Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Last year someone in Mysore gave me some Ambien to take on the plane home.

"You'll sleep all the way to Amsterdam," she said.

I was skeptical -- I don't take sleep aids -- but took half of one anyway.

I slept through the in-flight movies.

I slept through the meals.

At no point did my legs become restless.

Nor did I feel the need to shift in my seat.

I awakened refreshed in Amsterdam.

So refreshed in fact that when I learned my connecting flight to Chicago had not only been delayed but no longer existed, I was able to deal with it. Like an adult, even.

I've not taken Ambien since - even though I'm a disturbed sleeper.

Nonetheless I would like to have some on hand for this trip,.

So I called the doctor's office.

The woman in charge said they could not give a prescription over the phone unless I'd been there in the past three months.

I said I'd been there recently and asked her to look it up.

Turns out I was right.

I asked again if they'd phone it in.


She would not budge; I had to spend $50 on an office visit or go without.

I started to feel like an addict needing a fix.

I called Dreyfus to vent.

While talking, it occurred to me that there may have been some left over from last year.

I tore the place apart.

After some time I found something curious inside a pillbox tucked into an obscure cabinet; two white pills twisted inside a plastic bag.

Enough to get me to India!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


I have indeed booked my ticket for India, on Air India, via Germany. I leave on July 5, spend a few days with friends in Erlangen and head to Mysore on July 11 for a month at the AYRI. Other than Randy, I know no westerners who will be there -- although I do have tentative plans to meet up with Russell. I've never spent such a short period of time there (first trip was four months, second two were two months each) and wonder what it'll be like.

I finally saw Dil Se over the weekend. That's the film that features one of my favorite soundtracks of all time. But the film itself? Like my teaching at Dharma's studio in February, it was quite good but not great (although the opening song on the moving train is stunning and worth the price of admission). And you have to love a film where the female love interest is a terrorist and the subtext examines with the Indian government's treatment of Jammu and Kashmir. Not only that, but "Hitler" is a punchline (as in, "Stop that or I'll be like Hitler," which was said to children -- who laughed). SPOILER ALERT. As if that weren't enough - and it is - instead of blowing up the president, the female protagonist changes course at the very last minute and chooses the path of love. She embraces Shah Rukh Khan.....and detonates her bomb. Yes, a good time was had by all.*

*I didn't catch this, but apparently the seven stages of love described in the song "Satrangi Re" are depicted throughout the movie: Hub, Uns, Ishq, Aquidat, Ibaadat, Junoon, and Maut (attraction, infatuation, love, reverence, worship, obsession, and death).

Saturday, June 23, 2007


These two pictures appeared -- separately -- in the inbox last week.

Dharma MIttra -- on the streets of NYC. Notice the straight arms and fingers; this is also the correct method in ashtanga vinyasa yoga.

Guruji -- after recovering enough to come down to the shala two weeks ago.*

*Which reminds me: Students should practice ahimsa and stop bringing sweets and chocolates to Guruji, as it will only cause a relapse. It doesn't matter how much he likes it: sugar is very bad for him.

Friday, June 22, 2007


A couple of Fridays ago this Critic's Choice -- a preview of an upcoming concert -- appeared in The Backwards R:

A.R. Rahman
Dubbed the "Asian Mozart" by the Daily Telegraph, 41-year-old composer A.R. Rahman redefined contemporary Indian film music in the early 90s, transforming a style that was formulaic and drowning in kitsch into something diverse and sophisticated, infused with everything from Baroque strings to pop guitar to dancehall beats. A student of Carnatic music who'd played keyboards on tour with tabla master Zakir Hussain at a young age, he earned a degree in Western classical music from Oxford and made commercial jingles at his home studio before taking his first film commission, Roja, in 1992. Since then he's scored 70 films and two Broadway musicals (Bombay Dreams and The Lord of the Rings), selling more than 200 million albums in the process. His Chicago debut promises to be a Bollywood-scale spectacle, with nearly 50 musicians, 20 dancers, and a dozen of India's top playback singers (the people whose voices you actually hear in Bollywood musicals), including Sukwhinder Singh, Sadhana Sargam, K.S. Chitra, and Hariharan.
- Caca

