Introducing 21st Century Yoga: From Blogging to Book & Back Again.

Via on Oct 18, 2012

It was only a few years ago that I first started exploring the possibility of writing about contemporary yoga.

At the time, I was stunned to discover how little material on the subject I could find. Of course, I subscribed to Yoga Journal. But it generally wasn’t exploring the questions of yoga and American culture I had grown increasingly curious about. I was also familiar with many excellent works on how to do asana or understand traditional yogic philosophy. But that wasn’t what I wanted to read about most.

I wanted to read about yoga as I was experiencing it in the U.S. right here and now, with all of its crazy contradictions and weird cultural hybridity. I wanted to read about the strangeness of a popular practice that was providing me with stunningly mind-blowing experiences in such ultra-mundane settings as suburban studios and convention hotels—while at the same time, conversely (and perhaps perversely?) disturbing me with its fondness for repackaging once-sacred symbols as profit-seeking commodities.

As I experienced it, American yoga regularly mixed up the sacred and the profane in powerful, fascinating, and frequently maddening ways. Yet aside from a few articles I’d discovered here or there, it didn’t seem like anyone was writing about this.

Then I discovered the yoga blogosphere.

Quickly, I realized that here was the discussion I’d been hoping to find in books and magazines, but couldn’t. As I read through blogs that captivated me at the time—It’s All Yoga Baby, Linda’s Yoga Journey, Yoga Dork, My Third Eye Itches, Yogic Muse, Yoga for Cynics, and many others—I was excited to find others interested in the same issues I was, e.g.,: yoga and consumerism, the nature of postmodern practice, the strange mix of absurdity and profundity it inspires . . . and so forth and so on.

One thing led to another. And so, a little over a year ago, I found myself emailing Roseanne Harvey (who I’d met once in person thanks to Yoga Festival Toronto) to ask if she’d like to collaborate on what seemed like a cool, but possibly improbable project: that is, co-editing a book of essays that was rooted the culture of the yoga blogosphere, but grew the writing into a more complex and lasting forms.

Roseanne was characteristically enthusiastic—“yes yes yes!” she shot back—and 21st Century Yoga was born. (Note: To learn more about the backstory to the book, listen to Jessica Durivage’s interview with me and Roseanne on Where is My Guru.)

Back to the Source

Given this history, I’m really happy to be able to do the 21st Century Yoga book club here on elephant journal. About half of the 21CY crew has written for elephant independently, and everyone involved is aware of the central (if controversial) role it plays in the yoga blogosphere. Personally, I’ve learned much of value from participating in the forum elephant provides—which, in keeping with the yoga world at large, I find alternately maddening and inspiring, never solidifying into a simple paradigm or static picture.

By bringing some of the content of the 21st Century Yoga to elephant, I hope to continue the cycle of writing, reading, reflection, and discussion that created it in the first place. Because 21st Century Yoga is a 100 percent social media-driven collaboration: not only did I “meet” Roseanne and the contributors online—we also used (and continue to use) the revolutionary new tools of social media (print-on-demand publishing, Amazon, Facebook, blogs, podcasts, etc.) to produce, promote, distribute and discuss it.

Ideally, bringing 21st Century Yoga back to the blogosphere that launched it will encourage new ideas, voices, and creative projects to emerge and develop. Whether that will happen, of course, remains to be seen. Regardless, I’m excited to share the work of the 21CY crew through our book posts and podcasts, and hope you will find it as innovative and inspiring as I do.

Launching the Conversation

In the coming weeks, you’ll have the opportunity to engage directly with Melanie Klein, Frank Jude Boccio, Chelsea Roff, Julian Walker, Angela Jamison, and Matthew Remski about their 21CY essays, which cover topics including body image, yoga commercialism, eating disorders, studio restructuring, community building, esoteric experience, and “Enlightenment 2.0.”

If you haven’t done it already, I urge you to buy a copy of the book (available on our eStore and Amazon), read their work in full, and jump into the discussion as it unfolds.

