Distance Learning and its Discontents: A Call for Submissions

ipadI am a traditional femme des lettres. I like books and notebooks and have a favorite pen. I have only recently given in to e-books, and sometimes I feel kind of weird about how odorless my kindle is. No ink, no paper, just some electronic chemistry that I don’t understand and a bunch of ones and zeros.

I have also been a teacher for years. I don’t just mean yoga. I’ve been an adjunct and a elementary classroom teacher. I believe in education like I believe in few other things. And I like it to be personal. I like handwritten comments and personal feedback.

The whole idea of online education has always been kind of crazy to me. I want to know my teachers. I want to know if they have one glass eye or if they never iron their pants. I’m a nerd. I tried to take a distance learning class when I was in college and I was so unengaged that I had to drop it halfway through and beg the teacher for a withdrawal.

But I keep meeting people who are crazy into online learning. They take dharma classes online, ayurveda classes, nutrition classes, anatomy classes. And they love it. So, I want to know about it. What is your experience with it?How “smart” can online learning get? Am I just a stalwart traditionalist? What role does this kind of education have in yoga? Some people are doing their whole yoga certifications online. Is this okay?

YFSP is seeking submissions about technology & yoga & learning, the decline of interpersonal communication, or whatever you can tangentially relate to this topic in an interesting way. No word count. We don’t care as long as it stays interesting.

Deadline is October 15th.


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In Defense of “Smart People”

Star Wars Yoga is real.

Star Wars Yoga is real.

Oh, hey.
I know it’s been a while since I reached out, but let me explain. It’s not that I didn’t want to communicate with you, it’s just that I wasn’t sure what to say.

See, I started YFSP to be a forum for the intellectually inclined yoga folk out there. It wasn’t meant to be elitist, as in, “We’re smarter than you.” It was meant to be inclusive, as in, “Hey, I’m book smart and I have these things to say about yoga and I’d like to share them with you.”

I get where it got confusing. Only some level, the stated existence of “smart people” necessarily implies that there are other people who are not smart. And I was a nitpicky and over-curating editor, so I’m sure that didn’t help. I don’t know how to say, “This is a forum for yoga intellectuals who are also really strong writers that are deeply invested in instigating articulate conversations from a (somewhat) research-based point of view, but with a sense of humor. We are looking for a readership of likeminded people who are willing to engage in thoughtful debate and conversation,” in an URL. It’s a limited form.

So I chose a tongue-in-cheek name that I thought most people would get. In this I both underestimated and overestimated the yoga community. I underestimated the yoga community’s sense of political engagement. Yay, you! I had no idea that you’d be so pissed off about the seeming exclusivity of the name. Way to fight for equality. Seriously.

I also overestimated the yoga community’s sense of humor. I just assumed that my project would be met with an implicit understanding that the name YFSP is mostly a joke, a play on Yoga for Dummies.

It was not.

People who do not think that they are smart do not think that “smart people” is funny. I shortsightedly and ignorantly did not know there were people out there who feel oppressed by the term “smart.”

So, then, what happened next?
Good question.

Next, I responded to a hundred or more emails about the name of the site. Some people were positive: “Yay! Finally, there is a nerd space for yogis!” Some people told me that they liked the articles, but that I should consider changing the name. Some people told me that intellectualism is a hegemonic tool of oppression. (Note use of the word “hegemonic.”)

Read More »

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Domestic Abuse and Everyday Self-Realization (or YFSP Reads Yoga PhD, Part 2)


via Body Process

via Body Process

 It’s ironic that a practice originally dedicated to transcending the self has become a prime vehicle of everyday self-realization. It’s also true, however, that there are ways in which these two projects, while substantively antithetical, share parallel ambitions for transformation and produce experiences with a profound, if distant, resonance. (Yoga PhD, p. 96)

*Trigger warning: this article contains graphic descriptions of domestic abuse.*

I feel like Carol Horton is a prime example of what can happen when a smart, but unwitting, fitness enthusiast falls into yoga. She transforms her physical experiences into psycho-spiritual experiences and skillfully navigates Jungian and Reichian territory to translate on-the-mat epiphanies into evidence of yoga’s sympathy with and for contemporary psychology. She even makes karma seem like an accessible idea to non-believers in reincarnation, all while self-consciously acknowledging that she is freely borrowing from different, and perhaps unwilling, traditions. She is a postmodernist par excellence, and I find myself nodding in agreement with her constantly.

In addition, I find her combination of vulnerable self-disclosure and academic rigor so unbelievably likable that it actually pains me to criticize her. So I won’t.

No, seriously. I find all her arguments totally credible. I do, however, think her own self-awareness creates something of a blind spot in terms of recognizing the potential problems of giving physical vitality and a lot of “me” time to a perhaps less thoughtful, perhaps more psychologically damaged, “everyman.”

