Legend: BLUE-open, RED-closed, GREEN-by donation
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Sunday, August 27, 2006

where east meets west

back in the day when matthew reyes used to teach his "level 2/3+" classes at maha, he had such a following that the studio would always be filled to capacity. since i'm really bad at estimating body count, i'd say that he had at least 60 students standing wall-to-wall, mat-to-mat, every class. the only way to guarantee that you wouldn't end up having to practice on the stage at the front of the room, or worse yet, not be able to get into the room, was to get there early. it wouldn't be unusual to see people lining up outside the door as early as 30 minutes before the start of class.

when matt opened up his own studio, yogamatt, in los feliz, he had far fewer students in each class. the biggest reason was probably because most of his westside groupies weren't willing (or able) to make the 20-mile commute east. in my case, i happened to work halfway between maha and yogamatt, but because of the evening traffic patterns it was still far easier for me to get to maha than it was to get to yogamatt. despite that, i braved the bumper-to-bumper action every now and then just to get my matt fix.

less than a year later, when matt closed down yogamatt and joined forces with mary and marko king to open up yogahop in santa monica, it was just a matter of time before the old crowd started showing up at his classes once more. and when they did, the small rooms in his new digs couldn't handle the overflow crowd. trying to cram in 50 or so students in a room that fit around 30 comfortably just wasn't going to work. so matt, mary, and marko put their heads together and came up with a novel plan: called the "summit", matt's more popular classes would be held in both the east and west studios at the same time. with matt calling out poses on a wireless mike while his upbeat tunes were being piped into both rooms, he and a co-teacher would switch back and forth between sides to assist students as needed.

i finally had a chance to experience one of matt's sunday morning summit classes, and i must say that it's a great concept that worked flawlessly. when the class started, matt was standing in the same room i was in. and as the music and the moves flowed, i continued to hear him loud and clear. it was only when i noticed kourtney (today's co-teacher) standing in front of me that i looked around and realized that matt was talking from the other room! it got to the point where it didn't really matter where matt or kourtney were because i got the same level of attention from both, along with matt's signature yoga class style. i got the same great workout, the same great music, and the same great post-class high.

yogahop's schedule will change this coming september, and from what i've heard, matt will be holding more summit classes, not only on weekends, but also on weekday evenings. so if you've been avoiding taking classes during the peak hours because of the crowds, it's time to give it another shot.

by the way, if you're a yogahop regular, make sure you check the schedule online before you show up for your next class; many of the class times have changed. heaven forbid that you get locked out of class, not because the room was full but because you showed up too late!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

required maintenance

earlier this week, i wanted to look up the class schedule at sacred movement, aka the exhale center for sacred movement, aka exhale venice. to get to their website, i usually click on the appropriate link on my blogsite. this time, though, i absentmindedly typed in www.sacredmovement.com at the top of my browser window, knowing that it would redirect me to the new exhale url, as it always did. but not this time.

instead, a page that said "welcome to sacredmovement.com" appeared on my monitor, and at the bottom of the page, there was this link:


when i clicked on the link, i got this answer:

You are seeing this page because the domain name has expired with Register.com.

so it looks like the transition from sacred movement to exhale venice is now complete. so sad. but that also now means that all the links i have in my earlier posts that referenced the old sacred movement site no longer work. that's bad.

because of that, it looks like i now have my first maintenance project. after replacing www.sacredmovement.com with the new www.exhalespa.com/venice1728.html in my yoga instructor listing, i decided to spot check other links to make sure they were current. and while going through the various teachers, i discovered that some of their studio information was no longer correct. for example, liza savage-katz no longer teaches the kids yoga class at exhale. peter barnett no longer teaches at bala. and lori rischer no longer teaches at all. oh dear. more changes!

i was about to go through my entire teacher list and make the required corrections until i realized that with labor day right around the corner, many yoga studios will soon be putting out their new fall/winter class schedules, which may render my list obsolete once again.

so i'm going to attack the updates in stages. my first goal is to find as many of the teachers' websites as i can to make it easier for me to get their class schedules. i can get this info in many ways -- by asking them directly, by asking the studios where they teach, or by doing an internet search. in any case, with over 100 teachers to update, it looks like i'll be busy for a while. i've got to get cracking...

(by the way, if you have any of the information i need and would like to share it with me, i'll gladly give you proper credit for your help!)

Monday, August 21, 2006

fame and fortune on the yoga mat

note: for those of you who read this post yesterday, i've made some significant changes; you may want to browse through it one more time :)
it originally consisted of the full text of an article on yoga from the la times and not much else. but after taking the time to reflect on its contents, i decided to add my own commentary. i've also trimmed down the length of the article to make it a quicker read...

somehow, when you think "yoga", the last thing that comes to mind is fame, fortune, and power (unless you're thinking power yoga, of course). after all, yoga is all about selflessness and simplicity. so it seems ironic that some of the gurus whom we look up to to "show us the way" are preoccupied with finding ways to finance their beachfront homes, luxury cars, and lavish vacations...

there was an article that appeared in the health section of today's la times about how the lives of some yoga gurus here in LA are starting to parallel those of the celebrities they teach. thanks to private lessons with celebrity clients, group retreats in exotic destinations, as well as sales from their dvds and/or clothing lines, some of the yoga "stars" easily rake in six-figure incomes or more. considering that there are many other teachers who are just as good or maybe even better, i suppose they should consider themselves extremely lucky. or extremely financially-savvy.

i have to say that even if shiva rea and bryan kest are rolling in the dough, they still have their yoga roots firmly planted in the community. shiva still continues to teach at the exhale center for sacred movement in venice, where her 90-minute class can cost as little as $12 (based on a series pass purchased with the KCRW discount). as for bryan, all his classes at santa monica power yoga are on a donation basis, which means that anyone, regardless of social and financial standing, may put however much they can in the donation box at the end of class.

ana forrest, on the other hand, only teaches workshops at the forrest yoga institute when she's in town, so the only way i can hope to take a class with her is to fork over $50 or more per session. i'm sorry, but that's more than my budget will allow right now.

as for duncan wong, after i read what he supposedly said in the article that follows, i refuse to contribute to his becoming a "millionaire" and a "super-famous yoga teacher". however, if the proceeds of any of his classes go towards some charity, i may reconsider...

here are excerpts from that article (click here for a link to the article in its entirety):

Yoga's rock stars
By Jenny Hontz, Special to The Times

SHIVA REA, the reigning queen of L.A.'s saturated yoga scene, strikes a pose for Yogi Times photographer Jasper Johal.

"Scoot back a little so that light catches your face," directs Johal, whose photo will grace a "Pose for a Cause" centerfold promoting the international charity Trees for the Future. "Beautiful, nice. Got it."

"This brings up my inner rock star," Rea jokes.

It's an offhand remark, but the truth in her statement is impossible to miss. The L.A. studio has the distinct look and feel of a celebrity fashion shoot.

Riding a wave of unprecedented yoga mania — fueled in part by star practitioners such as Madonna — modern yogis' lives, especially in Los Angeles, increasingly resemble those of the celebrities they often teach.

Practitioners such as Rea, Bryan Kest, Seane Corne, Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, Ana Forrest and Rodney Yee are the Nikes, Coca-Colas or, perhaps, Whole Foods, of the yoga world. Their brand names sell clothing lines, DVDs and pricey international retreats, as well as various causes.

"It's a wild thing," says Kest, 41, founder of Santa Monica Power Yoga, whose classes frequently draw nearly 200 people, some squeezing into the studio's bathroom, placing their mats next to the toilets.

His schedule is booked through 2011, and his yogi buddies spend so much time on the road, they have no need for a home. "It's a total rock star life," he says. "They're picked up at the airport, taken to a hotel and then off to the yoga studio, where 150 people all pay a lot of money to see them. It's like a concert."

In fact, all but the wealthy are priced out of the most exclusive yoga vacations. Maty Ezraty and Chuck Miller, the former owners of Yoga Works, are hosting weeklong retreats, costing $8,000 to $12,000, at the Tuscany villa of Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler, in September and October.

Though some teachers bristle at the mention of their celebrity status, others cultivate and embrace it.

Wong, 38, a former street tough who sports a nose ring and gangster tattoos alongside the Buddha eye on his arm, talks with the bravado of a rap star — all in the name of enlightenment.