This letter to the editor appeared in my inbox the following Monday:

I am writing to you regarding this Saturday June 9, 2007 blurb about A.R.Rahman by Caca, posted below. In this blurb, Ms. Caca states that Mr. Rahman transformed Indian music which was “a style that was formulaic and drowning in kitsch into something diverse and sophisticated.” First, Ms. Caca’s opinion on Indian music is unnecessary for the information she is giving to the readers about the show. Second, the words are offensive, as Indian music prior to the 90’s was not formulaic, drowning, or lacked sophistication, agreed upon by millions of people (and many experts). Indian music is renowned for being intricate and graceful and has inspired music around the world including The Beatles, John Lennon, Madonna, and many more. Also, while Mr. Rahman is a musical genius, he is not the “Asian Mozart” by any means. Bollywood has a long history of brilliant composers who, in their time, contributed to India’s artistic growth for decades. As early as the 40’s, Indian music infused Western and Middle Eastern tunes with traditional Indian tunes to create original musical pieces. This is evident in the musical works from Kishore Kumar in the “black and white” era to Bhappi Lahiri’s “disco” era, and many more. Ms. Caca and the Daily Telegraph may not be aware of this since India has only recently been included in the Western music scene, which was primarily xenophobic until the 80’s and even now is faced with many racial challenges. Ms. Caca is obviously not an expert on Indian music so how did her comments get approved by your editing staff? After all, as with any published work, one must do a fact check prior to printing anything. I am sincerely requesting an immediate apology from the Reader and Caca for this appalling and racist attempt to put down Indian music. I am shocked that a paper that prides itself of covering the non-mainstream voice would deliberately allow such an offence to take place.

This was upsetting, to say the least. I mean, don't they know I'm a wIndian?

And that journalists know everything.

(I really was upset, though. The last thing I want to do is disrespect Indian music).

To my surprise, The Backwards R said a few days later that they were going to print the letter, as well as any response I wanted to make.

At first I was going to be all peace-love-yoga, thank you for your letter, I'm sorry I upset you bla bla bla.

Then I consulted Bindi and The Colonel as well as a woman from Kerala and a man from Andhra Pradesh-- some of my best friends are Indian -- to see what they thought.

I ended up writing the following, while listening to Rahman's utterly sublime Dil Se soundtrack (which is playing right now, as I compose this post):

To clarify; I said that contemporary Indian FILM music IN THE EARLY 90s was in a rut, not Indian music in general.

From all accounts, this was the case, as the major composers had died off or retired. As Rahman told Time magazine’s Lina Lofaro in 2004:

"When I started in 92, Indian film music was very segmented. This made me take a film song and produce it in such a way that it would go beyond language or culture. That worked because, basically, I’m from South India [the Tamil capital of Madras]. It worked across North India [Bombay, Calcutta, New Delhi, etc.], which is a completely different culture. “

I stand by what I wrote. I only wonder if it would have provoked such a strong reaction had my surname been Indian, rather than Danish .

The new Backwards R came out yesterday.

No letter to the editor.

No response.

No nothing.

Not even in the online edition.

There's a lesson in this somewhere.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


The reading on Saturday night was good fun -- although for some reason I found it difficult to read (perhaps because I wasn't wearing the requisite glasses?) and tripped over the tongue several times. Fortunately I went on early, and was able to enjoy what the other writers had to say.

Here's another excerpt from the magnum opus:

When we finally locate the hotel, the tiny lobby is full of British yoga students, drinking choy. The women have bare, sunburnt shoulders and their ankles and calves stick out below cropped Indian print pants. From the guidebook I know that this is considered to be extremely slutty, since those areas are considered erotic and should be covered at all times.

