J. was about to quit teaching yoga when a friend convinced him to go to India. After 3 months of learning from a Swami who was unimpressed by what J got props for in New York, the direction of his practice shifted dramatically. The Swami would ask him to do simple poses and then ask how he felt. J wouldn’t answer and instead would talk about how he couldn’t get the alignment.
After a while, annoyed by the constant questioning of how he felt, J snapped, “I don’t know.” He knew a lot about Sanskrit and asana alignment and could do all this stuff with his body but he didn’t know how he felt. After that the lessons changed and so did his teaching when he returned to New York.
How has modern yoga practice changed since the early 90s – especially as we’ve experienced it in New York? What can the Yoga Alliance and the International Association of Yoga Therapists do to improve their teacher credential standards? We discuss this, the controversial reactions sparked by Kino McGregor’s hip injury and more.
J. Brown is a yoga teacher, writer, the owner of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, and the creator of the Gentle is the New Advanced yoga method.
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- What his Yoga method, Gentle is the New Advanced is all about. “I wrote that as a blog post 2 years ago. I’ve been singing this song. Let’s slow it down. We don’t need to kill ourselves to be well. It’s always felt like I’m pushing against the grain.”
- When he first came to yoga the advanced yoga was all about going inward and having harmony and inner peace, but now there’s the new school which is more about selfies.
- Why the slow yoga revolution? It’s not just about speed it’s also about intention. Whatever your purpose is you have to have enough space for the inquiry to know. If you’re just barreling through there’s little opportunity to be aware of what you’re doing and why.
- the start of his yoga practice at Jivamukti in the early 90s- their method hadn’t been solidified yet. It was an eclectic mix of teachers. Leslie Kaminoff taught there. He was exposed to Iyengar, Ashtanga, Sivananda. It was a hybrid. They developed what he thinks of as the first power vinyasa.
- His knee injury during the Ashtanga third series: he was being assisted and his knee popped loudly. They both downplayed the injury at the time. The teacher wanted to show off what he could do as much as he wanted to and neither of them wanted to admit what just happened. So they carried on and acted like he was fine. But he was in pain then and for a while after. When he talked to other teachers about it the general response he would get was “oh it’s because you didn’t have good alignment.” (in my opinion this puts the blame on the practitioner and does not allow for questioning of the poses and practice itself)
- Mark Whitwell helped him and gave me some new context for teaching yoga. He encouraged him to teach what he was practicing at home if you don’t teach what you practice then you’re a fraud. J went from being a power vinyasa teacher known for kicking butt to a breath centered, gentle teacher overnight.
- William J. Broad’s (the science writer for the New York Times) sensationalist article painted a different picture than his book. There were problems with it – like equating yoga and asana, not making distinctions about different approaches to asana and making generalizations. It’s problematic to say down dog does X because it doesn’t do the same thing for everybody.
- Sometimes people want to take a more academic or science viewpoint like Matthew Remski’s WAWADIA project. But then you have folks for whom yoga is a non-science based thing. The science lens can be useful. “I know people who are way more way learned in biomedical learning than me and still have people getting hurt in their class. If it was only about being able to diagnose physiology and prescribe fixes then I think the Physical Therapists and Doctors would have it all figured out for us. I think there’s some element of yoga practice that isn’t going to be reduced to science.”
- There are so many teacher training programs in the US today and a lot of them are bunk. The Yoga Alliance’s 200 hour requirement has had a lot to do with that. J’s been very vocal about that and thinks there was progress when Richard Karpel came in but now he’s gone.
- Iyengar teachers have a hard time getting teaching gigs because they’re not Yoga Alliance registered. That’s ludicrous.
- He went to the IAYT SYTAR in 2009 to participate in the meetings. He found there were 2 different mindsets: those who were clinically oriented – bringing yoga into universities and research. And people like him who were interested in a preventative care model to make yoga therapy available to anybody in gyms, centers and studios.
- We talk about the need for teacher trainings to incorporate more accurate info about the body and how we move. We need to make sure we know what we’re talking about.
- My gripes about Ujjayi breathing and why J finds it essential and useful in his practice in teaching
(we can agree to disagree)
- J’s spoken out against the yoga selfie culture and Kino McGregor is the queen of that. But her hip injury and Matthew Remski’s article about it have launched an important conversation which J sees as growing pains.
Matthew Remski’s article on Kino’s Hip Injury
the comments from Matthew’s original facebook post are also worth reading
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