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Insider/Outsider by Gwendolyn Alker

Posted by daniellecduffy on July 22, 2012 at 6:20 PM Comments comments (1)

Blog Post, July 20, 2012 INSIDER/OUTSIDER By Gwendolyn Alker


Making the transition to Block Island is always a welcome change from the intensity of New York City. While I have lived in the City (as locals call it), for 20 years, Block Island will always be more of a home as I spent my childhood here—creating a bond that one cannot re-create as an adult. New York, ironically, is a place where anyone can belong or fade into obscurity. On Block Island there always seems to be an awareness of who is truly an “islander.” Or, in other words, an insider.


Where we feel we belong, of course, is often a matter of personal belief. But it is also about those around us, and our relationships. And I am continually reminded that as a summer resident I am not really an insider here. (As anyone who’s spent time here knows, tales of being an authentic islander are varied and profound.) As a result, during my 40+ summers here I have often chosen to place myself in my own world, and perhaps sacrifice the possibility of created a true social community.


Oddly, I have realized over the last year that I have somehow done the same thing with my yoga.


Yoga in India was created on the basis of a one-to-one relationship: the guru and his pupil. The guru was exactly that because they could see what you (as an individual) needed, and then make that your practice. In the West this reality has been lost as one teacher may have to handle 50 sweaty bodies in a room in an hour. What has been a blessing of a replacement is the emphasis in many U.S. yogic systems of the “kula,” or community of like-minded practitioners. Think of the sort of energy we invoke when we ramp up our ujjayi breath in a crowded room. But also think about being in the gym in High School, hmmm. I have always missed that aspect of the practice as I don’t affiliate with one school of yoga, but with bits of many; and while I do claim my teacher in New York as my own, the only reason I do so is because of his rejection of the very notion of authority. I have watched close friends go high up in various systems like Forrest, Kripalu or Anusara; assisting famous teachers, and getting that catchy contact high that happens when you are teaching 200 people in a room.


This past winter with the yoga crisis (as discussed in my previous post) a curious thing dawned on me: while I had never perceived myself to be at the center of anything, in the late 1990s, I had actually been at the core of the very thing that had risen so high and was now crumbling. And throughout my years I have been lucky enough to be present to the beginnings of many styles of yoga which are now extremely popular. Most of this can be linked back to the first teacher training with Cindy Lee at OM (another mega studio that just closed, talk to Danielle on that point!), where Amy Ippoliti, Elena Brower, and my current teacher, Jonathan Fitzgordon, all met. I had just started practicing with Cindy before she opened OM. And when this studio opened in a disheveled room on 14th street, all these new teachers became my first kula. In retrospect it was a moment of kismet. Elena and Amy both went on to become some of the most well known teachers to work with John Friend; Om became the thunder dome (as I liked to call it) of yoga in NYC; Jonathan, well, he just continued on being himself. And all these people in the community are now “experts in the field,” quoted in national newspapers and blogs, travelling around the world to teach to thousands. And while I no longer work with most of them, I am still influenced by their ideas, because those are where my roots are. And I realized that yes, I may be an outsider to any specific yoga kula in the US, but I have very strong roots within what one might now be able to call the American Yoga community. Oddly, it took the dissolving of many communities for me to even claim them as my own.


Here on Block Island, Elevation has been my first home where I can create a community of like minded people (who still share healthy differences), built around a desire to breathe, to learn, to open themselves to something new. I still wonder about being an insider in this larger community we call Block Island; but perhaps that perspective will shift as well. I guess I didn’t know that going in, but every place has layers of insider-ness. Just being where you are can change depending on how you look at it.

Blog Post June 28, 2012 ?Yoga is Dead/Long live Yoga? Gwendolyn Alker

Posted by daniellecduffy on June 28, 2012 at 9:20 PM Comments comments (2)

Blog Post June 28, 2012 “Yoga is Dead/Long live Yoga” Gwendolyn Alker


Danielle read a poem by Danna Faulds in class the other day that pushed me to finish this post. The poem, “It Doesn’t Always Small like Roses” reminded me that our practice is not always about the shining, happy days, but also the challenging moments; and, most importantly, cultivating our ability to get through all these moments with grace.


This poem also spoke to my recent transition of leaving the New York City Yoga community and arriving at the freshly built Elevation Studio. Over the past year, the U.S. yoga community has been blasted from all sides. I speak not just personally, but instead reference the myriad articles and facebook pages that have been tracking the scandals and dire health warnings: regarding the former, the scandal on John Friend and Anusara yoga has been covered in the The Washington Post, The New York Times, but was primarily covered on yogadork.com (see their timeline at http://www.yogadork.com/news/running-timeline-of-anusara-controversy-updates-and-teacher-resignations/). The New York Times review of The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards caused quite a stir (see http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/08/magazine/how-yoga-can-wreck-your-body.html?pagewanted=all).


