When Did Yoga Arrive in America? It’s Complicated.

The thing about truth is that it’s not solid. It’s not one thing. It’s filled with light and shadow and nuance and biography. What is a wonderful truth for you may be devastating to the person sitting next to you on the bus. I suppose, too, that we can choose how we feel about a truth. For example:

Donald Trump is president. How do you feel about that truth?

Of course, some truths are absolute. They have no nuance, no foggy shadow blurring the edges. They are clear truths that stand on their own and have not been muddied by the filter of life’s experiences. For example:

Two plus two is equal to four. I’ve only met one person in my life who will debate this arithmetical truth, a fellow student during my graduate studies and a psychotic provocateur whose one mission in life was to irritate the sane, rational minds of our cohort (this is an opinion, not the truth).

I’m pondering the question “what is true?” because there is a great and varied debate about the origins of yoga in the West. Among my friends and fellow teachers, there are some who begin America’s yoga journey with the arrival of BKS Iyengar. And as much as my practice and teaching is informed by Iyengar yoga, I respectfully disagree. 

When I consider the story of yoga in the West I fall into the camp that looks toward the Transcendentalists, for whom I’ve always had a soft spot. In particular, Ralph Waldo Emerson and his buddy Henry David Thoreau, who has been called ‘The First American Yogi’.

But is that true? Did Thoreau know anything about downward dog or sun salutations? Did he begin his day with a brisk Ashtanga Series I or a simple slow flow? No. But Emerson and Thoreau were entranced by ‘Hindooism’ and we’ve been taught that when Thoreau decamped to his pond in 1845 he spent much of his time in deep contemplation; perhaps meditation. He was mindful of his actions, aware of the world around him and in communion with nature. Henry David Thoreau was a student of yoga.

UnknownIt was Vivekananda’s arrival at the World Parliament of Religion, however, that sowed the seeds of yoga across a wider receptive audience. His delivery of twelve off-the-cuff speeches stole the show and made him a sought-after teacher of the yama and niyamas, pranayama and Kundalini. Vivekananda’s yoga was Raja (Royal) Yoga. Raja Yoga is the practice of attaining unity with the mind, body and spirit. In other words, attaining a state of yoga. It differs from Hatha Yoga in that while Hatha intends to still the mind through the body and breath, Raja brings the practitioner to a state of yoga through the control of the mind. Hatha prepares the student of yoga to practice Raja. The practice of asana is not the key element in Raja Yoga as it seems to be in Western Hatha Yoga, and Vivekananda ignored asana. That doesn’t mean the practice of asana isn’t important, but the practice is intended to build strength and flexibility in order to tolerate long hours of sitting in meditation.

I know that I’ve skimmed the surface. Perhaps I’ll continue to explore how we all landed here and that will inspire more writing. Still, what I’ve written here is, for me, the truth of how Yoga came to America. The documented truth of Vivekananda’s impact is enthralling.

Yoga was here, in America, long before Jois or Iyengar or Bikram. But the story of asana, and how it came to America and morphed into a six-billion dollar industry…well…that’s a different story and a different truth. 

“Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this divinity within, by controlling nature. External and internal. Do this either by work or worship or psychic control, or philosophy, by one or more or all of these – and be free. This is the whole of religion. Doctrines, or dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or forms, are but secondary details.”


Shakti What?

IMG_3249I’ve been leading early morning practices at Samyama Yoga Center since the studio opened in April of 2013. And I’ll admit that until this moment I had no idea why our wonderful and fearless leader John Berg chose the name Shakti Reset to describe my one-hour classes. I would have gone with something boring like Slow Flow or Beginning Hatha.

Today my inquisitiveness finally inspired me to find out what all this Shakti business was about. I found this:

Shakti energy restores balance and re-establishes order.

It is energy without beginning or end. Energy that alternates between motion and rest.

It turns out John wasn’t simply being clever. He gave my morning classes the perfect name. Labeling a class Slow Flow or Beginning Hatha is adequate but subjective. How slow is slow? And what part of the pantheon of hatha choices are you beginning with?

Shakti Reset is less a name and more a description. In my morning classes we alternate between the flowing motion of an alignment-focused standing sequence and the stillness of soft restorative shapes. We begin the hour with the clarity of collective silence and end with the unifying intention to carry our practice into the world and to keep our thoughts clear, our words kind and our hearts filled with compassion.

I am so pleased that beginning Friday the 16th of January I’ll be able to offer Shakti Reset three times per week. You can now join me on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8:15 to 9:15 AM. The first class at Samyama is always free.

