Karen Macklin

Beautiful path to now



VISUAL ART/YOGA I attended my first yoga class in 2000, at the Mindful Body on California Street. I’d arrived by way of much prodding from a journalism colleague who thought yoga might help with an increasingly debilitating chronic pain condition I’d mysteriously developed. A Brooklyn-raised fiery gym rat in my early 20s, I had just moved to San Francisco and simply couldn’t fathom doing this New-Agey exercise routine. I’d also recently been to India (to see the country — not to learn yoga), and I’d resented the hippie Westerners who seemed to be eagerly consuming yoga study, but staying clear of the places where starvation and disease had riddled the practice’s homeland.

With all of this emotional baggage — and an additional few suitcases that I’ll leave unpacked for the moment — I put on a pair of old blue leggings and an oversized T-shirt, and dragged myself to yoga class. And then I went back again.

It was a good workout. But, more significantly, by the time each class was midway through, my pain would temporarily disappear. Plus, the practice made me feel a way no native New Yorker ever expects to feel: peaceful. I committed myself to yoga harder and faster than I had to anything in years. It was doing something to me, changing me in some way.

Now it’s 2014; I’ve become a yoga teacher. And tonight I’m at the opening party for the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco’s “Yoga: The Art of Transformation,” the first ever comprehensive art exhibit on yoga’s history. Upstairs, yoga teacher-rapper-celebrity-activist MC Yogi is performing his signature ditty “Ganesh is Fresh” to a crowd of fans, some dressed in colorful spandex yoga clothes, others in traditional Indian garb, and still others in contemporary SF duds. Downstairs, some people are engaged in high-level philosophical discussion about the winding path of yoga history, while others are learning AcroYoga maneuvers, drinking “all-natural, gluten-free” margaritas, or striking yoga poses for Instagram-able photos in the museum entranceway.

From an anthropological perspective, it’s quite the scene. And though I’m intimate with my own personal trajectory, there’s a bigger question at hand. How did we all get here?



Though many of us have been taught (or have simply assumed) that ancient Indian sages were waking up at dawn to do sun salutations, we now know that this was likely not the case. Recent scholarly research tell us that the yoga we practice today in our heated, hard wood-floored, lavender-smelling classrooms is a new breed of practice, most of which was developed in the last century. So, what is the origin of this practice?

In town until May 25, this gorgeous 135-piece sprawling exhibit — which includes towering Tantric stone goddesses, colorful renderings of intricate yogic energy systems, and exciting film footage of 1930s yoga masters — offers some answers. Originally created by art historian Debra Diamond for the Sackler and Freer Galleries at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, the exhibit’s just arrived to town amid great enthusiasm. “San Francisco has such a long rich history with yoga,” says Qamar Adamjee, in a recent phone conversation, who, along with Jeff Durham, curated the local presentation of the exhibit. “It was a no-brainer to bring the exhibit here.”

Though yoga’s origin is typically thought to go back at least 2,500 years, the exhibit’s scope is from 100 CE to the 1940s; the museum, along with a board of local yoga advisers, also created supplemental content, like a California yoga timeline, and supplemental programming, including talks with local luminaries. “It’s important to have a sense of where you came from,” says senior yoga teacher Judith Hanson Lasater, founder of both the Iyengar Yoga Institute in San Francisco and Yoga Journal magazine, and one of the exhibit’s advisers, told me over the phone. “That helps us define who we are.”

The art here is laid out by topic, less than it is chronologically, because yoga’s history did not develop in a straight line; different aspects of the practice appeared in different places at different times. “When talking about the exhibit, I like to use the word histories instead of history,” says Adamjee. “While we associate yoga as primarily a Hindu practice, its history is actually shared by three main religious systems of ancient India: Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism.” She adds that connections to Islam and Sufism are also seen in the exhibit. “This multiplicity is what makes it so fascinating and rich.” It’s important to remember, too, that this is yoga’s history as depicted primarily by visual art, not by texts — and that the story could change (and likely will) as new findings surface. Yoga research is currently one of the fastest growing fields in South Asian studies.

But for now, our journey begins not where some might expect — say, with a serene yogi practicing Tree Pose by a river bank — but with practices of extreme austerity in the name of enlightenment.



In modern yoga culture, we use the practice to help heal the body — I know I did. But some of the earliest yogis had a different point of view. Well-preserved stone sculptures from the first millennium depict worshippers starving themselves in the hopes of being released from the cycle of reincarnation. (Mortal life here was viewed as pure suffering and these devotees were hoping not to come back again.) An emaciated, pre-enlightenment Buddha is depicted here, too, in an intricate ivory carving from 700-800 CE.

A thousand years later, the art becomes more sophisticated and more focused on deity worship, but practices of austerity and self-mortification remain. For instance, detailed paintings with tiny strokes show devotees of Shiva uncomfortably hanging themselves upside down from trees, or standing or sitting in one position for years. In the mid-late 1800s, photographs begin to appear showing Indian ascetics doing extreme things: lying on a bed of nails, wearing an irremovable contraption around one’s neck, even piercing one’s penis with a heavy metal object.

The images themselves are hard for our soft Western eyes to endure, but even less palatable is the story behind them. With the British invasion, the rights of wandering ascetics were restricted, so they moved from forests into cities, where they were forced financially to parade their devotional practices to local audiences for a quick rupee. Many of the photographs on display were shot by professional British photographers, and were then turned into postcards that the photographers sold for great profit throughout Europe. Non-yogi locals took note that money could be made from Europeans by staging tricks, and it soon became hard to tell who was a true ascetic, and who was a random yoga hack laying on a bed of nails for cash.



Though yoga was initially seen as a practice of bodily transcendence, some practitioners decided that, so long as they were in their bodies, it might be useful to score some superhuman psychic and physical abilities. During the Tantric era, these yogis are believed to have used practices like mantra, visualization, and goddess worship (sometimes occurring at cremation grounds) to channel these powers.

One of the exhibit highlights is a room filled with striking stone goddesses from this time. The slate-gray statues of worship, which date from 900-975 CE, show large-breasted, small-waisted female yogis (yoginis) complete with fangs and pet snakes, holding cups meant for liquor or blood. Today the word “yogini” is used when simply referring to female practitioners, but these original figures were fierce and to be feared. (They were also sculpted with perfect bods, offering an interesting parallel to the depictions of female practitioners in modern day yoga magazines.)

Later on, in 1830, Indian watercolor and gold paintings show the mystical use of yogic superpowers: to win battles by creating a flood where enemies are charging forth, and to magically fly through the sky. Of course, a hundred years later, the West chimes in, and starts making a mockery of yogic powers in the cinema and in profitable magic shows like “Koringa, the Female Yogi.”



Throughout the early years, we see all manners of meditators, perhaps practicing classical yoga (as handed down by Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras), often sitting with legs in a lotus-like position, gazing up or inward toward a third eye. But as the years pass, the physical body starts to take more prominence, in the Tantra and Hatha Yoga traditions, as a tool on the yogic path of self-realization. One treasure here is a 10-page excerpt from an early 1600s Muslim Sufi book called Bahr al-hayat (Ocean of Life), said to contain the earliest illustrated renderings of physical yoga poses. Most of the poses shown here are seats like lotus pose, but there is one drawing of a guy rocking a headstand.

Around the 1700-1800s, intricate Tantric renderings of the energetic yoga body, including the chakras (energy centers), appear. A total must-see: a watercolor scroll that contains detailed, gold-laced drawings of Ganesh and his two wives (at the root chakra), and Shiva and Shakti joined together (in the crown chakra).

In the final gallery, we come into the 20th century. Yoga made its big debut in the US when Swami Vivekananda, who practiced Raja Yoga, based on Hindu philosophy and meditation, made a speech about yoga at the first World’s Parliament of Religions in 1893. Seven years later, he set up the Vedanta Society in San Francisco to offer his teachings. (Many of his materials are displayed here.) The early 1900s is also where we begin to see evidence of the more athletic yoga practice most of us do today. This new form came about as prominent Indian yoga teachers began to blend ancient postures and energetic techniques with strength-training exercises that had been brought in by their British invaders.

A mesmerizing video shows T. Krishnamacharya (often considered the grandfather of modern day yoga) and his young disciple BKS Iyengar performing expertly executed postures in smooth, rhythmic flows — now things are really starting to look familiar. Displayed here are also numerous books promoting yoga as a way to improve one’s health, including a book by Indian bodybuilder Raja of Aundh called Surya Namaskars (The Ten-Point Way to Health). According to the exhibit, this text from the 1920s is where our beloved sun salutations were initially birthed.

While the new physical fitness-form of yoga may have looked different than its predecessors of seated meditation, goddess worship, and self-mortification, it required the same intense attention and dedication. It arrived to the US on the tails of Vivekananda’s yoga, so by the mid-1900s, West Coasters already had different practices from which to choose.

Yoga caught on quickly here in San Francisco. By 1955, Walt and Magana Baptiste (parents of famed modern-day yogi Baron Baptiste) had founded the Center for Physical Culture, one of SF’s first bona fide yoga studios. The 1970s saw the opening of Integral Yoga and the Iyengar Yoga Institute in San Francisco, as well as the birth of Yoga Journal magazine. Yoga soon became not only a practice, but a business and a lifestyle. Over the years, Americans here and throughout the country started blending various yoga teachings, shaping the practice to address our cultural, health, fitness, community, commercial, and varied spiritual (or anti-spiritual) needs and interests. Today, San Francisco is one of the world’s most booming yoga communities. Every offering one can imagine exists here: from contemplative retreats to sweaty flow classes to corporate yoga, ecstatic chanting, naked yoga, scholarly study, and yoga therapeutics.


