Teacher Spotlight: Terence Ollivierra on Rolfing + Yoga

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This teacher in Washington, DC, integrates Rolfing with yoga to help his students move more freely.

With his history of weightlifting, Terence Ollivierra had a tendency to overdo yoga poses, which led to thigh and hip pain. He found no relief from acupuncture or chiropractic therapy, and while he sought balance through his yoga practice, the process was slow, the discomfort worsening. Then, in 2005, an Iyengar Yoga teacher introduced Ollivierra to Rolfing, the hands-on bodywork designed to release tight fascia (connective tissue) so that the body can realign itself. Rolfing—combined with an integrative yoga practice—proved to be the solution. Ollivierra went on to complete his Iyengar Yoga teacher certification with John Schumacher in 2009, and trained to be a Rolfing/Structural Integration body worker so that he could better serve his yoga students. Today, Ollivierra is a perceptive teacher who aims to help students identify and modify movement patterns that cause them pain.

How does your Rolfing training inform your yoga teaching?

I have become much more sensitive to the subtle causes of major imbalances in people’s physical structures. Before a student tells me about an injury, I have already noticed how she stands and walks and have a good idea of issues she’s facing—and where to begin looking for solutions. For example, someone’s back may feel good in a particular yoga pose, such as a backbend, but her alignment could create an issue if she’s only moving from her lower back. She may feel a “release” while in the pose that might give temporary relief, yet she has problems later because a pattern of poorly performed asana is being repeated again and again.

What do you love most about your yoga students?

Their humility. The fact that they show up is humility. I am a relentless teacher. The purpose of a class is to experience another perspective on how this work can be done. I don’t let people rest in their habits. You have to be present or else you’ll get called out.

What is your practice like?

Most of my practice is Savasana and 
breathing, such as yoga nidra, the “yoga sleep” meditation in Savasana. I used to do a minimum of three hours of asana a day, not counting breathwork and meditation. Now I do just a few poses—they change depending on the day and my needs—beginning and ending with Savasana (with knees bent at 90 degrees, feet fist-distance apart, elbows wide with palms down or hands on the belly). It takes an hour or two at most because, after all my training, I’m sensitive to my own structure and its movements. And I’m not one to do things halfway.

In the Details: Ollivierra shares a few more of his favorite things.

  • Movie: I’m a Star Wars geek. I often fall into a Yoda voice while teaching. I’ll say, “Do or do not—there is no try!”

  • Music: I play electric bass and fool around on guitar and keyboard as well as double Native American flute and the hulusi, a Chinese flute.

  • TV Show: Avatar: The Last Airbender. This cartoon is deep, full of wisdom, and will leave you feeling good all around.

  • Signature Dish: Coconut curry lentils. I’ll add in kale, butternut squash, and sweet potato.

  • Books
: Eknath Easwaran’s translation of the Bhagavad Gita, and Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now.

Rock Out with Teacher Mary Clare Sweet (+ Get Her Playlist)

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A Nebraska-based yogini finds her groove bringing rock ‘n’ roll to yoga.

A Nebraska-based yogini finds her groove bringing rock ‘n’ roll to yoga.

From a musical family (her uncle is Matthew Sweet), Mary Clare Sweet followed her passion for rhythm and dance to New York City, where she became a student of the venerable Sri Dharma Mittra, founder of the Dharma Yoga Center. From there, Sweet’s yoga career has taken off. At age 26, she opened her first vinyasa studio in Omaha, Nebraska: Lotus House of Yoga. Five years later, she is the owner of five Lotus House locations and a regular teacher at yoga festivals nationwide.

What does your practice look like?

My day starts with meditation and breathwork. It’s not easy, since I want to check my phone first thing when I get up, but I try to resist, sitting for about 10 minutes and then doing Kundalini exercises, including the Ego Eradicator. In total, I try to practice yoga for an hour a day. Some days, I’ll just let my body move, like when I was a ballet and jazz dancer.

How were you introduced to yoga?

When I was growing up, my mom practiced in a basement studio with tapestries on the walls. And I grew up dancing around the house with my parents and rock-musician uncle. There was always a token yoga class at dance camp. But it wasn’t until I moved to New York City and met Dharma Mittra that I thought, ‘This is what I want to feel all the time’—the way I felt when I looked into his eyes and saw the spark inside his heart. There was undeniable compassion.

Music is big for you and for Lotus House of Yoga. How is it incorporated into your classes?

Making a yoga playlist requires intention. I base mine on the chakras, starting with grounding music that brings you into the moment. Then I move into rhythmic sounds that you can feel around the second [svadhisthana] chakra. Next, I bring in music that is fiery for the third [manipura] chakra. For the heart chakra, I use music that helps students tap into collective consciousness. Near the end of class, the songs get more poetic to help students center on self-expression and the fifth [visuddha] chakra. In the final moments, I want angelic sounds that can activate the third eye and crown chakra. I’m looking for vibrations that dissolve your ego.

Sweet shares a few more of her favorite things:

Pose: Navasana [Boat Pose] lights a fire in me to speak my truth—to say what I mean and mean what I say—without feeling afraid.

“You Make Loving Fun,” by Fleetwood Mac. It reminds me not to take things too seriously.

Practice Space: 
I feel safe and stable at my mom’s house and dad’s house. There’s a root-chakra energy there; this is where I came from.

: I eat seaweed in everything: seaweed salads, wraps, sushi. It offers phytonutrients; it’s salty, savory, and so versatile.

Since I was a little girl, yellow has been my favorite color. It means life, sustenance, growth, sunshine, and courage.

Practice to Mary Clare Sweet's Yoga Playlist

Former NFL Linebacker Keith Mitchell's Mindfulness Mission

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How former NFL player Keith Mitchell found healing through yoga and mindfulness. Now, he wants to share that experience with others.

