January 2008 Archives

P1260037.JPG I have been to enough kirtan events to know what to expect: beautiful, ecstatic Indian chants that propel me into joyful meditative states and celebrate Hanuman, Kali, and Ganesh. But there is something about David Newman's music that feels just a bit different. Though David, who is also known by his spiritual name Durga Das, has a deep sense of tradition in his music, there is also something thoughtful, poetic, personal, and almost romantic about his songs. The music feels like a combination of prayer and soft, percussive modern rock.
david_group.JPG David is young, but his spirit feels older, and he comes from the same lineage as Ram Das, Bhagavan Das, and Krishna Das, all of whom followed the great Indian guru, Neem Karoli Baba. During his kirtan here in San Francisco this past weekend, he gave out chant sheets (which was great because it prevented me from making up words to songs I didn't know!) and, along with his two amazing co-musicians, led the group in chants like Gung Ganapataye Namo Namah and Hare Krishna. He also talked a little bit about the universality of yoga and chanting. "There's a transmission that happens through kirtan that doesn't belong to Hindus or Indians," he said. "It belongs to the human heart."
The real icing on the cake was David's amazing rendition of the Hanuman Chalisa, which is just a masterful piece of music. To hear more of David's music, check out his website. You won't be able to get it out of your head.

New York: Brainwave NYC

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brainwave_large.jpgTo think about the brain, you have to use the brain. Which evokes the profound question that yogis and gurus an sages have been asking all along: Who is thinking that thought?

If your circuits still work after that, you'll be excited to know about Brainwave NYC, a festival around the city that aims to ask "how art, music, and meditation affect the brain." Answers are in the form of "more than a hundred public events, ranging from an exhibition of contemporary art and a cinema series to cutting-edge concerts, performances, talks, and panels."

The events, which started earlier this month and reach into April, range from visionary art to the "psychobiology of meditation" to a family yoga class and are sponsored by orgs diverse as The Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art, CUNY, and The Museum of Natural History, and more.

Here's a very small sampling of the incredibly rich brain pickings (condensed from the Brainwave site). For more info go to:
Brainwavenyc.org or The Rubin Museum of Art (RMA).

Lou Reed: Hudson River Wind Meditations
Lou Reed introduces his latest meditation compositions.
RMA Wednesday, January 30, 7 p.m. $25

The Tibetan Book of the Dead
What happens in our brains as we die, from the Tibetan Buddhist perspective. With Dr. Ramon Prats.
RMA Saturday, February 9, 4 p.m., $15

Bokara Legendre in conversation with Jean Houston, one of the principal founders of the Human Potential Movement.
RMA Wednesday, February 13, 6:30 p.m. $15

The Interfaith Experience
With visionary artist Alex Grey. This conversation takes place in the galleries during RMA's weekly K2 Lounge on Friday nights.
RMA Friday, February 22, 7 p.m., Free

Family Yoga
Action, stillness, and more action! Train your mind to control your body by playing fun yoga games.
RMA Saturday, February 23, 2 p.m., Free with Museum admission

The Neuroscience of The Groove
Quartet for Percussion and Brain Waves
Premiere of a live performance/experiment with drummers and electroencephalographs.
Science & the Arts, CUNY Graduate Center, Monday, March 24, 6:30 p.m., FREE

Train to Happiness
French biologist-turned-Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard in conversation with Mind and Life Institute pioneer Bennett Shapiro on their work with His Highness The Dalai Lama on cognitive function.
RMA Monday, April 14, 7 p.m., $25

Raghavan Iyer: 300 Curries

What effect do spices have on the way we see and taste the world? Followed by a tasting.
RMA Wednesday, April 16, 7:30 p.m., $25

(I'm extra-psyched about these events because I spent five months interviewing almost two dozen brain experts for this recent article on enhancing your brain function.)

Los Angeles: 247 pound Vegan?

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Today’s Wall Street Journal has an enlightening article about southern California-native and NFL star Tony Gonzalez called The 247 Pound Vegan. Yet, the Wall Street Journal’s idea of vegan is a little strange. Halfway through the piece, it’s revealed that Gonzalez eats fish and chicken a few times a week. I ask: since when is salmon vegan?

