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New York Yogis: Exceptional Practitioners From Westchester County & Beyond

Meet Douglas Rushkoff: a heavyweight in the field of media ecology relishes the lightness of being on the mat

by Louise Fecher

Present Shock . . . a media theorist navigates the sea of modern distractions

Your front doorbell is chiming, the answering machine in the living room is recording a message, the drier downstairs is beeping. On your computer, an impatient queue of emails demand attention, including a prod from Facebook reminding you that “a lot has happened” since you last checked in. Tucked in your handbag, your cell phone chirps. You don’t know which call to answer first, which crisis to avert, who (or what) to pay attention to and in what order. Your think your life is all about deadlines and demands, and you want to scream. Do you need a vacation? Probably. Are you suffering from “present shock”? Definitely.

In his latest book, media theorist Douglas Rushkoff explores our relationship to time in the digital age and how our perceptions of time paint our personal, cultural, economic, and political landscapes.  “We tend to exist in a distracted present, where forces on the periphery are magnified and those immediately before us are ignored,” Douglas writes in the preface to Present Shock. He continues, “Our ability to create a plan–much less follow through on it–is undermined by our need to be able to improvise our way through any number of external impacts that stand to derail us at any moment.”

In the chapters that follow, the author deftly sifts through the complexities of what got us here with clarity, passion, and humor. There are five stops on Douglas’s carefully drawn road map to understanding present shock. First stop– narrative collapse–is the inability to create and comprehend stories that begin and end: think reality TV programs devoid of scripts (and intelligence); perpetually raging news program hosts vs diligent reporting and analysis. Then there’s “fractalnoia,” a term coined by the author to describe the desperate desire to make sense of a narrative-challenged world by connecting dots that are not actually related. Conspiracy theories, the author notes, are one result of favoring disjointed patterns over straight paths.

Douglas doesn’t waste readers’ time by decrying the digital world; rather, word-rich and wise, Present Shock offers understanding and awareness. From this place, we can escape trapped-in-the-moment presentism and shape a more hopeful and healthy life, giving each moment, as Douglas writes, “the value it deserves, and nothing more.”                                   –Louise Fecher

Yoga in Yonkers

Douglas Rushkoff spends a lot of time sitting down on the job. “I’m either sitting and thinking, or sitting and writing,” he says. Fortunately, Douglas has a pretty cool job. An intrepid observer and interpreter of media and how communication methods shape our actions, politics, and culture, this New York City native and Westchester resident has written twelve books, created documentaries for PBS, and penned articles for The New York Times and Time magazine. A dynamic speaker, he has lectured at universities and conferences around the world, teaches at The New School in Manhattan, and has been a guest on many radio and television programs. 

The robust response to his Douglas’s newest title, Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now (Current, 2013) (see the sidebar at right), has sent the author spinning like a human tornado: one day he’s filming The Colbert Report in New York City, the next he’s doing a signing at a Canadian book store, a few days later he’s lecturing in Washington, DC.

Exciting? You bet. But laboring over a laptop can wreak havoc on the body, as can sitting on cramped airplanes or driving here, there, and everywhere to promote your work. To help stay healthy in body and mind, Douglas has found a refuge: a dedicated yoga practice that is teaching his body to fly as freely as his thoughts.

 Douglas Rushkoff taking flight on stage.

“I [thought] yoga might be a good way to get back into the body and create some time and space for me as a human,” he says. “That it would support me taking care of my wife and daughter, support me not sleeping. I’m working, like anybody, working three jobs to pay the mortgage and the taxes. And the jobs I do are very public. It’s great on a certain level, but when you’re doing NPR, and then a TV thing, and then a press thing, a lot of stress hormones get released in your blood.”

Douglas began working with Karen Safire, a former dancer and a popular Westchester yoga teacher, when he heard about a program that she was starting near his Hastings-on-Hudson office. He’d taken a smattering of yoga classes during college in New Jersey–he graduated from Princeton in 1983–and after, while living in lower New York. (“I would sometimes go to those sexy classes in the East Village,” he says with a laugh.) Later, living on the West Coast (where he earned a Master of Fine Arts from the California Institute of Arts in Los Angeles), he developed a daily tai chi practice. But Douglas was a novice when he walked into Karen’s yoga class two years ago. He wasn’t familiar with the poses and, like many newbies, would struggle to lunge his foot forward from Downward Dog. “You should have seen what I used to have to do to get it up there,” he says, playfully mimicking leg dragging movements.

Douglas is astounded by how far his physical practice has come–“it’s crazy!” he says. He’s even more surprised by his new-found passion for inversions–a class of poses he used to avoid with equal passion.Diminutive and determined, the author continued taking class, going twice a week whenever he was able. Now, sprightly at age 52, Douglas is at home with classmates who are longtime yoga practitioners. He can lunge like a lion, soar like a bird (just last month he found himself poised perfectly in Crow, a challenging hand balance), and in time, will likely be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. 

 “Now I’m all about the inversions, which I’d never thought I’d do,” the author says. “There’s this moment. You kick your legs up like three times. But then there’s the one when you feel it’s going to happen. It’s like, whoa! I like that feeling; I like it because I was so afraid of it for so long.”

A dedicated yogi knows that the poses are just part of the practice. And for Douglas, yoga offers a sense of community and safety that he often finds lacking in his very public professional life.  For this reason, he declined to be photographed in yoga postures for this article, preferring to keep his personal life off the Internet. “Any photo could end up being re-contextualized and tweeted by ‘haters’ in an effort to discredit my work. Sad, but there it is,” he admits.

If you see Douglas as I do, as a sweet, funny, and supportive yoga classmate (Karen Safire, shown below demonstrating Crow pose, is my teacher as well), it’s hard to imagine hatred being aimed in his direction. But when I asked Douglas about it, he reminded me that his theories and ideas are the target–not him–and he’s learned to accept that.