 

 

 


Embrace Change

I arrived in the Bay Area a few days after Mount St. Helens erupted, in May of 1980. That first summer was a rough one and there were times I thought about returning to Nebraska, where I’d just graduated from Doane College with a degree in art and education. I thought about running back home to Pennsylvania, too, even though I knew there was nothing there for me.

But I didn’t.

Instead, I worked my way from a hostess at The Good Earth in Santa Clara to a teacher’s assistant at Lakewood Elementary School in Sunnyvale. For a time I directed an after-school extended day care program but I left that job when I began work as an artists’ model. That odd job – sitting still while a room full of painters or drawers or sculptors fashioned my likeness with paint or charcoal or clay – introduced me to a new way of being in the world. Until then I’d felt a bit lost and unsure of who I was and who I was meant to be. But my new friends, most of whom were fellow artists and models, had a way of shaking off any expectations the world held. They walked less certain paths in life. Paths littered with stumbling uncertainty and bold adventure.

One new friend, a fellow model, invited me to join her for a Friday morning yoga class at the only yoga studio in town, a little Iyengar studio on Cowper Avenue. That was sometime around 1985. I didn’t know it then but two decades later I would be the one teaching that very same Friday morning class.

But on Friday, June 27th I will teach my last Friday class at California Yoga Center. My class ends at 10:00 AM.

IMG_3300At 10:01 California Yoga Center, after forty incredible years, will close its Palo Alto studio. A team of volunteers will come in to take away the bolsters and the blankets, the blocks and the belts.

When the news first broke four months ago I held my own grief as well as the grief of my students. Change is difficult. Order in a chaotic life – knowing that at Friday’s from 9 to 10 AM I was teaching at CYC – was easy. But now what were we going to do?

I have three more classes to teach at CYC – this next week, a final Yin class on Monday evening at 7:30 and then my last two hatha classes on Tuesday and Friday at 9:00 in the morning. I will miss the studio very much. It is where I began my practice and where I began to consider teaching.

But change is inevitable and the truth is that we will move on.   Some students will find new teachers and new studios. Others will find my new classes.

Beginning the week of June 30th I’ll be teaching all of my community classes at Samyama Yoga Center at 2995 Middlefield Road (next to the Winter Palace) in Midtown, Palo Alto. Here’s my new schedule:

 

Monday 8:15-9:15 AM – Shakti Reset: Slow Flow in the main studio

Tuesday 7:00-8:15 PM – Pure Yin in the main studio

Wednesday 8:15-9:15 AM – Shakti Reset: Slow Flow in the main studio

Friday 1:30-3:15 PM – Pure Yin in the main studio

Saturday 4:00-5:30 PM – Slow Flow in the main studio

 

One of my yin students left a note for me in my sign in notebook. He wrote,

Embrace change.

 


Whack-a-Doodle Time

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Did you notice? I did. Today was the day I felt things going a bit whack-a-doodle. Not that I mind, of course – ’tis the season, after all. But with the whack-a-doodle season come a few whack-a-doodle schedule changes.

 Here’s what’s happening over the next few weeks:

My classes at California Yoga Center will continue uninterrupted through the end of the year. You can join me on Monday evenings for Yin Yoga from 7:30 to 9:00. I also teach Hatha on Tuesday and Friday mornings from 9:00 to 10:00. Check CYC’s website for more details.

Samyama Yoga Center is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. That means my 7:00 AM classes on November 28th, December 24th and December 31st will not be held. But you are welcome to join me and the rest of the early bird yogis at dawn on every other Tuesday and Thursday! If you prefer to sleep in, I teach a Level I/II Hatha “slow flow” class at Samyama on Saturdays from 4:00 to 5:30. That class will continue uninterrupted through out the holidays as will my Friday afternoon Yin class.

While everyone else is traveling over the river and through the woods, I’ll be subbing at Samyama for those teachers who have family to visit, marathons to run and workshops to attend. Please join me on these days:

Friday 29th November at 4:00 PM for Slow Flow

Sunday 1st December at 10:30 AM for Yin Influenced Flow

Monday 9th December at 7:00 AM for Shakti Reset

Wednesday 11th December at 7:00 AM for Shakti Reset

Thursday 2nd January at 9:30 for Slow Flow

Sunday 5th January at 10:30 for Yin Influenced Flow

(after that I’ll be ready for some subs of my own!)

 

Finally, classes at Avenidas Senior Center are on holiday break. They will resume the week of January 6th. You can register for the winter quarter online by visiting the website or by visiting them in person. I teach Hatha Yoga on Mondays from 1:00 to 2:00 and Chair Yoga on Fridays from 10:30 to 11:30.

