Opening day, the inaugural class at our rechristened Center for Yoga. As I sat before forty students, all masked, all vaccinated, all eager to be together, eager to begin again; I realized that this was not so much about “my” moment of returning, as about all of us connecting.
“We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time.” -Little Gidding by T.S. Eliot
Ah! To return to the place where I began my journey, over forty years ago. My personal deep dive into the “Self”, and where yoga would take me. Be with the simplicity of recognizing the moment; a very Zen thing to do. Be Here Now. Breath in;… and breath out. I felt the space, made sacred through thousands of hours of practitioners connecting with their breath, with one another, with the space, with Yoga.
As a young woman, I sought to “find” myself in my Yoga studies and practices. Now, I seek to “lose” myself, on and off the mat. My yogic journey has been an epic one that often pushed me against my own resistance, face to face with fear, aspirations, disappointments, falling apart and putting myself back together. I lived through the excitement and ascent of the yoga wave, during the early aughts, complete with the promises of transformation and Nirvana. In between, my father died in my arms, my mother died as I stepped out of her room. I packed both homes up. And I showed up on my mat, over and over.
What happened? The student became a teacher, and the teacher became a better student as the pulse of experience and maturity drove me deeper into my practice. The more I studied, the more I realized I did not know. Or at least “know” in a sense of a comprehensive truth. Now, I seek less to ‘know” and more to “lose” myself and appear in the moment, as sensation, as perception, as breath, as connecting.
What else happened to yoga? The day I saw Christy Turlington on the cover of Time magazine (2001) I knew things were changing. Lululemon, mega yoga conferences, Instagram, Guruji Iyengar listed one of the top one hundred most influential people in Time magazine (2004). Communities splintered as their vaulted leaders fell to the lure of their students; communities spread, as yoga franchises opened from coast to coast; and the 200-hour teacher training programs became “soft” yoga. Caveat: I suppose I am somewhat biased here! In the Iyengar system, there is no such thing as a “pay for the course and you get a teaching certificate.” Maty Ezraty (founder of YogaWorks) and I would never consider that idea.
The reborn Center for Yoga will evolve, as we all do. Every community grows through the collective efforts of individuals, through events and through adversity. Everyone who enters its space will shine a little light, shed a few problems and/or pounds, loosen around the edges to live life a touch more deeply. We share so much talent and have so many characters in our community! May we all celebrate, as I am, returning to the Center.
A talent is formed in stillness, a character in the world’s torrent. -Goethe
2020 – the year that upended our lives. It turned me topsy turvy, and landed me in a new state, both figuratively and literally. 2020 hit us as we were off doing other things, unsuspecting, adrift in our small stories. There are big dramas; why did the dinosaurs disappear? Sometimes I feel like a blink in the life of the universe.
Yet my blink is worth a lifetime of growth, glory, gibberish, grief, and a little about God. The gibberish that floats around in my head can be annoying, but I accept that it is part of how I grow. I grow mostly through challenge; when I fall down or “fail” (we are almost always our own worst judge, right?) or when I am pushed into something unfamiliar. And it is not comfortable. Well, 2020 was not comfortable! A lot of grief, growth, gibberish, and a little about God.
In Light on Life Shree B.K.S. Iyengar used “God” as an acronym for generate, organize and distribute. Somewhat akin to the Hindu trilogy of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. In the later case, Shiva is also the destroyer or transformer. 2020 brought change that will continue to reverberate for years to come.
In 2020 we recognized the importance of leaning in to support one another, it was essential. To survive entire communities had to pivot, and the zoom room was waiting. We generated a new reality.
My community, YogaWorks, had to reinvent itself; to prune down to its bare essentials, the teachers. It had to shed the beautiful glossy studio vibe and close dozens of what were, to some, temples of yoga practice. We grieve the leaves that we lost as the teaching faculty had to be trimmed. While the feel good of hearing a class chant “OM” together may be over for now, ultimately yoga was meant to be an intimate experience, self with self or perhaps a small group. Now, we each have a sacred space in our homes that is our yoga space. Thank you YogaWorks!
