Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A little reflection on a recent development in the blogosphere

I have been following with great interest (and have also posted a couple of comments about) the debate that has sprouted up in the blogosphere in the last couple of days over this promo video for a proposed TV show that Kino has made with four of her staff at Miami Life Center.

Much of the reaction to this video has been quite negative. Reactions so far have included "cheesy", "low-brow", "PUKE!", "degrading to the practice", "I don't like how Kino is presenting Ashtanga in this video", and so on. Which is totally fine. We Ashtangis are a diverse crowd of individuals, and we are each entitled to our own opinions (positive or negative) about everything. As a matter of fact, I too have my own reservations about the sexualization of yoga, and am not entirely sure if using sex to market yoga is necessarily the most effective way to get the message of yoga across.

But it is one thing to strongly disagree with somebody's actions. It is quite another to single that person out for personal attack and cast that person's character in a negative light based on that action. I get the sense that quite a few people have crossed that line in this particular case. For instance, one commentator has said that Kino "is not nearly as smart as she thinks she is" and that "she is the farthest thing from an Ashtangi as is humanly possible." Other commentators have also said things to the effect that she is insecure, unsure of her power as a teacher and a leader, and as a woman in this culture.

Whatever happened to trusting and having some faith in other human beings? Especially if these human beings belong to our yoga community? I'm not saying that we should put Kino (or anybody else, for that matter) up on a pedestal, and naively assume that they will never do any wrong. But uncritically attacking somebody's character based on just one action is actually another manifestation of this same tendency: The tendency to not trust and believe in the divine nature that is present in all humanity, which leads one to swing between extremes of unquestioning teacher-worship and uncritical character attacks.

I believe that the middle path between these two extremes lies in an attitude of generous faith in humanity, the attitude that says, "I may not agree with what you are doing, but I trust that your actions are sincere and are motivated by a desire to better yourself and your fellow human beings." It is this generosity of spirit that I find to be sorely lacking in some of the people who have commented on this issue thus far.

Moreover, it is worth noting that even if we think that Kino's action is out of line with tradition (and even if we think what she is doing to be in bad taste), it is too early to make any kind of judgment about the effectiveness of her action, and how and whether it will further the Ashtanga tradition. To be sure, it may not further the Ashtanga tradition as we know it, or in the way we would like it to be furthered. But this does not mean that such an action is worthless; nor does it negate the value the practice might have for some "South-Beacher" (is this the right term :-)) who might otherwise never make a connection with yoga. This is true even if you do not think that yoga is for everyone: Even if you do not think that yoga is for everyone, you have no right to deny it to somebody who encounters it and wants to learn it, whatever his motivations for learning it may be.

I also want to say that just because something is "out of line with tradition" or offends our sensibilities does not mean that that thing has no value or will not do much good. Krishnamacharya and Mr. Iyengar did things in their time that were "out of line with tradition" as well (giving public yoga demonstrations, teaching yoga to both men and women, etc.). If they hadn't done these "out of line" things, we probably wouldn't be practicing today.

Well, I better stop here. I can already hear people screaming, "How dare you compare Kino to Krishnamacharya! Sacrilegious!" But I thought I'll end this post with another Kino video of my own. In case you haven't seen this, I did this video interview with Kino back in October, when I attended her Chicago workshop. The interviewer in the video is me (now you know how I look like :-)). Just thought it might give us an opportunity to understand her work in a different perspective. I can't embed the video here, so you have to click on the following link: 

May the Force be with you.


  1. Thank you for expressing so eloquently what was on my mind Nobel! The personal attacks made me really sad. Disagreement on one's actions is one thing, but completely dismissing someone's character based on one action? I thought yogis were supposed to practice ahimsa? The criticisms really hurt.

  2. Hey Nobel, I said most of what I wanted to say in Claudia's comment box. I just want to add that Miami is kind of different. Miami. Not Florida. BROAD generalization here: Women in Miami have a very different way of dressing and carrying themselves than the rest of the country. Mix Latin/Brazilian/European sensibilities and you get a hybrid that you'd better spend sometime understanding before describing. Grooming habits are not a serious base for any kind of criticism. I still think reality TV is samsara on meth laced with crack, but that's just me.