A spinal injury ended Keith Mitchell's football career in the NFL, but it also led him to find healing through yoga and mindfulness. Now, he wants to share that with others.

When a midgame spinal injury rendered NFL linebacker Keith Mitchell immobile in 2003, a physical therapist introduced him to the concept of conscious breathing to bring more oxygen to his partially paralyzed body. He started to notice changes, mentally and physically, and six months after his fateful tackle, Mitchell could move again. Within a year and a half, he was practicing asana.

Yoga Breathing + Meditation for Injury Recovery

Today, he credits breathwork and the study and practice of yoga and meditation with his ongoing recovery. And while he still battles fatigue, anxiety, and migraines, Mitchell no longer dreams of a return to a football career. Instead, he now dedicates his time and energy to teaching veterans, athletes, kids, and families who may not otherwise have exposure to mind-body practices.

“Yoga and meditation help build a relationship with the Self,” Mitchell says. “They help us listen to ourselves and unlock the intelligence of the body.”

As part of his mission, on January 31, Mitchell will host a landmark yoga and meditation event and 5K run and walk at the LA Coliseum, called the Mindful Living Health Expo and AltaMed 5K. “We want to get 10,000 people on their mats,” Mitchell says. “Yoga and mindfulness are not just for yoga people. They’re for everyone.”

How to Fail Up: 5 Steps to Cope with (and Conquer) Failure

It was a powerful moment when a teary-eyed David Damberger of Engineers Without Borders admitted from the TEDx conference stage in Calgary, Alberta, that the nonprofit project he’d been working on for five years to bring clean water to poor villages in India had failed. Yet as hard as it was for him to publicly announce defeat, it triggered a critical realization for…

Meet Yoga Teacher Dana Walters


This vinyasa teacher's nonprofit brings yoga to the people of Richmond, VA. Here's the scoop on her practice.

After a friend’s death five years ago, Dana Walters manifested her late friend’s dream by co-founding Project Yoga Richmond. Walters studied with yoga greats including Rolf Gates, Noah Levine, Judith Lasater, Nikki Myers, Kathryn Budig, and Seane Corn, and she keeps her practice mindful and steady. She offers the project’s donation-based classes to people who couldn’t otherwise afford them. Yoga for all? That’s a mantra worth repeating.

Yoga Journal: You were called an agent of positive community change by Style Weekly. Why?

Dana Walters: Probably because I caught their eye through Project Yoga Richmond, which I launched with five friends. We offer donation-based studio classes, plus free and low-cost yoga to children with autism, adults with developmental challenges, youth in juvenile-detention facilities, people in addiction recovery, seniors, and teens in city schools. We roll out about 1,300 mats each month through our classes.

YJ: What’s a key takeaway from your practice?

DW: I used to have a more-is-more mentality: If a twist feels good, more twist must feel a lot better. But I learned that just because you can move deeper doesn’t mean you should in that moment. Now I teach that more is sometimes fun, but not necessarily the best choice every time.

YJ: What’s your favorite yoga pose?

DW: Up Dog. Typically, it’s a transitional pose, but I pause in it. It’s super grounding, requires core strength and inner consciousness, and requires me to open up and soften.

YJ: What moved you from being merely interested in yoga to being passionate about yoga?

DW: That tipping point came when I shifted from teaching poses to teaching people. I credit Rolf Gates for that. He showed me that an understanding of and balance within the chakras ultimately informs how we are in the world. That was a powerful teaching. So now I try to encourage individual inquiry. I try to help others learn that knowing the poses is merely a path toward knowing themselves.

5 More of Dana's Favorite Things:

I pop the top off an avo­­cado, take out the pit, add a bit of sea salt, and scoop it out like ice cream.

Our front door at home is turquoise. My mat is turquoise. My watch is, too.

Elena Brower told me about Garth Stevenson. For class, his music is both grounding and soaring.

I have three senior rescue dogs: two poodles and a Maltese. They remind me to breathe.

Running or walking on the eight-plus miles of Richmond’s city trails that surround the James River.

Easy Seat: How to Sit With Less Pain: Book Review


Given how ubiquitous hatha yoga is today, it might be surprising to learn that just a few decades ago it was frowned upon by many Buddhist practitioners. In his forward to Jean Erlbaum’s well-informed book Sit With Less Pain: Gentle Yoga for Meditators and Everyone Else, Buddhist teacher Frank Jude Boccio confesses that at one time he did postures secretively at Buddhist retreats, afraid to be chastised for stretching his body between long sits.

Today, it’s clear that asana has many benefits, among them preparing practitioners’ bodies for meditation. Yet we haven’t seen an onslaught of books like Erlbaum’s that can help us learn to sit in contemplative practice longer while also showing us how simple yoga movements can ease tightness from routine tasks like sitting at a desk all day.

Erlbaum’s presentation is straightforward and clear, with just enough detail for non-experts to understand how to do the simple poses she outlines. She helpfully categorizes the offerings into upper body, mid-body, and lower body. Chair-based postures are included for those whose lack of mobility limits them from getting up and down from the floor.

In the least, Erlbaum’s gentle stretches and well-designed sequences can help people with chronic pain, stiffness, or a limited range of motion. At most, hatha yogis who do her suggested poses mindfully over time will understand how to cultivate their asana practice to establish a lasting easy seat.


Sacred Sound: Book Review


Seeing that contemporary yogis and yoginis have had no single source to explain the meanings of popular mantras or kirtan chants, Alanna Kaivalya has stepped in with Sacred Sounds: Discovering the Myth and meaning of Mantra and Kirtan. The book, divided into two sections—one covering 11 mantras and one 10 kirtan chants--devotes a chapter to each, explaining its significance, its governing deity and associated myths (if any), as well as giving suggestions for practice. No doubt you’ve already heard many of these—such as Om Namah Shivaya and the beloved and ubiquitous Om—either chanted in class or as a part of your class soundtrack. If you’ve ever wondered what they really mean, this book will begin to light the way.

