Sunday, December 11, 2011

Yoga Independent Study Paper

Glen Ellen, CA

 I used my yoga teacher training I attended in October 2011 as an independent study for one credit hour at Dominican University of California. Because I am a philosophy major, I was able to parlay a little bit with the school. I was required to write a research paper on the experience, and the result is below! I hope you enjoy reading. To reveal the entire post, please click on the "read more" button at the bottom.
Photo Credit
            In October of 2011, I took a significant leap forward in personal transformation by attending a yoga teacher training in Austin, Texas. I’ve subsequently started teaching classes at a local yoga studio. This step, the training and teaching, was the culmination of an incremental swallowing up of my life, and a new way of being, by a consistent yoga practice I’d taken up a couple of year prior. This paper details my yoga journey, some historical research about Indian philosophy, the origins of yoga, the nature of charisma, and a powerful yoga master named Baron Baptiste.
            During my inquiry of self via the ancient practice of yoga, and in concert with my academic pursuits at the Dominican University of California, I’ve come to a deeper understanding of the crossroads of philosophic thought. Including, Indian and Greek philosophy, Hinduism, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, modern day yoga masters such as B.K.S. Iyengar, and one of his famous students, Baron Baptiste whom I recently trained under. I was transformed during my week of Level 1 Teaching Training in Austin, and an honor to learn from Baron. Baron Baptiste is world renown, successful yoga teacher, and it’s no stretch to claim he has created a yoga empire via his Baptiste Power Vinyasa Flow yoga. I say empire in a respectful yogic way, as I found Baron to be impressive, charismatic, and possessing leadership qualities I admire. I find the development of personal magnetism to the degree that Baptiste has achieved to be fascinating, and worth a serious inquiry. In this essay, I will lay out the evolution of Baron Baptiste, his style of yoga, and to whom he takes his philosophic cues. A “cult of personality” somewhat surrounds him, much to his chagrin I surmise. I discuss some scholarly research in the field of charisma that feeds such cults.  
            It has been stunning for me to find myself as an engaged, active yoga teacher. I would describe my first 40 years of life as existing more as knuckle-dragger. A metaphor indicating a less evolved individual, less inclined (via intellectual ignorance) to wrestle with life’s deeper questions. Life is an unfolding, and as a life-long dream of mine, to sail around the world devolved after setting out to sea in September 2007, I realized something fundamental was missing in my life. I did a substantial amount of soul searching while spending nearly three years sailing mostly alone. I stopped sailing after years of constant movement, and entered Dominican University of California in the fall of 2010 to study the humanities, particularly philosophy. Philosophy opened up clarity of mind, unfurling guideposts, illuminating a path as fraught with uncertainty as any other, but containing a structure to grapple with the uncertainty. In hindsight, after immersion in the Liberal Arts, and finding a connection with ancient Greek philosophy, particularly Aristotelian thought, that I would connect the philosophical dots to find equal passion in Indian philosophic musings.
            Two parallel tracks in my life were beginning to ease toward one another. My first experience with yoga happened several years ago, when my friend Amy causally mentioned we were going to a yoga class, and she thought it may be fun. I was in not bad shape, enjoyed a good cardio work out, and she also mentioned I’d enjoy all the women in the room. The first experience was totally overwhelming for me in every respect. Still being in my knuckle-dragger phase, I was heavily distracted by the scantily clothed women adding to my habitual mouth breathing. The combination of the heat, sweat, women, lack of yogic knowledge, and my over inflated sense of physical strength disconnected from the mental component, conspired to almost give me heart failure. Amy continued to encourage me, exposing me to Bikram’s yoga (which I found crushing on many levels). I sporadically attended classes, inhibited from practicing mostly by the practical nature of my sailing voyage I was on. I did not get serious about yoga until January of 2010 when I began to practice daily.  As I engaged Baptiste Power Vinyasa Flow yoga, sprinkled with a Bikram’s yoga class occasionally, the yoga began to move beyond the physical realm, and into the spiritual. The two parallel tracks merged when I connected my study of ancient philosophy in my formal schoolwork, and my deepening yoga practice. My knuckles are no longer dragging.
