The Early Days
(stuff you probably don’t need to know, but I enjoy talking about !)
When I was I kid, I wanted to be a baseball player. Baseball was my overriding passion. I played all the other sports, but baseball was number 1. Although I was an altar boy for a few years, (a Catholic thing ), I knew I did not want to become a priest. The mystical stuff was cool: Latin incantations, incense, candles. Catholics are good with ritual. There were some spiritual stirrings there, but the idea of being hand chosen by God to be single and celibate for the rest of my life was too freaky to contemplate. So baseball it was. When I finally realized that baseball was not my ticket to adulthood, I figured I’d be a scientist, maybe a nuclear physicist (seriously!) Thus I found myself on the way to MIT in the fall of 1968.
MIT is an extraordinary place. For one thing I was drafted by MIT because of baseball. They were in a ‘jock recruiting phase’ and I ended up in a jock fraternity, Beta Theta Pi. (There is another whole set of stories there!) Also, MIT oozes creativity, in every department, in every course, in every member of the community. To be comfortably immersed in an environment where everyone was intelligent, self confident, and uniquely interesting allowed my own curiosity and self confidence to be nurtured and to this day these roots continues to feed my practice and teaching. This was also the time of the Viet Nam War protests and serious social unrest so there was a lot questioning of beliefs and philosophies as well as explorations in various altered states of consciousness.
In addition to math, physics and chemistry, MIT also introduced me to to Eastern Spirituality. I was drawn to a class taught by Huston Smith on Eastern Religions and was immediately hooked. The class had a chance to meet a very young Chogyam Trungpa, Tibetan teacher who went on to found Naropa Institute in Boulder Colorado, and Roshii Philip Kapleau, author of Three Pillars of Zen and founder of the Rochester, NY, Zen Center. We would also hear news from India written by Huston’s friend Ram Dass. We were introduced to Vedanta, Buddhism and other Eastern Philosophies and Religions and some seed or old memory was activated.
I was lucky enough to live a few doors down from the Vedanta Society of Boston and began to spend time there, learning about the Gita and meditation from the delightful Swami Sarvagatananda. I also flirted with Zazen, using Three Pillars as a guide. Although I was pretty clueless and never really gained any traction in practice, Zen would keep returning to my life in different ways. At MIT, I was also first exposed to neuroscience, taking classes in the Psychology department founded by pioneering brain researcher Hans Lukas Teuber. (It would take almost 35 years for me to rediscover ‘Hebb’s Axiom’ and delve back into the brain and nervous system.)
After MIT, I spent the 1970’s working as a painter, handyman/carpenter, travelled to Mexico, Guatemala and much of East Africa and finally, through an old MIT baseball/fraternity connection, found a paying gig traveling around the world collecting cost of living information for multi-national corporations with ex-pats. Stamps from various countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand ended up on the pages of my passports. It was pretty eye-opening to see that much diversity in the human condition.
In late 1978, after too many hours of sitting in an office (it wasn’t all travel!) I decided I needed some consistent physical exercise. A friend suggested yoga and I registered for what turned out to be an intermediate level Iyengar yoga class taught by Betsy Downing. I was 28, my Saturn return was kicking in and I became hooked. I quit my job, spent the winter in the Dominican Republic with a copy of ‘Light on Yoga’, came home, and decided to move to San Francisco to study yoga.
1979 – 1992: Bay Area Awakening
This was a wild and crazy time for spiritual practice in the Bay Area for many reasons and I was able to take full advantage of the bounty. Firstly, it was the main center in the country for the rapidly growing and highly popular approach of B.K.S. Iyengar’s yoga and I was blessed with being able to study with two of the top teachers in the country, Judith Lasater and Ramanand Patel. Secondly, the Yoga Journal Magazine, located in Berkeley, was in its infancy and needed writers to help promote yoga to the country. And finally, Richard Baker Roshii, abbot of the economically thriving San Francisco Zen Center, ( the newly opened Green’s Restaurant, Tassajara Bakery, Green Gulch Farm, and a clothing boutique), decided he wanted the Zen students to study yoga.