"I'm into name, game, claim and fame," said the Asia-based master of yoga-martial arts fusion. "I'm going for the world, no mistake about that, but not for oneself alone. It's for others. The key is service."

"It's large. It's very high art, the art of living the high life, jet setting and castles," he said of his time teaching and traveling with Madonna.

As they live it up, though, some teachers wonder whether yoga has become so commercial — and so popular among the elite — that it has lost its soul.

"There's irony in it," said Ezraty, 43, who sold Yoga Works in a multimillion-dollar deal three years ago, in part because she was tired of pulling great teachers from the schedule who couldn't fill classes.

"They wouldn't play the game, wouldn't dress right" or play music, she said. "I couldn't take it anymore. Yoga is not about publicity, the clothes, where you live. It's about being content with yourself."

Ezraty believes the concept of celebrity teachers contradicts yoga's key principle of "union" among all living beings. "It's challenging for yoga teachers to keep their cool and not let it get to their heads."

But perspective is certainly possible. When it comes to yoga superstars, Rea is the ubiquitous lean-bodied goddess du jour. Gracing the cover of June's Yoga Journal magazine, she has her own yoga clothing line called Shiva Shakti and several of the bestselling yoga DVDs on the market. Rea's image and writings also fill the pages of yoga photography books and calendars.

Her life is a whirlwind of teaching, surfing and nonstop travel. She visits up to 35 countries a year leading workshops, training new yoga teachers and heading retreats in exotic locales such as Costa Rica, India and the Greek island of Santorini — usually with her husband, James Bailey, an ayurvedic medical practitioner, and 7-year-old son, Jai, at her side.

Time to meditate

Different yogis find their own ways to stay sane and true to the principles they teach, which include life balance and well-being, compassion, wisdom, joy and, ultimately, spiritual enlightenment.

For Rea, it means getting back to nature and sacred rituals. She gets up at 5:30 a.m. to meditate and practice yoga at her home in the Pacific Palisades. The light-filled town house is decorated with Hindu altars, ethnic prints from Thailand and a Singapore hula hoop resembling a gigantic set of Buddhist prayer beads.

At home, she is adored by her students — and seems to adore them. "We have three pregnant goddesses in the house," she announced during a recent class at Exhale Center for Sacred Movement in Venice. Miked up with a headset on stage like a pop star, she hung out afterward, chatting and hugging people for nearly an hour.

Rea welcomes such appreciation but seems uncomfortable with the tendency of some students to put teachers on a pedestal. "We're really not about that at all," she said.

Kest is also bemused by all the current hero-worshiping of yogis.

Despite the adulation, "most of the people I know are pretty humble dudes," he said. "They've been doing it 20 to 30 years and are basically benefiting from all the stars lining up."

When he started teaching 20 years ago, there were only three studios in Los Angeles; now there are more than 200. "It's like monsoon frogs leaping up out of nowhere. I attribute it to one thing, aside from charisma. What we're doing is making people feel so good."

So good, in fact, that many successful and powerful students, even movie stars, check their egos at the studio door and worship their yogis. Such adoration has a downside, though.

"You never get invited to a party again because now you're their icon of pure," Wong said. "It doesn't matter what you say. You represent God, in a way. You are their gatekeeper to salvation in their mind. You can never take the yoga hat off, once you put it on."

Of course, many yogis do live pretty clean lives. Forrest turned to yoga years ago to rid herself of an addiction to drugs, alcohol and tobacco, which she never touches now. She often rises at 2:30 a.m. to practice yoga in her Orcas Island dome home. When she and Rea are in the same town, they sometimes practice together.

Still, if your image of a yoga teacher is someone who "dresses in pastels and speaks softly, that sure isn't me," Forrest said. "I'm a healer, but a lot of times my healing is like lancing a wound."

Forrest likes to zoom around on her V-Max 1200 motorcycle, and her publicist describes her as a cross between Cher and Xena the Warrior Princess.

"I love my bike," she said. "I spent a number of years taking a … vow of poverty. I'm glad I'm not there anymore and can afford my motorcycle. Having lived in poverty, I much prefer having money."

The truth is, contemporary yogis lead their active lives with the help of assistants and business managers. "I have corporations," Forrest said. "I find that amusing."

Supporting causes

Still, yogis don't tend to focus on the bottom line as much as typical CEOs. Instead, they more closely resemble celebrities lending their names to various causes, often dedicating themselves to helping those less fortunate.

Forrest will receive a commendation in September from L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for creating Yoga in the Hood to help impoverished families in South Central. She requires all the teachers she trains in Los Angeles to volunteer there, teaching yoga to kids and adults at a community center called A Place Called Home.

Rea, who was named after the Hindu Lord of the Dance, Shiva, is donating all the proceeds from her Yoga Trance Dance Workshops to the charity Trees of the Future until more than a million trees are planted in the world. She also volunteers teaching yoga at her son's charter school once a week and drives an eco-friendly Prius, which is more fuel-efficient than most cars.

Kest, whose classes are donation only, drives a hybrid Honda Accord and donates all proceeds from two of his 14 classes a week to the charities, A Place Called Home, Para Los Niños and the California Wildlife Center

Of course, top yoga teachers lead rather rarefied lives and can, therefore, afford to give back. The image of a yogic lifestyle once brought to mind communal ashrams. Today, many live in homes with gorgeous views in Pacific Palisades, Topanga Canyon and Hawaii.

The standard yoga teacher earns $4 per student in a class. But at larger studios, such as Yoga Works, they make $7 per student or more, Kest said. "If there are 80 people in a class, that's $600 a class. If you teach two classes a day, that's $1,200 a day, $6,000 to $7,000 a week, $250,000 to $300,000 a year for working three hours a day."

At a weekend workshop on the road, a teacher can pull in $6,000, and yogis who own their own studios might make millions.

Wong expects he'll be next. "I will be a millionaire in this lifetime. It's absolute destiny for me to become a super-famous yoga teacher when I'm older. The necessary rise of my fame and power has been preprophesied early on by my gurus."

Prophesied or not, only a handful of yogis become superstars, and those who do rarely lead a lavish existence on par with showbiz celebs. They have nice homes, but they aren't palatial mansions. They stay at the Marriott more often than the Ritz.

"To have a halfway decent house in L.A. and to buy organic foods, you've got to pull in $150,000 a year," Kest said. "It's not like we're really rich people, but we're doing well."

"Yogis don't want to be too much into image," said Renee Field, manager of sales and marketing for Acacia, which has produced DVDs featuring Rea and Wong. "Shiva [Rea] is especially humble."

All the attention yogis are getting is nice, Rea said, but added that, having lived in Africa and spent time in India, she doesn't get caught up in the fluff. "Once you live in traditional cultures and look at the vast desert sky, being on the cover of a magazine is wonderful, but I don't identify with it."

Even Wong agrees that money and fame pale next to spiritual bliss.

"I'm an ambitious person," he said, "but all ambition, all ego, all desire just melt away in the presence of a true, awakened master. Your only desire is to weep at the feet of the guru."

Sunday, August 20, 2006

the third time's the charm?

Yoga House Toluca Lake
3808 Riverside Drive, Suite 101
Burbank, CA 91505
(818) 567-0471

Yoga House is an eclectic studio offering a wide variety of levels and styles of yoga for everyone from complete beginners to extremely advanced practitioners. Please check out our Pasadena schedule of classes for an idea of what we will be offering, on a smaller scale, at Yoga House Toluca Lake. (We'd also like to point out that as a student at our new Toluca Lake studio, you'll be able to use your classes or membership at our Pasadena location whenever you like. We've clocked the drive and it's only 15 minutes from door to door.)