In the meantime, I invite you to consider some of the macro-questions we face as participants in the discussion of contemporary yoga (including but not limited to this book) that’s rapidly expanding both in print and online.

To boil it down, perhaps the most central question is: “What—if anything—are the factors that make a collective conversation about contemporary yoga worthwhile?”

This question has been on my mind since I recently received an email from a well-known yoga teacher protesting that all this discussion of yoga I’m so excited about is essentially destructive. Particularly given the successive shocks generated by the recent Anusara, Diamond Mountain, and Kaustaub Desikachar scandals, some, like her, feel that it’s time to keep quiet. Leave the commentary and critique behind, they urge. Practice quietly on your mat or sit silently on your cushion. This is the only way in which true yoga is practiced and insight gained—or so some claim.

I have a very different perspective. Although I know it may be problematically ambitious, I can’t help but be hopeful that books like 21st Century Yoga, Roots of Yoga, Threads of Yoga, Yoga Ph.D., Yoga for a World Out of Balance, and others—combined with the robust world of the yoga blogosphere and the work of some exceptional print journalists—will launch a new era in which critical reflection on contemporary yoga becomes the norm, rather than the exception in our community.

Personally, I believe that we need a modern-day Jnana yoga (intellectually engaged and discerning) movement to complement the equally valuable Karma (service) and Bhakti (devotion) streams currently developing. All, I think, are capable of enriching our “on the mat” practices in immensely valuable ways.

But I agree that before we speak—and particularly when that speech is public—it’s important to consider:

  • What makes yoga discourse constructive or destructive?
  • When is it better to speak out or keep quiet?
  • Is critical reflection on contemporary practice intrinsically valuable – or not?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

And, please get ready for what promises to be a blockbuster discussion with Melanie Klein of FeministFatale on “How Yoga Makes You Pretty: Yoga, the Beauty Myth, and Me”—coming on the #12CY book club next week!

 

Photography: Sarit Z. Rogers / saritphotography.com

~

Editor: Kate Bartolotta

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About Carol Horton

Carol Horton, Ph.D. is the author of Race and the Making of American Liberalism, (Oxford University Press, 2005) and Yoga Ph.D.: Integrating the Life of the Mind and the Wisdom of the Body. With Roseanne Harvey, she is co-editor of 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, and Practice. Carol blogs at Think Body Electric, and enjoys social media via Facebook and Twitter.

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27 Responses to “Introducing 21st Century Yoga: From Blogging to Book & Back Again.”

  1. Discourse is constructive when it is honest and respectful
    It is wise to speak out when you believe your words will inform
    Critical reflection is valuable and if not deemed so beware of the listener, even if it is yourself

    Looking forward to the unfolding of this ambitious project

    From one who watches the unfolding of human behavior with great curiosity.

    • Carol Horton carolhortonbooks says:

      "Critical reflection is valuable and if not deemed so beware of the listener, even if it is yourself" – whoa. Huge – and challenging – set of ideas packed into one sentence.

      Thanks Hilary, as always, for your astute insights and no BS commentary.

  2. Pankaj Seth says:

    The modern West is at a watershed moment, and what happens next can be helped immensely by exploring and engaging Jnana Yoga. The following article by the philosopher Alva Noe indicates quite clearly what the task is now for the West, as he explains the impasse. Overcoming this impasse will require a completely new look at epistemology, leading to new strategies and methodologies… new for the West, but practised for thousands of years in the Dharmic traditions (Hinduism/Buddhism).

    Physical exercises, even meditation cannot by themselves help. Clearly understanding the context within which these exist within the Dharmic traditions is required for success in Yoga.

    Actually, Yoga as a philosophy by itself is not enough as that has been defeated in debate more than a thousand years ago by Shankara, in India. Patanjali's views on how one should contextualize deeper self-experiences will not be enough therefore. Its a long road ahead, but very profitable (and I don't mean in terms of $$$).

