Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.

The new book club website is live!!  Join us, won't you?

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.

And it makes me very, very happy.

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.

There are a few overused words yogis like to throw around a lot, some of which I don't mind and others of which I find, erm, hard to stomach.  "Goddess" and "manifest" are two of those that get a lot of play in these parts, the former in reference to the fashionable girlfriend you're about to meet for lunch, and the latter in reference to the lottery winnings you're hoping to conjure up singing enough earnest mantras to Lakshmi.

"Belly" is a term I hear less frequently, but one that I love to use in class — because it feels so down-to-earth and real and hearty and, well, anti-unicorns-and-fairies.  Your belly is, well, your belly.  Right there.  Maybe even a Buddha-belly, if you're lucky.  And say what you want about the importance of Uddiyana bandha and a strong core and all of that ('cause it's all true), but I will always still lurve my soft and round belly, just as it is.

Here's a good quick read that's been thrumming along nicely in my mind since I stumbled across it last week.  I read this short round-up of the cultural-theological history of the belly and flashed back to a lot of old college work (over a decade ago, can it be?) in gender studies and feminist theology, and was reminded of how far popular culture is from this kind of holistic, body-loving sensibility.  Sigh.  Back to the trenches on that one, right?

Embrace yo' belly.  I sure do love mine.

The Great Belly: A Yogini's Lament

(And, PS — that's Saraswati.  She's long been my favorite goddess — all art, all music, all knowledge, all literature; a true out-and-out muse.  Hit it, little lady.)

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Raw, idiom: 14. in the raw, a. in the natural, uncultivated, or unrefined state: nature in the raw.

For me, beauty resides in authenticity.

Our lives encounter so much that’s artificial and phony. Freeways and malls and plastic throwaway stuff. Industrial growth. Ugliness. We are starved for beauty, so starved that we forget how important it is. We’re in danger of losing our sense of what is authentic and true.

Those people whom I most envy and admire are those who have turned away from the super-fluidity and cluttered materialism and returned to the beauty of the natural world and objects made by human hands, the texture of wood, the woven basket, the mixing of compost into soil in the back garden, a good soup cooking on the stove, an evening around the table with family and friends.

Rediscovering this kind of beauty involves a slowing down, doesn’t it? And it certainly involves listening to the priorities of the heart.

— Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy

Raw, idiom: 14. in the raw, a. in the natural, uncultivated, or unrefined state: nature in the raw.

Super stoked to announce my second-annual Bhakti In Bloom retreat with Solyoga Trips.  Join me April 19-21st for another stellar escape under the stars at Sierra Hot Springs.

Details here.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.

Here's a little recent playlist love for you.
Song of the Sun (Reprise), Stevin McNamara
The Orbiting Suns, Jens Gad Presents
Mirage, Moroccan Blonde
White Owl (Mason Jar & Josh Garrels), Love & War: B-Sides & Remixes
Yeah That's Right, Rocket Empire
Solar Prayers, Desert Dwellers
Valor, Josh Garrels, Love & War: B-Sides & Remixes
Mission, Beats Antique
Mantra, DJ Free & Brent Lewis
You Already Know, Bombay Bicycle Club
Moods of Kirtan (Siksastakam), Gaura Vani & As Kindred Spirits
Mae Divina, Prajna Vieira & Ben Leinbach
Jesse's Song, Wolf Larsen
Keshava Madhava, Prajna Vieira & Ben Leinbach

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.

The social media elves have been hard at work.

You can now stay up-to-date on all the latest book-slut action via the Roots Book Club Facebook page, or if you're more of the tweeting persuasion, on our brand-spankin' new Twitter page.

After you "like" or "follow" one or the other (or both!), promptly log out of your accounts, close your laptop, grab a blanket, and curl up with an actual book or two.  We're now less than 3 weeks away from our first meeting Feb. 19th.  Already thrilled by the number of interested folks coming out of the woodwork.  Book nerds, you are not alone!

Pretty much in love with this new baby.  Can't believe how connected I feel to many of you long-distance yogi friends who I know are already reading the book 3000 miles away.  Hooray for technology.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.

I spent Friday and some of Saturday at the San Francisco Yoga Journal conference.

It's funny; I've lived here going on 10 years now and have never once attended this conference, in spite of the fact that it's always been held less than a mile down Sacramento Street from my long-time apartment.  Stumbling distance to the yoga world's most-respected teachers, really.  I was always perched so comfortably in the mecca of the yoga world that I blew this gathering off, took it for granted, didn't even really see it.

