August 2008 Archives

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Initiated in 1999 by his Holiness the Dalai Lama to mark the millennium with a message of peace, cultural understanding and spirituality, this year the 16-day World Festival of Sacred Music will showcase music and movement by a 1000 artists from all over the world in Los Angeles' historic landmark theaters, churches, temples and oudoor spaces.

Over the years, the festival, which takes place September 13-28, has grown to encompass everything from gospel, to aboriginal didgeridoo, Buddhist chanting, Latin American folklorico dance and kirtan.

On September 21, the Global Mala project will join the festival with kundalini teachings from Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa; 108 sun salutations hosted by Shiva Rea, Seane Corn, Hala Khouri, and teachers from 108 southern California yoga studios/centers; sacred music with Donna De Lory, Govindas and Radha, Joey Lugassy, Saul David Raye, Suzanne Sterling, Wah!, and Wade Imre Morrissette; yoga trance dance ignited by Shiva Rea with DJ Dragonfly. The evening concludes with kirtan—a blissful 108-repetition cycle of Om chanting with the members of the Global Mala Project Sacred Music Members.

And, on September 20th, Los Angeles dancer and yoga teacher Micheline Berry will direct her Shaman's Dream World Groove Ensemble, which celebrates the music and dance of West Africa, Brazil and Cuba. Really, it's an ecstatic dance party, a chance for audience participation so put on some comfortable clothes and get ready to let it go and go and go.

As the summer draws to an end, you may want to check out the closing ceremony on September 28th, which is a free event on Santa Monica beach, featuring 300 artists including Banda Juvenil Solago from Oaxaca and 100 hula dancers, who will chant and dance on the sands in reverence of Kanaloa, the Hawaiian deity of the ocean. Sounds like a party I don't want to miss.

photo: Antoine Bensorte from www.michelineberry.com

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Dreaming of a friendlier, greener, and more-connected city, Mayor Gavin Newsom is piloting a program this Sunday, from 9am-1pm, called Sunday Streets. From Bayview to Chinatown, a 4.5 mile stretch along the Embarcadero will be off limits to cars (yay!) and open to the public, offering a huge array of fun, physical things to do like roller skating, dance lessons, Tai Chi, Chinese cultural crafts, running drills, hula hoop contests, and yoga classes. The yoga classes will be happening at Ferry Park and at the Bayview Opera House Stage. Check out the full schedule here.

Newsom is modeling Sunday Streets after a model in Bogota, Columbia, that draws 1.5 million people a year. When I was living in Guatemala City, there was a similar deal on Sundays, and it was pretty much the only time people came out onto the streets because the city was otherwise so dangerous. I loved those Sundays, watching everyone come out with their kids and honeys to rollerblade and bike and eat ice cream.

Newsom's main goal is to get the streets car-free and exercise friendly for a day, but he is also hoping people who think of Bayview merely as a dodgy pocket of the city will see it in a new light. I am excited by the idea of Sunday Streets, especially because yoga is featuring so prominently on the bill. It's just proof that yoga has become an integral part of the fabric of the city.

The folks in Bayview are also excited about the event, according to local media, but there's been a bit of uproar amongst the Pier 39 merchants who fear that the street closure is going to kill their end-of-summer business. There has been some protesting and even some talk of potential suing. Both SF Gate and ABC printed pieces about the debacle. I understand their concerns, but at the same time, I love the Sunday Streets model. It has the potential to really bring the city together. Lots of people also rallied in favor of it. Here's a Kron 4 clip of enthusiastic skaters rallying for the cause.

What do you think about Sunday Streets? Will you be there this weekend?

New York: Chant-O-Rama

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prana.jpgI've been really grooving on listening to chant lately—in class, playing during my home practice, and on the subway. I feel like it puts me in a little bubble that screens out the grittier influences of the city. If you feel even sort of the same way, Jivamukti is there for you with two events coming up in September.

There'll be two events featuring the ethereal yet deep chant ofBaird Hersey & Prana (they often play with Krishna Das when he's in town), called "Sound from the Heart." They're almost trippy to listen to, they definitely know how to shift the energy—and possibly our brainwaves—into a more relaxed state.

