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Monday, November 17, 2008

a major league celebration

fresh on the heels of the much-celebrated world series championship of the philadelphia phillies, i spent a weekend in philadelphia with my youngest daughter earlier this month for some major league celebrating of our own: it was her 21st birthday!

besides that momentous occasion, there were other reasons for my visit:

~ i needed a few thousand more air miles to retain my elite status on an airline that offers more legroom and free checked baggage to customers who fly at least 25,000 miles a year. and if i was going to have to fly one more cross-country trip to get there, it made total sense to spend the time and money on something special!

~ the last time i had attended a kirtan with david newman in LA, i had told him that i would try to attend his class at his studio in philly, yoga on main, when he was back at home base. and it just so happened that he was in town the weekend of my planned visit.

~ it was also a chance for me to check out the studios that i had added to my "the next time i'm in town" list when i was there two years ago (was it really that long ago?).

so in my usual crazed fashion, here's how that weekend went (mind you, this was in addition to the major league shopping and dining my daughter and i did together):

i flew into philadelphia early saturday morning on the red-eye from san diego -- for some reason, the least expensive fare had me flying from LAX to SAN, then on to PHL. and i swear i'll never do that again, not only because it required me to take a shuttle bus from the distant commuter terminal to the main terminal for my connection, but because i had to relinquish the $2 bottle of water i had bought in LAX because i had to pass through that second security checkpoint... just to find out that a similar bottle was $3 in san diego!! talk about highway robbery! :(

going back to my original story... it was around 6am when i arrived in philly. it was early enough to catch a morning yoga class, so that's exactly what i did.

Yoga on Main
4363 Main Street, Manayunk, PA 19127
(215) 482-7877
website: http://www.yogaonmain.com/

Yoga On Main is a holistic center, that provides educational opportunities, services and products, which support a healthy and spiritual lifestyle. It is a place to learn the ancient system of yoga and other transformative practices, which integrate, heal and nourish the body, mind and spirit. It is our goal to operate, serve and prosper as an example of the spiritual principles and practices that we advocate.

At our studio you will discover the joys of yoga and the profound benefits of regular spiritual practice. Come and share community, feel love, let go, have fun, experience the mystical, and deepen your connection with the Divine in daily living. Join us!

yoga on main was founded by david newman, rising kirtan artist in the yoga world. it was during his travels to LA and DC that i had a chance to chat with him, and with the release of his latest album, love peace chant, and a kirtan to celebrate the occasion, it seemed like as good a reason as any to see how he was doing. and to check out his studio as well.

manayunk is located a few miles north of center city philadelphia. it's a quaint neighborhood whose main street is lined with trendy restaurants, bars, and boutiques. and as expected, there was a starbucks located right smack in the middle of things. it was there that i decided to sit and pass the time with a chai latte while waiting for the studio doors to open.

david was scheduled to lead an inner fire yoga workshop -- a unique style of yoga which offers a complete physical experience while honoring the spiritual nature of yoga -- on sunday afternoon, but because it would have taken too big of a chunk of my mother-daughter bonding time, i opted to take the saturday 8am inner fire class with the studio's co-director, shiva das, instead.

but as things always seem to turn out for me on road trips, shiva das was feeling under the weather; his class was subbed by dawn reid, a teacher who wasn't listed on the regular schedule. since she was trained in the inner fire method and seemed like a really sweet soul, i went ahead and paid for the drop-in class, then made my way to the carpeted classroom on the second floor of the tri-level studio.

by the time dawn walked into the classroom to start the class, there were at least 8 of us in the sunlit room. a good size, i must say, for an early morning weekend class.

the class started with slow stretches and progressed to very gentle sun salutations. in fact, since most of the class consisted of cat-cows and child poses, i found it very easy to follow along despite my three hours' worth of fitful sleep on an airline seat that didn't recline (argh). after our class was led to quiet savasana, i'm pretty sure i fell asleep, even if it was just for a minute or two. but then again, with a full day ahead of me, i probably needed it anyway.

after spending the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon with my daughter, i left my daughter to party with her dormmates while i did some partying of my own -- at david newman's kirtan that evening.