So when my dear girl Amanda G asked if I'd be down for assisting her and her husband Nicholas (you might know him as MC Yogi) in a couple of their classes this weekend, I said hellz yeah.  Super excited.  Nick and Amanda are a dynamic-yoga-duo if there ever was one (they're also the reason I met the mister, so I'd pretty much walk over hot coals for them anyday, but that's another story), and I knew it'd be a beautiful couple of classes, an artistic bonanza, a mythic shot in the arm, a chance to spend a few hours listening to and soaking up some really sharp and passionate and iconoclastic teachings.

Then, starting about a week ago, there began to emerge a lot of controversy surrounding the whole conference.  You've heard about it, yes?  I mean, beyond the usual "only rich white people who can afford to spend $1000 for a weekend in a posh hotel with a sweet-ass atrium overlooking the Ferry Building go to this" factor, which is a pretty commonly-heard critique of this always-expanding crop of yoga-tourism festivals and retreats.

Beyond that standard criticism, though, there was a lot of fervent dialogue about the fact that the Grand Hyatt (where the conference is traditionally held) has been embroiled in some very serious labor disputes with employees for the last few years.  Lots of legit concerns, labor injustices, human rights issues being expressed on behalf of the housekeepers, the doormen, the janitors, you name it.  And, dude, you know my middle name is "Karl Marx" — I mean, anytime you've got a labor dispute, I always jump in on the side of the workers.  Commies unite!  And lots of local critically-minded folks were saying: hey man, is it really cool for a bunch of corporate yogis — a whole magazine's worth of them, really — who purport to care about living consciously, acting with ahimsa, operating within the bounds of compassion, staying in and teaching in and funneling a lot of money into a hotel chain that so clearly violates a lot of hard-working folks' civil and human rights?  They called out Seane Corn and a few other prominent teachers and said: what's with the double standard — why do you (i.e. Off the Mat, Into the World and other yoga-based non-profits) care so much about injustices in Africa and Haiti, but you'll gladly teach in a hotel staffed by folks in your backyard who are, quite frankly, exploited?


There was a lot of anger, more than I've seen in the yoga world in a long time.  The kind of anger that made me uncomfortable and confused and fired up, all at once.

The thing is, though: I'm kind of over anger at this point.  Spent a fair amount of my late teens and early twenties pissed at the world for all of its clear injustices, did my time at protests and community-organizing groups and whatnot, and then after growing up a bit and suffering a bit and experiencing death and loss and all of those other things that life brings each of us as we age, I softened a little.  I got a tad less angry and a lot more compassionate. And the more I really studied mindfulness and yoga and whatnot, the more I realized that the end point, the driving force, must always be compassion — no matter the injustice.

So, in this last week, amidst all the furor, I felt a lot of compassion. Compassion for the people who work at the Hyatt, who have to bust ass for a bunch of yes, ok, mostly upper-middle class white ladies in expensive pants.  Compassion for the people who work at Yoga Journal, who as feeling individuals, as humans, as yogis who are trying to keep a job and do some noble work, no doubt have zero desire to exploit or abuse, and who have been hustling for a long time to put on an extensive and very-involved conference that is surely tough to coordinate.  Compassion for teachers like Seane Corn and Shiva Rea and the others who are just trying to do their dharma and share a few teachings and spread their own version of the yogi gospel and oh, pay their rent, too.  And compassion for the myriad folks whose lives were or are touched by this whole yoga thing, folks who came to the conference hoping for a measure of ease or relief or inspiration.

Everybody's fighting an internal battle, or six of them; we know this, yes?  Hence the reminder to be kind.  You never know what emotional weight somebody's bearing under those ripped, ostensibly perfect, blissed-out lululemon-clad shoulders.  More often than not, it's something really damn heavy, something heartbreaking, something intense.

So: we practice compassion, instead of anger.  We take a deep breath and try to see the humanity in everyone involved.

Because, remember: just as there really are no nations, there are no bad guys. 

Doesn't Krishna remind us of that in The Bhagavad Gita, when he teaches Arjuna to "see all in me, and me in all?"  Isn't this one of the fundamental teachings of yoga philosophy, that sentiment we espouse every single time we bow to one another and say Namaste?  That reminder to see the spark of divinity in every creature, even the ones it's easier to vilify or smear? 

(Hello, Mitt Romney; tidings, Donald Trump.  You, too, are God.)

The sooner we realize that truth, really realize it, understand it, act upon that knowledge, the sooner we'll find some measure of peace and real solidarity.