After 18 months of study and some apprenticing with Judith Lasater, I began teaching, and amazingly enough, within less than 3 years I found myself in Pune under the direct gaze and guidance of the ‘Lion of Pune’ himself, BKS Iyengar. There was an immediate connection although it was definitely a ‘trial by fire!’ The seeds planted in those first three weeks are still very much alive in my practice.
Around this time, Baker Roshii’s wife was taking classes with Judith and the Zen Center asked her to teach yoga to the Zen Community. Judith very graciously suggested they use me and, for a few years, I was the yoga teacher for the SF Zen Center. It was a very San Francisco experience as an American (me) was presenting teaching from India, to students of Japanese Buddhism, at a convent for retired Catholic nuns that happened to be around the corner from the Zen Center. I was very inspired by the dedication and depth of these students commitment to the dharma and was blessed to meet many wonderful people during my tenure there. There is something about Zen energy that feeds me, and as a baby yogi, the SFZC was very nurturing and supportive to me. I will always deeply appreciate this opportunity.
In 1984, BKS came to San Francisco for the first (and only!) International Iyengar Yoga Convention and watched me teach for the first time (that was big fun…). With his seal of approval I became a member of the teacher training faculty and began to work with baby teachers, although still a bit raw myself. I remained on the faculty until 1993 when living in Boston made it impractical.
Upon my arrival In 1979 there were many Iyengar teachers, but no Iyengar yoga centers. There were also two political organizations, the California Yoga Teachers Association (CYTA) and BKS Iyengar Yoga Association of Northern California (IYANC) and two yoga businesses, Yoga Journal Magazine and the Institute for Yoga Teacher Education. The CYTA board of directors oversaw both YJ and IYTE and operated both as non denominational. The IYANC organized trips to India to study with Iyengar. My first yoga teacher, Judith Lasater was involved with all four entities and with her help and guidance I soon joined her on various boards and became involved in the world of yoga politics.
It was obvious that IYTE was essentially an Iyengar Yoga school and Judith, Judy Nichols and myself, the three members serving on the boards of both CYTA and the BKSIYANC, managed to broker a deal whereby the administration of IYTE was transferred from CYTA to the IYANC and the school was reborn as the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Fransisco. (IYISF) I was a bit naive going into this, but learned a lot quickly about egos and territoriality in the ‘spiritual community’. It was a good lesson. I did manage to become president of the IYANC and served as such for 7 years, (Reagan and I had con-current terms!). but that completed my political karma.
Judith, one of the founders of the YJ, was instrumental in getting my writing career started and in 1982 I wrote my first article for the Yoga Journal Magazine. I soon became a regular contributor and then contributing editor. (See my articles from those days here). Because of my writing I was invited to travel throughout the country giving workshops to students who had read my articles and wanted to check me out.
I was also blessed to study with many of the top Iyengar teachers during my San Francisco days. I developed a special affinity for the European teachers Dona Holleman, Victor Van Kooten and Angela Farmer. Donald Moyer of the Yoga Room in Berkeley was another inspiration. But my main teachers in those days were Judith Lasater and Ramanand Patel. Judith was my first real teacher and I was lucky to apprentice with her for several years in my own teaching infancy. She was very supportive on many levels (see above) and provided me a model for integrating both science and spirituality in teaching. Ramanand is an engineer and the most innovative teacher I have ever met. His understanding of and ability to present the deepest levels of Iyengar’s genius, sometimes with Rube Goldberg like prop creations, was inspiring and I was blessed to apprentice with him until I left for Boston in 1992.
But Iyengar himself was magical. Although not without some deep emotional conflicts, Iyengar demonstrated through his practice and therapeutic approach to yoga a mind boggling level of inner perception and sensitivity to the nuances of energy flow. Fortunately, he took a liking to me and a deep connection was established that lasted for 15 years. The intensives he taught for the teachers in India were challenging, creative and full of surprises. In 1991 we did a three week intensive on backbending. He liked guys, and the fact that I wrote for YJ didn’t hurt, but we are very sympatico on a cosmic level. His imprint on my practice and teaching is immeasurable.
