Spaceship Earth launches May 8th! And I was there

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

This amazing documentary will stream on Hulu, and at a (virtual) theater near you! Visit https://neon-rated.webflow.io/films/spaceship-earth#virtual-cinema for a list of theaters in the US. We saw it at its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January. You don’t wanna miss it!

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.

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The potency of pranayama to bring poise and peace

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

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Yoga Sūtra Study with John Casey at IYILA

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.


Iyengar Yoga Institute of Los Angeles (map)

1835 South La Cienega Blvd, Suite 240
Los Angeles, CA, 90035 USA
+1.310.558.8212institute@iyila.orghttps://iyila.org/

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Roots and Shoots, Standing Poses at IYILA

Sat. Feb. 29th, 11:30-2:00 and a Teacher’s class, Sun. Mar. 1st, 12:30-3:30 at the Iyengar Yoga Institute of Los Angeles. For more information, or to register online click here or call +1.310.558.8212.

In this workshop, I will introduce basic anatomy through handouts and asana practice to help you understand where you need stability and where you need mobility in the legs, back and arms. Come to learn, to practice, and to grow.

This body is a miracle of physical structures, physiological processes, psychological patterns and what I consider the metaphysical guide from an inner nobility of grace. Higher attributes like compassion, patience and equanimity are generally possible when we have some understanding and control over our lives. One of the most basic building blocks to wisdom is to embrace the relationship with our own structure, the body.

Standing poses are the foundation for all levels of our inner structure in Iyengar Yoga. Our legs propel us forward while our arms reach and grasp; both serve to enable us to live life fully. Standing poses free the shoulder and hip joints while they stabilize the core of the body. Each of us is unique, and the framework special. A teacher gives general instructions, and from there we each need to apply ourselves to understand what is helpful. Just as a gardener prunes each plant according to its shape, we each need to adapt the general practice for our knees, hips, backs and bodies.

A sound and informed practice both reinforces a balanced body and avoids potentially stressful practices. Come to learn, to practice and to grow.

I look forward to seeing you there!


Iyengar Yoga Institute of Los Angeles (map)

1835 South La Cienega Blvd
Suite 240
Los Angeles, CA, 90035 USA
+1.310.558.8212institute@iyila.orghttps://iyila.org/

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Reflecting the Iyengar way


Wendy Jacob visits Lisa at Triyoga in London and talks to her talks to about her commitment to Iyengar yoga.

Arriving at Triyoga in London’s Soho is an experience in itself. If anyone has any preconceived ideas of the ideal environment for yoga – this would not be it. The crowded streets, shops that open on Sunday late into the evening and the clatter and chatter from the courtyard restaurants beneath the studio, make the establishment of a successful yoga studio an unlikely proposition.

Inside the purple doors, there is a different vibe – wooden floors, a calming welcome and a feeling of peace and solace from the stresses and strains of the busy city.

Lisa Walford is presenting her final workshop in a series of three days of structured asana practice – ‘through the lens of sacred texts’. She is in London with her husband and will spend time in Europe before returning to her home in California.

Entering the studio, Lisa has presence; but when she stands alongside one of her students, you realise she is minute – a tiny frame beneath a defined, strong face and walnut tanned skin. Few will have faced the challenges or chosen the journey that has preceded Lisa’s invitation to teach at Triyoga. Author of The Longevity Diet and daughter of Dr Roy Walford – who pioneered research into a diet of calorie restriction – she was diagnosed HIV positive in 1985. By strengthening her immune system through the diet, practising yoga and adopting a positive outlook, Lisa continues to live a long, full life, inspiring others to nurture their minds and bodies.

She says she has been gratified with her reception in London and has felt a deep connection with the students who have mostly attended the entire course. Talking to students as they leave the building, the feeling is reciprocated, praising her ability to communicate with each individual and encourage them to engage more deeply with their practice

Lengthy rigorous training

The teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar are largely credited for the popularity of yoga in the west – technique and rigorous training emphasising precision and alignment and using props such as straps and blocks, to improve the quality of the pose. Poses may be held for longer than in other styles, encouraging lengthening of muscles, stability and focus. Teachers undergo a rigorous training, lasting several years and producing teachers committed to teaching Iyengar yoga throughout the world.

