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Self-Defense

Pretzel Warriors

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Can kicking butt be a way to inner peace? That's the premise of a new workshop at Greenwich House, where, on a recent Sunday afternoon, nearly 100 barefoot yoginis -- no men allowed -- shoved their way through three hours of no-nonsense self-defense training, based both on classic anusara yoga philosophies and on teacher Amy Ippoliti's "Model Mugging" seminars, which taught Upper East Side mothers how to beat up potential rapists in the nineties. Says Ippoliti: "Being a powerful person doesn't mean being powerful over another person. But ahimsa also doesn't mean you stand back and take it."

When Ippoliti listed the Laughing Lotus-sponsored class with the New York Yoga Teachers Association, however, her colleagues didn't stand back and take it, either. Some complained that the exclusion of men contravenes yoga's philosophy of unity; others thought the course should be considered martial arts. "It's not yoga once you combine it with something else and lose part of its tradition and intrinsic wholeness," says Iyengar Yoga senior teacher Mary Dunn. And Nishit Patel, director of the Himalayan Institute New York, explains, "When you learn to defend yourself, you're claiming to be an individual. In yoga, you're one with the world."

"We don't hate men," counters Ippoliti, who finally managed to succeed in getting the Teachers Association to post the class. "Our bodies are just different, and we must fight to protect the sacredness of these bodies that are a divine gift from the universe."

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