Richard Rosen's July 2016 Newsletter
I’ve been very busy these past few months finishing up a book project for Shambhala, and for better or worse, the second editing run-through is over and the text is almost ready for the printer. It’s titled Yoga FAQ: Almost Everything You’ve Wanted to Know About Yoga from Asana to Yama (I looked very hard for a word starting with a Z, but had to settle for a Y). It was a huge undertaking that needed three deadline extensions, and in the meantime lots of other writing projects went on the back burner, including my newsletter. But I ran into a former student at a Yoga Room event this last weekend and she enquired after Duhkananda and Meshugganatha. I realized then how much I missed writing about my time in the company of the adepts, so I sat down and determinedly pecked out my latest report.
Before we begin with that though, I’d like to mention an important event scheduled for You and the Mat, 3966 Piedmont Avenue, in the afternoon of Sunday, July 17. It’s a benefit for an organization called Soccer Without Borders, http://www.soccerwithoutborders.org),which “creates positive team communities for recently arrived refugee and immigrant youth,” ages 5 to 21. To read about all this group does for these kids, please go to their website (www.soccerwithoutborders.org). The benefit will include two classes, one taught by yours truly, and a raffle of mats and other high-end yoga gear. For all the details, look here: www.crowdrise.com/sweat-for-change-yoga-fundraiser.
For several years Yogi Meshugganatha worked over in San Francisco as an insecurity guard for Steal Away, a rather unique business. Outwardly SA is a mall, with (among other businesses) a bank (the First Last National), an art gallery (Wherefore Art Thou), a jewelry store (This Diamond Thing), an antique store (Good As Old), an electronics store (Byte Me), and a pub run by M’s cousin, Moishe (the Wailing Wall, featuring “artisanal beers and whines”).
But as they say, appearances can be deceiving. The “mall” is really something quite different and quite ingenious. All its businesses are very detailed mock-ups, staffed by method actors playing the roles of “average people” going about their daily rounds. For a fee, otherwise law-abiding citizens, who haven’t ever stolen anything in their lives, can plan, with the help of one of the mall’s “consiglieres,” to commit a fantasy robbery. Bargain deals include petty thefts and shop lifting (the Klepto packages starting at $39), and pickpocketing (the Sticky Fingers package, $49). Pinching art is especially popular (no surprise) with art lovers and assorted dilettantes, who can choose to lift a painting (the Vermeer’s Concert package, from $149) or one of several “British Museum artifacts themselves stolen from a former British colony” (the Koh-i-Noor package, from $189), while newlyweds and wedding anniversary celebrants naturally gravitate to the jewelry store (the Love & Theft package, $299). At the high end of the fee scale is the bank heist (the Butch Cassidy package, for up to four participants, starting at $499), which invariably attracts birthday boys in their early 40s to late 50s.
It was M’s job to look the part of a no-nonsense security guard at the bank, to add an aura of danger to the proceedings. At six-foot-five, 300 pounds, all tatted up, he looks like an NFL linebacker who’s been ex-communicated by the league for being too violent. But when the masked “robbers” showed up for their appointment armed to the teeth with toy guns, he was supposed to exhibit a Keystone Cop-ish level of incompetence to make sure the “robbers” always got away with their play-money “loot” (he was also charged with making sure nobody got hurt by overzealous patrons).
He quit that job last year to begin his own business, VamaKshetra Yoga Productions, a company that promotes yoga teachers whose teaching is considered odd, out of “left (vama) field (kshetra), even in Yoga Land.
His first client (as I reported last year) was a woman who taught Post-mortem Yoga (“We have yoga for all the stages of life, from toddlers to teens to seniors. But what about those past the final stage?” she said to me. “Um, what about them?” I asked. “Well, they’re people too,” she said earnestly, “at least they were and will be again. Why should their practice stop just because they’re dead?” M nodded and smiled. “We all let death affect our lives way too much”).
Then came the teacher who “taught” (if that’s the right word) Noga, which was yoga for people who very much wanted to do a practice but didn’t, for one reason or the other. They came to class dressed in their yoga togs and sat in rapt silence while the teacher described to them the class he would be teaching if they had wanted to participate. Almost all of them agreed they felt much better after class, though they admitted they would have perhaps benefitted a tad more had they actually done something.
M also helped this teacher set up a very successful 200-hour, Noga Teacher
Certification Program (recognized by YA). Most of the larger studio chains now offer this course, and at least three Noga Centers have opened in the past few months. The largest is in Los Angeles, it’s called Seat of Your Pants Yoga, where students can finally get all dressed up and “take yoga” and not get their expensive tights and mats all sweaty.
Currently M is working with a teacher who claims to channel dead teachers. He holds in one hand a small vial containing what he claims to be water from the Ganges, chants OM OM OM, and goes into a trance. Before long he contacts the target teacher for the day.
Just out of curiosity I attended a few classes. In the first one the channeler connected with Patanjali of Yoga Sutra fame. He turned out to be a dour little man who actually didn’t know very much about yoga at all. His forte was compiling and organizing disparate scraps of information into a coherent system, and expressing that system in shorthand Sanskrit. His instruction was exactly like his text, so laconic as to be almost indecipherable.
So the channeler decided to try something he’d never tried before, that is to channel two entities at once. He dialed up Patanjali’s oldest surviving commentator, Vyasa, hoping he could shed some light on the instruction as he did on the Yoga Sutras maybe 1600 years ago. But apparently the two had met before in the afterlife and didn’t see eye-to-eye. Patanjali accused Vyasa of “distorting” his system, Vyasa countered by saying that he realized too late that Patanjali’s dualism was ultimately a philosophical “dead end.” The class ended early when the two presumed “sages” stormed off, barking at each other, Patanjali calling Vyasa “Mr Avidya,” Vyasa retorting, “Oh yeah? Why don’t you go nirodha yourself?”
The target teacher of the second class was Svatmarama, who compiled the Hatha Pradipika in the 15th century. Where Patanjali was dry and humorless, Svatmarama had a sharp wit with a sly sense of humor. The class was expecting instruction in original Hatha Yoga, but instead was subjected to a shtick that sounded like a medieval Indian Henny Youngman. But since many of the punch lines referred to people and things that were over 500 years old, the jokes mostly fell flat, except for the channeler who was laughing so hard there were tears streaming down his cheeks (“A kapalika meets a Buddhist on the road. They compare begging bowls. The Buddhist turns the Kapalika’s cranium over and over in his hands and makes a face. “How can you eat out of this thing?” he asks, “don’t you find it disturbing?” “Ah, well, as you know,” responds the Skull Bearer, “it’s all in your head.” The channeler fell to the floor, gasping for breath).
In the last class I attended the teacher tried to channel BKS Iyengar, but all that came through was a sharp, metaphysical slap on the arm, and a brusque command to “sharpen the inner elbow chip.”
But now in addition to this business, M has put together what he calls an anti-Country and Western band, the Well-adjusted Cowboys. More on this next time.