It began innocently enough when I was attending Boston University's School of Fine Arts. A fellow classmate, whose name escapes me, suggested that I accompany her to a yoga class. Her face is vividly stamped in my mind: Square-jawed with thick, bee-stung lips (pre-lip-enhancement days), freckly white skin with a bit of peach fuzz, big eyes and long, dark horse tail hair... oh, now I remember, her name is Margo.
I don't actually remember the class, except that it was somewhere near Harvard Square and felt weird yet exotic; alien, yet relaxed and slow. After all, it was almost four decades ago. As a nice Jewish girl from Long Island, anything 'not Jewish' was unfamiliar and strange to me then. Especially the chanting of AOUMMMMM (OM). Here was my first awareness of the Chinese philosophy of Yin/Yang (feminine/masculine, dark/light). My first reading of the "allegorical novel that follows the spiritual journey of an Indian man called Siddhartha during the time of Buddha," Herman Hesse's Siddhartha, blew me away.
In those years I was the Energizer Bunny, with more energy, strength and power than most girls my age or younger. After all, I was an art major and my greatest feat was sculpting stone with hammer and chisel for a few hours a day. Walking with a huge art portfolio across the Boston Bridge in the middle of winter to the studio was an even greater feat. With the high winds and slippery ice on the reinforcement of metal plates that joined the concrete, it was almost impossible not to slip and fall.
Cut to New York City in the late '70s, when the health club/gym craze erupted. Living a block away from the New York Health and Racquet Club, I joined this grungy basement gym with the typical stinky towel and sickeningly-sweet sweat smell. This was the place where you'd be most likely to get crabs if you went into the steam room, but there was a yoga class that seemed to beckon me to try it out again. This time I liked it more, but my super energy propelled me to do the aerobic classes and yoga was my relaxation after the grueling hour and a half of schvitzing (Yiddish for sweating profusely). I treated myself to the indulgence of yoga after my intense workouts.
Next stop: Los Angeles almost a decade later, when all things eastern meditation, guru, zen and macrobiotic were in full swing and Samadhi isolation/floatation/sensory deprivation tanks (yin) were taking over the disco craze. Yoga provided a contrast to the sex, drugs, wild party scene, Post-Disco era of pop, dance, Jane Fonda workouts, modern art (yang) and new wave music, smooth jazz and (blend of yin/yang). My first affair was with aerobics, and I was totally addicted to the intense energy, high impact, thunderous, high octane music and output. I went for the burn and got burned out by the mid-nineties. Interspersed with hiking, Pilates Reformer workouts and lots of swimming laps, my middle-aged body was just about at it's peak.
I lived by the old adage,"Your health is your wealth."
As hiking in the hills with nature became de rigueur, being cooped up in a gym or studio was becoming claustrophobic. Fresh air, trees, wildlife, sky, open space and freedom without instructions or rigid routines became the new addiction. Appreciating the earth and all its splendor, having gratitude for living in "EL LAY' and enjoying all the beauty without time constraints, structure or direction became the new world gym to me. Working out was always my drug of choice.
Yet with Yoga, it was more like a love affair. In fact many women (and men) became enamored with the teacher, and in love with the whole yoga process and experience.
Yoga was still beckoning me and it called so loud, I started doing classes in Santa Monica at the newest, latest studios that were cropping up all over. My favorite were the flow classes. I then graduated to the Sports Club LA Ashtanga classes led by Bryan Kest. He is considered one of the founders of Power Yoga. At that time, Bryan was young, adorable and still a kid, but his deep understanding of yoga and his ability to alchemize it into an East/West practice became a brilliant addition to the yoga world. He was a dreamy-eyed-guy who dropped into yoga before he ever dropped into or out of the world. However, he has now matured into a profound teacher and has transformed his 'brand' into something much deeper and less trendy.
There is no enlightenment at the end of a pose. Actually, there is no end to these poses. It seems to me in a general sense we as a society are enamored with the mystical, mysterious, the unseen & unknown. We are looking for the hidden teaching, the secret scroll or fountain of youth, and of course heaven and hell. Yoga practice seems to be used to access some deeper dimension or some enlightened state. Understand right now there is no connection between flexibility and enlightenment. Your physical capabilities have nothing to do with higher consciousness.-Bryan Kest.
To be continued...
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