Kirtan with David Newman
Celebrating the Release of David’s New CD “LOVE, PEACE, CHANT”
Join us for an evening of ecstatic devotional chanting.

so back to yoga on main i drove. unfortunately, instead of the warm sunshine i experienced during my earlier visit, it was now dark and rainy. and instead of nice quiet streets with gobs of parking, not a single parking space was to be found. i circled. and circled. apparently, saturday night in manayunk, rain or no rain, is the time for well-dressed trendsters to come out en masse in search of good food and good times. after passing on the lone spot remaining in a lot that charged $12 for the evening (and i thought LA rates were bad), i found a lot with a "discounted" rate of $10. argh. i was already late for the kirtan and couldn't figure out where else to go.

there must have been a hundred chanters gathered in that same second-floor classroom (ok, so maybe i exaggerate, but i did have to climb over quite a number of bodies before i reached my cramped spot way in the back of the room). up in front, alongside david, was mira, the percussionist and breathy vocalist behind all his music, plus some other musicians i could barely make out from where i was seated. it didn't seem to matter to me who they were or what they were playing; it all sounded exquisite.

david newman's style can probably be described as folksy. unlike most kirtan stars whose instrument of choice is a harmonium, david strums an acoustic guitar while he sings. his sound is uniquely his own; it's nothing like krishna das's solemn devotionals, jai uttal's ecstatic wailing, nor dave stringer's rockin' mantras. david introduced one of his chants as "country eastern", which could have been an apt description of many of the other songs he performed that evening.

when the kirtan ended late that evening, we were all treated to a very unusual prasad -- a chocolate-frosted cake with the words "jai obama! love, peace, chant!" written in large letters on top. with it being just a few days after the very closely-watched presidential election, it was clear who the candidate of choice was in this swing state!

click here for the youtube video of his CD release kirtan back in LA (funny how i missed it when it was held right by my home only because i was in peru at the time). i did manage to buy a copy of the CD while i was in philadelphia... and got david to autograph it while i was there :)

just like the wind that started to blast the city, my philly weekend just whooshed by; soon it was monday, back to school for my daughter and back to LA for me. i wanted to catch one more class before i left town, and i managed to find the perfect one a short distance from where i was staying.

Wake Up Yoga West Philadelphia
4916 Baltimore Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19143
(215) 729-9378
website: http://www.wakeupyoga.com/

A typical class at Wake Up Yoga offers breath awareness, centering/meditation, well-sequenced and clearly explained asana (physical postures) and, of course, Savasana (final relaxation). Connect with the source as you chant OM, or simply feel the vibration of the seed sound dancing through your sweet self. Be an integral member of a lovely community of like-minded people as you unveil reality right before your very eyes.

taking an energizing vinyasa class at wake up yoga sounded like the best way to start the morning: Greet the day with movement and breath! A balanced vinyasa yoga class, tailored to whomever is present. Appropriate for all levels, this offering is challenging, soothing, and inspiring!

this west philadelphia studio is a branch of the wake up yoga studio in fairmount that i had visited during my last visit to philly and was just a little over a mile from the university of pennsylvania campus where my daughter's enrolled. i probably could easily have gotten there by trolley from the hotel, but with a tight deadline to get myself showered and cleared out of my hotel room by noon, i opted to drive instead. luckily, there was ample FREE parking in front of the studio (did i mention that i got a parking ticket while in manayunk saturday morning because my parking meter ran out before class let out? grrrr....)

our teacher was jake miller, a very pleasant guy who seemed to really enjoy teaching our mixed-level class. and his students seemed to really enjoy being in his class; many of them were regulars whom he knew by name. i chatted with him briefly while the students continued to stream into the room and found out that he had done some thai yoga massage training with saul david raye here in LA. and he's planning to return next summer for more workshops. who knows... maybe i'll run into him the next time he's in town!

as for his class, it was a juicy vinyasa flow with some long holds thrown in. while the poses themselves weren't that complex, there was some challenge in it for all of us. i got to work on my handstand, which has become such a high for me ever since i've been able to get my feet up against the wall without a spot (but without a wall? not anytime soon, i can tell you that!).

with other classes on the wake up yoga schedule such as tranquil vinyasa, vigorous vinyasa, harmonizing vinyasa, and even yoga for less mobile bodies, i'd wished i'd had more time to try more of them. but i'm sure i'll get another chance to visit wake up yoga as well as the other studios that i'd missed before the next philly pennant win!