            One of my maxims in my life is when opportunity knocks on the door, swing the door wide, and invite it in for dinner. The yoga studio I’ve been practicing at since my arrival in California in May of 2010 is a wonderful supporting environment. I’d established a practical relationship with the owners, and demonstrated solid character, reliability by showing up on time for my work-trade, and engaging in a passionate daily yoga practice. They began encouraging me to attend teacher training to bring my love for yoga to the next level. With the opening of a second studio in the offing, they made it clear that a teaching position would be open for me. I pondered the implications deciding this opportunity was a path I wanted to explore, despite the heavy financial commitment, and the loss of a weeks worth of college classes. I swung the door of opportunity open, and attended Baron Baptiste’s Level 1 Training. I have been deeply changed by the experience.
            My military background serving 20 years in the U.S. Coast Guard, had prepared me well for what I thought would be a standard training environment, but with a softer yogic touch compared to a military training environment. However, the Baptiste program veered into personal psychological analysis that caught me by surprise. The theme from day one was personal empowerment, cultivation of authenticity, and frankly psychotherapy. The Level 1 training dubbed “Bootcamp,” derives from the military’s highly successful indoctrination program where new recruits are mentally and physically stripped down, then built back up. It’s a filtration mechanism used to sift out those who cannot or chose not to participate. Baron Baptiste believes and I agree, that a yoga teacher should not be chock full of personal issues. This is not to imply personal perfection as a necessity, but a person must confront life experiences that have negatively scribed on their tabula rosa. If not confronted, the teacher’s students will surely sense inauthenticity. An authentic person must shine through in a yoga classroom setting. There also is a responsibility with using the Baptiste name as a selling point for a yoga instructor’s credibility.  Baron has no problem with branding, which at first blush can appear un-yogic.
            The first day of training began on a Saturday evening with most students exhausted from travel, some arriving from overseas. Baron stepped into a room of 140 people packed tightly together, and led us through a standard 90 minute yoga class. This was fine, and I thought, “Oh, I can handle this.” However, the next morning began with one hour of painful meditation, followed by an even more excruciating five hours of full-on Baptiste Power Vinyasa class. I expected a standard class, and I paced for a 90-minutes of flow. By the three-hour mark, in a heated room with the Texas sun beaming through the windows I thought I might perish. It was at this moment though, that I started to really tune into Baron’s voice, his cadence, and his ability to keep a level of energy in the room. He inspired everyone tremendously with his charismatic force. I made it through the class, as did all. After a large vegan lunch (all vegan all week, and no caffeine) we started an afternoon ritual of classroom type work with pen and journal in hand. Evenings consisted of a light meal, another two plus hours of yoga, followed by more classroom work. Our heads hit the pillow well after midnight each day. The rigorous daily routine, and long hours are all part of the breaking down to build back up process.
            Baptiste’s charisma began to shine more thoroughly as he led the class through the afternoon workshops designed to force students to think deeply about how they view themselves. Baron would ask questions, students would jot down answers, then partner up and share. A quick method for the students to get to know one another as each question forced a new revelation to a new partner. Students were then encouraged to step up in front of the microphone, and share with the group. Baron would say, “Who wants to share? What came up?” The process was a terrific cultural study on the way groups form tight bonds instantly when of like mind sharing an intense experience. Most had a terrifying fear of standing up in front of 140 people, let alone discussing deeply personal issues.  Most, if not all women in the class broke down sobbing at certain points during the week, and almost always when at the microphone. Baptiste would question the students gently but firmly. He would coax out more information, pinging for a “breakthrough.” I was impressed at his skillful questioning. Clearly his character was deeper than a person that just leads people through physical yoga sequences. He is a deeply spiritual man, and his questions never had the scent of being inauthentic. In fact, one student stood at the microphone for an hour and a half, having had his mental blockage at about midnight. We did not go to bed until 2 am that day. Baron refused to take “I don’t know” for an answer; he let silence permeate for truly uncomfortable stretches of time. It became so uncomfortable many people cried for their fellow yogi as he grappled hard with deep issues, and stuck energy. I was truly impressed by Baron’s dedication to this one student. I am not easily star struck, and have been in the presence of powerful people in my life, including admirals, governors, cabinet secretaries, one president, and one vice president. Baron Baptiste was of this caliber in terms of presence. The foundations of his charisma can be easily traced to his upbringing.