The piece is well-reported and it discusses the challenges faced by pro athletes who want to say no to a training table piled high with steaks, eggs, sausage, chicken, and just about any other type of animal protein you can imagine. It even has video of Gonzalez making his favorite breakfast smoothie with spinach, carrots, berries and Brazilian Acai and a Q&A with a nutritionist about how to train on a vegan diet.

I’m not interested in dissing Gonzalez because, according to the article, he really wanted to do something healthy for himself and the planet. But apparently those 100-pound dumbbells he used to wield with ease became a scary challenge after being on a plant-based diet for a couple weeks. Nutritionists he consulted said just a little bit of animal protein would give him the amino acids, creatine and iron he needed to keep his career on track.

The bigger point to be made here is that those of us who are uber-athletes (and I don’t put myself in that category) have to be really mindful of what we eat in order to get the power we need to perform at our peak. Check out this Yoga Journal article that demonstrates how vegan athletes and Ashtanga yogis are making a plant-powered diet work for them.

Wow. The YJ conference ended a few days ago and I am still recovering. It's been good to catch up on some sleep, but I do miss the good energy and yogic comradery that felt so palpable during those four days. Interestingly enough, the things I most took away from the conference had to do with healing and therapeutics, specifically Saul David Raye's Thai massage techniques and Gary Kraftsow's Viniyoga prescription for lower back injury. I think these things spoke to me the most because, at this point in my practice, I am less interested in being taught new traditions and techniques of asana as I am in learning how to move through injury. Maybe it has to do with finally having a more established personal practice; or maybe it has to do with getting older!

But I loved the conference, and could never help but marvel at all of the superstar power gliding from floor to floor and classroom to classroom. And what a testament to the yoga scene here in the Bay Area that so many of the presenters were locally based: Jason Crandell, Scott Blossom, Timothy McCall, Charu Rachlis—the list goes on and on.

If you didn't have a chance to read my blogs during the conference (and really, who had time to read anything?), you can click on any of the links below to see where I spent my days.

Seane Corn, Tias Little, and Michael Franti

Ana Forrest, Saul David Raye, and Dr. Manoj Chalam

Gary Kraftsow and Dean Ornish

And please send in your own thoughts about the conference. We'd love to hear what you loved, what you learned, and what you'd love to learn in the future.

New York: The Dow of Yoga

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Stocks are falling, real estate is crashing, something called the Dow (not to be confused with the tao) is swinging wildly. And the core heart of all this trading, sweaty, money-drenched panic is New York City. This is partly the reason I signed up for "Financial Yoga," a class held at Integral Yoga taught by Wall Street veteran-turned-spiritual-financial adviser, Claire Kinsella.

Kinsella started the class by asking us to share our first money role-models, because, she said, our childhood is likely informing our current relationship to cash. Unsurprisingly, there was nary a happy story. One woman described her father keeping his salary a locked-door secret, another said her mom was so debt-averse she advised her daughter not to go to college because of the loans.

Though we didn't do any actual asana, Kinsella went over the financial organization system she's created, Financial Safety Space, explaining how she's aligned each kind of money transaction with a chakra. For example, the root chakra—the one that grounds us to the earth—is all about income streams, the money that comes in to nourish and support. The third chakra in the solar plexus (normally associated with power), is, she said, related to contracts—debt, taxes, legal issues, etc. Heart chakra is about home, marriage, and child expenses, etc. It's really quite cool.

She recommended creating a filing system for your finances that reflects this notion. She showed her us her file box filled with a rainbow of chakrically-coded file folders. For each chakra/money issue, she also recommends a corresponding chant and yoga posture: For dealing with financial contracts and debt—all third chakra-related—we chanted Ra and Ram, and she suggested doing Upside-Down Triangle pose to open that chakra.

To learn more, you'll need to contact her and take one of her classes, which she teaches around the city.

One of the most potent things she said was, "The number-one reason people get into debt is loneliness." For a second there was dead silence, as we all surely combed over our own recent emotion-spurred splurges. Like every financial planner she suggests writing down your expenses, but unlike any other, she also suggests writing the feeling you had when you made them.