    Alva Noe: http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2012/10/12/16272531

    • Carol Horton carolhortonbooks says:

      Pankaj: Thanks for your comment. I wonder if you are aware of the work of the Mind and Life Institute? Do you think that it is moving in the direction of merging Western science and Eastern contemplative traditions as you seem to suggest? Or am I way off the mark here?

      • Pankaj Seth says:

        What "Western science" is, is called Vigyana in Sanskrit… so it is not foreign to the Dharmic traditions. Contrasted to Vigyana is Gyana; the Greek equivalents are Gnosis and Dia-gnosis, something which has been forgotten in the West due to the hegemony of rationalism. The aim of Yoga is gyana, while the Dharmic traditions as a whole address both vigyana and gyana.

        The epistemic structure of the Dharmic traditions has room for, has always included what is now called 'science' in the West. So there is no conflict at all. The merging required is required only in the minds of Westerners who do not know the above, which is most people.

        The limits, structure and applicability of vigyana and gyana are well circumscribed in the Dharmic traditions. Because of this, the Dharmas are not waiting for science/positivism/causality/rationalism to fulfil its pseudo quest to deliver what would be expected of a complete approach to knowledge, both self-knowledge and knowledge of what the world is; this issue is highlighted in Noe's article. Obviously, its a deep issue which will take time to unpack from the brief sketch I have given above.

        Towards that end, my wife and I are currently making a film which will highlight the above, and address other related issues… hopefully, this will help to provide a platform for a deeper discussion of these very important matters.

        • Carol Horton carolhortonbooks says:

          Interesting. I had never heard the Gnosis/Diagnosis pairing before (although I am aware of Gnosis), nor that of Gyana/Vigyana at all. I love the pairing of the two as it takes what you're talking about out of the realm of the culturally/historical specific and points to a broader human experience.

          • Pankaj Seth says:

            While knowledge is a common human endeavour, we find different approaches to knowledge in various cultures/civilizations. The pre-Christian West was an Indo-European culture, so we find many commonalities between Sanskrit and Greek, but by now modern English has collapsed this earlier distinction and the word 'know' has become preeminent, obliterating the earlier held distinction made vis a vis the type of knowledge.

            By contrast, the gyana/vigyana distinction exists in common usage in India still, and consequently what is called 'Religion' and 'Science' in the West remains unified in India as the concept of Dharma. While 'religion' and 'science' are inimical towards each other in the West, no such division exists in the Indian civilization.

            The modern West, in looking at India can find intact its own earlier heritage, which was crushed by Christianity over the centuries, as Christianity tried to monopolize the discourse on knowledge.

          • Carol Horton carolhortonbooks says:

            Remember, however, that there were the Gnostic Gospels. Christianity has its own mystical tradition, it's just that we don't hear much about it these days.

            I think that in the modern period, what you're referring to in terms of the merger of these two different (but complementary) types of knowledge was labelled as the reconciliation of "science and spirituality." Swami Vivekananda talked about this when introducing yoga to the U.S. Western terms, to be sure, but I think pointing in the same direction you are (- ?)

          • Pankaj Seth says:

            Yes, the notion that these two types of knowledge are complementary is very important. Otherwise, there is needless quarrelling over what is legitimate knowledge, or 'truth'.

            'science' and 'spirituality'… I find this formulation to be very clumsy language, it causes more confusion than clarity. Looking into gyana and vigyana however offers much more clarity as these are well circumscribed. The 'vi' means 'divided'… so vigyana is 'divided knowledge'… knowledge in the form of the subject-object distinction. Gyana does not have this feature, and arises spontaneously when thought has been stilled/transcended, the subject-object division arising with perception and thought after all. This leads to other implications and questions of course, but which are handled with precision in the Dharmic traditions.

            Gnostic Christianity is promising, as it seems to have a partly non-dual structure, where the Christ is within. Neoplatonism I think is even more promising as a systematic approach… its very similar to Advaita Vedanta. It will be interesting to see how all these strands come together in our modern era.