BKS Iyengar said: “The practice of yogasana for the sake of health, to keep fit, or to maintain flexibility is the external practice of yoga. While this is a legitimate place to begin, it is not the end. Even in simple asanas, one is experiencing the three levels of quest: the external quest, which brings firmness of the body; the internal quest, which brings steadiness of intelligence; and the innermost quest, which brings benevolence of spirit.”

Lisa has been following this quest and teaching for 30 years. She has a BA in dance, but a professional career was thwarted when she tore an abductor muscle. Luckily, this led her to yoga and Iyengar, who gave a demonstration at a yoga convention in 1982. “His presence formidable – a sense of authenticity from practice and experience, which is contagious”, says Lisa. “Since then, I have been fortunate to watch him practice, develop and learn how to modify his mind.”

Cultivating the language

In the 80’s, very few people knew about Iyengar yoga, but Lisa was hooked. Asked why she was attracted, Lisa says there are a number of reasons and these remain true today. “There is a consistency of language between teachers and as I always loved poetry and the mystical, I found that this cultivation of language helps with the movement. Teachers are well trained and this makes it the safest, most consistent form of teaching, developing quality amongst the students.”

Lisa is highly articulate, emphasising muscular skeletal rhythm, coordinating with the breath and creating freedom in movement. Communication is not her only tool, as she explains that the power of observation is a skill that takes many years to cultivate. “It is important to observe what a person can do physically – their practice and how they approach themselves. I give a lot of physical instruction, but practice is not so much applying yourself to the pose. It is about discovering your capacity through the pose – the pose becomes one of action and reflection. We often don’t consider the emotional underpinning of the practice. If we are competitive and approach it in the wrong way it will affect our practice”, explains Lisa.

Throughout the workshop, Lisa encourages enquiry and reflection. “Where is there congestion? Where is there volume? Where is there stability?” she asks. “Use the breath to help you move more eloquently. Incorporate an intimate relationship with your breath,” she encourages.

Students respond by moving deeper into increasingly complex and demanding twists. After each pose she leaves time for enquiry; “What is the sensory impression (shadow) of the pose? Was it energetic/emotional/muscular? What does this mean?” A line of enquiry, which takes student beyond the physical challenge, into a deeper feeling of integration and reflection.

“My sequences are very progressive.” She explains. “We are not interested in ‘getting’ the pose but in finding mobility, stability and space. The sequences are progressive creating a sensed memory – an imprint – aimed at developing a discriminative, reflective capacity in the students.”

The workshop demonstrates not only Lisa’s commitment to Iyengar and her own teaching skills, but her personal compassion, which shines through the detailed physical instructions, encouraging students to develop a sense of enquiry and to bring ‘compassion’ into their yoga practice and the rest of their lives.

“With all the sensations that come to us from the physical body – such as walking into a new environment – it is important to consider how this evolves into our sensory system. Watch the process and the sequence of letting go and cultivate a quality of joy and honour.”

For those who have completed the full workshop, her final advice would have been welcome. “Find equanimity to practise, or not practise and welcome these qualities.” Wise advise from a committed teacher.

Following the death of BKS Iyengar, Lisa Walford wrote the following poem to her teacher:

To Guruji
The sky is great, vast
The sea is deep, and mighty
Guruji, your Sadhana was life itself
The thorns and roses
The fragile knees and sibilant exhalations
The cry of painful release and sighs of relief
Students leaving medical class
Playful and joyous with your great granddaughter
Amidst peals of laughter, gently taking her upside down
Sitting at your desk in the library, coffee in the afternoon
Dictating your advice and instructions to teachers worldwide
Politely receiving guests, graciously greeting friends
Accepting salutations and flowers in the lobby
So many coming from France, Israel, China … everywhere
And the moments of complete rapture
Listening to you explain the finer points of Tadasana
Your white dhoti, golden trim sweeping the asana floor
Preparing for practice, timer in place, Sirsasana
Wherever I positioned my mat, whether I could see you or not
You knew. The days to be kind, the days to be firm
Fearless in the face of my illness
You steered me through the fading of my health
To a practice that became my resurrection
Pranams Guruji. Once I found myself flat on my stomach
Outstretched with my hands touching your feet
Not sure how I got there, but it was tender
Your eyes (and eyebrows)!
Your feet!


