WAWADIA /// My Left Hand: I Am That (draft excerpt)


The following essay is featured in the full WAWADIA? prospectus, released Nov 1 in support of this IGG campaign to help fund publication.





I was playing right field in the final game of the biggest t-ball tournament a seven-year-old could imagine. The score was tied, the bases loaded, and the other team’s star hitter stepped up and walloped the ball into the night sky above me. It hung there between the lights like the moon. Everything slowed down. In a dream, I drifted towards the warning track, and then reached over the fence with my gloved hand. The ball fell softly into the pocket. It hissed as it spun for a moment in the smooth leather my dad had softened with his shaving cream. I opened the mitt to confirm it was there, and to this day I can count every red stitch on that ball, every scratch and nick in its ivory calfskin. I can still feel the warm sting in my left palm.


It was a flashbulb moment of presence. I was in flight, utterly free of self-consciousness, all of my senses fully engaged. My body was full, extended, mingled with the summer night, yet also transparent, brimming with its own intention and spontaneous skill. I had remembered that raw existence of sensation and action that even seven-year-olds are beginning to forget.

Years later, I heard the story of the warrior Arjuna learning archery from his guru Drona. The target was a dead bird, spinning on a wheel overhead. Arjuna drew the bowstring and took aim. Drona asked him: Do you see the arrowhead?” Arjuna replied, “No.” “Do you see the bird?” “No.” “Do you see the space between the arrow and the bird?” “No.”

“What do you see, Arjuna?”

“I see myself.”

“Then release the arrow!”

Arjuna’s arrow threads the eye of the bird. Catching that baseball felt like that.

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]t the age of 30, I went to a yoga class in Manhattan, trying to pull myself out of depression. It was at Alan Finger’s old place. The instructor was a woman my age who seemed charmed in a way that both irritated and attracted me. Like she had some pleasurable secret. Smiling, she said: “Today we’ll try to see if we can join the small self to the larger self.” The words jostled some memory of the Arjuna story, but they didn’t help my mood.

The postures in the class seemed simple, but they were extraordinarily difficult to do. And painful. I didn’t think the pain was physically damaging, because I remember feeling buoyant and relaxed for days afterwards.

The pain seemed to come from an angry recognition. Like when you fight bitterly with a brother or lover about something essential, and then try to reconcile, perhaps prematurely, with an embrace. Or when you survive something with another person— like a car crash—and you grip them tightly, as if to prove that you’re both still there. How many times, in some moment of crisis, did I squeeze my little brother hard around the neck, telling him I loved him through clenched teeth? He hugged me back fiercely, tears squeezing out of his eyes.

The sweat and pain in that yoga class was just like that. I was reconciling with a body that had survived my neglect and even abuse, a body that I also loved and depended upon, a body not quite ready to forgive me for my absence. My body reached back and gripped me in a catharsis of anguish and rage that completely dissipated when I lay myself down, trembling, into corpse pose. I disappeared into the earth.

When I came to, I rolled to my right side and opened my eyes. Sunlight poured onto my drenched mat. I found myself gazing at the palm of my left hand, the same hand that caught that ball. The same hand that plunked out base lines on the piano I used to play, and that now darts over the left side of this keyboard. But in that moment, my hand wasn’t an instrument for me to use. It was me. Somewhere I’d heard the Upanishad refrain I am that, and it came to mind like a bell ringing. I had remembered something about my existence. I am that. I have a hand. I am this hand. Through the warmth in the palm of my hand, I had joined the small self, as the instructor had said, with something much larger. This shivering present body became continuous again with the shivering present world.

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t’s my pattern to get obsessed with anything that makes sense to me, or makes me feel smarter, or gives me a little relief. So it was with yoga. I wanted to learn as much as I could. I leapt into teaching—way too soon—so I could continue to learn, and finance more learning. My diet changed for the better, and along with it, my digestion. My mood regulation got more resilient. Libido and sleep improved. I seemed to be less socially anxious. I remember walking into rooms and realizing with quiet surprise I’m standing up straight and breathing freely. How did this happen? 

But it wasn’t enough. What I really wanted was to revisit that initial revelation, in which I’d felt like I’d seen myself clearly and simply. It never repeated itself. I’m not sure that you can practice to see yourself clearly. Maybe it happens when you relax the searching that amplifies all of your self-distortions.

