|Art by Loretta Weeks|
The millennium in itself means nothing to us; we follow the teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita, where there is no mention about the year 2000. Our message is that everyone should learn how to love God.
-Nirantara Dasa (Hare Krishna), International Society for Krishna Consciousness
From Islams whirling Sufi dervishes to medieval Christianitys Gregorian chants, most all religious traditions have mapped external roads to inner contemplation. With our thriving Eastern and New Age communities, L.A.s the perfect place for curious novices and seasoned spiritual pilgrims alike. What follows is but a sampling of options for discovering, and rediscovering, the inner arts.
International Buddhist Meditation Center (928 S. New Hampshire Ave.; 213-384-0850) was founded in 1970 by Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Thien An to give Americans a place to explore multiple strands of the Buddhist path. IBMC offers meditation instruction and practice with teachers from the Zen, Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions at its Koreatown compound, as well as same-sex meditation groups.
Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center (1746 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice; 310-822-9642) offers both free group meditation and five-week courses in the theory and practice of meditation, which founder Swami Vishnu-devananda saw as an integral component of Hatha Yoga. Courses focus on classical meditation and mantras, with intermediate study examining karma, reincarnation and the four main paths of yoga.
Shambhala Meditation Center of Los Angeles (8218 W. Third St.; 323-653-9342) provides free meditation instruction based on the teachings of founder Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a Tibetan meditation master and scholar. Classes in Dharmadhatu (Buddhist study and practice) and Shambhala Training (a course in mindfulness-awareness meditation) aim to provide students with the spiritual tools to establish "an enlightened society in which there [is] no distinction between spirituality and everyday life."
Guided Meditation (6479 Ivarene Ave.; 323-464-4072) holds evening two-part nondenominational meditations for groups of eight to 12. Leader Michelle Malina Duarte uses visual imagery to guide students toward a deeply relaxed state of "connection between personality and soul," with breaks for group discussion and questions.
Leery of joining the Prozac Nation? Try some Lepidolite, a crystal containing lithium and mica, to ease depression and mood swings, or re-balance your chakras with a one-on-one healing session. Challenge mind-body compartmentalization with the following holistic options.
The Old Age Metaphysical Country Store (7152 Alabama Ave., Canoga Park; 818-883-7115) stocks countless varieties of crystals, gemstones and aromatherapy oils for use in healing and meditation, along with a wide assortment of books on the subject.
Healing Center for Eastern and Western Medicine (1026 S. Robertson Blvd.; 310-360-9687) provides healing services by practitioners whose therapeutic sessions incorporate Amanae (a hands-on emotional-release bodywork), Reiki (Tibetan system of healing and pure white light energy balancing), healing bodywork and aromatherapy.
MOA Jôin Center (8554 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood; 310-657-7200) is the L.A. holistic healing arm of the MOA foundation, an international spiritual movement inspired by the teachings of Mokichi Okada. Focused on Jôrei therapy, a Japanese healing art based on primordial life forces fire, water and earth the center also offers nutritional advice and ceramic, flower and movement therapies. â
Be it a kneading from Sven, or an Eastern-style rubdown, massage is a soothing way to unkink your muscles while relaxing your spirit. Centuries-old techniques such as Nuad Bo-Rarn (Thai massage involving passive yoga manipulations) and Shiatsu (Japanese finger pressure) are now as easy to find as the ever-popular Swedish massage.
Institute for Health (28247 Agoura Road, Agoura Hills; 818-707-3126) provides private appointments for acupressure (using finger pressure instead of needles on strategic points to relieve pain), reflexology (stimulation of points on the feet, hands or ears to improve the function of various body parts), deep-tissue work and Swedish massage.
Brooks Massage Therapy (761921 Beverly Blvd.; 323-937-8839 or 323-937-8781) houses a comprehensive array of bodywork services, with separate facilities for men and women. In addition to Swedish and Shiatsu massage at very reasonable rates (these include a dry-rock sauna with eucalyptus, or a steam sauna with aromatherapy), this 44-year-old institution also offers reflexology, deep-tissue work and an on-site therapist for corporations and movie sets.