I got to the conference early Friday morning and there was no evidence of picket lines or strikers.  Everything was fairly chill, hushed, groggily bustling in the way that the Financial District bustles when it's just waking up.  I picked up my badge and found the carpeted conference room where Nick and Amanda and Sianna were teaching, and slipped off my shoes and walked in.  And there was a room full of quiet folks from all over the world sitting half-awake in Ardha Padmasana who wanted earnestly to study a few Hindu myths and do some asana and chant to Kali and learn a thing or two.

And it inspired the hell outta me. All of that.

The thing I've realized, over and over, is that nobody comes to yoga because everything's peachy, because their lives are already perfect, because they've achieved everything they've wanted to and found peace and the job of their dreams and sweet abs and the partner from heaven.  No, dude.  We all come to yoga because we're suffering in one way or another: dealing with an achy knee or a creaky elbow, aching from a broken heart or a whirling mind, wounded from the inescapable ruts of past samskaras and feeling unable to create new, more life-giving ones.

It's tempting to get all hipper-than-thou and snarkily write off these ever-expanding yoga conferences and music festivals as just one more chance to make a buck, profit-driven capitalist machines craftily birthed by self-serving corporations and ego-driven teachers, with pricey fitness-wear stretching as far as the eye can see.  It's easy to slip into that bad guy/good guy narrative — lazy, even, dare I say? — and I've certainly been guilty of it myself.  And sure, there were flashes of cheerleading camp now and then.  But the thing I learned this weekend, really, was that, at the end of the day, people were just there to ease their suffering.  They came hoping to learn a little more about meditation so that they could manage to sit with their constantly-spinning minds; they were there to explore what it means to move and live and breathe in good karma; they were looking to discover how their own arts, their own stories, their own unique offerings, might be fodder for learning to find a little more ease in their lives, a little less dis-ease, a little less suffering.

I sailed home Friday night after spending the day with Nick and Amanda and Sianna.  The thing that struck me over and over again about these three teachers, beyond even the actual creative and intelligent hybrid yoga-art-music-mythology content of their teachings, was the way in which they've each found such authentic and original voices.  Each comes from a different starting place; each has interwoven his/her own grassroots experiences to end up in this most-singular place of teaching that feels innate, unconventional, genuine, true.

And their work reminded me that this yoga thing is so much more than just stretching.  It's art and it's music and it's hip-hop and it's philosophy and it's reconsidering what it means to move through the world in a way of grace and ease and peace.

Assisting is particularly a treat if you're usually used to teaching, because rather than needing to be aware of the time and your sequencing and the music level and all of those other little details that make up a full class, all you have to do is shut your mouth, pay attention, and listen.  Be aware.  Be present.  Watch someone's inhales; follow her exhales; let your hands move with the rhythm of the breath to deepen her fold, rotate her thigh, lengthen her spine.  You're walking around the room doing Ujjayi and giving people a little love.  It's fucking great.  So rewarding, so intimate, so vulnerable, incredibly humbling.

I felt so alive, so awake, so invigorated, after those few classes.  I felt reminded of why we do any of this; reminded by those quiet fleeting moments-in-time when a student's shoulders dropped, when I put my hand on his sacrum and he exhaled, letting go, when I saw the sheer joy, the indescribable lightness of a deep backbend on a woman's face as she released the pose after moving more deeply into it than she ever had before.  I felt reminded of the sheer power of touch: how very much we can do by simply tuning in and being present with one another.

We're all doing the best we can, with what we've got, and though the circumstances may not always be ideal (a hotel boycott, a mousy conference room, a belly full of scarfed-down burrito in Dhanurasana), the practice is always and ever enough.  The breath is always enough.  The love for it all is always enough.

And at the base of all that lies compassion.

Over and again: compassion.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.

Yehudi Menuhin plays music on the violin; it is with his violin that he expresses the Divinity within him.  I play yoga asana on my body.  What is the difference? How can we say playing on the violin is spiritual work and performance of asana is merely physical?

— B.K.S. Iyengar, 1960

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Really Exciting News: NEW BOOK CLUB!


A book club for the urban yogi

Do you dig a good read, but find it harder and harder to get through a book between deadlines and emails?

Has your childhood love of reading been lost to the time-suck of mindless Facebook-scrolling and YouTube-watching?

Do you wish you had a down-to-earth friend or two with whom you could talk about more than the weather?  Do you tire of superficial small talk and wanna dig into the deeper questions?

Would you like to learn more about the philosophies behind yoga and mindfulness, but don't really know where to start?  Are you intimidated by, but curious about, the big words and esoteric concepts underlying your practice?

