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Given that we see yoga practically everywhere we turn, from strip-mall yoga studios to advertisements for the Gap, one might assume a blanket acceptance of yoga as an acceptable consumer choice.
Yet, a growing movement courts fear of the popularization of yoga, warning that yoga is essentially Hindu. Some Christians, including Albert Mohler (President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), Pat Robertson (television evangelist and founder of the Christian Coalition of America), and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Roman Catholic Church, warn about the dangers of yoga given the perceived incompatibility between what they believe is its Hindu essence and Christianity. Some well-known Americans, such as Mohler, add that yoga’s popularization threatens the Christian essence of American culture. Hindu protesters, most notably represented by the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), criticize yoga insiders for failing to recognize yoga’s so-called Hindu origins and illegitimately co-opting yoga for the sake of profit.
Protesters rely on revisionist histories that essentialize yoga as Hindu, ignoring its historical and lived heterogeneity. By the end of the first millennium C.E., however, a variety of yoga systems were widespread in South Asia as Hindu, Buddhist, Jains, and others prescribed them. Following the twelfth-century Muslim incursions into South Asia and the establishment of Islam as a South Asian religion, even Muslim Sufis appropriated elements of yoga. Therefore, throughout its premodern history, yoga was culturally South Asian but did not belong to any single religious tradition. Rather than essentializing premodern yoga by reifying its content and aims, it is more accurate to identify it as heterogeneous in practice and characteristic of the doctrinally diverse culture of South Asia.
The history of modern postural yoga, a fitness regimen made up of sequences of often-onerous bodily postures, the movement through which is synchronized with the breath, also problematizes the identification of yoga as Hindu. That history is a paragon of cultural encounters in the process of constructing something new in response to transnational ideas and movements, including military calisthenics, modern medicine, and the Western European and North American physical culture of gymnasts, bodybuilders, martial experts, and contortionists. Yoga proponents constructed new postural yoga systems in the twentieth century, and nothing like them appeared in the historical record up to that time. In other words, the methods of postural yoga were specific to the twentieth century and would not have been considered yoga prior.
In short, recent scholarship has shown that the type of yoga that dominates the yoga industry today—modern postural yoga—does not have its so-called “origins” in some static, “classical,” Hindu yoga system; rather, it is a twentieth-century transnational product, the aims of which include modern conceptions of physical fitness, stress reduction, beauty, and overall well-being. Hence recent scholarship on yoga, both historical and lived, attends to the particularities of different yoga traditions, which vary based largely on social context.
Nevertheless, protesters against the popularization of yoga, in strikingly similar ways, are polemical, prescriptive, and share misguiding orientalist and reformist strategies that essentialize yoga as Hindu. Interestingly though, the two protesting positions emerge as much from the cultural context—that is, consumer culture—that they share with popularized yoga as from a desire to erect boundaries between themselves and yoga insiders. For example, protesters participate in the same consumer dialect, assuming the importance of “choosing” a fitness regimen that fits one’s personal lifestyle and serves the goal of self-perfection. The protesters positions, in other words, are as much the products of the social context they share with postural yoga advocates as popularized yoga itself.
Image Credit: Yoga. Photo by Matt Madd. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via Flickr.
Swami Vivekananda (1863–1902) was a nineteenth-century Hindu reformer, missionary to the United States, and Indian nationalist who constructed and disseminated a system of modern yoga, which he called raja yoga. Yoga insiders and certain scholars of the history of yoga have frequently identified him as the “creator” or “father” of modern yoga, but that is just not accurate.
Vivekananda’s first visit to the United States came in 1893 with his famous speech to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago on his vision of the Hindu tradition. The speech was a hit and triggered a speaking tour that would take him all over the country.
Vivekananda, however, had a number of contemporaries whose work on yoga also stirred plenty of conversation. Consider Pierre Bernard (1876-1955), a turn-of-the-century American social radical, sexual deviant, and modern yoga advocate. As a boy, Bernard discovered yoga when he met an Indian by the name of Sylvais Hamati in Lincoln, Nebraska. Hamati became the boy’s guru. As a young man, Bernard spent years reveling in the public spectacle of his yogic trances. He later became a fashionable businessman and community leader, but always remained a teacher of yoga. At every stage of Bernard’s yoga career, mainstream Americans remained suspicious of his teachings. There were numerous attempts by law enforcement, the media, and the Christian clergy to force Bernard and his students to forfeit yoga. Although he received media attention from all over the country, he only attracted a small following of those who could afford, both financially and socially, to be eccentric.
Next consider the tragic case of Ida C. Craddock (1857-1902), another American social radical, sexual deviant (it turns out there are a lot of them in the history of yoga), and modern yoga advocate. Craddock, like Bernard, lived in a period characterized by various attempts to legally enforce fundamentalist interpretations of what it meant to be a “Christian nation.” Most notable of such attempts were those of US Postal Inspector and founder of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, Anthony Comstock, who used his position in the postal service to censor whatever he deemed a threat to the evangelical Protestant Christian morals he identified as American. Comstock sought to enforce legal standards that would qualify Craddock’s teachings as illegal. In 1902, after being convicted for charges of obscenity, Craddock spent three torturous months in prison and, with the threat of more prison time, eventually killed herself.
So modern yoga has not always received a friendly reception among mainstream populations, and Vivekananda was not the sole person responsible for changing that. Both Craddock and Bernard were Vivekananda’s contemporaries and even interacted with him, but they fought separate, unique battles to familiarize the world with modern conceptions of yoga.