  3. I remember the video, that was a cool interview, lots there...

  4. @Yyogini, thank you for your comments. Glad to be of service :-) Personally, I think this whole thing has been blown way out of proportion. Actually, I'll go even further, and say that a lot of the comments seem to be motivated more by ego than by anything else. I mean, this is basically what you have: Somebody comes along and appropriates a certain style of yoga that you take to be your own, and remakes it in a way that offends your sensibility. So you lash out.

    Which is understandable, in a way. We all have our own attachments to our own interpretations of what is "proper", "respectful of tradition", "not selling out", "not cheapening yoga" , "[insert your favorite righteous cause/slogan]." And we are all free to voice our own opinions about this. But at the end of the day, we need to remember that others are also equally entitled to their own interpretations about these things, which may be diametrically opposed to yours. And the jury is still out as to whose interpretation is the one that will stand the test of time. And it might also be helpful to remember that just because you are right about something does not mean that somebody else whose opinions/interpretations differ has to be wrong.

  5. @sereneflavor, you are probably right that women in Miami have a very unique way of dressing and carrying themselves. I can't say anything about this, because I've never lived in Miami :-) I've lived in Florida, but as you know, the rest of Florida is practically a different planet compared to Miami :-).

    @Claudia, I'm glad you find the interview cool :-)

  6. True about Krisnamacharya and Iyengar. Well, to each their own really. There is a kind of yoga, a teacher, an approach for everyone, I do think it cheesy, but then I've been brought up on British T.V., a world away from Miami, could just as well be another planet....could turn into a very interesting program. Sure Kino know's what she's doing...not for me, but surely it's going to provide light for many people. Nice interview. She looks so happy and light, great for her being pretty and doing what she feels needs doing. Still not my cup of tea though ; D

  7. @Esther, yes, I suppose at the end of the day, we need to trust that people know what they are doing (whatever our personal feelings about it), and that they have the best intentions for both themselves and others around them. I think the world is becoming a very exciting place to live in :-)

  8. Nobel, Nobel, Nobel! I love how you're kind of being self righteous about others being self righteous! HA HA HA!!!!

    I don't think it's about anyone feeling like he or she owns the practice, I think it's more about feeling protective of it because it is sacred to many people. It's deep and meaningful and layered in a way that can never be understood until it's experienced. I still don't believe that it's a good thing to find *any* way to expose people to yoga-- I believe there are better ways than falling in step with mainstream entertainment... but then, I also don't believe that everyone NEEDS yoga (though, the world would indeed be a better place).

    Maybe we do all need to trust in her intentions (or whoever is putting on this show), but it's also possible that what was meant to be a good thing turned out to be something totally different. Kino is not the producer, film maker, editor, or director, so ultimately she may not have a lot of control. I think a lot of the reactions to the promo are based on people's fear that the potentially sick world of reality tv has sunk its teeth into "one of ours". Who knows what her original intentions were and if what is being presented represents her vision.

  9. Dear Nobel
    Blasphemy! You reveal yourself. Haha. Just came from chez Grimmly's. It's nice to see what you look like now that through your writing I have in insight to your mind. As you know, I'm in the mainland, so internet connection is very slow, unless I watch at work. So from home, I only was able to watch 15 seconds. And all I can see is love and sincerity coming through in both of you and Kino's expressions.

    As a previous South Beach person (I lived there 4 years and owned a condo) I can attest to what SF is saying. It's not just the women who are different - so are the men. And the weather is very warm all year round. One lives in tank tops and shorts when not working. I lived in the same streets that some of the top models gracing famous magazines. I attended some parties which some of the same models attended. They are also people who need yoga. I think I know who the biggest critizizer is; I'm surprised that he says he does not find any good teachers in Miami, when there are many authorized teachers that teach there, and the city is a mecha for good yoga of many types. Again, that is not normal for an American city. I can't wait for this to blow over like a mild tropical storm over Florida.

