Why Yoga Blogging Matters.

Via Carol Horton
on Jun 27, 2011
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Why are you here?

I don’t mean ontologically, metaphysically, or existentially – although we can get to that, too. I mean literally, right here right now – on your desktop, laptop, iPad, SmartPhone, or whatever you’re on – what moved you to click and come to this virtual reading-and-meeting space?

Now please note that I DON’T mean to press any guilty buttons by asking this question (self-recriminations like I should really be getting back to work or doing the laundry or whatever rather than reading blogs). No, no – no. Quite the contrary. I’m asking because I hope you’ll join me in taking a moment (or several) to step back and reflect on the meaning of your own yogging (= yoga + blogging) experience.

Why read, write, and/or comment on yoga blogs? For entertainment, information, edification? To pass the time, learn new stuff, connect with others?

To enhance your practice?

To be part of a collective enterprise that’s contributing to the evolution of contemporary yoga?

Or maybe to voice your rejection of the assumptions such questions imply?

I’d love to know your thoughts. And soon – because I’m revved to report that I’ll be part of a “Yogging Heads” Panel devoted to exploring precisely such questions at Yoga Festival Toronto (YFT) this August!

Yes, following the keynote address (which I’m very much looking forward to) by practitioner-scholar Mark Singleton, author of the ground-breaking Yoga Body, I’ll be hashing out what’s happening in the burgeoning yoga blogosphere along with our esteemed Elephant Yoga editor, Bob Weisenberg, as well as It’s All Yoga Baby blogger extraordinaire, Roseanne Harvey (just back from retirement!). And if that’s not cool enough, YFT Co-Director and (small-r) renaissance man Matthew Remski will be moderating the discussion.

Like the yoga blogosphere itself, Yogging Heads is a new collective experiment, and there’s no knowing precisely how it will pan out. To help get this party started, however, I’m presenting some preliminary thoughts based on my own experience after about a year here in yoga-blogo land.

Regardless of whether you’re able to attend the conference (highly recommended – more info on that here), please consider sharing your thoughts, and helping us co-create a really good discussion.

Bringing the Mind Back In

First, I’ll just lay my cards on the table and flat out state that I believe the yoga blogosphere’s already proved itself to be an important development in the evolution of contemporary yoga, and that it has tremendous potential to become even more so.

Grandiose? Maybe. But here’s my reasoning.

Contemporary yoga practice (at least in North America, the only terrain I really know) is unbalanced. There’s an excessively heavy emphasis on asana, while other aspects of practice remain relatively undeveloped.

Now, I don’t mean to suggest that asana isn’t important. On the contrary, it’s the pivotal, vital center of yoga today. For most of us, asana forms the gateway to everything that yoga offers; physically, psychologically, and spiritually.  As such, it’s also the one thing that practitioners have in common – we all practice and value asana.

Yet with the centrality of asana comes an insidious tendency to replicate the weird combo of bodily obsession and disassociation that dominates mainstream culture. Sure, the yoga community earnestly talks the talk of body-mind-spirit integration. Frankly, however, I think we’re still pretty far away from walking the walk.

Certainly, there’s a lot of focus on developing the body through asana and associated practices (e.g., healthy eating, bodywork, outfitting ourselves in cool yoga gear). There’s relatively little emphasis, however, on similarly developing the mind. True, there’s a lot of detailed study of anatomy. Beyond such bodily focused thinking, however, the yoga community has generally hummed along to the tune of “get out of your head” in ways that start to sound suspiciously like “turn off your brain.”

Consequently, the spiritual dimensions of yoga – which are commonly, although not necessarily, tapped into through asana practice – are all-too-often cognitively untethered, divorced from the more rational, analytical, or simply questioning parts of our minds. As a result, there’s a pronounced tendency to shoot straight from a more purely physical practice way too far out into the Woo.

Now, as I wrote recently, I actually cherish the woo-ier parts of my practice. I certainly don’t believe that our experience of yoga should be limited to the analytic or the scientific. At the same time, however, erasing such capacities of mind right out of the picture serves only to starve or silence important parts of our being. And putting them back it doesn’t detract from other aspects of practice – on the contrary, each dimension enhances the others, with the synergy of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

So: I believe that the yoga blogosphere is helping to balance out the lopsidedness of an overly asana-centric yoga culture by providing a forum that encourages us to use our minds in new ways. Because if yogging is rooted in asana, when we’re looking at screens and typing up posts and comments, we’re working much more directly with our minds than our bodies.  And, if you choose to engage with it, yogging will in fact provide some serious exercise for your brain – and, in the process, for your being as a whole.

Personal Growth and Community Development

reblogged from humbleberry

Certainly, there’s no question that I’ve learned an enormous amount from only a little over a year in the yoga blogosphere. Much of this comes from the process that I’ve had to go through in order to work up the courage to blog, post, and comment myself. At least as much has come, however, simply from engaging with what others have put online.