We were confronted with unimaginable tragedy. I remember last January, my husband and I went to the Sundance festival. Our last hurrah! Incredible fun! Then, Shiva waved his trident and the world shut down. We heard about animals roaming vacant streets. We read about the environment, free of our decadent excesses, clearing up. We worried about Italy (first lockdown), then New York (trucks becoming refrigerator morgues!), then about going back to school, and if unemployment would continue. We worried about first responders, we worried about the fires, and the election. Shiva waved his trident again and the United States reeled under the Black Lives Matter movement. We learned new words: woke, ecoanxiety, information bubble, covidiot, social distancing.
2020 was the year that upended so much that I took for granted. Now, amidst the uncertainty of what lies ahead, I slowly turn towards a light that I know never fades. It is the light of hope. The light of love. It is the light of remembrance, and the light of that smile that I sense right now in your heart.
Thank you 2020, and good riddance. May we lean in, lean in towards the light, and welcome 2021.
Yoga Gives Back.. It is the time of year when my mailbox is filled with organizations asked for donations. I have a few causes, across a very diverse spectrum, that I donate to regularly. And this year I am supporting Yoga Gives Back “YGB”. Many women and children in India live under dire conditions. YGB meets the needs of 1400 women and children in Southern India and West Bengal. The Covid lockdown and recent Cyclone has left many homeless. I will be teaching alongside a group of excellent yoga teachers and ambassadors of peace. PLEASE consider donating join me at Yoga Gives Back’s FIRST GLOBAL GALA (Nov 21-22) to give back to Mother India!
Check out an unparalleled abundance of 50 yoga, mindfulness, and fun cultural sessions, donated by YGB’s generous global Ambassadors and supporters.
Why? I have traveled to India over twenty times. Mostly to study with the Iyengar family, but also to experience the wonders, smells, tastes, sights, and tragedies of such a rich country. The first few trips, in the 1980s, were the most difficult, of course. The poverty is overwhelming. I can’t say that I ever grew accustomed to it; only that I grew to acknowledge how much we take for granted in this country, America. The first time I was surrounded by street kids I was abhorred and drew my skirts in close. Once, I was flanked inside a rickshaw. I had just returned from the dentist office (top notch, at more then half the cost) and was wearing a partial across my two front teeth, in preparation for a bridge. As the youngsters grabbed at me, I removed the partial, to reveal what looked like two fangs. Screams and screams as the kids scattered. I carry such privilege.
In recent years, now that Pune has transitioned into a near first-world economy, I rent a car and driver to shuttle me around the city. I have done more then gather my skirts, I shield myself. When we stop at an intersection or for a red light, the car is quickly flanked by peddlers with bobble heads, fly swatters, pin wheels, sponges, and oily sweets. Generally young girls or boys race between the cars until the light changes. Often barefoot and missing teeth, their big eyes beckon. Oh dear! I have to turn away. Well, actually, I did buy a two little bobble headed dogs. They now ride in my posh car; I named them Rhythm and Rhyme. Wish I could have taken every little girl.
Whenever I pause before leading the invocation in the opening moments of class, I visualize the statue of Patañjali at the Iyengar Yoga Institute in Pune. In my imagination, to the right of Patañjali are my teachers who no longer walk on this earthly plane. To the left of the statue, are those who I can still visit in person. Honoring the lineage is my way of acknowledging the years of experience, of community gatherings, of rituals, of us all beginning the practice of yoga together. I.1. Atha yoganusasanam. As Guruji BKS Iyengar translated the first sutra, “With prayers for divine blessings, now begins an exposition of the sacred art of yoga.”
The Iyengar Yoga Institute in Los Angeles had such a beginning, and, as the Iyengar community grew, the Institute became a refuge. Reminiscing back to my early years, I now recognize that what I so valued was being a part of a group of like-minded seekers. And of having teachers who had devoted their lives to this study and who had integrated the journey into all facets of their lives. As a young woman I sought role models. Now, at sixty five, I realize that my life has become a map of my journey, my struggles, dead ends, discoveries, all leading to the “new now.” I have now become a mentor, a light for a younger generation; and yet I sit, every day, in Padmāsana, at the feet of the practice. The refuge is now in the practice itself.
