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A Little Samba in Your Samadhi: Yoga Report from Rio de Janeiro

Meeting NYC Trained Yoga Nomands in Rio de Janeiro
Posted on Yoga City NYC July 19, 2012

In 2007, I did my own personal yoga tour of Brazil and found the scene so baffling and different that I put away my notebooks and never wrote a word about it.

This June I spent a month in Rio de Janeiro and found that things have changed—on the yoga front and beyond. Brazil is now a country on the rise, with a growing middle class, a stable economy, the World Cup coming in 2014, followed by the Olympics in 2016. (And, sadly for me, prohibitive New York City-level prices as well.)

While many Brazilian yoga teachers still consider India the go-to place to train, (and others, rumor has it, train themselves from DVDs), still others are starting to go to the US for training, or inviting US teachers to come south. In short, the yoga scene is growing up with a definite NYC influence.

Within a few days of arriving in Rio, I found a yoga teacher who not only trained in New York but whose class was the best I’d taken—meaning, best suited to my needs and interests—in a good long while, anywhere in the world.

Kimberly Johnson is a pioneer. A dancer, she found yoga at 19 with a Viniyoga teacher in San Diego, and did her first training at Om Yoga – during one of the studio’s inaugural trainings at the original 14th street location. Not only that, but Johnson has done regular trainings with Rodney Yee and was also one of the first teachers to graduate from Richard Freeman’s Yoga Workshop in Boulder, Colorado. We had 27 Facebook friends in common.

Kimberly gives classes out of her apartment in the colonial neighborhood of Santa Teresa, set on a hill above Rio de Janeiro. She moved to Brazil for love and now lives here with her 5-year old daughter. Three times a week, I ran down the cobble-stoned streets to follow her precise instructions in English and Portuguese. The classes fit a maximum of 8-10 people in a parquet-floored salon where she also does Rolfing. Many of the houses in these neighborhoods were built centuries ago for rich merchants and French and Portuguese nobility, so above us hung blue and green-glass chandeliers.

One of my first times at Kimberly’s coincided with a full moon. Towards the end of an exacting class with long holds and repetitions of specific movements, Kimberly threw open the three-sided window that overlooked Guanabara Bay and the jutting stones of Pão D’Açucar and said, “Turn now to face the moon. We are moving through big changes as described in both the Vedic and Western astrology. So feel the energy in your nervous system and in your heart, and take courage from your practice.”

Through Kimberly I found what I’d begun to think was impossible: a Viniyoga-style group class that that challenged me physically and nourished me mentally. I also attended her first “urban retreat” that included a long walk in the nearby Tijuca forest where yellow-and-red striped toucans flew and adorable monkeys scampered in the palm trees.

Listening to Kimberly’s bilingual instructions also helped improve my Portuguese. And so when I went down from Santa Teresa to Ipanema in Rio’s Zona Sul (south zone), I was able to follow the instructions of another New York City-trained teacher, Coaracy Nunes.

Coaracy’s 7-year old studio, Blyss is distinctive in Rio—and in Brazil—for hosting a crew of international teachers as well as locals. Coaracy himself is a big-hearted guy who is in love with yoga, and especially the American yoga scene.

“In the US, it’s an open sadhana—but with concentration, focus, and knowledge. People here say, ‘I’m going to India to study.’ I say, go to a Yoga Journal conference! I’m a real fan of what’s going on in the US. It’s a beautiful mix of traditional and contemporary.”

Blyss is located on a busy street in Ipanema, just a few blocks from its famous beach, in a office building with other small health- and martial-arts studios. Its bright green walls and booming sound system make it a lively place to practice. Coaracy, whose NYC training consisted of attending at least 2 classes a day for 3 or 4 years at the old Jivamukti on 2nd Avenue, says his studio is in honor of the American scene. His teacher training is based on all the different styles of American yoga. He’s even hosted Krishna Das there for an intimate satsang.

“Yoga gives you a completely unfair advantage over other people—it gives you more focus, a healthier body, more presence. You can work longer because your back is happy. It gives you more energy and life. How can you not do it?”

