An interesting article in the Wall Street Journal tells of the dog eat dog world of downward dogs. Suddenly everyone is trying to de-stress through yoga which makes the normally serene yoga studios a bit more crowded and therefore stressful.
The ancient art of yoga is supposed to offer a path to inner peace. But in this age of anxiety, many yoga classes—which teach poses and breathing designed to quiet the mind—have become so crowded that finding a spot on the floor is becoming a competitive sport. And that’s leading to some very unenlightened behavior.
Consider my recent morning in “Strong and Calm Yoga,” a class offered by the Equinox gym in Palos Verdes, Calif. Stressed, harried and rushed, I arrived only two minutes before the start of my favorite class. It was packed. There wasn’t a single space on the floor large enough for my mat.
Spotting an empty mat in front, I moved it—just a tad—to make enough room. But then, worried about the mat’s owner coming back, I repositioned it. I was frantically trying to fit myself in at a perpendicular position to the rest of the class when the woman returned. “Why did you move my mat?” she asked in an angry tone. I explained. “And we don’t wear shoes in yoga,” she said, glaring at my running shoes. (I knew that and was about to take them off.) As the class started, feeling attacked, I rolled up my mat, leaned over, and in a truly uncharacteristic outburst said, “You win. I’m leaving.” I then walked across the room, out the door, and left the gym in tears.
“Yoga is supposed to be about unity and ultimately the divine,” my yoga teacher, Christopher Quain, said later, shaking his head. “I felt terrible.” In the locker room, my swim coach, Niecia Staggs, chimed in, “People who are practicing yoga want Zen, they don’t already have it.”
And while the number of yoga studios has also risen, many classes, typically priced from $15 to $30 each, are now packed to capacity (and beyond), particularly at peak times and with popular instructors. Many studios don’t turn away students until they can’t wedge one more in.
“The growth is crazy. Crazy good,” says Nicole Conners, director of education and outreach at Yoga Alliance, a registry listing 58,000 yoga teachers. Yoga to the People in New York’s East Village, which requests only donations, offers up to eight classes a day. On a recent Monday night, roughly 150 people showed up, filling three floors of studios. As more people entered, instructors told us to move even closer together, until I was 3 inches from the next mat.
Most yoga teachers seem to have at least one tale of drama and woe. “I have seen violence,” says Lara Benusis, a New York yoga teacher. She once was about to start a class when a foam yoga block suddenly flew through the air. One hapless customer had put her block in another’s usual territory. Alarmed, Ms. Benusis moved closer, but the tiff ended there.
Once a crowded class begins, there are other risks. A yoga class often involves leaping into poses quickly. Limbs fly. And then there are headstands and handstands. A yoga mat typically measures 2 by 6 feet—and that just isn’t a big enough landing pad. For those who need glasses, this all raises other issues. Fred Hoffman, a Los Angeles art dealer, has been taking yoga classes for several decades, and he usually places his glasses on a support block next to his mat. Last year, a woman on the next mat attempted a handstand.
She landed with a thud—right on Mr. Hoffman’s antique gold glasses, breaking the frames. She also grazed Mr. Hoffman on her way down. “I was really mad about that,” he says. “It was insensitive.” Mr. Hoffman didn’t confront her. He took the glasses to be repaired and paid to have the rims rebuilt. He is planning to get a case to protect the glasses. But, hey, nobody’s perfect. Mr. Hoffman recently found himself at fault when his hand accidentally grazed his favorite teacher’s head. “I didn’t have my glasses on,” he says. “I felt terrible about that.”
You might be wondering why on earth spaces in yoga classes can’t be better controlled. Why not just limit the number of people who come in? After all, other popular classes, such as spinning, require sign-ups.
Yoga studios explain it’s a particularly competitive field. Rents are high and class fees are low. “If we tried to have classes with 10 and 20 people, as some might suggest, we would have to charge $50 to $60 a class to pay the rent in this city,” says Mike Patton, the founder of Yoga Vida in New York. When I tried one of Yoga Vida’s classes at 8:30 on a recent Saturday morning, there seemed to be enough room in the spacious loft, with only about 26 people in the class. But then the guy on the mat in front stretched lengthwise, resting his hands briefly on my feet.
Of course, many crowded classes run smoothly. “I really believe our mats can be an inch apart,” says JJ Hendershot, the group fitness manager at my gym, Equinox in Palos Verdes, which offers yoga classes as part of its monthly membership. “We all shimmy and move as a community. A lot of it is the instructor setting the tone.” (The woman I had the incident with there declined to comment.)
Some enterprising studios guarantee smaller classes. Yoga 216 in Manhattan, which opened two years ago, recently mailed fliers boasting: “Six yoga mats per class, not per row.” And Tommy Schey, the owner of Sweat Yoga, a new upscale hot-yoga studio in Santa Monica, Calif., is about to introduce an online software system that will let people reserve a designated mat space—much like picking a seat on an airplane.
