Thursday, 5 July 2012

Yoga Talks Interviews Lawrence Jacob Milman

Yesterday I listened to an interview of Lawrence Jacob Milman (or LJ) on The Yoga Voice podcast which turned out to be a fascinating look into the manipulative-guru model of yoga instruction. The talk, which is about seventy-five minutes long, is available here:

Lawrence Milman is part of an interesting clique of yoga teachers who came out of Vancouver, BC about five years ago who are all peripherally associated with Anusara but never drank the Kool-aid (or Emergen-C) to the degree that many other did. As such, he can be considered a bit of a rising star and I feel the man should receive props for being honest even as I'm going to try and tear apart what he said in May, here and now.

The over-riding theme of this talk is that LJ is an actor impersonating a yoga teacher. Early in his life he was an actor-in-training and not entirely successful in that endeavor which eventually resulted in him finding more success in applying his acting skills to yoga instruction. My impression is that LJ basically entered the world of yoga instruction too early in life. In that I mean how he discusses his method of taking what he learned from this teacher and that teacher and tries to make it his own, but what he's doing is basically paraphrasing the experiences of others. At no point can I remember an anecdote from the interview on how his teachings were formed by the crucible of his own life experience.

A large portion of the interview is about how Lawrence studies other teachers as well as the prior art of scientific research for the methods they use to manipulate classes to affect a positive, 'blissful' environment. I find this a wee bit disconcerting.

There is also a discussion of the John Friend episode which is also deeply cynical: LJ makes it crystal clear that the surprise wasn't what JF was doing, but that it became public. The reason why the John Friend scandal was a big deal is because it says, yoga is a lie. The practice of yoga doesn't have any inherent power to make you a better person. Mouthing platitudes about transparency does nothing to make you inherently more honest. Only if a person truly wants to be better can yoga be a vehicle to achieve that but it is only one of many potential vehicles.

Hence that someone as peripherally associated with Anusara as LJ was well aware of the cockroaches crawling about in the core of Anusara paints the picture that the problems with Anusara extend well beyond the dear leader. LJ's response to the John Friend scandal is that, paraphrasing, "it's okay that JF is an asshole because his charisma is what matters and I want to learn from him how to be more charismatic." My reaction to that is that charisma and charlatan are spelled awfully similarly.

Lastly, at the close of the interview there is an interesting reversal where he's asked the question, "Are you an athletic yogi, a scientific yogi, or a mystical yogi?" There is a long pause...



See, this is a question (via Christina Sell) that LJ likes to ask other people. He had previously posted interviews with Ally Bogard and Meghan Currie where both answered pretty much without hesitation that they are mystics. I would link to them, but they have vanished from YouTube along with the rest of his presence there (the Meghan Currie video was here, you can see a screenshot on his Facebook page). It basically poses the question whether one follows the path of Raja (athlete), Jnana (science), or Bhakti (mystic) but coaching the question in modern English and leaving out the notion of the karmic path.

Leaving aside the apparent blind-spot of not making Karma an option, I thought it showed a lack a lack of introspection that he cannot answer his own question instantly. How could someone not ask this question of themselves before asking it of others? After some hesitation, he says that yoga was his entry point into yoga and after some prodding sort-of-not-really agrees that he is a scientist yogi but at the same time that is not the answer he wants to give. He says the goal for everyone is to be a mystic (and hence follow the Bhakti path). Piece of advice: if you are a Jnani-Raji hybrid, accept that.

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