Powerful stuff for, er, interesting financial times.

If you're reading this, you likely already know that yoga is medicine: for the body, the mind, and the soul. You know it, your teachers know it, the ancient sages definitely knew it (that's why they invented it in the first place!) But the Western medical industry at large has been slow to warm up to the idea. So yogis have started realizing that, if we want the rest of the world to believe how good this stuff really is for you, we better find some Western ways of proving it.

That's what a lot of today's offerings, at the final day of the YJ conference, were about. The theme of the day was Yoga as Medicine, and I took Gary Kraftsow's day-long workshop entitled Viniyoga Therapy: Back Care. Gary (pictured above), who founded the American Viniyoga Institute, is an important figure in the yoga-as-medicine world. Over the last several years, he has conducted studies in conjunction with the National Institute of Health that have proven, through scientific method, that yoga is beneficial in healing the body. This is a big deal because it means that the Western world is starting to take seriously the practice we cherish so much.

Gary talked a lot about basic principles of therapeutics, which is his area of expertise, and offered us three different therapeutic series' for lower back and sacrum, hips, and upper back and neck. He stressed the importance of dynamic, repetitive movement as a treatment for muscular injuries as opposed to long holds in a pose because: 1) contracting and releasing a muscle helps bring circulation to the area, which is essential in its healing and 2) repetitive movement helps train the body to create new patterns. Gary also strongly stressed that poses are meant to be adapted in different ways for different purposes for different people. If you've been trying to access a pose a particular way for years and it's just not happening, he said, you might want to try another approach.
In the middle of my day with Gary, there was a lunchtime talk being given by Dr. Dean Ornish (pictured left) who is, among other things, the director of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito and Clinical Professor of Medicine at UCSF. A huge proponent of natural health, Ornish has also taken on the task of getting natural healing modalities, like yoga and diet changes, to be taken more seriously by the Western medical world. (He says Medicaid will soon be covering yoga as a result of his efforts!) Ornish's speech was short but captivating, and his message was clear: No matter what genetic condition we have been handed down, we can change the way it is expressed by watching our diet, and doing yoga and meditation. Ornish also did a book signing today, as did Dr. Timothy McCall, the author of the best-selling book for which the conference was named: Yoga as Medicine.

It's so great that the wider world is finally recognizing what we know to be true. I like to imagine a day where people of all walks of life are doing asana and eating ayurvedically after being diagnosed with diabetes or heart disease—as opposed to downing a bunch of pills with a Coke and a Big Mac. (Hey, I can dream, right?)

Today was my best day at the YJ conference so far. I was immersed in three of my favorite components of yoga: inversions, massage, and philosophical discussion.

The first two hours of the day were spent sweating my butt off. I have always wanted to take a class with the famed Ana Forrest, and she is a force to be reckoned with. She's so strong and powerful, it's hard not to get inspired. The practice was built around what Ana calls "gravity surfing." It's a fierce, yang practice filled with numerous handstands, forearm balances, and arm balances. We partnered up a great deal and Ana's entourage of assistants (all equally buff) were awesome in performing demonstrations and helping the students get deeper into poses.

Next stop: partner Thai massage with Saul David Raye. I find partner classes to be a little strange at first. We had to select massage mates, which is always a weird thing when you don't know anyone in the room. My partner and I talked for just a moment before I realized who he was—the former publisher of Yoga Journal, John Abbott! I was a little nervous at first, but you kind of have to let that go when a stranger is standing on your butt with their knees. John and I gave each other approximately 45-minute massages, and we had a great time, and Saul was an effective and compassionate teacher, giving specific instructions in a grounded, loving way.
I finished off my day with Dr. Manoj Chalam's lecture on Hindu deities. A sacred art dealer, Manoj (pictured left) talked to us about who the different Hindu gods are, and the meanings behind their poses in various statues. He covered both maha deities (great deities like Shiva) and upa deities (deities who are closer to the people, like Hanuman and Ganesh). I learned some interesting things. My favorite was this: Ganesh uses a mouse as transportation because the mouse (and its scurrying) symbolizes the mind; when Ganesh sits on it, he quiets it. So, when we meditate on Ganesh, it's like he is sitting on our mind's fluctuations and bringing them to a stop.