To be clear, Vivekananda also took risks in this regard. His emphasis on self-control, meditation, and psychology appealed to many who sought to counter mainstream institutional forms of religion with new metaphysical movements. He encouraged his disciples to turn inward, toward the self, rather than outward, toward religious orthodoxies. Vivekananda responded to those interested in wedding metaphysics with modern ideas and values as well as the aim of self-realization. In all of these ways, he appealed to an audience made up of individuals with controversial and sometimes scandalous religious interests.
But Vivekananda also prescribed modern yoga in a form far less radical than those of more controversial figures. Craddock and Bernard’s renditions of yoga resulted in persecution because they were interested in the body practices believed to result in more pleasurable bodily experiences. Vivekananda censored yoga of most body practices (he was not a fan of yoga postures, for instance). He maintained that any version of yoga other than the narrowly conceived one he prescribed was a corruption of its true form. In many ways, Vivekananda’s vision of yoga was the antithesis of the body-centered practices that many associated with yoga at the time and was unlike images of yoga as fitness that dominate the popular imagination today.
Vivekananda certainly gained the attention of a substantive audience with his raja yoga, but he did not popularize yoga in any form, much less the postural yoga form popularized across the world today. The development of postural yoga, which would eventually become popularized in the late twentieth century, was made possible by twentieth-century encounters between North American and Western European physical culture and elite, Indian yoga advocates.
Although Vivekananda can be said to have contributed to a yoga renaissance through his wide distribution of his version of modern yoga within and beyond India, he cannot be said to be the “creator” of modern yoga. Instead, he created one idiosyncratic form of modern yoga and one very different from and, in fact, contrary to, the one that dominates the yoga industry today.
Featured image credit: Kirsten Greene (left) in the deepest forward bend of the Bikram Yoga postural sequence, sasanga asana (rabbit posture) and Sabine Hagen (right) in the deepest backward bend in the Bikram Yoga postural sequence, ustra asana (camel posture). Photographed by Michael Petrachenko. Courtesy of Kirsten Greene.
Nearly all of us who live in urban areas across the world know someone who “does yoga” as it is colloquially put. And should we choose to do it ourselves, we need not travel farther than a neighborhood strip mall to purchase a yoga mat or attend a yoga class.
The amount of spending on yoga depends largely on brand. A consumer can purchase a pair of yoga pants with an unfamiliar brand at the popular retail store Target for $19.99 or purchase a pair from Lululemon, a high-end yoga-apparel brand that on average charges $98 for yoga pants. On Amazon, the consumer can choose from a variety of yoga mats with unfamiliar brands for under $20, or she can go to a specialty shop and purchase a stylish Manduka-brand yoga mat, which will cost as much as $100. And all that does not include the cost of yoga classes, which widely range from $5 to over $20 per class.
If a consumer is really dedicated to investing money in yoga, for thousands of dollars she can purchase a spot in a yoga retreat in locations throughout the United States, in Europe, or even in the Bahamas or Brazil, with yoga teachers marketing their own popular brands, such as Bikram Choudhury, whose brand is Bikram Yoga. Spending on yoga is steadily increasing. In the United States alone, spending doubled from $2.95 billion to $5.7 billion from 2004 to 2008 and climbed to $10.3 billion between 2008 and 2012.
Consumers convey the meaning of yoga, however, not only through what products and services they choose to purchase but also what they choose not to purchase. In other words, consumption can require exchange of money and commodities, and the amount of money spent on commodities largely depends on the brand choices of individual consumers. However, consumption can also lack an exchange of money and commodities. Many contemporary yoga practitioners, in fact, oppose the commodification of yoga by choosing free yoga services and rejecting certain yoga products.
For the founder of postural yoga brand Yoga to the People, Greg Gumucio, and those who choose the services associated with his brand, yoga’s meaning transcends its commodities. The anti-commodification brand of Yoga to the People signifies, quite directly, a very particular goal: a better world. It is believed that is possible as more and more people become self-actualized or come into their full being—yoga is “becoming”—through strengthening and healing their bodies and minds. The individual who chooses Yoga to the People still acts as a consumer even if consumption does not require the exchange of money. The consumer chooses Gumucio’s brand as opposed to others because of that brand’s success in capturing what yoga means to him or her.
Some yoga practitioners reject the yoga mat for its perceived over-commodification. The mat, for most practitioners of postural yoga, is a necessity, not just because it allows one to perform postures without slipping or to mark one’s territory in a crowded class, but also because it signifies various non-utilitarian meanings. The mat signifies a “liminal space” set apart from day-to-day life as one participates in a self-developmental ritual of rigorous physical practice. It is also often a status symbol. But yoga insiders who reject mats argue that they are not necessary, that they interfere with practice, and that they are simply commodities without any profound meaning. It is worth noting that the first purpose-made yoga mat was not manufactured and sold until the 1990s. Yoga practitioners who reject the mat choose brands of yoga that do not require the mat, such as Laughing Lotus, because those brands are believed to better signify the true meaning of yoga. For them, the meaning of yoga is experiential and transcends ownership of a commodity as seemingly arbitrary as a mat.
Many outsiders to contemporary popularized yoga profoundly trivialize it by reducing it to a mere commodity of global market capitalism, and to impotent borrowings from or “rebrandings” of traditional, authentic religious products. In other words, according to this account, popularized yoga can be reduced to mere commodities meant to fulfill utilitarian needs or meet hedonistic desires.
