Richard Rosen's December 2015 Newsletter
He was already wickedly smiling at me as I sat down at the table, and I already knew what was coming my way. “So, my boy,” Svami Duhkhananda said, “how does it feel to be a Western supremist?” The smile got even bigger, more wicked. I sighed. The news arrived this morning over the net that some student “leaders” at the University of Ottawa had forced the closure of a free, long-running yoga class on campus. They cited as the reason “oppression, cultural genocide and diasporas due to colonialism and western supremacy ...” presumably they had in mind, at least partially, the almost 200 years of British control of India. But really,” I said, “it’s beyond absurd, you know that as well as I do, it’s just a few overly zealous college students very admirably wanting to save the world and going about it in exactly the wrong way.” “Wrong?” said D, “who was it that said, upon seeing a young colleague’s paper, ‘It’s not even wrong’”? “Wolfgang Pauli,” I said. “Can we talk about something else, please, Svami?”
I might as well have been talking to a wall. “First of all,” he began, sticking up an index finger, “it was Indian teachers in the early twentieth century who changed Hatha Yoga all around, not Westerners.” (Yeah, I thought to myself, although it was the British who had a hand in hurrying the deterioration of the practice. But there was no use saying it out loud, the words would have rolled off him like water off a duck’s back). “And if any body appropriated anything, it was those teachers appropriating Western gymnastics and other exercise regimens and then making them seem like ancient spiritual exercises by giving them made up Sanskrit names. You know what that’s called?” He said it in a way that sounded like he thought I didn’t know. “Invention of tradition,” I shot back, “have you read Hobsbawn’s book?” He looked at me for split second, he wasn’t used to me answering in such an aggressive way. “Book?” he replied distastefully, “I don’t need no stinkin’ book to tell me when I’m bein’ messed with, Rosen. My God ...” ‘...I thought you didn’t believe in God,” I needled, but he didn’t hear me...” “... they weren’t even smart about it. They used the names of Vedic sages for the newly invented ‘asanas’ when there’s no evidence of any yoga in the oldest collections of the Veda.” “You’d get an argument from Feuerstein on that one if he were still alive,” I said, my voice cracking a bit at the memory of my friend. D stared at me. “Georg and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, but OK, maybe his ideas about the vratyas had some merit.” We sat in silence for a few moments, I could hear the two of them arguing, D and F, two stubborn old guys having the time of their lives being disagreeable.
Then the boulder started rolling down hill again. “But it was the Indians who brought yoga to this country, you people didn’t appropriate anything. They came here, voluntarily, willingly, no diaspora that, no oppression. And why? To spread the gospel? Maybe so. But there was gold in them thar hills, sonny, as soon as Johnson lifted the Alien Exclusion Act in ‘65, they knew there was wealth to be exploited, it was the tradition that the student gift the teacher with some cash, but you Americans opened up the vault. How much money have you spent, bubala, perfecting Triangle Pose? Workshops, conventions, ‘retreats,’ flying back and forth between here and India ...” “I never went to India to study ...” I started, but he threw up a hand ... “don’t interrupt your elders,” he said sharply (in his current incarnation he was seven years older than me), “it’s not polite. Where was I? Oh yeah, money, as soon as they got wind of that, they began pouring in with their ‘yoga’.” “Shouldn’t you say, ‘we’ started pouring in?” I interjected, and before he could get going again, “What gets me,” I said, “is that those students aren’t even doing ‘yoga.’ Look at it this way. There’s a father and his kid playing catch in the park. Would you say they’re playing ‘baseball’? No! They’re playing catch, which certainly happens in a baseball game ...” “...unless you’re the Oakland shortstop ...” I stopped, wide eyed, taken aback. How did he know the guy lead the league in errors? “Aaaanyway,” I said, “there’s an analogy with ‘yoga.’ We’ve confused a part, a small part, actually, with the whole, those student are simply doing a Western-based, Eastern-influenced exercise class, no doubt ‘yoga-like’ in several ways, but ‘yoga? That’s a stretch, I said, pleased with my wittiness.’” “And does that go for your classes too, Richie?” “I didn’t say there was anything wrong with it, Svami, just that it’s not ‘yoga’ in a traditional sense. We’ve been handed the baton and now it’s our turn to run with it. The really big mistake here is the assumption that the Indians ‘own’ yoga, and that we’re ‘taking it away.’ As you’ve said many times, yoga is woven into the fabric of the universe, it’s the birthright of all humans ...” “...all sentient creatures, buddy, we humans aren’t the center of the universe ...” “ ... yes, yes, I forgot about the Martians,” I forced a smile, “Yoga was born in India, and we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to them for ‘raising’ and ‘nurturing’ the child. But now yoga’s all grown up and ready to leave the nest, the Indians have to let go so their ‘child’ can continue to grow and mature.”