The exhibit helps us get a sense of where the practice came from — but it still begs the question of what yoga actually is. Is yoga a practice of transcending the body in an effort to attain enlightenment? Is it a way of gaining supernatural powers so you can beat your opponents at war? Is it a seated meditation practice focused on stilling the mind, or a physical fitness routine designed to rid the body of impurities? Is it something you do on the weekends in your Lululemon leggings to feel good before going for mimosas at a hipster brunch spot?

“The exhibit forces some interesting self-reflection about our beliefs,” says Kaitlin Quistgaard, the former longtime editor of Yoga Journal magazine, in a phone conversation. “What do we actually know to be true about yoga?” Quistgaard was part of the advisory board that helped to create the exhibit’s supplementary content. “For me, the thing that ties it all together is self-awareness. Through any yoga practice, even one that would seem completely physical, there’s a process of coming to know yourself.” She adds that it’s the development of this deeper awareness that can enable us to lead more connected and fulfilling lives.

In the same vein, Adamjee reflects that one of the key aspects uniting all of the yoga paths over the years is the “radical insight that human beings possess the ability to transcend our own suffering.” Looking back at my own path, it’s easy to see the truth in this. Whether a yogi is engaged in intense physical or energetic practices, deep meditation, scholarly pursuit, or singing the names of Indian gods, the goal has always been — through devotion and attentive awareness — to find peace. To experience, if only briefly, that delicious taste of freedom.

As a writer and practitioner, I love the study of yogic history. But there is also a part of me that knows that the history is not as important as our actual practice — what we do each day, how we show up to our lives. As any yoga devotee will tell you, the past and the future don’t really exist; all we can ever really know is this very moment.

“Yoga will live on,” says Adamjee, somewhat wistfully. “But it will become something different. We are just another moment in that long timeline.”


Through May 25

Asian Art Museum of San Francisco

200 Larkin, SF.


(See next page for more details)


Yoga started as a spiritual discipline. Now, it’s reportedly a $27 billion dollarindustry in the US with an estimated 15 million practitioners, not to mention high fashion clothing, expensive yoga vacations, and “yogalebrity” teachers. Some say that commercialization is just what the practice had to do to survive in a capitalist culture. Others, like Indian American graphic artist Chiraag Bhakta, find the face of modern day yoga disturbing. Bhakta’s art installation, #WhitePeopleDoingYoga, will be on view at the Asian Art Museum as a supplement to the larger yoga exhibit, March 26-May 25.

A 13-by-30-foot wall of Western yoga marketing materials (from the 1960s-80s), it includes book covers, advertisements, and album covers that depict white folks promoting yoga for all kinds of spiritual, dietary, and fitness purposes, wearing everything from canary yellow leotards to traditional Indian garb. The idea of putting all of this ephemera on one wall, he says, is to give the viewer a feeling of being suffocated — which is how the onslaught of these images have made him feel. “It’s fascinating to me that this ancient practice from my culture is being mined and then appropriated and commodified, while removing everyone that looks like me,” he adds. “The philosophy of yoga is the dissolution of one’s ego — and the irony is that there’s so much ego being attached to all of this.”

Bhakta’s exhibit is part of *Pardon My Hindi, a project he created to explore first generation Indian American identity using humor and serious social commentary. Bhakta admits that he himself practices yoga at studios in the Bay Area, and he’s not against the popularization of the practice. He simply questions the way in which it’s being done. “My goal is just to bring this discussion to the table,” he says.


The museum is offering some amazing activities during the show’s run. Highlights include storytelling, dance, and yoga, as well as lectures by yoga luminaries. Among the scheduled speakers are Senior Iyengar teacher Manouso Manos, director of UCSF’s Osher Center for Integrative Medicine Dr. Margaret Chesney, curators Debra Diamond and Qamar Adamjee, AcroYoga co-founder Jenny Sauer-Klein, mindfulness educator Meena Srinivasan, Google’s Gopi Kallayil, graphic designer Chiraag Bhakta, and yoga historian Eric Shaw. For the full list of events, go to www.asianart.org/exhibitions_index/yoga-related-events.

Karen Macklin is a writer and yoga teacher living in San Francisco. Find out more about her at www.karenmacklin.com .

Stretch out



On the Om Front The days are getting longer. The college kids who live next door are throwing parties seven nights a week instead of the usual four. Your dog is asking to be walked so early in the morning that you’re not certain you’ve ever actually gone to sleep. It’s summertime! And it’s the perfect time to get out of town for a few days, and do what yogis (and defeated armies) do best: retreat.

Yoga and meditation retreats can take many forms. They can be active and playful (think Acro Yoga on the Yuba River) or tranquil and introspective (like a silent meditation retreat in Santa Cruz). The Bay Area is a prime launch pad for a whole range of extro- and introverted magical adventures that will stretch your body and your mind into dimensions you never knew existed.

Of course the hardest part about planning a retreat or festival getaway is actually planning it. So, here’s a little help for you. Now, all you need to do is whip out your smart phone or old-school paper calendar, flag the summer days on which you’ll say a temporary sayonara to the daily grind, and book it. See you on the flip side.



You’ve seen those brightly dressed yogis in Dolores Park on summer Sundays balancing on slack lines and doing crazy partner acrobatic tricks. Learn how to do what they do on this high-energy retreat in Nevada City, led by Jason and Chelsey Magness of the YogaSlackers. Retreat includes all-levels training in Acro Yoga and slacklining plus plenty of time on the river.

June 20-23, $400. Nevada City, CA. www.yogaslackers.com



This “Interdepen-dance” retreat, run by River Guidess, will blow your July 4th out of the water. It features yoga, ecstatic dance, seven miles of mellow rafting (all gear provided), deluxe camping accommodations, organic meals, and live music. The Stanislaus river is so otherworldly that you may start dreaming in an alien language. And the best part: no wetsuits required.

July 4-7, $395–$475, Oakdale, CA. www.riverguidess.com/july-4-2013/



The towering mountains of Yosemite are just a hop, skip, and car ride away, but we city-dwellers rarely make it over there. Toss your yoga mat and some hiking shoes into your backseat, and head for the (really big) hills with Back to Earth’s annual Yosemite Yoga trip. Each day includes guided hiking to gorgeous spots, yoga classes, Thai Massage, delicious meals, campfires, and swimming in local creeks.

July 10-July 14, $675. Yosemite, CA. www.backtoearth.org/trips/yosemite-yoga



This is pretty much the hottest local-ish yoga festival of the year. Featuring a panoply of talent, this Lake Tahoe event includes world-class yoga instructors (including several Bay Area teachers like Janet Stone and Pete Guinosso) and like-minded musical artists like Moby, Grammatik, DJ Drez, and The Shimmy Sisters. Oh, and jaw-dropping vistas of Lake Tahoe.

July 18-21, $125–$475. Squaw Valley, North Lake Tahoe, CA. squaw.wanderlustfestival.com



If you’re down for something mellower and more introspective, this Cazadero retreat with Danae Robinett offers yoga, delicious food, and deluxe accommodation amongst redwood trees and wandering wild turkeys. You’ll also get to experience Shake Your Asana, Robinett’s unique combo of yoga and rump-shaking.

July 25-28, $650. Cazadero, CA. www.smore.com/2t0b



Looking to shift your perspective on life for more than just a weekend? Try this introductory silent meditation (and Qi Gong) retreat at the Insight Retreat Center in Santa Cruz. Silent retreats give us the opportunity to look at our thoughts and patterns so that we can start shifting them to better our lives. The insights gained on a silent retreat are well worth corking your pie hole for a few days. You may not even want to talk again when you return. Donation-based.

August 15 to 18, free ($100 refunded deposit). Santa Cruz, CA. www.insightretreatcenter.org



If relaxation is on your agenda (and not the kind that requires a cocktail), head to Tassajara, a Zen Buddhist retreat center in Carmel Valley. In this retreat, teachers Samantha Ostergaard and Do-On Robert Thomas will combine Restorative Yoga (an effortless, passive yoga practice) and Zen meditation techniques to create a feeling of calm in the body and mind.

August 22-25, $240, Carmel, CA. www.sfzc.org/tassajara



Indian chanting or “kirtan” is a juicy part of yoga practice for lots of folks, and this festival is the ultimate event to get your kirtan on. Located in Joshua Tree (close to the state park, but not in it), the festival offers four days of music with bands performing on two different stages all day and night, as well as a mad plethora of yoga classes. Hot desert nights plus divine tunes equals a personal favorite of mine.

September 5-8, $200–$400 plus camping fee. Joshua Tree, CA. www.bhaktifest.com


Gopi and the Yoglers



ON THE OM FRONT  Seven years ago, Gopi Kallayil, currently the Chief Evangelist for Google+ (there is indeed such a position), started a program at the Mountain View Google office called Yoglers: members go beyond merely practicing yoga in the office to participating more fully in its potential. It’s kind of like Google+ circles for yogis, where employees become teachers rather than just lunchtime practitioners. I recently spoke with Gopi, a force of nature himself who speaks often on such topics as “Envisioning the Conscious Corporation” and once engineered an online hangout with Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, about this program and his life’s passion: merging business and technology with mindfulness practices like yoga and meditation.