Many are also wearing a single toe-ring on one of their feet. In India, this means you’re a prostitute. I consider telling them and decide against it.

I recognize their faces from the yoga retreat we just attended, in the seaside resort of Kovalam. We were both terrified to go to Mysore, so we decided to first go there and study with a Western teacher whom we knew well. I thought it would ease the shock of our first visit to India. We both got sick anyway.

The people in the lobby are the students who could do all of the advanced postures – and didn’t say one word to us the entire three weeks we were practicing next to them. I say hello to the room anyway. An emaciated guy with a shaved head nods dismissively.

“There are no rooms,” he says. His accent is posh. “Join the queue.”

“That’s OK,” I say. “We have reservations.” My voice comes out thick and slow, like John Wayne.

The manager has a Hitler moustache and a red tilak mark on his forehead. He searches, but cannot find a record of our reservation. He shows us the dusty green ledger where our names should be. He says there are others ahead of us. He offers to arrange for a room somewhere else.

“We’ll wait for a room he-ere,” I say, still talking like John Wayne.

“WHOA-kay,” he replies, wagging his head side-to-side and smiling. “No problem, madam. 5PM coming.”

And then he hands me a business card that says: “Kauvery Hotel: A Decent Lodging Place.”

Friday, June 15, 2007


I'll be reading a new piece this Saturday (6/16) at 6:30 at the Lions and Typers Festival at the Uptown Writer's Space (it's at Broadway and Lawrence, above the Green Mill).

Fellow yogini and big-time author Amy Krouse Rosenthal -- who arrived in Mysore last year on the day I left -- will be reading at 9:15PM. Many other accomplished writers (who probably finished their pieces weeks ago) are also on the roster.

Called "Eat. Pray. Puke," my piece is about my first trip to India, in 2002.

A teaser:

My bunk is slightly larger than a two-by-four – and just as hard. The man across the aisle is snoring louder than a Superbowl commercial, and a gray metal fan from 1940 is blowing cold air directly onto my neck.

David is on the other top bunk, snoring away. He discovered chai earlier today – he calls it “choy.” He hadn't had caffeine since the 1980s. But he likes the sweet, spicy tea so much he ordered a cup of it every time we pulled into a station and the hawkers boarded the train, yelling “chai-ummm.” Of course I had to keep up with him.

And now I lie here listening to the snoring and the crying and the whirring and the clacking of the train’s wheels and wonder, not for the first time, why I’m here. I never really WANTED to come to India to study yoga. Being sick in a so-called “third world country” is not my idea of fun. And I’m from the Midwest. We just don’t travel that much.
But I felt like I HAD to come......


When David and I finally get off the train in Mysore, we realize we are the tallest people in station – and also the palest. Porters in red jackets and moustaches swarm towards us, and fight to grab our bags. I clutch mine --- all four of them – and insist on carrying them myself. The porters look at me in my strange version of the traditional salwaar kameeze and shake their heads.

David, who has just two small bags, watches me struggle as I haul my heavy cases up and down two flights of stairs. He does not offer to help.

Like the battered train, the rundown station seems to have been left behind by the British -- and is swarming with people. David leads me to a quiet corner and piles his luggage on top of mine. Before I can say “I have to pee,” he’s gone – yelling over his shoulder that he’ll be “back in a minute.”

As soon as he leaves I attract a small crowd that can’t seem to get enough of me and my pile of bags.

I’m doubled over in pain and nearly crying when David returns 30 minutes later.

He’s carrying two cups of

Click here to see more pix from my last trip to India.

Monday, June 11, 2007


From left, Chitra, Sadhana Sargam, Alma, Madhushree, Alka Yagnik, Kailash Kher, A.R. Rahman, Shankar Mahadevan, Hariharan and Blaaze.