Indeed, speaking to a (formerly) high ranking Anusaran this past weekend, she pronounced with some finality, “I think yoga is dead.” This, of course, is an overstatement, but it is also worth some further thought. Since the late 1990s, yoga has been all the rage in this country. We hear about Madonna doing Ashtanga, Jennifer Aniston doing Vinyasa, we get our Lululemon clothes at a fashionable store with live models in the windows; in NYC there are yoga studios on virtually every corner, and the saturation seems unsustainable. This has been a particularly American love affair with the requisite marketing and flashy selling points: tight abs and a quick road to enlightenment. My sound bite critique of Anusara yoga (developed well before this year’s scandal) can perhaps be applied to this whole scene of yoga. They say they embrace the good and the bad equally, but really, the good is just better.


The thing is we can’t control what we come across. Now, perhaps we’re facing a shift in the reputation that yoga has. Maybe this stage of yoga in the U.S. is coming to a close. The practice isn’t perfect and the people who teach it are equally human, susceptible to the mass hysteria usually saved for rock stars that now seems to apply to some American yogis. But yoga philosophy and practice is truly designed to face both the good and the bad, to find equanimity in it all. (Hopefully John Friend will figure this out.) It is not in our nature to focus on this, especially in this country where paying for a class is thought to equal paying for a commodity. Why would anyone want to pay for something that is not pleasant? Why would we want to immerse ourselves in all that crap we are trying to leave behind?


Here at Elevation we are in a happy moment with our new floors, beautiful new walls and new café. And that is a good thing. But the larger community can remind us that yoga will still be there when things flip to the other side. Yoga is about having tools to moderate the bad, and perhaps even to moderate the good. And maybe after some growing pains, we can all find a bit more of the maturity that this practice offers.And now onto that poem:


It Doesn’t Always Smell Like Roses


This body is not flowing

With liquid energy, no,

And this mind is not

Awash with peace. I

Fight myself in every posture, muscles shriek,

Fear freezes bone and a sure sense of failure grows.

This too is practice,

This ground where grief gains the upper hand,

And anger casts darks shadows. This, the flip

Side of delight is as much

The point as any pleasure—

This is breathing into life.


(From Go In and In: Poems from the Heart of Yoga, 1997, p. 17…I know, the academic in me has to include citations!)

Blog Post June 5, 2012 Gwendolyn Alker

Posted by daniellecduffy on June 6, 2012 at 10:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Blog Post June 5, 2012

Gwendolyn Alker


Yoga as a philosophical tradition began for hatha yogis who were “renunciates.” Indeed, I remember in my trainings at Kripalu how people would talk about bringing yoga to the “householder”—a catch all term for people who had financial responsibilities, jobs, kids, even mortgage payments. In this day and age, and in our current location, this is where it is more important to bring one’s yoga into practice. It’s easy to be enlightened on a hill, less so during the swirl of one’s day-to-day responsibilities.


As we being summer on Block Island, this dynamic is an important one to remember. Block Island has the reputation for being somewhere where one can “check out.” And truly that is a welcome gift. But for those who live here year around, summer bring the busiest time where it is difficult to get “back to the mat,” physically or even spiritually. And these two waves of experience often crash into each other in some challenging ways. Yoga remains an ongoing process of balancing opposites; a yoking of seemingly incompatible forces into harmony. Perhaps this is a helpful practice to cultivate for those of us on vacation and those of us working in this community.


I do believe that Block Island can be a place where one can check back in more deeply with the core fundamentals of one’s practice: balance, nutrition (physical and spiritual), the body and the cultivation of ahimsa or non harming (trying this with oneself is perhaps the most challenging). One can simplify and then use this simplicity to go deeper. We can cultivate the ways of the renunciate. Yet one is never far from a community member in the Post Office, the grocery store, or the bank. There is less anonymity.


And of course, with modern technology we are never too far from the world. As someone who tries to bring a couple of new tricks to the Island every year, I wanted to share some of my insights from this past winter. The biggest was a three-month cleanse that I undertook this Spring. I followed the Body Ecology Diet (B.E.D.) to combat candida (did you know pregnancy can cause candida?), and boost immunity (Help! Beckett was in his first year of daycare!). It was intense, and challenging but ultimately a profound and worthwhile experience. While I am loathe to market any product (and B.E.D. is big on marketing) I thought I would at least provide the info for anyone to check out:


http://bodyecology.com/ (try their recipes! They are free!)


I continued to work with my main teacher, Jonathan Fitzgordon who is now a happy and prolific blogger at: http://blog.corewalking.com/


I also had a good time encountering two new styles of yoga in depth, Ana Forrest yoga: http://www.forrestyoga.com/


Abs like you’ve never seen!

And Iyengar mixed with Body Mind Centering (two separate practices; both very subtle, the combo makes my own work look like a bull in a china shop!):


http://www.iyengar-yoga.com/iyengaryoga/


http://www.bodymindcentering.com/


Hope these links are of interest. I look forward to sharing this summer with you all. More soon (if Beckett allows)…


Namaste, Gwendolyn 


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