Photo by Ted Soqui
“Release, relax and let go,” says Koren Paalman, sitting cross-legged atop an old wood table on a dimly lit auditorium stage. Silence. It’s time to call attendance.
“You need to bring your yoga pants.” Paalman repeats her request in Spanish.
“Okay, sorry,” says David, dressed in baggy jeans.
Paalman smiles. It’s just another day at Belmont High School, where she teaches yoga twice daily to students who range from jocks to the kids who get picked last at P.E. She was the first to bring yoga into LAUSD as a credited class. It proved to be a challenge: “I had a lot of resistance from the P.E. Department.” But her tenacity — along with the principal’s good will — eventually paid off.
She is strict yet funny and soothingly coaxing. “You can do this. Breathe. People pay to take yoga classes.” Groans. The students learn on donated mats. Paalman bought the belt straps and blocks. She shrugs off the expenditure. “I got the straps for $1 a piece in India.”
India is where Paalman’s love for yoga began. Following a stint in Thailand with the Peace Corps, the L.A. native decided to head home via India — where she stayed for two years studying yoga. In 1994, she enrolled at USC to get her master’s in Teaching English as a Second Language, and started teaching at Belmont. She began incorporating yoga into her ESL classes.
“The more students use their bodies to respond to language the more they are able to use the language later,” she says. “I think yoga is vital for these kids. Belmont is in one of the poorest, most densely populated parts of the city. These kids are experiencing a tremendous amount of stress at home and at school, so they, more than anyone, really get benefits. Their grades go up, relationships improve and they feel hopeful.”
(Photo by Slobodan Dimitrov)
Greg Abbott, Metal Head
Right around mid-August, Greg Abbott’s studio, the “House of Bliss,” starts to resemble Grand Central for hobbyist welders pulling all-nighters to get their motorized fish and buckyball struts ready for Burning Man. Under his tutelage girly-girl redheads have wielded drill presses and mechanically disinclined men have fashioned motorized rigs to impress women. “I do it for selfish reasons,” says Abbott, a.k.a. the Reverend Gadget (he’s also an ordained minister), “because I love to see people light up when they discover something.” Gadget himself builds “Big Metal Things” all year round: gargantuan public art (he engineered Daniel Martinez’s big metal hand for the MTA), movie sets, tools for jobs mere mortals hadn’t considered possible. “I do the oddball stuff that people say can’t be done, or they think is too difficult,” says Gadget. This year, the Reverend and Mrs. Gadget will travel to the playa on a newly retrofitted Bliss Bus, a retired MTA cruiser tricked out with several hundred watts of solar power, a biodiesel-burning engine, a 900-watt sound system and a fully operational bar to belly up to. You’ll find it parked in the Alternative Energy Zone starting August 25, where he and wife Kimmie also tend to the unkempt at the Body Hair Barbershop. Next month (September 22), he’ll appear on an episode of the Discovery Channel’s Monster House among a troop of reconstruction artists remodeling houses by fiat. “I’m working my way up to my own TV show,” Gadget declares, trusting that reality starts with the imaging. “I don’t have a concept, but I figure if I put that out there, someone will find an angle.”