Bindi and I dressed up Indian style for the A.R. Rahman show on Saturday. Bindi wore turquoise and saffron, and I was in a cobalt blue dress; we were done up from our ankle bracelets to our bindis.

The Sears Centre was right off the expressway and the parking was free. Crowds of people in colorful Indian dress were making their way across lot to the venue, which is like a newer, smaller, uglier Rosemont Horizon.

Our jaws dropped when we picked up the tickets; the lovely PR folks had given us $130 seats that included access to to the VIP lounge. We actually had a third ticket that I'd gotten for Manju, just in case. Sadly, it went unused.

Inside, we watched the salwaar parade of beautiful dresses while waiting in line for samosas (one suspects that hot dog sales were down that night). The only available condiment was ketchup, which wasn't bad at all. We sat on comfortable chairs in the lounge and wolfed them down. No line for the lounge bathroom, by the way.

They played a ton of commercials before the show began. It started late.

Then the lights went down and we saw A.R. Rahman, resplendent in a fashionable white suit (he is a musical genius, handsome man and natty dresser). He sang one of his songs (Del Se Re?). He's quite reserved when he performs, which only adds to his charm. He looked something like this, although this is an old video (his hair is shorter now and he's a bit older. But he does still sound a bit like Sting only with range and talent to spare):

Then he went behind his keyboards, and playback singer after playback singer came out and sang songs. Occasionally A.R. would emerge from behind his keyboards and join them.

The music was amazing; he had a great drummer and guitarist (who could do everything from classical Spanish to power pop with his eyes closed) as well as a small string section, backup signers, etc. But it was the flautist who blew me away. Wow. Who knew notes could be played that fast?

It was also fascinating to watch the playback singers. You grow so used to seeing famous actors mouth their words that it's a little disconcerting to see how normal-looking so many of them are. Most don't move around that much, which was also rather charming. I suppose that's why they had a troupe of dancers cavorting about, and scenes from the relevant movies showing on the video screen.

At one point A.R. told a story about playing Carnatic music when he was young and then falling in love with the keyboards. He was heartbroken when he learned he couldn't play his traditional music on them (because they had limited notes). Then he told us that a professor from the University of Illinois at Chicago had invented something called a Continuum -- a type of electronic keyboard that lets you play "the notes between the notes." Then he proceeded to play it. Afterwards he said that it would make it easier children to learn and play Carnatic music, which would help to keep it alive.

As the concert continued, more and more people -- especially the young men -- stood up and danced. And could they ever dance. Everyone sang along to the songs, especially to the big hits from films such as Rang de Basanti.

But the transfomrative moment came during the song "Chaiyya Chaiyya from Dil Se. Video from the incredible movie sequence played in the background:

The playback singers were on. The hypnotic song, which is in Urdu, went on and on - and everyone sang along. As it continued, the blocks in the mind began to clear.

More and more people got up and danced. They were one with the musicians. We were one with the musicians.

And there was that feeling that there is only this moment, and that anything is possible.

You just don't get that kind of thing at an REO Speedwagon concert.*


It turns out that REO was both my first concert (at Poplar Creek in Hoffman Estates, not far from the Sears Center) and Bindi's first concert (at the Chicago Amphitheater).

For those of you still reading, here's a recent interview with A.R.:

Saturday, June 09, 2007


I'm working on an article about the 35th annivesary of the Sivananda Yoga Vendanta Center in Chicago. It's also the 50th anniversary of Swami Vishnu-Devananda's arrival in the US. Apparently his guru, Swami Sivananda (pictured with him, above), also believed that yoga is 99 percent practice, one percent theory. During research I came across this:

A close disciple of Swami Sivananda, Swami Vishnudevananda, a Nair, was born in Kerala, South India on December 31, 1927. After a short career in the army, he coincidentally found interest in the teachings of Swami Sivananda through a copy of Sadhana Tattwa (Spiritual Instructions). Its introduction read, “An ounce of practice is worth tons of theory. Practice yoga, religion and philosophy in daily life and attain Self-realization”.

