Just Another Scandalous day in Harvard Square

 

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Kerry Washington took time out of her busy schedule playing the best-dressed, Châteauneuf-du-Pape-sipping, popcorn-munching D.C. fixer on television—Olivia Pope in Scandal, of course—to play with some Harvard undergrads in the midst of a frigid New England winter.

The Hasty Pudding Theatricals (HPT) comedy troupe chose Washington as their 2016 Woman of the Year. The oldest theater company in the nation, HPT is operated by Harvard students and associated with notable alumni including Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jack Lemmon, and Rashida Jones (not to mention several U.S. presidents).

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The 66th woman honored with the prestigious Pudding Pot award, Washington now shares the privilege with an illustrious group of women including Katherine Hepburn (1958), Meryl Streep (1980), Whoopi Goldberg (1993), and Helen Mirren (2014).

With that in mind, earning the unconventional award is no small feat, as Washington proved on stage January 28.

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(Mike Lawrie photo)

Following the annual parade––sequined, wigged, fabulous cross-dressing HPT cast members escorting the Woman of the Year down Massachusetts Avenue in a Bentley––was the traditional, sometimes humorous roast of Washington on stage at Farkas Hall.

It started with an innocuous introduction, peppered with a few playful jabs from the roast hosts, HPT President Bobby Fitzpatrick (’16) and HPT168 Producer Kennedy Edmonds (’17):

  • Washington made the Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential people of 2014 list…along with North Korean dictator Kim Jung-Un. (Well played, HPT.)
  • She turned down admission to Yale, which her roasters claimed was her only redeeming quality. (I beg to differ.)
  • Instead, she attended George Washington University, prompting the punchline, “Sounds like nepotism.” (HAH!)

 

The Pudding Pot dedication was interrupted by an audience “heckler”–a cast member dressed as Monica Lewinsky, in what else but a blue dress and black beret. (HPT relies heavily on stereotypes and caricatures, and this proved no exception.)

Lewinsky claimed that Washington was “playing seductive all wrong” (referring to the latter’s onscreen illicit romance with fictional U.S. President Fitzgerald Grant), and challenged the guest of honor to earn her award.

Lewinsky’s parting words: “As I always say, ‘Watch out for Hillary!'”

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Thus commenced Washington’s Herculean tasks:

Since her character Olivia Pope plays a D.C. political fixer, the HPT cast claimed that she first must “break shit” as she participated in a game show called “Smash That Thing!”.

Her first target was a piñata, which she teased represented “the jokes that hurt me deeply.”

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The second was a bouquet of balloons with her face, which the cast instructed her to pop. Without missing a beat, Washington joked, “That’s, like, against my Neutrogena contract.”

Then, the “Smash That Thing” host told her she must destroy a 12-inch Lenovo laptop. Washington balked. “Only at Harvard…” she said, followed by, “This is crazy! Somebody needs this!”

She agreed to take a hammer to the laptop if HPT donated a functioning one to someone in need. They acquiesced, at least in the moment. (I’ve yet to follow up on that agreement.)

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Before obliterating the screen, Washington yelled, “Take that, Monica!”

When the host informed her that there was yet one more smash task, Washington replied, “Is there a Bentley?”

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(Keith Bedford photo)

The remaining endeavors included egg cracking (on the host’s bouffant hairdo), a pseudo-Neutrogena ad involving a Harvard “pimple boy,” a popcorn-eating contest with “Fat Elephant,” an altercation with Donald Trump‘s Harvard doppelgänger, and serenading a personified “bitch baby” (another Scandal reference) to sleep.

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(Elise Amendola photo)

In the star-studded performance rife with nods to pop culture and current events, the highlights were Washington’s impromptu musical numbers. She and an HPT Ray Charles sang a lullaby duet  (Washington played Charles’ wife in the 2004 film Ray), and she belted out a captivating rendition of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to do With It.”

 

Needless to say, Washington handily earned her 2016 Woman of the Year Pudding Pot. She claimed, “This is the best worst day ever,” and said the HPT cast got her to do things that she had been avoiding for years.