    I was interested in yoga because a childhood friend and his wife did it. But it was Madonna's portrayal of a yoga teacher in a movie that cemented my interest in Ashtanga - when I watched the movie in the only seat available in a full theater in South Beach - front row. The actress was literally larger than life and I craned my neck the whole money but it inspired me. Art inspires life.

  10. @Evelyn, yes, the self-righteousness in others brings out the self-righteousness in me. Sigh...

    You are right that for Ashtanga practitioners, the practice is "deep and meaningful and layered in a way that can never be understood until it's experienced". The thing is, in order for one to start experiencing this, one has to get their foot in the door of the practice. And this is where the sticking point arises: Is there a "right" or "proper" way to get one's foot in the door? I've been going back and forth with this question. I don't know if literally every single person on this earth needs to do yoga, but I think there are many people in the world who can benefit from yoga who are not benefiting. I'm going to stick my neck out and say this: I think that, despite many efforts by many people, yoga in this country is still being perceived as mainly a middle-class-female activity. For one, I don't know many other Asian guys who do yoga (yes, of course there's Rodney Yee, but there aren't too many Rodney Yees around).

    But I digress. What I'm trying to say is: Perhaps Kino is trying, in her own way, to push and expand the boundaries of what people perceive yoga to be. And what better place to start than her own backyard (South Beach)? Sure, the video strikes us as low-brow/crass/vulgar, but that's probably because she's not marketing it to us! Her target audience are the people who would probably never even pick up a copy of Yoga Journal :-) Do these people need yoga? I think they do. If anything, they need it more than us. And Kino is probably in a better position than you or I to reach out to them.

    Okay, I need to quit sermonizing. But this is just my two cents'. As I said, I think it is still too early to judge the value of what she is doing, one way or the other.

  11. @Arturo, I'm really happy that you connected with the video in the very short time that you were able to see it :-)

    It's so cool that you used to live in South Beach. You have my respect. I've visited Miami a few times. Every time I was there, I would think, "This is a very cool and exciting place to visit, but I really don't think I'll be able to survive a month if I were to try to live here! It's just too... crazy."

    Yes, I'm with you in thinking that many people out there who live seemingly glamorous and comfortable lives need yoga. If anything, they probably need it more than us. And since they live in Kino's backyard, why shouldn't she try to reach out to them? Yes, this whole thing will blow over like a tropical storm. In fact, I think it is already subsiding :-) Or maybe this is just the eye of the storm (uh oh...)? One way or the other, I'm confident that we will all learn much from this exchange.

    It's really interesting that you got into Ashtanga from watching Madonna in that movie. Yes, art does inspire life. Literally :-)

  12. I watched the video in full and thoroughly enjoyed it. You totally grilled Kino! But it sounds like she really knows her stuff, phew :)

    When the criticizer mentioned he cannot find any good yoga teachers in Miami, it says something to me about the person. Like Arturo mentioned, when I started looking up Ashtanga, I was jealous of the number of high level teachers all located in this one city!

    I am already learning lots through the exchange. I consider it a positive experience :)

  13. Yyogini, I'm glad you enjoyed the video. Hopefully, there will be more to come in the future (I'm not promising anything, but I try :-)) Well, Kino certainly didn't look grilled. She is very telegenic, unlike me: I still cringe whenever I see myself on film :-)

    Yeah, perhaps some people might to go through phases of intense self-practice/examination. That's the most I can say: I have no way of knowing what goes through others' minds.

    Yes, Miami is totally saturated with great yoga teachers of every style. Probably because people who live in Miami need it more than people anywhere else :-)

  14. Nobel, I appreciate and agree with your comments. I have a spot in a week with Kino and Tim in November and I'm more excited to check her out for myself than ever. I won't ransack yours or anyone else's post, nor will I post on this subject myself on my blog. I just need to get one quick thing off my chest real quick: has anyone noticed the tiny, barely there, virtually diaper-like garments all of our own masters practiced and were photographed in in India, including all of those you listed above and one SKPJ? While the women in India practiced in heat(when finally deemed worthy of being taught the yoga...ahem) pretty much covered from head to toe? Frankly, this chaps my feminist sensibilities more than anything...that people bother to comment on her skimpy outfits. Kristen

  15. Thanks Kristen! It's so cool that you are going to study with Kino and Tim! I'm sure you will enjoy it. I'm trying to go to one of her workshops later in the spring as well. Still trying to work out the details.