The LA Institute closed its physical doors in March. As with so many other small businesses, it ultimately became a victim of the pandemic. At some point its physical form may be resurrected in a new location. For the time being, its presence is online and continues with far fewer faculty. I am, sadly, not one of those teachers. This next chapter of my life will surely honor Guruji and his teachings whether I am a part of the Institute or not. Yet for many years the Institute was the hub of all my activities and those teachers and students were like family.
This post is to commemorate our community. Here are a few highlights, and of course, there are more omitted then I can count! Please bear with me as I indulge in memories!
From 1985 until 2020, for thirty five years, the Institute was a home for students to mature into teachers, for teachers to create teacher training programs, for intensives, workshops, gatherings, catharsis, for soul searching. While we shared our studies, we also celebrated marriages, fundraisers, memorials, Guruji’s, Geetaji’s, Prashant and Manouso’s birthdays, and even bake sales. We hosted intensives with Sunita (Iyengar’s daughter), Faeq Biria, and Gloria Goldberg among others. Over the years, Eric Small continued as one of our senior teachers, trusted advisor, and our guiding light.
I began my studies in yoga in 1982, a long time ago! Iyengar Yoga was little known at that time. It wasn’t until 1984, when Guruji visited San Francisco for the first National Iyengar Yoga Convention, that Iyengar Yoga was truly introduced to Southern California. Manouso Manos coordinated and hosted the convention along with other members of the San Francisco Association. I will always remember Guruji’s demonstration at Davies Hall. He slowly inhaled for what seemed to be a very long time and then held his breath, for eternity. You could hear a pin drop in the huge auditorium. When finally he did exhale, it was smooth and relaxed. A master in the house. He showered us with that magnificent big grin of his as his bushy eyebrows danced around the room.
You know that you are in the “zone” when all the chips fall into place. The Iyengar Yoga Institute of Los Angeles was born. I began teaching there in 1987 and worked alongside Scott Hobbs, Justin Herold and Lynn Theard to manage the Institute. So many stories about those early days! Suffice it to say that I donated a portable dance floor which supported many Tadasanas (literally!) for several years until we had the funds to install a hardwood floor. Scott and Justin hammered, designed, and got dusty and paint covered, as the space gradually took shape.
Many people, Bonnie Anthony, Francie Ricks, Karin O’Bannon, Aileen Epstein-Ignadiou, Gloria Goldberg, Eric Small, Elisabeth Whalley, Sue Garfield, Jim Benvenuto and Eddie Marks, to name but a few, all dedicated their time to our vision of a haven for Iyengar Yoga in Los Angeles. It was the only place where we had the props, the equipment, and could dedicate the space full time to Iyengar Yoga. The first teacher training began in 1993. Karin O’Bannon, Diane Gysbers, and I worked together with Manouso Manos. Over the years, Marla Apt and Gloria Goldberg took over and further developed the teacher training program. How many graduates of those trainings now populate YWCAs, community centers, and yoga studios across Los Angeles and beyond? What a testament to the inspiration and dedication teachers found through these programs over the last thirty-plus years!
When we first opened, we were a collective of mostly students and a few teachers. Guruji advised us to bring in a senior teacher to mentor and guide us. Mary Dunn would travel from San Diego regularly in those early years. When she moved to New York, Manouso Manos took over, visiting us every other month. Guruji suggested that we work with one teacher until we had established some maturity in our community. Manouso became our senior teacher for almost thirty years. I remember picking him up at the airport in my tiny red sports car. I fit, but he’s so tall we had to open the sunroof! We must acknowledge our history! Wherever you find your allegiance in the complicated and painful narrative around the last few years, Manouso was and still is one of the most influential and for many inspiring figures in our community.
For many of you, Karin O’Bannon was your mentor, the heart of the Institute, and the champion of Iyengar yoga in the greater Los Angeles area. She embodied what a yogi’s life of service might be. She was an artist, a poet, and raised all those around her through her dedication to the practice. Here’s a poem of hers I find inspiring:
Rain is smell and taste and touch
But rain has not sight.