We are so excited to be opening a second location in Toluca Lake and look forward to establishing the same kind of full-service, community-based yoga studio in our new neighborhood.

in the short span of time since i've gotten involved in the yoga scene here in los angeles, i've seen a number of yoga studios open and close. and some do manage to re-open, but usually under a new name and/or new management.

one such place is the new yoga studio at 3808 riverside drive in burbank.

originally, it was called yoga body and spirit. looking at the google cached version of its former website, yoga body served the burbank community from 1998 to 2004. at the time, it was run by guin lyster. i'm not sure when it closed; all i know is that guin now teaches on the westside at santa monica yoga.

sometime in late 2005 / early 2006, city yoga in west hollywood took over the space and called it city yoga toluca lake. only three months after it opened, it closed for business. i still regret having waited too long to visit the new city yoga satellite location; it shut down even before i got around to generating mapquest driving directions. while i never really found out the real reason why it closed so suddenly, what was even more puzzling to me was how the studio suddenly ended up at 3808 riverside, toluca lake while the other tenants in the same building claimed to be at 3808 riverside, burbank.

and now the folks at yoga house in pasadena have decided to try their hand at attracting the burbank, oops, toluca lake yoga community. what's curious is that while they call the new studio yoga house toluca lake, their street address is now back to 3808 riverside drive, burbank. interestingly, i just found out that the building is called the toluca lake center. talk about trying to be somewhere you're not...

anyway, learning from my city yoga toluca lake missed opportunity, the moment i heard about yoga house toluca lake's grand opening festivities, i cleared my calendar to make sure i'd be there to visit the studio and take advantage of at least one free class. and of course, i wasn't going to miss out on the "food, drink, music, and merriment featuring DJ Gabriel Diggs of KCRW (who) will be spinning Thievery Corporation, DJ Cheb I Sabbah, Anoushka Shanakar, Fela Kuti and other funky artists from around the globe."

as it turned out, a good running friend of mine decided to schedule his 50th birthday bash on the same evening (he obviously wasn't planning on attending the yoga studio party), so instead of eating, drinking, enjoying music, and making merry in burbank, i revised my plans so i would be doing the same at the other end of the san fernando valley. with people i actually knew rather than people i'd probably never see again.

but i still had the afternoon free, so i confirmed my reservation for the free mixed level class at 2:30pm on saturday afternoon.

our class was taught by john sovec, a regular at yoga house pasadena. i was pleased to find out that music plays a big part in his classes; like matt reyes, steve ross, dave romanelli, and all the other "music men" on the westside, he has his students "rock out" while doing their yoga asanas. however, unlike some of them, he actually spends some time giving out detailed instructions on proper alignment; we didn't move into the next pose until he was satisfied that we were all doing things correctly (or close to it).

the open house class was a short 60 minutes, but it was a good intro to the studio and to the teacher. and maybe even the students. i had a chance to chat with some of them; one used to practice in the same room back when it was still yoga body, and a few others were regulars from yoga house pasadena who were checking out the new place. i'm sure many of them will be back for more.

as i left the studio, i took one last look around the lobby and the boutique. only then did i notice the sanskrit beautifully handpainted high up on the walls near the ceiling.

it read:

Om saha naavavatu
Saha nau bhunaktu
Saha viiryan karavaavahai
Tejasvi naavadhiitamastu
Maa vidvishhaavahai
Om shaantih shaantih shaantih


May we be protected together
May we be nourished together
May we work together with great vigor
May our study be enlightening
May no obstacle arise between us
Om peace, peace, peace
-- The Shanti Mantras, Krishna Yajurveda Taittiriya Upanishad 2.2.2

Thursday, August 17, 2006

walking in peace

i find it quite coincidental that yesterday, shortly after i posted my piece on the dalai lama, a man of peace , i received this note in my e-mailbox from christine at liberation yoga:

Peace Walk This Saturday August 19th!

This Saturday Take Your Inner Peace To The Street!

On October 8th 2005, the renowned Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, led over 3000 people in a mindful Peace Walk around MacArthur Park, Los Angeles. It was a beautiful demonstration of embodied peace. Thay, or "teacher", as his students refer to him, called upon us to "walk in such a way that each step we make becomes a realization of peace; each step becomes a prayer for peace and harmony walk together in silence with no banners and no pickets not a petition addressed to anyone, nor a demonstration against anyone walk to unite our hearts, to nurture our togetherness and to dissipate fear and separation learn together that wrong perceptions of self and others are at the foundation of separation, fear, hate and violence, and that togetherness and collaboration is possible."

The October 8th walk initiated Peace Is Every Step. PES is a Sangha (community of peace) which has taken up the task of sponsoring Peacewalks on a regular basis. We held our first walks on December 18th in Long Beach and January 22nd in Santa Monica. You can read about those walks here: Long Beach Peacewalk and Santa Monica Peacewalk. You are invited to help us nourish and cultivate the seed planted by the prior Peacewalks by stepping in peace with us again on Saturday August 19th at Liberation Yoga from 4pm to 6-7ish pm.

Here's what you can expect:

The event will begin with a meditation to set us in a place of mindfulness and then we will walk for approximately 40 minutes. We will return for meditation, and an exercise in mindful eating followed by discussion.

We encourage everyone to join together in the community that is LIBERATION YOGA and share the peace we are so passionately seeking and experiencing with one another, with the city and the world.

THIS IS FREE AND OPEN TO ANYONE! Wear a hat if you are sensitive to the sun and wear comfortable shoes. The walk will not be far in distance but will be at slow and mindful pace.

more information on this weekend's walk in hollywood -- including maps, parking, notes on mindful walking -- can be found at peaceiseverystepla.org/peaceiseverystep/hollywood.html

peace is every step is sponsored and supported by la yoga magazine as well as many los angeles-based yoga studios, including:

angel city yoga, studio city
black dog yoga, sherman oaks
bryan kest's power yoga, santa monica
city yoga, west hollywood
free spirit yoga, long beach
liberation yoga, west hollywood
pacific ashtanga, dana point
pranayoga, glendale, studio city, and woodland hills
progressive power yoga, brentwood and studio city
yoga at the village, glendale
yoga blend, burbank
yoga center, redondo beach
yoga circle, downtown la
yoga garden studios, santa monica
yoga loft, woodland hills
yoga yoga, newhall

"We shall walk in such a way that each step we make becomes a realization of peace; each step becomes a prayer for peace & harmony. [Our] walk will not be a petition addressed to anyone, nor will it be a demonstration against anyone. [Our] walk is to unite our hearts, to nurture our togetherness and to dissipate fear and separation.
We shall learn together that wrong perceptions of self and others are at the foundation of separation, fear, hate, and violence, and that togetherness and collaboration is possible." -- Thich Nhat Hanh

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

the missing piece

while browsing through my past posts, i realized that i never got around to talking about my latest museum+yoga experience. the last time i combined art, culture, and yoga was back in january of this year when i visited the durga: avenging goddess, nurturing mother exhibit at the norton simon museum in pasadena and followed that with an ashtanga yoga class at the yoga house a few miles down the street.

this time, i didn't have to travel as far to get to the fowler museum on the UCLA campus. and better yet, i didn't have to leave the premises to get to the yoga class; we all met on the museum rooftop for the sunset yoga class with joan moran.

the scheduled series of yoga classes (four thursday evenings in july) were a promotional tie-in with the featured exhibit at the fowler, the missing peace: artists consider the dalai lama.

according to the exhibit website,

The Missing Peace: Artists Consider the Dalai Lama is a multi-media art exhibition that brings together over 75 well-respected artists, representing more than 25 countries. With the full life of the Dalai Lama as inspiration, the intention for this project is to shift the world's attention towards peace.

Through the artist's work, we also hope to broaden appreciation for the Dalai Lama and the principles he embodies. The project and exhibition title is an evocative play on words - peace will always be elusive, or missing, in our world, but the Dalai Lama consistently shows that dedicating oneself to peace is anything but pointless. The word 'portrait' is used very loosely. Artists will be free to explore the full life of the Dalai Lama; each 'portrait' will be the result of personal interpretation.

The artists, both established and emerging, were selected because their work addresses themes that are embodied by the Dalai Lama, such as compassion, peace, unity of all things, impermanence, spirituality, belief systems, community, people in exile, non-violence, happiness, and tolerance. Many of the artists will be creating new work for the exhibition in a wide variety of media, including photography, painting, textiles, animation, sculpture, video, and installation works.

