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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Yoga for the Kali Yuga

When it became obvious that the Board for the Buddhist Festival was floundering in the dark when it came to someone to do yoga for this year's event, it became time for me to become reacquainted with my favorite yoga teacher from a couple of years ago, Leah Lillios. Leah recently opened her own studio, Kali Yuga Yoga, in east Nashville, and I'd been putting off checking it out for months; luckily, the Festival's problem became my gain, and not only did I secure Leah's and Kali Yuga's participation for the Festival, I found a great alternative for my own yoga practice.

Strangely enough, part of my hesitation came from the fact that although I've been doing yoga since 2000, this is the first time I'd ever been to a private studio. I'd started at the Y, and although as we all know I hate the YMCA, it's just too easy to keep going there once you have that relatively cheap membership and that habit. Not that there aren't still great yoga classes at the Y; they still have the fitness market cornered in Nashville, due to their unconstitutional violation of the separation of Church and State for tax purposes, and it's probably the only place left to get a decent step aerobics class.

But when I started at the local Y in 1997, after they'd helped force the failure of the excellent private workout place I'd been using for a couple of years since moving to Nashville, they didn't even dare call it yoga! They had to call the classes relaxation classes. See the picture of Leah above, and how relaxing that looks? But remember, the Y is a Christian organization, and although I can quite easily visualize Jesus doing yoga, I can't image Jimmy Swaggart or any of his modern clones doing it, and it was perceived as un-Christian. This seems to have changed by the time I started at the Green Hills Y, three years later, as part of my self-prescribed physical therapy after a car wreck.

Anyway, I think those cranky old farts were right, years ago. To me, yoga represents a lot of things, like the unity of body and mind, and finding the universe within oneself, that are antithetical to the life-condemning, dualistic thinking that is Christianity. So if the body is evil and a cage for the soul, and we're just waiting to die to go to a better place, why work out at all, I wonder? There are still a few scourges left, I'm sure.

Anyway, that's got nothing to do with Leah or Kali Yuga. For all I know, everyone that goes there is a closet Mormon. The point is, I enjoy doing yoga more when I'm not in the fake, smarmy environment of the Y, and the Kali Yuga studio is a great place to start. Although Leah's background as I understand it, began with hot yoga (which I avoid, because I sweat a lot and it's all hot yoga to me), I started doing vinyasa (flow) classes with her at the Cool Springs Y in 2004, and that's the basis of the Kali Yuga Yoga Club, which meets at 6:30 on Wednesday nights. That's the discounted ($5) class that also serves as the nexus for the Club, which also participates in events like our Buddhist Festival. It would also be great for beginners, because Leah works with people as they need it, and questions are encouraged, unlike most yoga classes.

One of the first things to attract me to the whole idea of Kali Yuga Yoga was its name. Most religions have the concept of different ages of their teachings. Christians, of course, have been waiting for the world to end any minute since about the year 33. Many schools of Buddhism have the concept of the early, vital era of the teaching (up til about 500 years after Gautama's death), the middle period (the next 500 years, in which the teaching starts to fade), and then Mappo, the age of degenerate teachings in which we live. Now I don't necessarily buy this in terms of Buddhist teachings, although if you read this blog you know that I know that our civilization is going to end in your lifetime, unless you get hit by a bus this weekend. But anyway: Hinduism is based on very long cyclical periods of history called yugas, which are bizarrely immense terms of years. We live in the Kali Yuga; Google it! This is the age of degeneracy and destruction.

So Kali Yuga yoga is yoga for the end of the world, in my interpretation. This works very well for me, since I disagree strongly with many Zen teachers, even some of my own, that things are getting better (sorry, Brad). Yoga, like Zen, is needed now so you can deal with the way things are going to be, in these real last days.

But if you don't believe any of that, that's OK. That won't change anything, anyway. But let me tell you this: this morning I woke up at about 2:30, sweating out toxins, and I had to try for a few minutes to remember what day of the week it was. There were many times in my life when that process was probably not a good thing, but this time it was because I was in such a deep sleep after last night's yoga, and deep sleep is not something I experience a lot recently. In a time in which our food in poison and every thing we touch is made from petroleum or corn, it's an amazing return to the true human condition to get in touch with your body, and hence all of reality, in this way.

To change your world, you must begin by changing yourself. To change yourself, you must accept yourself, and thereby realize that no change is necessary. Kali Yuga yoga, like Zen, is a good way to start.

By the way, Leah is appearing at the Buddhist Festival at as close to 12:40 p.m. as its fledgling stage manager (me) can make it happen. The schedule for the entire event is now posted here. You should come.

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