After about five years, my efforts in practice began to injure me, although I didn’t want to admit it. Neck pain, shoulder pain, lower back pain, a partial hamstring tear that nagged my every waking hour for over a year. I was humiliated, because I’d expected asana to provide a continual upwards curve of self-knowledge, and through self-knowledge, bodily release and mental freedom. I wondered what my lack of suppleness was telling me about my psyche. I blamed my technique, and tried to learn more, which of course led to overthinking and micromanaging every movement. I blamed my supposed new sensitivity to the technologized world. I made my schedule more austere, sought out more retreat time. I blamed caffeine, and cut it out entirely. I got very attached to the idea of being non-attached to the idea of being pain-free. I blamed myself for pushing, being greedy, and tried to back off in intensity. But slowly and deliberately doing the same movements that had hurt me, still hurt me. The weird part was that these movements that I was realizing were hurtful often brought pain relief first.

I told myself that now, finally, the real spiritual work was beginning, and it was dirty. I told myself that the asanas and the meditation had finally burrowed down to find the tangled mess of my soul. Exposed, this soul could now show its wound, its unworthiness, by speaking through physical pain. The ache in my hamstring was a message in a bottle, bobbing in the ocean of memory and identity. It gave me a mythic journey to consider. It made me real. This was a very powerful story.

It felt like the surface benefits of yoga had become normalized, and lost their shine. An older teacher I respected told me: “Yoga is a deconstruction of your whole personhood: who you think you are, and why you think you’re here. It hurts. The hook is that it makes you feel good at first.”

I looked around my community and saw that everybody was still suffering: injured, anxious, depressed, insomniac, amenorrheic, disordered in their eating, struggling in work or miserable in relationship. I turned the story I was telling myself onto them: yoga had brought us all to some existential edge at which we could feel not only how deeply wrecked we were, but we could understand and even consciously embody the suffering of the larger world. We had tuned in to reality in some fateful way. There was no cure for reality but to keep practicing.

I’ll say more about this personal dynamic in the pages that follow. For today, I wonder how many of us become injured in yoga while trying to recapture the exact thing we cannot: a first revelation we had on the mat that reminded us of something else, so far gone. Can we confuse the discomfort of that revelation with the pain of trying to recreate it? Does it make sense to use a highly formalized structure of asanas to rebuild the spontaneous pleasure of childhood movements? In how many ways can it hurt to swim against the tide of time and fatigue?

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here’s another yoga moment featuring my left hand. As the pain of asana and the physical discomfort of meditation increased, I turned to philosophy and the Vedic arts. These were paths of self-inquiry that I could pursue in a posture that had comforted me from childhood: at my desk, surrounded by books. I dove into Ayurveda, Jyotish (East Indian Astrology), Vastu (Vedic spatial arrangement), and Hasta Samudrika (Vedic palmistry). This last subject felt particularly magical to me. It’s a collection of very old ideas about how experience might write itself upon the body. My teacher was Hart deFouw, and under his grumpy kindness I learned a vast catalogue of bodily markings and their supposed meanings. But most of all I absorbed the idea that the body holds a story as old as myth and as tangled as a novel, and that yoga is often a process of reading.

In one of my first seminar days with him, Hart said: “The best light to view the hand in is direct sunlight. So on your lunchbreak, go outside and look at the palm of your hand in the sun. You can do this anytime you want. You might be amazed at what you see, and how it changes.”

An hour later, I stood at the corner of Toronto’s busiest intersection and looked at the palm of my left hand in the midday summer sun. I saw a blazing, fractal map of lines and webs nested within lines and webs. Am I that? I wondered. Yes.

As a child I had become self-aware through my left hand in a moment of pure action. At 30, I remembered that my hand was there, still holding that childhood night, and that my body, which was my hand, was still me, and that I could still move and be happy in movement. At 38, I saw a story in the lines and glyphs of my skin. Perhaps all of the attention I’d paid to the asana instructions about the “movement of my skin” had left their mark, beside down-sloping lines of periodic depression, spikes of acute pain and elated discovery. The palm of my hand holds an unfinished story, which may or may not tell me who I am, but which drives me to look closely at the embodied experience of others, to see what is strange and what is familiar in our arcs of suffering and relief.