We hope that this exhibition will inspire us to reflect on who we are as human beings, our relationship to others, and our place in the world.

many artists had submitted works that depicted what the dalai lama meant to them. there were photographs, paintings, sketches, sculpture, multimedia displays, even actual items that had belonged to the dalai lama himself. but the one display that caught my eye, the one that held me transfixed for the longest period of time, was the collection of charts and text by california-based artists newton and helen harrison titled "tibet is the high ground."

basically, i'm a sucker for maps. witness the platial map i have at the top of this page. i find maps extremely mesmerizing because not only can i find what i'm specifically looking for, but i can see where it is in relation to everything around it. i study the roads, the landforms, the business districts, the residential communities. i imagine what i could do if i ever got the chance to visit the area, and if i've been there before, i look for the little nooks and crannies that i have yet to discover.

so when the harrisons' exhibit mentioned that tibet is the source of seven of the major rivers in asia -- indus, ganges, brahmaputra, salween, mekong, yangtze, and huang he -- i realized that i really didn't know much about the so-called "roof of the world". i stopped in my tracks, wanting to learn as much as i could from the "high ground" exhibit, frequently referring to the large map of tibet on the wall to get the lay of the land (pun intended).

according to an article published june 11th in the new york times, the project documents various ecological disasters that have occurred at major rivers that claim the himalayas as their source. the artists' intent is "to raise awareness in the countries downriver, and to form a political entity that will force China to open an environmental dialogue." they lament the million square miles of newly-made desert in tibet and the billions of dollars in timber profits that have flowed into china and have been supporters of the dalai lama's plans for a peace park in the himalayas.

as for the planned peace park, the government of tibet in exile, of which the dalai lama is the head of state, has issued this statement:

"In keeping with the vision of the Dalai Lama, all of Tibet should be transformed into a zone of peace where humans and nature can dwell in harmonious coexistence. Such a Tibet, as the Dalai Lama said, should be completely demilitarised and must have a democratic form of government and an economic system that ensures the sustainable use of the country's natural resources to provide a decent standard of living for its people."

more information on the state of tibet's environment can be found in this white paper.

i was so engrossed with the whole tibetan environment piece that i had completely lost track of the time; there was barely enough time left for me to quickly walk through the remaining displays and rush up the stairs to the rooftop space where most of the students had already laid claim to the prime spots.

as for the yoga class, it was a gentle hatha class which catered to all levels. although it was advertised as an opportunity to "salute the sun as it sets behind the santa monica mountains," from where i was, i could neither see the sun nor the mountains. no matter; it was a nice change to be able to practice out in the open, with a soft breeze blowing through the trees.

when the class ended, i had hoped to go back into the museum to continue browsing through the exhibit, but unfortunately, it had closed for the day.

the missing peace: artists consider the dalai lama runs through september 10th. admission is free.

i still have a few weeks left to check out what i missed...

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

opening invocations

last sunday, i found myself chatting with elena, another KCRW volunteer, about what i'd been doing with myself yoga-wise since we last saw each other at the last pledge drive. through the course of the conversation, we ended up talking about yoga, meditation, and chanting. and she said that one of the things that discouraged her from trying out new styles of yoga was her not being able to follow along with the opening invocations. another volunteer piped in and said that city yoga hands out cards with the invocation printed on them; you may not know the melody, but you can always improvise because you have the lyrics. he had a point.

except for the bks iyengar institute which also has lyric sheets available for newbies, it seems like all the other studios assume that most of their students are long-time practitioners who've heard the chants enough times to have committed them to memory.

well, that's obviously not me. nor anyone who's new to a particular style of yoga.

so after some research on the internet, i've come up with the words to some of the more popular opening invocations as well as their audio clip samples. feel free to print this out and take it to your next yoga class to guide you along. and if you have any other must-know chants that need to be added to the list, please send them my way.


anusara invocation (as chanted by elizabeth rainey)

Om Namah Shivaya Gurave
Saccidananda Murtaye
Nischprapanchaya Shantaya
Niralambaya Tejase

I offer myself to the Light, the Auspicious One, who is the True Teacher within and without,
Who assumes the forms of Reality, Consciousness, and Bliss,
Who is never absent and is full of peace,
Independent in existence, the vital essence of illumination.

ashtanga invocation (as chanted by reema datta)

vande gurunam charanaravinde
sandarsita svatmasukhava bodhe
nihsreyase jangalikayamane
samsara halahala mohasantyai

abahu purusakaram
sankhacakrasi dharinam
sahasra sirasam svetam
pranamami patanjalim

I bow to the lotus feet of the guru
who awakens insight into the happiness of pure Being,
who is the final refuge, the jungle physician,
who eliminates the delusion caused by the poisonous
herb of samsara [conditioned existence].

I prostrate before the sage Patanjali
who has thousands of radiant, white heads
[in his form as the divine serpent, Ananta]
and who has, as far as his arms,
assumed the form of a man holding a conch shell [divine sound],
a wheel [discus of light, representing infinite time]
and a sword [discrimination].


iyengar invocation (as chanted by BKS iyengar)

yogena cittasya padena vacam
malam sarirasya ca vaidyakena
yopakarottam pravaram muninam
patanjalim pranjaliranato smi
abahu purusakaram
sankha cakrasi dharinam
sahasra sirasam svetam
pranamami patanjalim
hare aum

Let us bow before the noblest of sages Patanjali,
who gave yoga for serenity and sanctity of mind,
grammar for clarity and purity of speech and
medicine for perfection of health.

Let us prostrate before Patanjali, an incarnation of Adisesa,
whose upper body has a human form,
whose arms hold a conch and a disc, and
who is crowned by a thousand-headed cobra.

kundalini invocation (as chanted by snatam kaur)

Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo

I salute the creative power within; I salute the divine teacher within.

and finally, just for fun, here's madonna's version of the ashtanga invocation from her ray of light album:

shanti/ashtangi (follow directions in the new window to listen)

burning the midnight om

please excuse me if i sound like i'm sleep-writing. given the late hour, i probably am.

i just got back home from a yoga class that literally spanned two days. jay co's class at power yoga west was scheduled to go from 10:45PM to 12:00AM (nope, that's not a typo), but for whatever reason, it started and ended late. around 15 minutes late. so by the time i pulled out of the parking lot, it was almost half past midnight. ah... the things i do for my yoga fix!

i should explain how i ended up taking that late-night yoga class. you see, KCRW is having its semi-annual pledge drive all this week, and as usual, i'd volunteered to put in my share of telephone-answering hours. long story short, between that commitment and all the other errands i had to do today, i couldn't fit in any of the classes during the "normal" yoga class hours. besides, as strange as it sounds, i actually looked forward to finding out what the night owl yoga crowd was like.

as it later turned out, i found myself practicing in a zombie-like state with the rest of the westside zombies.

after driving the short distance from KCRW to the third street promenade, i circled around briefly in search of free or cheap street parking. no such luck. not only did all the meters still have to be fed until 2am, but they only allow up to an hour's worth of parking. as for the public parking structure across the street, even if it offers two hours of free parking during the day, it's a flat $3 after 6pm. i considered the three hours of free parking at the mall two blocks away, but then again, was my personal safety worth the three bucks i'd be saving? i didn't think so. i headed to the structure by the studio and parked my car. at least i knew there was an attendant nearby.

i walked into the studio just as the teacher from the previous class was mopping the wooden floor dry. once he was done, i unrolled my mat and towel in my favorite spot, somewhere in the middle of the room, right along the wall. i sat down and waited to see who else would show up.

first came a pretty young blonde who placed her mat towards the center of the room, right in line with where i was.

then came two more young yoginis, who headed right for the front of room. i found it strange that one kept rolling back and forth between her mat and her friend's mat. i found it even stranger that they kept putting their heads together and giggling about things they were whispering to each other.

next to arrive was a tall tatooed guy who decided to place his mat right beside the pretty blonde's. considering that the large room was still empty, i could only assume that either he knew her or was hoping to eventually know her. but no, he totally ignored her and spent a good amount of time chatting with the instructor. more strangeness.

at that point, i closed my eyes and lay back on my mat while waiting for the class to start. once i heard the teacher address the class, i sat up at looked around. four more students had joined our group: a female in front of me, another one beside me, yet another behind me, and a muscular male off to the right behind me.

as instructed, i switched to child pose and once again closed my eyes. and as jay started droning on and on about god only knows what, i found myself fighting off sleep, partly because i was tired, and partly because i was trying so hard to block out whatever it was that he was saying. for some reason, he seemed to be chaneling bryan kest, but a southern version who was talking at quarter speed. the weirdness of it all was just too much for my exhausted brain to take!

and as the class progressed, things got even weirder.

taking the class was like following along with a yoga class podcast where someone had pressed the "slow" button. the unseen teacher was talking slowly, we were moving from pose to pose slowly, and we were holding each pose for a painfully long time. and while my muscles were screaming to be released, the teacher kept talking... and talking... with that slow southern drawl.

i start to notice strange sounds coming from the woman beside me. wait a minute... was she REALLY laughing at the little posture hints that the teacher was giving us? what's so damned funny? is she high? and why does she keep fidgeting? and flailing around? and making sudden jerky movements? doesn't she know how distracting she is?!?!?

