Three flavours of yoga teachers – which would you choose?

The New York Times has once again fixed its gaze on yoga culture, this time with a short profile of Forrest Yoga, the method created by Ana Forrest. While I was reading the article, I couldn’t help but think back to a couple of other recent yoga teacher/style articles in the NYT: last summer’s seminal John Friend feature and the Tara Stiles profile from earlier this year.

The articles vary in depth, focus and length, but after a close reading of all three, I noticed some common themes. Here’s a handy dandy compare and contrast guide to the NYT’s approach to three very different, yet similar, teachers. All text is directly quoted from the NYT articles and everything in italics is my commentary.

Type of yoga teacher
Ana Forrest (AF): itinerant, fierce
John Friend (JF): rock star yogi
Tara Stiles (TS): former model with skyscraper limbs and a goofball sensibility

Name and origin of style
AF: Forrest Yoga – her last name, apparently
JF: Anusara – Sanskrit for “flowing with grace”
TS: Strala – a word she said she and her husband made up, but it turns out to be Swedish for “radiates light”

Description of style
AF: intense
JF: touchy-feely
TS: nondenominational Read the rest of this entry »

Image by Rita Leistner, via foreignpolicy.com

Foreign Policy published a fascinating photo essay by Toronto-based photojournalist Rita Leistner. The series, taken entirely on iPhones using the Hipstamatic app, captures a slice of daily life for U.S. Marines based in the Helmand province of Afghanistan in 2010/2011. And apparently daily life includes yoga in the desert.

Thanks @yogaactivist (yogaactivist.org)!

The ashram sits on the edge of Kootenay Lake (image via Yasodhara Ashram Facebook page)

Sustainability is a big deal at Yasodhara Ashram. The community has made great efforts to be sustainable: recycling programs, building upgrades, solar power and geothermal heating, as well as making a commitment to be carbon neutral by 2013. As the ashram leadership ages and the swamis are approaching retirement age, the community is also looking at how it will sustain itself. Where do swamis go to retire? What does a retired swami do?

I had a visit with the ashram’s spiritual director, Swami Radhananda, in her lovely dining room overlooking the lake. We talked about the questions that the ashram is asking and the changes in the air.

What is happening at the ashram right now? It’s in a place of transition, what’s happening?

Well, all of a sudden we realized we’re getting old. We wanted the ashram to consciously go through the transition of us knowing that we can’t keep doing the same thing forever. For me, the turning point really was the release of my book [Carried By A Promise, timeless books, 2011].

You’re realizing that the leadership here is aging, so the question is “What next? Who will lead next?”

We want to do the best we can to have things moving, and at the same time, the core stable and the foundation really solid. I am 70 years old, I know there’s only a certain amount of time. How am I going to use that time? But we’re all in our 60s and 70s now, so something has to form. It may be different but the same. Read the rest of this entry »

The ashram garden (image via Yasodhara Ashram's Facebook page)

Food has a central role at Yasodhara Ashram. The daily work is structured around three meals, which are eaten in silence to encourage an atmosphere of contemplation and connection. Much of the food served from the ashram kitchen is grown in the abundant garden. In many ways, the garden is the heart of the community, and it also connects the ashram to the surrounding community.

I sat down with Paris Marshall Smith, an ashram staff member in her mid-30s who works as the food flow systems manager. She explained the role of the garden within the community, both literally and metaphorically.

How does the food move from the garden and the orchard to the kitchen and on to our plates?

We have this food flow. It actually is ideally a flow. In terms of areas, we have the garden, the orchard (which is in the garden but also on the periphery) and then there’s the summer kitchen. The food moves through here, to the kitchen.

When we hire people to work in the kitchen, we want them to have a strong ethic around local food. The kitchen builds the menus around what we’re producing in the garden and we encourage receptivity as much as possible. For example, we came in today with a bucket of turnips, so they’re making a turnip and radish cake. Who knew? We support them by planting things that are interesting and easy to use. And which people want to eat.

How much of the food in the kitchen comes from this land, if it’s possible to quantify?

According to the most recent figures, 17% of the food we consume is from the ashram proper, including our orchard and garden. An additional 17% comes from within 100 miles, for example the East Shore. That makes up about 35%. Another 40% comes from BC, and the rest is from elsewhere in the world. So 75% comes from within an 8 hour drive – and we serve about 25000 meals a year! Read the rest of this entry »

Swami Sivananda, contemplating the future (image via lightwaves.cc)

While visiting Yasodhara Ashram, a spiritual community on 120 acres of woodland resting on the shores of Kootenay Lake in southeastern BC, I had the opportunity to sit down with some of the leaders in the community and talk about transition, sustainability and renewal. What I’ve learned from my own yoga practice (on the mat, off the mat and through this blog) is that it’s a constant inquiry. At the root of my practice is the question, Who am I? The desire to find the answer to this question is what keeps me going, especially during times when I feel disconnected and alone.

So what does it mean when a whole community based on yogic principles and practices engages in a process of inquiry? I explored this with Swami Sivananda, a long-time ashram resident and teacher.

Let’s start with the basics. What happens in this community?

Our main idea is to provide a safe environment for people to get their foundation back under them, so they can start looking at things more deeply. There’s no dogma here. There’s an emphasis on spiritual values but not in a dogmatic way. But even if you don’t have that tradition within yourself, there has to be that respect for other people.

People come here and get themselves sorted out emotionally, drop emotional burdens from the past, memories, that kind of patterning that frustrates us. Then they just bloom on their own.

Yet we’re not a social service agency; we’re a spiritual community. We have a tradition, a body of teachings, and those teachings came from our guru. But we’ve broken the mold on the old guru-based community. It doesn’t need to be that stuffy and stiff as a lot of people think. Or as blindly surrendering. Surrender is a very important thing to learn, but it isn’t what most people think. The thing is, it requires super highly developed discrimination. Read the rest of this entry »

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