D shook his head. “And you,” he said, “what happens now that this ‘child’ has shown up on your doorstep?” “We welcome it in, educate it in the strange ways of the West, and remember that even though it’s new to us and presents countless possibilities, we have to respect its upbringing and the possibilities already explored. Yoga is younger than us but way older too.” “And what do you intend to do about Ottawa?” D asked. “Oh nothing,” I replied, “there’s nothing anyone can do, else be accused of ‘micro aggression.’ Let’s just hope when the dust settles these kids come to their senses. If they want to save the world, then they should realize that everybody should be doing yoga ... including the Martians.” D pursed his lips. “They should read your pal Singleton’s book ... now go get me a turnover,” he handed me a dollar, “and keep the change.”
Well, speaking of change, there’s a big one coming to my schedule. First, I’m leaving Thursday evening and moving to Wednesday morning, that’ll start 5 January from 10 am to 11.30. Next I’m moving my Saturday Namaste class back to YATM, it’ll start at 8.30 am and run til 10.15.
And then finally the 11.30 YATM class is moving up to 11 am and will run til 12.30 pm. Also in the works is a monthly pranayama course, stayed tuned for details. So here’s my new schedule starting in January, please check the YATM website for the starting date of the Saturday classes.
Sunday, 8.30 - 10 am Complete Yoga
Tuesday 5.45 - 7.15 pm Complete Yoga
Tuesday 7.30 - 9 pm Fundamental Yoga
Wednesday 10 - 11.30 am Complete Yoga
Saturday 8.30 - 10.15 am Complete Yoga
Saturday 11 am - 12.30 pm Fundamental Yoga
Next some really BIG news. I’ve had the chance to get acquainted with Annie Carpenter, and sometimes I swear it feels like I’m talking to myself. We’re not just on the same page about many things, we’re on the same line, the same word. So we’ve decided to team up for an intensive this coming January 2016. Circle these dates, January 22, 23, and 24, then go to this link and see if it’s something that grabs your interest enough to sign on.
And please don’t forget Spa Day, 27 December, 10 am to 4 pm. Read about it here.
The Piedmont Yoga Community (PYC) will be holding its fourth annual Holiday Spa Day and raffle to raise funds to support their programs. It will be a day long opportunity for self-rejuvenation, and sharing on Sunday, December 27.
PYC offers yoga classes on a sliding scale to people of all ages with special needs and disabilities, and to those living with cancer. PYC’s mission is: Serving the community by making yoga accessible to people with challenges and empowering them to develop a healthy mind, body and spirit in a safe environment. These classes contribute significantly to the well-being of the students and to building a community for those who are unable to take regular public yoga classes. Other components of PYC include teacher training workshops to observe and practice teaching adaptive yoga, and research on the effects of yoga on the well-being of cancer survivors.
For more information and to sign up, please visit the website at:
2015 Holiday Spa Day, Sunday, December 27, 10:00 am-4:00 pm
$20 suggested donation for each offering
Location: You & the Mat
3966 Piedmont Avenue
Oakland, California 94611
Yoga class with long-time Bay Area instructor Richard Rosen (contributing editor for Yoga Journal and author)
Yoga class with Baxter Bell, MD (contributor to Yoga Journal and Yoga for Healthy Aging blogger)
Restorative Yoga with JoAnn Lyons, PYC’s lead teacher for adaptive yoga
Massages by McKinnon Body Therapy Center alumni
Reiki by Valerie Jew
Brennan Body Work by Ken Todoki
Tarot card readings by Marcia McCord
Hand analysis by Claudia Ruiz
Raffle: Prizes donated by Piedmont Avenue merchants and more!
For more information, call Aileen at (510) 406-1320 or sign up online at: http://www.piedmontyogacommunity.org/
If accommodations for a class or body work are needed, please call Aileen at least 2 days in advance.