On the other hand, many yoga insiders frequently avoid categorizing yoga as religion, preferring to categorize it as spiritual or to invoke other non-explicitly religious terms to describe it. For example, Houston yoga practitioner, teacher, studio owner, and advocate Jennifer Buergermeister responded to attempts by the State of Texas to regulate yoga as a career school by suggesting, “Regulating Yoga as a career school detracted from its rightful place as a spiritual and philosophical tradition.” J. Brown, a New York yoga advocate has suggested yoga is “sacred,” is an “all-encompassing whole Truth,” and functions to explore the “self, health, and life.” Yoga studio owner and instructor Bruce Roger definitively stated, “Yoga is a spiritual practice. It’s not a purchase.”
Many yoga advocates avoid the category religion because it connotes an authoritative institution or doctrine in the popular imagination. Well-known yoga advocate T. K. V. Desikachar suggests yoga is not religious because it does not have a doctrine concerning the existence of God. Yoga Journal journalist Phil Catalfo, along with many other yoga insiders, suggests that yoga is spirituality, not religion, yet advocates define yoga in religious terms even if they avoid explicitly labeling it a “religion.”
If one closely evaluates examples from modern postural yoga, however, it becomes apparent that yoga, even in its popularized forms, can have robust religious qualities. Popularized yoga can serve as a body of religious practice in the sense of a set of behaviors that are treated as sacred, as set apart from the ordinary or mundane dimensions of everyday life; that are grounded in a shared ontology or worldview (although that ontology may or may not provide a metanarrative or all-encompassing worldview); that are grounded in a shared axiology or set of values or goals concerned with resolving weakness, suffering, or death; and that are reinforced through myth and ritual.
In the postural yoga context, for example, when Iyengar’s students repeat their teacher’s famous mantra—“The body is my temple, [postures] are my prayers”—or read in one of his monographs—“Health is religious. Ill-health is irreligious” (Iyengar 1988: 10)—they testify to experiencing the mundane flesh, bones, and physical movements and even yoga accessories as sacred. Yet a sacred body nevertheless remains a body of flesh and bone, and a sacred yoga mat nevertheless remains a commodity in the form of a rubber mat. The material and even commodified dimensions of yoga, therefore, are not incompatible with the religious dimensions of yoga.
In the Prison Yoga Project, salvation is conceptualized as a form of bodily healing. In 2002, James Fox, postural yoga teacher and founder and director of the Prison Yoga Project, began teaching yoga to prisoners at the San Quentin State Prison, a California prison for men. According to the Prison Yoga Project, most prisoners suffer from “original pain,” pain caused by chronic trauma experienced early in life. The consequent suffering leads to violence and thus more suffering in a vicious cycle that can last a lifetime. Yoga, according to the Prison Yoga Project, provides prisoners dealing with original pain with a path toward healing and recovery.
Finally, consider the mythological dimensions of modern postural yoga. Yoga giants B. K. S. Iyengar (1918-2014) and K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009) serve as examples of how yoga branding and mythologizing go hand-in-hand. Both mythologize their systems of postural yoga in ways that tie those systems to ancient yoga traditions while simultaneously reflecting dominant cultural ideas and values by claiming biomedical authority. Their myths ground postural yoga in a linear trajectory of transmission from ancient yoga traditions. Claims to that transmission are frequently made and assumed to be historically accurate.
While Iyengar has historically claimed ties between Iyengar Yoga and the ancient yoga transmission going at least as far back as the Yoga Sutras (circa 350-450 CE), he recently introduced a ritual invocation to Patanjali, believed to be the author of the Yoga Sutras, at the beginning of each Iyengar Yoga class. Iyengar also presents yoga as biomedically legitimized as is evidenced by the biomedical discourse that permeates his work on yoga, referring, for example, to the postures’ benefits for “every muscle, nerve and gland in the body.”
In like manner, Jois suggested that verses from the earliest Vedas delineate the nine postures of the suryanamaskar sequences of postures in his Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga system. Simultaneoulsy, he reevaluates the purification function of yoga as resulting, not in the purification from karma, but in the purification from disease.
In the postural yoga world, branding and mythologizing simultaneously involve validating yoga based on its ties to both ancient origins and modern science.
Featured image credit: Yoga 4 Love Community Outdoor Yoga class for Freedom and Gratitude on Independence Day 2010 in Dallas, Texas. Photographed by Lisa Ware and Richard Ware. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Welcome to the February Read & Romp Roundup! As usual, we have a nice mix of submissions this month, including some poetry. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the reading -- which will hopefully lead to some romping as well!
Amy at Picture-Book-a-Day is back to share a short review of the new picture book A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina's Dream by Kristy Dempsey and Floyd Cooper. The book is set in the 1950's and tells the story of a fictional African-American girl who sees the first "colored" prima ballerina --Janet Collins -- perform. The review is part of a roundup that includes some other recent picture books: Don't Play with Your Food, Mr. Flux, and Yellow is My Color Star.
Amy was also featured in the February Book to Boogie postat The Library as Incubator Project. In her post, she summarizes the picture book Move! by Robin Page and Steve Jenkins and describes her ideas for using it to inspire movement during library story time.
Elly at Yoga & Creative Movement with Elly suggests retelling the classic picture book Fortunately (by Remy Charlip) through movement games and yoga poses. She also suggests having kids tell, act out, or write their own story in a "fortunately…unfortunately" format. Check out her post for all the details!
Kathleen at Wild Things Yoga is a kindred spirit with a love for picture books and movement, especially yoga. This month she shares a lesson plan -- a shorter version for preschoolers and kindergartners and a longer version for first and second graders -- for combining yoga with the picture book The Leopard's Drum by Jessica Souhami. The book, which is a West African tale about a leopard who doesn't want to share a huge drum he makes, also lends itself to discussions about fairness and problem solving.
And last but not least, two guest dance educators join Maria's Movers to share their experiences using different kinds of poetry in their creative movement classes. Becca Beck and Kerry Bevens discuss building dances around poems, using poems as warm-ups, exploring nursery rhymes in class, and more!