WAWADIA: Meeting Nancy Cochren (draft excerpt)

The following essay is featured in the full prospectus, released Nov 1 in support of this IGG campaign to help fund publication.


[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n the morning of June 19th, 2013, Nancy Cochren, aged 32, was 38 weeks pregnant, and teaching yoga at the studio in Hamilton Ontario where she’d worked for seven years. She felt strong and supple, and almost ready for the enormous change ahead. She remembers the sweet feeling of squatting in malasana that morning, and the elation of side-lunges.

In the afternoon, her obstetrician at St. Joseph’s Hospital performed a stretch-and-sweep during her checkup, and accidentally broke her membrane. A gush of clear, sweet amnion splashed off the examination table and hit the floor. The doctor took her hand and said “Well. You’ll be having that baby now.” Continue reading “WAWADIA: Meeting Nancy Cochren (draft excerpt)”

WAWADIA: A Working Thesis

The following page is featured in the full prospectus, released in support of this IGG campaign to fund publication.



Over the past fifty years, modern postural yoga (MPY) has improved the lives of countless people worldwide. It has awakened millions to the intimacy of embodiment and deep breathing, and the realization that mindful movement can both heal and evolve the spirit.

But people are also injuring themselves—and getting injured by their teachers—in asana studios around the world. Hard data on rates of injury is non-existent. Anecdotally, it would appear that people are being injured at a higher rate than either yoga marketing or its spiritual pedigree would suggest.

These injuries occur for many interweaving reasons. Obvious factors include prior conditioning, poor education in biomechanics, overbearing instruction, sacrificial attitudes towards pain, and group pressures to fulfill presumably shared spiritual ideals.

More subtly, many people are first driven to asana by feelings of inadequacy or the memory of trauma. These experiences can motivate the desire for bodily reclamation and redemption, but they can also acidify practice with anxiety and impulsiveness. Asana is a crucible in which some attempt to forge new selves, and in the process, burn their bodies and minds.

The body of modern yoga is a body of longing, possibility, and revelation. But it’s also a body of shame, confusion, and suffering. Injury can mark the place where these two bodies wrestle on the mat.

This dynamic is likely at play in any physical discipline through which a new self is sought—from ballet to Crossfit. But in asana culture the struggle is complicated by a diverse array of philosophical ideas and commitments. Whether ancient or modern, body-negative or body-positive, some ideas are communicated directly, while others are transferred through cultural osmosis.

The ideas that support asana form a double-edged sword. They can glorify injury as a necessary sacrifice to spiritual development—proof that the body is illusory, or subservient to the divine. Alternatively, they can help students recognize injury as an opportunity to change paths and self-perception.

Asana can injure. But it can also introduce us to the yoga of discovering what injury tells us about the world, and ourselves.


WAWADIA: The Cremation of B.K.S. Iyengar (draft excerpt)

The following reflection is featured in the full prospectus for WAWADIA, released Nov 1 in support of the IGG campaign to help fund publication. In the eventual book, this piece will help to set the historical stage for the current flood of change and innovation sweeping through the world of modern postural yoga. Notes and citations are are the end. I welcome all feedback.


All of these practices make us into a true human being, because we are still not fit for the divine level.  —B.K.S. Iyengar


[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n August 14th, 2014, the news flashed through the yoga world that Mr. Iyengar had been admitted to a private hospital in Pune following a three-week illness. He was accompanied by daughter Geeta, son Prashant, and their family physician. His blood pressure, regulated by decades of equanimity in standing postures, was dangerously low. His breathing, famous for demonstrations of control and retention, whistled shallow in his barrel chest. The doctors placed him on a ventilator for the first day, but he insisted it be removed. His heart, which had thumped faithfully through countless backbends, was feeble. His feet, which had stepped on the backs of devotees prostrated in child’s pose, which students gazed at for hours as he instructed the subtleties of ball-mound rooting and inner-arch-lifting, and which, in later years, devotees touched to show their respect, were now swollen with deoxygenated blood and pooling lymph.