Karen Safire taking flight in Crow pose.

“The world’s gotten meaner,” Douglas says. “Because the economy’s doing poorly, because the public discourse has degraded into this very polarized clash, because there’s a lot of politicians and a lot of people in media now who are actively fomenting discontent–people who think Obama and Osama are the same person. There are angry people out there. And when you’re . . . up on the stage, on the radio, putting yourself out in front of hundreds of thousands of people a day, you’re bound to run into some mean ones.  So let them attack what you are saying, your belief system.”

But Douglas won’t accept, or do anything to inadvertently encourage, critics bringing his family, his home, his yoga practice –“the most sacred, personal parts of my life”–into the public debate. “Not everything in one’s life can be grist for the mill, or there’s no life left!” he asserts.

For Douglas, yoga provides not only a refuge from daily demands, he’s also found his practice to be a delicious contrast to his professional life. As an author, commentator, and consultant, he must bear the mantle of authority, be an expert. In yoga, he is able to experience the opposite. Although he’s becoming proficient at physically demanding asana, Douglas believes he’s moving into what he calls “an eternal beginner phase.” 

“You make this thing called progress–moving further forward. But when I move forward, I zoom out more, and see that the thing is actually further away,” he muses. “Every time I go into yoga, I walk into this room and be blank. It’s so nice. Today, wherever we are, it’s like discovery every single time. I’m just loving that eternal beginner thing.”

 You can read more about Douglas and his work at his website,

Saturday, July 20th, 2013

Stuff I Learned From Tina Fey

Bossypants meets yogapants


Does it make you feel uncomfortable when someone hands you a book and enthusiastically insists you read it? Makes me feel pressured and cranky, and I usually wiggle-worm out of taking the book any way possible (“I have a big pile of books waiting to be read already . . .”; “the contact lens for my third eye is damaged and I can’t read for a while” . . .)

Recently, my wiggling didn’t work, because my yoga teacher Karen Safire looked me straight in my third eye and said she thought the book in her hand–just returned from another student–would make me laugh. The hot book being passed from yogi to yogi in her class wasn’t about yoga (take that, William Broad!), nor was it brand new. Bossypants (Reagan Arthur Books, 2011), penned by Tina Fey and published last year, is part humor, part memoir, and wholly wise. And, yes, it did make me laugh–from the first sneak peek (before yoga class) and every night that followed (so hard my husband thought I was coughing up a hair ball.)

In Bossypants, Tina touched on themes dear to my crankypants heart: anxiety, work frustrations, weight gain and self-image, parenting challenges, and being pissed off in general in a world that often still expects women to suppress their anger and never look harried. Tina’s narrative is honest, ethical, and smart, and will have you nodding your head so much that it may, unfortunately, trigger neck pain.

Since Tina didn’t offer any tips on improving Downward-Facing Dog that I can pass on, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite little somethings from her book:

Glamourous photos of thin celebrities are a crock and you should ignore them. While recounting her own celebrity photo shoot experiences (including being squeezed into a sizes-too-small dress that was left open in back for the photo), Tina advises: “Don’t ever feel inadequate when you look at magazines. Just remember that every person that you see on a cover has a bra and underwear hanging out a gaping hole in the back. Everyone. Heidi Klum, the Olsen Twins, David Beckham, everybody.”

It was Tina who wrote what is for me one of the most hilarious SNL commercial parodies ever–for “Annuale,” the birth control pill that allows the modern, busy woman to have just one period a year (“that’s all I have time for!”). For me, this skit is right up there with Colon Blow cereal and the classic Bass-O-Matic. Click here to view the skit on Hulu (don’t blame me if you cough up a hairball).

Blondes really do have more fun. Tina writes: “Why do I call it ‘yellow’ hair and not ‘blond’ hair? Because I’m pretty sure everybody calls my hair ‘brown.’ When I read fairy tales to my daughter I always change the world ‘blond’ to ‘yellow,’ because I don’t want her to thank that blond hair is somehow better.” Unfortunately it didn’t work: Tina admits that her daughter always left her reversible Sleeping Beauty/Snow White doll on her bed  Sleeping Beauty (blond) side up. Why? She told mom that she didn’t like Snow White’s hair. Sigh.

Thanks to the movie and fashion industries, no woman has permission to be happy with the way she looks. In the “All Girls Must Be Everything” chapter, Tina lists the many physical attributes women are supposed to have to satisfy today’s insane beauty standards. The lengthy list includes (but is not limited to!) long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year old boy, and the arms of First Lady Michelle Obama. Dream on, guys!

Ms. Bossypants got some of her best career advice from Grover. Is there a difficult person between you and what you want in your workplace? If so, Tina suggests that you model your strategy after “Over! Under! Through!” a classic Sesame Street song. Don’t waste time trying to change opinions, she suggests. Instead, go over, under, or through your stumbling block. (I would add that practicing yoga can help make us flexible enough to do the over and under part.)

“Sleep when your baby sleeps” does not give new moms enough “Me Time.” Tina writes: “Everyone knows this classic tip, but I say why stop there? Scream when your baby screams. Take Benadryl when your baby takes Benadryl. And walk around pantless when your baby walks around pantless.” I wish someone had given me this advice when my son was a baby.

Another yogi is now reading the copy of Bossypants that was loaned to me, so I can’t hand it to you and insist that you read it. I hope you find a bossypants yoga teacher who has the book and who’s willing to pass on her copy. Don’t worry: Tina Fey won’t mind if you borrow the book rather than pay for it–she says so right in the book! And for this and many other reasons, I will always think of Tina Fey as Awesomepants.

Friday, September 7th, 2012
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