August 25, 2011

Yoga Bloggers Meet in the Flesh! They’re Alive! Alliiiive!

by Matthew Remski


bloggers finding each other

carol in the toronto sun

The first thing I noticed about Carol Horton as she arrived for the YFT yoga blogging panel this past weekend was her piercing archer’s gaze. A career of academic discernment has given her an auric edge, and you can feel the heat of her bullshit meter, which has surely sharpened with years of vinyasa. But then: this steaming nectar poured out when she spoke of her family, her sons, or her teacher Ana Forrest battling addictions, or American politics, or childbirth.  On Saturday, I sat beside her and watched the microphone tremble in her hand, beneath those warrior eyes, as she told of the postures and savasanas that broke her wide open.


bob plotting a blogolution

Bob Weisenberg hasn’t slept since 1972.  He doesn’t need it. He’s running on EJ prana and a relentless quest to elevate dialogue. Between 30 years of software engineering, countless nights with the Gita, and herding 140 writers like cats into the EJ circus, Bob has leveraged being a big-picture guy into the big picture. It totally makes sense that he’s a universalist, and on his third religious affiliation. He’ll probably go all Buddhist next – not because of a faith crisis or whatnot, but just to see how yet another set of folks figures it all out.

(BTW – Please comment on this post and every other – each word is like a protein-pellet for Bob. He gets hungry late at night.)

roseanne's on it

Then there’s Roseanne Harvey. Ebullient, her fingers on pulses both popular or hidden, a gumshoe’s gumption for facts, quick humour that is both nerdy and camp, and as deep a drive to organize community in Montreal as I have here. I stand about 2 feet taller than Roseanne, but she knocks me down like a bowling pin with her grinning ball of “You’re not going to take yourself seriously in front of me, are you?” You can read her astute coverage of the panel and the whole festival here.

It verges on the mystical to meet in the flesh people you’ve known for perhaps years online. It’s a dear pleasure to feel their hands in yours, their pulse and breath, their arms around you. Our first hugs were high-school awkward, but warmth came quickly. So many posts, so many comments, so many bits of friction and admiration, so many bleary-eyed hours at the screen, and now here we are: people and practitioners, heart to heart, alive to each other.

Our meeting confirmed this feeling I’ve had that blogging is some sort of weird long-distance romance that can go sour and snipey just because the writers never share a meal or a belly laugh, or simply their breathing.

This was exactly what I’d hoped for in dreaming up the yoga blogging panel. I wanted to bridge our cyber-angst, and feel some sort of embodied confirmation: we’re far away – in miles, culture, and experiences – but we practice together.


the backstory

The panel picked up considerable buzz in utero. The online yoga community tussled over the implications for months. Flying Yogini warned that yoga blogging mustn’t be elevated above practice. Brooks Hall doubted that yoga blogging could change the world. Many commenters agreed with both.

(Many also flamed our use of the contraction “yogging”. As the coiner of that term, I accept all responsibility, wryly. I’ve been writing with a whimsical tic for 25 years, and am simply chuffed that this goof stuck for a while. I won’t defend the word except to say: a pearl of attention seemed to grow around its grit.)

scott and i surveying the yogging heads panel while doing improv asana on the ballet bar. i'm evidently beginning to teleport somewhere, starting from the pelvis.

All of the preview-attention was most welcome, and provided good dialogue amongst many veteran bloggers – and dialogue is always our goal at Yoga Community Central. I was delighted to see the interest, and not at all bothered by the criticism, which was really directed at the marketing, and not at the event, which was clearly unknowable until it actually, like, happened.

And I was totally aware of the inflated language with which we marketed the whole thing. Asking a question like: “Is yoga blogging the new form of jnana yoga?” is provocative, to be sure, as well as leading, and incomplete. It obviously can’t plumb the nuance of internal vs. external contemplations, etc. But it did help corral about 100 people (!!!) into an in-the-flesh sitting-down convo about just such nuances. Marketing isn’t philosophy: it’s flirtation. And this flirt was more inclusive and ethical than the typical cheesecake or politically dubious videos.


what we discovered


The panel itself answered the excellent concerns of Flying Yogini and Brooks. Carol opened with a deeply personal description of yoga blogging as an integration of her practices of embodiment, contemplation, and social responsibility. Roseanne regaled us with tales of yoga blogging throwing-down “Adidas Yoga” and forcing the ToeSox campaigns to reassess – a little bit of world-changing for us all. And Bob, ever the systems specialist, gave an overview of just how many connections (yoga-s) are taking place within yoga culture via this technology, this odd globalized ashram. He focussed on the diversity and democracy of knowledge.