By August 18th, the man who had introduced the principles of “kidney breathing” to the world of postural yoga was placed on dialysis, as his kidneys began to fail. On the 19th, doctors administered a nasogastral feeding tube. Reports of his earlier refusal to be hospitalized expanded, suggesting that most if not all of these interventions would have been unwelcome. The man who had enthusiastically worked to open dialogue between yoga and biomedicine was now firmly in the clinical grasp of the latter. It would seem that a precious goal of the experiential yogi—to be able to feel the approach of death unmediated and in solitude—was now lost to him. In his last hours, his lifelong passion for self-observation—for carefully monitoring the qualities of every twitch and pulse for the signs of grace or its absence—was occluded by the clinical gaze. If he’d been able to continue to listen to his heart, its faltering thump would have been drowned out by the heart monitor that amplified it.

On August 20th at 3:15 am local time, Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar died. On social media, some refused to use the word “death”— insisting on “mahasamadhi”, which describes the ultimate absorption of a meditator.

[dropcap]G[/dropcap]lowing tributes flooded the web, hailing the “Lion of Pune”, the supreme innovator, inspiration of millions. Hundreds described how Light on Yoga appeared in their lives at critical junctures, and changed their paths. They posted photos of their broken-spined copies, scribbled on on every page, held together by rubber bands. Senior students issued somber and tender memorials.

Amongst my several thousand yoga contacts on Facebook, only one dared to share an openly conflicted response. She wrote that she was grateful for his “keen eye and passion for precision,” but mindful of his “patriarchal, old-school guru” persona, known to “humiliate, bully, and shame his students.”

Another friend posted a possibly sardonic homage: a photograph of a female Lego figure stuck to a Lego baseplate in a hands-free headstand. The caption read: “Thanks, Guruji.”

I took it this way: Iyengar’s yoga seems to recall a child’s dream of perfect order and uniformity. As if a body—a woman’s body especially—unfolded its potential by being folded just so. As if a teacher is meant to provide a template in absolute symmetry with his idea of virtue, if not with the curves of the world. But there was also a touch of melancholy in the Lego image, glinting out through its sepia Instagram filter. It seemed to say: Yoga has made children of us, in good ways and painful ways. Maybe we recaptured a sense of play and wonderment. Maybe we regressed into depending upon a new parental energy. Now that he is gone, we must grow up, and put away our toys.

The best mourning is complex, avoiding mystification and hagiography.

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Iyengar family brought the patriarch’s body home, dressed it in ivory silks for the cremation rites, and laid it out on a simple bamboo mat. They draped it with garlands of flowers. I imagine they felt the silent questions of every mourner: Where did his movement go? Where is the prana he sculpted and nourished for seventy years? Where is the cellular intelligence he spoke of now? Does it just fall silent? Is it in the air around him? Has it become part of us?

Those more remote are left to wonder what this death, for all of its preparation, felt like. Was it different from any other death? Did his obsession with breathing yield some final flash of insight or consolation as it collapsed? Did he feel the skittish rise of udana vāyu dart through his spine with his last exhales? Was that sensation obstructed by the feeding tube? Did radiance slowly fill the space left by his retreating senses and mind? What did his yoga do for him in the end?

No one can know. Iyengar’s body in death is as enigmatic as it was in life, as silent and strange as the millions of photographs he leaves behind. The most demonstrative yogi in modern history used this body to form shapes purported to be windows to a brighter internal reality. His brash display both allied him with a revisioned Hatha heritage and alienated him from the philosophical bent of other streams of yoga evangelism, like those initiated by Vivekananda and Aurobindo. With every extension, flexion, and rotation, he insisted that the material perfection of a form—or the actions towards a form, however subtle—was sacramental. To a rapidly disembodying world, he offered forms of the body in attitudes of sombre praise. Students the world over learned and mimicked those forms, and many now testify to transformation and healing. But their reports are marked by equal amounts of pleasure and suffering.

We can never grasp the internality of another person—even less, perhaps, one upon whom we project our wishes. We have the artifacts of Iyengar’s flesh: his words on paper, his bombast on scratchy video, his fading echo in the spines, hips and shoulders of the thousands who studied with him in person. But no one can say for sure, without quoting Iyengar’s grand self-reporting, how his yoga felt for him. No one knows the ratio of bliss to pain in his body, how he managed the anxiety of that youthful dream he confided to Victor, and what dissatisfactions drove him to demand so much of his students. We cannot ask him: Was it worth it? 