trying to maintain my composure, i focus my attention instead on little miss rubbergirl in front of me. she's doing everything so perfectly. given my state of mind (and body) at that late hour, i was trying my darndest to look more like her than ms. spastic beside me. but as the midnight hour approached, it became more and more of a losing battle. holding in pigeon was a big pain in the butt. literally. trying to get my knees to fall around my ears after shoulderstand was an impossible dream. twisting to the right and left just caused my back muscles to tense up instead of relax.

and just when i started to wonder what else could go wrong, it was finally time for savasana. time for my much-needed rest. although i probably would have been better off had i been able to doze off in my own bed rather than rest momentarily on the hard floor of a yoga studio...

epilogue --

it turns out that i wasn't the only one who had a bad night.

after class, one of the students walked out to her car parked in front, just to find a parking ticket under her windshield. she probably assumed that parking was free after 6pm, just like it is at all the other parking meters around town. i bet she just loves the hefty parking fine she now owes the people's republic of santa monica.

as for another student whom i followed as we left the parking structure, after a brief conversation between her and the parking attendant, she put her car in reverse and re-parked her car. apparently she didn't have the $3 she needed to leave the lot; she had to walk to the nearest ATM to get the cash she needed. considering that the streets were dark and deserted, i can only imagine what she was muttering to herself. maybe that she'd never take a late night class again?

funny, that's just what i was thinking...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

full moon magic

while driving home the other night, i looked up and noticed the large bright orb in the surprisingly clear sky. the moon wasn't quite full, but it was awe-inspiring, nevertheless. all of a sudden i wanted to do some kind of moon dance, some kind of ritual that celebrated this magical phenomenon.

knowing that i could probably find something yoga-related, i eventually came across this event at the golden bridge website:

Full Moon Kundalini Yoga with Gurmukh

Join us for this special class that calls upon the powerful energy of the moon. Enhance the rhythmic Dance of Life and balance your mind, calm your spirit, and energize your soul with full moon magic.

energy. balance. calm. with all the crazy ups and downs i'd been going through lately, it's exactly what i needed.

so on the evening of august 9th, the night when the moon was at its fullest, i joined gurmukh and the large group of kundalini yogis as they celebrated the moon day.

we moved, we chanted, we trance danced around the large room. and just before our practice wound down for the night, we all formed a large healing circle and chanted the siri gaitri mantra, which is supposedly one of the most powerful healing meditations on the planet according to yogi bhajan.

the mantra is composed of these lyrics, which are repeated over and over again:

or, "Sun, moon, earth, infinity, totality of infinity, I am That."

* the version that we chanted to that evening was by gurudass kaur khalsa in his album, circle of light

here's more about the mantra from the notes of another CD, The Healing Spirit of Ra Ma Da Sa:

"Ra Ma Da Sa is a concentrated form of spiritual healing used by Master yogis for thousands of years to build bodily resistance to disease and treat a myriad of ailments. In fact, they believed Ra Ma Da Sa acted as an energetic tonic, improving the circulation and flow of prana throughout the entire body. This completely beneficial mantra strengthens the energy field and improves every aspect of your life. When you listen to or chant along, disease, pain and sorrow move out of your life, granting you liberation from disease and freedom to move toward greater happiness. In a manner that is beyond words, this mantra fortifies the immune system in ways that are unmatched by both medicinal herbs and modern drugs alike. Your breath is a potent tool here. When you chant Ra Ma Da Sa, the power of your breath becomes so balanced, so purified and developed that it attracts all the healing elements you could get from herbs, flowers, fruits and other natural remedies. You can attain as much healing as you desire; its capacity to serve is infinite. Simply by being in the presence of its healing vibrations, you will receive its benefits automatically. The chant is so powerful that it will bring you health and peace even if they are not written in the stars for you. It will even heal those who cannot pronounce the words correctly."

so after all that chanting for healing, did i feel any different? more energized? more balanced? healthier? calmer?

not really. maybe i should keep chanting...

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

walking the plank

just the other day, i was talking with my sister about plank, a company that sells yoga-related accessories. she had come across their booth at a recent gift show. considering the number of yoga studio boutiques i'd browsed through, i was surprised that i'd never heard of them, so i immediately did some googling to see what kind of stuff they sold.

and after checking out their website, all i can say is: WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WANTS TO PAY $125 FOR A YOGA MAT??? or worse yet, $245 for a CANVAS YOGA TOTE BAG?!?!?

given that the mat most serious yogis use, the manduka black mat, costs around $80, what does that extra $45 get you? a picture of a wooden plank on it?!?! and i'm supposed to think that looking at the half-eaten blueberry muffin on that plank is going to inspire me to do a deeper forward bend?

ok, so there are people in this town who are making money hand over fist and think nothing of spending an outrageous sum for something totally frivolous. but practicing on a yoga mat that says either BLINGblingBling or MEmeMe seems totally incongruous with what yoga's all about. not only that, but do i really want to think of CHOCOLATE whenever i do a downward dog?

according to plank's in the news section, ellen pompeo, natalie portman, and a host of other celebs supposedly swear by plank products. but then again, they're the people for whom anything is affordable. heck, they can even afford to have their yoga class come to them. which is probably why i don't see plank's yoga mats at any of the classes i've ever been to. i must be practicing with the proletariat. poor me.

speaking of yoga mats, if you've been following the posts of my fellow yoga bloggers, you know that there's been a big to-do in the yoga world ever since the new york times published the article titled Communal Yoga Mats: Beware Of Germs. according to a long island-based podiatrist, there appears to be a link between the increased incidence of athlete's foot and plantar warts and the increased use of unclean rental yoga mats. but with the media hyping these yoga mats that cost more than twice what a decent mat should cost, no wonder some people choose to take their chances with those potentially germy rentals!

honestly, germs or no germs, what i'd like to know is why people are willing to put their hands, feet, and even faces on a mat that many others have dripped their sweat all over. not only is it unhygienic, but it's just plain disgusting :(

after all, for the cost of a single yoga class, you can easily buy your own mat. i checked out the cost of the least expensive mat, a bare bones solid-colored one, at santa monica yoga this morning, and it was a mere $16. so maybe it had no flowers, no stripes, not even a shag rug graphic. nevertheless, it serves its purpose, which is to keep your hands and feet from slipping out from under you.

on the other hand, if you really have no recourse but to rent your yoga mat, for whatever reason, take heart; a rebuttal to that original article was published a few days ago by medpage today.

here are some excerpts from the article, Skepticism on Report of Rash of Yoga Mat Foot Infections:

"A dramatic increase in foot infections from unclean yoga mats, reported by a podiatrist last week, remains a mystery to other podiatrists who have seen no such increase.

Significantly, while all the evidence in this brouhaha is anecdotal everyone agrees that research has not confirmed a link between dirty yoga mats and fungal, viral, or bacterial foot infections.

Greg Cohen, D.P.M., of Long Island College Hospital and in private practice in New York City's tony Brooklyn Heights, stirred concern with a report in the New York Times that in the last two years he has seen a "50% spike" in patients with plantar warts and athlete's foot, probably due to bare-foot patients practicing yoga on unclean mats.

"Hard to fathom the fuss," said Martin B. Silverman, D.P.M., who practices in suburban New Rochelle. Not only has Dr. Silverman seen no increase in infections among his many patients, but he said "it's hard to ascribe these things to one set of causes."

Veruca plantaris, for example, can be picked up just about anywhere, especially in warm summer weather. Rashes or cracked skin from hyperhydrosis or improper drying can cause infections between the toes, for example, he said.

Roger Beck, D.P.M., of Tavares, Fla., said he has not seen an increase in tinea pedis (athlete's foot) or for that matter plantar warts. It's hard to link these infections to the yoga mats alone, he said, because bacteria will cause infections wherever there is warmth and moisture, that is, elsewhere in the facility.

Dr. Beck was more concerned about the risk for women who go to pedicure salons where unsterile instruments may be used. Anybody can get a fungal infection if they put their shoes back on after a yoga class because heat and sweat build up, he said. However, taking a shower would solve that problem."

so the solution to this germ epidemic is to take a shower after getting hot and sweaty in a yoga class? anyone, myself included, can definitely afford to do that.

