Sunday, February 1, 2015

Crystal Ball 2015



M ost days begin the same way. Before I'm out of bed I do a quick supta virasana followed by child's pose and then head downstairs to make myself the big tea, in the big tea mug. Every morning I tell myself that if I finish writing what's left of my dissertation early enough, I may even leave the house.
But most days that's just not in the cards; and I can, with very little exaggeration, say that Ive spent almost every waking hour with my orange anti-glare computer glasses on, big tea in hand, writing my dissertation.

I am aware that in that process I've lost touch with this blog. I never even wished you a happy 2015, and I do intend to make amends. Since I finished writing the conclusion to said dissertation last week, I have started to see a number of yoga events on the horizon that break up what's been a fairly monolithic schedule on my end. I wanted tell about a few of them:

historian David G. White
First off, it's come to my attention that historian David Gordon White, PhD (the author of a plethora of excellent books and articles on yoga) along with Dean of the Kripalu School of Yoga, Yoganand Michael Carroll will be running a five day, all-levels workshop entitled, The Embodied History of Yoga at the Kripalu Centre for Yoga and Heath, August 2-7, 2015. The program details excerpted from the Kripalu site are as follows:

The inner landscapes of the subtle body are windows into the 4,000-year-old experiment we call yoga. In this workshop, David Gordon White surveys how changing paradigms in ancient, medieval, and modern India have affected the yogic experience. He presents new themes each day, supplemented by images from South Asian art. Following David’s themes, Yoganand Michael Carroll, Dean of the Kripalu School of Yoga, offers practical instruction on embodying the lineage of yoga in a contemporary practice.
Discover how you can integrate yoga’s rich history into your personal practice, through:

    •    The study of yogic symbolism and its application to practitioners today
    •    The paradigms of chariot warfare, Ayurveda, demonology, goddess worship, sacred geography, alchemy, and the time-space continuum
    •    Deep introspection and personal exploration in a safe community
    •    Morning practice led by Yoganand, illuminating material covered the previous day
    •    Partner and group discussions

Dean of Kripalu, Yoganand Michael Carroll
Many of you might recall White's engaging interview with this blog in 2011 in which he addressed a number of historical misconceptions regarding the canonical status of Patanjali's yoga sutras in contemporary practice. At that time, I closed our interview wishing David might offer a workshop on history in a studio setting, musing that such scholarship in the flesh might enable old poses to morph into new twenty-first century shapes, downward dogs and slivered moons shifting before our eyes as history meets performance. Needless to say, this event (I predict it will be an all-out yoga adventure) is not to be missed. The details of the workshop are available on the top left hand corner of this site and reservations can be made online at Kripalu.

Kathryn Bruni-Young
Secondly, for those of you familiar with yoga teacher/thinker/activist Michael Stone whose practice now flourishes from Canada's western periphery, you might be interested in a new online course he is co-offering with the lovely Kathryn Bruni-Young, daughter of Diane Bruni. The home-immersion course entitled "The New Wave of Yoga" which begins on March 23, is designed to invoke in participants "a more lateral view of yoga by incorporating different modalities of physical and mindful practices that have yet to be joined with traditional yoga." This sounds like a good plan to me. More information is available at Michael Stone's website.

Rebecca Mendoza, Priya Thomas
The course being offered by Michael and Kathryn was a bit of a reminder to me that isolation (even of the ilk imposed by mammoth writing projects) is a bit of an illusion. As it happens, in October 2014, I began to work on intervening in the traditional sequences of yoga, deconstructing my own yoga practice. That initial idea evolved into a choreographic project with the talented and wonderful Toronto-based dancer/choreographer Rebecca Mendoza. Since we started working on Ghost Point Dragon, we've gathered around us a stellar team of artists including the international mobile photography collective, Tiny Collective, photographer Matthew Wiley, multimedia journalist Koci Hernandez and musician Chris Murphy. The hope is to create a choreography (designed to live on film) that's situated at the intersection between yoga and contemporary dance; shooting is scheduled for later this summer.