It cannot see on who or what
I would be rain
And never see the difference
Between you and me.
In 2004, Guruji was listed as one of Time magazine’s most influential people, so his name entered the mainstream. In 2005, he traveled through Los Angeles on a publicity tour for his bestseller “Light on Life.” He visited the Institute, and at UCLA, we hosted a Q&A with him and Annette Bening. It was fabulous!
The first big relocation happened in 2008. Our original home on 3rd Street was destined for commercial development. Chris Beach, then President of the Association, Mark Harelik, and Anna Delury facilitated the delicate negotiations with the new landlord. Eric Small helped finance the build out, and Larry Heliker supervised the construction. The new facility was big, bright, and had lots of parking. As the business grew, prompted by Scott Radin, we moved from a manual registration process to a computerized key swipe procedure. We had entered the 21st century.
2010 – IYILA and Iyengar Yoga Therapeutics hosted an intensive with Sunita Parthasarathy, one of Guruji’s daughters. People from all over Southern California attended. Guruji’s take-no-prisoners teaching style lived on in his daughter Geetaji, and Sunita was no different. I came to understand that this impatience for our slow and seemingly clumsy studentship stemmed from their craving for excellence, and an allegiance to preserving Guruji’s legacy. Sunita demanded that we be completely focused on the material, just as her father, sister and brother did. It was formidable and inspiring.
2013 – For Guruji’s ninety-fifth birthday the Association, here represented by Garth McLean, Marla Apt and I, in Pune, presented him with actual US postage stamps bearing his visage. He was completely delighted!
2013 – Marla Apt received the Leadership Award honoring her for her outstanding contributions through her teaching and guidance. Over 150 teachers and students joined us that evening. A demonstration of therapeutic applications of Iyengar Yoga and a dramatization of the Bhagavad Gīta with Mark Harelik as Krishna, Garth McLean as the narrator and three students, Laura Lenee, Dora Hasenbein, and Mary Ann Kellogg (who later became president of the Association) representing the different “Margas” or paths expressed in the Gīta. Bob Thiele and Billy Valentine performed the brilliant and hilarious “Yoga Man.” A must listen:
2019 – In honor of Geetaji’s Shraddanjali, the Institute hosted a festive memorial with a pūjā (ritual); remembrances of Geetaji by Marla Apt, Anna Delury, Chris Stein, Linda Nishio, and myself; followed up a scrumptious meal. Students showered the alter with rose petals as individuals bade farewell to our teacher. This was the last major event held at the Institute.
We hosted too many stellar workshops to list them all, but the ones I remember most fondly were Larry Heliker (seen here in the ropes), Gabriella Giubilaro (from Florence, Italy), Arun H. Shamrao (from South India), Christian Pisano (from France), Kofi Busia, Ramanand Patel, annual visits by Elise Miller (on scoliosis), Carrie Owerko, Sutra studies with Edwin Bryant and John Casey, Ropes with Lori McIntosh, multiple sclerosis with Eric Small and later with Garth McLean, and weekly pranayama classes with Chris Stein.
There were so many celebrations, workshops, and people who could and should be noted here, I apologize for not listing them all!
Perhaps my deepest gratitude goes to those unsung heroes who served as our directors, controllers and office managers. These are the people who stayed late to turn out the lights, who handled bathroom backups, air conditioning failures, student complaints, cleaning props, ordering merchandise, and coordinating staff. In the earlier years the director did almost everything, hats off to Leslie Peters (seen here smiling effervescently with Eric Small), she took the helm for eleven years. David Charles followed, and then, in our new La Cienega facility, Marta Foust. Ah, Marta! Many of you remember Marta. She now has a child, still studies yoga, and enjoys a simpler life. Lori McIntosh supervised an inspired renovation of the facilities under the guidance of Gitte Bechsgaard. Gone were metal prop shelves. The beautified Institute now fell in line with the science of Vastu Shastra, creating spaces that promote health and mental lucidity.