Impressed, he travelled to Rishikesh to meet the author and the meeting, taking place on the stairs of the ashram leading to the Ganga (Ganges River), would change his life. Swami Sivananda was walking up the stairs and according to the custom, people were prostrating. The young army officer did not want to bow his head to anyone and hid in a doorway out of sight. A moment later, Swami Sivananda appeared unexpectedly, and prostrated to the arrogant young man. This lesson in humility was the first given to Swami Vishnudevananda by his guru.

His disciples also told me some incredible things. From my article:

Swami Vishnu-Devananda was sent by Swmi Sivananda to bring yoga to the west, telling him “people are waiting,” and he arrived in San Francisco in 1957. He founded the International Sivananda Yoga Vendanta Centers, and Chicago is one of its oldest ongoing North American outposts.

Swami Vishnu, author of the best selling The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga, was a charismatic teacher who traveled the world in an “peace plane” painted with angels and flowers by psychedelic pop artist Peter Max, using a colorful Max-designed “Planet Earth” passport.

“He said there was no such things as borders, and that it’s one world and it’s one people and it’s one God,” says Raghu Ram, a former director of the Chicago Center. Among other things, Swami Vishnu did a “headstands for peace” sit-in with Peter Sellers in 1971 in Belfast, flew into Israel when it was at war with Egypt, and flew across the Berlin Wall in an ultralight in 1983.

“He bombed Egypt with flowers,” says Raghu Rama. “In the late 80’s he tried to mitigate peace between Sikhs and Muslims at the golden Temple in India. He was at the forefront of trying to bring people together.”

No wonder people couldn't get enough of him.

One of Swami Vishnu's most senior disciples, Swami Mahadevananda, will give a workshop here on the weekend of August 24. It's not yet posted on the website, but I'm sure it will be soon.


My A.R. Rahman Critic's Choice appears in this week's Backwards R.

It also made the #1 spot on Saturday's home page --probably because the accompanying photo is so dramatic.

A.R. Rahman
Dubbed the "Asian Mozart" by the Daily Telegraph, 41-year-old composer A.R. Rahman redefined contemporary Indian film music in the early 90s, transforming a style that was formulaic and drowning in kitsch into something diverse and sophisticated, infused with everything from Baroque strings to pop guitar to dancehall beats. A student of Carnatic music who'd played keyboards on tour with tabla master Zakir Hussain at a young age, he earned a degree in Western classical music from Oxford and made commercial jingles at his home studio before taking his first film commission, Roja, in 1992. Since then he's scored 70 films and two Broadway musicals (Bombay Dreams and The Lord of the Rings), selling more than 200 million albums in the process. His Chicago debut promises to be a Bollywood-scale spectacle, with nearly 50 musicians, 20 dancers, and a dozen of India's top playback singers (the people whose voices you actually hear in Bollywood musicals), including Sukwhinder Singh, Sadhana Sargam, K.S. Chitra, and Hariharan.
- C.K. / Satya Cacananda
8 PM, Sears Centre, 5333 Prairie Stone Pkwy., Hoffman Estates, 888-732-7784, $40-$155.

What the review doesn't mention is that he's a dark-skinned Tamil (South Indian) who along with his siblings converted to Islam (A.R. = Allah Rakha) after a Sufi healer cured his sister's illness. In addition to the music, he's on a crusade to eradicate TB and AIDS from the world.

But the best reason to pick up the paper this week is Tori Marlan's cover story about a child who was killed by a police car while crossing the street after buying some gum. That's the real journalism.

Friday, June 08, 2007


According to unconfirmed reports, Pattabhi Jois not only led the opening prayer at the AYRI today (Friday), but also taught the led primary series class.

Afterwards Sharath apparently said, "Easy, too easy."