A lot of movement-themed picture books are not the best bedtime picks because they can rile up little ones and make it hard for them to fall asleep. But Good Night, Animal World -- a new children's book by yoga teacher and independent author Giselle Shardlow -- was written to be read specifically at bedtime.
The yoga-inspired text and the illustrations by Emily Gedzyk are all meant to help wind children down at night so they can relax and sleep well. What a great premise -- and one that definitely got me excited (especially as a mother) to look inside this book!
Inside, six characters take readers to six parts of the world -- Australia, England, Guatamala, India, Tanzania, and the United States -- to say goodnight to animals from those specific regions. Each page shows an illustration of an animal, accompanied by some simple text (some imagery about the animal and a goodnight message) and a yoga pose. The 13 poses in the book, chosen for their calming potential, include forward bends, restorative poses, gentle twists, and some inversions.
Below is the "turtle" page from the book, followed by a book trailer that includes other images from the book plus some book reviews -- all set to relaxing music, of course!
It's actually hard to see how children wouldn't be calm after finishing this book. "Embrace their creativity and let them experiment with the poses. Whatever helps them release extra energy before bedtime is the perfect pose," says Giselle. The poses are even laid out in a sequence that facilitates flow from one pose to the next. And my favorite part of the book? The resting pose at the end! Just thinking about it is making me super sleepy… I think I need to take a rest!
Welcome to the first bimonthly Read & Romp Roundup. Thanks to those of you who submitted posts this time around. I also happened to stumble across a few additional posts related to picture books and dance, so I've included those as well. Hope you enjoy the roundup!
Danielle at This Picture Book Life shares a post about the picture book Bonjour Camille, which will be released in August from Chronicle Books. Dressed in a tutu and a top hat, Camille is a little girl with a whole lot of things to do! Check out Danielle's post to learn more about these "things" and to see several bold and energetic illustrations from the book.
Atelierstorytime shares a blog post by Anna Forlati -- the illustrator of the Italian picture book Yoga Piccolo Piccolo. Translated as "Small Small Yoga," Yoga Piccolo Picollo may not be available in an English version, but the gorgeous illustrations in this blog post will speak to everyone!
At Maria's Movers, Maria explores the wordless picture book Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle, which won a Caldecott Honor in 2014. Read her post to see how she used the book in a workshop for 6-year-olds about creating new dances!
Maria was also featured in the June Book to Boogie post at the Library as Incubator Project, where she shared movement ideas to go with the picture book Here Are My Hands. A month earlier, the May Book to Boogie post featured movement ideas to go with the picture book SPLASH! by Ann Jonas.
At the Dirigible Plum, Elizabeth reviews the nonfiction picture book Dancing to Freedom: The True Story of Mao's Last Dancer. The book tells the story of Li Cunxin, who grew up in rural China and was selected as a boy to move to Beijing to train as a ballet dancer. Interestingly, the book is written by the dancer himself. The illustrations by Anne Spudvilas, some of which you can see in Elizabeth's post, help tell his emotional story.
And last but not least, Reading Today Online shares a fun interview with Connie Schofield-Morrison and Frank Morrison -- the husband-and-wife team who created the new picture book I Got the Rhythm. They actually interview each other about creating the book. You don't want to miss it!
I’m happy to re-introduce picture book author Marlena Zapf to you today. Last week Marlena talked with me about the writing and publication process for her debut picture book Underpants Dance. Today we’re going to focus our discussion on movement -- the movement in the book, Marlena’s background in dance, and how she uses yoga and movement for her author visits!
Welcome back, Marlena! I love how you left a lot of room for illustrations in Underpants Dance, especially when Lily is dancing in her room. “First she did this. Then she did this. Then she went round and round like this. Then she said, “TA-DA!” At these places in the book, were the illustrations by Lynne Avril what you envisioned, or a total surprise?
I feel so fortunate that Lynne agreed to illustrate Underpants Dance. She brings Lily’s spirit to life so perfectly. I believe that picture books are a dialogue between text and illustration, and so I deliberately left room for Lynne to do her thing. I only gave my editor a few notes about what I wanted (like the Toulouse-Lautrec in the museum scene) and trusted the rest. I was expecting Lynne to come up with new things, so I wasn’t incredibly surprised by the illustrations in general.
What did surprise me was that when I received the cover illustration of Lily, it looked strikingly like a dance photo of myself that had been taken that very same week. I will add that Lynne had NEVER seen a picture of me.
Your website also includes some other great photos of you either dancing or wearing that really cool tutu. Do you have a background in dance?
I’ve always danced for fun, but I never studied dance until I was an adult. (My mother decided to save me from repeating her own unpleasant childhood experience with ballet by signing me up for Girl Scouts instead. I think I would have preferred dance class.) Perhaps it’s for this reason that people often tell me my dance has a childlike quality. I have fun, dance with abandon, and don’t care what anyone thinks of me.
As an adult, I’ve studied a bunch of different kinds of dance, and continue to take new classes when I can. I do something called contact improvisation, which is done with partners or groups, and plays consciously with the physics of gravity and momentum, as well as human connection — it’s a great metaphor for how we move through life and relationships. I’m also part of a community in New England that hosts what are sometimes called “barefoot” or “ecstatic” dances. Really what that means is you take off your shoes and dance however you want. For me, it’s a moving meditation.
School visits are such a big part of marketing picture books these days. How do you present your book to children, teachers, and school librarians? (A little birdie told me that it might involve movement.)