    I totally agree and empathize with what you are saying. The important thing is to reach out to people and help them form a connection with yoga on a level that they can access; this certainly isn't going to happen with a bunch of prissy people sitting around with some pristine view of what yoga is (or is not), and pointing their accusing fingers at anybody who does anything that even slightly challenges their perceived boundaries.

    Now I'm getting on my own high horse :-) But seriously, I personally think that every single person who has commented on this issue thus far needs to go take a workshop with Kino, if they haven't already done so. After all, if you want to criticize something, surely you should at least make an effort to see both sides of the story first, shouldn't you? :-)

  16. Okay, I can see where you're coming from, but I don't know about this: "push and expand the boundaries of what people perceive yoga to be" because I do think that what most people perceive yoga to be is exactly what is shown in that video promo. Women. White. Young. Slim. Middle class. a touch of woo-woo thrown in. The promo seemed right in line with Yoga Journal (see list above). So... I'm not really seeing how it's pushing boundaries other than falling in line with the busyness of popular entertainment.

    I'm actually kind of tired of this topic....
    One does not have to be "prissy" with "pristine views of yoga" to have an adverse reaction to the promo video.

    As far as Kino's skimpy clothing, a thought occurred to me: What if she were far more curvy and still wore those clothes? What if she had large breasts and a bubble butt and suddenly those clothes looked super, crazy sexy? Would everyone who is snarling at the fact that people react to her tiny clothes still think it's okay? And what about male teachers who have to adjust women wearing barely anything? (not talking about Kino now, referring to anyone who may follow her example in dress at their shala). Is there any respect for the teacher? I'm not saying that all male teachers will be turned on by this, I'm saying that it opens the door to a lot of misinterpretation on the part of teacher and student... possibly leading to a sexualization of the practice that wouldn't be there if butt cheeks weren't exposed!! ha ha!!!! There's already such a high level of trust involved with teachers and students, and the practice is sweaty and intimate... it just seems like a slightly thoughtless way of entering a shala where others have to be exposed to it and a teacher has to be in close to adjust.

    I'm throwing this thought out there without forming an official statement about it, so don't everyone go berserk on me.

  17. Good points, Evelyn. Don't worry, I won't go berserk on you; although, now that you mention it, I am beginning to wonder if part of the "thrill" of blogging lies in the ever-present possibility that somebody somewhere might go berserk over something that you said (or did not say) :-) Just wondering.

    I don't know for sure what people would think if Kino were far more curvy and still wore those clothes (new meaning to "curvy yoga"? hahaha...). But it's probably not too hard to form an educated guess: There are already many curvy (and I don't mean "curvy" as in "round-bodied") female yoga teachers out there who wear pretty skimpy clothes.

    Will wearing barely anything open the door to a lot of misinterpretation/sexualization of the practice? Well, maybe, maybe not. This brings to mind something that Grimmly said in one of his comments on one of my previous posts: If one were truly purely focused on the practice, one probably wouldn't notice anything even if everybody in the room were stark naked. There might be a certain grain of truth in that: After all, the perceived sexiness of most skimpy clothing lies not in what they expose, but what they cover (and how they cover what they cover).

    But all this is neither here nor there. I have no answers to many things, only questions.