Coaracy graduated from NYU’s Tisch School and works in interactive technologies to support the studio. When my bank card failed to dispense any money before his class, he happily hosted me anyway with the advice, “Don’t take it personally! It’s Brazil!”

Several blocks away in Ipanema, near Rio’s much-loved heart-shaped lagoon, is Joana Borges, a Carioca (Rio native) yoga teacher who works with a roster of private clients in their homes. She spent three months completing New York City’s Yoga Works teacher training after already studying with Brazilian teachers Marco Schultz and Pedro Kupfer, who are well-known in Brazil.

While at Yoga Works, Borges roomed with relatives in East Brunswick, New Jersey, and spent her down-time soaking in Manhattan’s yoga scene. Dharma Mittra, the Iyengar Studio, Laughing Lotus, Jivamukti—she tried to hit all the highlights.

“I loved New York City. The fact that you can go to a place with a lot of everything—good food, amazing yoga, jazz, theatre, dancing—whatever you want—was amazing for me. I loved being exposed to that culture and level of excellence.”

Borges, who sold her car in Rio to pay for her training in the US, discovered yoga at her gym while she was a young university student. “I was going to the gym to get curvy like the other girls. I was always so skinny. But then I found yoga and fell in love. I thought I was going into International Relations but instead I got yoga.” She is now starting a line of yoga clothing called Gam Yoga.

Returning up the hill to Santa Teresa from my explorations in Zona Sul, I felt fortunate to find yoga I really like in Rio. Often, it’s hard to find a class I really love, although curiosity (and need!) often takes me to local studios anyway. I still prefer to practice with the group and going to yoga is a great way to meet people. This time in Rio, it’s been a fun and interesting experience.

10 Can’t-Miss Snacks in Rio de Janeiro

10 Can’t-Miss Snacks in Rio de Janeiro
Posted on Fodor’s, July 11, 2012 at 5:02:08 PM EST

Bar food, street food, snack food, beach food—Rio de Janeiro thrives on snacks. And so will you, if you can find your way around the hundreds of the, at times, baffling options. Some foods will be easily recognizable, like empanadas (in Brazil called empadas) and churros. Others won’t resemble anything familiar, and will be made of things you cannot guess at. But that (and the fact that they’re delicious) is what makes them so much fun to hunt down and eat. Find your favorites and sample them at many, many locations city-wide. Trust us, every street corner has options.

Pão de Queijo

Literally “cheese bread,” these little balls of cheesy goodness are highly addictive. Made from yucca flour and several cheeses, they are best sampled hot from the oven, such as at the cafe Cultivar (locally known as Organico) in the neighborhood of Santa Teresa where they are made in several batches throughout the day so they are always fresh and incredibly delicious. They’re also vegetarian.

Insider’s Tip: Snacks sold in the subway are low quality—expect hard, dry, and flavorless foods. Purchase these only in moments of desperation!

Açai

Ah, yes the super-fruit. Made of a very bitter palm berry, sweetened to dessert-levels, açai has become popular in the US recently in everything from ice cream to moisturizers. In Rio, it comes in a heaping bowl or cup with granola sprinkled on top, either for breakfast or as an afternoon snack. Rich in protein, fiber and vitamin E, it’s served thick and cold (and is also gluten-free and vegetarian), to be eaten with a spoon.

Insider’s Tip: Cariocas (natives of Rio) add lots of sugar to their fruits so ask for less if you don’t have a sweet tooth: “pouco açucar” (po-co ass-soo-car) means “just a little sugar.”

Pipoca

Brazilians have made an art out of popcorn. Vendors will usually have two options: salty (salgado) and sweet (doce). The salty can come with the surprisingly delicious additions of cheese or bacon depending on the vendor, so ask for options, or look for the strips of bacon in the popcorn itself. The sweet has caramelized sugar darkening the kernels, and some vendors have condensed milk available to pour on top.

Insider’s Tip: For a portion of both sweet and salty popcorn, ask for “meia meia” (may-ah may-ah), or half and half.

