As I write, I’m on the way home Sunday morning on the Acela train, after an all day immersion yesterday in New York City with Baron Baptiste. It was an amazing experience.
There’s one aspect of the day that I found remarkable and quite helpful, at least to me on my own yoga journey, and it is one of my main takeaways from the experience. The immersion included (by my count) at least 300 fellow yogis, so I have no doubt that if you asked all participants for their impressions you would get 300 different answers. So . . . this is mine. Your mileage may vary!
The Physical Culture Of Yoga
Baptiste is one of the founders of the modern “power yoga” movement (the kind of yoga I practice). He is the son of Walt Baptiste, who introduced yoga to the west coast in the 1950’s and grew up with yoga luminaries visiting his home — including BKS Iyengar and Sri K. Patthabi Jois (founders of Iyengar and Ashtanga yoga, respectively). Iyengar and Jois both learned from the father of modern day yoga, S. T. Krishnamacharya, who taught yoga at the palace in Mysore, India in the 1920’s.
Walt Baptiste taught his own style of yoga, and Baron Baptiste developed and extended it over time, mixing all the influences from his formative time growing up as well as his interest in fitness and athleticism. He was for many years the yoga instructor at Karen Voight’s influential exercise studio in Los Angeles, and it was there that Baron created his form of Power Yoga.
During the immersion, I was glad that Baron went into a little bit of detail about this. I knew it generally from reading his book Journey Into Power, which contains the basics of power yoga, but to hear his stories of growing up was priceless. I also appreciated that he made an important, and I think often omitted, point: that modern yoga (the poses and postures, or asanas) has its roots just as strongly in physical fitness as in the centuries-old spiritual teachings of the Indian continent.
When I started practicing yoga, I had a sense that the poses I was performing were somehow very ancient, dating back millennia. No one worked very hard to dissuade me from this notion, and one often hears some teachers talking about how ancient yoga is, implying that people were jumping into Crow thousands of years ago. However, the physical poses that we now practice in yoga are relatively modern and date to Krishnamacharya’s work at Mysore, where he was one of the “physical culture” teachers to the royal family.
Krishnamacharya was teaching right along next to the great British and other European physical culture sages of the day. Their classrooms in the palace were right next to one another and there is even some evidence that they were in a bit of (good natured) competition. It is clear that Krishnamacharya borrowed from his Continental colleagues — which is why many of the yoga poses we practice today look eerily similar to some of the European gymnastics-based calisthenics of the 1920’s. This does nothing to diminish yoga, in my mind. In fact, it elevates it: The yoga we practice today draws on a global learning base.
Baron is very upfront that his style of yoga is very physical and that it has an important fitness aspect. His directness about it is refreshing.
(The ancient part of yoga is its spiritual side. Indeed, the writings that speak of how to meditate, how to live rightly, and more, are indeed ancient. This wisdom and lineage are important and are an integral part of yoga. I credit my friends and teachers at Down Dog Yoga — where I practice and where I have taken a small amount of teacher training — with making this distinction clear.)
Impressions Of The Day
The immersion itself was quite an experience. It included two very strenuous practices, workshops and demonstrations of fundamental aspects of key poses, partner work as we assisted one another, meditation, and some introspection and self-inquiry.
Baron Baptiste is a wonderful yoga teacher and, through it all, this shone through. While there was clearly a plan for the day, what really and truly happened was that 300 yogis spent the day with Baron Baptiste doing yoga while he taught us, organically, based on what came up in the room.
At every juncture, Baron encouraged us (while remaining safe) to explore our edge, to push a little further than we had before, to really show up. I have heard these things before. But there is something about the way Baron talks that brings greater weight. Perhaps, too, it was the fact that the founder of my chosen style of yoga was doing the teaching. Or — more likely — a combination of everything.
Part Of A Community
It felt wonderful to be in this room as part of a community — and this was even doubly true for me. First of all, I was participating with my wife, Andrea Jarrell. Yoga is an important part of our life, and it felt good to share this deeper part of it. Doing so deepened our relationship.
Second, a number of Down Dog Yoga community members — including founder Patty Ivey, my teacher — we’re there. We were all together in the front row . . . it felt GREAT.
At the end, I was drained, proud, elated, and humbled at how far I have yet to go.