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Washington graciously accepted the honor with some parting words:

“I’m joining the ranks of esteemed women who have made asses of themselves.”

Toying with her roasters, she called out HPT for their exclusion of women, saying that they “make really ugly drag queens.” Washington’s dig prompted the fake Lewinsky to flash a blue-pantied crotch in an unscripted response.

In response, Washington praised the real Lewinsky for her anti-bullying activism. Then, she asked the cast and the audience to stand and make pledge:

“Repeat after me: I, state your name, followed by the appropriate Roman numeral,” she started, underscoring the WASPy privilege associated with Harvard.

After implying that the members might try acting for a few years, then give up to run their dad’s hedge fund, Washington struck a more serious note and reminded everyone that equal pay, diversity, and making room for others at the table are essential responsibilities, particularly among the Ivy League elite.

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“Please don’t stop stepping into other people’s shoes,” she said. “They don’t have to be pumps.”

Almost as an afterthought, Washington casually reminded everyone to tune into the February 11 midseason premiere of Scandal.

You can watch HPT’s 168th performance, That 1770s Show, at Farkas Hall through March 6. The cast takes the show on the road to NYC’s Kaye Playhouse Theater March 11-12, and then to Bermuda’s Hamilton City Hall March 16-18.

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Watching the Watchdogs

(This op-ed was originally published in The Politico Magazine in August 2013.)

While enjoying dinner in Cambridge recently I noticed two police cars parked in front of the restaurant. Two officers bent a man over a squad car, and cuffed his hands behind his back. The man did not resist and the police did not seem to use excessive force. It was also public. If the cops wanted to hide something, they would have difficulty doing it in that spot with daylight to spare. Dozens of patrons witnessed what I did, and several of them began to whisper and buzz about the excitement outside.

As my boyfriend and I exited, I used my iPhone as as camera to take three shots of the scene, which we had to pass to leave the building. While I didn’t flaunt the gesture, I didn’t attempt to hide it, either. No one seemed bothered by this mundane action (and it was far less obnoxious than a selfie)––except one of the police officers.

He confronted me and asked if I had taken a photo. I confirmed that I had. He demanded that I hand over my phone. I politely declined. Then he grew more aggressive and claimed that it was ‘evidence’ in his crime scene. Again, he insisted I relinquish the contraband. Again, I declined, knowing that his claim was a lie. He said that I didn’t have a right to take photos of the cops. I replied that, actually, I did.

As I tried to pass him to reach my car, the officer moved his body to block my path. Then he tried to take my phone from my hand. I leapt back, a knee-jerk reaction more than a deliberate decision. I told him that his actions were illegal as I slipped my phone into my back pocket. He lunged for the phone, trying to grab it from my jeans. I dodged his effort, restraining myself from kicking him in the crotch (which is what I would have done to any other man harassing me in such a way).

He eventually backed down, realizing that I was more aware of my rights than he had anticipated. I went to my car, shaking, with a rapid heart beat, but with my phone triumphantly still in hand.

This situation is hardly an isolated one. American citizens face arrest, or the threat of it, on a regular basis for keeping an eye on the very people hired, trained, and paid (with taxpayers’ money) to “protect and serve” them. The list seems to grow exponentially every day.

There was the high-profile incident on Leon Rosby, who was arrested in Hawthorne, California, on June 30 for the crime of “obstruction” of police as he recorded video of their cars parked outside of a house in the neighborhood. After agitating Rosby’s dog with the illegal arrest, the officers fatally shot his pet four times.

The evidence? Another citizen taking a video of all of this with his own phone camera. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Mum5iJMlyk)

Also, more recently, Dominic Holden of “The Stranger,” a Seattle, Washington-based publication, wrote about a similar experience. In the July 31 issue, Holden published “Police Threatened to Arrest Me for Taking Their Photo Last Night,” in which he describes interactions with Seattle cops threatening him for taking their photo while they questioned a man who was not under arrest. (http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2013/07/31/police-threatened-to-arrest-me-for-taking-their-photo-last-night)

When Holden followed up with the police department, the response he received was this: “King County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Sergeant Cindi West explains, ‘It’s a free country, and as long as you have a legal right to be there, you can take a picture.’ She elaborated in an e-mail that ‘in general a person cannot be ordered to stop photographing or to leave property if they have a legal right to be there.’ ”

Holden writes, “What happened to me was minor. But I’m writing about it because it’s minor. Officers went out of their way to threaten a civilian with arrest and workplace harassment for essentially no reason. Because they could. Because they didn’t like being watched.”

