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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

finding joy in santa monica

Ananda Los Angeles
2210 Main Street, Suite 208
Santa Monica, CA 90405
(310) 396-9900
website: www.anandala.org

Ananda, which means "joy" in Sanskrit, was founded in 1968 by J. Donald Walters (Swami Kriyananda) to support others in their quest for spiritual growth.

Ananda is about supporting your quest for inner peace and happiness. Feel cared about by a dynamic, non-judgmental and supportive network of friends as you meet the challenges and victories of your own spiritual journey.

Ananda is a vibrant spiritual community. We offer Meditation, Yoga philosophy and Self-understanding classes. Ananda Yoga and individual healing sessions help you keep calm, healthy and centered. Sunday services and Social events with friends will feed your soul. Come regularly; drop by on occasion or call to chat. We're here to give you support for your spiritual life.

my first taste of the ananda style of yoga was in july of this year at inner harmony yoga in san pedro. while i found it to be a very gentle and comforting form of yoga, the location of the studio was a bit inconvenient for me (i think it's safe to say that having to drive 28 miles to get to anything isn't something i'd like to do on a regular basis!).

it was also at around that time that i was sent an invitation to attend the launch of the latest book by swami kriyananda, the founder of the ananda organization. since the opening of the ananda center in LA was also imminent, i made sure i had myself added to the e-mail distribution list to receive updates on its progress.

and things moved along fairly quickly.

in late july, they started holding satsangs at the santa monica home of krishnadas and mantradevi lo cicero, leaders of the LA ananda group.

by the end of august, a permanent space was located in santa monica. shortly afterwards, the satsangs were moved to the new location.

after required renovations were completed by a crew of ananda volunteers, the dedication/blessing ceremony for the new ananda temple was held on september 29th; more services were added to the schedule.

then right before i left for vacation earlier this month, i received this update:

Ananda Yoga sessions will begin October 29th on Monday, Tuesdays, and Saturdays. Ananda Yoga is a gentle, rather than an aerobic, form of hatha yoga, suitable for all ages and body types. See website for times at www.anandala.org. First class is free, after that a single class is $12, 5 classes for $50.

but since i was still busy trying to learn how to say "oh my god, that's too expensive!" in french, the news didn't really sink in at the time.

then last saturday, as i was leaving a yoga class at the yoga works studio on main street, i happened to notice the rather large ANANDA LOS ANGELES banner on the building across the street. all of a sudden, all those email updates started to bubble up from the recesses of my time-shifted brain...

i crossed the street to pick up a class schedule and found myself arriving at the center just as the saturday evening satsang was about to begin. i introduced myself to the person standing by the door, said i was there to pick up some class information, and after meeting a really helpful group of people in the room, i excused myself and left with a handful of fresh-off-the-press flyers.

fast forward to earlier this evening, where i barely made the 7pm class due to the massive day-long tie-up on the 405 caused by an overturned big rig and crane. the freeway and all the surrounding north-south streets were backed up, and all the drivers were understandably perturbed. despite the fact that i spent a good half hour inching along the stretch adjacent to LAX, i kept myself fairly stress-free, thanks to my friends who gamely kept me entertained via cell phone (using a handsfree headset, of course!). what i didn't count on was not being able to find available street parking in the area where i normally park for free. nor being to easily circle the neighborhood because the traffic was all backed up on main, ocean, and 4th streets :( eventually, i found a small metered parking lot a block away and was just darned lucky that i had enough quarters to keep my car safe from the meter maid until i returned from class.

i made my way to the glass-enclosed building, pushed open the front door, and walked up the metal staircase. once i reached the top of the stairs, i immediately noticed that my surroundings were far more welcoming than the sterile lobby downstairs.

fyi -- the ananda center is located in a space that was the original location of world gym (founded by the late joe gold, former owner of gold's gyms, who decided to get back into the gym business after he had sold his name and business to another party). and if you stop to think about it, it's a bit ironic that yogis will now meditate and chant where bodybuilders used to grunt and groan. but hey, but that's LA for you...

the remodelling work was almost complete. new walls had been erected, flooring and carpeting were replaced, and most of the rooms had been appropriately furnished. i followed the trail of temporary signs that were posted on the walls until i found the yoga studio. there i found our teacher, ocean steffin, along with other ananda folk. after brief introductions, i excused myself so that i could quickly change into my yoga gear and rejoin the group.

our yoga class turned out to be a pleasantly gentle yet inspiring class. if nothing else, it succeeded in calming me down from my earlier commuting ordeal. at the start of the class, ocean reminded us that we needed to do what was right for us and our own bodies (advice i really need to heed while i'm recovering from my hamstring injury). before each pose, she would demonstrate tips on proper alignment. and as we followed her instructions, she would walk around the room and make adjustments as she saw fit. it was nice that i learned a couple of new alignment tips from her that i hadn't heard anywhere else. but then again, maybe i had heard them before from other teachers; i probably just wasn't paying attention at the time :(

one thing that made this practice different from any other was her reading of affirmations as we moved through the poses. in ananda, each pose is associated with a specific meditative phrase. for example, while we were holding still in tree pose, ocean repeated the affirmation: "i am calm, i am poised." honestly, it was hard for me to stay calm while i was teetering from side to side, but i guess that's the point; if i remained calm, i probably would have been able to maintain my balance more easily...

when it was all over, ocean put a stack of affirmation cards on the sign-in table; we were free to pick a card and keep it. i selected one that seemed to talk to me at the time. it said:

I am master of my energy.
I am master of myself.

energy -- that's something i'll definitely be needing this weekend! i have a marathon lined up for this coming sunday, and because of my hamstring injury, i'll be walking it instead of running it :( now what was it again that ocean said about doing what's right for our own bodies? i'll learn, eventually, i hope...