On Indians not going to yoga class, part 2

An Indian dude doing yoga

An NPR contributor did a piece about the fact that Indians don’t do yoga. This is a question I’ve pondered. The contributor, I believe, goes to a Rusty Wells class. The remarkable confluence of Rusty Wells (the man whose studio inspired this blog) and the question of why Indians don’t do yoga (one of my first posts) means I must be onto something. Or at least I am compelled to write about it.

In any case it the reporter’s friend makes a good point:

“The vast majority of yoga teachers have studied more Hinduism than I have or my parents have,” says Chandra. “I am learning more about the meanings of the shlokas and the intention of Hinduism than I ever knew as a kid growing up, being taught from my community.”

The piece mentions an attempt by some Indian Americans to take yoga back. The NYT wrote about the effort not so long ago, saying that “Take Back Yoga” campaign does “not ask yoga devotees to become Hindu, or instructors to teach more about Hinduism. The  group behind it, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), suggests only that people become more aware of yoga’s debt to the faith’s ancient traditions.”

The HAF’s efforts suggest that Indians don’t do yoga due to my theory #2 (yoga as it is taught in the West is one sided (asansas) , nowhere resembling the more spiritual discipline that Indians recognize). The HAF says something similar on their website, pointing out the “erroneous idea that yoga is primarily a physical practice based on asana” saying that “yoga covers a wide array of practices, embodied in eight limbs, which range from ethical and moral guidelines to meditation on the Ultimate Reality.” But, it doesn’t seem as if these people want to change the teachings. It’s more of an awareness campaign. So why bother to take it back? Hindus aren’t prominent teachers of yoga in the U.S. Plus, Americans don’t want to become Hindu, they want their necks and backs to stop hurting so damn much.

Anyway, I think the HAF is not entirely right. Some teachers do touch on the very basics of Hindu philosophy–letting go of the fruits of one’s actions, focusing on intention–alongside the asana. The teachers call it yogic philosophy rather than Hinduism. The HAF should be ok with and even want Westerners to be taught and benefit from Hindu beliefs even if it’s by stealth. This strikes me as a very Hindu philosophy, e.g. the intention is what matters, and labels are unnecessary.

These two articles make the same point that Indians know yoga to be broader than just the physical practice–and ignorance of this by most (Western) yoga students may be one reason Indians stay away from Western style yoga classes. Plus Indians are so not into working out.

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Rusty Wells @ Urban Flow (SF, CA): Namastizzle you little yogizzle

Urban Flow is the San Francisco yoga studio that inspired this blog, but sadly I can’t do what I wanted to do, which was publish high resolution artsy photos of this beautiful space. See tiny photo stolen off of internet. The by-donation-only studio (I chose to pay $15) was started by wildly popular Rusty Wells. I attended a packed Saturday morning class, taught by Rusty, attended by approximately 120 people. Even in NYC I haven’t been to a class that big.

Urban Flow Yoga: How This Came To Be

When the Brit and I arrived a bit early, both Rusty and the dude checking us in gave us a warm welcome and were curious about who we were when they learned it was our first visit. The dude at the front desk even offered to lend the Brit some shorts when the Brit said he wasn’t going to stay for class because he didn’t have any clothes (the Brit’s English way of saying that he had no intention of staying to practice).

The studio is in an industrial part of of town, in a loft, and the front room feels like a gallery, with Sanskrit chants painted in black letters on white walls. The yoga practice space is huge, big windows all around and small stage up front decorated with white cala lillies and large pillar candles–it felt open, urban and minimalist rather than the standard pastel clutter. Music playing before class started included hip hop. People were encouraged to bring their bikes upstairs for safekeeping during class. Yay.

The style is bhakti flow: “Bhakti is the yoga of love and devotion to the god of one’s own unique understanding…The flow part refers to the flowing sequence known as vinyasa.” The room was heated, Rusty was shirtless, practitioners were all levels, and the class was tough but not crazy (focus on alignment, long holds). We did pushups. Rusty started us out with some singing/chanting, which I always dig, but what made it feel like a party was the drumming accompaniment and Rusty’s strong voice.

Rusty was joyous and serious but not cheesy. After class he apologized for making me late (before class he overheard me and the Brit making plans to meet at 11am), remembered my name, and complemented me on my beautiful practice. Flattery will get you everywhere, Mr Wells! And then when I returned to the east coast I received a postcard from the studio (the front says “namastizzle you little yogasizzle”) thanking me for my visit. What a great community–makes me yearn for the west coast a little bit.

See some intro videos from the studio here: http://vimeo.com/user4392840