SFBG OK, so what exactly is a “Yogler”?

Gopi Kallayil There are communities of Googlers that self-organize themselves into doing different things. For instance, there is a group for LGBT Googlers (and their straight allies) called Gayglers, a group for Jewish Googlers called Jewglers, and a group for Carpooling Googlers called Carpoolglers. Self-organizing yoga practitioners are called Yoglers.

SFBG Is this different than the corporate yoga program at Google?

GK Yes. Google does a lot of things to keep employees fit and healthy—there are gyms in many offices, and we have group exercise programs that include yoga instruction with contracted yoga teachers to lead these classes. But the Yoglers classes are led only by people who work for Google. They could be product managers or engineers, but they will take a break periodically and not just take a yoga class, but actually teach a yoga class.

SFBG Are Yogler instructors trained yoga teachers or just yoga enthusiasts?

GK They are trained teachers. People who work here are intensely intense about the things that they do. They are very passionate about all aspects of their lives.

SFBG How did you first become involved with yoga?

GK I grew up in India, and became a yoga teacher as a teenager. I was taught yoga by Swami Vishnudevananda, who is one of the people who first brought yoga to America. He taught it as a path to self-realization, but also as a practice that brings joy, peace, and happiness to the world. He wanted us to go and teach it to other people. Since then, I’ve always taught, and I’ve always taught for free.

SFBG What inspired you to start Yoglers?

GK When I joined Google, one of my colleagues here encouraged me to teach a yoga class. So I started teaching a class in a conference room to one student and called it Yoglers. It was a way I could bring yoga to my community at work and pass on this great tradition that I was blessed to have received. Word of mouth spread and years later it’s become a big movement across Google offices worldwide. I had no idea that something I started with one student would evolve to this level.

SFBG Do you think the location of the Mountain View office helped to launch Yoglers?

GK Without question, something like this could happen more easily in the Bay Area. This is a very awakened, conscious place. People are curious about these traditions and don’t look at them suspiciously. People have studied yoga here, they welcome it.

SFBG Why is it important to bring yoga into the workplace in society today?

GK It’s not just today. It has always been important. It was important 50 years ago, 100 years ago, as long as there have been human beings. Yoga and meditation help to create a higher quality, more conscious human being. And any organization—whether it’s a corporation or educational institution—is staffed and run by human beings. If we incorporate these practices into our working life, we get along with each other better, make better products, and make choices that will better serve our customers.

SFBG It’s great that tech companies are embracing yoga, but isn’t technology part of what’s making us scattered and stressed?

GK: Technology, if not used properly and consciously, has the capability to completely distract us and make us unproductive and frenzied. But it’s no different than many other innovations. It’s like fire. Ever since we’ve discovered it and known how to harness it, we’ve found it exceptionally useful. You can cook your food with it, you can melt and blow glass with it. But if you misuse it, you can burn yourself or raze an entire city to the ground. I only check email certain times a day — I’m not constantly looking at it. Technology is a powerful tool. But whether you use the tool to be productive or destructive is up to you.

SFBG How does yoga help people in stressful work environments stay focused and calm?

GK When you practice yoga, you’re asked to bring your complete, 100 percent awareness to your body and your breath. If you practice regularly, it makes you more aware and conscious, and you make choices driven by that. The quality of your interactions improves. You stop checking your email when someone is talking to you. At Google, we’re building amazing technologies like self-driving cars, Google Glass, and Google+. And yet, the most important technology that every human being has access to is right within us: our body, our mind, our consciousness.

SFBG Any advice on how people can start a yoga or meditation program at work?

GK It’s simple. Go book a conference room. Sit, close your eyes, start meditating. Put up a sign that says, “Random acts of meditation.” It doesn’t matter if only one person shows. If you just sit there for 60 seconds and watch your breath, you have just started a meditation program. You don’t need a budget or resources. Someone just needs to step forward and do it.


At the hub


GREEN ISSUE Konda Mason is a yoga teacher, filmmaker, and producer. But above all she’s an activist, one of the most energetic Bay Area voices leading the effort to support sustainable practices in marginalized communities, and connect spiritual practice with real-world environmental action. Mason’s the co-director of the new HUB Oakland community-building center (www.huboakland.net), a partner in Earthseed Consulting, LLC (www.earthseedconsulting.com), which designs and promotes environmental projects with an emphasis on diversity, and a board member of the East Bay Meditation Center (www.eastbaymeditation.org). On Sat/20, she’s teaching at Spirit Rock Meditation Center’s Earth Day event, “Responses to Climate Change: Awareness, Action, and Celebration.” Last week, she spoke to me over the phone about connectivity, diversity, and the difference between “change” and “transformation.”

San Francisco Bay Guardian You’re both a yoga-meditation teacher and an environmental activist. How do these two aspects of your life intersect?

Konda Mason Yoga and meditation give you that time to pause and quiet the chatter in your head and connect to that place inside that is unchanging and feels connected to the whole. You feel the deep inner connectivity that you have with all things in those moments, that connection with all life.

SFBG One of your main efforts has been introducing the African American community to green practices.

KM Marginalized people in general are left out of every important conversation that affects them the most. It’s more about social economics than race. When we look at who is on the frontline of impact, it’s always the marginalized: women, children, youth, the poor, and people of color. I’m a filmmaker by trade, so when I became a part of Earthseed, the idea came to me to create an online series called “Green Street Loft,” a fun, accessible, and culturally relevant series for the African American audience. It hasn’t launched yet, but stay tuned.

SFBG Years ago, you were a founder of the International Association for Black Yoga teachers. Do you think diversity is increasing in the yoga community?

KM I do believe that people are seeing more and more diversity in general in areas around spiritual pursuits. These days, I also teach at Spirit Rock and help lead the annual People of Color meditation retreat. The thing to me that is lacking more than anything is men. Everything I do, the audience is always predominantly women! That is where the attention needs to be drawn.

SFBG And now you’re starting HUB Oakland. What is that?

KM The HUB is a global movement of people who are working on solutions to better the world. It’s a place where people can come and collaborate and meet each other and work together, a place for conversation and action to happen. It’s for social entrepreneurs, and for sustainable business ideas that need incubation to get to the next level. It exists on five different continents. San Francisco is the biggest and most successful HUB in the network. Now, HUB Oakland is starting.

SFBG How will HUB Oakland be different than other HUBs?

KM Every HUB takes on the personality of its city. HUB Oakland will probably be the most diverse HUB in the network in terms of ethnicity and ages. We will have workshops about personal growth and spiritual growth with people from Silicon Valley to Spirit Rock. Everybody is invited.

SFBG When will it open?

KM We have a building on Broadway between 23rd and 24th streets that we signed a lease on. We move there in October. It’s a 60,000-square foot space that is just beautiful. Until then, we’re in a pop-up place, a 2000-square foot old bank through the help of the City of Oakland and Popuphood (www.popuphood.com).

SFBG Tell us about the Earth Day event at Spirit Rock this weekend.

KM I’m looking forward to it. There will be some really key people there who are committed to environment and sustainability. The thing about this movement to “change the world” is that “change” and “transformation” are two different things. What’s lasting is transformation. It begins with the individual. We can window-dress something and make it look green, but if we haven’t transformed ourselves, it will revert back to the way it was. This is why the contemplative practices and wisdom traditions are so essential to sustainability. They foster change in the individual.


Sat/20, 9:30am-4:30pm, $25–$108 sliding scale

Spirit Rock

5000 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Woodacre, Marin


Faith in flow



ON THE OM FRONT Every Tuesday evening, hundreds of people flock to the Grace Cathedral Labyrinth to practice yoga with local teacher Darren Main. With Easter around the corner, I talked to Main and the Reverend Jude Harmon, who manages the program, about how this unlikely class came to be, and why it works so well in San Francisco.

San Francisco Bay Guardian Darren, how did you wind up teaching the class at Grace Cathedral?

Darren Main Jamie Lindsay, a yoga teacher who had been attending Grace Cathedral for years, started the class there. When he moved to New York in 2009, he asked me if I would take the class. I had long admired Grace Cathedral for both its architectural wonder as well as how it has been on the cutting edge of social justice and spiritual equality. Right from the start I could feel something magical happening. What started off as a small group of students has now grown to over 300 people each week.

SFBG How does yoga fit in at the church?

Jude Harmon Grace Cathedral was established with the founding vision “to be a house of prayer for all people.” We were at the forefront of civil rights, welcoming Martin Luther King Jr. to preach here, and we paved the way forward for the embrace of LGBT people in the sacramental life of the Church long before it became the norm at a national level. This yoga class is just a natural extension of our commitment to welcome all people, from every walk of life, and to support them in their spiritual growth.

SFBG What’s it like to teach yoga at Grace?

DM It’s an amazing experience. You can’t help but feel something sacred by simply walking through the door. It’s like teaching in the Taj Mahal or the Great Pyramid. People come from all over the world just to see this building, walk its labyrinth, and admire the architecture and artwork. I am moved to tears sometimes when I think of how much this cathedral — and specifically doing yoga in this cathedral — represents the magic of San Francisco.

SFBG Do you have to be a churchgoer to attend?