This from their website (I could regurgitate it but they really say it nicely): "Prana is a nine voice, a cappella, overtone singing choir. Their sound is a unique mixture of western vocal music and the musics of Tibet, Mongolia and India. Applying the ancient traditional techniques of multiphonic chant, and throat singing to the natural singing voice, they each sing two mellifluous pitches at once, creating beautiful rising harmonies, shimmering vocal textures, and high arcing melodies."

They're playing an evening of singing meditations on Saturday September 6th at 8pm and then the next day will offer a singing workshop from 4:30pm to 6:30pm. Prices and more info are here: PranaSound.com

Also, on a more last-minute note, I'm headed up to Omega for a day of "ecstatic" chanting with the usual suspects (KD, Deva Premal, etc.) on Labor Day. I recommend it possibly prematurely, but it sounds really fun—a 12-hour concert.

What are your fave chants and chanters?

(Thanks to Stacie for the tip!)

Los Angeles: Om the Road

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Stop beeping. Start Breathing. That's Jen Swain's motto.

Swain, the charming yoga fairy in this funny video, is a Los Angeles yoga teacher, who recognized that we live in a commuter city where car time can be a frustrating, anxiety producing experience. So in an effort to turn a negative into a positive, she decided to create an audio Yoga in the Car practice.

Her voice is soothing; the work is grounding with simple pranayama techniques as well easy-to-follow instructions for subtle, small movements for the neck, shoulders, spine, hips, legs, knees, feet and face.

Swain is also no stranger to stressful situations. A cancer survivor, who turned to yoga and meditation as part of her healing, she continues to teach in Burbank at Yoga Groove and Yoga Blend. And for those dealing with cancer, look for her workshop called "Moving Through Cancer", a mix of yoga and creative writing which will take place at Yoga Blend on October 12th.

In the meantime, let us know how you cope in the car.

sand.jpgWith the Olympics bringing extra attention to the plight of Tibet, it's especially timely that monks are in NYC creating intricate, sacred sand mandalas. It's an ancient art that represents the transitory nature of life—stunning art that will be swept away when it's done.

You can check out these glorious creations now through Sunday at East West Living. You'll also be able to sit and meditate with the Tibetan monks in exile who have created them.

The visit supports the monks' US tour and their Gaden Ngari Monastery and Orphanage, which helps the exiled Tibetan community. It's free (or by donation) to see the mandalas, but for a $50 cash contribution, you can schedule a private healing session with one of the monks.

The closing ceremony promises to be especially auspicious, with sacred music and blessings on New York City. Schedule is below. Call 212-243-5994 if you want to schedule an appointment.

Thurs, Aug 21 - Sat, Aug 23
noon-8 pm: Public Viewing of the Mandala Creation

Sunday, Aug 24
Noon-6 pm: Public Viewing of the Mandala Creation
6pm: Closing Ceremonies

For more info, visit East West's site.

bhangra.JPGWe often talk about yoga's roots in India, and we chant in Sanskrit, but how much do we know really about the land from which our practice comes? I visited India in 1996, before I even discovered yoga, and was amazed by the deep magic of the country . . . and the incredible poverty. How could a place that birthed such a rich spiritual practice be mired in such economic despair?

I know that India has changed over the years, but there are still too many people living in extremely poor conditions, part of which is a result of the caste system—which was denounced during the '40s but still influences Indian society today. A man named Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, who was a contemporary of Ghandi's, played an instrumental role in trying to change India's caste system (he was born an "untouchable"), eventually converting, himself, from Hinduism to Buddhism, leaving the caste altogether.

Inspired by Dr. Ambedkar, there's now a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization called Jai Bhim International dedicated to providing Indian youth with the tools they need to live a fulfilling life free from the caste system. It's having its first fundraiser, an alcohol-free dance party, called Barefoot Bhangra, this Saturday night from 7pm-10pm at the San Francisco Buddhist Center in the Mission. It's part of a series of three, so if you miss this one, there are two more scheduled: September 20 and October 18. The requested donation is $5-$10.

Check out Jai Bhim International's website for more info. The website is fairly comprehensive and gives a lot of interesting info on the caste system.

Anyone out there been to India? Have any thoughts on the remnants of the caste system and its historical connection to Hinduism, Buddhism, or even yoga? Please share! And let us know if you go to Barefoot Bhangra!