            Baron comes from a unique set of family circumstances. His parents, Walt and Magana Baptiste were pioneers, not only in the yoga world, but also in the world of health and fitness when it was considered fringe in the 1950s. Walt was a world-class body builder, and won the title Mr. America in 1949. Three years later, Baron’s parents opened the first yoga studio, and health center in San Francisco. “ They were ahead of their time as early proponents of the whole healthy lifestyle movement. From the time I was a little boy, yoga was part of my life. We had famous spiritual masters coming through our home all the time, from Maharishi to Yogananda” (Baptiste 12). Baron acknowledges the strangeness of his upbringing, but also says that he was not completely aware of the uniqueness until he hit his “rebellious teenage years” (12). When most of his San Francisco friends were out prowling the streets of the city, Baron was at his parent’s spiritual retreat in Sonoma Valley tending to a stream of strangers from strange lands in strange clothing. The retreats were centered on self-renewal and personal transformation, but Baron was not necessarily a devotee. He just figured it was kind of fun, and never thought the life-style he was living as a child would be his path as an adult. He paid a heavy price in terms of being the odd ball out at school. “I got teased a lot at school, as you can imagine. The other kids would call me ‘Hare Krishna’ and laugh when I brought banana and honey sandwiches on whole wheat bread for lunch instead of lunch meat and Twinkies” (Baptiste 12). He claims that his rebellious nature was not necessarily being fed by his strange circumstances, but was fed by a natural penchant for growth and discovery. He asked many questions of teachers and felt let down, or that he was not getting the true scoop.
            He dropped out of high school, managed his father’s health food restaurant, saved up enough money to travel the world and surf. Spending time in Mexico, Bali and Asia, he found himself consistently returning to his parent’s retreat center in Central America. After gaining some life experience and perspective while traveling, he connected well with many of the soul searchers that filtered through the Central American retreat center. During this period he started to read the Bible, the Greek philosophers, and Gandhi, triggering years of spiritual searching, trying to identify his path. This was a conscience decision on his part to “go for it” to “really seek out the enlightenment I had been reading about” and so he “moved to Yogananda’s men’s ashram in Encinitas, California” (Baptiste 13). At the ashram, he spent all his time practicing Kriya yoga (chakra energy), meditation, and working the farm. The ashram conducted business in total silence. He reports many insights, but after a year at the ashram, he still felt empty as if something was missing. Like most young adults, in moments of confusion, he headed back home to his parent’s nest in San Francisco where he picked back up working at the health food restaurant. One day his father asked him to fill in for him at the yoga studio, and teach a yoga and meditation class. Resistant, his father pressed telling him that he had plenty to share based upon his experience. His father also said he “had a responsibility to share what I knew, that if you don’t share it you lose it” (Baptiste 13). Baron received the shock of his life when he opened up his mouth and started teaching, that it came naturally to him, and he was good at it. “That was the first time it dawned on me that perhaps I would make teaching yoga my life” (Baptiste 14).
            Even at a young age Baron Baptiste was a well-rounded individual, save for dropping out of high school. His lack of formal education in terms of standard American education is an interesting footnote worthy of study in its own right. It simply did not hold his interest. One of the reasons Baron is a great charismatic teacher is his exposure to numerous great teachers while growing up. Apparently not in the public school system however. He had been studying martial arts since the age of nine, and by eighteen had earned his black belt in tae kwon do. In fact he won the California tae kwon do State Championship title when he was eighteen. A calm discipline to pursue his interests had taken root.