DM Not at all. Yoga is a science, not a religion and so it requires no belief to be effective as a practice for quieting the mind, opening the heart, and balancing the body. In fact, many atheists find yoga extremely rewarding. Non-Christians attend the class for the community, the practice, and the beauty of the cathedral.

SFBG Can yoga enhance one’s spiritual practice?

DM Yes, because it helps us to more easily access the divine when we have a quiet mind, a balanced body and an open heart. Yoga can also be a way of exploring the same universal questions that religion explores, like “why are we here?” and “who are we?”

SFBG Does the practice of yoga connect in any way to the practice of Christianity?

JH I remember the first time I saw the yoga students ascending Grace Cathedral’s great steps in droves on the dusk of a July evening. They seemed like angelic visitors from some Hyperion realm. But they weren’t carrying Books of Common Prayer in their hands, or hymnals, or even Bibles — they were carrying yoga mats! While most of them wouldn’t dream of setting foot in a church for a traditional Eucharist, I felt my heart bond with them. At the heart of a yogic practice, just as at the heart of our Eucharistic practice, is the possibility of a self-integration that opens out our consciousness toward the world in compassion.

SFBG What is the yoga class like?

DM Given that the class is so diverse in terms of age, physical ability, and level of yoga practice, I focus on the more gentle and meditative side of yoga. The cathedral itself invites a more inward and contemplative experience as well, so it is really a perfect fit. Every week, I invite Bay Area musicians who have a transcendent quality to play at class.

SFBG Why do you think a class like this became so popular in San Francisco?

DM San Francisco has always been known for being open-mined, and that quality makes people open to the unique experience of doing yoga in a church. That said, I would not be at all surprised if we see this idea spreading beyond the Bay Area over the next 10 years or so.

Karen Macklin is a writer and yoga teacher in San Francisco. Read her On the Om Front column every other week on the SFBG Pixel Vision blog.


Yoga, church, and radical acceptance: An interview with the Grace Cathedral yoga team


Every Tuesday evening, hundreds of people flock to the Grace Cathedral Labyrinth to practice yoga with local teacher Darren Main. With Easter around the corner, SFBG talked to Main and the Rev. Jude Harmon, who manages the program, about how this unlikely class came to be, and why it works so well in San Francisco.

SFBG: Darren, how did you wind up teaching the class at Grace Cathedral?

Darren Main: My friend Jamie Lindsay, a yoga teacher who had been attending Grace Cathedral for years, started the class there. When he moved to New York in 2009, he asked me if I would take the class. I had long admired Grace Cathedral for both its architectural wonder as well as how it has been on the cutting edge of social justice and spiritual equality. Right from the start I could feel something magical happening. What started off as a small group of students has now grown to over 300 people each week.

SFBG: How does yoga fit in at the church?

Rev. Jude Harmon: Grace Cathedral, like the National Cathedral, was established with the founding vision “to be a house of prayer for all people.” We have hosted a wide variety of cultural events that span the spectrum of nearly every kind of diversity imaginable. We were at the forefront of civil rights, welcoming Martin Luther King Jr. to preach here, and we paved the way forward for the embrace of LGBT people in the sacramental life of the Church long before it became the norm at a national level. This yoga class is just a natural extension of our commitment to welcome all people, from every walk of life, and to support them in their spiritual growth.

SFBG: What’s it like to teach yoga at Grace?

DM: Teaching in a church, especially one the size of Grace Cathedral, is an amazing experience. You can’t help but feel something sacred by simply walking through the door. And there is something about being in such an iconic space. It’s like teaching in the Taj Mahal or the Great Pyramid. People come from all over the world just to see this building, walk its labyrinth, and admire the architecture and artwork. I am moved to tears sometimes when I think of how much this cathedral — and specifically doing yoga in this cathedral — represents the magic of San Francisco.

SFBG: Do you have to be a churchgoer to attend?

DM: Not at all. Yoga is a science, not a religion and so it requires no belief to be effective as a practice for quieting the mind, opening the heart, and balancing the body. In fact, many atheists find yoga extremely rewarding. Non-Christians attend the class for the community, the practice, and the beauty of the cathedral.

SFBG: Can yoga enhance one’s spiritual practice?

DM: Yes, because it helps us to more easily access the divine when we have a quiet mind, a balanced body and an open heart. Yoga can also be a way of exploring the same universal questions that religion explores, like Why are we here? and Who are we?

SFBG: Does the practice of yoga connect in any way to the practice of Christianity?

JH: Yes. Early Christians—known as monastics—went to live alone in the desert to train their bodies to perceive the Word of God that is spoken in nature. The ascetic practices they developed to help them are very similar to those employed by yogis. And like great yogis, these early Christian pioneers were sought after for their deep wisdom.

I remember the first time I saw the yoga students ascending Grace Cathedral’s Great Steps in droves on the dusk of a July evening. They seemed like angelic visitors from some Hyperion realm. But they weren’t carrying BCPs in their hands, or hymnals or even bibles—they were carrying yoga mats! While most of them wouldn’t dream of setting foot in a church for a traditional Eucharist, I felt my heart bond with them. At some very profound level, yogis and Episcopalians have this in common: an intuitive yearning for deep communion and real presence. At the heart of a yogic practice, just as at the heart of our Eucharistic practice, is the possibility of a self-integration that opens out our consciousness toward the world in compassion.

SFBG: Has the yoga class helped bring lapsed Christians back to church?

JH: I’ve heard a lot of people say that they’re surprised and delighted to see a priest [myself] practicing yoga with them, and that maybe religion, and Christianity in particular, isn’t ‘all bad after all’! The extent to which that translates into people coming to Sunday services is another question. I did issue an invitation to the yoga community to participate in Ash Wednesday services and I saw several of them there. I believe that we must continue to build relationship, and also to build content that is familiar and comfortable, meaningful and simple, and that appeals to both the congregation and the yoga community across contexts.

DM: Over the years, hundreds of students have told me that their experience at Yoga on the Labyrinth helped them let go of past religion-based trauma, and even recognize the beauty in Jesus’ message of compassion and forgiveness. While the yoga class may have brought them into the church, they eventually came to see that Grace Cathedral was not like traditional churches. It welcomes people of all stripes and backgrounds, and only wants people to find spiritual wellbeing on their own terms. Like yoga, Grace is about radical self-acceptance. This radical acceptance can be profoundly healing.

SFBG: What is the yoga class like?

DM: Given that the class is so diverse in terms of age, physical ability, and level of yoga practice, I focus on the more gentle and meditative side of yoga. The cathedral itself invites a more inward and contemplative experience as well, so it is really a perfect fit. Every week, I invite Bay Area musicians who have a transcendent quality to play at class. Artists include Sam Jackson (singing bowls), Kendra Faye (harp), Timothy Das (Native American flute and didgeridoo), and Amber Field, Christopher Love, and Mirabai (Indian chanting).

SFBG: Why do you think a class like this became so popular in San Francisco?

DM: San Francisco has always been known for being open-mined, and that quality makes people open to the unique experience of doing yoga in a church. That said, I would not be at all surprised if we see this idea spreading beyond the Bay Area over the next ten years or so.

SFBG: It’s Easter time. Will your classes this month connect at all with the holiday?

DM: I try to theme my classes around seasons, holidays, and current events and Easter is one of my favorite holidays. While the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection is unique to the Christian tradition, the underlying theme — which is about the endurance of hardship and the opportunity for transcendence and rebirth through that experience—is as universal and inevitable as the sunrise.

Karen Macklin is a writer and yoga teacher in San Francisco — her On the Om Front column appears biweekly here on sfbg.com


By Joanne Greenstein

Spring Equinox Celebration with Katherine Otis

Capture the spirit of the season of revitalization, rebirth, and renewal. Usher in spring with this

workshop designed to help you welcome new beginnings and set new intentions.

Sat/23, 2-4:30pm, $30-35. Bernal Yoga, 908 Cortland, SF. www.bernalyoga.com

Introduction to Yogic Philosophy with Karen Macklin

Wondering what your teachers are talking about in yoga class when they mention all of those obscure Sanskrit terms and philosophies? This exciting workshop with your On the Om Front columnist will cover many of the most popular philosophical concepts encountered in the yoga room today, and help you gain a better understanding of the roots and heart of this practice.

Sat/23, 1:30-4pm, $35. Yoga Garden, 286 Divisadero, SF. www.yogagardensf.com

Healing Sound Concert with WAH!

Searching for healing and balance? Lay back, relax, and listen as Wah’s voice and music bring you to a meditative space. Special effects and “blisslights” enhance the experience.

Sat/23, 8-10pm, $35-40. Urban Flow, 1543 Mission, SF. www.urbanflowyoga.com

Yoga and Hiking with Wesleigh Roeca

Take your yoga outside! Explore the city and your practice in an adventure integrating urban hiking with yoga, and break out of the confines of the studio walls.

Sun/24, 11:00am-1:15pm, $30-35. Aha Yoga, 1892 Union, SFwww.ahayogasf.com

Stillness & Silence: Renewing Our Spiritual Vision with Swami Ramananda & Integral

Let the power of silence at this ocean side setting provide the space for an inward journey. This three-day Yoga Institute retreat in Bolinas consists of hatha yoga, workshops, meditations, and a variety of evening programs.