Kaivalya, who is a touring kirtan musician herself, encourages practitioners to try mantras or participate in the uplifting group call-and-response of kirtan as a part of their regular yoga practice. In fact, her intention is to make what may seem like more esoteric parts of yoga more approachable to everyone, spreading the higher vibrations they inherently embody. While it’s not traditional—or in some cases, safe—for mantras to be practiced, as Kaivalya says, “in any way you like,” the ones she presents here will do no harm. For certain, the explanations of the Sanskrit and the myths help provide deeper context to the sounds—whether you are chanting the, or listening in—making kirtan an accessible way to attune to the joyful divine. So go forth, yogis, and sing!


7 Ways to Create A Yoga Staycation


Feeling frazzled and in need of a yoga retreat—but an exotic getaway is not in the budget? Here’s how to design your own thrifty yoga staycation.

Clear Your Schedule

Plan a weekend and preferably 3-4 days for your at-home retreat, and clear your schedule of other commitments, just as if you were leaving town. “Taking a day or two out of your usual routine to commit yourself to a practice can help give you per- mission to be where you are, instead of worrying about where you’re going,” says Dana Courtney, creator of affordable weekend yoga “urban retreats” in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and New Jersey.

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Practice Morning and Night

Buy a class card or pass from a local studio, and choose two classes to take each day. If you prefer practicing at home, dedicate two sessions to your practice: an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon. “Practicing twice a day ultimately takes you deeper into your practice,” says Kino Macgregor, founder and owner of Miami Life center. “If you have one really active practice in the morning, then you can be more meditative and introspective in the afternoon, working on alignment and therapeutics. It creates a holistic program.”

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Get a Cooking Buddy

Have a friend join you, and share the shopping and prep for a weekend of healthful, simple-to-prepare meals, drinks, and snacks.

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Tune In

In between your yoga sessions, read, meditate, draw, write, take naps, or do other restorative activities. If you’re not a regular meditator, or just want to try something new, check out these techniques and audio practices.

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Treat Yourself

Make time for at-home spa treatments, too, like a steam facial or a foot massage. Click herefor tips on maintaining healthy, lustrous skin.

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Switch off your phone, resist checking your email, keep online time brief, and get outside! Levi Felix, co-founder of Digital Detox, says, “When we disconnect from devices, we reconnect to ourselves, to nature, culture, and the community around us. The data shows the health benefits of unplugging: It lowers blood pressure, lowers heart rate, lowers cortisol, and helps us sleep better.”

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Early to Bed

Plan to get sufficient rest, at least 7 hours a night, so that you’re truly refreshed when you emerge from your home retreat.

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Pick Your Practice: Exploring and Understanding Different Styles of Yoga: Book Review


Grown out of a Master’s thesis in professional writing from USC, Pick Your Practice: Exploring and Understanding Different Styles of Yoga, is 500-ERYT instructor Meagan McCrary’s helpful guide to 17 styles of yoga as currently practiced in the US today. The book starts with three foundational chapter—“Yoga Explained,” “America’s Yoga History,” and “Philosophical Foundations”—before diving into the nuts and bolts of Ashtanga-vinysasa, Iyengar, Bikram, Jivamukti and three other widely practiced American yoga styles. Ten more schools—perhaps considered specialty styles—such as Viniyoga, Anusara Yoga, and Forrest Yoga are overviewed in one further chapter.

Methodical and thorough, this book will be especially helpful to the advanced beginner who has practiced enough to want to branch out, but does not yet know what her options are. The book sheds light on the founders of each yoga style, the early days of the practice, as well as what’s distinctive about a particular approach and how it’s typically sequenced. Boxed call-outs showcase interesting factoids and key bits of history of philosophy.

It’s not always clear what criteria McCrary used to prioritize styles—why confine the ubiquitous vinyasa style, for example, to a mere side-note of Ashtanga yoga, or privilege the somewhat passé Integral yoga in the same breath as Iyengar? But it is apparent that McCrary made a good-faith effort to research schools extensively. At root her even-handed presentation acknowledges that no matter how different American yoga styles are, they are joined by one purpose: to help people attain a degree of self-awareness that comes only from devoted practice.


Brenda Feuerstein Keeps Traditional Yoga Studies Going

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While Finishing Her Own Important Work 

Georg Feuerstein, the widely respected Indologist, originally from Germany, authored and edited over 50 texts of Yoga philosophy and practice. Titles include The Deeper Dimension of Yoga (2003), The Yoga Tradition (2001), Encyclopedic Dictionary of Yoga (1990), and even Yoga for Dummies (1999), co-authored with Larry Payne. 

In 1996, he established the Yoga and Reseach Education Center in California, which he ran for 18 years until he moved to southern Saskatchewan with his Canadian wife, Brenda, in 2004. Feuerstein died on August 25, 2012, from complications as a result of diabetes. 

Brenda Feuerstein continues the legacy of her husband’s research, taking their Traditional Yoga Studieswork more into the public eye with her teaching and workshops. YogaCity NYC's Joelle Hann spoke to her in her home in Saskatchewan. 

Joelle Hann: I know you just passed the 1-year anniversary of Georg’s passing on August 25th. With your research and teaching lives so intertwined, how has the past year been for you?

Brenda Feuerstein: I made conscious decision to write openly about my process of grief so that there was a possibility for others to heal from my raw moments, or the moments filled with joy and memories. I’ve had so many emails thanking me for doing that. It seems to have allowed others can grieve in their own way, too. 

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JH: It looks like you have a number of new things in the works to help keep Georg’s work alive and to expand the reach of the classes he offered. 

BF: After Georg passed, I needed to decide how to move forward.  At first, I wanted to go deeper into spiritual practice but after a few months I realized I could also do that by engaging others. In August, I lead the first retreat, gave my first public talk. It’s about being on the right path with the right people at the right time. 

