New Danish Yoga Platform - Yogatid.dk

When I don’t do yoga I work with social media communication, and as I am a bit of a social technology geek, I was thrilled when I came across what looked like a Danish social platform about yoga: Yogatid.dk. If you don’t understand Danish don’t bother to take a look as everything is in Danish. As far as I can see the site is in beta and it’s far from finished as more than one page has ‘Lorum Ipsum’ copy. So far you can find yoga related articles, information about teacher training and yoga classes, but when taking a closer look I was disappointed to find that there are only a few ways to interact or socialise on the site. Yogatid.dk has a page on Facebook and you can use Facebook connect to comment on articles via your profile. I would have liked to have found blogs or other user generated content and think that this is the way to go if the people behind the site want to attract both users and advertisers. Right now the site looks very new and empty but I look forward to seeing how it evolves over time. Have a look on yogatid.dk.


A Yoga Class at Rishikesh Yog Peeth

Via Twitter (I'm @Twesterby in case you want to connect) I came across this video shot by some people who went to teacher training at Rishikesh Yog Peeth a month before I was there. I have no idea who the people in the video are but it's a nice little reminder of the beautiful, wooden yoga shala, the yoga and the atmosphere at the school.

Enjoy - and thanks to @itsgoodforus.

Time Lapse from Yoga Teacher Training in Rishikesh from Davvi Chrzastek on Vimeo.



Meeting Bikram

When Bikram Chodhury visited Copenhagen for the first time last month, I of course had to attend the lecture to see the man who separates the yoga community and is considered 'the Starbucks of yoga'. Being relatively new to Biram yoga I didn’t really know what to expect other than an Indian guy who would talk about the benefits of yoga.

When entering the room I was impressed by the setup; the stage was decorated with pictures of Bikram and his teachers, and there was a chair for the yogi to sit in.

Bikram was nothing like you’d imagine an Indian yogi to be. He looked as if he’d mistaken the word 'yogi' for the words 'rock star'. Despite the heat he was dressed in a suit that looked liked something a mafia boss would wear in the 80s, but, I guess he’s used to the heat. To top it all off he wore a gangster hat over his long hair and a red scarf in his front pocket. No orange robes in sight.

Like a real rock star, Bikram has groupies. The Bikram Yoga teachers, who were sitting on the front row, would cheer, laugh at his jokes and answer his old American slogans like ‘It’s my way or the highway’ with hysterical giggles like teenage groupies meeting their biggest idol. And Bikram is an idol. American celebrities like Michal Jackson, Shirley McLaine and Schwarzenegger have been his students.

During the lecture, the two world champions (don’t get me started on how I feel about yoga championships but you can read a bit about that here) were there to demonstrate the 26 asana. The same two attended my yoga class that same morning at Bikram Yoga Copenhagen and I must admit; they’re pretty impressive to watch.

I was expecting a guru to be humble, and not take credit for a thousand year old yoga tradition - but not Bikram. He patented his yoga system, despite the fact that Hatha yoga - which Bikram Yoga basically is - is several thousands years old, and turned his teachings into a very lucrative business. When a journalist asked him critical questions about this he refused to answer 'because the journalist thinks he's smarter than me'. And he brags: His car collection includes over 40 Rolls Royces and Bentleys, including cars owned by the Queen Mother and the Beatles. His collection of watches numbers in the 100s, valued in the millions. 'I'm making millions of dollars a day, $10 million a month' he said.

Although Bikram isn’t the abstract, mystical guru you might expect, his messages resemble the ones you’d expect from a yogi; improve your physical and mental health through yoga, and improve your whole life. The message is clear, and most of all it’s an easy concept for Westerners to grasp. Maybe this is why Bikram has become so popular in the west - he behaves like we do. He brags, tells crude jokes and laughs at himself, instead of sitting cross legged, unapproachable and mystical, talking about complicated, Hindu philosophy. He has adapted the American culture to get his eastern message across, to be understood by the west. And it has worked; millions of people all over the world do his yoga.

I do realise that if Bikram had been more humble and hadn’t been such a good business man it wouldn’t have spread to most of the western world, and I wouldn’t have had access to Bikram yoga in Copenhagen. But I must admit that I would have preferred to listen to a nice, old, Indian chap who would live yoga, instead of the American dream.


Yoga in Rishikesh, India

Last month I went to India. I went to Rishikesh - the capital of yoga -  to study Hatha yoga for ten days.

The first time I went to India was 10 years ago as a part of a 6 month trip through Asia. My two friends and I spent about six weeks there loving the colours and spirituality and hating the poverty and the Indians who constantly wanted to cheat or rob us.  When arriving at Delhi Airport this time, I was prepared to haggle my way through the thousands of Indians I was expecting to try to steal all my belongings and hassle the crap out of me. Instead, I only met lovely people who wanted to help me (and take my picture). I mean, the poverty was still there, but as I didn’t go to the normal tourists traps like Agra or Jaipur, I didn’t get all the hassle.