April 4-7, $400 – $475. Commonweal Retreat Center, 451 Mesa Road, Bolinas. www.integralyogasf.org


On the Om Front: Guys Wanted in the Yoga Room


I teach a weekly employee yoga class at a hospital where my students are all women. Every week, a young man peers curiously into the classroom. I asked him once if he’d like to join us, and he said, “Yes, but what would my friends say? Yoga is for girls.”

This odd societal notion that yoga is an emasculating, status-reducing activity is bad enough. But to make matters worse, people like William J. Broad, the so-called New York Times science writer, have publically espoused that yoga is actually harmful to men. Why? Because, he says, men have a tendency to push themselves too hard, and their bigger muscles are more injury prone.

Wait … what?

Here’s the truth: The majority of the yoga poses that we do in the studio today were developed by men, not women. In fact, women had to fight for the right to take part in this practice in the first place. And I could spend days discussing the fallacies of Broad’s arguments (which are based on poor science and don’t at all credit men with the ability to take care of themselves), but we all have better things to do. The point is: When did yoga get deemed wussifying or, worse, a threat to one’s health?

I don’t live in a man’s body, but I do teach yoga to a lot of strong, masculine, and intelligent men, and I can tell you from what I see that yoga is every bit as beneficial to men as it is to women. It does not seem to have negatively affected anyone’s testosterone levels, nor do my male students get injured any more than my female students — if they practice intelligently. (If one practices unintelligently, regardless of gender, one will get injured.) In fact, despite the obvious anatomical disparities, I see very little difference between the male and female practitioners I know in terms of commitment to practice, injury rate, and advancement. The largest challenge for men is the message in Western society that yoga was not made for them.

As a response to the dearth of dudes in yoga class, an interesting movement to promote male-only yoga classes has come about. The national Broga program is one example of this trend, though it hasn’t yet caught on locally. While I love that this movement is encouraging more men into the classroom, the segregation aspect feels weird to me. This is yoga, not football. I’d prefer to see all of us — men, women, and trans folk — practicing in the same room, side by side. Together.

As a society, both men and women have suffered from countless years of gender segregation. The yoga room can be a place for us to be in community together. Sure, we have different bodies, but we’re all there for the same reason: to improve ourselves and develop a deeper sense of inner intelligence. I understand that there’s a comfort in being around people who look like you, and avoiding environments where the other gender dominates. But if women had let that fear deter us, we wouldn’t have gained the right to attend college, vote, or have our own bank accounts. Besides, yoga is actually about moving out of your comfort zone, and confronting the fears and insecurities that imprison you. What better place to push your boundaries?

I’m a fan of anything that gets more guys, straight or gay, into the yoga room — even boys-only yoga. But the beautiful thing about bringing the genders together in general, and particularly in the yoga room, is that we balance one another energetically. We can learn from, support, and better understand one another. I think the time is ripe now for us to come together in mindful community — in fact, I think our evolution as a species depends on it.

And a little secret for those men who’ve yet to take a yoga class because they think the women don’t want them there: We do.

Karen Macklin is a writer and yoga teacher in San Francisco — her On the Om Front column appears biweekly here on sfbg.com.


Yoga and Spirituality Listings

By Joanne Greenstein

Restorative Yoga with Live Singing Bowls with Kevin Hibbit and Sam Jackson
Combining crystal bowl music, healing touch, poetry, and restorative yoga, this workshop will help attendees to slow down, relax and look within.
Sat/9, 6:30-9:30pm, $35, Mindful Body, 2876 California, SF

Naked Men’s Yoga
Check out these weekly classes for men that are aimed at offering community and more freedom for expression and movement. Clothing is not optional. Days and times and locations vary.

Therapeutics Workshop with John Friend
After a long hiatus from the yoga world, the founder of Anusara yoga is back in town. In this workshop, he will focus on common issues and injuries in the body, and how to overcome them using therapeutic postures based on principles of alignment.
Sat/9, 6:30-8:30pm, $50, Urban Flow Yoga, 1543 Mission, SF

Yoga Grad School
Laughing Lotus is offering several weekend workshops between now and the end of June on topics ranging from teaching yoga to at-risk youth to hands-on assisting. The workshops are appropriate for dedicated practitioners looking to deepen their practice as well as for those interested in earning credit toward advanced teacher certification. Price varies based on number of workshops taken.
Next up:
Lotus Fly: Advanced Asana and Sequencing with Sheri Celentano
March 16-17, 1-6pm, $199
Laughing Lotus, 3271 16th Street, SF

Healing the Heart – A Daylong Immersion in Bhakti Yoga with Jai Uttal, Nubia Teixeira, and Swami Ramananda
Immerse yourself in a day of devotional exploration. This daylong workshop integrates meditation, ceremony, breathing exercises, devotional dance, and chanting.
March 16, 10am-5pm, $100 ($90 by Mon/11); includes a vegetarian lunch
Integral Yoga Institute, 770 Dolores, SF

Yoga and Dance with Wendy Faith
Link two forms of movement in one in this workshop combining yoga and dance. Dance forms visited include Afro-Brazilian, salsa, tribal bellydance, Bhangra, West African and hip-hop.
March 17, 1-3:30pm, $35
Aha Yoga, 1892 Union, SF

On the Om Front: Bhakti by the Bay


Some people go out to bars and drink on a Friday. But, you want to know what I do for a good time? I chant. I chill in a room full of yogis and I sing mantras in Sanskrit and I get really happy.

If you’re in the yoga tribe, you might be nodding your head here. If you’re not, you may be thinking I sound like a New Age freak who’s sniffed a little too much patchouli. I understand. I’m the city girl who first resisted yoga 15 years ago, when I moved to San Francisco, saying, “Yeah, right, I’m going to just sit there and breathe.” Like yoga, chanting can be something of an acquired taste. But, also like yoga, it can be acquired very quickly. The biggest obstacle is just getting into the room for the first time to do it.

Chanting events are often called kirtan, which is call-and-response singing led by a kirtan artist (also known as a kirtan wallah). The chants are in Sanskrit, a language that has an innate meditative quality, and the repetition of the words put you into an ecstatic mindset. Though the songs are mostly honoring Hindu gods — like Rama, Lakshmi, and Shiva — you don’t have to be Hindu (or a theist at all) to sing them. I mean, anyone can find joy in offering a Christmas gift, or have a spiritual experience while eating a latke, right? The gods are thought by most to be symbolic, representing different aspects of life and humanity. Ultimately, kirtan is a practice of devotion or bhakti. It doesn’t matter what it is you are devoted to — God, trees, your pup or your honey — so long as love is at the center.

There are kirtan events frequently happening in the Bay (see the listings below), and there are touring kirtan bands constantly coming through here to share their music. One of my favorite kirtan musicians is David Newman (aka Durga Das), a Philly-born yogi who has the soul of an angel and the vibe of an indie rock singer-songwriter. He and his band (pictured above: Dave Watts, Clay Campbell, David Newman, and Philippo Franchini) played a small, intimate house concert this past weekend. It was my favorite kind of Friday night: music, tea, a dimly lit room, and a feeling like each person in the room was somehow destined to be there. But that’s often what it feels like at kirtan. It’s as if time somehow stops, and we’re all just there to linger in the pause.

Video of David Newman and band by Dazza Greenwood:

Karen Macklin is a writer and yoga teacher in San Francisco — her On the Om Front column appears biweekly here on SFBG.com.


by Joanne Greenstein


Wednesday Night Kirtan around the fire pit
8pm–9pm, by donation
Yoga Society, 2872 Folsom, SF.
More info here

Sunday Night Kirtan
7pm, $10-$15
First Sunday: Stephanie Winn
Second Sunday: Kozmik Kirtan with Evelie Posch
Third Sunday: Art of Living Foundation
Last Sunday: Sean Feit
Yoga Tree Telegraph, 2807 Telegraph, Berk.
More info here


Open Secret Kirtan with Mirabai & Friends
3rd Thursday of the month
This month: Thursday, 2/21, 7:30–9pm, $10-$20
Open Secret, 923C Street, San Rafael
More info here

Kirtan: An Evening of Devotional Chanting & Music with Bhakti Heart
Last Saturday of the month with some exceptions
This month: Saturday, 2/23, 7:45–9:15pm, by donation
Mindful Body, 2876 California, SF.
More info here


Community Kirtan with Andrew Thomas Fisher and Erin Lila Wilson
All are invited to lead a chant, join in the response or listen to the sweet sounds.  Feel free to bring instruments.
Sat, 2/23, 7–8:30pm, by donation
Integral Yoga Institute, 770 Dolores, SF.
More info here

Complete Immersion:

Bhakti Fest
A full-on kirtan festival in the Joshua Tree desert, the September Bhakti Fest (and its May sister festival, Shakti Fest) features around-the-clock chanting, premiere yoga classes and inspiring lectures.  All the top international kirtan artists play at these festivals.
Shakti Fest, May 17-19
Bhakti Fest, September 5-9
More info here


On the Om Front: In the name of love


It’s February—feeling a little love in your heart? Srutih Asher Colbert’s been feeling the love all year long. She’s a Bay Area yoga teacher (and hairdresser) who raised $24,000 in one year through grassroots fundraising to fight sex trafficking in India, where she’ll be going next week to volunteer her time to the cause.

Om Front talked to her about how, and why, she undertook the challenge.

SFBG Wow. You raised $24,000 in one year. Tell us about the organization you raised the money for.