I started off day two of the YJ conference with Seane Corn and 200 other women in one of the grand ballrooms at the Hyatt Regency. This is the second time I have taken a class with Seane and she always gives me something to think about. The class, which was called Yogini, was about how women can be better connected to our power.

Seane began by talking about how her perspective as a woman keeps changing as she ages. Now 41, she talked about how, despite the bodily and emotional discomforts she sometimes feels with the aging process, she cares a lot less about what other people think than she used to. I can relate to what she is putting out there; I think younger women tend to be so affected (and hindered) by what they perceive the world's view of them to be. I am 32 and can finally say that I have moments where I let the outside world's criticisms roll over me—but I still give outside voices too much attention. Here's to maturity!

Seane says that one of the biggest problems we face as a society is personal self-doubt and insecurity, with which I completely concur. When we, specifically women, don't have faith in ourselves, we don't act. And when we don't act, things don't get done. So, how to engage with our own power? She suggests these starting points: Forgiveness of others. Radical self-acceptance. A commitment to self-examination.

If Seane's class opened my mind, Tias Little's backbending workshop, Freeing the Bird of Prana, opened my body. Whew! Backbending is not my forte and we moved through it pretty intensely. We worked the hamstrings and opened the shoulders first so that tightness in those areas would not affect our backbends, and then we moved into the back. Tias gives meticulous and precise anatomical instruction, and through his teaching made clear all of the impediments to backbending, such as tight quads and lack of space between the sacral and lumbar vertebrae.
Tias taught with two assistants (one of whom is his wife, Surya) and I received lots of great adjustments—I appreciated that, as sometimes the classes at conferences can feel impersonal. I also liked Tias' sense of humor. For instance, he admitted great enjoyment in saying "Now, bring your fingers to the top of the crack of your buttocks." A little comic relief when you're backbending for two hours (and near collapsing) is always welcome.

I finished my day by listening to Michael Franti's lunchtime talk about Power to the Peaceful, in which he made clear the connection, for him, between yoga and social action. During his talk, Michael told a story about a butterfly. On my walk home, I came into contact with this beautiful creature. Coincidence? I think not.

Los Angeles: Sankalpa Detox

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Last weekend I attended Sara Ivanhoe’s Detox weekend workshop at Yoga Works. It was an intense sweaty affair that she characterized as “not for the meek.” The goal: to create heat and rid the body and the mind of impurities.

But her nurturing spirit and thoughtful sequencing enabled me to survive (and thrive) during two consecutive days of a grueling three hour practice that incorporated purging poses like squats, twists, pranayama (breath of fire) and lots and lots of vinyasa – all designed to work with a form of downward moving, eliminating, root chakra-based prana called Apana Vayu.

With an emphasis on exhales, the workshop was also about letting go and resolving to move forward into the new year with a sense of what serves us and what holds us back. She helped us clarify those resolutions with a mantra (om lam muladevatayae namah) that invoked the spirit of the root charka or the true self. She also threw in a detox mudra.

While I wished she would have varied the sequences from day to day, it was a relief and quite freeing to hear Ivanhoe say, ‘We’re not here to obsess on alignment, we’re here to tap into something deeper.”

Next weekend my friend Sarah Tomlinson will be in town from New York to lead an Ayurvedic yoga workshop at Liberation Yoga. Sarah is an inspiring teacher and a yantra artist who works with a series of 21 poses in the most extraordinary way. I promise you’ll leave feeling refreshed. She’s also leading a Yantra painting workshop on Sunday. Yet another way to practice sankalpa as this year starts to speed by.

Yantra by Sarah Tomlinson

I just got home from the first day of my first Yoga Journal conference. Whew! If you attended any of the events today, you know the buzz of excitement in the air. I'll be posting a blog every night about the conference—PLEASE write in and share your own stories!