Do you dig drinking wine and hanging out with cool cats?

If you answered "yes" to any of the above — and, come on, who doesn't like an excuse to crack open a bottle of red on a weeknight? — then you should join us for the first-ever gathering of OMpower's new book club, ROOTS.

ROOTS gets at just that: the soul behind the schtick, the ideas behind the practice, the philosophy behind the asana.  We'll tackle one book a month from diverse genres, keeping themes creative, broad, and relatable, with an emphasis on the light-hearted and the down-to-earth.

Join us for our first gathering Tuesday evening, February 19th, 7pm, at OMpower Cycling & Yoga.  Bring a little something sweet to share if you can.  We'll sip pinot and tawk books. 

February's debut book selection:
Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi: My Humble Quest to Heal My Colitis, Calm My ADD, and Find the Key to Happiness,
by Brian Leaf

It's pretty simple: 

Pick up a copy at your local indie bookstore, grab one at the library, or order it on Amazon here.  Read it.  Grab that friend you've been meaning to re-connect with for six months.  Then roll on over to OMpower Tuesday the 19th at 7pm.  We'll take it from there.  We just ask that you throw five or ten bucks into the can to help keep the lights on and the wine flowing.

Live far away but still wanna participate? 

Have no fear; social media to the rescue.  We're working on a few slick ways for you to join in from afar.  Start now by digging into the book, make sure to "like" the soon-to-come Roots FB and Twitter pages to receive updates, and we'll have more info for you soon.

Happy reading!  See you on the 19th.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.

Excellent, clear, poetic rumination on the common roots of various types of Buddhist meditation from Lama Surya Das over at Tricycle.  Check it out.

(This pretty lady from back in the day has nothing 
to do with it all.  I just liked her quiet vibe.
And her hat.)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Raw, adjective: 6. ignorant, inexperienced, or untrained: a raw recruit.

This is why we do it.
Meditation, yoga, any of it.

Right there. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Raw, idiom: 14a. in the natural, uncultivated, or unrefined state: nature in the raw.

Some of my favorite moments of 2012 were spent on adventures with Solyoga Trips: kicking it in the Sierras on our Bhakti in Bloom retreat, and doing yoga in the barn at Gospel Flat farms.

Check out our Year in Review here — and stay tuned for more to come in 2013!

(Hint: you might wanna dig out your passport.)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Raw, adjective: 6. ignorant, inexperienced, or untrained: a raw recruit.

Yoga is Christian. Yoga is Buddhist. Yoga is Hindu. Yoga is Taoist. Yoga is Jewish. Yoga is not a religion. If anything, yoga is psychology yoking breath to body.

One river, many wells. Same God.


Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.

On a brighter note:

On recommendation from a friend, we've recently discovered this excellent book of daily readings from Hafiz, and it's hilarious and wise and poignant and rich.  Highly recommend.  Author is Daniel Ladinsky.

Really lovely easy way to start each day on a mindful note.

a hole
in a flute

that the Christ's breath
moves through —
listen to this 

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture

 Oh dear.

This sad harbinger of what's to come appeared in yesterday's NYT: "The New Mantra: Replacing 'Om' with Glam."

It's the kind of article that's indicative of all that's troublesome about the yoga scene these days.  (And I very deliberately say "scene.")  And it endorses the sort of sentiment that makes me want to hang up my yoga mat and become a nun.  Or a tree-sitter activist.  Or a dishwasher.  Or anything but a slave to the oncoming yoga-industrial-complex.

Depressing.  I mean, unless you need some $995 meditation sweatpants, in which case: good to go.
Thankfully, lots of cool folks are already speaking intelligently about this piece of sh*t journalism.  Check out The Interdependence Project for a sharp new blog on what we know as "spiritual materialism" — i.e. that idea that you'll get enlightened if you can just buy the right mala beads and wear the perfect turban.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.

Michael Moore — you know him as the director of Bowling For Columbine and so many other excellent (and oft-controversial) documentaries — posted this blurb on his Facebook page the other day.

It's a time of year saturated with talk of weight-loss goals and dramatic detoxes and "New Body, New You" magazine cover stories — all of which generally make me want to run far, far away from all media sources until February or so, when Valentine's Day settles in and people have for the most part let go of their redemptive-bodily-transformation-as-salvation-myths.

Hence: I love this.  A voice from the anti-diet counterculture.  Holler.