This article was published in BWY Spectrum magazine, Winter 2014


Lisa Walford holds an Intermediate Senior Iyengar teaching certificate and has been teaching yoga in Los Angeles since 1982. Through yoga, she continues to explore the introspective process of balancing the physical with the energetic body while deepening her appreciation for the creative spirit. Lisa is on the Board of the not-for-profit organization Iyengar Yoga Therapeutics and the Iyengar Yoga Association of Los Angeles. She is on the advisory board of the International Association of Yoga Therapists and the Yoga Studies program at Loyola Marymount University. Lisa has a BA from UCLA and is co-author of The Longevity Diet, now in its second edition, and The Anti-Aging Plan.

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Arambhana Kriya, Commencement W/Prashant

The Commencement Act –

Prashant frequently says “well, anyway…” Many people are fascinated by his wisdom, many people are bewildered, some people are bored, and for a few, Prashant’s teachings have transformed the way they practice. When he says “well, anyway…”, it means that he has realized that he went off on a tangent, or what he thought was a tangent. He does this frequently, for he himself is delighted by and completely absorbed in the traditions of Yog. For example, he explains how the modern “yoga” culture is only invested in a “physiocracy” while what we should be studying is “Yog”, the essential yoga.

“Early on, they thought that being in good health and being able to do good poses meant that you would be a good teacher. Now, you must be a good student, this must not escape. You need conviction to be a good teacher, but you must always protect your own studentship… Studentship is forever an infant…”

“Yog” is the subject, the object, the fixation and the beloved for Prashant. Over the last fifty years he has developed his unique style that draws us into deeper dimensions of experiencing one’s Self and “Yog”. Although he would not say that his approach is unique at all. And some say that it is so unique that it is not even Iyengar yoga. Both Abhijata and Prashant reminded us that Guruji never called his yoga “Iyengar” yoga. We study Yoga, capital Y. Fluent in the Vedic texts, Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras, Prashant weaves threads from these inspirations throughout his discourse while giving us practical instructions to help explore and reflect on the breath, sensations, thoughts and experience in practice.

“Describe, define, explain the process, consequences, effect, to cultivate literacy in your studentship.”

“Yoga has the possibilities to not only train you, you should be empowered, not just getting training and more training. It is an educational process, you get intelligence, or should decide what you should be doing, there is some logic, some reasoning behind it. Classes are not the place to learn yoga.”

“Arambhana Kriya, the commencement act – each must develop the literacy on how to identify where your focal point is. Inhalation connects the core to peripheral, exhalation connects periphery to core, ex: feel how the inhalation effects the shoulder blades, and what happens on exhalation, commentate, you will develop your vocabulary, literacy. Sensitize, perceive, the consequences of flushing out deeply and what happens to that area on inhalation. You must cultivate a good vocabulary to be a good commentator.” (refer to Yogasana: The 18 Maha Kriyas of Yogasana, Prashant Iyengar)

Each morning of the week began with a class with Prashant. He systematically and experientially took us through ways to introduce his scheme that would enable us to go deeper into “Yog”. Some of us were thrilled and found that the patience and penetration required to work this way yielded a rich dimensionality of being and becoming. Others were restless and to move. By the end of the week, everyone appreciated the rich tapestry of Prashant, the weave of his teachings, and the texture of his love for Guruji and for us.

“So this is not Prashant’s class, this is your head, face, brain class. Emotional, psychological processes. Understand your nature, you have so many teacher within you, understand what is proper for you”

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Sunrise in Iyengar Yoga, December in Pune, India

Whenever I watch a sunset I know that the same light will rise upon awakening friends somewhere else in the world, and a new day will begin. Over the last few years my community of Iyengar yoga has watched several sunsets. It is a tumultuous time in our world. On the global spectrum we are struggling for the waning resources of water and air. The political narrative of populism and nationalism seem like a resurgence from the dark ages, where feudal wars would decimate any opposition and crusades silenced free speech. My community at YogaWorks has likewise witnessed darkening skies of grief and change. Yes, we are living through the saga of a setting sun.

Where will the sun rise? Who is waking up to change? And to new light?