And Manju Jois is in Chicago for a weekend workshop + seven days of morning Mysore + ashtanga yoga teacher training (yes, he really calls it that).

We are very lucky indeed.

While everyone (Clooney, Cheatle, Barkin, Willis, Damon, Mac -- all but Pitt) was in downtown Chicago at the theater next to the Well-Designed Health Club last night for the premiere of Ocean's 13,* it was so windy out in the sticks that a tree blew onto my nephew's house.

Well, nearly onto the house.

But it could go at any time.

Any advice on how to remove it without wrecking the roof?

This nephew, by the way, is the one who keeps coming into contact with poop at family events, yet doesn't even flinch.

*The Ocean's foofaraw closed the street next to the club, so I couldn't drive down to teach. It was too windy to bike, and severe weather was expected. So I took the El. On a 90-degree day. Blech!**

**Catesey worked the Ocean's 13 premiere, and promised to compose a tell-all guest post sometime this weekend. Something about a certain young movie critic wanting three VIP seats for his three female companions, who were most definitely not on the list.***

***Apparently three is the new foursome is the new threesome.

Photo courtesy of Dreyfus

Thursday, June 07, 2007


Apparently Pattabhi Jois came downstairs to the shala in Mysore the other day and led the morning mantra.

Then he sat and watched for awhile before retiring to his office.

Unconfirmed sources say he was wearing his "Bad Man. Very Bad Man" t-shirt.

Which is very good news indeed.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


The June 11 New York magazine has an article about the profitability of yoga studio ownership. It uses as its subject a new-ish Chelsea studio called Joschi Body Bodega, run by an aspiring guru named..... Joschi. (It's heartening to know that there is at least one studio in America where the focus is on the internal benefits of yoga).

The most-profitable yoga studios are efficient: They fill four to five classes daily, plus private classes. Joschi, which opened in October, aims for the broadest client base by offering 25 varied weekly classes ($17) rather than specializing in one branch of yoga. Joschi Schwarz teaches 75 percent of the classes himself, which saves on teacher costs and helps brand him as a guru. Most studios hope to be profitable within two years. “We aimed for six months,” says business manager and co-owner Monika Werner. “We’re not quite there yet. Joschi and I work for free.” The studio needs roughly 530 students a month to break even; they’ve recently had closer to 450.

I do like it when the owner teaches a lot of classes. Too often, it seems that the owner waltzes to teach three or four (or fewer) classes a week and spends the rest of their time running the business. Or teaching elsewhere. Or traveling and giving workshops. Or something. Which is sad, because in many cases the students really want to take class with them. More often than not, their personal practice also disappears.

Best Ways to Make Money: Private classes ($95 per hour), Joschi’s bread-and-butter. Members ($140 for one-month unlimited). “It’s the same principle as a gym membership,” says Michele Campaniello, a former studio owner. “You count on people not showing up.”

Wow, is that cynical.

THE BEST WAY TO MAKE MONEY: Ten-class packs "You'd rather sell a twenty-pack, because people will let them expire," says Campaniello. "People have big eyes."

And here I thought the intent was to reward regular students and help them afford to continue taking classes.

Other Ways to Cash In: Teacher training ($2,000 to $3,000 per student): three-month, 225-hour classes for a few dozen enrollees. Studio rental ($45 to $70 per hour): Joschi’s studios are rented to other teachers, theater and dance auditions, and for social events.

And the way to *not* make money?

Pay your teachers a decent wage.

Thanks to Dreyfus for the hot news tip.

Monday, June 04, 2007


Below is a press release for a free June 14 performance in Millennium Park in honor of the 800th anniversary of the Sufi poet Rumi, featuring vocalist Ahmet Ozhan and his ensemble of 40 musicans and dancers plus whirling dervishes from Turkey. It promises to be an amazing show in an exquisite (if over budget) setting.... and is one of the reasons, dear Dreyfus, that city dwellers choose to endure the cost and crime and cronyism and live here rather than out there.