          • Pankaj Seth says:

            Oh, and I should add that the seer Angiras, in the Mundaka Upanishad specifically mentions these two types of knowledge… one of them (vigyana) being conceptual while the other is a knowledge by identity.

          • Carol Horton carolhortonbooks says:

            I have no doubt that the terms you are using are more on point than "science and spirituality" – however, those are generally the best entry-level terms that reach people (who are open even to that set of ideas) in North American culture. Once that bridge is crossed, new possibilities can open up.

            Thanks for your very interesting comments.

          • Pankaj Seth says:

            And thanks for a wonderful conversation.

          • Melanie Klein Melanie says:

            Gloria Steinem is the one who alerted me to The Gnostic Gospels http://www.amazon.com/The-Gnostic-Gospels-Elaine-

          • Carol Horton carolhortonbooks says:

            Appropriately enough from the #21CY perspective! :)

  3. Linda-Sama says:

    Carol, I notice in your book that there is no teacher of color…and is anyone over 50? and aren't these writers all from North America? so I am curious as to your choice of teachers who are writing about "21st century yoga"…..

    • Carol Horton carolhortonbooks says:

      Hi Linda – This book explicitly focuses only on North American yoga. We don't o attempt to address yoga in any other part of the world – not because that wouldn't be valuable; it was simply beyond the scope of our capacities for this project. As lead editor, I've never studied yoga anywhere else, and didn't (and still don't) feel that I could do a good job working with that material.

      Re diversity, agreed that this is a flaw – one that we tried to address in terms of reaching out to several writers of color, but various reasons, it didn't pan out. I also agree that it would be valuable to hear from writers over 50 – we don't have one.

      We did the best we could working without pay on a DIY labor of love – the book's not perfect, but I believe that it's very good! And hope that others will be inspired to make the discussion we're attempting to contribute to even better.

      • Well at least we can escape any criticism of ageism; to quote an old song from The Police: "I was born, born in the fifties!"

        Carol and I have never met outside of the internet, so she's forgiven for not knowing I think only Roseanne — who I have had the pleasure to spend some time with knows this, but my older daughter is 38 (don't let her know I've outed her, eh?).

        In fact, this Sunday (Oct 21st) I'll be entering into my 57th year.

        • Carol Horton carolhortonbooks says:

          Oof! Sorry, Frank! From our online interactions, I somehow didn't bracket you as in that "over 50" category – but had I reflected on the various referents you've made, I could have pieced that together . . . At any rate, Happy (upcoming) Birthday!

  4. Welcome, Carol. I'm looking forward to this discussion and will get the word out wherever I can to draw people in.

    Thanks for the great book and thanks for being here.

    Bob

  5. Anne Samit Anne says:

    Wishing the print-on-demand link was working. Would love to learn more about that.

    • Carol Horton carolhortonbooks says:

      Anne – The link works in that it connects to the 21st Century Yoga eStore. When you purchase the book, it is printed and shipped. There is no back stock. The same is true, however, if you purchase it on Amazon or wherever.

      I think that there are a number of businesses offering print-on-demand services at this point, but Amazon's Createspace (which we're using) is the largest and most well-established. They have extensive info about how it works on their website.

  6. kathik says:

    As a recovering journalist, I can't imagine NOT talking about these issues. Can't have the lotus without the murky water.
    As a teacher, I really believe that engaging our students and consistently putting out the best, most relevant work that we can will outshine any broader fear of guruism, cults or just plain 'weirdness.' Students experience positive change, they tell their friends and the proof is in the puddin.' Maybe the result of all of this publicity will be new appreciation for the 'mom n pop' studios and the neighborhood teachers who'll never get a smidge of mainstream ink.

    • Carol Horton carolhortonbooks says:

      Amen to that, Kathik! Those mom n' pop studios and neighborhood teachers are the backbone of North American yoga, doing the daily hard work that's healed and inspired so many. Nothing against our more inspirational "celebrity" teachers, as I'm confident that they would agree. May we trust in ourselves and our capacity to learn from each other more and fear sacred cows less.

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