Had his life-long experimentalism not collided with the ancient rites of his family, Iyengar may well have donated this vacated body to science. No one would have been more interested in his autopsy than him. Was his marrow transformed by a lifetime of practice? Did he avoid the brain-tissue calcifications of other men his age? Did his arterial system remain plucky and plaque-free till the end? Were his lungs really as enormous as they seemed from the outside? Did he have the world’s largest diaphragm?

But there can be no autopsy of the guru. We cannot dissect him, for this would reduce his body to the same substance as our own. We cannot find his myth within his corpse, for either it is departed, or we realize it was only ever in ourselves. The Iyengar family is both abiding tradition and protecting his devotees when they scramble to cremate him at the earliest possible time.

Early on in the research for this book, I tried to parse one of Patabhi Jois’ more provocative aphorisms in an article online. One slightly chafed reader suggested that I pick on Mr. Iyengar’s words instead, because he was “still alive to set me straight.” She was pointing out something I’d long felt in my own practice—that if I were ever to make it to Pune, all of the niggling questions about technique that his senior students seemed to disagree on would be resolved. I could ask him exactly what he meant by this instruction or that, as though it would help me understand my body or my life better. Well, he can’t clarify anything now. Soon enough, we will have to stop asking what he meant, forced to turn to our peers for less certain answers. Arguments and insights into the great man’s methods, dictates, gregariousness, warmth and tantrums will dissolve as his living memory dissipates.

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he giants of the modernist age of yogic entrepreneurial globalization are now all departed, debilitated, or disgraced. Sivananda is gone, along with most of his disciples. Kripalvananda, who taught asana as the dance-like expression of spontaneous bliss, is gone. Muktananda and Swami Rama are gone, their magic and abuses leaving a trail of the ecstatic wounded. Yogi Bhajan is gone, leaving his aphorisms blurring on millions of wet Yogi Tea teabag tags. Pattabhi Jois is gone. T.K.V. Desikachar, one of the last living links to the grandfather of modern postural yoga, T. Krishnamacharya, is reportedly suffering from dementia, and has been hidden away by his family, ostensibly to save face. In a completely different and ignominious fall, Bikram Choudhury is now facing charges of having raped several students.

With the exception of Jois (through this grandson Sharath), none of these evangelists has left a successor of note, and those who have presumed to succeed them—Amrit Desai, John Friend, and Kausthub Desikachar, among others—have all been quickly cut down to size, on the surface by their own ethical failings, but on a deeper level by a more skeptical culture that is less tolerant of idols, and more seduced by irony than it is by charisma. The death of Iyengar marks another step towards the growing democratization of the yoga world—perhaps not in terms of who has commercial clout, but certainly in terms of who holds authority.

When no one is left to tell us exactly what to do, can we finally say we are adults?

The death of a great man also erodes the Great Man Story, leaving space through which more hidden stories may emerge. I’m thinking of Vanda Scaravelli, ten years Iyengar’s senior, one of his few female students who didn’t seem intimidated by him, who would punch him playfully in the belly and tease him about his weight. She went on to teach a small cache of students, one at a time, who have all gone on to influence yoga for decades without grandiose institutes, certification programmes, or even websites. Scaravelli died in 1999 in Florence, where she lived and taught for over thirty years.

I’m also thinking of Dr. Karandikar. He was Iyengar’s personal physician until he was reportedly worn down by the teacher’s constant stream of verbal abuse. Karandikar left the Ramamami Iyengar Memorial Institute to found Kabir Baug Sanstha just three kilometres away, across Pune’s Mutha river. Kabir Baug is a sprawling yoga therapy clinic and therapeutic college that serves thousands of mostly Indian clients and students every year. While Iyengar globally advanced the hypothesis of “yoga as therapy”, Karandikar seems to have quietly proven it by staying at home and using a seamless blend of ancient and modern techniques. Most injured clients who come to Kabir Baug for asana instruction receive a spinal x-ray before they even begin. This clinic is unknown to the global yoga community, I think, because Karandikar’s skill is not occluded by the projection of intuitive wizardry, but rather demystified through the medical technologies that have almost replaced divine vision. Karandikar has flown below the radar of Western fetish and orientalism, perhaps because his work is to show us that embodied insight is not the domain of a charmed few, but is democratically available to everyone.