**Thursday, June 14 at 6:30pm **

On the occasion of the 800th anniversary of the great humanist, mystic, poet and theologian Rumi, UNESCO has declared 2007 as the "Year of Rumi". Well-known vocalist Ahmet Ozhan, a leading interpreter of Rumi's songs, will make a rare appearance in the United States, performing with his 40-member music and dance ensemble, followed by an appearance by the Whirling Dervishes of Turkey.

The free performance takes place in Millennium Park's Jay Pritzker Pavilion at 6:30pm on Thursday, June 14. The performance is presented in cooperation with the Consulate General of Turkey in Chicago and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Turkey.

Mawlana Jalal ud-din Muhammed Rumi was born in Persia in 1207. A prolific writer, he produced major works of verse and prose which have transcended cultural and ethnic borders throughout the centuries. Rumi also founded the Mevlevi mystic order, commonly known as the "Whirling Dervishes" and created the Sema rite, a ritualistic sacred dance to symbolically seek the divine truth and maturity. Rumi's message of love, peace and harmony among humanity continues to resonate with people around the world.

Since an early age, Ahmet Ozhan has been considered an exceptional singer and a leading representative of the Turkish classical Sufi music tradition. Today, he is a celebrity in his country and a well known leader of Sufi music concerts throughout Europe, the US and Middle East. In this concert, he appears with his 40-member music and dance ensemble.

For more information about the Whirling Dervishes and Ahmet Ozhan, please contact 312-742-1168 or visit

Sunday, June 03, 2007


I arrived at the Midwest Yoga Conference in time to attend Lilias Folan's informal early morning workshop, "Greeting the Day in a Sacred Way." You may know her from the long-running public televison program, "Lilias, Yoga And You," which was excerpted in the film "Being There." Anyway she showed us her portable altar, led us in a native chant that went "Wah Tah Hay Tah Ho!" and had us (50 women and four men) dancing around in circles and chanting. She's so sweet, even I did it. She also told us to inahle through the mouth before saying "Om," because it's more powerful that way. At least that's what her guru told her.

She was a fellow attendee at Rama Berch's workshop, called "Knots in Your Neck." According to Rama (who is the founder of the Yoga Alliance, the group that came into being after I started teaching and registers and polices yoga teachers), all spinal issues can be traced to the tailbone. That was good news to me since my back, neck and tailbone have been killing me since I spent two hours on the hard bamboo floor chanting along with Bhagavan Das last week. We got rid of the sticky mats (she doesn't have much use for them; they're not environmentally responsible, they allow the body to go further into poses than it should, and they insulate you from the earth) and did a bunch of her Swaroopa (TM) poses on blankets. They including lying on the back with legs crossed, and are meant to release the tailbone and sacrum. I wanted it to work. I really did. And it did for a few minutes.

But I was in pain when I walked into Paulie Zink's workshop on "The Yin and Yang of Taoist Yoga." He's incredibly humble, considering he's a martial arts champion (monkey kung fu). I also liked that he wore his Chinese slippers throughout. We didn't really need mats in his class, either. He led us through a sequence of very easy poses with names like Frog and Stump that released the back and spine like nothing else I've ever done. A lot of the things we did were twists to one side and then the other, with the movement linked to the breath. It was really refreshing and my back felt amazing. My hamstring stopped hurting and for awhile I forgot I even had a tailbone.

Someone asked him if the order of the poses was important. "No," he said. "It's important to do them in a random order. If you do it the same way every time, it make the body and mind get stuck in a rigid pattern. The most important thing is that you flow spontaneously through your heart. I never teach two classes the same. In my own practice I always flow differently. I try to cover everything, but the order is different. This is a lifelong practice." (He's been teaching for 30 years, practicing for 35). "The softer and more gentle you are, the better. Using more effort makes you tighter. You want to be like a glass of water being poured."