            At the age of nineteen he attended a yoga workshop in San Francisco conducted by B.K.S. Iyengar, a world renown Indian hatha yoga master. Iyengar is one of Baron’s foundational philosophic influences, he had a tremendous impact on him, and eventually Baron went to India to study under him. Baptiste reports, “it was at his workshop that I first witnessed the powerfully physical side of yoga that went beyond any forms I had practiced up until then” (14). Two years after his contact with Iyengar’s form of hatha yoga, Baron attended a workshop conducted by Bikram Choudhury (founder of Bikram yoga) and was invited to move to Los Angeles to be his protégé. Bikram is another top tier Indian yoga master, who created his own yoga sequence, known as the “original hot yoga.” Within a year, Baron was living in Bikram’s house in Beverly Hills, and teaching in his studios in California and Paris. All seemed to be humming along in Baron Baptiste world, but he says that despite his top notch physical health, his ability to do the perfect asana, he felt a hole in his heart, that something was missing. He wrote, “By all outward appearances, I was ‘yoga-ing’ right: I followed the advice of the gurus, practiced daily, was a vegetarian, didn’t drink any alcohol or do any drugs. But my relationships weren’t working, and inside I felt at a loss, and most of all, empty”  (14). After achieving a degree of celebrity in the Los Angeles area, his classes were doing well in terms of numbers of students. But, he still couldn’t shake emptiness deep down, and had no idea where to turn, until happenstance intervened.
In an Opera Winfrey type “Aha moment” while stuck in traffic, a radio talk show host said something that struck Baptiste like a thunderclap. He had been meditating and chanting all these years, finding stillness, but had a blind spot of sorts that prevented him from dealing with personal problems. He never faced them head on in a meaningful way resulting in a stifling of his authentic self. He had been living everyone else’s truth; riding on their advice, doing what the experts told him was necessary. He had been rattled one day when a famous yoga master, someone he respected sat him down and said, “You know Baron you’re a good teacher, but to be great you need to let me train you.” This is indicative of experiences that created self-doubt. He implemented the changes suggested by this yoga master, and his class attendance fell off sharply. People could tell he was not teaching his own words, not intentionally, but the results spoke for themselves. After that critical moment in LA traffic, he began to deal with his personal issues, made amends where necessary, and dumped the yoga masters advice letting his own way of being shine while teaching. His class attendance surged again. He writes in his workbook Journey Into Power Teacher Training Workbook, “I remember when I first started teaching yoga from my heart, people loved my classes. I didn’t know the ‘right’ way to teach, but I had a lot of fun” (8). This new way of being for Baptiste propelled him to achieve a great deal, including owning his own studios, sponsoring hundreds of Baptiste Affiliate studios, founding the Baptiste Power Yoga Institute, working as the Peak Performance coach for the Philadelphia Eagles, creating a teacher training empire, and most recently the Africa Yoga Project. Nobody achieves this level of impact without charisma.
The nature of Baron Baptiste charisma developed much like the concept of charisma itself, not in a linear fashion, and slightly peculiar. I would not regard Baron Baptiste as a religious leader even though he is a religious person. The delivery of the Baptiste yoga method does emphasize spirituality, but it clearly is not forced upon the students. The nature of charisma has sociological and psychological foundations. The first systematic study of charisma was conducted by the German sociologist Max Weber in his work Economy and Society, published posthumously in 1922. Weber’s musing is complex, and even he acknowledged difficulty in ascertaining the exact nature of charisma. He broke the concept down into “ideal-types” in which his formulations distinguished between “institutional” and “individual” forms of charisma.
