Friday, August 26, 2011

Hip Hop Yoga and Vairagya

Last night, I did something very uncharacteristic.  Instead of exploring the Advanced Vinyasa class I had initially planned on, I went to a Hip Hop Yoga class.  For those who have never been in a Hip Hop Yoga class think blaring hip hop music (so loud that the teacher has to wear a mic so that students can hear her), crowded room, lots of "flow" in the sequence, abdominal work and lots of sweat.

So, what in the world is someone who just finished a training that is focused heavily on alignment and tradition and who regularly practices Ashtanga (where there is no music and a heavy emphasis on using the sound of your breath as a guide) and who does not particularly enjoy hip hop music doing taking a Hip Hop Yoga class?!  Well, I'll tell you.

#1).  I realized that I was beginning to have an "aversion" to it.  Aversion is one of the kleshas (a.k.a "obstacles") listed in the Yoga Sutras as preventing someone from acting correctly and is one of the causes of suffering, and, basically, it prevents you from fully experiencing yoga (at least that's my understanding of it).  So, aversion, is usually associated with identifying with a painful experience.  For a very simple example: you tried broccoli at one point in your life, hated it and decided that you were just somebody that hates broccoli and doesn't even attempt eating it ever again (even though it's good for you).  Or, this is one way prejudice can be explained.  You have one painful or unpleasant experience with one type of person, decide that all people of that particular type will be just like that and then end up treating them all poorly because of the one interaction with that first person.  You carry the hurt/painful/unpleasant experience with you, as a part of you, and allow it to influence/color your actions towards people and things.  So, what does this have to do with Hip Hop Yoga?  I don't particularly care for hip hop music.  I think I have all of about 5 hip hop type songs in my library of music.  I don't like the lyrics, the culture or behavior that usually accompanies it.  With regards to combining it with yoga, I understand that using that kind of music helps bring in a lot of people who might not otherwise try yoga, but it also strikes a nerve with the part of me that is getting annoyed at the "watering down" of yoga.  However.  The person who was teaching this class is a friend of mine and I've been wanting to take a class of her's for a while, especially after really listening to her teach the class on Tuesday night while I was running the front desk at the studio.  She wasn't just calling out poses and leading people through a sequence, she was actually teaching them yoga.  The problem was, "I hate hip hop music!...And just really loud music in general!"  I think it was at that point that I realized what this was turning into...that I had such an aversion to the music and what it represented that it was preventing me from taking a class from a friend and from learning from her.  That is when a preference or dislike for something becomes a klesha.

#2) I was talking with someone at the condo earlier that day about doing things outside your comfort zone.  For a lot of people, sitting in silence is really hard.  I'm well accustomed to it.  It is not usually hard for me to concentrate in silence or find that sense of "dropping-in" during a yoga class when there is no music.  Many times, I prefer it--especially after my experience in the Mala.  So, I realized that my challenge isn't practicing in silence--it's practicing among noise.  That reminded me of something I read in one of the many yoga books that I had to read during the training: that it is one thing to find concentration or bliss (or whatever) in an ashram, or holy place, or on a mountain top, but it is quite another to find it in the middle New York City.  I think it's also similar to the concepts talked about in sutra 1.12:

"Both practice and nonreaction are required to still the patterning of consciousness (Chip Hartranft translation)."  Or, as another translation puts it, "The mind can reach the state of Yoga through practice [abhyasa] and detachment [vairagya] (Desikachar translation)." 

It's the idea of not reacting to the things that happen around you, of not getting attached to the experience.  Chip Hartranft describes it as "The will to observe experience without reaction...the willingness to let a phenomenon arise without reacting to it."  So, this just seemed like it was an appropriate challenge: could I still use my breath, still keep my focus and attention to my alignment and still do my own practice without reacting to the hip hop music, or being in a super crowded room?  Not only did I start seeing that this would be a challenge in non-reaction, or detachment, but it would also require me to take my concentration to another level.

#3).  After listening to her class on Tuesday night, it also just sounded like a lot of fun.  And, as Jennie said during the training, "fun is a good reason to do something."  Even my Ashtanga teacher has said during class, "yoga is supposed to be fun, if you don't have fun, then you won't come back...and then we would miss you."  I just realized how serious I was getting about things and that it was starting to make me unhappy.  Something I wrote in my application to the YogaWorks training was that yoga has a tendency to get very serious, so it's important to balance it with a light heart.  This was an attempt to remember that.

So, with all that in mind, I went to Hip Hop Yoga class night with the "intention" of being open to what was happening in the class but detached enough from the hip hop yoga to hear it.  The class was fantastic, just my pace.  It ended up being really small for that class--maybe 70 people instead of the usual 100--and fairly mellow (again, when compared to usual classes).  My friend could tell that most of the people there were feeling very low energy--they were super quiet, very uncharacteristic of the "hip hop yogis."  So, she still did enough strength and ab work to make us sweat (since that is what the majority of people coming to that Hip Hop Yoga class are looking for) but not enough to kill everyone in the room...just enough to wake them up.  She's a very talented teacher who really takes care of her students--both with her attention and with her choice of instructions.  It was like she knew just what to say to get them to take care of themselves during the class--Jennie would call it "making them take responsibility for their own practice."  And you can tell that she puts a lot of thought and effort into her classes, that she doesn't just throw them together at the last minute.  I think she altered what she was going to teach a little bit because of everyone's energy, but that's the mark of a good teacher.  She also incorporated silence in all the right spots and did a fun thing during the Surya Namaskar section: she shut the lights off.  The only light in the room was from the candles and outside street lights.  One of the "limbs" or steps in yoga is "pratyahara," also known as sense withdrawal.  According to one book I've read, that is something that just happens as a result of increasing your concentration, but this was a good way to start introducing the idea--without even saying that's why it was happening!  Sneaky, sneaky :)

I was also really happy to see that I found my concentration again.  My friend said that I was "super mindful in my practice."  Wednesday night that concentration was missing, like I wasn't entirely present.  Last night, I was much more present and totally focused on what I was doing.  After a while it was like I was barely registering the music that was being played--which is exactly what I was working towards.  I was also reminded of something else--something I first told someone last year and try to live by but, immediately after the training, was forgetting: "it's all yoga."  Last year, I told someone that there were many different styles of yoga because there are many different types of people, so people need different ways to connect to it.  But, that they were all basically trying to teach the same things.  I could hear it in my head Wednesday night, "I don't want this, I want the way they taught in my training!"  Even though a lot of the language was the same.  Jennie had told us that there is a tendency for the YogaWorks training to turn you into a little bit of a "yoga-snob," where you won't settle for anything that's not as good as or as similar to a YogaWorks style class or instructor, but that it eventually wears off.  "Besides, it's all yoga."  The Hip Hop Yoga class was a good reminder of that.  It was a really great experience and a great learning lesson.  My friend is a good teacher and I could definitely see myself in that class again--hip hop music and all.


  1. What a good blog you have here. Please update it more often. This topics is my interest. Thank you. practice of ayurveda

    1. Thank you! I'm glad that you find it of interest. As you can see, I haven't been writing in it for about a year now. There is plenty going on in my life and the yoga practice continues to deepen and grow, but I haven't felt like writing about it. I have just been wanting to experience it without analyzing it. But, I am leaving for India next month to study with Sharath Jois in Mysore, so there could be more blogging (as a general way to keep all my friends and family back home updated) or there could not be, and I will just enjoy being disconnected from the internet and everything else. We'll see, I'm keeping my options open. Either way, thanks for reading, and I'm glad you enjoy it. :-)