Lily’s story is really about self-expression, so I encourage kids to express themselves through activities that accompany the reading. And I don’t just stand there and tell the kids what to do. I engage with them. I’m certified to teach kids’ yoga and movement, so I use some of those techniques to help kids focus and then have fun with them after the reading.
If the children are sitting on the floor, I like to spread out colorful Yoga Dots, which I learned about from Rosemary Clough. You can buy them or make them out of old yoga mats. (Kids love to pick out their favorite color.) They serve a dual purpose. They give kids focus and a place to sit for the portion of the presentation for which they need to stay still(ish). Afterward, you can use them to play games in which the kids step, dance, jump, and move on or around the dots. This way, kids get their wiggles out, but the dots provide a focus that keeps things contained so that the “wild rumpus” doesn’t turn into utter mayhem. (Teachers are not fans of mayhem.)
Here’s a simple example. Set the dots around the space and play music or sing a song while kids move aroundthe dots. You might encourage them to move at a certain speed or with a specific movement. When the music or song stops, kids jump on a dot and assume their favorite shape or yoga pose. Repeat!
Wow. I didn’t realize you were certified to teach kids’ yoga and movement, too. You are very multi-talented! It’s been a pleasure learning more about Underpants Dance and how you incorporate yoga and movement into your author visits. Thank you, Marlena!
In case you missed Part I of my interview with Marlena, you can check it out here. You can also learn more about Marlena on her website at www.marlenazapf.com!
Serving a diverse community can be difficult, especially when you are dealing with diversity across the physical, mental, and emotional spectrum. Often the social aspect of the library can be off putting for children, and parents of children with developmental disabilities. For children on the Autism spectrum, the child’s inability to regulate behavior can be problematic in a highly structured setting (such as a library program). Children with physical disabilities may feel that they are limited in how they can participate in library programs. But often the simplest programs can be the most effective and by offering a new or unique opportunity the library becomes a safe place to engage in something outside their preconceived limitations.
Do you have a pre-set program time for children with disabilities? Do you have a pre-set time for family programs? Consider a family program featuring beginner and child friendly yoga. No matter how you incorporate it, I encourage you to use yoga as a way to bring all your patrons together. If offers the opportunity for all children to interact in a safe social environment.
Children enjoy the same benefits of yoga as adults: increased body awareness, strength and flexibility, as well as stress relief and relaxation. Yoga encourages self-acceptance, compassion, kindness, and discipline. All of this while celebrating creative expression, individual differences, and their place in the community. All of these are extremely important in the life of a child dealing with developmental delays or physical restrictions. Anecdotal reports describe success in reducing obesity and discipline problems, decreasing anger and panic attacks, and enhancing concentration and academic performance. Health problems, such as headaches, stomachaches, constipation, back pain, and colds or sinus problems, are reportedly improved with a yoga practice. (1) A certified yoga instructor can lead and demonstrate proper technique and offer advice and tips. Activities in this program can include age-appropriate poses, breathing exercises, relaxation, and partner poses between parent and child. Even a child with physical limitations can participate in the regulated and guided breathing exercises that accompany yoga practice.
While the research on the effects of yoga in children is lengthy, a tertiary literature review only uncovered a few empirical studies on yoga and the disabled. But using the early literacy principle of “play” and its importance in early childhood development, if you use yoga as an inclusive game, the possibilities for reaching children expands.
A 2011 study published in the International Journal of Yoga examined the positive combined effect of inclusive games and yogic relaxation on selected domestic skills among physically challenged boys. (2)
Since 2001, in a north London hospital, Jo Manuel has been providing yoga therapy sessions for children with a variety of special needs, from autism to cerebral palsy. Manuel and her 12 colleagues see around 500 children per week, and while some children do have physical restrictions the simple act of rhythmic breathing can bring a sense of calm and relaxation to both the children and their caregivers. (3)
Consider adding these titles in order to make your program reflective of your collection.
You are a Lion:and other fun yoga poses is a fun interactive title that invites children to pretend to be different animals as they do various child friendly poses.
Sleepy Little Yoga is a wonderful title that introduces nine poses perfect for preparing your toddler for bedtime.
(Image from Macmillan)
1. White, Laura Santangelo. “Yoga for children.” Pediatric Nursing Sept.-Oct. 2009: 277+. Expanded Academic ASAP. Web. 16 Aug. 2014.
2. Duraisami, V., K. Jaiganesh, and S. Parthasarathy. “Combined effect of inclusive games and yogic relaxation on the selected domestic skills among physically challenged boys.” International Journal of Yoga 4.2 (2011): 100. Expanded Academic ASAP. Web. 16 Aug. 2014.
3. Cooper, Catherine. “A calming influence: a yoga centre helping children with special needs has been achieving some impressively positive results.” Nursing Standard 24.50 (2010): 24+. Expanded Academic ASAP. Web. 16 Aug. 2014.
Lesley Mason is a children’s librarian at the District of Columbia Public Library. She earned her Master’s Degree in Library Science from Clarion University. She specializes in Early Literacy and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
For the past couple of weeks, I've been receiving treatment for my broken leg at the Southern Orthopedic Specialists in New Orleans. Although a friend recommended Tulane for physical therapy, the place where team members of the Saints are treated, the same institution that operated on my leg suggested that I stay within their network. Since my insurance covered the physical therapy treatment, I was happy to oblige.
Physical Therapist, Marsh, manipulates my foot.
When I tell most people that I am undergoing physical therapy, they look at me with extreme pity, as if the doctors were water boarding me for days on end. I actually enjoy physical therapy, probably because I enjoy exercising in general. I spend most of my day in front of a computer and often feel the need to engage in some sort of exercise, preferably yoga. In fact, although I couldn't walk for the first three months of my accident, I was able to keep up my yoga practice in bed. Special thanks to my teacher, Julie Nail who emailed me non-weight bearing poses. She helped me remain, positive, strong, and flexible during those early months of infirmity and not being able to walk .