Read the whole damn thing.  So good.
I am now in Week 42 of my walks. Each day, 30 minutes, that's it. Thousands of you have joined me since that Sunday night on March 18 when, as a joke, I said I was going for a walk. I had read that morning in the paper that there were now more people in the U.S. on anti-depressants than those who go to the movies. I tweeted out that maybe that's the problem -- perhaps if people got out and went to the movies more they might feel better. This unleashed a lively conversation about mood-aletering drugs, the lousy movies these days in theaters, the rip-off prices for 3D films, etc. Finally, someone wrote: "Sometimes I think what I need is just a brisk walk." I tweeted, "Hey, there's an idea! I'm putting my shoes on right now." I went out and came back home after 30 minutes — and a few hundred of you had amazingly joined me where you live. So I went walking the next night, probably out of some sort of obligation because so many had written to say "please let's do it again tonight!" So I did. And the night after that. By the end of the week it was hard to determine how many thousands were now going out with me on these "virtual walks" in hundreds of cities and towns, but it had taken off like a rocket and so we all went walking every night from that point on.

Now it's 250 days later. What a simple, great idea that person had! Some have asked, "Why are we walking?" "What's the cause?" There is no cause other than to go for a walk. We do it just because it feels good. We do it because we can. We do it because it's free and it takes no time. All you need to know is how to put one foot in front of the other (or, for the disabled who've joined in, by any means necessary). It's the perfect slacker/schlub activity.

I am often asked "How much weight have you lost from all this walking?" For a while I didn't understand the question. I mean, why would I want to lose anything? I have enough trouble finding my keys! Then I got it — skinny people (1/3 of the country) want us, the majority, to be like them. That's so nice of them.
But the truth is, exercise does not work, diets do not work, feeling crummy does not work. Nothing works. My advice: Quit trying to be something you're not, be happy with the life you've been given, and just go for a pleasant walk outside. With me. Wherever you are. Get off the treadmill, stop drinking diet Coke, throw out all the rules. It's all a scam and it conspires to keep you miserable. If it says "low-fat" or "sugar-free" or "just 100 calories!" throw it out. Remember, one of the main tenets of capitalism is to have the consumer filled with fear, insecurity, envy and unhappiness so that we can spend, spend, spend our way out of it and, dammit, just feel better for a little while. But we don't, do we? The path to happiness — and deep down, we all know this — is created by love, and being kind to oneself, sharing a sense of community with others, becoming a participant instead of a spectator, and being in motion. Moving. Moving around all day. Lifting things, even if it's yourself. Going for a walk every day will change your thinking and have a ripple effect. You'll find yourself only eating when you're truly hungry. And if you're not hungry, go clean your room, or have sex, or call a friend on the phone. Without knowing it, you'll starting eating like the French (there is no French word for "fast-food") — and you will feel better. You do not feel better admonishing yourself or beating yourself up or setting up a bunch of unrealistic rules and goals with all the do's and dont's that are just begging to be broken. You wanna know something? I eat ice cream every friggin' day. I drink a regular Coke every single day. I put butter on things. But I also walk every day. Some days now, I walk twice. And now I've started to do some push-ups and lifting stuff. It's building muscle, and in doing so, has created an extra furnace to burn stuff and create energy. Weird! That, in turn, makes me sleep 7-8 hours a night which is another game-changer. And all the walking and lifting makes me thirsty, so that makes me drink more water — another huge plus!
So, you can see from the photo of me up in the box that something has changed. I have no idea how much weight I've lost and I don't care. I don't care about that or diets or home gym equipment or rules about what I can or cannot eat or anything other than making sure I go on my walk today. That's it. That's the big secret. It costs nothing. I feel great. I can see my feet! There they are! Hello, feet! Wanna go for a walk? The feet say YES! Ask yours right now. And if you want, join me. But do NOT go on that walk with me if you are doing so to "get fit", "be healthy", or "lose weight". You are fine just the way you are. Only walk outside with me right now because you know it might just feel good, because it's a beautiful day, or someone is joining in with you, the fresh air is invigorating, you have to drive down to the drug store but you realize you can walk there, or simply because it's just nice to be alive for one more day. Walk to walk and nothing else — and the other stuff will take care of itself.

I'm heading outside in an hour. Join me. And let me know how it went!
 Preach, buddy.

Raw, adjective: 6. ignorant, inexperienced, or untrained: a raw recruit.

Nice little piece on yoga in prisons in today's NYT:
“There are a lot of butts in the air,” said Billy Scruggs, 33, who was convicted of statutory burglary. “But after the first time I did it, I saw how much it relaxed me.” 
True that.  And don't worry about all the butts, Billy.  You'll get used to that.