Abhijata Iyengar is perhaps our Phoenix, rising from the ashes of our grief from losing both her grandfather Sri BKS Iygenar (Guruji) and most recently, her aunt Sri Geeta Iyengar (Geetaji). Abhijata (or as her students affectionately call her, Abhi) is bold, bright, gracious, welcoming, young, a mother, educated, and savvy in the ways of our international community. Abhi brings change. For the Europeans she hopes to bring some cohesion. In America, Australia and England, where assessment has become a goal oriented step ladder that has institutionalized what should be an organic process – that of studentship –  Abhi has asked for a very different structure that emphasizes mentoring, personal experience and subjectivity (I will elaborate in a future post). She is asking that we join her in a dialog to explore how we can make our studies more congenial, sophisticated, layered, and cooperative.

Abhi embodies and is embracing her heritage. Having been mentored for almost twenty years by her grandfather, Guruji, and having traveled internationally to conferences with her aunt, Geetaji, Abhi has seen how a dogmatic approach can create what she calls “cookie-cutter” teachers. Every family has its struggles, and our Iyengar “family” is no exception. Abhi has been listening and watching for a decade. Now she has ideas on how to address our “issues”, and she has invited us to join her in an open dialog.

For context, she explained that, in the mid-twentieth century, yoga was unknown. Guruji initially had to promote yoga and himself through public demonstrations. The original script for Light on Yoga included three times as much material, but the publishers told him that it was too esoteric and too long for the general public. Even so, the interest in integrated body/mind practices and in Indian spirituality along with Guruji’s infectious enthusiasm caught the imagination of people on every continent. His teachings inspired the creation of Associations worldwide. Fast forward to today when everyone studies yoga (Prashant: “every Tom, Dick and Harry” is a euphemism for the everyman). Yoga, in the sense of Yoga as a body/mind/spiritual practice, has been exploited and manipulated to fit many commercial ventures. It has become an industry. Iyengar yoga has been pigeon-holed and is defined in the Oxford dictionary as a yoga that uses furniture.

Our approach to teacher training is similar, she explained. We package teacher trainings. But “can you”, she said, “honestly package spiritual studies, Svadhyaya?” Prashant is very vocal about this. Teacher Trainings (TTCs) have become “money making ventures” he frequently says. Iyengar yoga must redefine itself.

“There are two types of education; formal education, which is a set pattern, predictable, replicate, rigid format, a ‘cookie cutter.’ And the second is an informal education; it is effective, iterative, contextual, and geared to the ‘individual.’ No set rules. There is a third way. It is a non-formal way; through direct experience. It is a life-long process where science, art, and philosophy come together. How do we learn yoga? It is not linear, we grow, and we fall,” Abhi said.

She continued, “In early days we adopted the formal way because it was easier to scale and to replicate. Even though early learners learned the informal way, with refined sensitivity, we understood that the linear way is not effective. We now want to create a world that encourages curiosity.” This third path attribute is that it is “pulsatizes” (beats), it is alive, a vibrating system in resonance with reality.”

We spent seven days exploring, experiencing, and discovering ways to expand the paradigm of Iyengar yoga. Rather than orienting our practice around the familiar actions or points of an asana, both Abhi and Prashant worked with cross-categories of poses, with breath dynamics, Uddyana Kriya and steered us away from identifying Iyengar yoga as asana centric. “The core of Iyengar yoga is Yoga” Abhi said.   “Connect your students and yourselves to the mother ship of Patanjali and yoga. For whatever reason a student comes to yoga, connect them to YOGA.”

How refreshing. How brave. How honest. How forward thinking. There is a sun rising, and light is upon our community.

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Maty Ezraty, A Life of Integrity

When I process deep emotions I either shut down or go manic. When I shut down it is because I am not ready to voyage into the abyss of my story. But when I go manic, I usually produce something. In the days prior to Maty Ezraty’s Celebration of Life, I burned the midnight oil in compiling a selection of photos, news articles and personal statements as a testimony to this amazing woman, titled “Maty Ezraty, A Life of Integrity.”

The Celebration, on November 9, 2019 was artful, heartful, healing and wondrous. People went to the flower market in downtown Los Angeles and crafted beautiful floral arrangements. A sound stage was assembled for Dave Stringer, Saul David Ray and Marla Meenashki Joy and Ron. The west room in the Montana YogaWorks, Maty’s Ashtanga room, the original YogaWorks, displayed a meditation alter that showcased a larger than life picture of those azul eyes glowing with joie de vie. Maty was a jewel of a lady, different, fiery, temperamental. And we loved her.