Julie Nail (photo by Lerina Winters)
At the Southern Orthopedic Specialists (S.O.S.), I experienced a very fun type of weightless therapy, the Alter G, Anti-Gravity Treadmill. This doesn't mean I have the training to go for a spacewalk. However, walking in the bubble of air, allowed me to feel a type of weightlessness and I was able to improve my gait. With a neoprene pair of shorts, I zipped myself into the Alter G machine, while air filled the bottom of the cage with air, allowing me to eliminate much of my body weight. I felt like a baby being hoisted by the armpits as my legs re-learned how to walk. And then the fun part began, walking backwards in the Alter G treadmill.
The Alter G Anti-Gravity Treadmill
Clicking my heels for a speedier recovery
I must admit, there are two things I highly dislike about physical therapy. After the stretches and exercises are done, the therapist manipulates your foot and uses a hands on approach to get a feel for how much your range of motion has improved. I could do without the pulling and twisting of my foot in ways that a broken ankle should not be moved. Each therapy session ended with an arctic blast of an ice cold pack wrapped around both of my feet for fifteen minutes. I don't even like ice in a glass of water, let alone, wrapped around my foot for what seems like hours. The therapists laughed at my pained facial expressions each time they applied the ice packs.
There's No Place Like Home
One of the perks of physical therapy in New Orleans, during the month of October, meant I had the opportunity to participate in the city's Halloween Festivities. New Orleans is a spooky and haunted place on any given night, but the place to be on is Molly's bar in the French Quarter. The bar hosts a parade with a brass band, carriage riders, and marchers. The best part is anyone can join the parade. Since I wanted to be in that number, I made sure to wear comfortable shoes. I glittered a pair of comfortable leather and transformed them into Ruby Slippers for my Dorothy costume. Thanks to the therapists at S.O.S. and my yoga teachers, I was ready to march, walk, and strut.
Welcome to the September/October Read & Romp Roundup! And since it's actually November, this post also gives me an opportunity to highlight one of my favorite online celebrations -- Picture Book Month! The Picture Book Month blog is full of posts from children's book authors and illustrators who have been sharing all month long why picture books are important to them. It's a very inspiring read, and one I am feeling thankful for this time of year!
Just in time for the cold weather, Darshana at Flowering Minds reviews the new picture book Flora and the Penguin -- the sequel to the popular Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle. Her post includes a delightful trailer for this lift-the-flap book about friendship, told through beautiful ice dancing scenes with the two main characters.
At Wild Things Yoga, Kathleen shares some yoga ideas to go with Manfish: A Story of Jacque Cousteau by Jennifer Berne and Eric Puybaret. She uses the book to talk about the concept of Ahimsa (non-violence) and try out some fun yoga poses related to the sea!
At Mother Daughter & Son Book Reviews, Renee and her son highlight the new picture book Twelve Dancing Unicorns by Alissa Heyman and Justin Gerard -- a variation of Twelve Dancing Princesses but with unicorns instead! Renee says the book is "an absolutely enchanting tale weaving the themes of magic, love, and friendship" with artwork that is "among the best I've seen in picture books."
Book to Boogie is a monthly series of the Library as Incubator Project in which guest bloggers pair picture books with movement activities for story time. The September post was on Quick as a Cricket by Audrey and Don Wood. The October post was on Sometimes I Like to Curl Up in a Ball by Vicki Churchill and Charles Fuge.
Debbie at American Indians in Children's Literature features Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle by Carole Lindstrom and Kimberley McKay. The main character is a girl named Metisse who would rather play the fiddle than dance, even though most people in her community expect girls to dance. Metisse is part of an Aboriginal group known as the Métis people, who live in parts of Canada and the Northern United States. According to Debbie, you can find elements of Métis culture on every page!
If you order any of the books I have illustrated (click the links on the right margin of this blog), I will personally sign a book plate and drop it in the mail to you in time for the holidays. I am working on book plate designs for "The ABCs of Yoga for Kids", "Little Black Ant on Park Street", and "Champ's Story: Dogs Get Cancer Too!", and will post examples after the weekend.
I've wanted to try yoga for a while now. This wish was inspired by the calm and creativity of writer friends like Liz Garton Scanlon, who is so filled with peace and gratefulness and generosity that you'd think she'd be annoying, except that she's clever and funny and real, and you can't help but love her. The past year or two especially, my brain feels like a pinball, zinging from topic to topic, bouncing from task to task way too fast and violently to actually accomplish any meaningful thought. So, I finally went to a hatha yoga class at the gym one Sunday night a couple of months ago, and I loved it. I'm doing two classes a week now, and I want to add one more.
Lots of the moves aren't all that hard physically, because I'm flexible, and these aren't highly advanced classes. They're very "do what's available to you and don't worry about what the person on the mat next to yours is doing." I'm good at the moves (postures?), but bad at anything that stresses my wrists. I'm pretty wobbly at the balance stuff, too! So some of it's easy, and some of it's difficult.
But the most difficult part by far is focusing on the moment. Not letting my mind wander. Not thinking about my to-do list. Not mentally reviewing the budget. Not wondering if I'll ever sell another trade book. Not worrying about my daughter in her new apartment. Not thinking ahead to the manuscript that's due next week.
So that's what I'm most hoping to get: a refuge from the constant decision-making and chaos of real life, and, eventually, an ability to quiet my mind, focus better, and let my creativity run wild.