 

May we be filled with gratitude for gifts received and find joy in the giving. May our winter be filled with warmth, love and comfort…..and yoga!

 

 

 


Room to Breathe

IMG_2289Room to breathe.

If I took a moment to deconstruct my teaching technique, that’s what it would amount to. My goal is to give you room to breathe. Room to breathe into your body, into your heart, into the space around you.

Because we fill our lives to the brim.

My fundraising project, A Woman’s Face, ended with its book launch on Saturday, the 2nd of November. The next day, there I was: a woman looking at a life that had some space around it. Finally, I had room to breathe. The problem is that space doesn’t always embrace its emptiness. A vacuüm longs to be filled. And when the universe provides our waking, working lives with a bit of room we love nothing more than to set goals and maximize production.

The gift of time and space is like that long, silent gap in the middle of a conversation. It makes some folks uncomfortable.

But not me. There’s nothing I enjoy more than a bit of space and some longed for silence.

And that’s what you’ll find in my classes. Space and silence. Room to breathe. Room to grow.

Because we’re trained to crave achievement, and because achievement implies hard work and pain, my classes might create a sense of unease at first. They might feel too easy. Too gentle. I have been that person who believed that if I didn’t feel a hurt, a pull, a sharp tug – then I wasn’t feeling at all. I have been that person who loved being yanked more deeply into the asana until injury finally forced the futility of the approach. But when we slow down and trust our body and our breath and give ourselves the space to experience the asana we gain a new perspective. Asana practice is about the body. We know that.

But it is also about our Self.

We are meant to move forward in our yoga practice. Our yoga practice. What does that mean to you? Why don’t you give yourself the room you need to find the answer?

I teach Hatha Yoga at Samyama Yoga Center, where the first class is free, on Tuesday and Thursday from 7:00 to 8:15 AM and on Saturday from 4:00 to 5:30. I teach Yin there, too, on Friday afternoon from 1:30 to 2:45.

I teach Hatha Yoga at California Yoga Center, the studio where I began my beloved yoga practice in 1984. My classes at CYC are on Tuesday and Friday from 9:00 to 10:00. I teach Yin there, too, on Monday evenings from 7:30 to 9:00.

 


Spring, Samyama and Teaching Myself to Read

IMG_0617The start of spring is a wonderful thing. Today in Northern California spring is at its best. Clear and crisp with the scent of climbing jasmine in the air. Pale pink cherry blossoms dust the sky. Simply beautiful.

Spring is about rebirth. New beginnings. Happy anticipation. And my life is full of new beginnings and happy, giddy anticipation.

Samyama Yoga Center will host an Open House on Sunday, April 7th. Classes will begin the following day. Samyama is a very special studio. Everyone affiliated with Samyama feels as though they’re part of a family. My first class at Samyama will be on Tuesday, April 9th. I’ll be the 7:00 AM Hatha class on Tuesday and Thursday, a Yin flow class on Friday’s at 1:30 in the afternoon and another afternoon Hatha class on Saturday’s at 4:00.

This week was spring break at Sofia University. I spent the time teaching myself to read. Seriously. Reading for leisure and reading for comprehension are two different skills. I was deficient in the latter, but a few days of practicing the techniques we were taught back in high school – read, identify key points, summarize – has cleared out a few cobwebs. And that’s a good thing. The course that I’ll be diving into next week, Introduction to Transpersonal Theory, promises to be challenge for me.

So four new yoga classes to teach and a new course to tuck into at school. What more could a woman want at the start of a stunning spring?

I can think of a few things I’ll choose to not divulge…

…and A Woman’s Face.

 


We Have a Date! Samyama will Open its Doors in March

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Samyama Yoga Center, the new studio in Midtown, Palo Alto that I’ve been harping about for the past six months has Grand Opening Date officially set in stone. Following a celebratory Grand Opening Party on Saturday the 9th and an Open House on Sunday the 10th, classes will begin on (drum roll, please):

Monday the 11th of March

(Update…Our opening date has had to be pushed back a few weeks.  No, we won’t be opening on March 11th but when we DO open, and it won’t be long after our original date, Midtown will light up with Yoga Joy!  We’ll keep you posted…)

I’ll still be teaching:

Gentle Morning Flow:  Tuesday and Thursday from 7-8:30 AM

Yin Flow:  Fridays from 1:30-2:45 PM

   Hatha:  Saturdays from 4:00 to 5:30

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