That’s right, civil servants––whether they are politicians, TSA agents, or police officers––don’t like to be watched. That is what they are, by the way: servants of the people. They are here to help protect and provide services to its citizens. We pay their salaries, after all. So, when did “servants” become “leaders” and “authorities”? People must arm themselves with knowledge of their rights and take back their power.

These self-proclaimed leaders and authorities insist on forcing naked screening images at airports of people simply trying to visit their in-laws in Chicago or fly to Orlando for a trip to Disney World. They justify widespread National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance of all phone calls and emails exchanged by law-abiding citizens who used to be (and presumably still are) protected by the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. And they insist on violating personal space and civil liberties with such intrusive and humiliating tactics as “stop and frisk.”

The response to resistance or even simple questioning of these policies is, “if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to worry about.”

Yet, when free, law-abiding members of the populace do something as simple, harmless, and legal as take photos of officers arresting someone in public or standing around eating donuts, they face harassment and threats of arrest, not the transparency they seek and deserve.

Voyeurism is a two-way street. So is surveillance. And we, the people, should take advantage of that, utilizing our rights to watch the watchdogs. Because, according to Lord Acton, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

If these people in power have nothing to hide, why do they worry so much about an iPhone and curious citizenry armed with knowledge of their rights and basic video technology?

(To avoid arrest or further harassment from the local law enforcement, I am not including the original photos taken of this incident.)

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Please Hold

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Things I did while waiting to speak with a representative at Brigham and Women’s Hospital this morning (in no particular order):

  • Kegel exercises
  • Thought of funny, nonsensical lyrics to match the smooth, jazzy instrumental hold music
  • Realized that the background music may have in fact been a diluted easy-listening version of a Beastie Boys song
  • Imagined the name of the representative who may or may not eventually interrupt the hypnotic Kenny G rendition of ‘Brass Monkey
  • Facercises (for real, this is a thing)
  • Started to read a pocket version of The Constitution of the United States (it’s shorter than you may think), courtesy of the ACLU
  • Pilates, which required a little physical maneuvering, contorting, and speakerphone (idea inspired by Amy Schumer)
  • Forgot the issue I was originally calling to discuss with a B&W rep

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Urban Improv Celebrates Another Year at Banned in Boston

Aerosmith bass player Tom Hamilton (C) performed in the April 26 “Banned in Boston” skit “Downtown Crossing Abbey”...

(Aerosmith bass player Tom Hamilton (C) performed in the April 26 “Banned in Boston” skit “Downtown Crossing Abbey” at the House of Blues with Urban Improv players Carol Fulp, Barbara Lee and Anita Walker. Joshua Lavine, courtesy of Urban Improv.)

Some of Boston’s biggest celebrities helped Urban Improv celebrate its 20th birthday last week at the House of Blues. Governor Deval Patrick, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, Mayor Thomas Menino and Aerosmith bass player Tom Hamilton, among a slew of others, joined the group’s cast for its annual “Banned in Boston” fundraising performance.

Urban Improv is an educational program that helps youths and teaches them, through theater, to tackle difficult issues like violence, bullying and peer pressure in positive ways. At “Banned in Boston” its members and volunteers — including local politicians, entrepreneurs and media personalities ­— use their theatrical talent to enact parodic skits on stage.

The humorous and often musical performances revolve around politics, pop culture, social events and recent news headlines. This year’s themes included Republican candidates and their foibles, cell phone technology, reality television, the Occupy Boston movement and the arrest of South Boston’s notorious mobster Whitey Bulger.

The preliminary cocktail party took place next door at The Lansdowne Pub, where several Boston and Cambridge restaurants provided signature dishes from tasting stations.