COLBERT Off The Mat and Into the World is a yoga-based organization [founded by internationally-acclaimed yoga teacher/activist Seane Corn]. It initiates different projects around the world to create sustainable change. The idea is that people take their yoga practice “off the mat and into the world” to become leaders in their community and use that leadership to make a difference. Every year, Off the Mat conducts something called the Seva Challenge, in which people everywhere are challenged to raise at least $20,000 for a particular cause. If you can raise the money, you are invited to go on a trip with Off the Mat to volunteer your time to that cause.

SFBG  What inspired you to do the 2012 Seva Challenge?

COLBERT  The cause this year is to stop sex trafficking in India. Sex trafficking is happening all over the world, but there are over 3 million girls in India alone that are being held prisoner and being raped on a daily basis. Some of them have been tricked by being promised a job in the factory and then they end up in a brothel. Some of them have been sold by their own parents. There are so many ways they can be coerced. I have two daughters and it hit close to home to think that my eight year old daughter could be trafficked for sex. I wanted to see if I could help stop that kind of action. I didn’t think I’d be able to raise $20,000 but I thought I would try!

SFBG  So, how did you do it?

COLBERT I reached out to everyone in my yoga community, students and teachers, and planned all of these events. I don’t know how I did it, but it all added up in the end. Some of the events I held were a benefit Kirtan [chanting event] with Ananda Rasa and Prajna Vieira at the Sivananda Yoga Center; a yoga-DJ-dance party at Equinox in Palo Alto, where I teach; and a Thanksgiving benefit class at Namaste Yoga in Oakland with Vickie Russell Bell. I sold Stop Slavery Now tee-shirts, and held a cocktail party and a silent auction. Also, [legendary kirtan singer] Krishna Das did an amazing fundraiser in NYC on the Bhajan Boat and he donated his whole portion to me for the cause. It was incredible.

Thanksgiving benefit class at Namaste Yoga in Oakland with Vickie Russell Bell

SFBG  What was the biggest fundraiser?

COLBERT  It was actually at my hair salon, Monica Foster Salon, in Palo Alto. I got everyone to work on a Monday when we’re usually closed, and they all donated their proceeds, over $4000 altogether, to Off the Mat.

SFBG  So you’re going to India then?

COLBERT Yes! I’ve never been to India and I am so thrilled that I get this opportunity. We leave on February 17 for 10 days in Kolkata. We’ll be working every day with the local charities that are partnered with Off the Mat to help rescue girls, and teach them trades like jewelry-making. We’ll also be helping to build a new room onto a dance-and-yoga therapy center that helps these girls transition back into society.

It’s an interesting time to be going to India to do this work. After the recent gang rape in India, there’s been an uprising of women banding together saying we’re not going to stand for this anymore. It feels really good that we can be part of that timing and affect some social change.

SFBG  Is your fundraising effort over?

COLBERT  Technically, yes, but people are still giving me cash and writing me checks! We’re asked to bring a donation bag over with us filled with first aid supplies, art supplies, and things to draw with, that we can give to the different charities—so I’ve been using the additional funds for that. Once that bag is full, I’ll give the remaining money to Off the Mat.

Colbert with yoga teacher Vickie Russell Bell (left) at Namaste Yoga

SFBG  What has this year of fundraising taught you?

COLBERT That I am not in control of anything. Every fundraiser, I would think it would go this way or that way—and it was never like that. I would think there would be 75 people there and in walked 12. Or I thought a person was going to give me $5 and he gave me $500. I had to learn to not try to control things, and to just be in the present moment with what is.

SFBG  You’re leaving on February 17. Nice timing for Valentine’s Day, eh?

COLBERT Yes, but every day should be Valentine’s Day! Every day we should all be giving each other as much love as we can, helping each other and holding each other up.

If you want to donate to Off the Mat or learn about the 2013 Seva Challenge, visit www.offthematintotheworld.org.

Karen Macklin is a writer and yoga teacher in San Francisco — her On the Om Front column appears biweekly here on SFBG.com.

It’s All About Love
Yoga and Spirituality Listings by Joanne Greenstein

Seven Month Chakra Awakening Intensive with Anodea Judith

Open your heart through the chakras. Award winning author and internationally renowned teacher Anodea Judith is coming to the Bay Area to lead a series of seven workshops on the seven chakras over seven months.  Each month will focus on one of the chakras, offering asana practice, bioenergetic exercises, breathing techniques, guided trance journeys, chanting, art, music and more to clear blockages and active chakra energy.  Workshops will be supplemented by weekly emails.
Sat 2/9 – Sat 2/13, 1:00 – 5:45 PM, Yoga Kula SF, 3030A 16th, SF with 2 sessions at Yoga Kula Berkeley, 1700 Shattuck, Berkeley, $90/workshop or $560 for all 7.  Livestream also available at $45/sessionor $285 for all sessions. yogakula.com/chakra-awakening

Valentine’s Day Contact Yoga Class with Alok Rocheleau and Anjuli Mahendra
Open your heart through touch.  Connect physically, emotionally and spiritually through partner yoga, contact improvisation and Thai massage.
Thurs/14, 7:30 – 10:00 PM, Mindful Body, 2876 California, SF, $70 per couple in advance/$80 at the door. www.themindfulbody.com/main/workshopsevents.htm

Celebration of Heart with Deborah Lee
Open your heart through movement.  Flow through a series of poses designed to help you release tension, improve your posture and connect to your heart. 
Sun/10, 2:00 – 4:15 PM, Yogaworks, 1823 Divisadero, SF, $20 in advance/$30 at the door. More info here.

Kirtan with David Newman (Durga Das)
Open your heart through song.  David and his wife Mira will lead a fun, joyous evening of call-and-response chanting letting you access your heart space. 
Fri/15, 8:00 – 10:00 PM, Urban Flow, 1543 Mission, SF, $20 in advance/$25 at the door. www.urbanflowyoga.com/workshop.html

Tantra & Massage Valentine’s Workshop with Dee Dussault
Open your heart through connection.  Explore and deepen your relationship through these workshops for couples. On day one, learn tantric practices to enhance the intimacy, energy, communication and sensuality in your relationship.  On day two, improve your love-making through tantric massage, breathing and visualization.  Day two is clothing optional, with a non-genital focus.
Tantra Workshop: Expanding Erotic Energy
Sat/16, 1:30 – 4:30 PM, 548 Fillmore, SF, $45
Sensual Massage: Conscious Intimate Touch
Sun/17, 2:00 – 5:00 PM, 548 Fillmore, SF, $45
More info here.

Find your happy place



HEALTH AND WELLNESS January may be cold, but it’s not particularly chill. The temps are low and it’s still dark out, which makes it a natural time for hibernation. Problem is, no one’s hibernating.

People, in fact, are exceptionally busy. We are trying to make up for time we lost during our temporary retirements in December. We are also frantically trying to realize our resolutions (before we forget them) and get back into shape after eating pie twice a day last month.

By the third week of the year, our holiday vacations are nothing but distant dreams, and we’ve all but tossed away any intention to be more present and calm in our lives in favor of strong partnerships with our coffee makers and datebooks to keep us afloat through the madness. Though Elton John once sang that “January is the month that cares”, it’s hard to believe it’s true. If January really does care, it certainly has a funny way of showing it.

>>Read Karen’s biweekly yoga and spirituality column, On the Om Front, here.

But I care. So here’s my advice: Unplug. Check out. Hop in or on your vehicle of choice, and get thee to a refuge. Go someplace where you can reconnect with your breath and your body. And stay for an hour—or at least until you remember that there is more to life than organizing your inbox. Here are some of my favorite winter spots for dialing down the noise and reconnecting with oneself.


The Buddhist ambiance at these colorful lounges makes you feel like you’re actually in a temple. The tea — which ranges from earthy, caffeinated varieties like the Blood Orange Puerh to delectable herbal teas like Moorish Mint — isn’t cheap, but its surrounds really make it a spiritual experience. Two more bonuses for the midwinter urban escape artist: There is no Internet access and it’s always toasty inside.

Various SF locations. www.samovarlife.com


This beautiful Episcopal cathedral is home to awe-inspiring architecture, stained glass windows of Biblical scenes, and the famous indoor Grace Cathedral labyrinth, the walking of which evokes sweet, honey-glazed mind states. You can cruise the labyrinth any time during regular church hours, take a candlelit labyrinth walk on the second Friday evening of each month, or do yoga in the labyrinth each Tuesday at 6:15 p.m. with Darren Main.

1100 California, SF. www.gracecathedral.org


Fire was a fantastic discovery — and not only because marshmallows are better toasted. Watching a fire burn is mesmerizing, and can take you to a different plane of consciousness in seconds. There’s nothing quite like meditating on the power of heat and transformation. During select hours each week, the Yoga Society holds free fire ceremonies led by yoga teachers and other spiritual leaders who chant Sanskrit mantras as the flames dance around the indoor fire pit.

2872 Folsom, SF. yssfyoga.blogspot.com


Sometimes you just need to play! Jump, spin, do cartwheels and handstands, fall down. Children know this intuitively, but adults tend to forget. If you want to honor your inner child, the Athletic Playground is the place to do it. Every day there is a full schedule of classes, including acro-yoga, “monkey conditioning”, and aerial conditioning. It’s a perfect treat on a chilly day, and you don’t need to bring a companion — everyone plays very nicely at this playground.