JH: Can you tell me about what’s developing at Traditional Yoga Studies?                

BF: I’m heavily into working on a course on Tantra – so that people can learn the diversity of it. I’m not approaching it from a neo-Tantra perspective, of course [Ed: neo-Tantra is a contemporary Western movement that focuses on sexuality]. That’s on hold until I have more people on board to help. It will be popular and “big” course. But I’m hopeful that in the next year I will be collaborating with people I greatly respect as well as people who are up and coming. 

JH: Can you explain what the Memorial Fund is?

BF: The Georg Feuerstein Memorial Fund is an umbrella name for several projects, the most important of which is a free distance learning course for people who are incarcerated. It will also be available to inmates’ families and prison staff.  

I’m getting together a team that’s keen to work on programs of personal transformation—James Cox, for example, comes with many years of experience in prison yoga and has agreed to be on our board of advisors.

The program includes meditation, lots of questions to reflect upon, and journaling. Tutors act as a sounding board to ask additional questions or hold space for students, recommend books, audio, or visuals to get a deeper level of transformation. 

We also have a project that’s working with people in addiction recovery, and a youth project that is in development stage and will be launched in 2014. I’m currently working with advisory board to build this project. We will offer skills to help youth better understand and develop creative lifelong ‘marriages’--of family life and community through the teachings of yoga.

I wanted to figure out how to work with people who don’t have the freedom to leave a facility, to help them find inner freedom within a facility. I also wanted to bring something to youth so that they would not end up in facilities.

JH: And you have an advantage there because Traditional Yoga Studies has always offered online courses, right?

BF: We started in early 2003 when nothing was really happening in long distance learning courses. The material doesn’t lend itself to short courses—the “History, Literature, and Philosophy of Yoga” is 800 hours for example. But the tradition is rich and expansive so there’s no way not to give huge amount of material. 

As Georg’s health deteriorated, increasingly my role was to serve him and create a lifestyle where we could practice and enjoy each other while we could. He encouraged me to take over the teaching. Essentially Georg and I ran this whole organization as a 2-person show, all the administration and marketing, advertising, teaching, public speaking, and course development. 

JH: You are coming to New York soon to try to meet with the Dalai Lama and continue your course in the Contemplative End-of-Life Care program. Will you be giving any workshops?  

BF: I made the decision that this trip needs to be about service to people in great need. So, after my 9-day retreat for the Contemplative End-of-Life Care program I will be heading to the streets in various parts of New York State. I will be holding space for homeless people facing death alone and helping bring yoga and meditation to more at risk youth and adults. It’s my Dying with Love Pilgrimage. 

Hip-Hop Yoga In South Jamaica, Queens

When I call Erica Ford she has almost has no time to talk. She and her team of volunteer peacekeepers in South Jamaica, Queens, were hustling to stop a retaliation killing after a 14-year-old girl was shot over the weekend while riding the Q6 city bus.

A Little Samba in Your Samadhi: Yoga Report from Rio de Janeiro

This June I spent a month in Rio de Janeiro and found that things have changed—on the yoga front and beyond. Brazil is now a country on the rise, with a growing middle class, a stable economy, the World Cup coming in 2014, followed by the Olympics in 2016. (And, sadly for me, prohibitive New York City-level prices as well.)

The Path to the Yoga Sutras: Book Review

Many serious yoga practitioners pore over Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and any reputable yoga teacher training will require this foundational text for its students. But just as many people find the mysterious aphorisms, Sanskrit, and multitude of commentaries intimidating. Nicolai Bachman, a Santa Fe-based Sanskritist and yoga teacher, has compiled The Path of the Yoga Sutras to address this issue.

Yoga Is: Film Review


A Film About the Transformational Power of Yoga, written and directed by Suzanne Bryant

Yoga Is is Suzanne Bryant’s paean to yoga, an homage to the practice that held her together while her mother was dying of breast cancer. In gratitude, the former journalist explores yoga’s mysterious power—to engender love, happiness, and transformation—through interviews with such yoga world celebrities as Sharon Gannon and David Life, Alan Finger, Baron Baptiste, Seane Corn, Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, and Shiva Rea. She also travels to India (though we see her there mostly with American teachers). Skillfully produced, the film charts similar territory to Kate Churchill’s thornier 2008 film Enlighten Up! but with a much less critical eye. Still, this is a good documentary for newcomers unfamiliar with yoga’s higher purpose, showing without a doubt that yoga is more than a sweaty workout.


Yoga Woman: Film Review


“Women have made yoga an international phenomenon and a multi-billion dollar industry,” observes Yoga Woman, a documentary from sisters Kate and Saraswati Clere. While yoga benefits both genders, Western women now dominate the practice, and they’re bringing issues such as body image, fertility, and family/work balance to the forefront. The film attempts to spotlight women of every age, race, situation, and nationality (though it remains U.S.-centered), and includes moving footage of pioneer teachers Patricia Walden and Angela Farmer, Seane Corn’s crew of yoginis building a birthing center in Uganda, and Indra Devi, “First Lady of Yoga,” who pestered paterfamilias T. Krishnamacharya until he accepted her as his student. In the end, Yoga Woman is a testimony to yoga’s transcendent power to calm, heal, challenge, and transform both individuals and societies.


Neal Pollack: Interview and Book Review


Stoner yoga memoirist reflects on health, wealth, happiness – and a year on the charts

It’s almost a year since Neal Pollack published his hilarious yoga memoir, Stretch: The Unlikely Making of a Yoga Dude. I was late to the game, but caught up with him when I was out in LA for work this May. Pollack is wry, unapologetic and completely smitten with yoga, which made for an entertaining hour at the Casbah Cafe in Silverlake. Under the bougainvillea, Pollack held forth on the fate of the book, his yoga life, Richard Freeman, semi-ironic namastes, and his new project, Jewball, a novel.