Chef Lydia Shire, representing Towne and Scampo, served curry noodles; Paul O’Connell, chef owner of Chez Henri, ladled out bowls of chowder to the crowd; and for a sweet bite, Upstairs on the Square’s co-owner Mary Catherine displayed mini cupcakes and chocolate turtles.

At 7:30 p.m., revelers ambled to the House of Blues, where the celebration continued. Cone-shaped birthday hats, jelly beans, Goldfish crackers and programs topped each table, and waitstaff with trays of wine and cupcakes from Sweet made the rounds. Boston-born David Walton, who now lives in Los Angeles and stars in the NBC series “Bent,” emceed the performance.

The night on stage opened with an energetic greeting from the Urban Improv co-founder Lisa Alvord, followed by a personal account from Shana Auguste, a former student of Urban Improv’s Youth Unscripted program and current member of the program’s artistic staff.

Born and raised in Dorchester, Auguste is now an Emerson College student studying communication. “I was really able to be myself in Urban Improv,” she said. Auguste cited three roles that the program played in her life: a family who provides love and understanding; a teacher with the lessons it offers; and a friend who gives advice and support.

The first skit was “Downtown Crossing Abbey,” a parody of Masterpiece Theater’s “Downton Abbey,” a British period piece presented by Masterpiece Theater. The local spoof had the Boston crowd chuckling with characters named Lady Allston-Brighton, Lord Somerville and Chelsea Revere.

After that, Gov. Patrick showed off his vocal chords and Frank Sinatra impression with a ditty called “Drive Me ‘Round the State,” a light-hearted political song sung to the tune of “Fly Me to the Moon.”

Artistic Director Toby Dewey thanked the actors, reminding them and the audience that the performances are making a difference in the Boston community. He noted how far the program has progressed in 20 years. Dewey explained that Urban Improv is an educational program that uses improvisational theater to promote “three-dimensional learning … using the mind, body and emotions.”

(This article originally appeared in an April 2012 issue of the Bay State Banner.)

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Individual Aesthetic

Interiors

(This post was originally written in February 2015 for Heidi Pribell Interiors, heidipribell.com.)

Welcome to The Inspired Eye, the official blog of Heidi Pribell Interiors!

Each week we will discuss topics related to design––ranging from patterns and color to beauty and style. The posts will cover a broad range of subjects, both practical and philosophical, and include images that reflect Heidi’s fun and vibrant energy.

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Let’s start with the concept of ‘aesthetic,’ something that we can all agree is essential to interior design, and life in general.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of ‘aesthetic’ is “a particular theory or conception of beauty or art; a particular taste for or approach to what is pleasing to the senses and especially sight.”

However, in Heidi’s words, “aesthetic is truly a style that resonates with the individual.”

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Every person has his or her own style, preferences, sense of beauty…that is, aesthetic. Here at Heidi Pribell Interiors we want to help you find, fine tune and express your own.

Our goal is to help you come closer to identifying what you think beauty is, and, conversely, what it isn’t. What is beautiful to you and how do you transform this choice into an action?

These ideas, inherent is children, fade as we grow into adulthood and start doubting our instincts.

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Heidi says: “As an adult, we are more paralyzed with our decisions than we used to be as children. Children are more in touch with their inclinations––they know what they like, they know what they hate. We tend to step back and second guess ourselves as we take on more responsibility. This makes us out of touch with ourselves.”

How can we help make the decision-making process run more smoothly? Let’s simplify. Get back to basics, relax, have fun, feel inspired, and follow your instincts!

That’s a good start.

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Yoga Hurts So Good (Or Does It Just Hurt?)

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The word “yoga” invokes visions of incense, gongs and meditation––not torn hamstrings, cracked ribs and hospital visits. Yet, the number of yoga-related trips to the emergency room is on the rise.

Enthusiasts tout the discipline’s positive results, which include stress reduction, boosted energy levels, improved sex life and greater flexibility. But a growing dialogue about the risky nature and potential harm of yoga has emerged, particularly as the number of students––and subsequent number of injuries––increases.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) indicates an upward trend of yoga-relate injuries. It reported 7,369 yoga-related injuries treated in doctors’ offices, clinics and emergency rooms in 2010, an increase from roughly 5500 in 2007. Since these statistics do not include injuries treated by chiropractors, massage therapists and other non-traditional healers, the overall number is likely higher.