Anyone who worked behind the scenes, knows our rock, Joyce Ireland. She made sure that our ‘I’s were dotted and our ‘t’s crossed, she handled contracts, insurance, taxes, and more. Bless her! In the final years, Amy Israel worked her way from the ground up as a staff registrar, to become our office manager. She drafted a formal Employee Manual, I drafted Teacher Guidelines, and we did a 360° review from faculty and staff. The Institute graduated into a formal business! Sincere gratitude to everyone named and unnamed who worked behind the scenes; without you we would never have flourished.
I served on the Board of the Institute in the early years with Scott Hobbs and Lynn Theard; and again from 2012 until 2015 with Marcy Mee, Scott Radin, and Allen Grodsky, among others. We would discuss strategies, review business models, and change the infrastructure periodically as each Board adjusted to the lessons learned about running a business. I came to recognize how delicate managing and supporting a non-profit organization was! So many teachers and students tried their hand at “being in service,” only to realize that volunteering to keep a business afloat took a completely different skill set than practicing asana. While I had dedicated years to teaching, I realized that perhaps the most essential component of teaching – besides having a firm base of the material – lay in communications skills. As I worked with senior teachers on the Curriculum Committee, I cultivated what I call the 5 “C”s of effective communication.† To a greater or lessor extent, I hope I helped!
Communication is so key to everything we do. Our community had an excellent newsletter, Yoga Vidya, edited initially by Jacqueline Austin, Catherine Fisher then Christi Hall. Linda Nishio was the sole art director since the inception of Yoga Vidya. I savor these issues.
For me, one highlight was our Tuesday night therapeutics class. Marla and I launched this class after we had completed a three year teacher training with Stephanie Quirk and had assisted therapy classes in Pune. Students came with all kinds of conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, hip replacements, concussion, depression, shoulder injuries, to name but a few. We were fortunate to have almost as many certified teachers assisting us as students in the class. Tuesday nights exemplified a strong collective wherein we studied, reviewed and refined our approach to enable students to guide them on their path to healing. After the challenging class work, teachers and assistants congregated in the teacher’s lounge to debrief. Someone always brought fabulous chocolates, cupcakes, lassies or fresh juice. Our last class was the week before quarantine began, March 2020. Nine years of healing and such fond memories.
My love affair with the Institute has been a rocky one. Anyone who engages full on with a non-profit will tell you the same thing. I have taught classes, served on the Board for six years, worked on the Curriculum Council for seven years, created events, drafted schedules, handled occasional crises, and more. Ultimately, the Institute was a sanctuary worth dedicating many years of creative energy to, and a community that encouraged in-depth study.
Cheers and salutations to what we were, who we were, and to everyone who entered our sanctuary. I hope that the Association and the Institute will survive in these trying times. There are only three other non-profits in the United States that bear the name “Iyengar Yoga Institute”: one in San Francisco, another in New York, and the third in La Mesa in Southern California. All things change, but Guruji’s legacy continues through his teachers, students, books, and videos. This legacy has been a foundation in my life, and will continue to support me, my colleagues and my students as we move forward.
Upon reading this post, I realize that I have been avoiding the complicated and painful final two years prior to closure. While the pandemic ultimately caused the physical closing of the Institute, a rupture in the community had fatally sealed the harmony of our family. It drove a wedge between colleagues as teachers monitored what they said, paranoid of being reported for questioning the decision of the National Iyengar Yoga Association (IYNAUS). Just as roses have thorns, people are inherently political.
The Me Too movement enabled women to speak forth, if they had ever felt victims of inappropriate behavior. Allegations against Manouso Manos caused IYNAUS to hire a lawyer to conduct an investigation. As teachers claimed their positions pro or con, the hostility was palpable. Teachers were prohibited from speaking Manouso’s name in the parking lot; he was being ghosted and systematically canceled. Divorce is never easy. The emotional toll can be crippling.
This closing chapter of the Institute was painful and tragic. Most spiritual communities that go through this process rarely recover. While we had many meetings to discuss how to heal our community, the writing was black and white, the die already cast. Any challenge to the investigation meant that you might be ghosted or cancelled as well. For many of us, akin to Arjuna’s paralysis in the Bhagavad Gita, this was a decisive moment. Is this the reason I was never invited to teach online when the Institute graduated to a virtual classroom?