At the Celebration, I spoke of how Maty and I would practice together. Comparing how her bow legs and my knock knees effected different poses made for lively yoga discussions! Should the back leg turn out, or in, in Parvritta Parsvkonasana? Draw the outer shins in, and she would tie her legs up. “Will they ever be straight?” she asked pensively. Maty disliked her feet, she found them big and basic, and yet she taught how to build “shapely” ankles by lifting the inner arch and drawing the outer ankle in. Whatever she approached was important. She was an “in your face” kind of person, honest to a fault, yet tough as nails.

As I sat with the memories and the inexplicable reality that she was gone, gone at 55, young, in her prime… I realized that, for me, she embodied true discipleship. One who sought out the best teachers for her own studies and who drew out the most impassioned practice from her students.

The Yoga Sutras mention eight ways to build a contemplative practice and maintain equanimity. Nischala Joy Devi interprets them as follows:

1.27. Repeating the sacred sound OM manifests Divine Consciousness.
1.33. To preserve openness of heart and calmness of mind, nurture these attitudes: Kindness to those who are happy; Compassion for those who are less fortunate; Honor for those who embody noble qualities; Equanimity to those who actions oppose your values.
1.34. Slow, easeful exhalations can be used to restore and preserve balance.
1.35. Or engage the focus on an inspiring object.
1.36. Or cultivate devotion to the supreme, ever-blissful Light within.
1.37. Or receive grace from a great soul, who exudes Divine qualities.
1.38. Or reflect on a peaceful feeling from an experience, a dream or deep sleep.
1.39. Or dedicate yourself to anything that elevates and embraces your heart.

I found myself saying that Maty was an enlightened being, one whom I would hold dear in my heart. 1.37; To receive grace from a great soul, who exudes Divine qualities. What I meant is that her devotion to her subject, her students, the practice, and her quest for an honest and loving life is her legacy. Those qualities are worthy of reflection, and she lived those qualities. She was not perfect, but neither is life. Her quest was sincere… Her picture now rests on my own alter alongside Guruji Iyengar and Geetaji.

And what a funny girl; different, curious, fiery, temperamental. Maty Ezraty fell into her destiny at a young age. In her early twenties, she took a Yoga class at the Center for Yoga in Los Angeles. Not only did that class change the future of yoga, but it ignited a passion in Maty that led her to surround herself with all facets of the yoga culture. The asana practice, the business of yoga, yoga attire, teacher training, kirtan, mentoring, writing, contemplative practices and finally, international leadership.

My time with Maty started in the 1980s. We were all babies in yoga. If I told someone that I taught yoga, they would ask; “Do you mean that you burn incense and chant?” Well, no, not exactly, I would respond. Now, thirty years later, when I tell someone that I teach yoga, they either ask; “Will I get a good sweat?” or, “I couldn’t possibly do yoga, I am too stiff”. And I respond: “Anyone can do yoga. Yoga can be adapted to whatever your needs are.” Then I refine my response by telling them that they will probably not sweat bullets in my class, rather, that I will request from them a quality of focus that is not possible when they jump around a lot. We practice a “work-in” rather than a “work-out”.

In her classes, Maty managed to do both; sweat and demand complete focus. In her later years, she traveled extensively teaching workshops. She attended several silent meditation retreats. She used the basic sequences in the Ashtanga Vinyasa of Pattabhi Jois, and honed them to such a fine degree that a simple sun salutation became a moving meditation of a fully embodied eco-system. All parts are necessary and connect to the whole, and every part plays it tune. The lift of the chest connected to the length of the back informing the abdominal wall to enable the arms to rise while anchoring down into the legs, feet, arches, ankles, and all of it, including the breath. Artistry at its finest. Being in one of her classes was like being in an orchestra, each of us playing our own instrument as she modulated the pace and intensity.