Pastel

A large envelope of pastry enfolds hot fillings like cheese, meat, shrimp, or a combination. Pasteis (the plural of “pastel”) can sometimes also come in smaller sizes, deep fried, with about 6 or 7 to a portion, especially in bars. Locals rave about the large fresh ones available at the weekend markets in the Gloria or Laranjeiras neighborhoods.

Insider’s Tip: Pair your pastel with sugar cane juice (caldo de cana) for a perfect hangover cure.

Coxinhas

Translated as “little drumsticks,” these salgados (savory snacks) feature a thick, tear-shaped crust surrounding shredded, spiced chicken. Done well, these snacks are deeply satisfying and highly habit forming. Eat them as is, or with ketchup or pimenta (hot oil or salsa). Great with cold chope (draft beer) or as an afternoon snack.

Kibe

Of Arabic origins, this savory finger food has a dark and crusty whole wheat outside and spicy ground beef inside. Darker than a coxinha, which is more golden brown, kibes make a nice variation in the afternoon snack rotation, and are much beloved by Cariocas.

Tapioca

Found at street vendors and in cafes, tapiocas are cooked right in front of you on a hot griddle come in sweet or savory flavors. Tapioca are poured onto a hot griddle and form a crust during cooking, that is then filled with such things as chocolate and banana or cheese and tomato. Flip it over into an omelette shape, and you have yourself a substantial snack. Can be vegetarian and gluten-free.

Insider’s Tip: Street food carts are everywhere in Rio but are especially concentrated around Carioca metro station in Centro (downtown).

Biscoitos Globo

These puffed mandioc chips, sold on the beach and at street vendors, are a tasty variation on potato chips. The mandioc, also a starchy tuber like the potato (and yucca), is light as popcorn, puffed into the shape of an innertube, and seasoned to be sweet or savory, as you like. Sold by the package, they don’t look at first like snacks, but you’ll soon recognise the yellow packages with either green or red lettering.

Caldinho de Feijão

It’s as easy as a cup of black bean soup. When you’re out late drinking chope (draft beer) or caipirinhas, or need an afternoon pick me up after sight-seeing, a warming caldinho does the trick. Thick and simple, it’s related to the much more elaborate feijoada, the national dish with a black bean stew at the center. This smaller version is often served at bars and will come in a coffee mug. It’s inexpensive, nutritious, and tasty.

Insider’s Tip: Vegetarians be warned: unless otherwise stated, soups will contain meat, even a simple bean soup.

Kebabs

Served on street corners near bars and at street sambas (impromptu samba gatherings), street kebabs usually consist of skewers of pork, beef, or chunks of sausage or chicken, grilled street-side and rolled in farofa (toasted manioc flour). Pratos, or small plates, will come with one or two skewers, a salad of chopped tomatoes and onions, and a mound of toasted farofa.

Insider’s Tip: Kebabs can become dinner, especially if you order a couple of plates. Order some and share them around with friends, old and new, as is the local custom.

For full photo credits see original article here.

Montreal’s Underground Art Scene

Published on Fodors.com June 8, 2012.

Montreal is home to a famous summer jazz festival, excellent comedy, chewy bagels, and the late-night, high-cal snack food called poutine (french-fries, gravy and cheese curd). But what you may not know, is that it’s also home to a very vibrant underground art scene.

While Montreal has plenty of commercial galleries and respectable museums, its artist-run-centers were established in the 70s and 80s as a way for artists to explore art for art’s sake, and they have been showcasing new ideas ever since.

What’s more, Montreal’s scene is the only place in North America where francophone artists can show in their own language, making it a hub for emerging Quebeckers. Artist-run-centers exist in the Griffintown district south of the city center, as well as downtown, in the cafe-filled Mile-End district, and beyond.

Spend a couple of days exploring the following destinations to get a sense of la belle citée’s lesser known and very lively art scene.

Griffintown District: Darling Foundry/Quartier Ephemere
$5 Tues-Sun 12-5pm; free Thursdays
Situated in an old iron foundry on a quiet street south of downtown, the Darling Foundry/Quartier Ephemere is a gorgeous old brick building comprised on the street level of two main galleries and a restaurant. Upstairs, local and international artists have studio spaces and workshops, open periodically for public viewing. To conserve operating costs, the Foundry hosts only four major shows a year, so research ahead for times and openings.