And everyone was as humble as pie. Which makes sense: this interwebs-ocean is as vast as the history of yoga. The self-certain stick out like a sore thumb.

Does yoga blogging displace practice? Not for these guys – it seems to be a part of a sadhana that as yet has no name. Does yoga blogging change the world? To the extent that practice changes the person, and the person changes their relationships and ecology: absolutely. Is yoga blogging evolving the art of yoga? Most definitely! Never have so many had so much access to so many others’ internal reverie. Never have experiences, techniques, and wisdoms been shared so openly and democratically. Never have lineages and views battled and blended so transparently. To claim that yoga blogging is not changing how the walk is walked is as hollow as claiming that asana hasn’t been influenced by dance, or meditation by psychotherapy, or that the debates at Nalanda University didn’t evolve our creativity within yoga 1500 years ago. Everything that happens and everything we do folds back into an expanding definition of who we are and where we’re going. How we practice and how we share our practice with each other are clearly symbiotic.

Is yoga blogging a new form of jnana? Who is anyone to say it can’t be? For me, the quieter posts are indistinguishable from the overall moods and sensations of a pre-dawn sit. I’ve practiced in ashrams and monasteries all over the world. These days, the trance of writing pulls all of those asanas together for me, onto a single tablet of light. Irony: the practice of self-expression, done well, always surrenders to the inexpressible.

Attendees were inspired. Questions from the audience included “How do I get started?” and “How do I find the blogs and writers I like?” and “How much time should I budget for this new form of learning?”and “How do protect myself from too much data?” and “How can it stay positive?” These are great questions for us all to work on. I was gratified that so many were inspired to read, write, publish, and share.

Regrettably – our audio recording of the panel was somewhat botched, and we’ll have to piece it together for a future posting. When you hear it, you’ll have your own takeaways, I’m sure. For now, here are the questions and musings I’m chewing on:

    1. Meeting Carol, Bob and Roseanne in the flesh confirmed a core tension of blogging: the disjunction of web-time. In an in-person discussion or debate, there is a natural flow of prana that creates an arc to the encounter. Our very bodies seek resolution over tea, or even between two lecterns on a stage. We don’t have this bodily-coherence in the yoggasphere (sorry). How can we create it? Perhaps through a shared commitment to not post or comment when we are distracted, pissed about something else, or hungry? No hunger-posting would be a good start. Maybe I should draft up some Ayur-blogging tips. No pitta-posting without rubbing ghee on your scalp first.
    2. Same issue, different angle: the speed of blogging cranks introspection to high-heat levels. The busier the blog, the less spacious the responses. If you can keep your NVC skills about you as the hits rise and the comments pour in, you’re doing well, but it’s hard. I’m wondering if there’s a way to slow the whole process down. “Lively exchange” rapidly becomes “vata/pitta-aggravated clusterfuck” all too often. What if, in order to post or comment, there was a kind of “seva-gate” (the inverse of a “paygate”), where prospective correspondents were shunted to an online petition that described a local service issue and asked for input and action. I wonder whether being asked to consider the whole world in some concrete way would naturally slow down and perspectivize our sometimes narrow exchanges. I.e: no one is allowed to bicker about the perfection of Patanjali or lecture naughty yogis until they’ve taken 10 minutes to support local food security, for instance.
    3. Lastly: the transmission of yoga has always relied on some way of validating the authority of the instruction and teacher. How does this work online, amongst writers who are unknown to their public?  When a yoga blog wants to teach something, how does it attain a voice to be believed? What is the logic of our ad-hoc online peer review?

Happy writing, reading, and reflecting, everyone.

And when we meet, it will be a pleasure to see how much more we share than this.


I’m an author, yoga teacher, ayurvedic therapist and educator, and co-founder of Yoga Community Toronto. Please check out my new website. With Scott Petrie I am co-creator of yoga 2.0, a writing and community-building project.

yoga 2.0: shamanic echoesis now available for kindle and other e-readers.


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