Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Great Times are Waiting, Shivers up the Spine 5 Days in NYC: Leslie Kaminoff, Tom Myers, Robert Mahon and IDP

I opened the window from my hotel room to a warm chinook blowing in to Manhattan's lower east side. Thank god the window actually opens, I thought. I could see the alley below, announcing a small market, and folks were in and out of the passageway all day long. I had planned to get a good amount of writing done; but there was no internet access at the hotel...or at least not an internet that could stay connected consistently. The front desk looked at me quizzically when I mentioned it; but I knew from his blank, rapid blinking, he was well aware of the problem.

One small room, with a window, and a squirrel that was eating the floorboards underneath me...a shared bathroom down the hall, and walls paper thin so that I could hear the writer rooming next to me talking about her next screenwriting project. It wasn't much; but it was New York City, and I was within spitting distance of everything I needed. So, apart from seeing bands at CMJ, I was going to make it my business to get out and do as much yoga as possible.

This is my recap of Yoga NYC; but it also gives you a bit of a taste of what's upcoming on Shivers Up the Spine heading into the cold season.

O n Thursday afternoon I met with Robert Mahon, whose photographs had formed the basis for the post, "Into the Slipstream; The Yoga of Chance in the Photography of Robert Mahon". We had lunch and chocolate in Chelsea; paid quick homage to the Chelsea hotel; spent hours lounging on the lawn chairs of the Episcopal Seminary Gardens in the warm sunlight of autumn. We never made it to MOMA; but for any of you out there curious about seeing more of Robert's work in the flesh, you can go to the AKA hotel Times Square; and on every single floor is one of a series of stunning photographs of New York City's most recognizable landmarks entitled, "The Liberty Series". Of these, the photos of Lady Liberty remain with me; her form under tender veils of reconstruction scaffolding, a vaulting iceberg in repair over black sheets of water. The images are striking enough to make you want to ride the elevator up and down all day. This is an excerpt from the Hotel's guide to the series:
AKA Times Square is pleased to present Liberty Series, a selection of 12 photographs by Robert Mahon, on display in the hallways facing the elevators and in the fitness center.  Printed in 2010 by the artist especially for AKA, the original photographs of the Statue of Liberty, World Trade Center, Ellis Island, and the New York Harbor were taken by the artist in 1983 and 1984.  Many of these archetypal images having the theme of arrival and departure are aerial photos taken from a helicopter flying close to the Statue of Liberty.

(Priya Thomas and Robert Mahon)
Following our tour of the Liberty Series, we stopped in at the AKA Central Park 42 West 58th Street where the staff gave us samplings of their "a.vod" Vodka which is made for AKA by Charbay. On the way back in a cab to Soho, Robert handed me a cardboard sleeve; a beautiful print of one of his photos, titled "Warrior".

("Warrior", by Robert Mahon)

M y plan was to head out to The Interdependence Project which was right around the corner from the hotel on Thursday night. The Interdependence Project is a secular, membership based organization that hosts programs and events such as the Buddhist Studies Project, group classes in meditation, not to mention a great list of podcasts with Buddhist thinkers and practitioners. On Oct. 21st, IDP was hosting, "Nothing is Hidden: The Promise of Practice Right Here" with Koshin Paley Ellison. Unfortunately, taking a cab in rush hour from one end of the island to another makes punctuality impossible. I was late; and I decided against being the interruptor of the gathering. Regardless, I did stop in at the centre, and then contacted Lani Rowe, Outreach Director at IDP re meeting up for a coffee. Lani is a Yale Ph.D. candidate in Political Science, with a concentration in political philosophy and religion; and, she's a dedicated yoga practioner, so I'm pretty excited about chatting with her about yoga in the next few weeks.

(Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews)
O n friday morning I had an interview scheduled with Leslie Kaminoff, the yoga educator behind Yoga Anatomy,  which was co-authored with Amy Matthews. Leslie Kaminoff is an internationally recognized specialist with thirty years’ experience in the fields of yoga and breath anatomy. Leslie is the founder of The Breathing Project, a non-profit educational corporation dedicated to the teaching of individualized, breath-centered yoga practice and education. The Breathing Project currently teaches classes and advanced training programs out of its studio in New York City. 

My interview with Leslie reveals a charged, astute personality, with a lifetime of yoga tales and studied knowledge. A New Yorker through and through, he doesn't much care for transcendental discourse these days; and embodies a spirit of independent inquiry; a rational, embodied awareness. I am also enrolled in Leslie's 9 month anatomy course; so you will also hear about this amazing resource from Shivers up the Spine in the coming months.