So, this morning I scraped in just 10 minutes before my first class (yeah, I admit, I couldn't find the hotel at first—a little embarrassing!). Despite the crowds, registration went pretty quickly and I arrived at Rod Stryker's day-long course, Tantra Yoga: Asana, Bandha, and Beyond, only a few minutes late. Rod's practice, which is also known as ParaYoga, is a combination of three aspects of yogic tradition: ayurveda, classical yoga, and Tantra. We focused mostly on Tantra, but Rod was great at pointing out the places where Tantra and classical yoga (derived from Patanjali's sutras and that sort of thing) differed. For instance, in Tantra, moksha (spiritual liberation) and bhoga (delight from worldly pleasures) are not seen as mutually exclusive, whereas in classical yoga, it is generally deemed that you must limit bhoga (like, say, sex and chocolate) to reach moksha.

I love philosophical discussions about yoga and we had a lot of them aboutthe different tantric paths, the use of bandhas, and the acceptance of desire. We also practiced some asana, and Rod held us in some poses—like dhanurasana—for long periods of time to generate heat and prana. We closed meditatively with a mantra called Maya Mitron Jaya, which Rod said was good for eradicating fear.

After a long day spent with the brilliant Mr. Stryker (and also socializing with all of the familiar faces at the conference), I was truly beat. I had a ticket to see Michael Franti's benefit concert for YouthAIDS, but I had to drag myself there. I am so glad I did. I'd never seen him play live before. Wow. That someone can sing about peace and war and love and justice with such gentle passion and strength moved me to shake my tired booty—and, at times, shed a few tears. Michael's guitarist was equally talented, and Jenny Sauer-Klein and Jason Nemer did AcroYoga for the crowd. It was such a phenomenal show. Did anyone else attend?

Off to rest in preparation for day two. Please let us know how your time at YJSF 2008 is going!

New York: Chasing Peace and Quiet

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peacequietcover080121.jpgYou know, I know, NYC is to inner calm what writhing, naked, nubiles are to chastity. Making it the perfect place to practice finding stillness, some say. (Hey, the celibate Gandhi allegedly invited hot women into his bed so he could not touch them).

And this week we get a little help from New York magazine's "Peace + Quiet" issue--subtitle: "finding calm in the urban squall." (My source two weeks running--if anyone's counting--but no worries, not three.)

The package kicks off with a piece about my Beliefnet office mate Martha Ainsworth (hi, Martha!), who's officially trying to become an "urban hermit"--think: prayer and vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience--all while working a regular job, commuting, and socializing like (almost) the rest of us.

If that's not your bag, the mag offers 20 places to get quiet, including two of my faves: the Quaker meetinghouse on 16th street and Walter De Maria's Earth Room.

Then there's a handy guide to free yoga (something I've been meaning to write about for a while). You can grab free classes at Integral, Yoga Sutra, Atmananda (wait, hadn't they switched their name to Centerpoint? Are they back now? Oh, that Jhon T.), and Yoga to the People. There's even a section about chanting in NYC.

All of this is a little extra-spiritual, not the usual yoga-lite spa-y froth. It's refreshingly real. I might add to the list for how we can all cope with/escape subway rider rage and related stressors:

- Read "Finding Peace and Quiet in New York City"

- Actually go to a Quaker meeting. I went to elementary school at Friends, host to the aforementioned meetinghouse, and so got silence drummed into me early and often. I recommend it, whatever your beliefs. There's 16th street ; a Morningside meeting; and a Brooklyn meeting.

- Get up early on Sunday and walk around. Before the brunch crowds hit.

Which reminds me of Digable Planets' great '90s ode to NYC Sunday peacefulness. Some lyrics:

Butterfly searchin for a relax
pullin from the jazz stacks cause it’s sunday
on the air is incense
sounds to the ceiling
tryin to get this feelin since monday
lookin out the window
watchin all the people go...
buggin off the calmness in the apple
who me i’m coolin in new york
i’m chillin in new york
the hoods is on my block
and the brothers at the court
the baseball hats is on
and the projects is calm
dream times extended

and highly recommended

but early birds like me’s up checkin out the scene
the early worms job, forget about your job
just come dig the essence while the decadence is hidden
when people act like people, the theory is in picture
if you know the norm it’s like hades transformed
on sunday's early hours the city sprouts its flowers
so get with the rhythms while you gettin with the planets
vibe off the jams but don’t take em for granted
just chill

Where do you escape to?

