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Yoga in America: In the Words of Some of its Most Ardent Teachers.

What is Yoga Really Like in America?

Yoga in America, published in early 2009, was a book ahead of its time.  Long before the debate about what is and isn’t yoga heated up in the blogosphere, and all the narrow stereotypes that resulted, this book celebrated the actual wide diversity of Yoga in America, as told by passionate yoga teachers themselves.

There are 46 articles chosen out of over 500 submitted in an open competition, the brainstorm of publisher Deborah Bernstein.  I had the honor and pleasure of co-editing the book with Deborah.  This was the experience that led me a few months later to elephant journal and the development of elephant yoga, which follows in the same tradition of wide (some might say “wild”) diversity.

Today the entire book is available free online, and we have started publishing it article by article on elephant journal.  Here is an ongoing index of those articles so far for easy reference:

“The Downside to Down Dog” ~ Kelly Grey.

“Hot Yoga in America.” ~ Peter Sklivas

“Boiler Room Yoga” ~ Richard Wall

“Yoga Demystified: The Six Big Ideas” ~ Bob Weisenberg

“Reflections: ‘Yoga in America’ While Congress Holds America Hostage.” ~Hilary Lindsay

“You are Divine and Perfect” ~ Karen Pierce

“The Ancient Roots of Modern Yoga” ~ Tony Criscuolo

A Rose by Any Other Name: Indian Yoga & American Yoga. ~ Nina Moliver

“The Ancient Wisdom of Kriya Yoga is Alive & Well in America” ~ Camella Nair

“Learning to See.” ~ Ann Barros

The following Yoga in America co-authors have also published on elephant, although their Yoga in America articles are not on elephant yet (Click to see their work. Let me know if I missed anyone):

Amy Nobles DolanDeborah BernsteinHalli Bourne,

Kino MacGregorTracey L. Ulshafer

I love being able to share these writers with the elephant audience.

Enjoy.

~

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and elephant yoga on facebook.~

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Confessions of an Outlaw Yogini: Bakasana and Bourbon. ~ Sarah Kohl

(Guest article by Sarah Kohl)

I was recently asked to write a short little biography for the studio I manage. Over the course of my life, I have written several little bios along those lines, but they always seem contrived and don’t say a single thing that captures who I am, although they do say several things about what I do. I enlisted the help of one of my students / friends and her partner and, without even thinking about it, I suggested we meet at my favorite hang out, a bar.

We sat down and started talking. I began giving out the same old standard fare: how long I’ve practiced yoga, how long I’ve been teaching, where I studied, what yoga means to me. My friends took a few notes, but mostly listened patiently. Stymied, I asked my student, “Why do you take my class as opposed to any others?” Her answer? “Because you’re real, you don’t take yourself or anyone too seriously, because you have such a good time yourself that we can’t help but have a good time, too!”

I do love a good time…

The conversation turned to social jabber. I started talking about my love of tattoos and stories behind the massive ones I have on my arms. I told her of my love for long haired, tattooed, motorcycle riding guitarmen, my own dream of riding a Harley cross-country when my kids leave home, and how my 105-pound dog, Hank, will eventually have his own sidecar. I told of my love for loud outlaw music, driving fast, bonfires, and bright red cowboy boots. I told her of my free-range children, my untamed yard, about doing Sirsasna in a canoe and Natarajasana in the nude on the cliffs over a local river, and then I told her that two of my favorite things are Bakasana and Bourbon because they both make me feel alive, empowered, invincible, and free.

Her partner’s pencil was almost smoking, he was writing so fast.

I asked him why that stuff was more interesting than the 411 of my yoga. He said that it was because it’s real, it’s who I am, and because it’s what makes me stand out. It’s true that it is who I am and that it is real, but I’m willing to bet that there are many more yogis and yoginis who belly up to the bar and shrug off convention than the world knows about. I know there are – I had brunch and Bloody Mary’s with three of them just this morning.

I am as dedicated a yogini as you’re likely to find. I’ve hit the mat nearly every day for over half my life. I practice and I teach and I read and study and meditate and live my yoga to the best of my ability. I feel I have a pretty good handle on what my yoga means to me and what I bring to the mat, both as a student and as a teacher, and how that translates into life out in the world and, yet, I have no illusions of being a super mystical yogini who sits upon the mountain and feeds only on goji berries and enlightenment. I need passion and freedom and to let the wild-child living inside of me bust out and dance free. I need action and Astavakrasana, burgers and Bhujangasana, campfires and Camatkarasana, tequila and Tittibhasana. Mostly, however, I need to be me and I know how to do that – yoga taught me.

There are so many people in my community who are afraid to try yoga because they feel they must be totally clean, chaste, totally committed to take the first step on the journey. This breaks my heart. Yoga means “union,” to “yolk, to “unite.” It is for every man, woman, and child. Yoga meets us where we are, at all times, in all places – even if where we are is at the corner of the bar. Meet me there. The next round is on me.

Sarah Kohl

Sarah Wells Kohl is a wife, mother, sister, daughter, and friend. She lives large in Columbia, MO, where is she is a teacher and manager at Yoga Sol .  She has appeared in Yogajournal.com, Columbia Woman Magazine, The St. Louis Post Dispatch, The Columbia Missourian, the Columbia Tribune, and Good Morning America. Read her other musings on life on and off the mat at Sarahsana.wordpress.com, on Twitter @sarahkohl, and occasionally on yogadork.com as a member of the #365yoga community.