Rishikesh is beautifully located on the foothills of the Himalaya. The yoga school, Rishikesh Yog Peeth, was located in the beautiful Ram Juhla where Hindu pilgrims come to stay in Ashrams and to bathe, or collect water from the holy Ganga - which is actually clean just there as it’s very close to it’s source in the Himalayas.

The daily routine from Monday to Saturday at the school was as follows:

5.00-05.30: Tea (stillness)
05.30-06.00: Practice and Techniques of Shat karma (cleansing techniques) and mantra chanting
06.00-08.00: Yoga asana
08.15: Breakfast
09.15-10.15: Yoga philosophy
01.00: Lunch
15.30-16.30 Anatomy and physiology
16.45-18.45: Yoga asana, pranayama and meditation
19.00: Dinner

At home I’m pretty grumpy in the mornings, but I actually enjoyed getting up at five in India. The first hour we wouldn’t talk but just sit together and have tea while the sun would rise and the holy cows and the monkeys around us would slowly wake up.

I very much enjoyed the stay, but most of all I enjoyed the philosophy classes, which I’m sure I will tell you more about later. The teacher, Roshan, had a wonderful way of relating the teachings to stories of kings and Gods and to his own personal life.

Unfortunately the asana classes weren’t as good. Our teacher was very young and inexperienced and didn’t speak English very well. Of course he had a lot to live up to as I (and I’m guessing the others too) have had very good teachers at home who would talk about the benefits of the asana, the chacras and the meditative aspect of yoga and create interesting dialogue with the students. Coming to India, and especially to Rishikesh where yoga is said to stem from, you expect a teacher of certain caliber. I am willing to put some of my disappointment down to cultural differences but I did expect a more experienced teacher that could answer questions and challenge me in my practice. 

Every time I go away - especially to do yoga -  I come home recharged. The philosophy and anatomy classes gave me lots of input to challenge my yoga practice and get out of old habits. I loved being in India and experiencing all the colourful rituals that Hinduism contains. Just going for a walk on the ghats of the Ganga was an amazing experience. Every night hundreds of people would get together to preform the ‘Ganga Aarti’ where they would sing and prey together at the bank of the river. Truly magical. 

If you're interested in going to India to study yoga, do teacher training or attend a retreat yoga.in is a good place to start your search.


Coming to Terms with Bikram

A few months into my 'every-other-day Bikram practice' (only interrupted by a 10 day trip to India, which I will write about later) I am still puzzled about a few things but most of all I’m enjoying starting pretty much from scratch with a new practice.

I’ve come to terms with the teacher’s endless stream of words. The dialogue (which it is called in Bikram even though it’s really a monologue as the students aren’t allowed to participate) from the teacher now supports and guides me in my practice and means that I don’t have to waste any energy thinking about the next asana as I would do in Mysore.
I’ve learned to appreciate the heat. It opens up my body in ways that I haven’t experienced in other types of yoga. It teaches me to stay calm and to control my breath even when my body wants to panic and hyperventilate. The heat has an interesting way of exposing all emotions so that the practice is also an exercise in being with the emotions and accepting what is. I’ve only been down on the floor once since my first time and that was actually yesterday because the room got too hot as it wasn't managed well enough. 

I still haven’t come to terms with the pushing and the encouragement to compete with yourself and go beyond your flexibility. Maybe it’s my knowledge of Hatha (Bikram yoga is more or less Hatha yoga in a hot room) and Iyengar yoga which say to ease into the asana and accept whatever limitations one might have. When reading Iyengar’s Light on Yoga, one of the points that really stuck with me is him saying that if something hurts, it’s the body’s way of telling you that you’ve gone too far. If something hurts in Bikram yoga it’s your body’s way of telling you that you’re doing it right.

The fact that there are world championships in Bikram makes me think that it’s no wonder that this type of yoga has such a bad rep in the yoga world. I don’t understand how yoga can be a competitive sport (or a sport full-stop) when it’s such an individual and spiritual practice. I read somewhere that Bikram once said that competitiveness is a necessity in a democratic society, but it’s yoga! In my opinion, competitiveness is the complete opposite of what we strive towards in yoga. Actually, most yoga traditions will say that we’re not supposed to strive at all, but I will admit that I do. I strive towards seeing my entire leg behind my head in Dandayamana - Dhanurasana (standing bow pose) and at some point being able to stretch my leg completely. I also strive towards a better health both physically, mentally and spiritually. Perhaps this is the western influence on yoga. We’re never satisfied where we are and always have to evolve... Well, world championships in yoga is too much evolving in my opinion.


Dandayamana - Dhanurasana