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Yoga Nation: How did the book do?

Neal Pollack: It wasn’t a best seller except for a couple of random weeks in a couple of random cities, and it hasn’t sold massive quantities, but it’s found an audience. The people who like it seem to have a lot of enthusiasm for it. So as much as I would have liked to have been a massive best seller that hasn’t really happened and I don’t see that happening.

YN: There’s always Russia. [Stretch came out in Russia, June 2011.]

NP: There’s always Russia. But I’m not going to count on that. It’s done as well as you can really expect a comic yoga memoir by a stoner guy to do.

And I’m being asked to go to other cities to do workshops. I’m going to New Orleans and Portland.

YN: What kind of workshops?

NP: I don’t know yet. That’s the thing, see: I’m a certified yoga instructor, through Richard Freeman last summer, but I haven’t taught a lot and I don’t have a ton of confidence in my ability as an asana instructor.

I certainly can’t talk about pranayama for three hours. Nor would anyone want me to. So I have to figure out what to teach.

I could barely stay awake during my teacher training because I was so tired from all the exercise. The physical stuff doesn’t come easy to me. I have a lot of alignment problems.

I’ll just have to be as honest with people as possible, say, listen, I’m not a master. I can’t do an entire 3-hour workshop on floating, you know what I mean?

YN: Teach to your strength right?

NP: Well let’s put it this way: when I assist my teacher in class, I drop people sometimes.

YN: There is a tradition of that.

NP: I can never figure out where to stand. No matter how many times people tell me, I can’t remember. And I’m sober when I’m getting the instruction.

YN: How was it studying with Richard Freeman?

NP: I have so much respect for him I can barely even begin to discuss it. He’s such a well-rounded human, so intelligent, and such physical ability. He seems inapproachable at first, but if you spend a month with him you realize that he’s sweet and kind. He just exists on a different plane some times.

He understands the practice deeply on many different levels. He’s the only person who’s explained yoga in a way that makes full sense to me. His language is so elevated and poetic. And he also mocks yoga culture in a very subtle and intelligent way that I appreciate. It was like I went to yoga college.

I went there with a blown out hamstring. Everyone kept saying you’re learning all these important lessons right now, and I was like, what the fuck are you talking about? I just want to bend forward.

YN: Is your hamstring better?

NP: Richard and his wife Mary when they saw that I couldn’t walk and saw that I had to go to the emergency room one day because I was so injured they came up with a strengthening program for me. It involved a lot of squatting and campers pose, you know you look like a camper taking a dump.

So I did a lot of that while other people were throwing their legs behind their heads.

They showed me a great kindness in doing that. I knew I was kind of a problem child for them, but I was injured. I’m always injured. I’m injured right now.

YN: What do you have?

NP: I got an SI joint thing on my right side. It pops in and out. It’s kind of a constant nagging thing. I should really just go to acupuncture or something but money’s tight. I lost my health insurance in December so…you know. Gotta try to heal it through yoga.

YN: That sounds precarious.

NP: A lot of people have it a lot worse.

YN: Are you still practice at same studios as when you were writing Stretch?

NP: Yeah, not the same spaces but the same community. A lot of the people I was practicing with when I first moved to Los Angeles 5 1/2 years ago are still around and they are still my community.

I’ve tried fancier studios and fancier people and I always end up going back to where I started. People are nice and the teachers are good but Yoga Journal ain’t going to do a story on it—unless I write one!

I think that’s good because yoga should be practiced with friends in a trusted space where you feel like you’re cared for to some extent—but not over cared for. You don’t want to be smothered.

YN: So you still have a really regular practice.

NP: Oh, yeah. I practice 5 days a week, and then I try to meditate on the days I’m not doing asana.

YN: Why not do it every day?

NP: I figure if I do an asana practice then that’s my meditation, you know? I do it when I feel like it. I know that’s not really what you’re supposed to do but—who cares?!?! I want to keep the meditation channel of my mind open, but some days it gets past me.

I’m definitely committed to it because I know that if I stop doing it my body would break down and so would my mind. I remember what my life was like before I did it. Actually, my life was exactly the same before I did it but the way I perceived my life was much different.

YN: And that’s everything.

NP: And that’s everything because my life was actually exactly the same. Ups and downs, goods and bads, sickness and health, but everything was clouded by this film of crazy. Not eccentricity—and I’ve got bags of that in my personality—but the crazies are kinda much more under control.

YN: That’s what got you in trouble with McSweeney’s?

NP: What happened was my ego was driving the ship, and it caused me to say and do stupid things. I had certain expectations and when they wouldn’t get met Id’ lash out in various ways. I over relied on drugs. I still do drugs, but I put them in their proper place. I wasn’t skillful in the way I handled that success.

I was not happy with the way I was comporting myself in the world. I feel better about that now and I think yoga has a lot to do with it. Middle age might also have something to do with it, but I know a lot of middle-aged people who behave very badly.

YN: How would you characterize the LA yoga world? What’s the insider perspective?

NP: The city is so big you can’t really generalize. Yes, of course you have the trendy yoga studios on the west side that are a little over-reliant on the bhakti perhaps. Those are the ones that get a lot of attention in press and the big crowds.

YN: What’s the west side?

NP: Venice, Santa Monica. But there’s also a nice community of yoga intellectuals here. There’s Loyola Marymount. There are people who are studying the tradition in intelligent ways here. And I would characterize the scene here as not particularly toxic, pretty laid back.

I avoid the elements of it that are trendy and celebrity oriented and competitive. It’s like Paris in the 20s for yoga—there’s so much talent and so much hard work and great yoga history here. Indra Devi taught here in the 40s, I live 5-minute drive from the original Self-Realization Fellowship. If you’re looking for it, you can still find it.

YN: Is there anywhere else on your travels that you thought was a cool yoga place?