An example of one institutional ideal-type, Weber discusses “Charismatic Leadership Democracy” (Kim, Stanford Philosophy Encyclopedia). This is Weber’s notion of the impossibility of genuine self-rule. His belief is of a muscular (intellectual) charismatic leader at the helm of state, to organize unity of effort of its citizens toward general societal goals. Kim goes on to say, “Leadership democracy is, however, not solely reliant upon the quality of its leaders, let alone that of a caesaristic dictator. In addition to electoral competition, Weber saw localized, yet public associational life as a breeding ground for the formation of charismatic leaders” (Stanford Philosophy Encyclopedia). This highlights the lack of solid demarcation between the two ideal types of institution and individual. “Weber himself was uncomfortably torn along two dimensions in his uses of charisma” (Turner 8). Institutional and individual charisma exist in a symbiotic relationship feeding off one another, each relying upon the other for its survival. In contemporary society, an example I can point to is Apple Inc. It will be interesting to see how reliant the company was upon the charisma of Steve Jobs, and how much of Jobs charisma seeped into the Apple culture.
My experience with Baron Baptiste was on an individual basis, but his “institution” surrounded all 140 participants. While in Austin most were wearing Baptiste Lululemon apparel, and he brought along enough staff to open a store each day selling the full range of Baptiste merchandise. This was on the periphery as far as I was concerned, because it did not seem to have an impact on my opinion of Baron. Did I drink the Kool-Aid? I am versed in the manifestation of power and influence via art, to include things such as beautiful yoga clothing in beautiful yoga bodies with the Baptiste branding. The Roman Empire used this method to great effect, with numerous statues of emperors such as Augustus and Marcus Aurelius, the use of public baths to soothe the population, and social control mechanisms such as Roman theaters. While maybe a bit of an apples to oranges comparison, my point is easily seen, and just a matter of scale. I have come to learn in my research for this paper, that the “cult of personality” that surrounds Baron Baptiste relies upon the foundation of an already culturally charismatic tight yoga community to begin with. This is Weber’s thesis of institution and individual charisma feeding off one another.
Stephen Turner in Charisma Reconsidered finds some troublesome notions with this thesis as it further muddies exactly what the nature of charisma is. He says, “By extending individual charisma to cover institutions” that “charisma now seems to collapse into culture-the charismatic is that which is culturally predefined as charismatic” (13). Mr. Turner is perturbed by the lack of cut and dry explanation of just what charismas entails. He says, “leaders fulfill prior cultural expectations, and in some sense call for the fulfillment of core religious ideas that are part of the pre-existing culture” (13). This quote could explain Baron Baptiste’s successful yoga empire. However, Mr. Turner does not account for why some become leaders in the first place. Any pre-existing institutional charisma may be the spark that propels, but is not the premise. What is charisma as it applies to the individual?
Disturbingly, in doing my research on charisma I came to the conclusion that we only understand charisma on the surface. In fact, much of what I read sounded like a bunch of intellectual mumbo jumbo, by people grappling with a difficult topic. Much of the difficulty has to do with charisma arising originally from theology, seeping into the social sciences, and now it’s ingrained in the culture. The genius of Max Weber still stands, as I found his analysis still to be the most cogent. Weber asks the question, “What kind of man must one be if he is to be allowed to put his hand on the wheel of history?” (Dow 87). The short answer is a charismatic one. “Weber’s account of individual charisma focuses on success, and this suggests the idea that the power of the charismatic leader arises from the ability to confound and surpass expectations-to be extraordinary” (Turner 5). The tricky thing with charisma as it manifests in the full range of individuals is charisma does not discriminate between good and evil people. Impactful figures from history, such as Gandhi, Adolf Hitler, Che Guevara, and John F. Kennedy, all were full of charisma with differing results. Baron Baptiste is imbued with charisma based upon his influence, his magnetic presence, his concept of duty to others, tenacity, and maybe most importantly, his inner compass being grounded in spirituality. He has motivated me, and thousands like me to reach higher, and to do good things. Ultimately, judgment of individual charisma is simply based upon a feeling, and appears to be as shifty and difficult to explain as love. You know it when you feel it.