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I couldn't resist posting about the pop-culture, political scandal du jour involving Rielle Hunter and John Edwards, especially after it was reported that the former Presidential contender's mistress was once a Los Angeles yoga teacher.

Admittedly, I found the revelation unfortunate (and a little funny in the absurd, everyone loves a trashy story way) but also a little sad (and upsetting) since it turned out to be more than just tabloid fodder.

We all know yogis aren't perfect (hey, we're human too) but the cliche about a woman named Lisa Druck, once a party girl muse to Jay McInerney, who changes her name to Rielle (pronounced Riley) and moves to Los Angeles for spiritual enlightenment and fame, was just too juicy to pass up.

So here are the tidbits, I've gathered. A very good profile from Edward's home state paper, the Raleigh News and Observer.

An excerpt from an interview Hunter did with McInerney in the now defunct yoga lifestyle magazine Breathe, where Hunter said she was, "a seeker of truth."

And my favorite, a piece in the Los Angeles Times by Sarah Miller, who wrote about meeting Hunter:

Rielle padded in and out in Ugg boots and flared yoga pants, and in a voice that contained strange elements of surfer-ese and lockjaw, gave unasked-for information about her life's journey and personal health. She would tell us how she'd had an amazing yoga practice that day, or give an elaborate description of some braised root she'd eaten for lunch. I think I said to my friend once, "What a wack job," but that was the extent of my relationship with Rielle.

Then five years later, Miller's next encounter with the soon-to-be Edwards political "webisode producer":

"I am going to be famous," Rielle said. "Rich and famous. I am going to meet a rich, powerful man."
...."Wow," I said. "How are you going to do that?"
Rielle slid a toe out from under the tip of her flared yoga pants and poked me with it, playfully. "I'm going to manifest it," she said.

It seems manifest is destiny.

SunRm_md.JPGI left San Francisco in January of 2006 to teach journalism in Guatemala City. I came home nearly a year later, happy to return to our beautiful city, my wonderful friends, breathably clean air … and $18 yoga classes. What?

I thought: Stay calm. Be present. Breathe deeply.

But, $18?

Yoga class prices had skyrocketed. And they haven't come down since. There's no easy way around it. The teachers need to make money and the owners do, too, since their rents keep going up. But some students just can't afford it. Even with class passes, yoga classes can cost a student $50+ a week, which is $200 month, which is … well, a lot.

This is why I love the idea of donation-based yoga. You pay what you can when you can and, more often than not, everybody wins. People who have more, pay more. People who have less, pay less. If all or part of your income is freelance (like mine), you might pay $10 for a class one week, and $20 the next. It just works out.

There was a time when donation-based yoga was only in small pockets of the city, but the trend has hit its stride. The Sun Room at Mission Yoga (pictured above) is actually ALL donation-based, and its studio manager, Eben Ostergaard, said that the model works really well. While teachers have to do more legwork to promote themselves, those with a steady student base can actually make more money than they otherwise would. Teachers also have more autonomy and independence. Yoga to the People in Berkeley is another donation-based studio, and there are lots of other pay-what-you-can classes throughout the Bay Area. Below are a few on my radar. Please write in and share others that you know about!

SunRm_md.JPGWhere: The Sun Room at Mission Yoga (3rd Floor)
Location: The Mission
Classes: All labeled "Sun Room" on the schedule
Time: Various
Type of Yoga: Hatha, Vinyasa, AcroYoga, Naked Men's Yoga
* Read my blog on Jeremy Simon's AcroYoga class here.

SunRm_md.JPGWhere: Yoga to the People
Location: Berkeley
Classes: All of them!
Time: Various
Type of Yoga: Hatha and Candle-lit

SunRm_md.JPGWhere: Grace Cathedral and James Howell Studio
Location: Nob Hill and Noe Valley
Teacher: Jamie Lindsay
Time: Various
Type of Yoga: Intro Flow/Iyengar-based and Kundalini Flow
* Read my recent blog on Jaime here.

SunRm_md.JPGWhere: The Mindful Body
Location: Pacific Heights
Teacher: Sean Feit
Time: Tuesdays, 7:30-9pm
Type of Yoga: Pranayama and Meditation
Read last year's blog on Sean here.