This week’s Los Angeles times ran an article called "Surviving the Heat in Yoga's Death Valley" and it wasn’t about practicing outdoors in the desert.

Instead the writer went to Bikram Yoga College of India World Headquarters in Los Angeles and reported that during the class a gray-haired “lady” collapsed and an ambulance soon arrived on the scene.

I do have some friends who swear that when they regularly practice Bikram’s 26 poses in the 110 degree heated rooms of his studio, they get in incredible shape but for me, the heat just aggravates my pitta-leaning dosha. ( See this article I wrote for Yoga Journal about Ayurvedic doshas and yoga.)

Years ago, I interviewed Bikram and he told me celebrities like him because he yells at them and tells them the truth when everyone else tells them what they want to hear. That may be true, but this blustery style is probably also why he felt comfortable telling the L.A. Times repoter that the woman’s collapse wasn’t a big deal: “People get dehydrated. People feel dizzy. I warn them in advance,” he reportedly said.

This raises an obvious question: Collapsing in yoga class, is that the point?

If you practice yoga in the city, chances are that you have been to one of the Yoga Tree locations. But did you know that there is another Yoga Tree location outside the city ... in Glen Ellen, Sonoma? It's actually not a studio but a beautiful country home (complete with a yoga room with hard wood floors, amazing views, and a hot tub!) that belongs to Yoga Tree owners Tim and Tara Dale. Aptly called Tara Bella Villa, it's become a prime spot for retreats with Yoga Tree teachers. Last weekend, I went up there for one of Chrisandra Fox's monthly one-day retreats.

I have been practicing with Chrisandra since about 2002 and she has always been one of my favorite teachers. It's clear that she has a beautiful asana practice (she's often modeled for Yoga Journal spreads), but what I truly love about her is her unwavering encouragement for her students (each of whom she always give loads of personal attention) and her unique way of transforming complex philosophical concepts into succinct and unforgettable phrases, some of which have stayed with me for years.
Tara Bella Villa is about an hour and 15 minutes away from the city, but the drive is easy and so worth it. We practiced yoga for a few hours in the morning and then had a divine lunch (prepared by chef extraordinaire Meredith Klein) that included lemon mousse-infused Israeli cous cous, a sweet beet and kale salad, gingerbread blondies (see bottom right pic), and homemade chai to die for. We intended to hot tub, as well, but we got so busy eating and chatting that ... we just never got around to it.

At the retreat, we focused on our sankalpas, which are sort of the yogic version of resolutions. Sankalpa roughly translates to "intention" or "affirmation" and Chrisandra talked about the comidas_dulce.jpgobstacles (like physical ailments or idleness) to achieving our sankalpa and things that help us realize a sankalpa (including hatha yoga, meditation, and faith in the universe). We ended our asana session with a candle-gazing practice and journaling.

The whole day, which started at 10:30 and ended officially at 3pm (though several of us stayed later) was a welcome respite from city life and a meaningful way to approach 2008.


Photos by Pao Chiu

Last week's New York magazine reported on Equinox gym's "War of the Yogis." Apparently, the posh sports club chain has teamed up with Pure Yoga, a studio chain in Hong Kong, to open a 20,000-square-foot space on the Upper East Side come spring.

It would dwarf even some of NYC's largest studios: Om Yoga is 11,500-square feet; Jivamukti is 12,000. That's some serious yoga space—they better have some amazing classes, deep pockets, or fantastic karma, or else the NYC real estate market can't possibly support this.

The article says the high-sheen place will have five rooms of simultaneous yoga in different styles. And no more pretending not to fight over mat space—you'll be able to go online and reserve your very own parking spot within a class.

The quote Equinox gave New York is incredibly telling: "we will continue to expand and pursue an aggressive yoga strategy." And the Pure Yoga site describes its retail shops like this: "Our interiors are ergonomically designed for the ultimate shopping experience." Erm, "aggressive yoga strategy"? Yoga, ergonomics, and "ultimate shopping"? WWPD (What Would Patanjali Do?)