Octopus Garden Yoga Centre
Finally, for anyone in the Toronto area interested in the prolific discussions around issues of injury, sustainability and cultural appropriation in circulation of recent, you might want to drop into Octopus Garden Yoga Centre on College Street west this Tuesday February 3rd (7:30-9PM) for their monthly sangha. A panel discussion on the evolution of yoga hosted by yoga teacher John Veiga will feature panelists Kathryn Bruni-Young, Jessie Enright, Stacey Hauserman, Matthew Remski and kinesiologist Blake Martin, PhD. For information can be found at www.octopusgarden.com

Ok that's it for now. I will be back soon. Or so says that crystal ball.

silent film star Theda Bara reads the future

Sunday, May 11, 2014

For Every Phase of the Moon: Toronto Yoga Educator Diane Bruni on Resilience and Reinvention



Diane Bruni, both photos: House of Bonas

O n Friday, April 13th, 2012, Toronto yoga educator Diane Bruni was diagnosed with an aggressive form of stage 3 breast cancer and the dark side of the moon so graphically tattooed on her left arm (always a focus of my curiosity and admiration to be honest) would be a reminder that life mirrors the moon and its half-lit cycles, forcing tides and bodies into unknown mutations, welcoming ebb and change on a cellular level...

No stranger to radical reinvention, (the kind that tests all existing assumptions about what it means to live and move) Diane Bruni’s powerful exploratory classes are well-known to anyone who has ever set foot in Toronto’s Downward Dog Yoga Centre, that iconic institution dedicated to ashtanga yoga that Diane co-founded with business partner, Ron Reid. Yet, despite being frequently identified as an ashtangi, Diane’s personal practice as of the past ten years has in fact been far less interested in those virtuosic performances of lithe physicality commonly associated with the syllabi of the Jois lineage, than they have been with those more subtle cues of movement efficacy: grace, fluidity, circularity and resilience. Resilience in particular forms a cornerstone of Diane’s practice. With that in mind, Diane opened 80 Gladstone – carefully carving out a spot in Toronto from which to cultivate yoga not as its own segregated practice, but as part of a much larger matrix of movement practices that bridge the martial arts to dance and beyond.

Diane Bruni has been practicing yoga for 35 years, teaching students for 20 years, and training teachers for nearly two decades. The first Ashtanga yoga teacher in Canada, Bruni co-founded the Downward Dog Yoga Centre, and hosted an internationally aired television series called Breathing Space Yoga. Her new studio at 80 Gladstone avenue in Toronto is a  movement and yoga research lab where innovative new ways to practice yoga, move and heal are being born. The creative incubator has birthed a revolutionary form on body work called Tensegrity Touch Therapy that incorporates treatment done on a bed of balls, as well as a new yoga prop called the Body Braid, a thick elastic woven onto the body following the spiral lines.

In our conversation, Diane talks about her early years studying kundalini with Yogi Bhajan, with the BKS Iyengar/Scaravelli trained Lisa Schwartz, and later, her training with Richard Freeman and  extraordinary partnership with Toronto’s Ron Reid. She also talks about how through her diverse explorations into dance and varied movement practices, she has tried to come to terms with the realities of her own body, not as an ideal embodiment of any classical practice, but as an instrument pliable enough to confront injury, illness and the changing realities of everyday life.
"When you're living and dealing with a diagnosis like cancer you question everything. You question the water you drink, you question the plastic bags that are carrying your food, everything. Everything feels like it could be a potential reason why I have cancer, why so many people have cancer. And I also believe that there's always an emotional component in any illness. It may not be the cause of it, but it's definitely an opportunity to confront and to deal with whatever emotional issues are underlying the surface of your existence that you're not dealing with and you're not processing, something that you'd suppressed." (Diane Bruni)