Reading yoga blogs – and looking at and listening to the various videos, art, music, photos, or whatever else they may contain – has produced a huge range of responses in me. I’ve been informed, entertained, uplifted, dismayed, bored, surprised, soothed, and disturbed. While yogging has mainly made me happy, it’s sometimes made me sad. It’s been alternately edifying and disillusioning. More than anything else, it’s made me realize in a much more visceral way that there’s a lot of people out there who care a lot about yoga – but who may or may not share any of my own cherished beliefs and assumptions, hopes and fears, or turn-ons and turn-offs about it.

Concretely, some of the yogging that’s made a particularly strong impression on me during the past year includes:

1) Writing that opens up the dark side of yoga and exposes it to the light of free expression and discussion. Certainly, it’s a good thing to “think positive.” All too often, however, the yoga community seems bunkered down in a hermetically sealed bubble of “positivity” that willfully denies the many pathologies present not only in the world, but the yoga community itself. Recent posts in Elephant Journal and Recovering Yogi have broken the silence that’s previously surrounded many difficult issues, including the seductiveness of abusive gurus, the manipulative lies that can flourish in spiritual communities, and the soul-sucking scenes surrounding certain “yoga stars.” (For me personally, the many comments on my “Yoga Teacher on a Pedestal” post came as quite a surprise – I had absolutely no idea that discussing the psychological pitfalls of the student-teacher relationship would strike such a chord.)

Certainly, publicly discussing such delicate issues needs to be done as mindfully as possible, as there’s a lot at stake. For precisely that reason, however, it’s important to do it. Just as we experience in our bodies with yoga, it’s light, space, and connection that bring healing – not darkness, closure, and disassociation.

Yoga Journal Cover Model Contest

2) Multiple initiatives demonstrating how much the photographic representation of yoga – particularly who’s a “yoga model” and who’s not – matters. I’ve been struck by the sheer number of recent “yoga model” competitions or compilations, with sponsors ranging from the epitome of mainstream (Yoga Journal) to the culturally foreign (Wild Yogi). (Other notable sites include Curvy Yoga, Yoga Dork, and the So Hum Project.) I don’t have any idea what the real numbers are, but it seems like hundreds, if not thousands of practitioners have recently submitted photos of themselves doing asana to such yogging hubs. While participants seems to have seen this as simply a “fun” activity, personally I think that this characterization elides just how important the underlying cultural and identity issues are to people (someone should write a blog post on that!)

While it’s often said that yogis should “be above” such mundane concerns, the facts demonstrate that many people feel there’s a lot at stake in the photographic representation of yoga. This comes out even more clearly in the commercial realm. Most notably, last summer’s L’Affaire Toesox generated such a firestorm of controversy that it seems to have permanently altered what had previously been a running debate over the commercialization of yoga. More recently, the debate over the “Lakshmi Bikini” (not quite the same issue, but related) explored some parallel dynamics in a more culturally distant (and therefore much less controversial) realm.

3) Posts that play with the possibilities of yogging in particularly creative ways. When writing about or graphically representing yoga was confined to books and magazines, there were a lot of barriers to what could be presented. With yogging, however, there’s very few. Basically, if you have time and online access, you can yog. This, combined with the medium’s new multi-media capabilities -the ability to post any combination of text, photos, graphics, videos, and music clips that you want – presents incredible new possibilities for creative expression.

Yoga Dawg with Miles Davis, c. 1960-61

It’s no exaggeration to say that I’ve found some of the best yoga writing and multi-media expression I’ve ever seen during my time online over the past year. For me, just a few of the standouts have been: Yoga Dawg Howls (for wickedly smart satire and stellar photoshopping abilities), the Yoga 2.0 team (for brilliant writing that makes postmodern ideas meaningful rather than trendy or clichéd), and humbleberry (for compiling breathtaking images that convey the experience of yoga in new forms). I could go on and on . . . but the point is not to make a “best of” list. Rather, the point is that we have a new open space for creative expression, and that yoggers are working it – beautifully.

For me, there’s absolutely no question that engaging with all this stuff (and these are just a few examples, there’s certainly others) in the yoga blogosphere has helped me grow as a person. This is particularly true because not all of it has been fun, or easy. It can be challenging to process the emotions that come up when someone gives you a negative comment, or pushes a view that you hate, or has reactions that you find disturbing. It’s sure good practice, however, to try.

For all these reasons – and more – I definitely consider yogging to be part of my “off the mat” practice.

By the same token, I believe that yogging is helping develop the yoga community in important new ways. By tradition, yoga is a highly decentralized enterprise, with different students following different teachers – or simply their own path. There’s no centralized authority in yoga. And that’s great.