NP: Not really. Austin has some fun stuff going on but I have a soft spot for Austin. The yoga scene in New York although there’s a lot of good stuff going on is too rushed and too competitive for me. San Francisco suffers a bit from excessive bougie-ness.

But again every place I go I meet intelligent thoughtful people who are trying their best. And then sometimes I’ll run into a stupid trendy yoga class. But in some ways yoga self selects. And the people within yoga self select. I have no trouble finding those people.

I’ve made some dear, dear friends through yoga who—I know I can’t always count on them to show up on time, or to be available to hang out all the time—but I can always count on them as emotional or intellectual support. And I can’t say that for all friends from all walks of my life at all times.

YN: Reading the book it sounds like you had a lot of fun writing it.

NP: I was like a kid at a soda fountain. It was all new to me.

YN: That was probably the perfect perspective.

NP: I was gimlet-eyed. I had no preconceived notions about what I was going to encounter at all. And now I do. I try to retain some of that innocence every time I get on the mat, but it’s not always easy to do. But that’s what you’re trying to do—to see reality as it really is, every moment should seem like you’re a newborn opening his eyes for the first time. But for the purpose of the book I was having a blast. I was trying to write the book as much in real time as I could. And as authentically as I could.

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YN: You finished writing Stretch a while ago, right? You now have another book coming out.

NP: I finished it in November 2009. And now I’m almost finished with a novel. And I’m publishing it myself through the Kindle store. [Read a sample chapter from Jewball here.]

YN: Cool. Why did you decide to do it that way?

NP: A novel about Jewish basketball players in the 1930s, that’s more of a hit or miss proposition. There are ways to market these things but it requires more of a subtle touch. I think I have that audience and know how to reach them myself. My last novel sold poorly and I don’t have a track record as someone who sells a lot of fiction. Even though I’m happy with all the books I’ve written and I’m very happy with the one I’m about to finish.

YN: Have you been writing fiction consistently?

NP: I’ve written maybe a dozen or 15 short stories since Never Mind the Pollacks came out in 2003, but I mostly got on the memoir train because that’s what was paying, honestly. But my dream was never to be a confessional memoirist since I don’t have a lot of trauma in my life. The dream was always to be a fiction writer and it’s harder and harder to do if you’re not an established name. But I’m just putting this out there and seeing what happens. I might as well try.

YN: Might as well.

NP: What is it that LuluLemon says, “do something every day that scares you”?

YN: Right.

NP: Well, I don’t usually take my advice from a clothing company, but I suppose in it’s own way it makes sense as advice, right? I’m jumping into the void with this. But I’m used to that. My whole life is void jumping. Or chasm jumping. It’s nice to be writing something that has nothing to do with myself.  Characters a story and I can just write whatever the hell I want.

YN: It’s like wearing different shoes, not wearing the same shoes every day.

NP: It’s definitely a different pair of shoes. Cheap gym shoes from the 1930s. Historical novel set in the late depression era…

And, I tend to be a bit of a technophile and I see that this is where the world is going. I don’t know where it’s going to stop-–when a meteor hits it probably—but this is how the business is evolving and I’d like to be a part of it. I don’t want to be the last person to buy and iPad. Although I haven’t bought one yet.

YN: You don’t want to be a Luddite.

NP: I’m not a Luddite. I’m not afraid of —Richard, my yoga teacher, teaches that change is the only constant and your job as yogi is to know that change and act upon it skillfully. I’d like to think that my decision to self publish falls under that category.

Part of the problem with marketing Stretch was that it had to find its audience. Now it has, but I think it’s one of those things that’s going to have to gradually find its way into people’s hands. Some people are going to say this guy’s a fucking idiot. It’s happened before. And other people will read it and find a little bit of their own experience in there. You know?

I’ve come to realize my book represents the experience of a certain kind of yoga practitioner.

YN: Definitely. I think that’s also what makes it distinctive.

NP: The regular schmuck bumbling through it. Male and female.

YN: The hairy sweaty Jew?

NP: Okay, well first of all there are some hairy women, but I think I’ve had just as many female readers tell me they liked it.

YN: I loved it. But what I’m trying to say is the yoga comes through, but you come through, too, and that’s what makes it different because you have this distinct take.

NP: I just called it like I saw it. Like, what the fuck is this thing we are all doing.

YN: That’s the question we need to ask more!

NP: I think I know now why a lot better than I did then, even from when I published the book I know more now.

YN: What do you think the answer is?

NP: It’s the best system every devised to get people through life sanely. Our minds are so crazy and yoga was developed by many thousands of people for many thousands of years as a useful system for helping them live a sane, happy, and healthy life. It’s not a perfect cure for anything: you’re still going to have suffering, illness, and death, sadness. But it will affect you a lot less if you have a regular practice. I’m pretty certain of that.

And I’m certain that consistent practice over a long period of time without excessive expectations will yield excellent results. Even when I finished the book 2 years ago I didn’t really understand that so much.

YN: That’s a good answer. Does your son do yoga?

NP: He’s a grade-school kid in Los Angeles so yoga enters his life occasionally. But you know, who wants to do what their dad does?

YN: He’s not curious?

NP: Nah. When I say goodnight to him I semi-ironically bow to him and say ‘namaste.’ And he does the same thing to me and then he goes to sleep. And his teacher said, “You know, when Elijah’s done giving presentations he bows to the class and says, ‘namaste’ ironically.” I’m like, that’s my legacy: Ironic namaste.

YN: That’s perfect.

NP: I guess. There goes Alternadad asshole again.

YN: What’s up now for you and Stretch?

NP: I’m continuing down my yoga path for sure and I haven’t stopped trying to sell Stretch. I like the idea of going to other cities and meeting new people, and eating food and drinking beer, but I’m not the guy who is trying to pimp his yoga DVDs. I have no desire to be part of that corner of yoga culture. I’ve been tempted to try but I think it would be a disaster and a failure.

