Monday, March 1, 2010

Baptiste Yoga, Cambridge
Yoga seems to be an up and coming sensation in America. Americans (and especially women), see images in magazines all the time of yogis having great, fit bodies. With body image being such an important thing in this culture, it is no wonder why yoga is becoming so popular. Yet there is more yoga than just body, there is also the mind and spirit. There are many different forms of yoga that focus on different aspects of the body and the mind. The form of yoga which I focused on was power yoga, which to me, seems to be the most accepted form of yoga in our Western culture. In order to have a better understanding of yoga in America, I chose to visit Baptiste Yoga and I had positive and negative thoughts about it, but was able to look at it from a new perspective based on the readings for this class.
When looking for a venue to visit, the first thing that went into consideration was location. I went to Google and searched yoga in Cambridge, MA. Then, I narrowed down my search to anything I could easily walk to, or take a short trip on the T to. This is a common consideration within our culture; the convenience factor. In this country we are running out of patience due to technology (texting, cell phones, instant messaging, emails). We don’t have to wait for anything anymore, and therefore, we are always in a rush. I am also guilty of this, for my first thought about this project was “how can I fit this yoga session into my busy schedule.” Then, once I figured out how to fit it into my schedule, I thought, why not kill two birds with one stone and work on my body image by doing power yoga. Typical American, guilty as charged. I had done power yoga at Lesley, and I knew it was a pretty good work out, so I wanted to try it again in a 90 degree room. I knew of some people who had done hot yoga before, and it sounded interesting, so I figured I would give it a try. That is how I ended up at Baptiste; it is right down the road, and it will keep the flab off.
When I was looking up the session times on the website, I decided to get some background information on Baptiste. Baptiste Yoga was founded in the 1980s by Baron Baptiste. There is a studio in Cambridge and Brookline village, but there are affiliate studios across the country. Affiliate studios means that they practice Baptiste Vinyasa yoga with instructors that were trained by Baron Baptiste. The mission of Baptiste is “to empower people in finding true health and deeper spiritual connection, every day, one day at a time” (Baptiste). It goes on to talk about how the class is constructed to work for everyone, regardless of “age, experience, or background,” and to have a positive impact on local and global communities. In the mission statement, they also mention the extensive teacher training, so I decided to look into what teacher training entailed. Teachers require certification which they can only get after 200 hours of training and attending the Baptiste boot camp, which is total submersion in the practice. All of these requirements seemed a little Western to me, not because they need a lot of training, but because they need training specifically according to Baron Baptiste. It seems more like a capitalist thing and very competitive rather than just being about yoga. Baron wants to get his name and practice out as much as possible.
I was curious about this Baron Baptiste, and I had trouble understanding his philosophy on yoga, so I decided to read about him and his life. The first thing that made me question what his true philosophy was, was the fact that he is a best-selling author of a yoga book. He seems to be all about “dropping the negative steam from our stories to help build new worlds into new possibilities.” I feel like this could easily go with the hot vinyasa yoga, by focusing on this exercise you literally drop the “negative steam” in sweat from your body. Focusing on something so strenuous and healthy allows you to put those negative things behind you. Baron works with people all around the world. He has trained and worked with professional athletes from the NFL. He is very publicized and has really taken yoga and made it fit into our American culture. He used yoga and his practices to make his business and make him famous, and I feel like that goes against the original ideas of yoga, which is not at all about taking credit for what you have accomplished.
Reinforced with all the information on the website, I went into Baptiste Yoga with my Western desires begging to be fulfilled. When I walked in, it was very crowded with people getting ready for the class. It was almost overwhelming, but then a bunch of people came over to help me and a couple of friends that came with me. They showed us around and set up our mats, and they were very welcoming, which put my mind at ease. The first thing I noticed was how people were entering and scanning their membership cards. It reminded me of my membership at Planet Fitness, and I immediately associated it with a fitness center instead of a peaceful yoga center. This is another cultural peace. Something as simple as scanning a membership card makes life so much more convenient, and can really take away from interactions and getting to know someone.
Another thing I noticed was that it was very crowded. There was hardly any space in between people’s mats. It was also a very diverse group. There were a lot of men there, which was surprising to me because I’m used to yoga classes being primarily female. There were people of all different ethnicities, ages, and body types. When we were practicing, I noticed that people were at very different levels in terms of capabilities, and they simply adjusted the practice to work for them. I also took note of the atmosphere of the room. It was very aesthetically pleasing and soothing. The floor was hard wood, and the walls were painted with light, warm colors. The windows were covered with light sheets to block out the streets and busy outside life. Also, the lights were dim, in order to create a calming atmosphere. This was good because the work out was so intense, but the atmosphere made it more comfortable when my muscles were getting weak.
I noticed that the instructor reminded me of another instructor I’ve had in the past for a power yoga class. They both spoke in calming voices, but also used a lot of humor while guiding us through the practice. They related things to real life, but also reminded us to drop our stresses and forget about them. She focused more on the body than the mind; yet she had us focus on breathing so that we could focus the mind to let us go through the poses even if they were difficult. She also walked around and physically helped us with poses which was beneficial and helpful, and she always said that we could do our own modifications to do whatever worked for us. This concept is difficult for us Americans to understand because we always want to do everything correct in our culture, and we do not want to look silly for doing something wrong. When I talked to my instructor after the class, I found out about her background, which mostly included training and boot camp for Baptiste Yoga.
One obvious theory that is a basis of this vinyasa yoga is the importance of cleansing the body. The reason for the hot room, is to have the body produce sweat, and through this release of massive amounts of sweat, the body is getting rid of toxins and impurities. However, this yoga practice does not really go further than expelling impurities through sweat. Neither the instructor nor did the website mention how the cleansing process is a part of pranayama, and that when the body is clear of toxins, full meditation can occur. Meditation is not a part of this process. However, another thing that I was able to relate to the theories in the readings was the importance of breath in this practice. The instructor kept telling us to focus on our breath in order to hold a pose. When you have something to focus on, like your breath, you can control your mind. Your mind is what tells you, you can’t do it. When it is focused on something else, it can’t tell you that anymore, and therefore, you can push your body harder (Muktibodhananda 135-165).
After going to Baptiste, and reading about it’s background, I have been able to form my own ideas about the place. My first thought, was that Baptiste Yoga was very Americanized. I feel like it is a first-step-into-yoga kind of place. It is easier for us to accept, because people go there wanting to be healthy or at least appear healthy. On top of that, it is very convenient. It is on a main drag, which is not only easily accessible by public transportation, but is also a good source of advertisement because hundreds of people pass by it every day. It is almost like a corporation, the way it is advertised and spread out throughout the country and the world. I feel like Americans in general, are more focused on the body than the mind, just as this class was. Based on the locations and the image that Baptiste portrays, it makes me think of it as a “yuppy” trend. I did enjoy the class, so I am not criticizing it in a negative way, but I am pointing out the reason why I liked it was because it fulfilled my cultural needs. I want to look like the women in the yoga magazines, I’m not going there for enlightenment. I want to be healthy and have a nice and healthy body image, because it is what our culture deems desirable, and that is why I chose to go to Baptiste Yoga.

Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga. Retrieved from
Muktibodhananda, S. (1998). Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Bihar, India: Yoga Publications Trust.

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