water cold,
refreshing cool the breeze of morn;
By whom came this variety?
from their own nature was it born..

Brahmins have established their
splendid rituals for the dead;
but there are no souls in other worlds —
it’s just their means of livelihood. *

……

Leslie Kaminoff
Truro, MA
July 22, 2015
……

* Freely adapted and condensed from Sarva-Darsana-Samgraha by Madhava Acharya, translation by E. B. Cowell and A. E. Gough

……
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How to build a foundation – while building a foundation.

construction-yogaThese images were forwarded to me this morning by Ti Mahoney Blair, one of our fabulous homework coaches at yogaanatomy.net.

Ti’s message:  “I could not help but share my glee when I saw these guys this morning. I missed the sun salutes while I was running for my camera. But you get the idea….:)”

The visual pretty much speaks for itself, and I’m sure most fans of asana practice will have the same warm fuzzy reaction as us.

I’m guessing the guy on the left standing by the pallet loader (and using it to stabilize his dancer’s pose) is the “teacher.”

I would have loved to see them utilize some more of their native yoga props – I’m sure there must be some awesome bricks and sandbags lying around.  Maybe a hardhat headstand…?

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