Friday, December 02, 2005

confessions on a yoga mat

"The Joffrey is just so much central casting," said Evergreen, apropos of nothing. As a vacuum cleaner can start to pull up the actual thread of a carpet, her brains had been sucked dry by too much yoga. No one paid much attention to her.

- from "Agnes of Iowa" by Lorrie Moore, Birds of America p. 82
Yoga is ridiculously ubiquitous here in Miami. Jogging down South Beach in the morning, it is sometimes difficult to avoid tripping over people in plow pose (that's halasana for all you initiates). We probably have more yogis per capita than almost anywhere in the nation; and just as in Seattle you can get an espresso at the gas station or the laundromat, here you find yoga classes springing up spontaneously wherever there is a flat surface, in hotels and cosmetics stores and my jogging path on the beach.

With so many options, though, I decided that I would resist the corporatization of yoga, all those slick operations peddling inner peace in convenient 10-class packages. It's all very well to give a corporation control over radio stations and the human genetic code, my thinking went, but once they start deciding how I inhale and exhale during my sun salutations, now they've gone too far! So rather than join the multitudes at Crunch or Bikram or the other popular yoga studios, I went in the direction of the local mom-and-pop yoga shop.

My yoga teachers last year, Garth and Bianca, literally are a mom and pop, though I doubt they would advertise themselves as such. I met Garth at the local headquarters of the Kerry for President campaign last fall, and he gave me his address and told me that he and his wife would be teaching yoga classes in their living room, twice a week in the evenings. I didn't head over there until late November, when my glumness over Kerry's defeat was beginning to wear off.

Garth and Bianca have a pleasant house in Miami Shores, with Bianca's glorious abstract paintings on the walls and their young son Tristan running around and gurgling merrily. Both are excellent teachers in the Iyengar and Ashtanga traditions of yoga, a quite intense and demanding form. Garth would put some Anita O'Day or Ravi Shankar on their fantastic stereo, and during savasana the two cats would lick my fingers while I sprawled out in peaceful exhaustion.

Often I would stay long after class, talking about music or philosophy or the evils of the Bush administration, or countless other more bizarre subjects. These are two of the most interesting people I've ever known - Garth is a retired ballet dancer from Brooklyn, and Bianca is an artist from Germany, and they met at a moonlight drum circle on Miami Beach. They both practice and teach yoga out of their devotion to the art, not for financial profit, but at some point they decided it was not worth holding classes any more. There was a massive road construction project on US-1 which made the trip to Miami Shores a serious threat to anyone's inner peace - since I was regularly the only student willing to brave the traffic, Bianca told me last spring that they were going to suspend their classes until some undetermined future date.

This was sad for me, but I was able to muddle along for a while on my own. I have the primary series pretty well down, all the sun salutations and stuff - my twin brother Dan is actually a part-time yoga teacher, and I can always try and tap into his knowledge telepathically (or by phone) if a yoga crisis should arise. At some point this fall, though, I decided I was getting into a yoga rut, and I should get back to taking classes again.

So I called another yoga friend, Luna - she and her husband Kello also recently became parents, with the birth of their son Aloe this past summer, and also have a home yoga studio. During Luna's pregnancy last spring, I would occasionally go over to their apartment on Jefferson Ave. in Miami Beach and Kello would guide me through postures, though I was again invariably the only one there. He is a good instructor, though I was occasionally disconcerted by his repeated demands that I contract my anal sphincter in order to engage the mula bandha. One of the great things about yoga, though, is that when you don't get so self-conscious, you find you can learn profound things by listening deeply to a large, blissful Jamaican man with dreadlocks named Kello.

I went back to Luna and Kello's apartment last week, and Luna guided me painstakingly through the beginning of the Ashtanga primary series on Thanksgiving morning. It was a great session, and afterwards she asked me to describe every pose we had done, with the breath counts and directions of gaze, and I found I was able to remember everything. Then she told me that from now on, she would charge $50 a class, and I should recruit some friends to come along so that we could share that expense. I was blissfully agreeable at the time, after chanting 'ohm' and wishing eachother namaste, but looking back it feels a bit like a yoga pyramid scheme.

It's too bad, since they probably really need the money now, with their new baby, but I probably will not be able to help them. It's too much to afford on my own, and I've found it almost impossible to persuade other musicians to commit to yoga classes in advance. All these yoga relationships seem to be repeating the dramas and conflicts of my love relationships - money, time, moving too fast or too slow, the need to bring friends along, the need to contract my anal sphincter more... oh wait, except those last two.

So now it looks like I will go back to the corporate route, thanks to some suggestions already submitted by friendly hella frisch readers. There is of course the Bikram center on Ocean Drive, recommended (despite the stinky smell) by Gus at MiamiBeach411, and also a place on Espanola Way called Synergy, which was chosen the best place in Miami to meet single women by the editors of the New Times weekly. 'That's not what yoga is about,' I thought indignantly when I first saw that, 'and how will I ever perfect my urdhva danurasana if I am constantly trying to scope out all the hot chicks in the room?' It's a perilous path to enlightenment, but such is the way of yoga in South Beach.

Thanks for reading my little yoga saga, and please share any additional ideas or suggestions in this post's comments!

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