In our Western lexicon yoga has become popular and trendy. “The teaching and practice of yoga, at least in the aspect of techniques of body poses and stretches, are now thoroughly mainstream activities on the Western cultural landscape” (Bryant XV1). As western students become exposed to yoga it starts to dawn on them the juicy complexity of yoga practice “ To the orthodox Hindu mind, it represents something very high, beyond the ken of the man on the street-indeed, something very auspicious and to be achieved only by virtue (punya) gathered over many past lives” (Joshi 53). Of the numerous definitions, I love what one of the Upanishads had to say. “The Katha says, when the mind becomes steady long with the five senses, and the intellect also remains unshaken, the highest state comes into being.” Many Indian philosophical treaties reference yoga, for example, the Bhagavad Gita discusses karma-yoga, and tantra-yoga, each widely known within the Western yoga community. Patanjali, who is credited with compiling the Yoga Sutras, a masterpiece of Indic philosophy, cogently defined yoga as “the elimination of the modifications of the mind” (Joshi 58).
            Like most Westerners, my first exposure to yoga practice was purely for the physical benefits. As a healthy male, the ratio of men to women, skewed heavily toward female practitioners, came into sharp focus providing natural motivation. However, immediately the full-force of the difficulty of each asana spanked my mind. I recognized the other students were laser focused, and their practice wasn’t flippant or for trendy purposes. My close proximity to the minimally clothed women was distracting in the extreme (and still is, but on a much more subtle level), resulting in no focus, and compulsive rubber necking. I was astounded to realize the effort, awareness, and concentration it takes to stand still in a posture. Indeed, this is anathema to mainstream cardio exercise, which raises heart rate by vigorous movement. It is paradoxical to the Western mind, that the combination of stillness, balance, pranayama breathing, and an understanding of a properly stacked (balanced) skeleton can raise heart rate to chest bursting levels. Part of the magic of the practice is how the student is forced to concentrate or simply collapse. I told myself within the first week of practice, either you stare at the goddess on the adjacent mat, or focus on my own practice. You can’t do both. This aspect of yoga, the meditative component, is by far the most important with the obvious physical benefits taking a back seat on an individual level. This was a paradigm shift and not what I expected.
            The marriage of knowledge and experience is a powerful force. I’ve synthesized what I thought were disconnected things, and in fact turned preconceived notions upside down. To highlight this point I quote from Huston Smith’s book. He said, “Raja yoga works with the body even while being ultimately concerned with the mind. More precisely, it works through the body to the mind. Beyond general health, its chief object here is to keep the body from distracting the mind while it concentrates” (44). He goes on to say, “Yogic postures protect the meditator from disruptions from the body in its static aspects, but there remain bodily activities, such as breathing. The yogi must breathe, but untrained breathing can shatter the mind’s repose” (45). As a student of yoga I’ve come to learn that physical strength is not the limiting factor in posture prowess, but lack of breath control. Concentration flows from breath, and appropriate breath control develops concentration. I had a real epiphany when a teacher scolded me for being a “mouth breather.” As heart rate increases the reflex to breath heavily through the mouth becomes almost overwhelming. Exertion coupled with mouth breathing releases adrenaline triggering the “fight or flight” reflex. This destroys concentration, the rational thinking brain becomes anestitized, and all you want to do is get out of that room. This is why Bikram teachers tell neophytes that the goal of the 90-minute secession is to simply stay in the room.
            An aspect that makes Baron Baptiste’s story so compelling is the complexity of the Indian philosophy he was surrounded by while growing up due to his family circumstances. Taking into consideration the Judeo-Christian dominant culture of the United States and his respect for Christianity, Baron eventually was able to thread the needle of seemly disparate thought. He developed his own style of yoga infusing just enough Western flavor to make in assessable to the masses. He created a multimillion-dollar business integrating Western capitalism, furthering yoga’s viability as a business model, with the intention of delivering the practice to societies that desperately need it. He did not operate to create personal wealth. It merely is a by-product. There may be some clash between the values of capitalism and yoga, which has centered Baron in the eye of some yogic storms. The benefits of yoga are so substantial though, that it is worth some sacrifice of the purity of yoga with the goal of exposing the practice to the Western world. Baptiste can take substantial credit for driving the Western yoga movement.
