By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“Kerry for President” posters plastered the exterior of Hollywood’s FocusFish fitness studio at Sunday’s “Yoga for Kerry” daylong fund-raiser. But inside, the space was Kerry-free. This wasn’t an oversight. Rumbling like a mantra underneath the calm surface of the day of yoga classes, music and “healing sessions” was a difficult question: Do yoga and politics mix?
This was an event marked not only by the teachers who participated but by those who didn’t: no Bikram, no Anusara, no Power Yoga. None of the teachers whose classes I had taken before were anywhere to be seen. Curious, I asked Paul Beauvais, who owns FocusFish with his wife, Kristy, whether this was significant. “I don’t know,” he told me as he doled out bananas, watermelon and vegan soup. “Maybe they’re all Republicans.” Knowing Beauvais is a kidder, I pressed further. “There was some controversy about it, yes,” he admitted. “But I don’t understand it. Isn’t yoga about harmony and peace? So how can you be apolitical in times like these?”
That’s pretty much the way I saw it, too. The current administration has drifted so far beyond party lines into the realm of pure wrongness that my desire for regime change in the U.S. even seeps into my dreams. Still, I’m tired — tired of talking, listening, learning; tired of amassing evidence against men so unabashedly crooked I can barely retain all their deceptions in my head. So after paying $125 for an all-day pass, I planned to avoid all lectures and talks, and immerse myself in what I love, which is simply to move.
Rebekah Henty’s morning yoga session was accompanied by a live Indian raga ensemble and was happily free of overt political messages. Arthur Jeon of Yoga Works taught a sweaty, cheery flow, but it could have happened anywhere.
And then, a little after 1 in the afternoon, I walked into a kundalini class taught by Gurmukh of the Golden Bridge in FocusFish’s “Big Tank.” I had never done kundalini — in fact, I’d scoffed at what I perceived as repetitive flailing to a bhangra beat. But that changed almost immediately when Gurmukh strode into the class, 15 minutes late, beaming in her white Sikh turban and flowing white robes. “They told me to begin on time and, even worse, end on time,” she said. “That’s going to be difficult for me.” I liked her immediately.
It wasn’t just that Gurmukh commanded us to close our eyes and flail to Indian and Celtic soundtracks with a conviction that cannot be denied. It was that Gurmukh, in her wry and whimsical way, wove activism into yoga so intricately that it was hard to imagine dividing them again. She talked about involvement, tenacity and courage; about avoiding negativity “in this very dark time,” while she coached us to persist even when a posture was becoming unbearable. “Go! Go!” she ordered just when you thought your arms would fly out of their sockets. “Are you tired? Is it painful? Do you want to stop? That means you’re breaking through. Many things in life are hard. Don’t give up! You mustparticipate!”
It seemed a metaphor for all that’s been ailing me in this dystopian climate of suspicious e-voting and predicted surprises, when some of my closest friends have admitted they think it’s futile to vote. (“These guys will never let go of power,” one said.) It was a strange, strange thing: By enduring this pain so acutely I was gritting my teeth until the pain turned into to something else — bliss, maybe? euphoria? — I think I might have found the will to persuade my friends that they’re wrong.
“What mattered is not how much money we raised,” Joos said, “but that we had this jump-start in consciousness; that we said to the yoga community, ‘It’s okay to take a stand.’”
But does taking one stand as a community mean excluding people who take another? “Because the first of the five major principles of yoga is ahimsa,” Joos said, “it’s impossible to be a yogi and be warlike.”
When I reminded her that ahimsais also translated as “non-harming” and that some yogis believe it means maintaining a strong national defense (I happen to know some Republican yogis), Joos did not retreat. “That’s fine,” she allowed. “Then Yoga for Bush can have a fund-raiser, too.”
Los Angeles, Bush Country?
“I was on the dark side until six years ago,” Austin Dragon pronounced gravely last Thursday night, introducing himself to fellow guests at a West L.A. house party. The sole African-American present, Dragon was confessing neither to past addictions nor the abuse of Jedi powers, but to his checkered political past. Though now president of the South Central Republican Club, Dragon had once been “a big Dem.” He attributed this mistake to inexperience, both his and that of his adopted party.