Leslie also generously invited me back  on the weekend to step into the workshop he was co-presenting with bestselling author Tom Myers, "The Deep Front Line and the Breathing Body: An Exploration of the Body's Diaphragms and their Support".  Leslie had suggested I also meet with Tom; and I couldn't think of a better thing to do than to pick the brains of a couple of charismatic movement and anatomy pioneers. Not to mention that Yoga Anatomy was my daily read for more than a month during my teacher training... I was so attached to that book that my book's binding is completely worn; like an old shoe. Little wonder, it's also the number one selling yoga book on Amazon.com.

Speaking of things worn, on day 3, I also discovered i had very serious tear in my "holy grail" pair of jeans. What? How could this happen to my one change of clothes? And these were those jeans you know; the kind you search for over a lifetime, and then try to repair and maintain over a lifetime. So before my walk up to W 26th at Broadway, I dropped in at the Rag & Bone round the corner on E houston; known for its artfully displayed selection of denim that floats somewhere between persnickety, Savile Row tailoring, and austere American workcraft. NYC is a town where your first gasp is at the impossible, fastidious detail of merchandising and merchandise; and the next is at the cash register. No rags, no bones, anywhere in sight; instead, heavy denim for people who don't need to do the heavy lifting. Oh well, at least I had pants on when I went back for the workshop.

It was wonderful to meet Tom Myers; and I came back with some great ideas about framing an interview to feature his work. His book, Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists, is now on my pile on the nightstand - and it will inform a whole segment of my life newly devoted to a methodical study of anatomy.

I was also introduced to Leslie's wife, Uma Elizabeth McNeill, who, like Leslie, had been trained in the Sivananda Ashram in Kerala, and then later with Pattabhi Jois in Mysore. As my parents are both from Kerala, we had number of things to chat about - she gave me some tips about my upcoming yoga expedition to India as well. We all went out to dinner at Vatan, (on 3rd ave between 28th and 29th) an Indian vegetarian restaurant that serves all courses thali-style. Leslie and Uma narrated their chain of yoga stories; and I felt I moved one step closer to getting a sense for Yoga in NYC.

A nd to round out my blog-related yoga work, I decided to step into the mega studio chain, Yogaworks, Soho, to buy a pass for the week. The studio is on Broadway, and the place is colossal. I walked up to the counter which was square and imposing, as stately in its impact as you might expect of a government building, and, so high off the ground that it was hard to sign the paperwork. I suppose it didn't help that the desk service was somewhat impervious; and it took a while before the representative decided to honour the promotional one-week pass as advertised in their flyer. Despite the negotiations, the bookstand featured a good selection of yoga-related reading materials, and an enormous rack of yoga-wear aimed at a young, cosmopolitan demographic.

I rented a mat and walked into a Vinyasa 2/3 class for my first expedition. The most striking feature of taking part in a major NYC studio class was the auditory sensation of the city bustling, grazing the edges of the building's panoramic views. The instructor also spoke of the unsettling effects of the wind and the full moon on the nervous system; and provided a sequence of poses designed to counter those external influences. Also notable, was that the class was an even mix, almost 50/50 men to women; and almost all of them were between the ages of 18 and 35. Certainly a coveted demographic....it's no wonder the New York Times has been steadily covering the yoga world in NYC. It really is colossal; and I'm only scratching the surface. I didn't even get a chance to stop by Body Actualized Control's rooftop yoga at Brooklyn's Market Hotel. I will, however, be exploring this world more as we move onward...because "Great Times are Waiting".

Expect full stories on Leslie Kaminoff, Tom Myers and IDP over the next few months; as well as the continuing 3-Part Series on Yoga in North America featuring Stephanie Syman, author of The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America, and an interview with Mark Singleton, author of Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice.



  1. sounds like you had a great time in NYC. don't know how you managed to fit CMJ in there, too. yogaworks sounds intense ~ i was curious and intended to try it out while i was there, but didn't get around to it. not sure if i could have handled the stimulus and imposing front desk.

    looking forward to your interviews with leslie kaminoff and tom myers - great times are waiting, indeed!

  2. Hi, Priya. Enjoyed this very much.

    I love NYC. I had three kids who went to college there, so I visited twice a year for ten years. Now my focus has shifted to Brooklyn (that Chicago-sized city just over the bridge that I had hardly ever visited during those ten years!) because I have two sons and two grandsons live there now. Brooklyn's great, too.

    Looks like you've got a lot of great stuff coming up. I had the very great pleasure of interviewing Stefanie for Elephant, so I'm really looking forward to hearing more from her.

    Bob W.

  3. Hey Bob,

    my partner wants to move to nyc. mind you, we want to move to every town we visit:) i'd like to live in park slope brooklyn...neighbour to jonathan safran foer! re brooklyn, there's a tattoo artist in brooklyn that i've scouted for a project; at some point i'm getting inked. thanks for writing. appreciate your thoughts re. yoga and the marketplace... pt