My interests expanded in other ways as well. In the early 80’s I also took a series of classes with cosmologist Brian Swimme, and met Brian’s mentor, geologian Father Thomas Berry. This was another life changing experience as I was able to spend a lot of quality time with Brian and Thomas. Bea Briggs, Thomas and I presented their Cosmic Vision to the yoga world when we co-taught “Yoga and the Cosmic Creation Story”, an amazing week at The Feathered Pipe Ranch in Montana. Brian and Thomas resonate with me more than ever as the major transformations of the present moment and beyond are heating up. Thomas passed away a few years ago but Brian is going strong and you will see his influence on my web site.
Also, in 1980 or so, the IYTE teacher training program brought in an extraordinary anatomy teacher for us baby yogis. Frank Wildman was a dancer and choreographer fascinated by movement. He met Moshe Feldenkrais in the early 70’s, became his student, and has today become one of the top Feldenkrais teachers in the world. In those early days Frank guided us students through an experiential embodied sense of anatomy through subtle movements. This was radically different from the approach we were learning in ‘yoga’, and, although it took another 10 years for me to fully appreciate the need for a ‘movement intelligence’, one of his questions touched me so deeply it continues to informs my understanding today. ” How is the body organizing itself to create this movement?” This flipped my perspective inside out. Instead of how do ‘I’ do this, the notion of an inner bodily intelligence surprised and delighted me. The unfolding of this mystery continues to this day.
And one more major influence must be mentioned. Around the time of the big earthquake in fall of 1989, I discovered another ‘earth moving’ group of people, the structural integration community, the students and followers of the innovative body worker Ida Rolf. (Originally all followers were called Rolfers, but the community has grown and mutated and spun off variations of her teaching which all sit under the umbrella of “Structural Integration.) Andy ‘the crow bar” Crow took me through the ten session body intensive developed by Ida and the effect was revolutionary. Structural, emotional and psychological changes rippled through my being and these certainly played a role in the major changes that came in my life. Ida learned a lot from Yoga and I saw a lot of parallels between her work and Iyengars, especially around alignment.
1992 – 2006: Mystic River Yoga
In 1990, I left one relationship and became engaged to Kate, my student at the time. As you might imagine, that sent a few ripples through the yoga world, but you can’t fight karma. We left the Bay Area, got married in 1992, and moved back to Boston. I did not have a place to teach, so we converted our master bedroom into a mini yoga studio. I was also invited to teach at the Iyengar Yoga Institute of New York City where I met many wonderful yoga students. I made a monthly pilgrimage to the Big Apple and was blessed to be there for B.K.S.Iyengar’s visit and ceremonial blessing of the space.
While on our honeymoon in 1992, I was invited to teach in both Silkeborg and Copenhagen, Denmark (some of my yoga articles had been translated into Danish!) and fell in love with Copenhagen. Well known Iyengar Yoga teachers Klaus Wittig and his lovely wife Jette hosted us there and in the following years I was able to return to teach a few more times.
In 1993, Kate and I decided that we wanted our bedroom back and opened Mystic River Yoga in nearby Medford. We lasted for almost 13 years, offering classes and workshops, and building a great community of yoga students. In 1994, we offered our first annual Yoga Vacation on the island of St. John, and 21 years later, we are still returning every March for our yoga and snorkeling adventure. On December 14, 1996, our son Sean arrived. Sharing B.K.S. Iyengar’s birthday, as well as his initials (S.B.K.) was an interesting sign to say the least. Parenting became a major new source of learning and challenges, but also a bottomless well of love and delight.
Boston offered many other delights for my relentless curiosity. Wanting to follow up with the work with Andy Crow, I found ‘Rolfers’ in the Boston area and continued to work with them to unfold deeper layers of holding and confusion in the body. I began to see how many layers of my body were unconscious, in spite of all of the yoga I had been doing. What was that all about? I began to realize that I was working from the outside trying to get into the body, rather than feeling my way from the inside the body and exploring the pathways of releasing outward. Iyengar lived this naturally, but I was not feeling it and did not know how to find the way to live in that inner intelligence spontaneously. Two more phenomenal teachers appeared to guide me through this next phase.