It can make it difficult, however, to really connect as a community. I spent years, for example, going to a studio that had very strong Ashtangha and Forrest Yoga communities. And we never interacted with each other in any meaningful way – ever.

Yogging, however, naturally crosses such lines of method and lineage. True, smaller online sub-communities naturally form, as like-minded people find one another. Which is nice, and as it should be.

It’s also true, however, that yogging has inherently open boundaries. It naturally provides an unprecedented opportunity to connect with other practitioners across time and space.

So: What do we want to do with it? More precisely, what moves you the most?

If you can make it, please join me at the Yogging Heads Panel in Toronto this August so that we can discuss it in non-virtual reality. In the meantime, however, whether you can make it or not, I’d love to hear your ideas. Thanks!


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.


40 Responses to “Why Yoga Blogging Matters.”

  1. matthew says:

    "I definitely consider yogging to be part of my “off the mat” practice." Lovely. And it overlaps with mantra practice. Yogging is the new jnana-yog.

  2. Marcella says:

    Yogging is a truly horrible concept. To shoehorn all the diverse ideas about yoga into a new category serves no purpose other than to make it more easily captured by those that want to set up a hierarchy of luminaries that just so happen to fit some weird writers guild or clever photographers or better at something as mundane like Photoshop or word press. ‎ ‎"It has nothing to do with effort. Just turn away, look between the thoughts, rather than at the thoughts. When you happen to walk in a crowd, you do not fight every person you meet, you just find your way between. When you fight, you invite a fight. But when you do not resist, you meet no resistance. When you refuse to play the game, you are out of it." ~nisargadatta A movement in the case of a work like mine means the founding of a school or a sect or some other damned nonsense. It means that hundreds or thousands of useless people join in and corrupt the work or reduce it to a pompous farce from which the Truth that was coming down recedes into secrecy and silence. It is what has happened to the “religions” and is the reason of their failure. — Sri Aurobindo, On Himself

  3. faern! says:

    gosh, im going to have to think about this- but so far what has moved me the most about moving through blogs and related material is the realization that in smaller town areas they don't have much in terms of studio and teacher options so they work to gather their information through books, blogs and online questions on twitter- i think that is positively awesome.

  4. matthew says:

    This is a great point. Small-town yoga will someday be majority yoga, and we're developing very powerful tools for community right now.

  5. tanya lee markul says:

    Hi Carol. There are so many points to this article that got me thinking. With such focus on the physical practice (we can attach ourselves to form, ego, etc), I can see that it could inhibit our focus from opening other realms of the mind, almost like a distraction, especially as we live in a society that is still very superficial and focused on identity.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Assoc. Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
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  6. Bill says:

    Why do I hang out here? Hmm… Well, thoughful postings after the article, although the sometimes outrageous comments are worth reading, especially aftter the GIYP article…
    The banter on what Yoga is and what Yoga is not. The back and forth can/could go on and on.
    The insightful writers that share excerpts from their own personal experiences and help bring to light how we are each of us consumed by differing emotions in our own lives. The how and why Yoga is something we share.
    But mostly its the idea that we should at somepoint in our time here wake and realise that we can and should hold each other up whether we like everything or not about one another.

  7. Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

    Bob W. Yoga Editor
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  8. Carol Horton says:

    Thanks Faern! Yes that is a great point. And, in reverse, as an urbanite I would love to hear more about what it's like to do yoga in a small town or rural area – I've never lived in such places – someone should blog about that!

    And, speaking of creativity online, I love your work – photographing asana in ways that brings in an artistic rather than simply commercial sensibility is very meaningful to me.

  9. Carol Horton says:

    Hi Bill – What's the GIYP article? I have no idea but it sounds intriguing.

    "we should at somepoint in our time here wake and realise that we can and should hold each other up whether we like everything or not about one another" – well put. So valuable but not always so easy!

    I do find that blogging helps with that as I inevitably run into opinions I don't like or am simply astonished even exist.

  10. Carol Horton says:

    Hi Chelsea – It would be great to have more of these discussions – I think that stepping back from time to time and looking at what we're doing collectively – and doing this in conversation with one another – is really valuable.

    Hope that your mind spinning produces a new post so that we can hear what's happening in more detail!

  11. Carol Horton says:

    Thanks Lorin, that would be great!

  12. Carol Horton says:

    Thanks, Roseanne. Very much looking forward to meeting in non-virtual reality!

  13. […] In preparation for this panel, I’m going to be investigating what it means to be on the cutting edge of a supposedly ancient tradition, why I blog about yoga, and what blogging can contribute to the practice, and you can keep up with it all the action here on it’s all yoga, baby. Carol already got the party started on elephant journal with her provocative post, Why Yoga Blogging Matters. […]

  14. Carol Horton says:

    Nothing could be better than hearing that this made you pleased to be here because I LOVE your writing! – yoga has always taken many forms, so why not blogging today?