Monday, August 07, 2006

stars in the kirtan sky, part 2

From Kirtan with Ragani:

"Kirtan (yoga chant) is a participatory, cross-cultural music experience that incorporates the audience right into the performance. Recently featured in Time Magazine (Oct 2003), this call-and-response sacred experience is swiftly gaining popularity throughout the U.S. as it follows on the heels of the yoga movement. All ages and cultural backgrounds are welcome to the event--there are no prerequisites for participation.

Though it involves music, the practice of kirtan is not about musical ability or training, it is about the heart. These ancient chants contain powerful healing and transformational energies that serve to reconnect us to the Ever-present and Eternal Being that lies within us all. All the mantras, melodies, and instruments are designed to lead us toward this meditative state. Although the language of kirtan is often in Sanskrit, the true language of kirtan is universal, because it is a language of the heart. As part of bhakti yoga (the devotional path), kirtan also utilizes nada yoga , the yogic science of sound. Through absorption in the sound, the eternal love that lies within each of our hearts can awaken. By chanting the different names and aspects of the divine, by calling out to the divine, we naturally reflect upon and call forth that divinity that exists within us all. Indeed, this call-response style chanting (kirtan) is a means of finding our way back to the core of our being, to our heart, and to our connection to each other."

while at friday night's kirtan session at illumination, i found myself enjoying the goings-on so much that midway through the performance, i started wondering why i hadn't thought of doing this chant thing sooner. after all, there were many places on the westside that offered kirtan, and they were definitely easier for me to get to than where i was at that moment, which was deep in the san fernando valley.

for example:

at power yoga west in santa monica, home of bryan kest and donation-based yoga, govindas leads kirtan chanting every first saturday of the month, from 8:00 to 10:00pm. and as is the case with all the yoga classes at this studio, what you pay is totally up to you.

at maha yoga in brentwood, home of steve ross and hip-hop yoga, steve and his buddies hold ecstatic chanting sessions at least once a month. the events are free, although donations for the musicians are most welcome.

at goda yoga in culver city, travis eliot and his friends gather for some kirtan chanting on the last saturday of the month at 8:00pm. the suggested donation is $10.

at santa monica yoga in santa monica, on the first sunday of the month, travis (the one and the same) lends his kirtan talents to mary donovan's yoga and meditation class at 5:30pm. the usual class fees apply, including the KCRW discount :)

and at the sivananda yoga vedanta center in marina del rey, i found a blurb for this free chanting workshop held every second and fourth saturday of the month, from 4:00 to 6:00pm:

If you love to chant or want to learn, this is your chance! Come for a relaxed afternoon of Kirtan (mantra chanting) and good company. Practice the traditional call-and-response Sivananda daily chants, experiment with rhythm, become confident to lead chants, learn new ones. It's easy, and uplifting.

i'm sure i could find more places if i ventured farther away from home, but this was a good start.

mentally going down the list, i remembered that govindas was going to be at shiva rea's big trance dance event over at golden bridge on saturday night. which meant that he wasn't going to be at SMPY west. and it didn't look like i was going to attend shiva's shindig either because i hadn't bought a pre-event ticket and was too cheap to pay for the "at the door" ticket price.

my next option was the chantfest at maha, with steve ross. it just so happened that there was going to be one that saturday. i later found out that girish was going to be joining steve that night, which made me even more determined to go.

so i did.

for those unfamiliar with steve ross's background, CD baby had this in his bio for his compilation of chants, grace is the name of the game:

"Steve has been both a musician and yogi for close to 30 years now. As a musician, he has performed with artists such as Fleetwood Mac, Men at Work, The Beach Boys and kirtan artist Krishna Das. On his spiritual journey, he lived as a vedic monk for years in India and has followed many well known teachers."

he was also featured in the july/august 2006 issue of yogitimes in maha's maestro.

unlike the small affair friday night at illumination, the yoga studio at maha was packed with chanters of all shapes and sizes. there were grandmothers, college frat boys, and kids barely out of diapers. there were the blonde yoginis as well as the men who looked like they had just a bit too much love in their love handles. and also unlike the illumination crowd, these people were seasoned chanters. they barely glanced at their lyric sheets as they filled the room with their voices. with steve on guitar, girish on percussion, lee on harmonica, and mark (was that his name?) on bass, the place rocked. god, it felt good!

maybe i should attend that workshop at the sivananda center to hone my chanting skills...

Sunday, August 06, 2006

stars in the kirtan sky, part 1

Illumination Yoga
19100 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 11
Tarzana, CA 91356
(818) 758-9808
website: www.illuminationyoga.com

Illumination Yoga is not another yoga studio where people are expected to do Asanas perfectly – which can be another reason to feel stress. Instead of outer perfection, our goal is for you to feel the divine inner perfection regardless of your outer circumstances. We are not human beings striving to have a perfect spiritual experience. We are already divine spiritual beings having a human experience. Through acceptance of our human imperfections, great transformations are possible. Conversely, when we judge ourselves for our imperfections, our learning process is often stifled.

i had first read about the new illumination yoga studio a month or so ago in one of the local yoga magazines. since it was out in the valley (which meant having to put up with the wonderful traffic on the 405 and/or 101 freeways), i decided to wait until i had a legitimate reason for traveling out that way -- a family get-together, a job interview, a visit to a friend. but it seemed like each time i checked their class schedule, something changed. a class was added here, a class was cancelled there. how was i supposed to plan a visit if i wasn't sure if the class i wanted would be held when i got there?

so i held off and continued to check off the other studios still on my to-do list.

eventually, i revisited their website and noticed an announcement:

GIRISH is here in concert this Friday August 4! Girish is sure to rock the house. Come support our first concert of many more to come...

for those of you who are wondering who or what a "girish" is, here's his bio:

Girish Gambhira is an eclectic artist with roots in jazz, world, and sacred music. His music talents find expression in a wide array of instruments - including tablas, world percussion, guitar, harmonium, and voice - and he performs and records with many of the top artists in the world music genre.
Girish's musical gifts find their grounding in sacred music, an art he cultivated during five years as a monk in a Hindu monastery. His talents are featured on some of the most popular recordings in the world music / new age field.

as i later told my sister (who's totally aware of my obsession with all things yoga, but who still can't imagine me chanting "hare krishna"), girish is the equivalent of a rock star in the kirtan (i.e., yoga chant) world. he's up there with the likes of jai uttal, krishna das, deva premal, donna de lory, wah!, and all the rest. of course, if you were to ask me who they were two years ago, i would have been totally clueless. but that's beside the point...

getting back to my story... i knew that a concert wasn't likely to be rescheduled or cancelled, especially if someone like girish was slated to perform, so i marked my calendar and reserved the 4th for a visit to illumination. besides, according to girish's schedule, he wasn't due to perform again in town for the rest of the year (unless i was willing to drive all the way out to ojai or costa mesa).

early that friday afternoon, i called the studio to find out if there were a yoga class scheduled right before the event. yes, there was; it was a hatha flow class with cristina marcu, who co-ran illumination with joa janakaoayas. and because i had signed up earlier to be added to their email list, i could take my first class for only $5. my plans were falling nicely into place.

of course, friday rush hour traffic being the way it always is in the san fernando valley, i arrived at illumination ten minutes late for class. i initially hesitated when i spotted the sign that read "OPEN YOGA"; nevertheless, the address matched what i had jotted down, so i parked my car by the staircase and made my way up to the second floor. luckily, since cristina knew i was on my way there, even if no one else showed up for class, she was waiting patiently in the room when i ran in. it appeared that i was going to have a private lesson, which meant that i was going to be the center of attention. and for some reason, that stressed me out even more.

cristina gave me lots of time to relax, unwind, and get centered. while breathing in and out, i could sense the room around me -- the bright sunshine coming in through the windows, the incense wafting from somewhere in the room, the soothing music she had playing in the background, the smooth wooden floor under my fingers. people pay good money for a one-on-one yoga session, i reminded myself. after releasing whatever anxiety i was feeling, i put my practice in her hands.

we moved slowly through some sun salutations then continued through the poses as she followed along with me. just when we were about to wind things down, joa popped his head in through the door and motioned to cristina that the musicians were there to set up for that evening's performance. so we skipped savasana, did a short meditation instead, then made way for the artists to do their thing.