Many experts––including instructors, sports therapists and chiropractors––argue that the risks and issues stem not from the practice itself, but from other sources. The most frequently cited culprits include inexperienced instructors, a commodity-driven yoga business, personal ego, preexisting medical conditions and overemphasis on the physical components of a yoga routine.

e2436a739044a9bf6a7eb2c660a4f288Dr. Sunit Jolly, D.C., is a Boston-based chiropractor who has treated many patients with yoga-related injures. She attributes the pain to a misalignment resulting from a series of movements and a gradual breakdown.

“I don’t think it was yoga that actually hurt them,” Jolly says. “Most people assume [they feel pain] because of one specific injury, but the truth is that unless you have trauma, it happens slowly over time.”

As a result, when students start a yoga practice and injure themselves, they directly link the pain to specific postures and activity.  The most common injuries Jolly address relate to the lower back, which is usually affected by lumbar flexion activities common to yoga.

“If people are coming from prolonged sitting, their ligament restraints are relaxed,” she says. “With lumbar flexion, the restraints aren’t working, and the spine will go beyond its natural limit. Yoga can be the straw that breaks the camels back, so to speak.”

Jolly believes that yoga injuries fall into two major categories: people who push their bodies into painful positions without paying attention to the discomfort; and those whose spines slowly slip out of alignment and result in pain when shifted into certain postures, often those with lumbar flexion.

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According to the independent yoga organization North American Studio Alliance (NAMASTA), between 2008 and 2013, the number of people practicing yoga increased by 20 percent. Also, the amount spent on yoga-related products increased 87 percent, totaling approximately $27 billion in 2013. With more people practicing yoga, a higher number of injuries naturally follows.

However, yoga teachers like Justine Cohen, owner of Down Under Yoga in Newton and Brookline, rarely encounter students injuring themselves. Cohen attributes the low rate of injury in her studio to proper instruction and uniformity in teacher training. She believes that yoga classes, in general, lack these two qualities, which has resulted in preventable physical injury.
“You can get hurt from any activity done badly or incorrectly,” she says. “Well-instructed yoga doesn’t tend to result in injuries.”

Cohen claims that Down Under Yoga employs managers with extensive training to greet students and counsel them on appropriate class levels. All of the teachers learn about their students’ respective backgrounds before allowing them to join advanced classes. Cohen says that she has a strict policy of directing inexperienced students to introductory levels.

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Joetta Maue, who specializes in Ashtanga yoga––a modern-day form of classical Indian yoga popularized by K. Pattabhi Jois––agrees that proper instruction is essential to preventing injury. Maue has taught yoga around the United States, including Ohio and Massachusetts, for 14 years, and learned firsthand the consequences of faulty practice as a student. While in triangle pose, she required assistance in adjusting her hips, which the instructor pulled forward, resulting in injury.

“I love deep adjustments, but that was the one time I got injured doing yoga,” Maue says. “The teacher didn’t need to hold my hips. She could have just reminded me.”

She also believes that as yoga grows in popularity, the market has become over-saturated and filled with insufficiently trained instructors. As a money-making industry, yoga has expanded into a numbers game, which can compromise the quality of teaching, Maue claims.

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“There is a lot of pressure for teachers to please the masses,” she says. “Now the practice is more commodity-based.”

Whereas yogis used to study for years before teaching their craft, the Western market has now made teacher training a fast-paced, convenient process for aspiring instructors. Maue studied for nearly a year before teaching, but that has changed since her training nearly two decades ago.

“I don’t buy that you can learn to be a teacher in a month,” she says. “There is now little difference between yoga and exercise classes. Both need to make money.”

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Steve Weiss, an instructor specializing in the Iyengar practice––a detail-oriented form of hatha yoga developed in the 1970s by B.K.S. Iyengar––also stresses the pitfalls of modern teaching credentials. Rather than an emphasis on knowledge, wisdom and specific experience, the basic teaching qualifications require a minimum number of practice hours, Weiss claims.