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]ithin twelve hours of his death, Iyengar’s body was brought from his home to the Vaikunth crematorium by ambulance. It was laid in perfect savasana upon a pyre of sandal and rosewood. Prashant touched the flame to the kindling at 3 pm. There were only one hundred people in attendance—most of them Western students. The pujaris chanted Vedic hymns, perhaps including the oldest funeral verses of all: “I am because you have been. You will be because I am.”

A certain vision might emerge through the white smoke. It rises in the hearts of those who he loved, strutted before, taught, harangued, slapped, kicked, injured, hugged, and healed. It might reflect how his soul now sees itself, if one believes in souls:

It is of a white-haired man, walking through clouds towards a simple gate. His leonine bearing is disrupted by his worried mood. Perhaps he wonders if he is standing tall enough, breathing deeply enough, if he is pliant enough in his spine to adequately bow to his forbears, his austere guru, and the earth itself. He puzzles over which asana to assume to ask forgiveness from those he burned with his zeal. He frets over whether he is finally fit to honour the thrilling and awful gift of being a body.




Epigram: http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=4t2OLXi2xvY&feature=youtu.be, time cue 5:08.

On August 14th, 2014 . . . Source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/pune/Yoga-guru-in-hospital-stable/articleshow/40218765.cms. Other details come from the 8/13 edition of Indian Express: http://indianexpress.com/article/cities/pune/ yogacharya-b-k-s-iyengar-admitted-to-hospital/.

By August 18th . . . Source: http://timesofindia. indiatimes.com/india/Yoga-guru-BKS-Iyengars-condition-worsens/articleshow/40424031.cms. The irony of Iyengar’s hospitalization wasn’t lost on the global community. On 8/19, Leslie Kaminoff posted the following to his Facebook wall: “Is this the way for “the Lion of Pune” to spend his last days on earth? He has lived an incredibly full and productive life for 96 years, and has nothing left to prove – except apparently to his followers, who make absurd declarations like: ‘…Everything is in control and as we all know Our Dear Guruji is a LION hearted man, he can come out of any storm . . . ’ As if Iyengar were some kind of immortal being not subject to the laws of the physical universe. I wish the people around this man would let him die with the dignity he deserves.”

On August 20th at 3:15 am local time: Source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/ Yoga-guru-BKS-Iyengar-passes-away/articleshow/40462779.cms.

Amongst my several thousand yoga contacts on Facebook. . . Denise Benitez, Facebook status update from 8/19/2014, 7 pm PST: BKS Iyengar, the great progenitor of yoga in the West, has died at the age of 96. As one of the minions who trained in and taught Iyengar yoga in the 70’s and 80’s, I am grateful to him for his keen eye and passion for precision and order. I learned so much from Iyengar teachers, and all of it changed my body and my life for the better. Probably none of us would be doing yoga without his influence, or at least not the way we do yoga now. I am immensely grateful for his presence on the planet. And yet, my “relationship” with him was complex. I never met him personally, but I saw him in action at Iyengar conferences, and he humiliated, shamed and bullied his students and teachers, mostly women. He was highly patriarchal and was an old school “guru” who expected his word to be obeyed without question. In the 80’s, one of his senior male teachers was inappropriately touching women in classes. I was one of those women. When this was told to Iyengar, he said that all of the women who had reported this were lying. So on the occasion of his death, I am left with an unsettling mix of emotions — the passing of an era, the jewel of yoga that he brought forward, his narcissism and ferocity, the fact that he had been homeless, sickly and lost as a boy, and that yoga saved him, as it has saved so many of us. All I can do is wish his spirit well, with all my heart. May his soul rest at ease. 

Those more remote are left to wonder . . . Udana vāyu is the upward-moving “wind” of yogic physiology, said to be the material mechanism by which the atman is ejected from the flesh at death. The radiance of death is common trope in Tantric literature. Most famously elucidated in The Tibetan Book of the Dead, popularized by Sogyal Rinpoche in the 1990s.