I first met Maty when she opened YogaWorks in 1987. I was already a certified Iyengar teacher, and teaching full time. I had dissolved my two dance companies, the Sacred Dancers and the Stardust Dancers, in 1983, and completed three years of programming funded by the California Arts Council. With fifteen years of daily devoted dance studies and a Bachelors degree in choreography, I loved the synchronization of movement into asana that had been a hallmark in the early years of Iyengar yoga. By the time I traveled to Pune to study with the Iyengar family, the emphasis was on building intelligence through detail and precision in each asana. I loved that as well, but I sought a sangha, a study group..

I found a community of fellow yoga practitioners in the Ashtanga classes that Chuck Miller taught. Arising before daybreak, I would warm up at home before showing up for the ritual 5 Surya Namaskar A and B’s that were the signature of the system at the time. Practice began around 7 AM. Maty and I were both supple, spunky, and short. We loved cajoling and encouraging one another through the series. Maty said that I was the only one she could look down on, by a half inch! She was four foot eleven with a voice and presence that commanded attention and respect. Everyone loved seeing one another in those early morning sessions, as Chuck kept a mature and even emotional temper on the fiery practice.

Maty frequently invited teachers to her house for potluck dinners. Those were the macrobiotic days, and she generally served rice dishes, greens, and vegetables, introducing many of us to the benefits of healthy and delicious eating. She cooked with pressure cookers, lots of olive oil, and ate with chop sticks. She loved having people around. And the community grew.

The history of the first decade at YogaWorks remains in the hearts and lives of many of yoga’s most influential teachers today. Maty would invite teachers from many traditions, Viniyoga with Gary Kraftstow; Iyengar yoga with Gabriella Giubilaro, Patricia Walden, Eddie Modestini among others; Yin Yoga with Sarah Powers and Paul Grilley; Richard Freeman, Tias Little and John Friend all frequented the workshop schedule. Erich Shiffman, Rod Striker, and later Shiva Rey and Sean Korn were on daily class schedules. It was a fertile era, and many of these yogis showed up for Maty’s Celebration of Life.

Jack Kornfield gave a moving eulogy and meditation. At one point he asked us all to imagine that Maty was speaking to each of us, and what would she say. I found Maty saying to me: “You have arrived.” I continue my practices, studies, teaching, reflecting, praying.

I am forever grateful for the early years, creative years, seminal years, my holy years.

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Summer sabbatical – thoughts on life and practice

Ross and Sita at Cape LookoutThe page has turned once more and, as I enter the fall season, my thoughts center around my summer sabbatical. I took three months away from teaching, away from my yoga community, and entered a quiet life alongside an estuary in a small town on the coast of Oregon. It is beautiful here, with herons, pelicans, sandpipers, hawks and bald eagles circling through the air space. The rhythm of the tides leave fresh discoveries every morning along the half mile beach front where we walk. Sita, our very fluffy American Eskimo, scampers after the birds and digs for clams. She is free, I feel free, and my husband comes to life in his floppy white hat, shorts, and sandals. It is cooler here then in Santa Monica, and I generally don my scarf and down jacket.

What is practice? How would I invest my time here? What would I discover? What was I willing to let go of? Who am I without the trappings of “teacher”? Or is “teacher” an integral part of my own process of exploration?

My husband’s father moved here thirty years ago. Over a decade he and Ross, my husband purchased a few properties. When my father-in-law passed away, we found ourselves managing rentals from a thousand miles away. Ross is well known to many locals so we already had a footprint and a reputation for driving a car with California plates that say “Yoga007”. We were both insiders, from Ross’ years of political engagement supporting the local mayor, and outsiders as “those Californians” part-time locals. Yet this year we were invited to block parties and played trivia weekly at the local brew bar. Small town living big time. It was fun!

Now, re-entry. I turn sixty-five in three months. This is a good time for reflection. Practice, reflection. How was my asana practice this year?

I practiced daily. I began with Savasana, a real active savasana. First stage is to let go the pull of gravity and let my body relax. Next, I find that my mind goes on a commercial break and drifts around various inconsequential events. Coming back, I invite my attention to return the touch point of my body on the earth, to the softness of my back body, the skin, flesh, and rhythm of the breath. I would then feel my mind shift into a wider, quieter state. Slightly deeper breaths, and from these breaths I would begin to awaken the animal body. When I watch my puppy stretch, downward doggie, every fiber enjoys the elongation from her tongue to her tail! I let myself enjoy and slow down.