  15. Carol Horton says:

    Thanks Adan! Yes, I think that brains have gotten a bad rap of late – but yoga to me is about developing (and embracing) ALL our capacities – most certainly including those of the mind.

  16. yogijulian says:

    this is great carol.

  17. downdogandcats says:

    I'm only a week into blogging and have not started my formal teacher training. But yoga blogs have been a lifeline in deepening my practice and by extension my life. My blog was started to help chronicle my process and also give me an outlet to express my view on an appropriate forum vs. Facebook. I look to my blog to be a running dialogue of what I hope to teach and , more importantly, what I hope to continue to learn.

  18. matthew says:

    that would be jogging in sweden, of course. with an umlaut on the 'o'.

  19. Claudia says:

    Carol, I had written a whole comment which got deleted for some reason, but not to worry, I wrote an article about it here http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/06/why-r-u-he… with 8 reasons why I blog, I am so happy you are going to Toronto!!!

  20. bill says:

    It was Girls In Yoga Pants, mostly its a website that concentrates viewing pictures of girls in public wearing their yoga pants.
    It was viewed by many as objectification of women, however when these women send the photos in themselves , well you can draw your own conclusions there…

  21. […] are you here? This was the lead question in Carol Horton’s post Why Yoga Blogging Matters on elephant journal a couple of weeks ago. It generated a some interesting responses here, here and […]

  22. Mat Witts says:

    I am anti-yogging but pro-blogging about yoga. Yoga and blogging cannot be assimilated into something else called "yogging". Even if it is a jokey play on words people will tend to make a thing out of it – make it concrete. The trouble with yogging is it is ANTI-yoga in that people that regularly write about yoga do so because they are confident writers and think they might know something (Or more usually just want to make add more noise to the Yoga Information Overload) about yoga – fine – but the great yogis didn't actually write – and most were/are illiterate and so this perpetuates inequality in favour of the well educated (and the inherrent racial and other inequalities in education generally) – Yogging it is an offshoot of Macaulayism. Compare the ancient traditions and well documented methodology of meditation with the "Continuous Partial Attention (CPA)" coined by Linda Stone in 1998 which: "usually involves skimming the surface of the incoming data, picking out the relevant details, and moving on to the next stream. You're paying attention, but only partially. That lets you cast a wider net, but it also runs the risk of keeping you from really studying the fish". The best blogs about yoga are not from the CPA crowd Cheery Picking for sensationalist stories but from ordinary people trying to make sense of themselves, sense of yoga, and the world we all live in. This is where EJ, YJ Tricycle and all the other resources snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

  23. EkamYogini says:

    wonderful, and got me thinking…i'm a noob yoga blogger and put in my 2 centimes worth here: http://wp.me/p1BmiV-4n


  24. […] Carol Horton got the conversation going a couple weeks ago, to help her to prepare for her spot on the panel. She will be presenting along with Roseanne Harvey and Bob Weisenberg, moderated by Matthew Remski. […]

  25. Carol Horton says:

    Welcome to blogging, and thanks for commenting, which enabled me to find your blog!

  26. Carol Horton says:

    Thanks Claudia! great post and always good to hear from you.

  27. Carol Horton says:

    thanks for that very thoughtful and interesting post, I enjoyed reading it.

  28. Carol Horton says:

    Sounds like you've got several blog posts brewing there already! And I completely agree with your point that there can be (and hopefully, most often is) more to asana than meets the eye. Nonetheless, I do feel that we have a strong cultural pull toward body obsessiveness that could use further balancing, both within and without of asana practice per se.

  29. […] we start talking about the issues that have been swept under the rug — sexual exploitation in the yoga room, cult-like dynamics […]

  30. […] as I have been surfing around yoga blogs (which is another thing the yoga community likes to do… blog), I have compiled my list of 7 Things Yogis Love to Hate. No one should feel bad or […]

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  33. […] are you here? This was the lead question in Carol Horton’s post Why Yoga Blogging Matters on elephant journal a couple of weeks ago. It generated a some interesting responses here, here and […]

  34. […] Yoga, Baby, and Bob Weisenberg of Elephant Journal. I’d planned on reporting on this event – a post that I’d written publicizing it generated some good discussion (both supportive and skeptical), […]

  35. Meka says:

    I think yoga blogging totally matters, because it gives us yogis more info on things we may not know of.
    I recently joined a yoga class and got my friends into it, of course i had to get them pants for since it was new to them (http://www.karmicfit.com/Product/ProductList/yoga-women-yoga-pants) they are eco-friendly pants so thats always great. Thanks for the blogs and info!