“Teachers come from a variety of backgrounds that do not have a sign-off from anything other than an organization that merely recognizes hours,” he says. “That seems to invite some serious problems of an illusion of some certified training guaranteeing knowledge, but what’s the basis of that knowledge?”

Weiss also believes that an overemphasis on the physical aspect of yoga, rather than the mental or spiritual, often results in physical pain. He claims that Iyengar himself stresses that yoga is not  solely a physical practice.

“Discussions on yoga in the 19th century in America, primarily by Swami Vivekananda, renounced the physical practice,” Weiss says. “Vivekananda was worried people would be too infatuated with their own physical improvement and miss the point of yoga entirely.”

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He agrees with Vivekananda and believes that modern practitioners in the Western world trade spiritual development for a physically strenuous practice, often leading to imbalance and subsequent injury.

Colleen Carney, owner of Back in Motion in Boston, has noticed a greater focus on yoga’s physical component. During her 23 years as massage therapist, specializing in athletic training and recovery, she has seen a range of injuries, many resulting from yogic postures.

“Yoga has increased in popularity over the last five to 10 years and has become a go-to exercise,” she says. “People gravitate toward it because they have an impression that it’s extremely beneficial, and they subconsciously believe that they can’t get hurt.”

image-full;max$248,0(Colleen Carney, Boston-based massage therapist and owner of Back in Motion.)

Carney encourages yoga practice, particularly for individuals who want to increase their range of motion. However, her concern is that individuals who use yoga as a sole exercise practice do little else physically and, therefore, increase their risk of injury.

“People who do a lot of yoga can do splits when they’re 50, but they often lack strength and stability,” she says. “They need to do something to hold up over time.”

She also warns that flexibility alone, a primary reason people practice yoga, does little to benefit the body. It constitutes but one element of many that help with overall physical wellness.

“Anything we do has wear and tear on our bodies,” she says. “I don’t want to bash yoga.”

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The best solution, according to Carney, includes a mixture of dynamic strength-training exercises and more passive, flexibility-oriented activities. She says that relying solely on the latter increases the chance of discomfort and injury.

“It’s overrated to be stretching so much,” Carney says. “Mobility and flexibility come from joints, and [over-stretching] can dislocate joints or pull ligaments.”

She believes that the increasingly popular heated yoga adds to the practice’s overall appeal. The hotter the class is, the more intense the workout feels, even if artificially. It makes students feel that their flexibility is greater than it would be in normal circumstances.

“There is an idea that sweat equals a workout,” she says. “I can sweat, too, if I’m in a 150-degree room.”

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Carney emphasizes the importance of balance in exercise for optimal health and minimal risk of injury. she encourages variety to mix up routine and work on an equilibrium of strength, flexibility, endurance and agility.

“When anything hurts, you have to pay attention,” she says.

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Downward Snoop Dogg: The Unlikely Duo of Hip Hop Music and Yoga

My gaze settled on the ceiling’s nucleus: a sparkly silver disco ball surrounded by ceiling fans. Contrasted by dark purple walls and accompanied by scantily clad, sinewy torsos, the space began to resemble a dance club more than a yoga studio.

Steadying myself in tree position, I wedged my right foot into my left thigh and pressed my sweaty palms together in prayer position against my chest. I sought an eye focus (drishti) to maintain concentration, settling on the Nike swoosh adorning the neon pink tank top in front of me. As long as the blonde woman wearing it refrained from erratic movement, I could use the logo as my Polaris.

Even with complete silence the tree position challenges my balance. With Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” playing in the background, it proved even more difficult; my mind wanted to dance, not seek inner peace through stillness.

This was a typical Friday afternoon hip hop yoga class at Back Bay Yoga (BBY). The unconventional nature of the modern, music-oriented yoga class hasn’t deterred students from attending. In fact, the yoga hybrid’s upbeat, unorthodox tactics themselves may provide the mass appeal it has garnered.

While yoga purists may balk, these rigorous hybrids have generated a loyal following. Hip hop yoga is one of BBY’s most popular class, evident in the maximum-capacity turnout. I arrived 20 minutes early and still added my name to a waiting list. Americans want to sweat, and they’re willing to pay a lot to do it.