The first was Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen. A somatic genius, a saint, an embodied scientist, a truly amazing woman, Bonnie introduced me to a whole new way of envisioning and experiencing the body. She has developed what is called ‘ Body-Mind-Centering, which, to describe it as simply as possible, is based upon being able to follow subtle nuances of movement; the extrinsic movements as the body moves through space, and the intrinsic movements of the organs, blood vessels and breath, that move through the body. Coming from the dance world, the possibility of moving from any of an infinite number of places is somewhat obvious. But for me this was revelatory. How does it feel to move from your kidneys? your liver?, your cerebro-spinal fluid? How about your mitochondria? Bonnie’s senstivity is off the charts and her ability to verbalize and demonstrate and evoke in you feelings that were unimaginable moments before is quite extraordinary. I realized that movement (duh!) was crucial in being able to feel and my approach to yoga was way to static.
After finding Bonnie and playing with subtle movements, I began to feel things that Iyengar was talking about and began to see his work from a whole new perspective. Unfortunately, the ‘political’ wing of the Iyengar community was not happy about my incorporating ‘non-officially-approved elements’ into my teaching and soon I became persona non grata in the more fundamentalist Iyengar circles. Not all, thank god, but, whatever. Bonnie continues to inspire me and currently she is driving my deep curiosity about awakening embryological movements and early cellular consciousness.” I look forward to studying with her whenever possible. Unfortunately for me she moved to Berkeley, CA from Amherst, MA, so she is no longer a neighbor, but I do get to see her every year somewhere.
Fortunately Bonnie came first, because if I had met Emilie Conrad first, it might have been too much for me to deal with. Emily was a force of nature, like Iyengar. She was a somatic genius and movement pioneer, an innovator, inspirer, a shaman, and all around wild woman. She nailed me right away: another yoga person, mechanical and controlled. It took a while to enter the shamanic realms of inner space, of vibrations and surprise that she would help create in her classes, but I hung in with her, eventually something shifted and I began to find even more inner freedom. Her use of unique breathing practices and sounds, along with her ability to take you through layered explorations through the tissues and cells of the body brought me to unnamed places, sensations and perceptions. And, I was able to discover these spaces in the yoga poses, if I was “careful.” Her death in early 2014 was a devastating loss for me.
In the early 90’s I met another key member of my inspirational team, another ‘Rolfer’, Tom Myers. When Kate and I first opened Mystic River Yoga, we were looking for new voices to bring to the yoga world and a friend recommended Tom. He was a long time student of Ida Rolf and Buckminster Fuller and in addition to being a great body worker, he had an amazing way of teaching anatomy. We began co-teaching; he’d do the anatomy and I would do the yoga and we built a great rapport where we could each play off the other in what we were presenting. These were the pre- ‘Anatomy Trains’ days as Tom’s vision was slowly coming into focus and now, many years later, I use Tom’s work as one of my fundamental teaching tools. Tom has gone on to found his own approach to Structural Integration know as Kinesis Myo-fascial Integration and his ‘Anatomy Trains’ book is used world wide by body workers and somatic explorers of all types.
And to continue the somatic story, Tom introduced me to Caryn McHose and Kevin Frank, soon to become two of my closest friends and serious teaching collaborators. Tom, Caryn and I co-taught a two week program in Mexico in 1996 to body workers who wanted to bring more depth and understanding to their work. Tom did the anatomy and body assessment, I taught yoga and Caryn taught the movement section. I had already been exposed to Bonnie, Emilie and subtle movement, but Caryn still blew my mind within the first 3 minutes of the first class. Her absolutely unique approach to somatic awakening still amazes me today. Kevin is a Rolfer and now husband to Caryn. He puts words to the somatic experience that really feed my verbal brain while keeping me embodied simultaneously. Not an easy thing to do. He has endless probing questions that keep you alert and thinking.
All of this richness fed my yoga practice and teaching but probably the most important connection I made in the 90’s was with Swami Dayananda. Ramanand’s sister lived near Swami’s ashram in Saylorsburg Pennsylvania and she introduced Ramanand to him. Ramanand also met Mukesh, they began their ‘Yoga and Sound’ collaborations at the Ashram, and, as a student of Ramanand, I went to check it out. Swami Dayananda is a unique spiritual teacher. Totally grounded in the Vedanta tradition, he lives in timelessness while having a penetrating and articulate way of presenting the teaching as an intimate aspect of our day to day lives. It took several years of being with him for a week and listening to his audiotapes and reading his writings before I ‘popped open’, but when it came, it was instant, total revelation. All of the teaching, the words, just melted away into pure knowing, or seeing.
