Excess of News

Since moving apartments and shifting the yoga school temporarily up to the 3rd floor, I have been in short supply of an internet connection and have fallen behind on all the news that is piling up that I wanted to post. Here is a short catching up…


A friend contacted someone who works with Iggy Pop and showed him the backbend post, and he sent this back:

Here’s an example of The Stooges from 1969 for your teacher. Someone cut together a bunch of clips with sound from something else (this footage is originally silent):


About 50 seconds in. You can see the back bend pretty well…
There is no existing video that I know of from the show the photo is from (around 1973). 

And, because the accompanying song is ‘No Fun’, one of my favorites, here is Cosmic Power performing the same song at AYNY in 2005 for our Christmas Party. It seemed like a fun idea at the time… Mike D. on drums, me and John Campbell and on guitar, and David Neuman on bass. Moby was supposed to sing but refused to do any Stooges – so it was unfortunately left up to me. I know, I know, I should definitely stick to chanting.




One hurdle that yoga faces in the public school system in NYC – and in the West in general – is whether it is a religious practice or not. Opinions on this question have been argued both ways – but quite a lot of it depends on how one defines ‘religion.’

The Latin roots of religion are re – again, ligio – join, and also religare- to bind. This is a very nice definition of yoga – to join again that which has become separated apart, for example our body, breath and mind; our sense of self from the demands of our hectic lives; or perhaps, in its strictest yoga sense, to merge the mind back into the witness state, after having become mixed up in the world of objects. In common usage, religion has come to denote an organized body of teachings, usually based on revelation, that accepts God as the creator and ruler of our universe; omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent.

In Mary Billard’s October 7th article in the New York Times, titled “In Schools, Yoga Without the Spiritual”, the issue of whether yoga is a religion, or part of a religion, is further confused by equating spirituality with religion.

“TO “om” or not to “om”: For those who teach yoga in schools, that is a question that arises with regularity. The little syllable, often intoned by yoga students at the beginning and end of class, signifies different things to different people. But with its spiritual connotations, it is a potential tripwire for school administrators and parents, along with “namaste” and other Sanskrit words, chanting and hands in the prayer position.

The om question ties into the wider debate over the extent to which yoga is entwined with religion.”

Spirituality comes from the Latin root spiritus – to breathe. Spirituality is equated with experience that is related to that spirit which has breathed life into us, or which exists in us as inspiration, experience and personal revelation. It infers that one is concerned with the subtle aspects of life: ones character, emotions and inner being, as opposed to the material objects that bind us to sorrow and suffering. One can be spiritual without subscribing to a particular religion, and one can also have what can be called a religious experience, of losing one’s sense of separate self in the divine, without subscribing to any religion, too. Spirituality and religion are not two sides of the same coin, they are in fact quite different. The latter ascribes to a code of laws; the former to a knowing of oneself.

Further, we should not confuse the use of a foreign language, like Sanksrit, with religion and thereby exclude it from schools. That would be like not teaching Latin because it is used by the Pope.

So, is yoga physical? Spiritual? Or is it a religion?

Sri T. Krishnamacharya had a very good answer for this question, which was recorded in Mala Srivatsan’s book Krishnamacharya, the Purnacharya, when asked the question, “How many types of yoga are there?”

To this he responded

There are four kinds of yoga. Sarira yoga [concerning the body], indriyaka yoga [the senses], manasika yoga [the mind] and the adhyatmika yoga [the atma, or inner Self]. The yoga that brings strength to the body by removing illness is known as sarira yoga. The yoga that promotes and sharpens the senses is known as indriyaka yoga. The yoga where the mind becomes stable and free from worries and which leads to the state of ekagrata [one-pointedness] is known as manasika yoga. When a person is able to practice long and smooth inhalation and exhalation without becoming breathless, illness is removed. Such a person becomes stronger, has a longer life and can do better sadhana. This leads to the actual experience of jivatma [one’s individual self], paramatma [the absolute Self] and the universe. This is known as adhyatma yoga.

The focus and intention that one brings to yoga will quite often determine the outcome. What was left out of Billard’s article was that Bent On Learning teaches from the very first class that yoga is a practice of kindness – for oneself, one’s neighbor, and the space that one inhabits. This is the essence of yoga, made approachable for the needs of the kids in the public school system – teachers and administration, too. Patanjali says in chapter two of the Yoga Sutras that the societal observances of non-violence and the like are universal, regardless of one’s birth, the time they are born, place they live or circumstance. To focus on whether yoga is a religion, or whether spirituality is out of place in the school system is to miss the point of yoga: we are here in this world together, and have to find a way to navigate the inevitable difficulties that we will find ourselves in. What tools are we giving ourselves, and our kids, to do this? Yoga is one such tool.

When I was in 9th grade, we read Siddhartha in English class. My teacher, Mrs Jane Bendetson, said to us, ‘The most important three questions you can ask yourself in your life are Who am I? What am I doing here? And, what do I do next?” This was the single most useful thing I learned in school. It is the essence of religion, but not a religious instruction; it is the essence of spirituality, but not a spiritual practice. It is clear and simple inquiry, thoughtfulness, and the admonishment to question oneself to create clarity. It was one of the best yoga instructions I ever received.


Maureen Dowd’s October 8th op-ed piece, titled “How Garbo Learned to Stand on Her Head“, was made all the more annoying by the fact that the book she is writing about, William Broad’s “The Science of Yoga”, is not due out till February, 2012. So we can’t even read it to check to see if he provides any solid science for some of the silly things Ms Dowd attributes to him. Not having read the book, I would like to point out that yoga is not some generic thing that everything from insanity to bloot clots can be attributed to. There are many different ways of doing yoga, and as well there are many good, and many not so good, teachers in all of the varieties of practices. So to say that ‘yoga’ has produced ‘waves of injuries’ or started as a ‘sex cult’ begs the question, which yogas, and where are you pulling your data from? For Ms Dowd to flippantly pull such quotes from a book that cannot yet be referenced seems, to me, irresponsible towards the field and study of yoga.

However, since I can’t read the book yet, I don’t want to say much else. I will let Sheetal Shah, senior director of the Hindu American Foundation and my fall-back blogger, say the rest here.