Tao Healing Arts Center (2309 Main St., Santa Monica; 310-396-4877 or 310-396-2131) features "Oriental modalities" such as Anma, a circulation-improving Japanese therapy used in conjunction with Shiatsu, as well as Thai massage and transsage, an acupuncture treatment that combines healing sounds with deep-breathing techniques. The affiliated Shiatsu Massage School of California offers certified instruction and low-cost supervised massage by advanced students.
Patanjalis Yoga Sutra, source of the "eight-limbed" path of yoga from which modern yogas are derived, defines the yogic objective as chitti vritti nrodha: to anchor and harness the power of the mind. Though the hip yoga trend in L.A. is all forms of "power yoga," which emphasize the pure physicality of yogic postures, or asanas, yogic exercise nourishes the mind and spirit as well as healing and strengthening the body.
Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center (1746 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice; 310-822-9642; www.sivananda.org) offers Hatha yoga classes combining yoga postures, breathing exercises (pranayama) and deep relaxation, as well as instruction in the five fundamental points of yoga as developed by Swami Vishnu-devananda. Primary focus is given to 12 asanas (according to scriptures, there are more than 8 million) that provide the major benefits of yogic exercise: flexibility of body and mind.
Yoga on Melrose (8500 Melrose Ave.; 800-700-YOGA; www.yogaonmelrose.com) features what founder Stewart Richlin dubbed "power and the flower" yoga, a synthesis of "action style" Hatha and Taoist forms with meditative Tibetan yoga learned from Lama Wangchen Rinpoche. In each class, Richlin leads students through an intense workout that builds toward stillness and meditation.
Yoga Nemo (9045 Nemo St., West Hollywood; 310-275-1794) bills itself as an "oasis in the middle of the city" and offers instruction in "power yoga," Iyengar yoga (smooth, flowing Hatha-based yoga), pre- and post-natal yogas, and a special class for singles who, after the workout, mingle over snacks.
Yoga Works (2215 Main St., and 1426 Montana Ave., Second Floor, Santa Monica; 310-393-5150) provides wide-ranging classes in Hatha yoga and hosts ecstatic â chanting with the David Stringer Collective. Stringer leads the call-and-response chanting, or kirtan, while musicians accompany him on various string and percussion instruments. The mantras, "evolved from ancient India as a means of emptying the mind and experiencing a state of inward bliss," intensify as individual voices and vibrations merge into one.
Internal Martial Arts
The generic term for martial arts, kung fu, translates literally as "hard work." The internal martial arts direct that work toward harnessing the power of chi ("life energy," or simply "breath") through systems of intricate, flowing movements. Whether you choose chi kungs healing exercises or tai chis meditative motions, the internal martial arts will help all comers achieve healthier bodies and calmer, more focused minds.
Jian Mei Internal Martial Arts (1721 Rogers Place, 45E, Burbank; 818-563-1878) brings together the Chinese characters representing "health" and "beauty," symbolizing master Wen Mei Yus commitment to using tai ji quan (tai chi) and qi gong (chi kung) as healing arts. Master Yu works with students of all levels and needs, including advanced martial-arts competitors, cancer patients and the elderly.
Everywomans Village (5650 Sepulveda Blvd., Van Nuys; 818-787-5100) features group classes in the meditative movement of tai chi chuan and the therapeutic, harmonizing system of chi gong for all levels of experience.
Katabami Ju-Jitsu Dojo (6767 Sunset Blvd., Suite 7; 323-957-1022) offers a wide range of martial arts and meditative practices, including Japanese ju-jitsu ("gentle skill"), Himalayan Hatha yoga and restorative therapy. Sensei Alexey Kunin is one of only two instructors in the U.S. who teaches the Taiwanese form of tai chi, chan pan ling.
Rhythm is perhaps our most precious, renewable natural resource, fueling celebrations of body and spirit, community and self-knowledge. In the words of George Clinton, "Free your mind, and your ass will follow."
Planet Yoga (518 Pier Ave., Second Floor, Hermosa Beach; 310-376-5354) is a "neo-shamanic healing ritual," designed by Frank Natale, that uses breath, movement and rhythm to fill the blindfolded dancers with "passion, energy and the ecstasy of life." Through rhythms propulsive force, even the most rigid and sticklike among us will be transformed into a loose, foot-stamping, hand-smacking shaman.