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Best Compassionate Yogi - 2008
In a town lousy with yoga (and so much of it lousy yoga), how does one pinpoint The Best? What does "Best Yoga" even mean? The whole idea of "best" is anathema to yoga, which means "union," which obliterates reductive, dualistic differentiations like "best" and "worst."
Aargh! I'll give it my best. ...
Noah Williams, seemingly sweet and sparkly, will sadistically whip your Type-A Ashtanga practice into Pattabhi-perfect shape in Silver Lake. If you're looking for a kick-ass flow, perfectly sequenced to the sounds of classic rock & roll, with a little New York humor thrown in and around the hip openers, Vinnie Marino's your man (see Best Yogi Rock). Bryan Kest holds down yoga for the masses in Santa Monica, with his suggested-donation classes geared toward the advanced practitioner and her 80-year-old grandmother alike (see Best Yoga Class for the Masses). Siri Shiva's rockin' an innovative mix of Kundalini kriyas, Hatha flow and ecstatic dance at Golden Bridge. But if I had to choose one teacher (which, apparently, I do) whose class not only rocks my body, but my soul, it's Julian Walker, a sexy South African snack keeping it really, really real on the Westside.
Julian Walker: The thinking man's yoga teacher.
Armed with heavy-lidded bedroom eyes and the slightest hint of his South African upbringing sliding off the back edge of his sultry lilt, Walker peppers his packed Open Sky Yoga classes with poetry — Rilke and Rumi — recited with thoughtful pauses and telling repetition, connecting mind and body, spirit and breath, inhaled inspiration with exhaled everything that isn't.
He's constantly grounding us in the present, inviting us to check in with our experience of the now and to make peace with it as it is, to surrender to the truth of the moment and to honor it, instead of wishing it were different and plowing through as if it were. And while inviting us to tune in to our awareness, he nudges us out of our self-consciousness, urging us to om and ahhh and hum and sing "as though [we've] never been shy" ... (did I mention his rockin' playlists?).
And though I know not the names of my sweaty cohorts, Ujjayi-breathing and tantric-ahhh-ing next to me, we are indeed a community. Julian takes great care in weaving a sacred space infused with intention and compassion, awareness and discernment, a shared experience in which we are safe to cry and to laugh, to let go and to break through. A favorite expression of his is "we take turns," as in we take turns falling in love, mending broken hearts and busted shoulders; we take turns flying high and falling down, soaring and sobbing, celebrating and grieving, expanding and contracting — oh, how we indeed take turns.
And when my spine caved in on itself and I was hurt and broken and I lost my Ashtanga practice and my usual yoga teachers weren't interested in modifying their sequences so that I could play along, Julian welcomed me into his class and showed me how to be gentle, and taught me that to sit still while the rest of the class is flowing all around me is the most advanced practice of them all. I've studied with masters all over this big blue planet, and I've tied myself into knots while balancing in impossible contorted configurations, and in all those years of Ujayi-breathing my way inside myself, I didn't actually find my way to genuine compassion until Julian took me by the hand and showed me.
Plus, he does bodywork (she sighs, with hearts in her eyes) ... and leads workshops and retreats and ... and ... did I mention the bodywork?—Dani Katz