4770 San Pablo Ave, Emeryville. www.athleticplayground.com


This small, cozy day spa is on the edge of Western Addition, and is a nice, lower-profile alternative to some of the more popular spots in town. It’s got a hot tub, a cold pool, and the requisite dry and wet saunas, but the real gem here is the red clay room. According to the spa, red clay removes toxins, boosts your metabolism, and gives you more energy. Lying naked in the hot (but not too hot) room on straw mats with your head on a beaded pillow also just feels really good.

1875 Geary, SF. www.imperialdayspa.com


Any yoga class taught by a respectable teacher will take you on a journey of the spirit. But Rusty Wells’ two-hour weekend morning classes here are one of the best antidotes for the winter doldrums. They are hot and sweaty (you’ll need to be fairly fit to fit in), and have often been called “yoga church”. Rusty sings, dances, beats a drum (or just the floor), and preaches the best of things: love, courage, and connection with your juicy self.

1543 Mission, SF. www.urbanflowsf.com


Zip it. No, really, that’s what you do at Spirit Rock. You stop talking. Sometimes for an afternoon, sometimes for a day, sometimes for 10 days. This beautiful, hilly retreat center in Woodacre is a great place to do a silent meditation retreat, one of the best ways to reconnect with yourself. We spend so much time thinking about what someone is saying, what to say next, and what we should say, shouldn’t say, or shouldn’t have said. Take all of that socializing off your plate for a few hours or days, and you’re left with a contemplation of some serious depth. I couldn’t recommend it more.

5000 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, Marin. www.spiritrock.org

Check out Karen Macklin’s yoga column On the Om Front on the Guardian’s Pixel Vision blog


On the Om Front: Where to breathe deeply this holiday season


Do you feel like the world is always about to end? I do. Maybe it’s because we’ve been in a recession almost my entire adulthood. Or because I still remember everyone stocking up on toilet paper and batteries for Y2K. Or because it seems these days like there is always a natural disaster happening somewhere in the world, and if a hurricane or tornado or tsunami isn’t tearing apart a city or a village, some crazy dude is shooting people or devising a shoe bomb or proselytizing that everyone is going to hell in a hand basket lest we give up our immoral ways and fast.

But I have hope. Because dark cannot exist without light. And often, the darker things get, the lighter they’re bound to become. 

Just look at the cycles of the planet. This week, we are approaching the darkest day of the year. And what happens after the darkest day of the year? It gets lighter. This is the way our planet rolls.

So, sure, if you want to get all nihilistic, you can certainly think of these as apocalyptic times. But yogis all over the world are actually juiced about the end of this era. We hope it means the end of the self-centered society, and the beginning of a more unified, global awareness. Conscious conspirators are doing all kinds of things to bring light into our dark world. Recently a group of people came together to create UNIFY, a movement to unite people across cultures all over the world.

One UNIFY event is right here in San Francisco on Fri/21. It’s a flash meditation mob at Union Square that synchs up with meditation mobs throughout the planet (details below). Imagine thousands of people meditating all over the world — from Giza, Egypt to Jerusalem to Times Square — at the same time. If that doesn’t create cosmic shift, I don’t know what will.

I’m going to Union Square to join the crowds and meditate amongst my people. But if you can’t, you can still close your eyes and send good mojo out to the world Friday at noon. We can clean this mess up — but everyone’s got to get some hands dirty and say a prayer. That prayer can be to a deity or a child or a tree, but say it, and say it like you mean it.

In the meantime, check out our short holiday class list below for some of the yoga hot spots for solstice, Christmas, and New Year’s. And remember: It can be tempting to shop, overeat, and weep on your sofa as the days whittle down to their shortest. But if you find yourself in this unfortunate dilemma, pause, click your heels three times, and get thee to the yoga mat. Om.


MC Yogi at Open Secret

Join MC Yogi and The Sacred Sound Society for an evening of light and sound to celebrate the end of an era, and the beginning of a new one, hip-hop yoga style.

Fri/21, 5-7pm vegan feast, 8-9:30pm concert, $15. Open Secret Bookstore, 923 C St., San Rafael. www.opensecretbookstore.com

Winter Solstice Celebration For The Turning Of The Mayan Calendar

Drum-in, sing-in, chant-in, dance-in, and ring-in the new millennium with Daniel Paul and Gina Sala. This sacred ceremony will include taiko drumming, ecstatic kirtan singing and tabla drumming and dancing.

Fri/21, doors open at 6:30pm, program at 7pm, $15 in advance/$20 at door. Nexxus Post Industrial Temple, Craneway Pavilion, 1414 Harbour Way, Richmond. www.ginasala.com


Head to Union Square for a globally synchronized flash mob meditation at noon, a part of the worldwide UNIFY movement. People all over the planet will be meditating at the same time to usher in peace and unity for the new era. Bring a blanket and a big dose of zen—it’s going to be packed!

Fri/21, noon, free. Union Square, SF. www.unify.org


Hot Vinyasa

Get your sweat on before holidazing in this steamy, fun celebratory class with Brad.

Tue/25, 11am, donations suggested. Urban Flow, 1543 Mission, SF. www.urbanflowsf.com

Hatha Flow

Groove with a mindful, strong flow class with Om Front writer Karen Macklin, and prepare your body and soul for a conscious Christmas Day.

Tue/25, 10:15am, $19 or class card. Yoga Garden, 286 Divisadero, SF. www.yogagardensf.com


New Year’s Eve Yoga Celebration & Groove Party

Mark Morford and DJ Eric Monkhouse lead this awesome night of Vinyasa yoga, music, and celebration. Two hours of deep flowing yoga practice, intention-setting, and partying. Yeah.

Dec. 31, 10pm-midnight, $35. Yoga Tree Castro, 97 Collingswood, SF. www.yogatreesf.com

New Years Eve Sacred Celebration

Get down with Jasmine and Astrud of Laughing Lotus, in this celebration of yoga, chanting, music, and dancing.

Dec. 31, 9:30pm-11:55pm, $20. Laughing Lotus, 3271 16th St., SF. sf.laughinglotus.com


Iyengar New Year’s Day Class

Join Nora Burnett for an auspicious beginning to the New Year in this annual class of active and restorative poses. After class, chai and light snacks will be served.

Jan. 1, noon-2pm, $40-$50. Iyengar Institute, 2404 27th Ave., SF. www.iyisf.org

Stepping Forward With Purpose

What do you want from your life right now? Make clear intentions for the New Year in this two-hour practice with Darcy Lyon that weaves together asana, meditation, and creative exploration.

Jan. 1, 10am-noon, $25. Yoga Tree Hayes Valley, 519 Hayes, SF. www.yogatreesf.com

On the Om Front: The divine essence of play


Yoga can be so serious. Ever look around class while people are doing backbends or pressing their quads to their bones in a standing pose? Wrinkled brows. Flared nostrils. Gripping toes. You’d think we’re all training to go into battle. Not that I have an issue with intensity– in the right amounts and on the right occasions. But if we don’t balance passion, dedication, and hard work with lightness and ease, we may be doing warrior pose but we’re not doing yoga.

So, play. Play means different things to different people. When I was a child, play meant begging my older brother to let me cavort with him and his friends while they played fighting-soldier-shoot-out in the backyard. My brother let me play sometimes, but only if I would take on the secret code name of Mop Top.

That wasn’t the most delightful kind of play.

But as an adult, I love to play. Play keeps me connected to the lighter part of who I am. It reminds me not to take myself too seriously (and I often need that reminder). I like to play by doing handstands, Acro Yoga, laughing till the point of internal combustion with an old pal. You know who you are.

There is a word in Sanskrit for play: It’s lila. It relates to yoga and the spiritual path, though its interpretations vary. Lila can be thought of as the play of the universe, in the sense that the whole creation and dance of life is a wild game that was invented by the gods. This is often thought of as Divine Play. (If you’ve ever seen Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, that’s a delicious commentary on Divine Play.) Lila can also be thought of as the crazy, marvelous, confusing dance between two lovers (or between the male and female energies that reside in all of us).

To live a life of ease, play is necessary. Not the kind of play that lands you in the ER at 5am with someone else’s clothes on after imbibing copious amounts of illicit substances in the backseat of your ex’s car. (That’s called escapism.)  But lighthearted, clean fun that helps you loosen the reins on rigid thinking, and lighten the load when your practice gets too heavy.

Acro Yoga’s Divine Play Festival (coming up next week — details below) is a sweet example of play’s importance in your yoga practice. Organizer Jenny Sauer-Klein told me that, “Play keeps you connected to innocence and wonder. It keeps you fresh. In Acro Yoga, we’re playing to create connection and see the highest and best in each other, to see the divine in each other through the vehicle of play.”

If the whole universe is just an unpredictable giant puppet laser light show dance party, we may as well get on the dance floor. Go forth and play.