Sita watching for sealsOver the months I explored all variations of incorporating the breath into my practice. Sometimes it was through staying in a pose and feeling how my back lungs might widen at end of the inhalation and how the flesh beneath the skin could move freely at the end of exhalation. Or how the breath could initiate movement and guide the transitions between poses. How the natural shape of the inhalation and exhalation effects my body and each pose. Forward bends, props, long timings, back arches, slow and fast, with and without support. How luxurious to explore!

In Santa Monica, where I teach, I find that I coordinate most of my practice around what I might teach. It is a process of discovery to figure out an effective way to introduce an concept, or to help student approach a complex pose, or to address individual needs in class. Practice coerces me beyond my own natural proclivities and into service for others. I love this. And, I love my sabbatical.

Feeling my muscles, drive, and ego slowly dissolve into the floor was a welcome way to invite a deep receptivity that opened up a beginner’s mind. No expectations, no plans. As my nervous system relaxed, my breath moved into the foreground. Watching the end of exhalation, the quiet suspended moment before the next beginning, the next cycle. Funny how I lose time when I practice, I really forget when I start my practice so I don’t know how long I am on the mat.

I would often vary my practice. One day, with breath centered movements through asanas and salutations. I have sequences or vinyasas for all categories of poses. Other days, I would stay in each pose, eyes closed, feeling how the breath could shape the pose, skin moving away from flesh, where the shape was hollow, round, long. Standing poses are always home base. If I was fatigued or sore somewhere then that first Utthita Trikoṇāsana was like a corporal sigh; the legs, back and shoulders all radiating relief. As I get older, I value the backbending practice for how it strengthens my will and animates everything. Ross picking organic blueberries near TillamookBut I also find that when I begin with supports – blocks, ropes, stools – to release the grip in the back, groin and shoulder muscles and cultivate a quiet relationship with the exquisite sense of expansion, the back arches themselves come more easily.

Now, how will the re-entry be? Teaching, practicing, community, friends. On sabbatical, my practice, husband, dog and cooking are priorities. The rest of the year, the classes I teach, my practice, husband, dog and friends are priorities. But perhaps this order will change as I approach this threshold which includes Social Security. Perhaps practice, husband, dog and friends will surface, while teaching becomes less central. I rest in the not-knowing and let all things evolve.

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Workshop on Iyengar Yoga Convention Highlights: Sat. 4/27 at IYILA

Convention Highlights: Exploring the Path of Practice

Saturday, April 27, 2019
11:30 AM – 1:30 PM
Register online

Join me at IYILA in Los Angeles for a taste of the remarkable feast of inspiration and knowledge that came through Abhijta Iyengar, Guruji’s granddaughter.

Abhijata Iyengar is the future of Iyengar yoga. For six days she captivated, challenged, inspired and made us laugh throughout the practice as she wove threads of the yoga shastras (precepts) into her teaching.

“The mind rationalizes, the heart knows when it knows. When the fluctuations come to rest, the heart knows.” -Abhijata Iyengar

The Dharma-kshetra is in the heart, she explained, while the kurukshetra is in the head. For those of you familiar with the Bhagavad Gita, you will remember the Gita takes place on a battlefield. Arjuna is despondent, paralyzed with the fear of having to face a battle. The story, for many, is a metaphor for the battles we all face inside our heads. The mind, she continued, is full of anguish with its infatuation and threads of identity. These threads, based on our conditioning, preferences, prejudices, insecurities and fears remove us from experiencing any one situation from a pristine and pure state. The heart, however, is honest and humble. When we can silence the mind, even for just a moment before reacting, we have a chance to be completely in the present.

As I reflect on these ideas, I realize that our vocabulary lacks a word for the state I believe yoga refers to, this heightened state that we might call intuition, virtue, when the heart knows. How interesting, to even refer to this state of deep knowing is difficult, for as soon as we “name” it, we already have a preconception of it.

I look forward to following this remarkable teacher and to sharing her insights with our community.

Click here to register online, or for more information, visit here, or call IYILA at 310-558-8212.


IYENGAR YOGA INSTITUTE OF LOS ANGELES (map)

310-558-8212
1835 South La Cienega Blvd
Suite 240
Los Angeles, CA, 90035 USA

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