  18. I really don't think it matters a damn what someone is wearing or what shape they are it just comes down to frame of mind. Twenty-five years ago, for a brief while, I used to take my clothes off for a living, would often share a dressing room with stunning woman of all shapes and sizes, twenty minutes later we'd be strutting our stuff to catcalls and virtual riots yet I never considered any of them sexy or sexual in the least nor them me, not in that room, nobody was trying to be sexy, it was work, it was a dressing room. Doesn't it come down to environment? to what's appropriate.
    Loo said something in her Kino post under those pictures along the lines of ' That'll bring more guys into the shala'. I find that deeply insulting, you think i'm going to eroticise dwi pada or any other pose for pete's sake or get turned on because I can see down the top of somebody's lululemon, talk about sexual stereotyping. I'm not interested in the least and I can't believe that anyone whose been practicing Ashtanga for a while would want me to be either whether they practice in a bikini or full length trackie's. I really don't think Kino is trying to be sexy, just pretty, her idea of presentable perhaps, hell my father never left the house without a tie and neatly pressed trousers yet he wasn't trying to be handsome, just his idea of presentable.

    Guys don't wear shirts in a shala on the whole ( was advised not to first time i went), lots of flesh there, woman teachers seem to handle that OK. Alright I only went twice but I never took adjustments the wrong way, frame of mind, environment that's what is and isn't appropriate not what you are or aren't wearing.

    of course I'm talking about committed ashtangi's here, i accept that certain gyms and less frequent practitioners might have a different frame of mind and reference.

    not going berserk here either just frustrated and starting to think I'm still naive and foolishly idealist at forty -seven

  19. Grimmly, if you are naive and foolishly idealistic, you are not alone: At thirty-five, I often think that I am also very naive and foolishly idealistic :-)

    Thanks for sharing your life experience. I totally agree with everything you say about frame of mind, even though I have never been in the situation you described. And I don't think Kino is trying to be sexy either; as you said, it's probably her idea of being presentable. And surely we can appreciate that everybody has different ideas of what constitutes "presentable"?

    Yes, simplistic statements like "That'll bring more guys into the shala" are disturbing. I think that, at the core, such statements represent a lack of faith in the ability of human beings to adopt the appropriate frames of mind in the appropriate environments. Even though yoga is not a religion, there is a certain quasi-religious feeling of reverence for the practice that pervades every ashtanga shala I've been to. Because of this, even gym goers and less committed practitioners, once they enter a shala, will sense the solemnity of what's going on, and adopt the appropriate attitude. If they don't... well, then they will see that this "ashtanga thing" is not for them, and will leave on their own accord.

    So, at the risk of being naive and foolishly idealistic, I still think that we should have at least this much faith and trust in our fellow human beings. After all, if Krishnamacharya and SKPJ did not trust their students to pass on the teachings, would we even be practicing today?

  20. WHOA!! I've been away from the cybershala for two weeks and look at the big s*&tstorm I missed! :p

    The promo is definitely cringe-worthy, but the offending blog post and some of the reactions it elicited were way beyond acceptable. As I caught up with everything that's been written, it seems to me that there's lots of fear, insecurity and ego that's turned this into something much bigger and unnecessarily negative than it actually is. I really appreciate yours and Claudia's post on the subject - much-needed perspective.

  21. savasanaaddict, maybe you didn't miss all that much... I think the whole thing probably had a lot more smoke than fire :-) And besides, we might be in the eye of the storm: More might be coming :-P

    But this whole thing has taught us (and is still teaching us) much about lots of things.

  22. Yes it's definitely a good lesson for everyone to recognize the power of the written word to both encourage and to hurt. I find it amazing how bloggers (esp those who treat their blog as a journal), tend to forget that they have a responsibility when they write in a public domain. Not only in terms of being accountable for the content produced, but also seeing the potential implications that may arise from a post.

    I think it was Guruji who said, in the Yoga Mala, that Ahimsa includes stopping oneself from saying things that may hurt others. Very apt here...

  23. Who are we kidding? The only times for hot pants are re-runs of Dukes of Hazzard, home practice, and down by the lake on the Fourth of Ju-ly.

    Round here, Sharath personally asks women in hot pants to wear, like, clothes. One or two continue to Duke it anyway. Whatev!!! Just grist for the mill. Let's not turn it in to seeds to plant and grow in to personal poison.

    This current stuff is only as impactful as we of the internet make it. How bout if we all just stop looking?