The grieving cycle has its own internal rhythm. Trauma cannot be quantified, it is a deeply subjective experience. The letting go of an idea of a cohesive community amidst the politics of this event will be ongoing for many of us. I find myself discovering renewed strength and refuge through my students, teaching, practice, and dedication to the gift of Iyengar Yoga, sans any need for the institutionalization of his legacy. Now, when I begin the invocation, the memory of the Institute resides with those who have passed on, sitting on the right side of Patañjali.
* Requiem: an act or token of remembrance
† My five “C”s of effective communication are: to be Courteous, Clear/Correct, Curious, Courageous, and Compassionate. I could count the pearls on my hand, like a mala, to assure that I had respectfully covered both the receptive, and the active part of dialog. I connected the C’s to the Yoga Sutras to establish my foundation for communication in yoga. In ancient yoga lore, one would practice awareness in body, speech and mind. Constructive speech was considered a primary virtue to be cultivated, and words were weighed rather than counted. I decided that my yoga practice would be to serve the community through these roles, on the Curriculum Council, or the Board, or as a senior teacher. I hope that the relationships I cultivated were as satisfying to others as they were to me.
2020 is a cathartic year, a game changer. I am sure that each of you has endured some event in your life that seemed to put the world upside down; wherein all your fantasies or plans for the future were suddenly called into question. For some it is a health issue, for others financial, marriage, children. Now, we have a collective moment of seeming chaos. Something will emerge; it seems inevitable at this point that we cannot go back to “same old same old”. We have reached a tipping point.
So, how to prepare. Individually we must be strong, calm, clear headed and kind hearted. To navigate a ship as big as our economic and political system takes time. I would hope that we act locally even as we donate, sign petitions, vote, and do whatever we need to do to keep the winds of change moving. Friends in Santa Monica showed up to clean shattered glass, vandalized stores, to remove graffiti, and to show solidarity. Little things lead to bigger things as long as we keep up the practice.
Which brings me to pranayama practice. Little things lead to bigger things. I find that my daily pranayama practice supports my physical, emotional and mental health and helps me prepare for another day. The practice lightens and lights up the day.
Attached is the set-ups that I will use for this week and for next week’s practice. Join me! Visit https://www.yogaworks.com/classes/live/ Wednesdays at 7:30am PT for pranayama, and Fridays at 9:00am PT for Iyengar 2-3 asana.
Join me at 12pm PT Sat. May 16 on Zoom for stories about this surreal, yes all too real, adventure that I took with my late father, Roy Walford, one of the eight “Biospherians.” It was a historic experiment. I look forward to answering questions and sharing a few never-before-told tales. During his two years as the medical officer inside Biosphere 2, Roy and I wrote what could be the first paperless book together! If you’ve not seen the amazing documentary Spaceship Earth, (88 on Rotten Tomatoes!) please visit here for more details, and how to see it. It’s free on Hulu, and available on most major streaming services. The Zoom meeting details are below:
Topic: Spaceship Earth, a discussion with Lisa Walford
Time: May 16, 2020 12:00 PM Pacific Time (US and Canada)
Meeting ID: 967 9450 7168
One tap mobile
+13462487799,,96794507168# US (Houston)
+16699009128,,96794507168# US (San Jose)
Dial by your location
+1 346 248 7799 US (Houston)
+1 669 900 9128 US (San Jose)
+1 253 215 8782 US (Tacoma)
+1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)
+1 646 558 8656 US (New York)
+1 301 715 8592 US (Germantown)
Meeting ID: 967 9450 7168
Find your local number: https://zoom.us/u/akoKCvu7q
The steadiest companion I have had throughout my life has been my home practice, my yoga mat. There have been days where I practiced on picnic tables and in campground bathrooms (I never touched the floor). I have used toilet paper rolls as head support in Downward facing dog; rolled off of hotel beds for Dwipada Viparita Dandasana; and configured AirBnB flats to be practice rooms. Everything is sacred when it comes to my home practice. Now, finally, after encouraging students to begin a home practice, people are finding the benefits of creating a place at home for yoga.
