July 8, 2010

Punk Rock Yoga.

Hard Core Vinyasa and Big Love in the Motor City.

This guy isn’t like anyone else.

That was the first thought that came to mind when I saw Jason Schramm, the founder and owner of Detroit Yoga. I met Jason at Saul David Raye‘s Thai Yoga Therapy Training at the White Lotus Foundation in 2001 and he rocked my world immediately.

I stumbled into the first practice of the residential program a few minutes late and the first and only thing I saw was the guy in downward-facing dog with tattoos winding up his legs, covering his back, chest and wrapping around his arms. He looked like he just stepped out of the mosh pit at a Bad Religion show. The riot grrl inside me was intrigued immediately.

What was this guy doing here?

Watching him practice, I was quick to realize that this guy was all intensity, even in stillness. His urban grit, edginess, and intense coolness seemed out of place and unexpected in this yoga ashram in the hills high above Santa Barbara. But he sucked me in and got under my skin in a big way.

And he made me uncomfortable.

Not much has changed. After 9 years, Jason remains one of the most influential and inspiring people I know.

When we met, Jason was teaching yoga for Jonny Kest at the Center for Yoga in Michigan, after beginning his yoga practice just a few years earlier on his living room floor in front of a borrowed copy of Bryan Kest’s first VHS video. A typical working class guy, he’d become unsatisfied with the demanding grind of 12-hour workdays  and mindless consumption. Inspired by the physical and mental challenge of yoga, the sharpened focus, mental clarity and reduction in stress, Jason had gone from working stiff to yoga instructor and by 2003, he opened his own studio, Detroit Yoga, in Royal Oak, Michigan.

Seven years later, Detroit Yoga is going strong and he continues to bring a straight forward, no nonsense approach to his students. As the consumer engine continues to churn and even yoga becomes increasingly commodified, Jason remains committed to his practice and his teaching as tools to combat the distractions, mental clutter and “deadening cycle of consumption without cause.” Detroit Yoga’s mantra reminds us to “rise above.”

As a working class, tattooed punk from downtrodden Midwestern Detroit, in many ways, Jason is an unlikely yogi in an unlikely place.

And there’s the beauty.

Jason reminds you that beauty is not defined by outward appearances and is found in unlikely places. Beauty isn’t defined by age, race, class or geographic location.  Love isn’t limited. Love is not found outside yourself, especially in the things you own.

He reminds you to expect the unexpected.

He encourages you to be the unexpected.

Jason doesn’t teach to entertain or provide a simple work out. He teaches because he believes in the potential alchemy of the practice. His classes encourage you to dig deep and find the voice of your own being. He doesn’t contribute to the clutter and distractions by filling in the space with jokes, anecdotes and music (although I appreciate these things in many of my other teachers). Encouraged to practice with razor sharp focus, flowing from pose to pose accompanied by the beat of your own heart and the sound of your breath with minimal instruction is hard core indeed. When we meet challenges and come up against walls of resistance, being with ourselves can be a grueling and challenging experience, an experience that ultimately offers insight and wisdom.

Too often we shy away from these challenging moments. Our entire culture is designed to move our focus outside of ourselves. Jason doesn’t shy away from the obstacles and challenges thrown his way. Living by example, Jason encourages me to expand my heart and become a better person. He pushes my boundaries and softens my edges.

In the gutted heart of industrial America, a city ravaged by global capitalism, he is a beacon of light.

I am profoundly grateful for his teaching and his friendship.


For more videos, click here.

Top 2 photos courtesy of Jason Schramm. Black and white photo taken by Melanie Klein in downtown Detroit, 2003.

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