Baptiste style power yoga does not fit neatly into any classical yoga model, “but rather it breaks out of tradition and embraces the intuition of each student” (Baptiste Workbook 15). This statement speaks to the years Baron spent searching, immersed in numerous styles of exercise, and philosophical thought. Ranging from his years as a Karate student through his years with professional football. He says the “Baptiste system is an innovative model of yoga that believes that yoga is ultimately a practice of adaptation: adaptation to the times, culture, and people who are directly being influenced.” (Baptiste workbook 14). Baron points out that his brand of yoga should not be seen as “rebellious,” but more a revolution in personal transformation. A personal revolution triggered by differentiating “between rote knowledge and habitual ritual and the central, universal and timeless principles that exist at yoga’s core teaching” (Baptiste workbook 14). At first blush it may seem like Baptiste is far off the yoga reservation, but in reality it is not. Baptiste power yoga takes it cues from two sources; Hatha yoga for the physical practice, and The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga).
            Hatha yoga is the root of most Western style yoga today. Including, Iyengar, Anusara, Ashtanga, Vinyasa Flow, and Power Yoga. The differences between the styles are not significant, but each has its own brand name stamped on it. The branding of yoga is in response to its exposure to Western culture ushering more un-yogic like controversy. I find it interesting that some feel the Westernization of yoga is perverting this method of enlightenment that is thousands of years old. Or is it? “It may come as a surprise that the first in-depth writings on Hatha yoga and related explanations of asana practice are just a few hundred years old, not thousands as is often claimed or intimated in the popular yoga media and literature” (Stephens 16). Other than sitting in the Padmasana (Lotus Pose), the older yoga texts such as the Patanjali’s Sutras are concerned with meditation, Atman, Braham, and other more spiritual sides, not the physical asanas. The first writings on hatha yoga stem from the fourteenth century in a texted called the Hatha Yoga Pradipika written by Swami Swatmarama. The term hatha means several things. It derives from “ha, meaning ‘sun,’ and tha, meaning ‘moon,’ symbolizing life force and consciousness” (Stephens 17). It can also mean “power” or “force,” but is more in tune with personal power squaring well with the Baptiste yoga philosophy. “Hatha yoga uses all of who we are-physically, mentally, emotionally, our most subtle and elusive inner nature” (Stephens 17).
            The meditative or spiritual component of Baptiste yoga comes from The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Patanjali’s Astanga Yoga). The Yoga Sutras are the philosophical foundation that most Westernized yoga works from. As a student of Aristotle, I’ve come to realize commonalities between the Eight Limbs of Yoga, and Aristotle’s notions of human flourishing, or eudaimonia in the Greek. Each is concerned with a person’s character being a composite of human habit. The eight limbs are; Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. Each limb represents a piece of the whole. If one piece or limb is missing or substandard then it impacts the whole. For example, earlier in this paper I expressed my lack of breath control in my first yoga classes. Pranayama is the breathing practice, of which mine was incorrect, adversely impacting my asana (physical practice), leading to a disturbed Dharana (mental focus or sharpness). A cascade of negative events is triggered when any one of the eight limbs is neglected impacting all limbs. Aristotle discussed this same phenomenon when crafting his Doctrine of the Golden Mean two centuries prior to Patanjali compiling the Yoga Sutras.
            Baron Baptiste crafted his Level 1 Teacher Training “Bootcamp” by culling from hatha yoga and the Yoga Sutras what he believes to be the most relevant to the Western mind without destroying its essence. Another way of looking at the program is non-spiritual types can easily engage in Baptiste style yoga without being turned off by abundant talk of chakras or overwhelmed by eastern music and dress. On the flip side, enough exposure is given to the student in Baptiste yoga, that when the practice takes hold, the more esoteric spiritual components of yoga can be incorporated. Aristotle would say that Baron has found “The Golden Mean” in his delivery of yoga. Baptiste’s bootcamp program has five parts: Rewiring Your Mind, Daily Power Yoga Practice, The Cleansing Diet, Meditation for Truthful Living, and Journeying into Real life. Within the five parts, resides The Eight Limbs, and hatha yoga.