Well, I know that yoga here is not exactly "pure" to its roots—nor do I think it needs to be—but sometimes it seems that it goes so far off the rails here that it's helpful to remember the original intentions of yoga's first shapers. Yoga has a do's and don'ts list, and one of the "do's" is ahmisa—not harming others. A subset of ahimsa is called vaira-tyagah, giving up hostilities. One site translates it like this: (vaira = hostility, enmity, aggression; tyaga = abandon, give up).

So, Equinox, maybe there's another, more collaborative—ahimsa-matic?—way to come here as a yoga monolith? Though it's yet to be seen how they'll affect the yogascape, it sort of feels like a fancy WalMart threatening the livelihoods of the smaller, humbler studios that have been around for years. What do you think? Do we have room for a studio like this?

While I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions, this year I am going to try and check out yoga studios, classes and teachers that are new to me. After so many years of struggling to develop a home practice (and the effort has certainly paid off), I also find it inspiring to learn from different teachers in unfamiliar settings.

For those of you who also want to break out of your yoga habits and try something fresh, here are a few studios offering new student discounts or New Year’s specials.

Where: Dancing Shiva
The Deal: Unlimited Monthly for $95 includes unlimited classes, store discount, bottled water & towels for each class. Two Weeks Unlimited Yoga for $33. Offers for first time students only through January 21st.
Why: Dancing Shiva founder Mas Vidal is an ayurvedic yoga teacher and counselor (a disciple of David Frawley). Anyone interested in the union between Yoga and Ayurveda should try these unusual classes.

Where: City Yoga
The Deal: 40 days of consecutive yoga for $140 dollars through the end of January.
Why: City Yoga is a welcoming community with a beautiful space to practice Anusara Yoga. A good place for beginners and advanced students.

Where: Liberation Yoga
The Deal: 10 classes for $95 for new students only.
Why: Founded by Christine Burke and Gary McCleery – both veterans of the world of yoga and theatre arts, Liberation is an authentic studio offering a variety of classes – Iyengar, Ashtanga, Flow, Restorative, etc.

Where: Santa Monica Yoga
The Deal: 3 classes for $30 or 30 days unlimited for $50 for new students only.
Why: A genuine neighborhood studio offering diverse classes from popular teachers like Julian Walker, as well as mother and child “play date” classes, gentle therapeutic yoga, kundalini, Yin yoga and kids yoga.

Spirit Rock Scene 040.jpgIt's a new year and that's always a good time to evaluate where we are, who we are, and where and who we'd like to be. Feeling the desire to go inward before the count down, I ventured out to Spirit Rock last weekend to do a one-day retreat called Out With the Old. It was on the same day as my sister's birthday, so we went together to celebrate.

The retreat was led by two of Spirit Rock's highly regarded teachers, Nina Wise (who regularly contributes to Yoga Journal) and Wes Nisker. It was a combination of seated vipassana (or insight) meditation, poetry, and dharma talks.

If you've never been to Spirit Rock, it's a lovely place to spend some time. The meditation center is smack in the middle of a sprawling piece of wooded land. It was a gloomy day when we were there, so we didn't spend much time outside, but we were still in touch with nature: The surrounding trees were always visible and there were several deer who kept coming only feet from the windows of the meditation hall.

This retreat wasn't specifically centered on yoga (some of them are) but seated meditation is a great compliment to asana practice and Nina did lead us through a couple of short series of yoga postures just to get our blood moving.

Nina and Wes talked a lot about releasing judgment or goals from meditation. They also talked about the idea of stuff, and how the abundance of material things in our lives puts stress on us and even poses a threat to the planet. Inside this talk about stuff that we own was also a deeper message—about the stuff we carry with us. For me, the day held a lot of introspection, but was made lighter by the warm tone of the teachings and my sister's company.

At the end of the day, we did a ritual for the new year: We wrote down all that we wanted to leave behind, all that we wanted to welcome in, the people we wanted to forgive, and those we wanted to send love to. We then threw our lists into a giant metal bowl in the front of the room. Wes read a few anonymously (he said there was a lot of "more yoga!"), and then took them outside and lit fire to them. The group gathered around and watched as 2007 slowly went up in flames, and 2008 was slowly ignited.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

December 2007 is the previous archive.

February 2008 is the next archive.

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