So, then, here’s my reading question for the week: what happens when modern yogis aren’t Carol Horton? That is, what happens when the people who fall into yoga aren’t self-conscious, or vulnerable, or able to acknowledge possible mistakes or philosophical misalignments? What happens when people don’t get transformed by the process, but instead get physically stronger and increasingly self-obsessed and self-righteous? Read More »

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His body is a golden string your body’s hanging from: Leonard Cohen and the disgraced guru

via DrHGuy

via DrHGuy

an excerpt from Cohen Koan (forthcoming, fall 2013)

I believe that you heard your master sing while I lay sick in bed. In the late 90s I opened a magazine and saw a picture of Leonard Cohen sitting beside his teacher Joshu Sasaki Roshi, both of them zen blank-and-stern in brown-black robes, bone-white rings at their left breasts. In recent years I had lost track of his biography, and had no idea that I was mirroring it, thirty-five years his junior. I cut the picture out and put it on my altar next to a picture of myself with my very own crazy Buddhist teacher – Geshe Michael Roach. Cohen’s zen uniform had a kind of continuity with his grey-blue suits, and perhaps the gabardine his father had worn in the Canadian Army, or the racks of suits Cohen would have seen hanging in his father’s haberdashery. Renunciation and militarism for him have always seemed cut from the same cloth, en vogue. Read More »

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Sacred vs. Profane: The Smackdown! (Or YFSP Reads Yoga PhD, Part One)

The Pasupati Seal, via IndiaNetZone

The Pasupati Seal, via IndiaNetZone

Leaving certain fundamental questions asked but unanswered creates a space of openness and mystery that’s much more valuable than any box that absolutist directives and determinations might provide. (Yoga PhD, p. 32)

Allright, y’all. Here we go. I’m an online book club virgin, so let’s take it a little slow.

I wanted to kick off this conversation with the above quote because it highlights what makes this book interesting to me. It is, at its heart, a search for answers that is comfortable remaining incomplete. It’s not an attempt to create more seemingly solid answers. This is important, because, let’s be real, there’s enough of that kind of, “I/we have the answer…” attitude out there in the yoga world. Which would be fine if this practice were like math and 1+1 equaled 2, and someone really did have the answer. But they don’t. And, I think, the multiplicity of competing certainties is really confusing a lot of us. Read More »

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Labor Pains: A Call for Self-Inquiry

via Virtual Synapsis

via Virtual Synapsis

Yoga is a spiritual, although not specifically religious, pursuit. Its lineage is based on leader-follower relationships.  As Jen so concisely puts it, yoga is not categorically different than these other spiritual traditions, and it is equally susceptible to the corruptions of power, authority and popularity.

What is different about yoga, though, is that its philosophies encourage independent self-inquiry.

Independent self-inquiry is hard.  It is lengthy, confrontational work and requires the ability to think critically to even begin.  It is, apparently, not for everyone. But it should be. Read More »

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I Love the Way You Lie to Me

In my comparative politics courses I teach young college students about the phenomena of cults-of-personality. It comes up in my unit on communism, when I get to Krushchev’s Secret Speech of 1956. This was a private condemnation of the atrocities masterminded by Stalin,

“who absolutely did not tolerate collegiality in leadership and in work, and who practiced brutal violence, not only toward everything which opposed him, but also toward that which seemed to his capricious and despotic character, contrary to his concepts.” (excerpt from Khrushchev’s speech; a complete transcript can be found here)

This speech gives specific examples of the types of coercive tactics and abuses of power one might find in a society governed by a cult-of-personality. With this information in our thinking caps, the class can then discuss other historic cults-of-personality, like Mao, Khomeini, and Mubarak and the propaganda needed to maintain these brutal, repressive, and oppressive regimes.

Propaganda for Stalin’s regime often showed this type of affection from women and children. Meanwhile, he was responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of human beings, women and children included. It’s ok though, because Stalin loves women and children, and this was all for their benefit, anyway. Clearly.

Ok, thanks for the history lesson. But, what does this have to do with yoga? Read More »

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Gotta Getta Guru

via Gotta Getta Guru

via Gotta Getta Guru

I saw an ad today on craigslist looking for a “marketing guru.” In fact, if you search jobs on craigslist new orleans, you will find a bunch of ads looking for gurus. If you search the whole internet for gurus, you will find everything from stock brokers to bicycle companies. Guru is a word we throw around as though as it were synonymous with being really good at something. This leads me to believe that we Westerners might not actually understand the meaning of the word guru. Which would be fine, except that so many of us are actively looking for one. Advertising, even. Read More »

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Cult of Personality/Celebrity Yoga Culture

via FitSugar

via FitSugar

Later today we will commence the not so long-awaited first theme here at YFSP: Cult of Personality/Celebrity Yoga Culture. Tracey will kick things off around 6pm CST with her piece, Gotta Getta Guru™. Until then, enjoy this musical prelude: Guru’s Jazzmatazz, Volume 1.

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YFSP Reads Yoga Ph.D


Bored of reading in a vacuum? Have a shelf full of yoga books and no one to talk to? We’re not saying you don’t have enough smart yoga friends, we’re just saying that it’s hard to get them organized to think about the same thing at the same time. So, we’re gonna do some of the work for you, okay? As part of our effort to create meaningful and engaging conversation here at Yoga for Smart People, we will be hosting a monthly-ish online reading group. We are super stoked about our first book, Yoga Ph.D. by Carol Horton, led by Tracey.  Read More »

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