            In conclusion, my recent experience with Baron Baptiste has been a tremendous force-multiplier in terms of bringing my personal yoga practice and my life up several notches. Additionally, a solid foundation has been structured for me to really engage with the community as a yoga teacher thanks to the Baptiste methodology. I’ve come to learn while writing this paper that a substantial amount of rancor swirls around successful yoga masters such as Baron Baptiste and Bikram Choudhury. A company called Yoga Works has started a chain of studios opening throughout the United States furthering yoga purists concerns of yoga’s Western taint. They claim independent studios will be squashed much like and Barnes & Nobles have squashed small booksellers. Baron Baptiste has been accused as a ruinous influence on yoga for amassing wealth as if he started out with such intentions. His charisma and wealth is a by-product of a lifetime spent searching for a truthful self-seated in his soul, and simple tenacity. He has changed many thousands of lives for the better. In other words I salute his success and wealth. It’s funny how the most politically progressive embrace yoga, but are the first to bark if any changes come to the original form.  
            This paper is a companion piece to the seven days I spent in Austin, Texas training under Baron Baptiste. In it, I discuss my Level 1 experience, my thoughts on Baron Baptiste, his family history, and some of his prominent mentors. I also detail the origins of his own style of yoga called Baptiste Power Vinyasa Flow. I furthered the discussion by researching some history regarding charisma, and how this applies to Baptiste. I also briefly survey some of yoga’s history that is relevant to Baron Baptiste. As of today, I am still in the infancy stage of learning about yoga, and I hope to continue to practice, teach and evolve.  

        Works Cited
Baptiste, Baron, and Richard Corman. Journey into Power: How to Sculpt Your Ideal Body, Free Your True Self, and Transform Your Life with Yoga. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002.Web.
Baptiste, Baron. 40 Days to Personal Revolution: A Breakthrough Program to Radically Change Your Body and Awaken the Sacred within Your Soul. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.Web.
Baptiste, Baron. Journey Into Power: Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Training Workbook. Baptiste Power Yoga Institute, 2009.
Barnes, Douglas F. "Charisma and Religious Leadership: An Historical Analysis." Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 17.1 (1978): pp. 1-18. Web.
BILLARD, MARY. "Mind, Body, Spirit; Flow Or no, Following the Yogis." New York Times (2005): 1. Web.
Bryant, Edwin F, and Patañjali. The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali: A New Edition, Translation, and Commentary with Insights from the Traditional Commentators. New York: North Point Press, 2009. Print.
Hamilton, Sue. Indian Philosophy: A very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. Web.
"Interview with Power Yoga Innovator Baron Baptiste "Web. 11/15/2011 <>.
Jeremijenko, Valerie. "How we live our yoga teachers and practitioners on how yoga enriches, surprises, and heals us." 2002.Web. /xwc/.
Jeremy Page, Delhi. "American Attempt to Patent Yoga Puts Indians in a Twist." Times, The (United Kingdom) Web.
Joshi, K. S. "On the Meaning of Yoga." Philosophy East and West 15.1 (1965): pp. 53-64. Web
"Kim, Sung Ho, "Max Weber", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), <>."Web.
Potts, John,. A History of Charisma. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.Web.
"Title: Becoming A Yogi: Resocialization and Deconditioning as Conversion Processes Author: Stephen R. Wilson: Sociological Analysis, Vol. 45, no. 4 (Winter, 1984), Pp. 301-314Publisher(s): Oxford University Press." Web.
Stephens, Mark,. Teaching Yoga : Essential Foundations and Techniques. Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic Books, 2010.Web.
Turner, Stephen. "Charisma Reconsidered." Journal of Classical Sociology 3.1 (2003): 5-26. Web.
Smith, Huston, The World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1991. Print.
Weber, Max, Economy and Society; an Outline of Interpretive Sociology. New York: Bedminster Press, 1968. Web.

Photo Credit

No comments: