Legend: BLUE-open, RED-closed, GREEN-by donation
Click here to view the accidental yogist's map of los angeles yoga studios in a full-size page

Saturday, March 31, 2007

stress relief through mindful awareness

while going through my pile of snail mail last night, i came across an article in the spring 2007 edition of UCLA healthcare's VitalSigns newsletter. while the majority of the articles talked about how UCLA physicians treat diseases such as cancer, diabetes, childhood obesity, and urinary incontinence, this particular article dealt with an issue that affects many of us: stress.

titled "mindfulness" can help calm stress, it starts out with this introduction:

Today's pressure-cooker society takes a toll on everyone, but practicing "mindfulness" can help people cope with the stresses of daily life. At UCLA, the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) helps individuals learn how to better deal with stress, improve their attention span and gain an overall sense of well-being.

i checked out the MARC website, where they talk more about "mindful awareness":

Mindful Awareness is the moment-by-moment process of actively and openly observing one’s physical, mental and emotional experiences.

Mindful Awareness has scientific support as a means to reduce stress, improve attention, boost the immune system, reduce emotional reactivity, and promote a general sense of health and well-being.

MARC offers Mindful Awareness Practices (MAPs): tools and exercises (such as meditation, yoga, t'ai chi) that develop greater mind-body awareness and cultivate mindfulness in our daily lives.

if you've ever taken a yoga class that has started and/or ended with meditation, you probably know that mindfulness is all about being able to breathe, focus, and be present.

according to MARC, there is scientific evidence that being mindful can actually improve your health:

In the midst of today’s frantically-paced world, developing the mind and learning to focus attention are our most precious gifts we can offer ourselves and to the next generation. Being afforded the opportunity to pay attention to the present moment is necessary for the cultivation of balanced, thoughtful, respectful citizens.

How we pay attention directly influences how our brain’s neural circuitry will become activated. Brain activation in turn shapes the connections among neurons. By learning to regulate the flow of energy and information in our brains – by learning to pay attention in a mindful way – it is likely that we can change the regulatory structures of our brains.

Initial research reveals that the practice of self-regulated attention – the learning of mindful awareness – enables individuals to achieve improvements in physiological health, mental well-being, and interpersonal relationships. By learning to become mindfully aware of the moment-to-moment experiences of life, individuals can greatly improve their physical, emotional, and social health. MARC embraces these important findings and aims to discover the basic mechanisms by which these improvements occur.

so if you find yourself stressed out because your yoga studio has closed or is about to close, or if you find that things just aren't going the way you want them to, you might want to check out some of the guided meditations led by diana winston on the MARC website. while meditating may not solve your problems, it could relieve enough of your anxiety to help you relax... and that would be most welcome at a time like this, wouldn't it?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

a change for the better

genevieve fischer at yoga loft manhattan beach sent out this email a few hours ago, and as i got midway through the first paragraph, i started to worry that yet another yoga studio was about to shut down. thankfully, there was a happy ending to this story:

Dear Beautiful Loft Students,

Spring is a time of hope and change. That is especially true for us this year, as we approach our three-year anniversary. Back in January, I received word from the landlord that BodySuite (next door) requested moving into our space to expand their business to include hair services. Since they have 12 years of seniority in the space and we were on a month-to-month lease, the landlord obliged, and we were given until April 15th to relocate. Needless to say, this has been a very difficult, stressful first quarter, but I truly believe that it will be a blessing. When life hands you lemons, it’s time to make some lemonade; and what better time for lemonade than Spring/Summer?!

So, we DO have a new location. It is a brand-new, beautiful, upstairs, bright space that is almost three times our current size. It is located on Manhattan Avenue in downtown Manhattan Beach, and we intend to make it an all-‘green’ studio (we like organic mint lemonade, after all). However, it is new construction that will not be completed until late summer. So...

Danielle Deweese and Lauren Rauth, the wonderful owners of Pilates Manhattan (815 Manhattan Avenue, above We Love Pets near 9th Street) are allowing us to sublease their space in the interim. Their space is a little bigger than our current one and boasts a gorgeous ocean view. We have to work around their class schedule, so there will be some major changes to our new schedule. However, we will still offer 4-5 classes per day, most of your favorite teachers, as well as a couple of Sunday workshops, a summer mala, etc. And it’s just for a few months, until we can officially move into our new home. Thank you so much, Danielle & Lauren; you have good karma forever!

The new schedule will be printed and available online no later than April 10th, and new classes at 815 Manhattan Avenue (upstairs) will begin Monday morning, April 16th. It will be an adjustment, but this is an exciting time, and our sweet, strong little community of yogis can conquer anything!

Thank you all so much for your support during this transitional, stressful time. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to call/email me. We will see you soon in class.

Love & light,

Gen, Linsly, and the Yoga Loft Teachers

yoga loft mb's temporary new home is a mere quarter of a mile away from their soon-to-be-vacated location. since the old space could only fit about 15 students at a time anyway, it sounds like their being forced to move out is actually a blessing in disguise!

looks like i have another studio to visit and add to my list...

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

say it ain't so!

i'm still stunned by the latest news from bala yoga... i can't believe that they're closing their doors at the end of this month! that's the end of THIS WEEK!!! not only are we losing a fantastic source for anusara yoga, but we're also losing a fabulous studio with lots of FREE parking!

i have only five days left to get to at least one class before bala goes bye-bye :(

here's the email message i received earlier today:

Dear Friends:

As heart-wrenching as it is, we regretfully announce that Bala Yoga will be closing at the end of the month. Our last full day of classes will be Saturday, March 31st, and our final farewell class will be Ross' Sunday 9am class on April 1st. We have exhausted all of our options, and have delayed this decision as long as possible in the hopes that we would be able to pass the studio onto someone else. Alas, this has not been possible.

Although Bala Yoga and YogaInsideOut only merged in December, we feel that we have created a beautiful community of teachers and students, which we will miss. We have made deep connections with many of you and have tried to provide you with excellent yoga.

For those of you with classes remaining, City Yoga has very generously offered to honor your series beginning April 1st. City Yoga is located at 1067 N. Fairfax (corner of Santa Monica Blvd), about two miles west of Bala Yoga. For more information and a schedule of classes, please visit: www.cityyoga.com

As the sun prepares to set on Bala Yoga, we have done our best to consider the needs of our students. We hope that you will all find a new home at City Yoga.

If you have further questions please call: 323-939-6424. We will be checking messages frequently, and will try to respond to all your concerns as promptly as possible.

With love and gratitude,
Ginny Biddle and Ross Rayburn

update as of march 30th: brandon chiang has set up a cyberkula called YogaOrphans, a website for all the "orphaned" bala/YIO yogis and yoginis. check it out; better yet, add yourself to the group if you want to keep in touch with everyone...

Sunday, March 25, 2007

yogis to the rescue!

i'm so lucky to live in santa monica, the yoga capital of the western world... apparently, we even have our very own group of super-yogis protecting our city from the bearers of bad vibes -- the YOGA ACTION SQUAD!

according to their myspace site:

BIO: Ever since the dawn of time (or when Yoga became Westernized), an elite team of Yogis and Yoginis have protected Yoga throughout Santa Monica. Led by a mysterious Guru, the YOGA ACTION SQUAD brings the clarity and focus of yoga to the mean Santa Monica streets. When called on, they respond with a resistance that opens up blockages, creating space for fighting crime! Led by a mysterious Guru, Join Johnny Lotus, Crystal, and Mantra as they use their strength and flexibility to kick some asana. Namaste, Bitch.

INTERESTS: Yoga, Fighting Crime, Meditation, Sweating, Destroying You with a Third Eye Laser, Shopping for Yoga mats, Taking Yoga Classes, Breathing, Relaxing into the Pose, Asanas, Surendering to a Higher Power, Spinal Twists, Farmers Markets, Palm Springs Retreats, Being, Silence

NOT INTERESTS: Ego, Aches and Pains, Veal, Human Time, Negativity, Gym Yoga, Haterade, Close-Mindedness, Restrictive Clothing, Shoes, Crime

click here to watch them in action (warning: it's pretty lame, but that's what makes it so funny)...

Thursday, March 22, 2007

the changing face of yoga

i found this post on slate.com; it was penned by new york observer columnist ron rosenbaum. what he talks about ties in somewhat with the comments i received regarding my yogaerobics experience earlier this week. with its growing popularity, yoga just ain't what it used to be...

here's how the article starts out:

The Hostile New Age Takeover of Yoga
There's nothing worse than narcissism posing as humility.

By Ron Rosenbaum
Posted Wednesday, March 21, 2007, at 4:37 PM ET

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against yoga—or Eastern disciplines in general. In fact, I've done tai chi exercises for many years.

No, it's the commodification and rhetorical dumbing-down of yoga culture that gets to me. The way something that once was—and still can be—pure and purifying has been larded with mystical schlock. Once a counterweight to our sweaty striving for ego gratification, yoga has become an unctuous adjunct to it.

There is the exploitative and ever-proliferating "yoga media." The advent of yoga fashion (the yoga mat, the yoga-mat carrier, and yoga-class ensembles). And worst of all, the yoga rhetoric, that soothing syrupy "yoga-speak" that we all know and loathe.

It all adds up to what a friend recently called the "hostile New Age takeover of yoga." "New Age" culture being those scented-candle shrines to self-worship, the love-oneself lit of The Secret, the "applied kinesiology"-type medical and metaphysical quackery used to support a vast array of alternative-this or alternative-that magical-thinking workshops and spa weekends. At its best, it's harmless mental self-massage. At its worst, it's the kind of thinking that blames cancer victims for their disease because they didn't "manifest" enough positive vibes.

One "manifestation" of this takeover is the shameless enlistment of yoga and elevated Eastern yogic philosophy for shamelessly material Western goals. Rather than an alternative, it's become an enabler. "Power yoga"! Yoga for success! Yoga for regime change! (Kidding.)

And then there's what you might call "Yoga for Supermarket Checkout Line Goals." Or as the cover story of Rodale's downmarket magazine YogaLife put it, yoga to: "BURN FAT FASTER!" (Subsidiary stories bannered on the YogaLife cover: "4 WAYS TO LOSE 5 POUNDS"; "ZEN SECRETS TO: HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS ... INSTANT CALM.")

Gotta love "Zen Secrets to Instant Calm," right? It goes right along with other cover lines like "Double Your Flexibility Today!" and "Heal Winter Skin Now!"

Clearly what the ancient inventors of yogic wisdom had in mind: Now! Instant! Today! Very Eastern, calm, and meditative right?

But even more insidious than the easily satirizable but at least down-to-earth and honest magazines like YogaLife—or ethereally serious ones like Yoga + Joyful Living (which coaches readers in "The Breath of Self-Understanding")—are the mainstream yoga publications such as Yoga Journal, one of the most popular, prosperous, and respectable yoga magazines.

In fact, my impetus for this examination of yoga media came from a sharp-witted woman I know who practices yoga but frankly concedes that—for her, anyway—it's less about Inner Peace than Outer Hotness. She called my attention to what she called an amazingly clueless—and ultimately cruel (to the writer)—decision by the editors of Yoga Journal to print a first-person story that was ostensibly about the yogic wisdom on forgiveness in relationships.

rosenbaum then goes on to talk about a woman who resorts to stalking an old friend so she can ask for his forgiveness for something she did to him 20 years earlier. yes, it gets pretty bizarre.

you can find the rest of the story here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

a shock to the system

maybe it's just me.

somehow, transitioning from a blissful sweat class with saul david raye on sunday to the heavenly sweat class with kim chau on monday was too much of a shock to my system.

saul's class at exhale venice was another of his signature vinyasa flow classes -- some meditation, some asanas, some chanting. as the poses became more demanding, my body warmed up, i broke into a delicious sweat, and i found myself enjoying the moment. ahhhh....

as for kim's supposedly heavenly class at lyfe yoga center, as the movement became more demanding, my body tensed up, i broke into a heavy sweat, and my inner yogini screamed: "what the h*ll did you just get yourself into?!?!" arghhhh!!

maybe i'm just getting too fragile in my old age :(

you see, besides wanting to pay a visit to the newly-renamed lyfe yoga center (the former planet yoga) in hermosa beach, what initially enticed me to take that monday evening class was its description:

This vigorous and powerful class links yoga poses into heat-building sequences with weighted bars and a core ball to ensure maximum benefits during your practice. Continual movement is encouraged by soulful and mind-lifting rhythms in hip-hop, rock, world, and alternative genres. If you are looking for a distinctive and unique addition to your practice, become empowered at Heavenly Sweat!

after gorging on junk food at work earlier that day, i decided to take what sounded like (at least to me) a "weighted" version of matt reyes's hip-hop yoga class to burn off those extra calories. but to my dismay, kim's class turned out to be a high-cardio aerobics session with some basic yoga poses thrown in just to make it yoga-esque. honestly, if i had wanted to take an aerobics class, i would have gone to a gym.

maybe i'm becoming too set in my ways?

i must say that i have to give credit to all the energy our perky young instructor happily shared with our class. she positioned herself at the front of the room, and while she called out the moves, she demonstrated what we were supposed to be doing. move quickly to keep your heart rate up, she instructed, as she pulsed. and bounced. and kicked.

and maybe if i kept at it, i thought, i would be that much closer to having a lean, tight body just like hers. but then again, she's probably half my age. and probably has never experienced the joy of having to lose 20 pounds of post-pregnancy weight. twice.

i tried my darned best to keep up. that is, until i realized that all that jerky movement was bound to injure my already weak back. or knees. or some other body part that hadn't seen an aerobics class since jane fonda wore leg warmers. to make matters worse, if i waved those weighted bars up and down as quickly as kim was doing, there was a chance i could tweak muscles in my wrists, elbows, and/or shoulders. it had taken me almost a year to get to a virtually pain-free state; i wasn't about to pull something else and start physical therapy all over again...

the voices of all my yoga teachers started ringing in my ears -- listen to your body... work to your own ability... don't compare yourself to the others... this is not a competition. i slowed down my pace and concentrated on keeping all my movements slow, smooth, and controlled. so what if i made one lunge for every two kim made? or one side bend for every three of hers? or did bent-knee crunches while she had her legs straight up in the air? i was determined to get through the class injury-free, and if it meant doing things differently, so be it.

when it was all over, i managed to emerge from the class relatively unscathed; however, i did end up feeling some minor discomfort in my forearm later than night and stiffness in my neck the next morning.

maybe i just found the perfect excuse for a heavenly massage :)

Sunday, March 18, 2007

rites of spring

This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending March 21. Here is what’s happening in the skies of Southern California:

Spring begins in the northern Hemisphere at 5:07 p.m. on Tuesday, March 20. This is the Vernal or March equinox, and the sun, crossing the celestial equator from south to north, causes daylight to be about 12 hours long worldwide. If you make a reservation to visit Griffith Observatory on this date, be sure to catch the sun setting at 7:04 p.m., aligned with the new equinox sunset marker on the west walkway of the Observatory’s grounds.

the spring equinox is the time of year when there is an equal amount of darkness and light; the daytime will be exactly as long as the night. since the seasons don't really change much here in southern california (especially with the climate changes that seem to be making our winters warmer and almost spring-like), we can still celebrate the fact that our days are going to start getting longer and beach weather is going to be upon us in no time :)

here's what's scheduled around town this coming week:

Spring Equinox Celebration
Exhale Center for Sacred Movement, Venice
Tuesday, March 20th 9:00am
Cost: Regular class fee

Join Hala Khouri + Suzanne Sterling for a special ritual yoga class to call in the spring with live music and chanting.

Celebrate Spring! with Gurmukh and Gurushabd
Golden Bridge Yoga, Hollywood
Wednesday, March 21st 6:00-7:30pm
Cost: $15 or keytag

Join us as we celebrate spring and the Spring Equinox! We’ll chant dance, do yoga and meditate with the power of this special time of year. We’ll close the class with a special double-gong meditation!

March Theme: Spring Equinox

The Awareness Center, Pasadena
Wednesday, March 21st 7:00-9:30pm
Cost: $35

The Sacred Breathing Circle is a journey into the Self. It allows you to identify and release mental, emotional and physical blocks and bring light to areas that need healing. Experience an ancient pranic technique, called the "Healing Breath," that promotes healing and regeneration on all levels. Please come prepared for a short Kundalini yoga set.

Special Friday Night Candlelight Restorative Yoga with Stefan
Garden of Yoga, Woodland Hills
Friday, March 23rd 6:30-8:00pm
Cost: $14 (or just use a class from your series and pay only $13)

Relax, unwind and rejuvinate as we move into Spring with a special Friday night Restorative class with Stefan.
Restorative Yoga is a series of poses, which are supported through the use of bolsters, blankets, and pillows. The body can be held in each pose without having to exert any effort, creating a deeply healing and meditative experience. This class opens the body's energy channels to stimulate, soothe and relieve the effects of chronic stress.
Therapeutic and relaxing experiences that will leave you in complete bliss.
RSVP early - this class will be full soon (15 people only in this class).

Spring Equinox Yoga Mala with Jo Tastula
Yoga Loft Manhattan Beach
Friday, March 23rd 7:00-9:30pm
Cost: $25

Practice an ancient ritual of celebrating the change of seasons by initiating your own seasonal change. Join us as we welcome the spring season and set bearings for the warmer months ahead. The 108 Surya Namaskar take 2 1/2 hours to complete, so come prepared for a potent journey ~

Spring Awakening with Annmarie Solo
Yoga Works Main Street, Santa Monica
Friday, March 23rd 7:30-9:30pm
Cost: $20 by 3/16; $25 after 3/16

Spring is a time of planting seeds and rebirth. Join us in this Nada Yoga Spring Ritual Vinyasa Flow Class. We will flow to Live Music and Embody our intention for spring. Music is a catalyst for deepening your practice and cultivating rhythm within.
We will take you on a sound landscape journey through this intentional workshop creating an atmosphere for the seeds to take root and encourage growth with attention and great care. This workshop will be a strong flow combined with pranayama and chanting.
This workshop is appropriate for students of all levels; however, some familiarity with general poses is suggested.

Equinox Celebration with Daniel Stewart
Rising Lotus Yoga, Sherman Oaks
Sunday, March 25th 10:30am-12:00pm
Cost: Regular class fee

The Vernal Equinox is a time of rebirth and new life. Our soul stirs as the dark days of winter are replaced by the growing light of spring ... and consciousness.
Join Daniel for a dynamic flow class to shake out the cobwebs and celebrate the return of spring. We’ll chant a cycle of OM to set our intentions, planting seeds for new growth and watering them with the sweat of our devotion in a shortened Mala of 18 sun salutations.
Comfort with Vinyasa Flow recommended.

Friday, March 16, 2007

yoga and PTSD

after publishing my last post on this weekend's peace march which will mark the 4th anniversary of the war on iraq, i found this piece about how yoga has been helping war vets cope with post traumatic stress disorder. it aired on NPR's morning edition last march 1st.

you can listen to the broadcast by clicking on the link below:

War Veterans Seek Peace Through Yoga
by Allan Coukell

A group of war veterans has turned to yoga, an ancient Hindu spiritual practice, to cope with the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.
At the Central Massachusetts Yoga Studio, an hour west of Boston, teacher Joan Platt leads a meditation for veterans from World War II, Vietnam, Operation Desert Storm and Iraq.
They lie on their backs in "Shavasan" position. Some of the veterans are lean and muscular while others are paunchy and arthritic. Together, they represent half a century of major conflict.

Painful Memories

Michael Jakonski, who served in the Marines during the Vietnam War, says he spent 40 years "scraping by" with his anger and depression. Before the Iraq war, he used to scoff at post traumatic stress disorder.
"But the Iraq war really threw me for a loop. [I] found myself on the top of a mountain crying one day, and thought, 'I've got to do something about this.'"
Jakonski first turned to yoga to help a stiff neck. But he found that it helped his anger, too. He's not alone.
"Anger is a problem that all combat veterans have," says Tom Boyle, a Vietnam veteran and a counselor at the Worcester Massachusetts Veterans Center.
Boyle started the veterans yoga program two years ago to help veterans like Jakonski.
"[Anger] becomes part of you," Boyle says. "It is just an instinctive response to any kind of threat."
Tom Connor is another veteran whose old memories were triggered by the new images on the news from Iraq. He served in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968.
Despite efforts to suppress his painful memories of combat, Conner says he started losing sleep and having nightmares.

Finding Peace

"Everything [teacher Joan Platt] is doing is about relaxing, slowing down, becoming mindful," Boyle explains.
During the yoga class, Platt asks that all those in the studio feel happy, peaceful and liberated.
PTSD does not go away, Boyle says. But you can learn to live with it, and that's where the yoga classes come in.
"There is a theme of peace that is woven into just about everything that is said," he says, "because that is what the philosophy of yoga is: It is about attaining peace."
So far, most of the veterans have been paying for the sessions themselves, but Boyle hopes the Veterans Affairs system will start to offer yoga nationwide.
He already sees PTSD and other symptoms of battle stress in troops back from Iraq — and he knows thousands more are still to come.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

give peace a chance

i received this email today from the people behind the peace is every step LA movement. since they're sponsoring a peace walk that marks the 4th anniversary of an event that has affected all of our lives in some way, i thought it worthy of a mention:

Dear Friend,

We are pleased to offer you two opportunities to Practice Peace this coming Saturday, March 17th. That day marks the 4th year of the Iraq War. In the morning at 9 AM there will be a special Peacewalk at the International Buddhist Meditation Center in Koreatown. At noon we will meet in Hollywood at the scheduled public march and we will form a contingent of those who wish to represent the energy of "Create Peace By Being Peace: Practice Peace in Action, Speech and Mind". We hope that you will add your energy to ours by joining us for either of both of these events.

Please help us spread the word by forwarding this email to your circle and perhaps by printing out, posting and distributing the flyers posted at: peaceiseverystepla.org/peaceiseverystep/flyers.html

Thank you!

4th Anniversary of Iraq Invasion Peacewalk
Saturday, March 17th at 9 AM
International Buddhist Meditation Center
928 S. New Hampshire Avenue, Koreatown
(one block north of Olympic, one block west of Vermont)

The International Buddhist Meditation Center is sponsoring, in conjunction with Peace Is Every Step, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Zen Center of Los Angeles, Americans for the Department of Peace and others, a special Peacewalk on the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. We will enjoy a peacewalk (“kinhin” in the Zen tradition) around Koreatown and return to the Center for traditional zen-style sitting, an eating meditation and dharma sharing. We will then take our energy of peace via the nearby subway to the march in Hollywood.

"Create Peace By Being Peace" Contingent at the Hollywood Peace March
Saturday, March 17th at 12 PM
Corner of Hollywood and Vine, Hollywood

Let those who believe in Peace as a matter of spiritual consequence demonstrate the spirit of Peace together on March 17th in Hollywood. Please join us in walking peacefully behind a banner reading:

Create Peace By Being Peace
Practice Peace in Action, Speech and Mind

We will meet at the corner of Hollywood and Vine at 12:00 PM. Look for the “Create Peace By Being Peace” banner and the smiling, peaceful folks with brown “Peace Is Every Step” t-shirts. For more info and updates on the “Create Peace” Contingent please visit peaceiseverystepla.org/createpeace.html

Please note that we are not affiliated with the anti-war organizations who have organized the demonstration in Hollywood. The only views we endorse are those contained in this email and on our web sites.

the anti-war protest march in hollywood is being organized by ANSWER LA (act now to stop war & end racism) and will start at noon by the hollywood and vine metro red line station. the 1.2 mile march will end at the corner of hollywood and highland (where there's another red line station) and will be followed by a rally featuring a number of speakers plus a free live concert by ozomatli and jackson browne.

more information about the march and rally can be found at

Monday, March 12, 2007

a kirtan primer

while skimming through my latest batch of downloaded podcasts, i came across a gem from NPR's weekend edition saturday. in the march 3rd edition, lynn neary interviews sacred music composer jai uttal about the indian meditative chanting practice called kirtan.

you can listen to that interview by clicking here:
Grammy-Nominated Artist Makes Music for Yoga

if you've never experienced kirtan before, you owe it to yourself to listen in. and who knows? i might even see you at the next chantfest at one of the local yoga studios :)

if you're unable to get to that link right now, here are a few excerpts from neary and uttal's Q&A session:

Neary: This is Jai Uttal, famous as a leader of kirtan, an ancient form of meditative chanting. He is also a Grammy-nominated artist and leading musician in the world music genre. Jai performs at yoga studios, spiritual retreats, and workshops. He also performs in concerts around the world. Welcome, Jai!

Uttal: Thank you, Lynn.

Neary: You are a native New Yorker; you grew up in New York City. How did you discover Indian music?

Uttal: As a young teenager, just from going through the record bins in Folkways Records down in the West Village, searching through all the world music albums I could find, and coming across these amazing records by Ali Akbar Khan, Ravi Shankar, and the Bauls of Bengal street musicians of India.

Neary: What made you eventually decide to focus on spiritual music? Did you have a spiritual awakening that grew out of the music? or vice-versa?

Uttal: You know, John Coltrane is spiritual music. Roscoe Holcum from Kentucky is spiritual music. Indian devotional music is spiritual music as well. But any music that's really coming from the soul or from the heart connects us with the spirit.

Neary: First of all, tell us something about the origins of kirtan.

Uttal: It comes from the very, very old systems of yoga in India. We in the west very often misunderstand yoga to be a set of physical exercises. But yoga is a way to attune the entire system -- body, mind, spirit, emotions -- to the divine. And kirtan is a way of channeling the feelings in the heart that which are usually very unchannelable and using them as fuel to become close to God, close to the spirit.

Nataraj Nataraja Jai Shiva Shankara Nataraja
Nataraj Nataraja Jai Shiva Shankara Nataraja

Neary: Maybe you can explain what goes on in this chanting.

Uttal: Kirtan -- it's a musical form, but it's also a meditative practice. At the most basic level, what we do is sit and sing mantras, ancient sanskrit prayers, and sing them over and over and over again to a variety of different melodies. It can be very tranquil, it can be very sedate, but it can also be super-rocking and passionate and wild. But the mantras are repeated over and over and over again and something about that repetition just quiets the mind.
Kirtan is cool because you can sing love, you can sing anger, you can sing yearning, you can sing frustration, you can sing sensuality, you can sing everything and put it all into the same song.

Neary: When you lead a group of people in kirtan, is there a change in the room afterwards?

Uttal: It seems very different. It seems transformed. People walk into that room -- and when I say "people" I say myself also -- filled with all the thoughts and all the anxieties of the day of their life, of our life, and after a couple of hours of singing, makes everyone very open, very grounded, and at the same time, kind of euphoric.

Neary: How hard is it to learn how to do kirtan?

Uttal: It doesn't have to be fancy, it doesn't have to be super musical. It just has to be truthful.

(at this point, lynn neary asks jai uttal to lead her through a chant. he has her chant "ram", and she giggles self-consciously as she follows his lead.)

Gopala Gopala Devakinandana Gopala
Gopala Gopala Devakinandana Gopala

Neary: Does music help you practice yoga? Have you actually tried practicing yoga to the music that you've composed and does it help?

Uttal: It helps me. You know, some people like to do yoga in silence so they can really focus on their body and on what's going on. Myself, I can't stand focusing on my body when I do yoga because I started when i was 49 years old and it's too painful! So listening to nice music while I'm practicing yoga really helps me get into it.

Bolo Radha Ramana Hari Bol
Bolo Radha Ramana Hari Bol

Uttal: I have a teacher named Ali Akbar Khan, who is 85 years old and is considered perhaps the greatest living musician of India. And many people consider him one of the greatest living musicians in the world. One day I was talking to him and I said, "What does it feel like to play a concert and you are THE master?" He looked at me, took a deep drag from his cigarette, and took a sip from his scotch and said: "Music is like an ocean. The deeper I swim into it, the further away the other shore gets." He said it's very rare for him at a concert to have all the systems aligned -- his body, his heart, his soul, the sound system, the audience. He said, "When that comes together, I'm not there anymore; it's pure ecstasy."

Neary: Is that what you're going for? The pure ecstasy you're going to find on that other shore?

Uttal: (laughs) Yes!

Neary: It was great talking with you. Thanks for joining us.

Uttal: Thank you, Lynn.

Om Nama Shivaya Om Nama Shivaya
Om Nama Shivaya Om Nama Shivaya

jai uttal and the pagan love orchestra's mondo rama was nominated for a grammy award for best new age album in 2003.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

losing sleep

my running group will be holding its post-marathon celebration later this evening. and as in many years past, not only do i look forward to partying with the friends that i've been training with this year, but i also enjoy going out of sheer curiosity. after all, it's always fun to find out what all those sweaty runners look like when they're showered, shaved, and have all their clothes on :) it's still a bit of a shock whenever i first walk into the room and witness the sea of neckties and stiletto heels, but after i mentally re-clothe everyone in coolmax singlets and running shoes, i eventually figure out who's who. and once the ties are loosened and the heels are kicked off when everyone hits the dance floor, it's almost like saturday morning all over again, with bodies moving around, having a great time.

ah, good times.

i can already predict that it's going to be another sleep-deprived night for me. yes, there's a chance i could party until the hotel staff shoos us out and closes the doors (which i've done a number of times). there's also a good chance that i'll have to drive all the way to orange county after the party to visit my my sister and her ailing cat (the apple of her eye, the love of her life, her reason for being -- with apologies to my brother-in-law, who'd like to think that i've just described him).

and if that weren't bad enough, we'll be losing an hour on the clock tonight. yes, unless you've been too busy meditating and working on your levitation skills, daylight saving time starts this sunday, march 11th. and yes, it's earlier than usual; three weeks earlier. thank the energy policy act of 2005. i won't go into details; you can read all the sordid details of the why, when, and how of daylight saving time here.

and honestly, the only downside of it starting in march instead of april is that, unless you've changed all the software behind any device you use that's controlled by a clock, there's a chance you could experience your own version of a mini-Y2K (and you remember how crazed everyone was about that). runners will be late for their races this sunday. churchgoers will be late for services. yoga students (maybe even me) will be late for class. but wait, there's more. the time stamp on all your transactions (ATM, email, etc.) will be wrong. your travel plans could go haywire if flight arrival/departure times aren't synchronized. your video recorders will record the wrong shows. and unless you reset your alarm clock, there's a good chance you'll be late for work on monday. and i'm sure you won't be the only one.

speaking of being late, i have to hop in the shower. the party starts in a couple of hours and i still have no clue what i'm going to wear tonight. maybe i'll wear something short so that people will at least recognize me by my legs :)

ah, good times...

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

abducted by aliens

on my way home from work yesterday evening, i called my sister, who was likewise homeward bound. i asked her if she wanted to meet me for dinner. to which she immediately replied:

who are you and what did you do with my sister??? you can't be the joni i know -- there's no way she would be skipping her daily yoga class!!

i laughed and assured her that i hadn't been abducted by aliens. i was suffering from the usual two-days-post-marathon soreness in my quads and had a difficult time walking normally; the pain caused by just thinking about knee bends was enough to make me give up any plans of taking a class that day. since trying to walk off the stiffness in my legs seemed like a better option, i ended up meeting her in westwood, where we both spent the next hour or so walking around and chatting over a leisurely meal.

and the scary thing was that i actually caught myself thinking: this is way more fun than taking a yoga class...

oh my god... could it be true? had aliens actually abducted the real me?!?

when i woke up the next morning, i wondered if it all had just been a bad dream. how could i even think that anything else was more fun than yoga? (i can't believe i just said that. now i'm really scaring myself!)

anyway, back to my old yogic self, i made a quick getaway from my physical therapy appointment this afternoon to get to the lululemon store at the third street promenade for hillary rubin's 7pm yoga class. i guess i must have been a bit too anxious to get there on time; i made it with thirty minutes to spare. trying hard to control the urge to shop, i checked the yoga studio postings and chatted with the sales associates, but it was inevitable -- i spotted a cute yoga mat bag and couldn't find it in me to put it back on the shelf. ten minutes and $20 (plus tax) later, i found myself toting a lulu shopping bag with my new acquisition neatly folded up inside.

just then, hillary walked in and introduced me to a friend whom she brought along with her. turns out that CC (or was it CJ? why is it so hard for me to remember names?) was there to play a tibetan singing bowl during savasana at the end of the class. muy cool.

in true anusara fashion, hillary started the class talking about the theme for our class: yoga and emotions and boundaries. and all throughout the class, while no one really got emotional (at least not outwardly), we all had the chance to explore our boundaries. during our short sixty minute session, we were given the chance to see how far we could expand our arms, our legs, our hearts. even our fingers and toes were actively reaching out towards infinity.

and what's an anusara class without the usual student demonstrations as well as partner work featuring -- but of course -- handstands! but rather than having our partners merely help lift our hips and legs into a vertical position, hillary had us do something i'd never done before. it went something like this: while i assumed a modified standing split, my partner stood beside me and gently supported my outstretched leg with her hand. pushing against her hand with that leg, i lifted the opposite leg, and when it was close to vertical, she lifted up the leg she was holding on to until i was in full handstand position. ta da! if all handstands could only be that easy...

i just found out that hillary will be teaching an arm balance class next month at city yoga. is it possible that i may find myself executing a proper bakasana just as easily? it sure sounds like something worth looking into, doesn't it?

as for the ongoing series of wednesday night yoga classes at lulu santa monica, the instructors scheduled to teach this month are:
march 14 - rich tola
march 21 - julie carmen
march 28 - peter gehre (as usual, i'm not sure if i got his name correct)

all classes will start at 7pm, are an hour long, and as with all lulu community events, they're FREE!

since i've never taken classes with any of them before, i'm going to try to make those dates, unless i'm abducted (once again?) by aliens, body snatchers, or what have you...

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

yoga snippets

i must have slept so much after sunday's race that i find myself still wide awake at this ungodly hour of the morning :) in an attempt to lull myself to sleep, i've finally gotten around to checking the news feeds on my google reader and found these yoga-related articles. happy reading!

from KAKE.com, the ABC affiliate in wichita, KS --


2-18-07 - More than 9.3 million women in the U.S. are using some sort of infertility treatment, but some local families are turning to an alternative to become fertile, yoga.

Two Wichita families shared their stories with KAKE News; both of them had been successful with having a baby, despite failed attempts through science. Laura McFall and Jenny McHugh took Fertility Yoga classes at Yoga Central. Instructor Pam Welch says yoga is all about removing stress.

"The different positions we put you in will force the body to come to a relaxed state, releasing the chemicals that help with relaxation versus the chemicals that stress you out."

Welch says the program de-stresses your mind and relaxes the body, specifically the reproductive organs. She says the techniques she teaches also help couples deal with the anxiety of infertility and the disappointment it can bring.

Welch admits yoga by itself can’t help everyone, but whether it’s alone or combined with medical treatment she says practicing yoga can't hurt and it's a lot less expensive.

But what do medical experts think of yoga for fertility? We went to the Center for Reproductive Medicine for answers.

"I certainly don’t think it hurts in any way, but there are no good scientific studies to prove that yoga in and of itself is a viable treatment for infertility," says Dr. Bruce Tjaden of the Center for Reproductive Medicine.

Dr. Tjaden and his partner Dr. Granger have been treating infertility for more than 15 years in Wichita.

“I think lots and lots of couples will go to pretty impressive extremes to try and become pregnant."

He encourages couples, especially those going through invitro, to seek some sort of help with stress whether it's counseling, exercise or yoga.

Both couples KAKE spoke with did prenatal yoga throughout their pregnancies and now take yoga just for themselves. If you are interested in fertility yoga the next workshop at yoga central is scheduled for March 3rd. The cost is 40 dollars for one or 65 a couple.

from the associated press --


TEL AVIV, Israel Feb 20, 2007 (AP)— Stressed-out commuters got a peaceful surprise as they boarded an Israeli bus on Tuesday: a yoga instructor with a microphone coaching them how to breathe correctly.

The passengers stretched their hands toward the ceiling and bent their heads forward as Miri Harovi, a 21-year veteran yoga teacher, guided them through a set of exercises that can be performed while sitting down.

"I think that because of our history of terror on buses," Harovi said, referring to past suicide attacks that have targeted crowded buses. "It's very important to do yoga to relax and to show everyone that life is stronger than the fear."