Now that I am teaching in the streaming environment, I can see what advantages students have in their home to help build a yoga practice. Staircases, kitchen sinks, foot stools! I love seeing people pull out pillows, towels, chairs, books, and even more yoga props. Now is a great time to stock your home with what will become your favorite furniture add-ons, bolsters, slant boards, blocks, straps, and yoga chairs. My halasana box doubles as a lamp stand.
Resources for practicing at home: Israel Avendano has been supplying the Iyengar Yoga Institute with props for years, as well as the Los Angeles YogaWorks studios. At the moment, during the pandemic, he does not ship, but he will deliver within the greater LA area. Please contact him directly:
Israel Avendano: +1.310.625.5052. You can text or call.
For wooden props such as Setubhanda benches, Viparita Karani boxes, trestles, I recommend https://PineTreeYoga.com or https://AuthenticHardwoodYogaProps.com
Announcing the streaming release of a documentary that is all too vivid for me, as I lived in the shadow of this amazing story. My father was one of just eight Biospherians, the medical officer, inside Biosphere 2.
So strap yourselves in, as May 8th is the international launch date for the 2020 Sundance Film Festival selection: SPACESHIP EARTH.
Trailer: Spaceship Earth is the true, stranger-than-fiction, adventure of eight visionaries who in 1991 spent two years quarantined inside of a self-engineered replica of Earth’s ecosystem called BIOSPHERE 2. The experiment was a worldwide phenomenon, chronicling daily existence in the face of life threatening ecological disaster and a growing criticism that it was nothing more than a cult. The bizarre story is both a cautionary tale and a hopeful lesson of how a small group of dreamers can potentially reimagine a new world. Neon, director Matt Wolf
One of the extraordinary friendships in my life was with my father, Dr. Roy Walford. He and I worked together writing two popular books on his life extension research at UCLA. He was the medical officer inside Biosphere 2, where he was sequestered with seven other people for two years, Sept. 1991 – Sept. 1993. While I watched from outside, the Biospherians grew and harvested their own food, they recycled their precious water used to sustain life for all the species and plants that were brought on board the hermetically sealed futuristic looking Biosphere. It was truly a magical time of hope; hope that this 200-million dollar experiment could model a different kind of relationship between man and our earth. Hence the name Biosphere 2. And it was my privilege to work virtually alongside my father, from my office in his home in Venice, California.
He hoed, cooked, and ran scientific experiments; he documented both audacious art projects and the social dynamics of being cooped up for two years with seven other pioneers; he resigned as head of his research laboratory at UCLA to enter this adventure. Now the story is told. Dad, I hope you are watching, wherever you are up there, in here, in timeless space.
Biosphere 2 is in Oracle, Arizona. It still exists, although its magnificence has long since morphed into something simpler. This fascinating documentary shows how a small group of visionary individuals and eccentric adventurers accomplished something fantastic. With extensive footage from my father’s 500 hours of video he shot inside Biosphere 2, as well as historical recordings going back fifty years that introduce the idealistic and forward thinking pioneers who built it, this documentary is riveting.
Some perspective. In the 1990s I lived two lives. I was a newly certified Iyengar yoga teacher. While my father was inside Biosphere 2 I was producing, marketing and selling a computer software program, Dr. Walford’s Interactive Diet Planner, to track nutritional profiles and help people live healthier lives. I had an office inside a corner of his home. My mornings were spent practicing and teaching yoga and during the afternoon I would create nutritionally dense recipes and participate in online nutritional support groups. My father and I wrote what was probably the first paperless book while he was inside the Biosphere, The Anti-Aging Plan, Strategies and Recipes for Extending your Healthy Years. I remember telling him that his “edits” were coming in upside down, and could he turn the page so that I could incorporate his notes without standing on my head. Technology had limits in those days!
Now, technology will enable us to meet virtually, you the viewer and I, for an informal discussion on my years in the light of this story, in the shadow of my father, and my inspiration from having participated in this amazing saga. To join this discussion, visit https://zoom.us/j/96794507168 on Sat. May 16th, at 12:00pm PDT. You can also call +1.346.248.7799 and enter meeting ID 96794507168# when prompted.