... fast forward past dinner to the concert later that evening...

the opening act was by their house band, so to speak. every friday night, dharma leads kirtan sessions at the studio. this time, while dharma took care of the vocals and the harmonium, he was accompanied by his sister, maria butterly, on guitar and joa on percussion. his friend josie led the response part of the chanting.

our intimate group of about twenty chanted along with dharma and his group, just long enough to get our vocal cords warmed up for the evening's headline event.

girish's stop at illumination yoga was one of many on his tour to promote his latest album, shiva machine. so most of the music he performed that night was from that album, with a few songs from his previous album, reveal, thrown into the mix.

the performance was an audiovisual delight. with girish on harmonium and guitar (accompanied by a prerecorded backup band), fellow performer mary arden collins beautifully harmonized her voice with girish's as they led the group through the call-and-response while a video depicting the god/goddeses being honored was projected onto the screen behind the performers.

what i liked about the performance is that girish took the time to explain the background of each chant. he talked about the meaning of the words that were being repeated over and over again, and in some cases, he talked about what inspired him to write each song.

at the end of the evening, i asked girish to autograph the copy of reveal that i had been listening to in my car. and he graciously obliged.

i think i'm turning into a kirtan star groupie :)

Saturday, August 05, 2006

a barbie moment

i just ran twelve miles this morning. twelve miles of hills. ugh. i honestly wonder what possessed me to think it was going to be a piece of cake, considering that i hadn't run a single mile in the past two weeks (maybe it was because i managed to run eleven miles comfortably the last time i ran?). but i knew that if i ran on my own instead of with my usual running buddy, i'd probably wimp out somewhere along the way and end up running a fraction of what i needed to do. like a measly two miles. (and considering that the disneyland half marathon is only six weekends from now, i really need to get serious about my training if i want to post a respectable time.)

so now i sit here, seemingly brain-dead. i can't think clearly. i can't talk coherently. i know i have to take a yoga class today, but just the thought of checking yoga schedules is mentally exhausting right now. in other words, i'm having a barbie moment.

speaking of barbie moments, yogabeans finally has a new post, this time featuring spiderman showing barbie, a yoga newbie, how to do parsvottanasana (intense side stretch pose). it reminded me of a certain yoga teacher who only seems to adjust the gorgeous young blondes in class (and for you westside yoga aficionados, you probably know who i'm talking about)...

... and no, i'm not bitter that he ignores me because i'm middle-aged, brunette, and don't have an ounce of silicone in my body...

it's time for me to hit the showers. and if i find the energy later this afternoon, i think i'll take a nice restorative yoga class so i can get what i desperately need -- rest!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

sexy yoga

Yoga Blend
2918 1/2 Magnolia Boulevard
Burbank, CA 91505
(818) 943-3880

Deciding which class to take can be so confusing. But not to worry, Yoga Blend is not just a blend of styles, but also a blend of levels! You will never need to feel like you are in the wrong class. The beginner will always feel completely comfortable and the veteran will consistently feel challenged. Modifications are verbally offered to students throughout each class, to ease poses for beginners as well as to take even the most advanced practitioners to their next level. We feel this philosophy helps to nurture the non-competitive aspect of yoga by allowing all of us to grow and learn from each other.
We want you to come to the studio, relax, catch up with friends, take an awesome yoga class, have fun and leave feeling great!

i've always heard about how yoga increases and/or improves your balance, muscle tone, strength, flexibility, energy, focus, and much more.

but can yoga really make you feel more sexy, more creative, more fertile?

that's what the luna flow class at yoga blend in burbank claims to be able to do, so being the ever-curious yogi that i am, i made it my mission to go and find out.

since i had plans to go to the hollywood bowl that morning, it seemed like an opportune time to check out the surrounding area so i could add another yoga studio to my list. the city of burbank was just a few miles north of the bowl on cahuenga, and yoga blend was right there on magnolia, just east of cahuenga.

scanning the class schedule, i noted the usual offerings: level 1, level 1-2, pre/post natal, gentle, luna flow, restorative...

luna flow? according to yoga blend's website, it is

‘Sexy yoga’ that will focus on the energy of the 2nd and 4th chakras to increase creativity, sexuality and fertility. Suitable for everyone (yes, all you men too!). Also great for pre/post natal. All levels welcome.

the class is taught by vicki howie, who "completed her teacher training at Yoga Villa, in North Hollywood, where she learned Hatha Yoga basics, as well as the unique practice of Female Balancing, developed by Brenda Strong."

... i suppose it makes sense that the actress who plays the recurring character mary alice young on the sexy show desperate housewives would be indirectly responsible for this sexy yoga class...

after spending the morning lounging at the bowl with my long-time friend CKD, we both drove to burbank to share a leisurely lunch and catch up on the changes in our lives since we last saw each other (had it really been a year?). i mentioned that i was headed to a yoga class later that afternoon and tried to talk him into joining me. after all, he introduced me to highs of marathon running and snow skiing over 15 years ago, so i felt it was my turn to return the favor and introduce him to the highs of yoga. claiming he had better things to do, he begged off. maybe he would have thought otherwise if i had told him that he would be in a room full of sexy women?

yoga blend is a small storefront near the corner of magnolia and catalina. except for the one-hour parking time limit on magnolia itself, there was lots of free parking on the surrounding side streets. i had no problem finding the studio, especially since i was immediately drawn to the yummy cupcakes store right beside it :)

maybe overly eager to get to class, i had gotten there half an hour early and wasn't surprised that the front door was locked. luckily, bekah finch, another yoga blend teacher, noticed me through the window and let me in. there was more than enough time for me to register and pay for the class (at the discounted KCRW rate!), change into my yoga duds, AND pay a visit to the cupcake place. when i got back with my red velvet cupcake nicely boxed for the trip home, many students had already arrived and were setting themselves up in the room.

by the time vicki started us off in supported supta baddha konasana, there was one lone male in the sea of women. i wondered if he was there to increase his own creativity and sexuality or to experience us women increasing ours...

i soon found myself bending, stretching, and gyrating with the others to soothing r&b music. let go. feel good. be sexy.

the focus was on the 2nd and 4th chakras, so the poses were primarily hip and heart openers. there were lots of squats for the hips and backbends for the heart. it was an all-levels class, and options were available for both the beginner and advanced practitioners.

when the class ended, i was eager to get home, not because i was looking forward to using my supposedly increased sexuality or creativity, but because the yummy cupcake sitting in a box on the passenger seat kept calling my name. i later found out that stimulating the 2nd chakra also stimulates the sense of taste, which probably explains why it turned out to be the most delicious morsel of red velvet cake i've had in a long while :)

just like david romanelli and katrina markoff have their workshops on yoga and chocolate, maybe yoga blend should offer a workshop on yoga and cupcakes. imagine a class featuring yummy cupcakes' blue hawaiian, cosmopolitan, lemon drop, mai tai, margarita, mojito, and pina colada flavors (made appropriately with rum, vodka, and tequila) -- what a wonderful tasting event that would be!

remember, i came up with the idea first...

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

a musical interlude

my friend cindy describes me as a bowlhead. and i heartily agree with her.

you see, if i had my druthers, i would spend every summer evening listening to the wonderful variety of music at the hollywood bowl: classical, jazz, world, broadway, and more. but since that's impossible for me at the moment, both cost-wise and schedule-wise, all i can do is enjoy each performance i attend and let the magic last for as long as possible, at least until my next visit to the bowl.

one of the little-known secrets around town is that you can attend some of the hollywood bowl rehearsal sessions for free. and i did just that this morning; i sat in on the rehearsal of tonight's performance of beethoven and berlioz. my original intent was to listen to the la philharmonic's rendition of the familiar beethoven's 5th symphony. but since i got there a half hour after the session started, i don't know if they skipped the piece altogether (maybe it was so familiar that there was no need to practice it) or if they ran through it quickly before i got there.