Later he said, "People are like hoses with kinks in them. You start to remove the kinks, the water begins to flow." Suzie Grilley (Paul's wife) also took the workshop. In fact we were wearing the same (purple) top. It looked better on her.

Then I went to Chris Kilham's workshop on "Yoga, Sex and Ecstasy." According to the Bhagavad Gita, the three biggest obstacles to enlightenment are lust, anger and greed -- so I went in with preconceived notions. Plus he is good-looking, smart and charming -- which always makes me wonder. But he was highly recommended.

Of course he won me over. He was quite funny, and led us through sequences that reminded me a bit of what Paulie Zink had us doing; simple twists and other moving poses that you don't hold but repeat over and over. He also had us do some Tibetan yoga, where you hold the breath and move and then let it out through the mouth, which is shaped like a tube. It heats the body, and he explained that in South India the focus in yoga is on flexiblity because it's hot there, but in the Himalayas it's on creating heat. (He's author of the exercise book The Five Tibetans, which is published in 20 languages, plus many many other books). He said that none of it really matters though, because when we get to a certain age we'll stop doing asana altogether and all we'll be able to do is meditate. He also said a lot more about the connection between yoga and sex -- you must give up your ego to go meditate / go more deeply into yoga, which is what you must also do if you really want to connect to another person and forget where you end and they begin, both give a lot of pleasure, etc. etc). He also gave the keynote speech, where he told many stories about his travels as a researcher into and purveyor of medicinal plants. Apparently the only time he teaches yoga these days is at this conference.

The juxtoposition of this sign with the one above explains it all....

Friday, June 01, 2007


The Midwest Yoga Conference takes place this weekend, at the Indian Lakes resort in suburban Bloomingdale, IL. Presenters range from Beryl Bender Berch to Lilias Folan to Rama Berch (although most are men -- including someone named "L").

I was meant to go and take a workshop this afternoon with Paulie Zink (who is Paul Grilley's teacher). I've been obsessed for him for awhile; for 30 years he's taught Taoist Yoga in relative obscurity in rural Montana. He's also a martial arts champion and has a big moustache and is one of the kindest people I've ever spoken to on the telephone (as is his wife, Maria).

Anyway, when I was partway there, exhaustion and gastro-intestinal problems set in and I turned around and went home. Lucky for me, there's very little that toilet time + sleep + ginger ale + Turner Classic Movies won't cure. I'm feeling better now and hopefully will make it there tomorrow. A full report will follow - including details of Chris Kilham's workshop, "Yoga, Sex, and Ecstasy."

In the meantime....

The top photo shows the nearby Buddhist Temple, which is decked out for the Bodhisattva's 2631st birthday. That's old. I drove by the temple yesterday after interviewing Sivananda teacher Radha/Gloria at the Heartland Cafe. She's been teaching in Chicago since 1977, and I'm pretty sure she's the one who taught me how to do headstand without a wall when I took classes there a decade ago (when NU was closed). I'm working on a piece about Chicago's Sivananda Vendanta Yoga Center. August marks its 35th anniversary at its current location, although it opened in the 1960s and was housed downtown in the Fine Arts Building. Apparently Swami Vishnu-Devananda visited often (and Gloria/Radha was one of his direct students). It's also the 50th anniversary of his arrival in the US. And I thought Mr. Iyengar had a good head of hair.....


Below are dollar pineapples at Stanley's. One day they were there (I bought four) and one day they were gone.

Apparently the season is over.

No one told me.

But mango season is in full swing. I even saw the $35 crates of super-special Indian mangoes on Devon Avenue the other day. There are hundreds of types of mangoes in India, and (according to Devdutt), babies use the pits as rattles. But due a trade ban (because of fruit flies) we haven't been able to get them since the 1980s. But it's been lifted, and they're here. Now.

If you want to go in on a crate of Alphonsos, lemme know....