Nude Beaches & Down Dog Quotas: How You Practice Informs What You Practice, Part II

Long hair and a touch of scoliosis made more visible by an on-shoot thoracic disk slippage. Beautiful backdrops and nude bathers off-camera.

Many moons ago I taught Yoga on a nude beach in Jamaica to pretend people who weren’t there. I was paid several hundred dollars, given a round trip ticket from New York to Mo’ Bay, received complimentary ground transportation and was put up in bartered accommodations at an all-inclusive resort. The videos and DVDs from that shoot (and ones filmed the next two years) generated millions of dollars in revenue for the distributor. I received no royalties, alas.

As a commercial venture they were deemed successful, but as teaching aids?

I was reminded of those shoulder season visits to Jamaica while visiting my parent’s house with my then 8-year old son. My mom played one of the DVDs, took out her Yoga mat and began practicing “with me” as my son and I watched the 14-years-younger version of me instruct her through cat posture. Before long, my son plopped down next to Nanny and tried following the instructions for downward-facing dog. The live version of me supplemented Al-the-younger’s efforts with some hands on assistance and additional verbal encouragement.

It was a weird split-screen: having memories of teaching pretend people while nude, overweight, sunburnt German tourists looked on and looking on this present moment as my mom and son watched  the younger me giving them instructions while the older me looked on.

My son thought the DVD was cool enough but his real interest was hearing more about the nude bathers (Could you see their butts and everything?). But my mom, God bless her, remains a big fan of those Yoga Zone videos.  I don’t think she’s just saying that because I’m her son (though that’s surely a part of it). She finds ‘just enough’ in them: they are the right physical challenge, the right time length and the commute to the family room sure beats the drive to the health club.

What’s interesting about pre-recorded led practices (for tv, the internet or mobile applications) is how much the medium drives the content. The other teachers who created practices and I were collectively on a downward-facing dog quota. Because it’s a position that requires a viewer’s head to be down (and thus away from the screen), the producers didn’t want us using that posture very often. If we taught it going into a commercial break and invited the home practitioners to maintain it through the break that would be all right

There were other postures that likewise were deemed not so great for tv because they either lacked visual appeal or they came across as too sexual. I seem to recall that reclined cobbler’s pose (supta baddha konasana) was ruled out because of that – or perhaps it was shot from a distance.

That I was tall helped me secure one of the teaching spots. But that I had a touch of scoliosis was deemed problematic. I was asked to sit in such a way that both of my shoulders appeared to be on the same level in order that I looked like ‘a proper Yogi.’ When, while demonstrating during another video, I was accidentally rotated a bit too far which knocked a thoracic vertebrae out of whack, the task of ‘covering up’ my postural imbalance was even more challenging.

Besides our physical presentation and the visual aesthetics of what we were teaching playing a role in the choice of content, how that content flowed was equally important. Just as a half hour sit-com is divided into acts, so too were the video tapes (which later became DVDs).  There was a formula to introducing the postures (sharing some details about them and adding a bit of personality and encouragement) and to how the flow was sequence.

On the one hand, that formula worked: while the videos never sold at Rodney Yee levels, they certainly sold well enough.   Or perhaps that formula didn’t work and all of the videos/DVDs that were purchased gathered dust in people’s media towers.  Or maybe the instructional videos and DVDs gave people ‘just enough’ to work with on their own. Maybe they served as a “good enough” substitution for group classes, or as a brain break from the responsibilities of creating and following their own self-guided practices.  Maybe some flipped off the tv and went out in search of a real, live instructor who gave them what they really needed.

In the years since, I have bumped into other teachers who were making their own DVDs or creating videos for their YouTube channels. Many seemed confident that their’s were going to be unique and/or different from the rest. I’m sure part of that confidence was rooted in the belief each had about the material s/he was going to share.

But I wonder, in retrospect, how each felt about the final product and about the trade-offs involved in sharing instruction in this way.  And I wonder what your experiences of practicing with or creating Yoga videos, DVDs and other recorded media has been. I look forward to hearing your stories.

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