Wonderful people, tender people, courageous people, weary people, you, and you, and me. I am reading inspirational verses from people who never knew they could write, or pray, or stand up and shout truth to power, or get down and weep. What connects us now are our aspirations and fears, air hugs and virtual communities. Connecting… this is the new norm.
Waking up to a new world we have options, choices, and wow! How about that! If your day used to begin with that alarm pushing you to the morning joe and out the door, now you have this rare opportunity. A new day-to-day routine.
Join me each Wednesday at 7:30am for an hour of practice. Please have several yoga blankets or thick towels which you can fold lengthwise to support your spine. Streaming with YogaWorks at https://www.yogaworks.com/classes/live/. Please review this pdf on how to prepare your blankets.
I begin each day with pranayama and meditation. Those early morning moments when I am between my shadow/dream life and the daily waking me-self are the most precious gems of experience. Connecting with the vital and subtle energy in my being through my breath reminds me of the rhythmic ebb and flow inherent in everything corporal. And the in-between moments, the pause before the next cycle, that is where grace hovers, waiting for me to inhale its fragrance of tranquility.
This practice cultivates great sensitivity. In Light on Life, Śrī B.K.S. Iyengar says “Sensitivity is not weakness or vulnerability, it is clarity of perception and allows judicious, precise action.” To awaken and greet each day with an affirmation of life; to clear the cobwebs of sleep and tune my mind to a finer sensibility; to set my heart aright and true to myself; and to recognize the potency of this simple thing we call breath, this is what the pranayama practice does for me.
In these unique times, I find myself vacillating between feeling overwhelmed and either manic or paralyzed with what I seem to have no control over. At other times, gratitude fills me and I succumb to a tenderness for all of humanity when I see the sacrifices people are making to protect and save others. Like a pendulum, my emotions swing. Yoga has trained me to watch and see these natural tendencies in my thoughts and behavior. Yoga has also given me the tools to lesson the momentum of the swing, to cultivate a middle way, and to find an inner poise even within these challenges.
The Bhagavad Gita includes a dedicated breath oriented practice as a sacrificial act “some offer inhalation into exhalation and others, exhalation into inhalation, restraining the path of inhalation and exhalation, intent on the control of the vital breath.” -Sloka IV.29.
Let this ocean of energy bear up the lungs and let it purify the body and refine the consciousness. –Light on Life, pg. 76
Sat. Feb. 29th, 2:30-4:30 at the Iyengar Yoga Institute of Los Angeles. For more information, or to register online click here or call +1.310.558.8212.
In Conversation with the Yoga Sūtras
I will be assisting John in a series of six sessions throughout the year. John has taught courses on World Religions, Sanskrit, Buddhism, and Yoga Studies at local colleges, while also helping to establish the MA program in Yoga Studies at Loyola Marymount University.
John: There are few texts from classical India that have had such an long-running influence on the perspective of spiritual seekers than the one which bears the name of Yoga Sūtra. Written nearly two thousand years ago by the sage Patañjali, this text of less then two hundred pithy aphorisms may be read in its entirety in less than an hour. And yet, this elegant work, divided into four brief chapters, outlines a profound and effective contemplative path which can lead to radical spiritual enlightenment and freedom. In this series of presentations, we will open up the contents and deeper implications of the Yoga Sūtra, laying out the philosophy, psychology, practice, and consequences of the contemplative lifestyle that has inspired and edited countless generations of serious yoga practitioners.
John Thomas Casey has been a Yoga scholar-practitioner since 1971, and holds a doctorate in Asian and Comparative Philosophy from the University of Hawaii. I have known and studied with him for over ten years. Last year we taught together for the fist time and promised to do it again. John is a scholar with a sense of humor and respect for his students that makes studying with him a joy. This is an excellent opportunity for our local community dive into the Yoga Sūtras. By stretching the course out over the year, students will be able to read, study and apply the practices in the Yoga Sūtras into daily life. Bring any version of the Sūtras that you like and John will distribute his own translation.