So instead I’m going to keep practicing and take opportunities as they come and enjoy whatever happens. I’ve only been practicing for 8 years. It’s not that long in the scheme of things. I’ll talk to you when I’m 60 and see where things are.


Paint Your Plate


Discover a Culinary Rainbow With Simple Summer Recipes That Pack a Colorful and Nutritious Punch

Summer’s abundance presents a tantalizing problem: how do we choose what to eat from this embarrassment of riches? One way to organize your pleasant amblings through the farmer’s market is to shop by color. As simple as this sounds, the concept is backed by research. Phytochemicals, the vitamins and minerals found in plants that give them their brilliant hues, have been found to prevent and treat disease, and we require a variety of these nutrients from across the color spectrum to stay healthy.

When you “eat your colors,” as Michael Pollan advises in his book Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual (and maybe your mother also mentioned), you get healthy doses of fiber, potassium, and vitamin C, as well as antioxidants, such as carotenoids and flavonoids. These protect our cells from the effects of environmental toxins and from free radicals, which increase dramatically as we age, and in turn age us. Antioxidants have also been shown to help battle heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

Vegan chef and cookbook author Colleen Patrick-Goudreau says shopping and cooking by color actually makes nutrition easier. Simply look at your basket: folate makes kale green, betacyanin makes beets red, lutein makes corn yellow, beta-carotene makes mangos and carrots orange, and so on. Try buying and cooking a different color every week, or assembling the most colorful dishes you can.

Blueberries, a key ingredient in the chilled blueberry mango soup recipe that follows, are packed with one of the most powerful antioxidants around, anthocyanin. The avocados, peppers and greens in the accompanying summer salad provide lutein, more antioxidants, folate, vitamins A, C, and K, and manganese.

These refreshing summer recipes are simple to prepare and require the freshest ingredients available (buy organic when possible). They taste as rich as the season, and their appetizing rainbow of colors provides excellent support for overall vitality.

Read the full article, plus recipes, here.

Fierce Medicine: Breakthrough Practices to Heal the Body and Ignite the Spirit: Book Review


This generous and straight-talking book showcases Ana Forrest’s intelligence and creativity as a healer, while dipping into memoir to detail the extreme abuse she suffered as a child. Born crippled, Forrest (the creator of Forrest Yoga) was imprisoned, drugged, starved, and raped from the age of two, and started drinking alcohol at four. At six, she began working in a nearby stable to escape her sadistic family, and, at 17, while working as a horse trainer, she attempted suicide by jumping off a cliff. As remarkable as her recovery from these soul-crushing experiences is her perspective—rebellious, inquisitive, and clear-eyed.

The exercises in Fierce Medicine are drawn from Native American and yogic traditions, and are designed to help readers step up their own healing practices and step into their intuitive powers. Forrest’s uncompromising approach to herself and compassionate approach to others declares that we can all overcome life’s trials, whatever they may be, and find radical joy in our existence.


Himalayan Masters Awaken New York – But to What?


How often does the New York Times offer critique-free write-ups of enlightened gurus from the Himalayas? In early January, their Cityroom blog ran a cute buzz piece on Mahayogi Pilot Baba and his teaching companion Yogmata Keiko Aikawa.

Wondering what was up, YogaCity NYC asked me to check them out. Were they for real? I am not a stranger to working with masters. I’ve been attending the Living Tantra series with Rajmani Tigumait, a Vedic scholar; received hugs from Amma, and had a daily meditation practice created for me by Gary Kraftsow, a senior teacher in Desikachar’s lineage.

Even so. . . Research told me that Pilot Baba was often a headlining saddhu at the Kumbh Mela, India’s enormous, once-every-three-years spiritual festival. As a pilot in the Indian Air Force, the story goes, he had been rescued from certain death by the sudden apparition of Hari Baba, a Himalayan master, in his cockpit, who guided the out-of-control plane to safety. Pilot Baba has since attained supernatural powers.

His teaching companion and fellow Himalayan master, Yogmata Keiko Aikawa, is the daughter of politically well-placed Japanese family. Yogmata is the first non-Indian woman to attain samadhi, something she’s done 18 times before huge crowds (!)

About 50 people had gathered on the 44th floor of the mid-town Hilton Hotel for morning darshan. In the afternoon, the masters would instruct us in pranayama, and extend powerful blessings. So far, so good.

“There is too much intellectuality here,” said Baba, who has been known for feats such as remaining buried for 7 days, or making himself disappear. “The mind here is super mind. Mind is too hyper. Mind wants to know everything with science. It is hard to teach to this audience. You are not your mind. Need to bring you back to the heart.”

Yogmata insisted that America needed these teachings, and so the two have appeared in New York and Los Angeles in the fall of 2010 and January 2011 as a part of their World Peace Campaign to help people let go of anxieties, doubts, and fears that prevent their spiritual growth. But the hefty price-tag associated with the afternoon workshops raised some doubts in my mind: $200 for Saturday and $300 for Sunday? Steep for enlightenment.

According to their New York contact person, the masters use their supernatural powers, known as siddhis, to publicly transcend time, space, and metabolic function, as a way to motivate normal humans to change their perception, and embrace spiritual practices. In other words, this shape-shifting is not intended as entertainment.

The audience sat cross-legged on white sheets. While everyone was respectful, participants didn’t always know what to expect from the masters. Two women I talked to briefly said they’d signed up without understanding what was going to happen. “I’m just going with the flow,” said Carol, who sat beside me on Sunday. Only one or two attendees were long-time students of the gurus. The rest had heard about it on Facebook or on South Asian public access TV channels.

But from such famous masters everyone did expect to trust that whatever was going to happen would be for their highest good.

“We have to get back to our Godly nature,” said Yogmata in her heavily accented English. We don’t know who we are, what we have inside us. Too much knowledge is confused. We want shining body, shining mind.”