  24. @savasanaaddict, I agree with what you say, especially about Guruji's words on ahimsa. But I think blogging is a very interesting phenomenon in and of itself: One is writing something that is supposed to be private (something like a journal) but which is totally open to public consumption. So am I responsible to others for what I am saying when what I am saying is only supposed to be my private opinions, which I am supposed to be entitled to? After all, as the saying goes, sticks and bones may break my bones, but words cannot hurt me. But I suppose this cuts both ways: Even though I am free to say absolutely anything I want, you are also free to not have anything to do with me if you don't like what I say :-)

  25. @OvO, thanks for your insightful words. Yes, we now have a whole new meaning to "fancy pants yoga", don't we? :-)

    "Let's not turn it in to seeds to plant and grow in to personal poison."

    Well said. I guess "the poison of conditioned existence" can arise in all kinds of unexpected places, can't it?

    "How bout if we all just stop looking?"

    Yes, the importance of maintaining drishti in our lives all over again :-)

  26. This probably requires an email discussion, but briefly, yes, blogging is a public platform for one's personal opinions and therefore the writer has all right to publish whatever he/she feels like it. However, given its public nature, one needs to either be ready to handle the reactions that come from addressing a controversial issue OR be more sensitive to how one comes across on a screen than when writing in a private journal for personal consumption. The other option would be to make the blog private for a limited readership. Perhaps I'm old-school, but from my experience with social media so far, once it's out there, it's out there - no delete button.

    Ok will stop hijacking your comments thread now :p

  27. @savasanaadict, what you say is true. In my opinion, a good blogger (if there is such a thing) should both be able to handle well the reactions that come from handling sensitive topics (that's what the blog is good for, in my opinion) AND also be sensitive to how one's words come across. I also think that one should exercise some minimal measure of personal responsibility for one's own content as well: I don't think that a blog is a no-holds-barred arena where one can just spew out whatever happens to be on one's mind at a particular moment in time. So I guess I don't really see a blog as a personal journal. I guess I'm old-school too :-) I think being sensitive and mindful helps one to address topics better, anyway. So in a sense, blogging is an extension of the yoga practice.

    Feel free to write me at: siegfried23 at hotmail dot com if you would like to share more of your thoughts on this :-)

  28. :-)

    P.S., Re: "I find it amazing how bloggers... tend to forget that they have a responsibility when they write in a public domain. Not only in terms of being accountable for the content produced, but also seeing the potential implications that may arise from a post."

    Actually, I checked, and there is DEFINITELY no Committee on UnAshtangi Activities. I promise.

    It's ok for students to develop their discernment over time, SAddict. It's ok for students to have voices some times too. Let's not try to make people feel anxious about phantom accountants and implications. We're all doing self-study at some level, learning to be our own accountants. :-)

  29. OvO, I think you are right that there is no committee on UnAshtangic Activities. However, that does not seem to have stopped some individuals from unofficially appointing themselves as the unofficial "Ashtanga PC/Appropriate Dress Police" :-) But oh well, I suppose these people are having their voices heard, just as I am right now.

    Sometimes when I take a step back and think about all this, I find it really amazing that a bunch of words and images on a screen, representing people whom we have never met, can get us all so worked up...

  30. Whoa whoa hold on a minute, Grimmly used to take his clothes off for a living?!?! Haha I'm not being judgmental. Seriously. You guys all add so much spice to my life :D I'd seriously love to meet you all in person some day.

  31. Yyogini, yes, we all add so much spice to one anothers' lives, without ever having met one another :-)

    I don't think my life is anywhere as colorful as, say, Grimmly's... I never took my clothes off for a living :-) But I'll love to meet you and every blogger in person some day.

  32. That was a very very long time ago Yyogini, was doing a little art college modeling at the time and in that context going that little bit further didn't seem as strange as it perhaps would have. In light of todays post from Cladia and Noble,I should add that I have no interest or plans to take up nude yoga, one has enough trouble with Gomukhasana as it is.

  33. Interesting, Grimmly. Hmm... I'm afraid I don't see the connection with Gomukhasana here. Care to say a little more?