Friday, August 12, 2011

Yoga on the Pacific Seacoast

N ot even eight hours ago I was in sunny L.A. where lemons grow on trees. And I have to say I loved California. Many thanks for readers who gave me advice for places to visit and teachers to meet. I could have stayed for months more expanding that journey.

(the lovely Annie Carpenter)

I have to say my L.A. yoga experience did not begin with happy sunshine. I did unfortunately visit a few studios where irritable yoga instructors  pushed and pulled at me as if I were Gumby upon first sight. And if you've been practicing yoga for a while, you learn to listen, and you can almost hear the energy of a room, or that of an instructor tugging at your sternum saying, "I can't hear your Ujjayi breathing!"

It occurred to me that it was easy to mistake struggle and strife for discipline. Well, it was clear I'd have to keep moving to find the right spot in L.A. to continue my practice.

Then I was exceedingly lucky to take an amazingly detailed class with Annie Carpenter at Exhale upon the advice of Marla Meenakshi Joy at Downward Dog. In Annie's class I found just the right amount of structure and effort balanced with ease. At some point I would love to talk to Annie about her beautiful practice.

(Erich Schiffmann, left; myself, right)
And then a few days later I was stopped in my tracks by a hummingbird outside our flat in Los Feliz. I wondered if there was a reason it had appeared out of nowhere, and that I gazed at it for a full fifteen seconds as it hovered in a flickering, still velocity; an electric streak of iridescent green and blue. And by afternoon, in a class with the yogi of yogis, Erich Schiffmann, I had begun to interpret the little bird as a portent. Erich Schiffmann's deep stillness reminded me that listening is like moving...and a flickering hummingbird is a trick of the eye, buzzing through each still frame. Erich likens the dynamics of stillness to a the equilibrium of a spinning top...
More on that later in a wonderful interview with Erich that will be posted in the next month or so on this blog. Erich has also emailed to say that he will likely post his video version of that interview on Youtube after the printed version is posted. We each left Erich's class that day with a lovely plumeria flower in hand or hair.

(Dr. David G. White)
The next day I had an interview with eminent scholar Dr. David Gordon White, J. F. Rowny Professor of Comparative Religion at University of California, Santa Barbara. David had sent me a copy of the uncorrected proof manuscript of his forthcoming book, Yoga In Practice (Princeton University Press) a few months ago for review. As you know, I prefer to chat with people so that's what we did. David is a walking heap of erudition. But he's also funny, creative and a bit irreverent...reminds me something of Jim Jarmusch. He declares that he's no Hatha yogi, and would rather self-identify as an historian, but it seems to me that he's a yogi of some unnamed persuasion. That interview will be a blast to put together for this blog as well.

(Dr. Chris Chapple)
 And then following another coincidence, I got in touch with the wonderful Dr. Christopher Chapple, Navin and Pratima Doshi Professor of Indic and Comparative Theology at Loyola Marymount University, because I had just finished reading his chapter in the aforementioned manuscript of Yoga in Practice. Chris is another heavyweight yoga scholar and the author of several key books in Comparative Religion. And furthermore, he  started what I understand to be the first yoga philosophy certificate program in a university context. Chris took me on a tour of the LMU campus, introduced me to several faculty members, showed me their wonderful new yoga studio, as well as the LMU library which houses a significant collection of archival yoga texts. You can certainly look forward to an interview with Chris about his work with the program and his yoga practice in November/December.

And finally, I will miss that endless Pacific seacoast. Sure, I wore heels most of the time and because I fly carry-on-no-checked-luggage, the last thing I was going to do was load myself down with pairs of shoes. So heels and all, we trekked down the steep drop to El Matador Beach, a bit past Malibu, where the water is green and the light is white. Got caught in high tide, shoes finally off, jeans soaked to the waist looking like some city-dwelling east coasters who had no idea what the ocean can do. Herons flew in a free form collective, a long length of the blue sky, as sunbathing locals snickered, I'm sure, as we guarded our iphones, leglocked by spirals of seaweed, as the tide came in, higher and louder each time.



  1. sounds like a great trip! especially the end, where you reveal that you wore heels the whole time.

    DGW is totally jim jarmusch! haha, wow! i love his t-shirt, with that crazy mickey mouse. really looking forward to reading your interview with him!

    i also think it's very cool that he is "no hatha yogi" and identifies as a historian. awesome.

  2. hey roseanne,
    thx for reading! looking forward to the weekend's festival. i'm planning to get to every possible event! will see you

  3. So excited to read the interview with Erich! Mine own teacher is going to study with him in the near future.