SunRm_md.JPGWhere: San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender Center
Location: Lower Market
Teachers: Guru Tera Singh and Adesh Singh
Time: Thursdays, 7-8:30pm
Type of Yoga: Kundalini

SunRm_md.JPGWhere: Rudramandir
Location: Berkeley
Teacher: Christopher Tompkins
Time: Wednesdays, 5:30-7:30pm, Oct. 1 through Nov. 12
Type of Yoga: Tantrik Yoga Philosophy
* Read my recent blog on Christopher's class here.

SunRm_md.JPGWhere: Piedmont Yoga Studio
Location: Piedmont
Teacher: Yolanda Vazquez.
Time: Wednesdays, 12pm-1pm
Type of Yoga: Yoga for a Cause (proceeds are donated to a number of different charitable
organizations)

Trianglesemicircle.jpgI don't know about you, but summer's winding down always makes me a little wistful. But I'm taking heart in some outdoor yoga still happening around the city:

Yoga on the Pier and Kayaking in the Hudson
Sponsored by Lululemon and the Manhattan Kayak Company, the first 20 people to sign up will get to stretch out on Pier 66 and then hit the Hudson.
When: Wednesday, August 20th from 4:30-7:30pm
Where: Pier 66, Hudson River Park at 12th Ave. and 26th St.
To sign up: You'll need to RSVP at the store on 64th and B-way (but hey, it's free!)

Laughing Lotus Yoga in the Park
Ok it's not the park, but rather a park on 10th Avenue bewtween 14th and 15th Streets. But it's free yoga with the LL crew, known for their joyful vinyasa practice. No need to sign up, all levels welcome.
When: August 20th & 27th; September 3rd, 10th, 17th, & 24th; and October 1st--7pm to 8pm
Where: The park on 10th Ave between 14th and 15th Streets
To sign up: No need. They'll have some mats, but you're encouraged to bring on. For more info on teachers, etc., go here.

Yoga in Riverside Park
A bit higher up on the Hudson in Riverside Park, this is billed as "An Evening Salute to the Sun." Again, good for all levels--but you need to bring your own mat.
When: August 20th @ 6:30
Where: The Plaza at 66th Street in Riverside Park South, on the Hudson River between 62nd and 72nd Streets.
To sign up: No need. Call 212-408-0219 for information. Or go here and scroll down.

Have more to share? Post below!

If you've ever wanted to defy gravity the aerial arts way, Crunch's new AntiGravity Yoga "Wings" class may be your answer.

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It's a super fun way to spend a playful hour suspended from the ceiling in a white fabric hammock while you swing and stretch and use your core in ways you never deemed possible. Inversions are remarkably easy (you'll feel that spine get longer than you thought it ever could) and sun salutations become a whole new challenging experience.

The class was developed with aerial artist Christopher Harrison, who heads-up the performance troupe AntiGravity, so it's the real deal. While it's certainly not pure yoga, it's definitely worth bringing the skills you've already learned on the mat into a whole new setting.

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Right now the classes are only available at Crunch locations in Miami, Los Angeles and New York (San Francisco and Chicago coming this fall). In the meantime, the folks at Crunch were kind enough to extend a special promotion to Samadhi and the City readers. Just bring a print-out of this post and get a free Anti-Gravity Yoga class. But remember, space is limited so it's on a first-come, first-served basis.

So go ahead, get some wings and let us know how you fly.

K with Girls and Mats.jpgEveryone knows that yoga's a great way for kids to get exercise and stay limber. But can it also be useful in teaching young people discipline, respect, and stress-management? Can it even transform an entire school environment? Thanks to San Francisco yogi Katherine Priore, we are about to find out.

A yoga teacher and former inner city school teacher, Katherine is a graduate of the program at Yoga Ed., which develops educational curriculum for teaching yoga to kids. Recently, she started her own nonprofit organization called Headstand, which assists schools in implementing Yoga Ed. curriculum. In September, the Headstand program starts its first program at KIPP Summit Academy, a middle school in San Lorenzo.

Here's what's really cool: This is not just a gym class. It's school-wide programming that teaches asana, pranayama, and yogic philosophy to help students gain concentration and confidence, and teachers manage their classrooms and job-related stress.

