Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lou Reed (1942-2013)

"Life is like Sanskrit read to a pony."  -Lou Reed (1942-2013)

L ou Reed, a man who needs no introduction, moved on today. I've since been thinking about his friends and family, especially those whose friendships with him may have been complicated, unresolved... When people finally go, you have no option but to make peace.
Anyway, perhaps the yoga community does not know the extent to which Lou Reed was invested in his Tai Chi practice, incorporating it into his live shows, composing music for the practice. The following is excerpted from a piece done for The in which the writer interviewed Reed about his dedication to the martial art. I have to admit, I laughed out loud when I read that to the interviewer's ears, Reed's Tai Chi accompaniments "seemed different and a bit odd."

That's just as it should be.


American musician Lou Reed attends a Tai Chi session led by his personal teacher Master Ren Guan Yi at the Sydney Opera House forecourt on June 7, 2010 in Sydney, Australia. Members of the public were invited to take part in the free event as part of the Lou Reed-curated Vivid LIVE festival.
(June 6, 2010 - Source: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Ties that Bind: A Conversation with Actor, Author and Yoga Instructor Amanda Erin Miller

One Breath, Then Another, by Amanda Erin Miller

A t the end of the last semester I found myself telling my dissertation advisor that I didn’t like any of my ideas, anything I had ever written or perhaps anything I would ever write. She, who has seen it all before, advised me to stop reading, to stop writing/rewriting, to just stop. Why would I though?? I had become effortlessly neurotic, a walking warning, a nutcase phd candidate...insomniac, firing on all cylinders and ready to snap. In the thick of it, I got a gift in the mail from writer, actor and yoga instructor Amanda Erin Miller. I couldn’t have been more grateful. There’s a sense of amazement that accompanies every book that comes to the house addressed to Shivers Up the Spine: despite any and all difficulties, there are always other people willing to share their stories to the benefit of those of us wound up a hair too taut. I quickly glanced at the back of the paperback:

“From a young age, Amanda identified with her father, a heavy smoker with food issues who starved himself until he was skeletal. She, in turn, developed a severe case of anorexia that led to hospitalization. A year after she recovered, he died of lung cancer.

Amanda Erin Miller
Amanda Erin Miller is an actor, writer, yoga instructor and massage therapist, intrigued by the ways these practices inform each other. Amanda recently published her memoir One Breath, Then Another about her quest for healing to avoid her father's self destructive path on her own Lucid River Press. She has adapted the book into an interactive solo show about studying yoga on an ashram in India, which will premiere as part of Theater For The New City's Dreamup Festival in NYC August 2013. Excerpts from One Breath, Then Another have been featured in Freerange Nonfiction, Underwired Magazine, Om Times, Love Your Rebellion, Runaway Parade and So Long: Short Memoirs of Loss and Remembrance, a memoir anthology. Her writing has also appeared in The Rumpus and UC Riverside's Cratelit. She hosts and books the monthly literary/ music series Lyrics, Lit & Liquor at The Parkside Lounge in NYC.  Amanda earned her BFA in Acting from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and her MFA in Creative Writing from The New School.

Amanda’s book One Breath, Then Another, a memoir, is a moving retelling of her formative years that exposes the depth to which we bond with fathers, mothers, siblings, friends and lovers, and how relationships are manifest in very real physical patterns. Quite simply, people seem to get under our skins; we embody those we love, and those ties that bind are sometimes the same knots that require a lifetime of undoing.

Amanda Miller (left), her father David Miller (right)

"Okay," he said and turned. I followed him down the hall and through the kitchen, where my mom was washing the dinner dishes. He held the front door open for me, and I stepped under his warm into the early evening twilight, planted my feet, and turned back to watch the door swing shut behind him. We began walking side by side in stiff silence, moving slowly due to the poor circulation in his leg. Neither of us looked at the other. Instead, I tried to see inside the windows of the houses we passed. I wondered what other families were like, what other fathers were like, what kinds of relationships they had with their daughters. I listened to my father's heavy breathing until it became the only sound in the world. I imagined the inside of his lungs; they probably looked like the smokers' lungs I saw in my health book at school, part inflamed, part black and shrivelled. As he dragged his leg along, I thought about his heart working so hard to pump fresh blood into his clogged arteries. I thought about his body straining to perform its basic functions. I considered what I'd done to my body and realized I was partially attempting to emulate him." (Amanda Miller, from One Breath, Then Another

Friday, May 17, 2013

In Perpetual Motion: A Conversation with Norman Sjoman PhD on Yoga, Art and a Personal Sense of Order

"Dark Rudra" original on canvas and paper, Norman Sjoman

I t happened the usual way things happen for me. I read something curious and then the thought of it grew, generating questions that then fractured and multiplied, interrupting my routines, populating my peripheral vision. I owe this particularly pleasant detour to Canadian painter, writer, yoga teacher and Sanskritist Norman Sjoman who I’m told was living in Argentina at the time I managed to make contact with him. See, I was on a mission to sequester myself (very successful on the isolation end of things) with the books I needed to read for my final comprehensive exam when I re-read Sjoman’s lovely book, The Yoga Tradition of the Mysore Palace, in which he wrote the following:
"I feel that the only possible way of communicating any meaningful sense of justice is through one's personal sense of order, one's aesthetic."
So of course, this seemed an unusual pronouncement to make. I mean, not that the statement itself is hard to understand, but that Sjoman had decided to open his discussion of the hatha yoga traditions of the Mysore Palace with this note to his readers seemed out of the ordinary. What was his concern with the aesthetic? 