Diane Bruni, photo (bottom) House of Bonas
 "What happened was I started questioning yoga, of course. I wondered what went wrong with me and my body. And I was really curious. I was always reading. And I was reading a book written by a physiotherapist and dancer. And the book was about anatomy and movement. And I was learning so much from this book about my body and how it moved. Not about yoga poses, not about yoga philosophy, but about my body and how it was designed move. Not designed to hold postures in a static position, but designed to move. And I said: What else is out there in the world of dance that might be interesting to me?” (Diane Bruni)
Yuan Sifu (Shaolin Monk) and Diane Bruni at 80 Gladstone, photo: Earl Beadle

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Midwinter Bliss with Yogi, Surfer and Blissologist Eoin Finn

Midwinter Whiteout, Toronto January 7, 2014, photo: 100M

I don’t know where you live, but I live in a city. Cities can be confusing places in the wintertime; friends and strangers can get worked up in the holiday hustle. Remember the holidays not so long ago? During the holidays some buy more than they can afford, as if that little bit more would help manage, placate, enable the desires of their loved ones. Others can’t afford to get to a yoga class or find a second of peace over those holidays, those holy days that bring a flurry of gifts, exchanges, returns and ribbon. And so, at the cash register first-world fingers overreach and warp the seams of need until the celebrations of solstice and spice cake are nothing but a cosmopolitan habit, a low-level hum that spills out of the city’s safe neighbourhoods into the urban sprawl, onto the margins, overwhelming what common sense remains. Equanimity is hard, when it’s one for feast, another for famine...

I recently had a wonderful conversation with the much loved yoga teacher, self-confessed blissologist Eoin Finn who had a number of salient things to say about finding your bliss during this midwinter season that can bring together a confusing mix of want, wish and need. 


Eoin Finn, (BA, EYRT 500 hrs) is a yogi, surfer and blissologist, who teaches his unique, transformative, alignment-based Blissology Yoga all over the world. He shares his passion that the nurturing mindset required to practice yoga with sukha as well as an intimate connection with nature is at the foundation to allow us to live our most meaningful life possible. Fusing his passion for athletics and yoga, Eoin has prepared over 100 Olympians as well as pro-athletes from around the world for high-level competition.  Eoin is one of Canada’s most renowned teachers, was one of Lululemon’s first ambassadors, has a line of platinum selling yoga DVDs, teaches sold out workshops and YES (Yoga Ecology Surf) Retreats around the world and has been featured in InStyle Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Huffington Post, Elle, Flare, Yoga Journal, Vogue Australia, the Globe and Mail and Oprah Magazine. He has studied Eastern and Western philosophy in Canada and France and been a student of yoga, meditation since 1988. He counts among his teachers Ravi Ravindra, Nadia Toraman, David Swenson, David Williams, Pattabhi Jois, Nancy Gilgoff, Donna Holleman, Orit Sen Gupta and Gioia Irwin, Myofascial Alignment teacher Tom Myers and Body Mind Psychotherapist Susan Aposhyan. 

In our conversation Eoin talks about the childhood he spent wishing he were a fish in the great Canadian waterways, his childhood studying yoga and his years praising the surf in the Mediterranean. But for anyone who has ever been in any of Eoin Finn’s ecstatic yoga classes, it’s probably hard to imagine Finn as anything but the irrepressible conflagration of near shamanic energy that he is... So you’ll be surprised to realize (as our conversation bears out) that Eoin was, at one point long ago, indebted to a self-definition that was well beyond his means.

Eoin Finn

Eoin Finn's father (left), Eoin Finn (right)

"When you’re being paid, you often think: Well, I can deal with not being switched on... I got so much respect from my role as a businessman. I had respect from my dad who was a lawyer. All of a sudden, he and I could talk business. His other passion was horse racing. I don't know if you've ever watched thoroughbreds running around in a circle every 20 minutes, but he spent most weekends at Woodbine Racetrack. He owned horses and he loved horse racing. And I really wanted to connect with him." (Eoin Finn)

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 Examiner.com 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, MTV.com, Fox News, and Kripalu.org.

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