When you purchase an item from MY STORE, 10% of your purchase price will be donated to my favorite animal charities; Last Chance Animal Rescue and Horses Haven, both in lower MI. Which charity the donation goes to, will depend on the item purchased and I will love you forever from the bottom of my little black heart. ...and even if you don't purchase anything from me, PLEASE go to their site and make a donation! These animals deserve a chance! Snuggle up by the fireplace, with a warm mug of something and browse through the pages of my website
A family celebrates Mardi Gras Nola style on St. Charles Avenue
Call it a coincidence that Letting Go is the theme at the Wild Lotus Yoga Studio in New Orleans. When I’m in town, I benefit from blissful moments at Wild Lotus, although yesterday’s class left me slightly crippled (what I get for taking a vacation from exercise as well). During the crazy carnival season, ‘letting go’ is an important reminder. Simple errands, such as making groceries (as they say in New Orleans), can be impossible if you lose a good parking spot or are in a hurry to see the next parade.
I began the carnival season with the intention of forgoing the idea of experiencing carnival in Panama.My sister used last year’s dates for carnival when she booked our airline tickets, an easy mistake if you don’t celebrate Mardi Gras or Easter regularly. I told her that I would be spending Mardi Gras in New Orleans with friends and family. She assured me that Carnival in Panama was different than Carnival in New Orleans or Brazil or the rest of the world celebrating the Catholic festival. The calendar mix-up ensured we had a more authentic experience and enjoyable trip to the Panama. She didn’t realize that Mardi Gras and Easter are dependant on the ever wavering cycles of the moon. The festivities last for weeks on end, before Fat Tuesday and the ensuing fast for lent. However, New Orleans will certainly break the lent fasting shortly after Mardi Gras for the St. Patrick’s Day parade next weekend. Mardi Gras falls on Tuesday, March 8. Mardi Gras can occur as early as February 3 and as late as March 9. This year leaves very little wiggle room for the lent respite of the St. Patick’s Day and St. Joseph Day celebrations.
As someone who has experienced Mardi Gras for seven years, since before Hurricane Katrina, I know that the city’s people population seems to double in size. Dining at a favorite restaurant like Jacques-imo’s can be a challenge, sometimes impossible the weekend before Mardi Gras day.This year HBO has decided to make things on my block a little more interesting. The Episode Manager left a flyer on my doorstep, “Filming Night Parade, Muses, in Your Area.” The all-female krewe has been a favorite parade for over a decade. Add HBO to the mix and I must be homebound and parade bound for the evening. Although the letter assured us the cable show’s “footprint” would be small, I let go of the idea of accomplishing anything other than parading that evening with the cast and crew of Treme, my neighbors, and all the tourists from the North Shore crowding for a chance to catch some girly throws and plastic beads made in China. I had high hopes of going to yoga today, but I let go of that idea as well.
Next week, Mardi Gras gives way to lent and the St. Patrick's Day parades. I will be driving back to California. On Sunday, March 13, I join the Hitched: Writing in Political Oppression Poetry Series at Beyond Baroque, along with Sholeh Wolpe, Alicia Partnoy, Ramon Garcia, and Bilal Shaw, hosted by Xochitl-Julissa Bermeo at 4pm, 681 Venice Blvd, Venice, CA 90291
I have always wanted to be one of those Zen-like relaxed people who nod and listen and never worry. This past summer, a woman I met was talking to me about yoga. I figured if I tried yoga, I would become more Zen-like and calm. Right? Isn't that how it works?
While she was showing me some of the positions, I was following what she did as fast as I could. Finally, in a softly, barely perceptible tone, she said, "Anne, you don'trush through yoga. You have to let things flow more."
So I did. I relaxed. Well, I thought I relaxed. I slowed down and tried to look sort of beatific and focused at the same time which is how she looked. (Go ahead - try to look that way; it's not as easy as it sounds) She finally said we should try it on a day when I wasn't quite so harried.
Only I wasn't particularly harried on that day. That's kind of how I am. I tend to speak and move quickly, put on dinner while folding laundry, talking on the phone, and going through the mail. I have trouble driving at the speed limit. I never leave the house for only one errand: I average about four. I figure out my lesson plans while I'm grocery shopping, organize my paperwork while on the bank line, think about writing while doing dishes.
I think I'm just geared sort of twitchy, and the yoga woman is geared more gently. It's pretty much inbred. I couldn't imagine her saying to her kids, as I regularly do, "Salad or colon cancer?" "Sun block or melanoma?" or get texts back such as, "Mom, don't think I'm dead! I just had no service in the mall." No one in our house bats an eye at any of this. Then again, the yoga woman had no kids...
But I think, too, how we move, how we are geared has an effect on our writing. I don't think Emily Dickinson moved too fast - she noticed things like grasshoppers and that certain slant of light - whereas when I read Dr. Seuss, I would think from the pace of his writing that he would be a little more twitchy than most.
I'm revising a YA, yet again, and that's what I realized about it: it has a rushed quality that it can't have since it deals with a serious theme. Well, yeah, I was writing most of this late at night, and rushing, and it shows. But I put it away for a month and only noticed that during a fresh read when I was moving more slowly.
I was contemplating how I would slow down the pace, how I would make the story unfold more easily while deleting all the spam from this blog. So in case you're wondering what happened to all the comments, I was rushing and accidentally deleted YOUR comments and not the spam. There's a lesson there.
Still, I think I'm onto something. Rushing makes for thin, undeveloped writing. Maybe even if you're not geared to move quickly when you're writing and trying to finish, it will show. I'm wondering now if that's the essence of revision - slowing things down, having scenes and characters unfold more slowly?