(errata: my dear friend CKD, who was there with me, read my post and reminded me that while we missed the start, we were definitely there for the fourth, and maybe even part of the third, movement. ok, so i had a senior moment. i stand corrected...)

i was treated to bramwell tovey leading the orchestra through berlioz's symphonie funèbre et triomphale, followed by a second run-through, this time with the pacific chorale and the granada hills high school highlander marching band joining in.

the best part of attending these daytime rehearsals, besides being able to enjoy the warm sunshine, the peaceful surroundings (unlike at the evening performances where i'm usually surrounded by half-drunk patrons who insist on talking during the performance), and the fact that i don't have to stack-park nor shuttle in, is that i can sit in one of the garden boxes, normally a $93 value, for free! okay, so maybe the performers are attired in shorts and jeans instead of their usual gowns and tuxedos, and maybe they do have to repeat a few passages here and there, but if you close your eyes and listen... it's pretty close to what you'd hear later than evening. as they say, you get what you pay for. but in this case, you really get much more.

tomorrow, i'll be back at the bowl once more for jazz night with al green, lalah hathaway, and lizz wright. and this time, i'm going with honest-to-goodness tickets that i paid for. yes, i do do my fair share of making sure that music at the bowl will continue for years to come.

speaking of music and, in some cases, doing your fair share, here are some musical events at a yoga studio near you for the upcoming month (and you were beginning to wonder what this post had to do with yoga???):

at goda yoga --

Last Saturday of the month, August 26th - 8:00pm
Kirtan with Travis
$10 suggested donation

Kirtan is the "call and response" yogic chanting of beautiful, simple, sacred melodies led by Travis and friends.
Come experience the healing nature of live music in a cozy group setting.

at golden bridge --

Friday, August 4th - 8:00pm
Dr. Freedom & Leela
Cost: $20/advance or $25/day of

International Kirtan singers Dr. Freedom and Leela join us from Costa Rica on their West Coast tour! Their unique music is rooted in Sikh Gurbani Kirtan music, Sufi Qawallis and Hindu mantra devotional Bhajans. At their Kirtan program, the music moves from... soothing, uplifting, exhilarating to hypnotic. Freedom had the privilege to sing with Yogi Bhajan on several occasions world-wide, and was also fortunate to dedicate music at his memorial.

Saturday, August 5th - 6:00pm-12:30am
Nataraja Mela (TranceDance) with Shiva Rea

Benefit for Trees for the Future
Cost: $25/advance or $35/day of

This unbelievable night of yoga, chanting, film, and dance will feature world-renowned yoga teachers Gurmukh & Shiva Rea, international kirtan stars Wah! and Dave Stringer and DJ Cheb I Sabbah! Each studio will feature a different vibe and the night will be one you will never forget!

In the Main Space:
6-7:00 pm - Kundalini Yoga with Gurmukh
7:00-8:00 pm - Prana Yoga with Shiva Rea
8:00-9:15 pm - Wah! and Dave Stringer perform on mainstage with Ramaa and Swetha dance performance
9:30 pm - Dj Cheb i Sabbah begins Trance Dance
11:30-12:30 am - end evening with chanting from Govindas and Joey Lugassey

In our Bodh Gaya Meditation Room:
Nataraj alters with special kirtan performed by Govindas, Joey Lugassey and Daphne Tse throughout the evening

In Pune Studio:
Rotating film screenings throughout the evening

Saturday, August 12th - 8:00pm
Benefit Concert for Divine Amma featuring Wah!
Cost: $20/adv or $25/day of

Wah! has offered to do this as a benefit to help bring Swami and Amma to America. Please join us so that we may help bring these divine beings here so they can continue to do their wonderful work!

at exhale in venice --

Friday, August 25th - 8:00pm-10:00pm
Dharma Talk and Universal Peace Chant
$15 Suggested Donation

Join us for an evening gathering of chanting and prayer for peace. Saul David Raye will give a brief Dharma Talk and then we will spend the evening chanting and praying for peace.
All proceeds will benefit the Exhale Soul Foundation. Please join us.

at illumination yoga --

Friday, August 4th, 8:00pm
Girish Chanting Event
$15 in advance, $20 at the door

Treat all of your senses to the magic of mantra. Girish's new tour features irresistible beats, an amazing visual show of sacred images, and call and response and sing along Sanskrit mantras.
Experience the power of chanting and dancing your prayers..... come join the chant revolution!
Joining Girish is Tony Bray on saxophone and keyboard and Diana Bray singing backup.
Girish's life journey has been marked by a series of profound transformations, unified by an underlying journey toward purpose. He has gone from aspiring jazz drummer to renunciant Hindu monk to first call tabla guru for the likes of Krishna Das to solo mantra troubadour, and he's not done yet.
It should come as no surprise then that Girish's latest CD, Shiva Machine is all radical departure and simultaneous next step evolution.

at insight yoga --

Friday, August 4th - 8:00pm
Kirtan for a Cause with Vaiyasaki Das
$15 in advance, $20 at the door

Join us for a joyful and spiritually-uplifiting evening of traditional Indian music, call-and-response chanting and feel good about it!
All of the money will go directly to the National Children's Cancer Society. Click here to learn more about the charity.
To learn more about Vaiyasaki Das click here.
To listen to some of his music click here.

Friday, August 18th - 8:00pm
Sarasvati's Dream: A Tapestry of Harmonics and Light with Diáne Mandle
$15 by August 14th, $20 after

Experience a sense of peace and well being in an evening of Harmonic Sound, Dancing Light and Extraordinary Healing.
Diane weaves transcendent harmonics of precision tuned Tibetan Bowls, Planetary Moon Gong, and other Sacred Sound instruments with a spectacular dance of Moving Light Forms creating overtones, rhythms and tonalities of Sacred Sound. She tells the story of the Bowls and the healing they bring. An evening that will soothe, inspire and awaken your spirit.
Dress comfortably to lie down. Mats and blankets provided, or bring your own.

at maha yoga --

Saturday, August 5th - 8:00pm
Ecstatic Chanting with Steve Ross
Free or Donation for the musicians

Please join us for a joyful evening of chanting with Steve Ross. Sing or just sit back and listen as we fill the studio with bliss. Wear comfortable clothing, bring a pillow to sit on and enjoy.

First Sunday of the month, August 6th - 7:30-9:00pm
Hot Sundays with Light
By Donation

Come take a strong yoga class illuminated by candles, filled with amazing music and wrapped up with great giveaways. Open your heart and donate to a worthwhile cause. 100% of the proceeds will be donated to the National Parkinson Foundation.

at rising lotus --

Friday, August 18th - 8:15pm
Kirtan with Daniel
By Donation

Come join us for an evening of ecstatic chanting. No singing experience needed, only a willingness to open your heart (and your mouth) to the blissful flow.

at santa monica yoga --

First Sunday of the month, August 6th - 5:30pm
Yoga, Kirtan (Chanting), and Meditation with Mary Donovan and Travis Eliot
$15 or series pass

at shakti's elements --

Saturday, August 12th, 7:00-9:00pm
Suggested Donation: $20

Sacred Sound: The Joyful Experience of Kirtan, Bhajan, and Raga.

at the yoga center --

Sunday, August 13th, 7:00-9:00PM
Suggested donation: $10 (nobody turned away for lack of funds)

Sacred Sound: The Joyful Experience of Kirtan, Bhajan, and Raga.

at yoga desa --

First Saturday of the month, August 5th - 7:00pm
Kirtan in the Canyon with Andrew & Michèle & Friends
Suggestion donation: $10

When you sing bhajans, or kirtan, the sound energy gets absorbed into every atom of your body. Just as a microphone absorbs sound and converts it into electricity, the body absorbs sound and converts it into consciousness. Your entire body gets soaked in energy and transformation happens. Come explore this acoustic transformation in motion hosted by Art of Living teachers Michele Krolik and Andrew Behla.
Call 818.340.6088 for info.

at yoga loft manhattan beach --

Sunday, August 6th - 7:00-8:20pm
YOGA UNPLUGGED!! with Kelly McAndrews & singer/guitarist Paul LeMire
$15 / Series do not apply

Mellow flow class with candlelight & live music.

at yoga west --

Saturday August 26th
Yogi Bhajan Birthday Celebration!

Special Sadhana at Yoga West
2:40am Japji
3:00am World Wide 11 minute Meditation
3:12am Kundalini Yoga
3:30am-6:00am 2 1/2 hr Long Ek Ong Kar Meditation

6:00pm Special Evening Birthday Party & Class:
Chanting & Live Music
Yogi Bhajan teachers by video
Dinner, Birthday Cake & Stories

at yogaworks larchmont --

Friday, August 25th - 7:30-9:30pm
Yoga to Lift Your Spirit with Peter Barnett

This evening is all about feeling good. Mood enhancing yoga postures including sun salutes, inversions, backbends, gentle forward bends and hip openers, as well as a long delicious savasana will be the central focus of an experience enhanced by hands on adjustments, music, poetry, candles and flowers.
Come indulge!