Great – in theory – but how were we supposed to go about this mental spring-cleaning? Was the key information lost in translation? Or was I using my mind too much to try to understand what the masters were saying? It seemed very abstract, something a patchouli-wearing hipster might spout at a party.

I was more hopeful for the afternoon intensives. On Saturday, we were instructed in the practice of anughraha kriya, a sequence of purifying pranayama practices that began with a form of alternate nostril breathing and ended with thumping up and down on our sit bones to prepare us for meditation. After practicing the long breathing patterns a few times, we laid down in a 40-min savasana and were dismissed early.

Had we gotten our money’s worth? Or would we only know much later?

I debated attending the Sunday afternoon workshop. We would be receiving diksha, or initiation, that—they said—would clear our past karmas and project us forward on the path of self-realization. (In one afternoon – this was a fast process.) Yet no information was given as to what might follow after the blessing. Would I be responsible to the masters for the rest of my life? What were my responsibilities to them? What practices should I follow? What was their commitment to me? I was wary of entering into such a heavy relationship without really understanding it.

After consulting a friend who had once been a monk in India, I decided to attend. The diskha was intimate and ritualistic, with curtains drawn and lights lowered. Mahayogi Baba blessed participants one-by-one—including several children—using rose petals, rice, and secret mantras and yantras. Then, Yogmata came around and whispered a mantra in everyone’s ear.

Secrecy was important. Pictures were not allowed and I was asked to stop taking notes. We were warned not to tell the mantra to anyone. Not only would the mantra lose its power, it might bring us harm.

I left early, with their permission. As I scurried down from the Himalayan heights of the 44th floor, and across 6th Avenue to Starbucks to compile my notes, I noticed that the tingling at the top of my head—where Yogamata had recently tapped it 3 times—had not diminished. In fact, it was pulsing energetically.

My vision had changed, too. I saw the doormen, taxi drivers, pedestrians—and participants in the VogueKnitting International conference who were milling around the Hilton lobby—looking radiantly happy. I felt jubilant and energized. In fact, I could barely focus on the writing I needed to do. The mantra continued to resound in my mind. And to tell the truth, suddenly it was all I wanted to listen to.

It’s true that in the week following my encounter with the gurus none of my day-to-day worries vanished. It was still bitterly cold out, and my day job still frustrated me. I didn’t feel as if I’d reached a sustained place of enlightenment.

But I had to admit that something had shifted. The masters had transmitted their hard-won clarity through me so that I didn’t have to go sit silently in the Himalayas myself. Perhaps if I lived in a culture that was not so outright dismissive or as unquestioningly accepting—as the NYTimes was—of masters such as these, I might better know what to do with them when they come to town.


War and Peace of Mind: The U.S. Military Embraces Holistic Healing

Author Joelle Hann War and Peace of Mind The U.S. Military Embraces Holistic Healing.jpg

Total Force Fitness, a new model of holistic wellness, can help soldiers with PTSD, brain injuries, chronic pain, and sleep disorders—and the military is taking note.

The U.S. Military’s ideas of fitness are changing, and in some surprising ways. In December 2009, the Department of Defense brought together over 70 experts to explore the possibility of a holistic approach to health that includes physical, psychological, and spiritual health. The results, published in the August 2010 edition of Military Medicine, outlined the radical new concept of “Total Force Fitness”—eight interconnected concepts for health, half of which focus on mind-body, spirit, community, and psychological wellness.

Ideas about holistic health are more often heard in yoga studios than in war rooms. But with thousands of service members coming home with symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), brain injuries, chronic pain, and sleep disorders—and many thousands more expected as wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down—the military is looking for a broader range of effective long-term treatments. As Richard Miller, PhD, clinical psychologist and creator of the iRest Yoga Nidra program for sufferers of PTSD says, “The military is asking the question, with real innocence, ‘What does work?’ Acupuncture, guided imagery, yoga nidra—the military is in the mood that if you can prove it works, they will do it. The openness is there.”

Total Force Fitness will be launched at the third annual Warrior Resilience Conference in February, introducing top military leaders to this model of holistic wellness. The conference includes experiential sessions on nutrition, integrative yoga practices, and mind-body techniques for resilience. “If we are to protect the freedom of our nation,” says Admiral Michael Mullen, former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who requisitioned the report, “we must move beyond simply having a sound body to a holistic view of health and fitness that includes both mind and body. Such a shift is essential, perhaps even for our very survival.”

“What we get out of this training will take us to the next level of being warriors.”

The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE), which is sponsoring the conference, is also in the process of creating a social networking site to encourage soldiers, their families, health care practitioners, counselors, and chaplains to share information on existing mind-body programs and research across the military. “We want to give people as many resources as we can,” says Mark Bates, PhD, director of Resilience and Prevention at the DCoE. “We don’t think the answer is pills and quick fixes, but ways to enhance overall health, and being connected with what’s important to a full and meaningful life.”

While most mind-body and yoga-related research to date has focused on helping service members returning from combat, Total Force Fitness aims to address the forces at every stage of engagement. Elizabeth Stanley, PhD, at the Mind Fitness Training Institute (MFTI), is studying whether meditation techniques can offset the cognitive and psychological effects of war—before and during deployment. The results of her pilot study have been promising. Soldiers who had trouble sleeping, staying focused, and dealing with trauma in the field are reporting improvement after using the MFTI techniques.

As Chief Warrant Officer Kenneth McKelton, U.S. Marine Corps, says, “This program has helped us to step back and really get in touch with what’s going on internally. We actually go inside and analyze the symptoms and start relaxing those feelings—those anxieties or pain.

Did you know?

  • 28 % of soldiers returning from extensive tours of Iraq and Afganistan have symptoms of PTSD.

  • 31% of marines and 38% of soldiers report mental health problems.

  • 90% of vets who enter an iRest program are skeptical but end up learning how to meditate in three weeks.