No explanations possible, none necessary. Of course as Adyashanti describes, there is unabiding awakening and abiding awakening. The dude definitely did not abide! This is why Krishna describes ‘stitha prajna’ stable wisdom in chapter 2 of the Gita and Patanjali says ‘tada drashtuh svarupe avasthanam‘, the Seer rests its own nature with unshaken stability. Practice continues as life unfolds more and more layers of unresolved karma to be processed and transformed.
2006 – 2015
With the closing of Mystic River Yoga, a key element in my teaching came into focus, the dedication of my loyal and hard core students. Many have come and gone over the years, but the ones who have stayed with me through my constant permutations are my main source of learning these days. They are all creative, innovative beings who challenge, nurture and inspire me and I wish to express my deepest gratitude to all of them. It is an amazing journey we are all on. I continue to unfold the yoga teachings as Iyengar guided me, but with my own unique perspective on how to present the work.
In a strange way, the closing of Mystic River Yoga also was responsible for introducing my to another major influence on my practice and teaching, Dan Siegel. One of my students, Tal, volunteered the use of her home to keep the Wednesday morning class alive. She is an OT and had an interesting collection of books. I picked up “The Developing Mind”, Dan’s first book, and was flabbergasted. My inner neuroscientist was re-awakened and I now call Dan my ‘Rosetta Stone”. Through his amazing articulation, (he now has quite a few books out) I found a scientific language for the neural integration I knew intuitively from my practice. This opened up even more possibilities to accelerate the integrating practices of yoga. Dan in person is even more fascinating and I have become a Dan Siegel groupie. Fortunately he comes to Boston frequently, although he lives in LA. “Hebbs Axiom” for ever! He has also inspired my to write a commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras from a neuro-scientific yogi’s perspective.
In 2010 we began our search for our new home. Kate and I were both ready for warmer winters, so we explored Sedona, Arizona, a very cosmic place, and the area near Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico. Northern California, our old home, was also in the mix, but in 2012 the answer appeared. We bought a fixer-upper ranch style home the beautiful Ojai Valley in California. Long time home of Krishnamurti, filled with orange groves and orchards of all types of fruits and nuts, Ojai has an amazingly alive spiritual community and we are definitely being called there. We managed to visit several times a year to stay on top of the renovation project. Numerous new friends appeared, and many old and dear connections were re-established in Ojai, Santa Barbara, LA and San Francisco.
In June of 2015, we completed the move and are now full time residents of Ojai. Surrounded by mountains and oak trees, we are embedded in the wonders of Nature. Powerful energy lines and fields permeate the valley and the shamanic and dream time worlds are emerging clearly into the consciousness.
2016: New Directions in Teaching
A strong group of yogi/somanaut/dream time travelers are emerging up in the SF Bay area and my teaching is being drawn back to my roots there. Other colonies of journeyers can be found in Detroit, Rochester, NY and Boston.
In the fall of 2015, Kate and I went up to Big Sur and Esalen to take a course on shamanic journeying with Hank Wesselman and I discovered how effortless it is to enter the shamanic realms. There is much to learn about safety and practicality in such journeying, but I recognized this as the beginning of the next phase of my personal journey as well as my teaching.
Hank turned me on to Active Dream master Robert Moss, and, today, (July, 2017), I am beginning my third weekly on-line dream and shamanic journey class with him. Wild !! So much remembering and discovering in realms beyond the limitations of time and space. So much waiting to be explored. My on going workshops will be slowly incorporating these new insights and skills.
My newest teacher and music guru is Karl Hunter, local Ojai resident and sax player for the swing band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. He is training my mouth, lips, jaws, throat, diaphragm, fingers and auditory cortex and expanding my understanding of breathing. More air! I am loving this! Learning to deal with frustration is also part of the process.
As we refine our energetic alignment, stabilize our heart fields, mobilize and focus our energies and begin to access the dream time resources, we all can nurture the dramatic shift in consciousness roaring through the planet. Be a channel of light and wisdom, liberate your soul, and celebrate the awesome mystery of creation. Play more music. Dance and sing!
to be continued….