Harovi said the idea of for a yoga bus came to her in the middle of the night while she was sleeping. She talked to the Tel Aviv bus company and they jumped on the idea.

Most of the passengers on the bus participated, and many said they felt relaxed and more ready for work. The yoga bus has run every Tuesday for three weeks, but Harovi hopes that the program will continue and expand. She and her husband, Gilad Harovi, have worked for years to promote yoga on Israeli television and in public schools.

"We want people to try yoga and feel how good it is," Harovi said.

and finally, from thatsfit.com --

by Jonathon Morgan

Most of us are familiar with yoga as a method for shedding pounds, toning muscles, and generally improving our health -- but can it also help you bond with your dog?

The Japan Dog Yoga Association thinks so. Their recent "Dog Yoga" lesson was aimed not only at improving human health, but also the connection between owner and pet.

Instructor Momoe Yamamoto demonstrates in the photo at right.

What do you think? Sort of gives "downward facing dog" a whole new meaning, right?

Monday, March 05, 2007

the mind-body connection

i ran the LA marathon yesterday. it was the first marathon i ran since my ACL surgery in january 2005. (note that i said ran; i walked three marathons later that year just to prove to myself that i was back to normal. but reality quickly set in; not only was i not giving my knee a chance to heal properly, but registering for and traveling to distant marathons while living off unemployment wasn't exactly a smart thing to do.)

after limiting myself to 5K's for almost a year, i gradually built my mileage back up. the moment i was able to run a half marathon without any knee problems, i knew i was ready to train for my next marathon: the 2007 LA marathon, with its new point-to-point course.

so yesterday morning, while i waited at the start line for the marathon to begin, i cued up the music on my new ipod and did a quick system check.

on one hand, my mind kept saying: 26.2 miles? no problem. i've done this before. at least 40 times before. so what if i'm sleep-deprived and really haven't been eating nor hydrating properly. it's never stopped me before...

on the other hand, my body kept saying: am i nuts? it's been almost a year and a half since i last completed a marathon, i haven't trained as well as i should have, and i expect to do WHAT? IN THIS HEAT?!?! (note: the day's forecast was for sunny skies, with highs approaching 80 degrees)

the starting horn sounded, and while randy newman's i love la blasted through the loudspeakers, i started my watch as i crossed the timing mats with the rest of the crowd.

for the first 10 miles of the race, my mind and my body cooperated quite nicely. i was running comfortably, making sure to keep my speed in check even if i was tempted to catch up with friends who were passing me. it will get much warmer today, i kept reminding myself. conserve your energy. stop at every water station and hydrate.

then at around mile 11, my mind said: it's getting hot. and sunny. i'm not liking this at all. at that point, my body responded: see? i told you so...

and just like that, my legs started to cramp up. and my feet started to go numb. i stopped to loosen my shoelaces to restore the blood flow to my rapidly-expanding feet and started to walk. and every time i resumed running, the pain would quickly return. resigned to the fact that i had to give my body a break if i wanted to make it to the finish line, i gave up trying to run and resorted to power walking instead. i was going to get there slowly, but at least i was doing the best i could.

when i reached my running group's cheering station at mile 22, i was about ready to give up. i was tired, frustrated, and overheated. there were only 4.2 miles to go, but at the pace i was going, it was going to take me about an hour to traverse that distance! i knew i had to keep going. i grabbed a handful of cheez-its and pretzels, thanked the crew for their moral support, and continued walking.

as i approached the bridge at mile 23, i spotted the race clock. i was now into my fifth hour. and there was no way i was going to let myself make it to the sixth. in fact, there was no way i was going to allow myself a finishing time that was worse than that of my last marathon, 5:42, which i had walked! (ok, so maybe i had run some of it...)

with the skyline of downtown la looming ahead, i cranked up the volume on my ipod and started to run. and run. and just like that, my mind took over. pausing a few times to give my body a break, i was determined to keep running. i passed a few friends who had passed me earlier and kept going.

i turned the last corner. the finish line was in sight. slowly, my legs started to feel the strain of that last uphill climb. through sheer willpower, i coerced my legs to hold out for just a few more seconds, just until i crossed the timing mats. 5:45! i had missed my goal by three minutes, but i had finished, warm weather and all.

at that point, my mind said: see? i told you so.

and my body said: oh yeah? well, so did i.

so in the spirit of reconciliation -- and restoration -- i treated both my mind and body to denise kaufman's yin yoga class at exhale venice earlier this evening. holding mild stretches for long periods of time gave both my mind and my body a chance to release tension, relax, and reconnect.

after all, i have to let them make peace with each other; there's another marathon i plan to run next month...

Thursday, March 01, 2007

passing along an invite...

since i missed hillary's inversions workshop last sunday, i'm making up for it by passing along the invite she sent me earlier today. after all, she did ask me to tell a friend :)


please come & do yoga for FREE! in santa monica at the Lululemon store, www.lululemon.com/santamonica/santamonicablvd

with me - Hillary Rubin

class is from 7-8pm

Parking on 4th in parking structure and we could have a bite at RFD!!

invite your friends & spread the love as we move the racks to the side and flow with the ocean doing our sun salutations.

FREE! water provided by Liquid Om

love see you there as this is a step for me onto the west side to share the teachings of yoga.

bring a friend or tell a friend who is over there....

with love & joy,

see you at lulu santa monica this coming wednesday!