Mr. Schey has experienced the mat wars. He once entered a crowded class where a “lovely, friendly woman” came up and put her arm around him—a distraction, whether it was meant to be or not. Then, wham! She quickly unfurled her mat in his space. “It was just really bad behavior,” he says.
Yoga purists, those committed to studying the history and philosophy of the discipline, take a dim view of the mat wars. One of those purists is my sister-in-law, Michelle Carney, a New York yoga teacher who also takes classes. “People get angry all the time,” she tells me. “I do my best to send blessings or love or move away from them.” She recently noticed a woman asking a group to make room in a crowded class. “UGH,” was the collective answer. So Ms. Carney volunteered, moving her mat. The woman thanked her profusely, twice.
“A true yogi looks around to see if anyone needs help,” she says, using the term for yoga practitioners. “A yoga studio is a holy space. This is just ridiculous.”
Ms. Hughes is a writer living in California and New York. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who is Helen Dunkin and why is she so important in the medium business? Victoria Helen McCrae Duncan (25 November 1897 – 6 December 1956) was a Scottish medium best known as the last person to be imprisoned under the British Witchcraft Act of 1735. In 1944, Duncan was one of the last people convicted under the Witchcraft Act 1735, which made falsely claiming to procure spirits a crime. She was sentenced to nine months' imprisonment.
Dunlin was exposed as a fraud who used dolls, paper mache and cheescloth to perform her seances. She refused to be tested for authenticity. Here is one account.
According to Harry Price in a report of the mediumship of Duncan:
|“||At the conclusion of the fourth seance we led the medium to a settee and called for the apparatus. At the sight of it, the lady promptly went into a trance. She recovered, but refused to be X- rayed. Her husband went up to her and told her it was painless. She jumped up and gave him a smashing blow on the face which sent him reeling. Then she went for Dr. William Brown who was present. He dodged the blow. Mrs. Duncan, without the slightest warning, dashed out into the street, had an attack of hysteria and began to tear her seance garment to pieces. She clutched the railings and screamed and screamed. Her husband tried to pacify her. It was useless. I leave the reader to visualize the scene. A seventeen-stone woman, clad in black sateen tights, locked to the railings, screaming at the top of her voice. A crowd collected and the police arrived. The medical men with us explained the position and prevented them from fetching the ambulance. We got her back into the Laboratory and at once she demanded to be X-rayed. In reply, Dr. William Brown turned to Mr. Duncan and asked him to turn out his pockets. He refused and would not allow us to search him. There is no question that his wife had passed him the cheese-cloth in the street. However, they gave us another seance and the "control' said we could cut off a piece of "teleplasm" when it appeared. The sight of half-a-dozen men, each with a pair of scissors waiting for the word, was amusing. It came and we all jumped. One of the doctors got hold of the stuff and secured a piece. The medium screamed and the rest of the "teleplasm" went down her throat. This time it wasn't cheese-cloth. It proved to be paper, soaked in white of egg, and folded into a flattened tube... Could anything be more infantile than a group of grown-up men wasting time, money, and energy on the antics of a fat female crook.|
I for one do not countenance fakes. If you have the gift you should not be afraid of experiments to prove your veracity. If you are a fake, get out of the business - it is bad for everyone.
Sylvia Mitchell, also known as Zena, whose splendidly decorated business sits in the heart of Greenwich Village on 7th Avenue and Bleecker Street, has been caught in her own greedy net. Readers of my blog know that I have a very limited tolerance for self professed psychics who feed on the unhappiness and depression of their clients. In this case, Mitchell was convicted by a NYC jury of grand larceny and sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison.
Interestingly, the sentence was harsher than what the prosecutors asked for. The Manhattan district attorney’s office had requested a sentence of three to nine years in prison. “You had a perfect setup,” Justice Carro said. “We have lots of con artists here in New York City.” But Ms. Mitchell lured “someone who is having some dramatic stress in their life, some great problems they were going through, looking for some kind of help,” the judge said.
She was ordered to pay more than $110,000 in restitution to the two victims in the case, something her lawyer, Kenneth Gribetz, said he came prepared to do with a check from an escrow account.
Both victims, Lee Choong and Debra Saalfield, wrote letters describing the pain caused by their dealings with Ms. Mitchell. Both had approached her during periods of romantic upheaval in their lives. Both testified against Ms. Mitchell, and in doing so, admitted that in hindsight, all her talk of curses and evil spirits seemed far-fetched, but at the time, unsettling.
Here is what I always say - if someone tells you that they can predict the future, ask them for the winning lottery numbers before you hire them. If you win, go ahead and hire them!