The yoga world is hip to doubters, so it's no surprise that Katherine linked up with a bona fide Stanford researcher named Nick Haisman, who will be evaluating the program for at least one year to monitor its effects on discipline, academic achievement, and general school culture. The hope is that the program will fare well, which would pave the way to expand it to more schools in the Bay Area and beyond.

The Bay Area is starting to rally around this program, which has local yoga teacher Dina Amsterdam and YJ writer Nora Isaacs on its board. You can get involved, too. Here are a few ways:

+ Volunteer at KIPP! Headstand is looking for yogis and all kinds of teachers to assist in classes.

+ Donate. Headstand is supported right now entirely by individual donors. Anything you can donate will help the program to succeed.

+ Go out to Cell Space on Friday night at 8pm to see live music and aerial dance—Katherine will be at the event to talk about Headstand.

+ Read Yoga Journal's article about yoga in schools.

+ Write in and tell us what you think about this initiative. Are you a school teacher? Parent? Do you think yoga can transform schools?

trinity.jpgI keep missing these, but you shouldn't. You can catch one of the yoga-inspired Journey Dance classes I've raved about--happening in Long Beach, Long Island next weekend. And this one takes place near the train-accessible beach. Fun, conscious dance + blue waves and white sand + LIRR = fun way to spend a Sunday (August 17th).

This one is taught by Trinity, a lithe, enthusiastic teacher, at the JCC in Long Beach. Not the most romantic-sounding locale, but it's right by the beach and your class of let-go dancing will be followed by a "beach party" with your fellow dancers.

Trinity is also teaching some classes for R&R participants (not a workshop) at Omega in September in case you become Journey Dance-addicted like me (though I've never been to a Trinity class, only Toni).

Call here (917) 517-7724 to register and get directions or go here for all the info: or email Trinity: Trinitydances@gmail.com

It's $20 in advance, $25 day-of. Dance is rain or shine. The beach part will be canceled if it rains.

And, if you need an enlightened beach read to take with you, definitely grab "Enlightenment for Idiots" by former Yoga Journal-ite Anne Cushman. It's a wonderfully fun novel with a yoga teacher protagonist. You may recognize the spiritual yet unavailable men in her life. You might also identify with her trip to India in which a famed guru messes up her knee and then tells her it hurts because she's not spiritually evolved enough. It's smart, witty, well-observed chick-lit with real soul. Here's the Amazon link for it.

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Question: is downdog an "American circus" trick and are yoga teachers "circus clowns"? According to Los Angeles' own Bikram Choudhury the answer to both is, yes. At least that's what the founder of hot yoga's Bikram College of India told Chicago Tribune blogger Julie Deardorff .

When asked why he called yoga teachers (with the exception of those who teach his system) clowns, he said:

"They completely (expletive) up yoga. They crucified yoga in America. There is no yoga called Kundalini, Power, Vinyasa, dog yoga. We follow 4,400 years of Patanjali's The Yoga Sutra. There are eight kinds of yoga--karma, hatha, raja, vedanta, bhakti, mantra, jnana and laya. What the hell is vinyassa? And Iyengar school (which uses props) looks like a Santa Monica sex shop. You don't need those things to do yoga. They make so many stupid things here (in America.) I am teaching the exact same postures as my guru (Bishnu Ghosh) taught me. "

On materialism and yoga, specifically about his $58,000 Piaget watch and his fleet of 35 Rolls Royces, he explained:

"There's nothing wrong with material things as long as you don't lie, cheat and steal... Let me ask you, what is the worth of one human life? It's priceless. I give that life to people. Next to that, what is a watch? Having doesn't mean anything unless you know how to use it. My job is to pick up the good of the East and the good of the West. I don't want to starve to death in India and I don't want to be a billionaire living in a mental hospital in the U.S. Maintaining spirituality and humanism are the keys to success. It's a balance."

In the yoga community, people are sometimes afraid to say what they really think, fearing they may appear unyogic so Bikram's blunt utterances are weirdly entertaining and somehow refreshing. Though, I have to wonder if he should apply his advice about how to treat the human body to his criticisms of the yoga community: "It's so sensitive, but if you treat it nasty for too long, of course it will backfire."

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photo courtesy of Bikram College of India

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

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