Here, finally, is the Read & Romp Roundup for January 2012. I was thrilled with the response to my first call for submissions and think we have a great and diverse roundup here. Just what I was hoping for! We have picture books with themes of rhythm and dance, unique ideas for incorporating poetry and picture books into dance and yoga classes, and even a birthday celebration for a beloved author who writes about dance. Hope you enjoy the inaugural roundup!
Amy at Delightful Children's Books shares a list of 10 children's books that entertain, inform, inspire, and broaden children's understanding of dance. Amy also created a YouTube playlist to go along with her post, including performances by Fred Astaire, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, and more.
Is it really the middle of July already? Time is flying by! I had so many ideas for posting this month, and I haven't gotten around to any of them yet! But... I at least can't let my monthly roundup pass by.
This is the official call for submissions for the July Read & Romp Roundup. If you have a recent (or even not so recent) blog post that involves picture books or children's poetry AND dance, yoga, or another form of movement, leave your link in a comment on this post.
Maybe you read a picture book about yoga that you'd like to share. Or maybe you read a poem that made your students want to get up and dance. All ideas are welcome! I'll round up all the links and post about them together in a few weeks. Can't wait to hear from you!
You know that stress dream that everyone has at one time or another? The one where you’re standing up in front of a giant group of people and something goes horribly wrong? You forget your speech, your voice cracks, you’re not wearing pants. Well that dream became a recurring reality for me my senior year of college (not the pants part thankfully). Mine was the singer’s nightmare. The one where you open your mouth to sing and the voice that comes out is not your own.
As a child and an adolescent I loved to perform. Singing wasn’t something I thought about; it was something I just did and as a result I was totally fearless. When I got to college the concept of thinking about singing as a science was entirely new to me. My teachers taught me to release my jaw and tongue, to inhale into my back and belly, to use muscular antagonism of the inspiratory and expiratory muscles, to keep my larynx low and stable, to lift my palate, and many other mechanics of singing. At first this new focus on technique was interesting, but eventually all of the technical language resulted in confusion. Every time I opened my mouth to sing I was afraid I would do something wrong. The result was a voice that was only a shadow of the one I used to call my own.
What happens when we’re afraid? In his article “The Anatomy of Fear,” John A. Call discusses the body’s reaction to fear: the heart-rate speeds up, our muscles tense, and the breath becomes fast and shallow.
The implications of this for a singer are huge. In singing the first rule of the inhale is release low. When a singer releases and expands through the lower body (belly, low back, and intercostals), it allows these muscles to work in tandem on the exhale. This gives the singer the ability to manage the air much more efficiently than if he/she had begun by expanding through the chest and clavicles. If a person is experiencing fear, the ability to take a low and relaxed or released breath becomes quite difficult.
Certainly singers need to learn proper singing technique, but sometimes I wonder, what is all of this focus on the physical costing us as artists? There was a time in my life when I operated solely on musical intuition. But as I learned more and more about the mechanics of singing I began attempting to operate on facts and science instead of artistic impulse. I don’t mean to suggest that I didn’t need to learn the mechanics—I had plenty of technical issues. But perhaps there is a more holistic approach to teaching singing that could facilitate proper technique without the loss of instinct.
After I graduated from college I took some time off from singing. When I decided to return to it I knew I needed a different approach. I had been practicing yoga as a form of exercise for a few years, but I felt confident that with the right guidance it could really help me as a singer. So I sought out a voice/yoga teacher.
Yoga session at sunrise in Joshua Tree National Park – Warrior I pose. Photo by Jarek Tuszynski. Creative Commons License via Wikimedia Commons
My new teacher, Mark Moliterno, taught me that yoga recognizes that tension in the body is often a result of physical or psychological blockages to the breath. The practice of yoga seeks to release tension and free the breath. When properly implemented in the voice studio, yoga can be a pathway to efficient vocal technique and artistic freedom.
Mark pointed out that all of the confusion and fear that had built up during my college studies had caused me to physically disengage from the lower half of my body. So we set to work using yoga to reconnect me with my lower body and help me feel more secure in my singing.
We used postures like Tādāsana or Mountain Pose and Vìrabhadrāsana One or Warrior One to release tension in the body and connect me with the ground. Feeling my leg muscles engaged and my feet planted firmly on the floor helped me to feel more secure. We used pranayama or breath exercises to release tension within the muscles of the respiratory system. We used hip openers to release the tension in my jaw, and shoulder openers to release the tension in my tongue.
We did yoga and made music. Not once in this entire process did I think about any of the mechanics of singing. My technique improved because my body was open and the breath could function naturally and efficiently. Yoga was like this miracle that freed my voice and allowed me to trust myself again. But it isn’t a miracle, it’s a science that takes into account all parts of the person, and not just the anatomical.
Carrie -Yoga shoot #002. Photo by Joel Nilsson. Creative Commons License via Wikimedia Commons
When singers start trying to function as anatomical machines, seeking after flawless technique, we can lose the ability to sing authentically. Yoga helped me to learn to sing with good technique without focusing on it, and dissolved the fear that kept me from trusting my musical instincts. It released the tension in my body and mind, unleashing the breath, and offering me a pathway to artistic freedom.
Mezzo-soprano, Laura Davis, is a singer, conductor, and voice teacher. She holds a Master of Music degree in Voice Pedagogy and Performance from the Catholic University of America and a Bachelor of Music degree in Sacred Music from Westminster Choir College. Recent performances include Suzuki in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Dina in Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti, and Third Lady in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. After spending 10 years on the east coast conducting, performing, and teaching, Ms. Davis has returned to her home state of Colorado where she is in the process of opening a voice studio based on a holistic approach to singing.
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