Around the Bend: Ways to Play

Painting Yantras and Mandalas
Play with spiritual painting. Learn how to create sacred yantras and mandalas with Master Sacred Artist Pieter Weltevrede.
10/5-10/7, $150, Yoga Tree Telegraph, Berk. www.yogatreesf.com

Divine Play Festival
In its third year, the annual Acro Yoga Festival is the pinnacle of ridiculous fun for both acro newbies and old school trees and elves. Flying required—no wings necessary. The Acro Yoga mantra, which I love: “Work honestly. Meditate every day. Meet people without fear. And play.” –Baba Hari Das
10/12-14, $325 for entire event (various prices for other passes), Fort Mason Center, SF. www.acroyoga.org/acroyogafestival

Yoga Rave
Not like a rave rave. Like a yoga rave. Insane dance party minus substances. No booze equals no age restrictions. So bring your baby, bring your grandma, or just bring yourself. Presented by the Art of Living and in conjunction with Divine Play.
10/12, $20-$30, Herbst Pavilion at Fort Mason Center, SF. www.yogarave.org/us

Strong Yogini
Trouble rockin’ those chatturangas or inversions? Not sure how to access your physical (or emotional) core? In this playful, strength-building workshop for women (taught by your truly!), we’ll learn ways to build muscle and confidence through yoga. Come play for the day! 
10/27, $35 by Oct. 20, $40 after, Yoga Garden, SF. www.yogagardensf.com

Slackline Classes with the Yoga Slackers

You haven’t played till you’ve gotten on a rope. Learn to walk it, learn to do yoga on it, learn to fall off it with the fabulous local Yoga Slackers, helmed by Ariel Mihic and Liz Williams.
Various dates in Nov and Dec, free, Sports Basement, SF. freeslacklineclasses.eventbrite.com

Karen Macklin is a yoga teacher and multi-genre writer in San Francisco. She’s been up-dogging her way down the yogic path for over a decade, and is a lifelong lover of the word. To learn more about her teaching schedule and writing life, visit her site at www.karenmacklin.com.

On the Om Front: A path with heart


I’ve been practicing yoga for 12 years. Over the years, my practice has changed depending on the basic conditions of my life: my age, my health, my schedule, my location, my physical and spiritual interests and needs, my romantic relationships, my relationship with chocolate chip cookies. Each time I’ve come to a point of transition in how I practice, or where I practice, or with whom I practice (and, more recently: how I teach, where I teach, and for whom I teach), I start to question why I’m doing what I am doing and what is the ultimate goal. 

The questioning is uncomfortable—who wants to question a thing they love? 

It feels dirty, disloyal. It creates murk in a stream that once felt swimmingly clear. But I’ve learned that it’s an inevitable part of any path. Whether we like it or not, questions arise—if they didn’t, we wouldn’t have some version of this symbol in every language: “?” Luckily (or unluckily), I come from Jewish heritage, so questioning is in my blood. In Judaism, it’s godly to question. 

So, I’m questioning.

And I’m reading this book right now called A Path With Heart. It’s by Jack Kornfield, one of the founders of Spirit Rock, a Buddhist meditation retreat center up in Marin that runs regular residential silent meditation retreats. (It’s a top local joint that I highly recommend, especially if you’re one of those people who thinks you “could never” sit in silence for a week, which is nearly everyone unless you’ve actually done it and know that you could, in fact, have.) 

Anyway: In the first few pages of his book, Jack gets down to the crux of the matter. He says that no matter what road you’re driving your spiritual chariot down, you’ve got to keep coming back to the question of whether or not your path has heart. To paraphrase, you could be touching your first metatarsal to your crown chakra or chanting Om Namah Shivaya until the cows come home (and if you’re doing that in India, it won’t be very long—the cows are always coming home), but if you’re not practicing from a place of love, there’s no point to it. Or, maybe there’s some point to it … but it’s not the point.

This isn’t just about yoga or meditation. The same is true for anything you do. Take art, for instance. If your art has no heart, it may look or sound pretty, but its cosmic shelf life is going to be shorter than a wink. Good art creates soul grooves. It has a ripple effect. It’s a rechargeable battery that powers up each time it connects with a new source. It needs to be infused with real juice, the kind that comes from that metaphorical, physiological blood pumper that sits just to the right of center—in your chest.

There’s a lot of heart in our city.

I went to see a play last weekend called Dogsbody at Intersection for the Arts by Erik Ehn, a gifted spiritual warrior who has crafted 17 poetic theatrical works on genocide as part of a project called Soulographie to wake us up to the realities of war. (The project is en route to NYC, so if you’re out there November 11-18, get in on it.) I also hit Martin Scott’s Saturday morning yoga class at Union Yoga, for which all proceeds generously go to Headstand.org, an organization that brings yoga to at-risk youth. Both Erik and Martin are heart-ists. 

Here’s a line from Kornfield’s book, which I’ve been reading to my own classes this past week. He’s quoting Carlos Castaneda who’s referring to a teaching by Don Juan: 

“Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself and yourself alone one question …. Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good. If it doesn’t, it is of no use.”

Not a bad one to pull out when faced with a moment of evaluation. Here’s to landing in a place where that question has the right answer.


Around the Bend 

(some upcoming events with heart)


Sweat and Study: Chants and Invocations for Yoga 

If you love chanting to Ganesh and the other colorful yoga deities, this workshop is the place to be this Sunday. You’ll learn several of the basic yoga mantras and—if you’re already a regular chanter—you’ll learn how to lead them. Sean Feit is a gem. It’s worth the trip to Berkeley.

9/30, 2-5, $20, Yoga Tree Telegraph


Sivananda Poetry Night

The Sivananda center in San Franciso has a new monthly poetry satsang. This week, hear Virginia Barrett (Vidya devi) read poems from her forthcoming  book, I Just Wear My Wings, and bring a short poem (your own or one from a spiritual teacher/writer). Tea and snacks available.

9/28, 7:30 – 9:15 p.m, suggested donation $5-$10, Sivananda Center in SF


Union Yoga’s Donation-Based Vinyasa for Headstand.org

This fun, challenging flow class taught by Martin Scott on Saturday mornings is entirely donation-based, and all of the profits support the non-profit organization Headstand.org, which brings yoga classes to at-risk youth in underserved schools. It fills up (as it should) so register online beforehand.  

Every Saturday, 9am, suggested donation $15, Union Yoga


KFOG Harmony by The Bay

KFOG shows some love to yogis in its Harmony by the Bay concert by offering a special yoga stage. (If you go, please report back on what this actually looked like—I’ve no idea!) Musical acts for the outdoor concert include The Shins, Tegan and Sara, and the holy rapper Matisyahu.

9/29, $40-$75, Shoreline Amphitheatre. More info: www.harmonybythebay.org/2012


Karen Macklin is a yoga teacher and multi-genre writer in San Francisco. She’s been up-dogging her way down the yogic path for over a decade, and is a lifelong lover of the word. To learn more about her teaching schedule and writing life, visit her site at www.karenmacklin.com.

On the Om Front: Honor what you love


It’s no surprise that we have days and weeks and months that are specifically designated to honoring things, like MLK day or Breast Cancer Awareness Month. To honor something, you have to name it and then give it some space in your life.

Sometimes we forget to give things space. I used to think days like Mother’s Day were just crafty inventions of the greeting card industry, but that’s too simplistic a view. Mother’s Day reminds us to show our mothers some love, and the sad — or maybe just practical — truth is that most of us need that reminder. Sure, we should be doing that every day, but we get all caught up in whatever it is that we get caught up in. If we want to say anything about the greeting card (and mega-billion-dollar gift) industry, we can say it capitalizes on our lack of day-to-day presence with the ones we love.

But it’s ok. We’re human, we need reminders. And if we’re smart, we’ll remind ourselves of lots of things, and often.

So here’s a big one: September is National Yoga Month. No, really.

A few years ago, the Department of Health and Human Services made this declaration to raise awareness around yoga and get people hip to the practice. This means we get to honor the practice of being present by being present to the practice for an entire month. (Say that 108 times fast.)

Even when we are passionate about something in our lives, whether it be a craft, an activity, or a contemplative practice, we can do it so much that we forget to honor it. Then, things lose luster, they lose oomph. If you’re already a regular practitioner — of yoga or anything, really — it’s a good time to consider what you do to honor your practice on a regular basis. Do you set a specific time aside for the thing you love each day or each week? Do you have a place in your home that you designate to it, an altar or bookshelf or a small strip of floor between the sofa and the wall heater?

Yoga, origami, calculus … honor the thing you love this month by naming it and giving it some extra space.

If you’re a celebrant of yoga month, there’s plenty to keep you on your toes. Check out the new listings section below.

Around the Bend
Upcoming yoga and conscious living events

**The yoga clothing store Athleta is offering a bunch of free classes this month, including two this weekend: Core Vinyasa with Debbie James and Chi Walk-Run Technique (OK, that’s not yoga, but it sounds cool). Check out the schedule here.

**Did you love Wanderlust in Tahoe? Did you never make it there? Either way, the Wanderlust folks are bringing their yoga love to the city this weekend. The one-day benefit (for Yoga Aid) event features a host of local talent including MC Yogi, Les Leventhal, Pete Guinosso, and Sianna Sherman.
Sat/23, 12:30-4:30, free (but donations to Yoga Aid requested), Little Marina Green, SF. sf.wanderlustfestival.com

**If you want to work hot springs into your celebration plan, head to Harbin for a sweet and affordable retreat with Pedro Franco and Chrisandra Fox. The theme of the weekend: connecting with your inner peace and calm. Oh, yes.
Fri-Sun, $480, Harbin Hot Springs, Middletown. Info here


Have an event, story, or suggestion? Just want to say hi? Send me a note at OnTheOmFront@gmail.com

Karen Macklin is a yoga teacher and multi-genre writer in San Francisco. She’s been up-dogging her way down the yogic path for over a decade, and is a lifelong lover of the word. To learn more about her teaching schedule and writing life, visit her site at www.karenmacklin.com.