Tuesday, October 07, 2008

This Weeks Guest, Les Leventhal

Meet Les

Looking back over my life, I realize that I have been practicing yoga for a very long time which I now see as an art and a celebration of life, the way it is and not the way I think it should be based on efforts I put forth. Years ago, when I was a competitive swimmer, there was tremendous attention paid to the breath - so I was practicing pranayama before I even knew it. I remember some days of training were about diving into the pool and swimming under water to the other end and seeing if the turn could be made and head back for home in a single breath, certainly a breath retention. Where now, a breath retention is about being still and watching the inhale and how whole, full and complete that one breath is. Then watching the exhale and pausing to be empty of breath and noticing how whole, full and complete I am even without breath. This kind of awareness stirs up the prana or life-force within me that moves me to study and explore what it is that I am doing and why I am doing it.

My introduction to yoga occurred at a gym during a time when I was busy lifting weights as hard and as fast as I could. I was working furiously to carve and chisel the body on the outside in an attempt to cram and jam that outside look to an inside feeling. It never worked and then one day I jumped - and yes I jumped into a yoga class with vim vigor and pep and I understood nothing and forced everything and fidgeted everywhere. Thank goodness that teacher was Steph Snyder and she had a sense of humor that day and helped me laugh at myself for putting so much effort into that simple task of backing off and letting go. By the end of class, when I collapsed into Savasana (corpse pose), honestly, I felt dead. I remember feeling a bit emotional and embarrassed to show that, yet at the same time there was something quite soothing in the willingness to let go of everything, finally, for those few moments. I was hooked. Sign me up for the year class pass and so I did. I started practicing a couple of times a week and then I found Michael Cooper on Fridays at noon. My whole week revolved around that class. Every Friday, I left work early and thank goodness my boss always worked from home on Fridays until one Friday he didn't. He then asked where I was going and I decided to be honest. I let him know how important it was for me and what it was doing for me. Then I did a little headstand for him and he let me go.

Over the years, I have practiced with many many amazing teachers. I find every teacher which is really just everyone I meet to be amazing. Some of them guide me to continue studying the 8 Limbs of Yoga. Others guide me to explore meditation and the 8 Fold Path of Buddhism. Others remind me to be humble and grow in my compassion for all people and still others remind me of how I used to wander through this life in fear. These teachers give me permission to embrace this life, all of it which has been so freely gifted to me. Every step and every breath that I have taken, regardless of occasionally not being able to see the teachings through the valleys, has brought me to this moment. These are the things that I want to share with you the most.

Somewhere around 2003, I got a little pregnant. There was this feeling inside my spirit and soul, a yearning for something loving and something that completely allowed me to wake up, open up (even in times of fear) and offer up everything without hesitation or thinking that I would not be taken care of. That baby was born in April of 2005 when I left the corporate world which really provided me a tremendous beginning and laying of a foundation that continues to be important to how I live my life today. Without being completely aware of if I wanted to teach or not, I signed up for the Forrest teacher training with a let's check it out attitude. In a few simple words, Ana woke me up, she opened me up and she offers up. I started teaching immediately. Since that first training, I have assisted Ana in her teacher trainings and workshops and along the way I found Tias Little - another amazing teacher for me who re-introduced me to my gentler loving Les and has provided me an opportunity to weave the 8 Fold Path with the 8 Limbs in a way that doesn't feel religious or separating but rather all inclusive. I say that because I used to live my life so separate from everything and everyone and the yoga that I teach and the yoga that I still practice everyday is all inclusive for all levels - all are welcome to stay whether it's your first day of yoga and your teachers are challenge, frustration and confusion or it's your 10th year of yoga and your teachers are joy and inversions or maybe injuries. Often our greatest teachers for compassion are injuries whether it is your knee or even your heart.

One of the things that is so important to me as I continue on this path towards my true Sava pose is to always be a student, then a student teacher, then a teacher. I found teaching because I had such passion as a student. Although things do shift, I want to always continue exploring as a student and continue studying with amazing teachers and amazing people. There's never been a single yoga class that I've attended where I haven't learned something new and had a chance to explore more intuitively how I hold my yoga on and off the mat, how the rolling out of my mat truly reflects my life off that mat and where I tend to hold the more challenging aspects of this lifetime in my body.

A final thought or word - I think that we're meant to have everything, joy and frustration, anger and love. I think that opposites of this world are really the parallels that show us in times of challenge the level of appreciation we might cultivate for this incredibly short life. If you have kids, let them remind you how to just live without filters and judgments. If you don't have kids, get some cats and dogs or other pets and if that's not an option - go get some ice-cream (single scoop - everything in moderation even your yoga). I truly believe that at some point I will meet up with the divine and I will get to ask many questions and see the true answers and that I will be able to embrace the person that I am as I move through this life as my yoga shifts on and off the mat. Today, the asana is an important limb to me - so I focus a lot of attention there. I hope that as my life changes and as perspectives shift and I weave in the other limbs and teachings that you will embrace those with me.

I thank you for your trust and your love and I look forward to a lifetime of learning with you and as a great man sings……Stay Human.

Lotsa Love - Les

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