Norman Sjoman
Norman Sjoman has published on art, art history and the techniques of yoga, and also lectured on these subjects as well as Sanskrit at universities in various countries. Born in Mission City, British Columbia, Sjoman has a BA Honours from the University of British Columbia, a Filosofie Kandidat from Stockholm University. He has a Vidyāvācaspati (PhD) from the Centre of Advanced Studies in Sanskrit at Pune University, a pandit degree from the Mysore Maharaja’s Mahapathasala and a Diploma from Alberta College of Art. Over a 14-year period in India he studied four different śāstras (traditional philosophical disciplines), in Sanskrit, with several individual pandits. From 1970-1976 Sjoman studied yoga under B.K.S. Iyengar. Sjoman has taught yoga in several countries and is accredited by yoga studios in Canada, the Netherlands and Japan. In 1982 he was awarded an honorary Doctorate in Yoga by the Nippon Yoga Gakkei. At present he resides mainly in Calgary, Canada, while making frequent visits to India,
"Harihara," original on canvas/paper, Norman Sjoman
Europe, Mexico and South America. As a visual artist, Sjoman has illustrated his own books and books by others. He has prepared exhibition catalogues for various artists, including Druvinka, Shehan Madawela, Raghupati Bhatta, and R. Puttaraju. In 2006 Sjoman was invited to the first panel on yoga at the American Academy of Religion in Washington, DC, where he presented a paper entitled Summary of Research on Yoga. In 2006 he presented a monograph "The Yoga Tradition" at India's Lonavla Yoga Institute.

I like to think that like all detours from life’s main roads, this conversation (which is the result of a volley back and forth of questions emailed over great distances) gives you a sense of yoga’s tributaries and alleyways as Sjoman discusses art, poetry and the body in motion...all those things that make the busy pace of the main road that much more bearable. And so using something other than straight lines we build relationships that can sustain more than plans and ambitions: a personal sense of order, a treehouse, an āsana, a fable that happened one day in the backyard.

"Rudra Rajata" original mixed media on canvas, Norman Sjoman

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Psycho-Spiritual Realizations from a Great American Road Trip with Author and Yoga Teacher Brian Leaf

I t should come as not surprise to yogis that Leonardo da Vinci made a habit of writing and walking backwards. If you’ve spent any time in head or handstand you know how yoga’s inversions are designed to stimulate elaborate reversals, to flip the world on its ear. Such adventures of life lived upside-down are part and parcel of the yogic quest, and if you asked yoga teacher and author Brian Leaf, he’d tell you that there’s no better way to gaining a backstage pass to your own psychophysical matrix than by getting in a van and driving across the country on an extended road trip. His book Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi chronicles his attempt to get off the known path, to sleep in the back of a van like a beat poet or itinerant, to bring life back to the bare essentials, making his existence itself one grand psycho-spiritual experiment.

Brian Leaf
Brian Leaf, MA, is director of The New Leaf Learning Center, a holistic tutoring center in Massachusetts. In his work helping students manage ADD and overcome standardized-test and math phobias, Brian draws upon twenty-one years of intensive study, practice, and teaching of yoga, meditation, and holistic health. He is certified by The New England Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine and holds licenses or certifications as a Yoga Teacher, Massage Therapist, Energyworker, and Holistic Educator. He also incorporates Bach Flower Essences, Cranio-Sacral Therapy, Reiki, Shiatsu, and Tai Chi into his work. Brian is the author of eleven books, including Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi. His books have been featured on The CW,, Fox News, and

Leaf’s book is a memoir of one man’s yoga experiments that invariably result in a host of absurd experiences. Uplifting and occasionally humiliating, the book is a comical and lighthearted marriage of the ridiculous and sublime that's a perfect fit for a Hollywood script. But as I found out in a conversation with Leaf, what preoccupies him in this landscape of the adventure chronicle is the role of yoga in developing intuition...that rapid fire cognition that Malcolm Gladwell talks about in his book Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking... that knowing that comes on so quickly that you can’t quite justify it in common sense terms. In Brian’s words, intuition is the point of yoga, the very thing he was searching for in his psycho-spiritual experiments...
I knew I loved yoga so I went on this cross-country road trip to explore more styles of yoga mostly because that was right after Amrit Desai had been asked to leave Kripalu, and having been a student of Kripalu, I was really devastated. So I went on this trip to find other styles of yoga. And so I would do all of these programs and I'd go to ashrams and retreats and just always kind of searching. And so it turned out to be a big, long adventure. - Brian Leaf
Brian Leaf on the road