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Saturday, December 24, 2005

breathe in... and out...

"The yoga postures and breath are tools to rebuild and transform ourselves. The goal is not to tie ourselves in knots - we're already tied in knots. The aim is to untie the knots in our heart. The aim is to unite with the ultimate, loving, and peaceful power of the universe." - Max Strom

i miss max.

max strom was big at sacred movement. not only was he a big presence in their yoga scene, but he was also, literally, a big man. around six and a half feet tall, with big hands and even bigger feet, you couldn't help but notice him and his shoulder-length blond hair as he walked around the studio. if there ever was anyone who could be considered a gentle giant, it was max.

and now max has packed up his bags and has moved from LA's bustling metropolis out to the quiet solitude of ashland, oregon. no longer will he have to direct the day-to-day running of sacred movement; he's now free to study, write, and travel around the world to teach his style of yoga to other devotees.

initially, i started taking max's classes because they fit in best with my schedule: since i had PT sessions on mondays and wednesdays, i would take his 7:30pm tuesday and thursday classes after work. i would also take his 10:30am saturday classes right after my runs with my running buddies. over time, i ended up arranging my schedule to fit in with his; you want to do dinner on thursday? i have yoga that evening; how about wednesday instead? or, you want to do ten miles? can we start early so i can be done by 9:30?

max's classes were basic enough for the first-timers, yet challenging enough for those who had been at it for years. he always reminded us to leave our "athlete mentality" at the door. we were not to focus on how our practice compared to those around us; rather, we were to focus on what we were getting out of the practice itself. when the poses required more effort, he would instruct us to replace our "warrior faces" with relaxed eyes, jaws, and foreheads. and in every class, without fail, he would remind us to BREATHE. inhale... take the deepest breath you've ever taken today... deeper... hold it... hold it... now let it out... i remember numerous times when he would stand beside me as i was struggling through a pose, and he would gently chastise me because he couldn't hear me breathing. breathing, he insisted, was what helped make difficult poses more doable. i have to keep reminding myself of that whenever i'm in boat pose...

when i first heard that max's last day was to be on december 17th, i made it a point to take as many of max's classes as i could (within reason, of course). maybe if i OD'ed on them i wouldn't miss them as much. that wasn't the case, unfortunately.

i was one of the lucky ones who was able to attend max's last evening class at sacred movement. i had heard that his earlier class that morning was amazingly attended; there were supposedly 100 students crammed into an area that normally held 60! our later class wasn't as full, but then again, given that it was a 4pm class on a saturday night (aka date night), the turnout was impressive enough. as max moved us through the asanas, i kept trying to remember as much of his advice as i could, and when max adjusted one of my poses, i realized that it was probably going to be a long time before he corrected my alignment again. sigh.

it was during the three OM chants that traditionally ended his classes that i could start to hear sniffles in the room. when he said his final "namaste" and the class responded in kind, the entire room broke into applause. we cheered, we cried, we wished him the best.

he's gone, but he never, ever will be forgotten.