BBY owner Lynne Begier has branded the class, making it her studio’s signature offering. She registered the trademark Hip Hop Yoga in 2012. One of her employees, who prefers anonymity as she is not speaking in an official capacity, says that hip hop yoga is one of the studio’s most popular classes. Offered nearly every day, it often attracts an abundance of students willing to take their chances on a waiting list. She claims that most classes can accommodate even those on the wait list, but recommends advance registration, which is available on the BBY website.

Indeed, on this Friday, all 30 of the students, including the wait-listed stragglers like me, made the cut and squeezed into one room. With accompanying mats, blankets, foam booster blocks, towels and water bottles, we compromised personal boundaries with strangers for some booty-shaking yoga.

The studio’s website describes the hip hop class as “FUN yoga accompanied by a rockin’ playlist of hip hop, pop and dance music––class will be vinyasa flow with a good stretch and cool down at the end.” It includes a disclaimer about the music: “Please note that true to hip hop music, there may be some explicit lyrics and content.”

Those expecting gongs and a round of “aauuuuummm” run the risk of leaving disappointed.

Instead this class attracted a cabal of Lululemon-clad veterans who blaze trails to enlightenment with rap music. In the front row, a man and woman who could both pass as body builders used the wall to display their headstand abilities. To my left, a teenager flaunted her flexible hamstrings and sense of rhythm like one of J-Lo’s back-up dancers. A trio of 20-something blondes claimed the back corner, chatting over their iPhones before class started.

The instructor, Kimberly Rajotte, introduced the session in a traditional way: relaxed and quiet, with a focus on the breath. After a few mindful inhalations through the nostrils, she asked the students to look inward and offer appreciation for ourselves.

This was familiar territory, and I settled into my comfortable yoga routine. The lingo resembled that of many yoga classes. The music, however, did not. Sounds that accompany yoga instruction usually include chanting, sitar music or silence. This one opened with a remix of the 1992 dance hit “Rhythm is a Dancer.” While in downward dog position, my hips swayed as though acting on their own.

Rajotte did not crank the heat, but students began to perspire from rigorous movement and close proximity to one another. Beads of sweat dripped to my chin as old school beats elided into more recent pop music.

Only rarely do I listen to hip hop music on my own, but somehow all of these songs sounded familiar. I started singing along in my head, lagging behind in the postures.

“Drop it like it’s hot, drop it like it’s hot…” Snoop Dogg seemed to mock me through the speakers as my right leg lifted with effort.

Lyrics about pimps, pigs and cribs dominated the room while sweaty, white Bostonians stretched their arms into warrior pose, and remained still for several seconds. My focus darted from the disco ball to various drishtis of company logos to this ironic image. I couldn’t help but smirk, and noticed that no one else cracked a smile.

The following 60 minutes included sun salutations peppered with f-bombs and ‘hos, cobra pose set to explicit lyrics, and gems of yogic wisdom proffered by Rajotte. She turned off the music and ended the class in a welcomed way––with corpse pose (shavasana), a posture of stillness and relaxation. We all completed the session seated cross-legged, bowed our heads, and said in unison, “namaste.”

Feeling both groggy and upbeat, in equal and unsettling parts, I stumbled into the lobby. Chilled beverages and merchandise summoned me. A mini cooler displayed $5 bottles of coconut water and kombucha tea. Colorful yoga pants and tank tops with aums and cartoon Buddhas lined the back wall. Shelves above them showcased best-sellers by Benjamin Lorr and Pema Chödrön, and colorful water bottles advertising the BBY logo.

Over the last two decades, I have attended various yoga classes––ashtanga, vinyasa, Bikram, yin, kundalini, Iyengar––but never an unorthodox fusion like the one I experienced in hip hop yoga. It was a distracting, mind-boggling, counterintuitive experience that subverted my expectations.

When I slipped into my boots and wandered toward the exit, the front desk woman asked, with that trademark smile, “See you next time?”

“Yup,” I said, nodding. “I’ll be back.” I slung my mat over my shoulder and realized that I meant it.

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