Early on in the research for this book . . . http:// matthewremski.com/wordpress/wawadia-update- 10-lazy-people-cant-practice-thoughts-on-a-yoga-meme/

No one can know . . . Both Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo were antagonistic, to differing degrees, to the physical heritage of Hatha yoga. “Sacramental”: In my early Catholic education, a sacrament was defined as “an outward sign of an inward grace.” This formulation goes back to St. Augustine’s early catechism, later formalized at the Council of Trent in the mid 16th century.

With the exception of Jois . . . Note: many conversations with “older shala” students of Jois from the 70s and 80s, reveal the common opinion that Sharath does not command the same grandeur as his grandfather, who many considered to be a shaktipat guru.

The death of a “great man” . . . About Vanda joshing Iyengar: this anecdote comes from Sandra Sabatini via interview.

I’m also thinking of Dr. Karandikar . . . This report comes from an interview with David McAmmond, one of the few Western students to study extensively at Kabir Baug Sanstha: http://www.kabirbaug.com/.

Within twelve hours of his death . . . http://www.rediff.com/news/slide-show/slide-show-1-bks-iyengar-cremated-amid-vedic-chants/20140820.htm.

(A working bibliography is available at the end of the prospectus.)

WAWADIA Update #17 /// Question: Is Injury-Free Yoga Possible?


[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n November 1st, I’ll be releasing a 52-page prospectus for a crowdfunding campaign to support the two years I think it’ll take to produce this book. In preparation for the campaign, I’ve fielded a lot of really good questions online, from my interview subjects, and in various public forums where I’ve presented preliminary findings from my research.

(I was at Yoga Morristown two weeks ago, hosted by Omni Kitts Ferrara. Then I gave a brief presentation to the entire faculty of Octopus Garden in Toronto last Wednesday. And the second WAWADIA night at 80 Gladstone, hosted by Diane Bruni, was on Friday night. Everywhere, the conversation is searching, lively, and runs late. I’ll be at Evolution Yoga in Cleveland this Saturday, hosted by Sandy Gross, and at Portland Union Yoga on Nov. 8th, hosted by Todd Vogt and Annie Adamson.)

The questions I’m getting have a lot of nuance, but here are the nuggets:

WTF is your end-game here?


Do you really think you can stop people from getting injured in asana classes? Continue reading “WAWADIA Update #17 /// Question: Is Injury-Free Yoga Possible?”

WAWADIA Update #16: Two Ways of Blocking the Yoga Injury Conversation



[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here’s no doubt that the focus I’ve chosen for this project, the data generated by the interviews, and the analysis I’ve applied to that data so far is triggering for many yoga people.

I can totally relate: the whole subject was triggering me for years before I began more formal research. I was too professionally invested in asana culture as a teacher, yoga therapist, and community organizer to let myself really hear and absorb the stories of injury and harm coming from colleagues. More intimately, I was also heavily identified with yoga asana as a key plot point in the story of my personal awakening. That hasn’t changed, but the story has certainly become more twisty. Continue reading “WAWADIA Update #16: Two Ways of Blocking the Yoga Injury Conversation”

WAWADIA update #15: Yoking the Injured Body and the NonInjured body



So the response to Update #14 has come fast and rich. You can read that piece in full here, or just roll with this nut graf, woven from Winnicott and Orbach:

Some people might be getting hurt in yoga because they are practicing in the bodies they fantasize about, instead of the bodies they actually have. Bodies they fantasize expressing a happiness that is not truly there. Bodies they fantasize as expansive when they actually feel like retreating, or expressive when they feel choked. What happens to the tissues when the mind presses them into the performance of a fictional suppleness and strength? Can the fantasized body push the real body, the inner body, too far, too fast?

Continue reading “WAWADIA update #15: Yoking the Injured Body and the NonInjured body”

WAWADIA Update #14: Practicing Yoga in the “False Body”


On November 1st I’ll be releasing a prospectus for the book slowly emerging from this project, in conjunction with a crowdfunding campaign. I’d like to preview a bit of that document here, and ask for responses to a strange question:

Do you sometimes have the feeling that there are two bodies on the mat: the body you have, and the body you fantasize about? Continue reading “WAWADIA Update #14: Practicing Yoga in the “False Body””