Insider’s Tip: Go for the art, stay for lunch since the on-site restaurant is excellent. Afterwards, walk down to the river to view Old Montreal stone buildings and churches.

Downtown: Optica
Tues-Sat, 12-5pm. Free.
In the heart of downtown, the 19th century Belgo building on St. Catherine’s street houses many small artistic and alternative businesses (and in itself is worth a visit), of which the Optica gallery is one. With its wide creaky floors and long pale hallways, the building is an evocative home for the gallery, which was established in 1972 to showcase national and international art, curatorial programs, and critical writing. Allow yourself some time to wander the halls, as the building houses commercial galleries as well.

Downtown: Skol
Tues-Sat, 12-5pm. Free.
In business since 1984, Skol focuses on artists at the beginning of their careers, and like Optica, is dedicated to exploratory or experimental work. The gallery, located on the third floor of the Belgo building, offers master classes and participates in international biennials. Visit their interactive learning resources for visitors on their website at Skol.ca/en/apprendre.

Insider’s Tip: Take a short walk down St Catherine’s Street from the Belgo Buidling to Place des Arts and catch live high-end theater and music.

Mile End District: Articule
Tues-Thurs 12-6pm, Fri 12-9pm, Sat-Sun 12-5pm. Free.
The only Montreal artist-run-center with a bilingual board, Articule is located in the artist-saturated neighborhood of Mile End (look for the bright green facade at street level). This gallery focuses on interdisciplinary art that has a social aspect to it. For example, a 2012 installation repurposed people’s defunct electronics in new and strange contexts, and included maps of where the objects came from, where they ended up as well as images of how they were transformed.

Insider’s Tip: Pick up a free map of Mile End art (“circuit d’art) while you’re at Articule and make a day touring the cultural spaces in the neighborhood.

Insider’s Tip #2: Walk east from Articule to Le Centre Clark along Fairmount Avenue and have a bagel at the famous Fairmount bagel factory-—it’s a true Montreal experience.

Mile End District: Le Centre Clark
Tues-Sat 12-5pm. Free.
Tucked in a side-street at the eastern border of Mile End, Le Centre Clark emphasizes exhibitions, performances and publications, as well as event exchanges with art organizations internationally. Founded in 1988, the center operates mostly in French, although its artists come from all over.

Insider’s Tip: Walk west along St. Viateur Street to find a host of cafes popular with Mile End residents.

Jean-Talon Market District (Little Italy): Eastern Bloc
7240 Clark, 2nd floor, Tues-Sun, 12-5pm. Free.
The newest artist-run-center, and only one in Montreal run exclusively in English, Eastern Bloc was established in 2007 in a former party space for young creative types. Housed on the 2nd floor of a gigantic warehouse building, Eastern Bloc focuses especially on new media and interdisciplinary art, and makes a point of welcoming artists just out of graduate school or at the very beginning of their careers. Digital and electronic arts, audio, and video installations and multimedia performances comprise much of their programming.

The Path to the Yoga Sutras

The Path to the Yoga Sutras: A Practical Guide to the Core of Yoga by Nicolai Bachman

Many serious yoga practitioners pore over Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and any reputable yoga teacher training will require this foundational text for its students. But just as many people find the mysterious aphorisms, Sanskrit, and multitude of commentaries intimidating. Nicolai Bachman, a Santa Fe-based Sanskritist and yoga teacher, has compiled The Path of the Yoga Sutras to address this issue.

Rather than going through the sutras verse by verse as most commentaries do, Bachman spotlights the text’s core concepts (51 by his count), following a similar structure to the Yoga Sutras home study course he released last year. Continue reading ‘The Path to the Yoga Sutras’

Yoga Is

Yoga Is: A Film About the Transformational Power of Yoga written and directed by Suzanne Bryant

Yoga Is is Suzanne Bryant’s paean to yoga, an homage to the practice that held her together while her mother was dying of breast cancer. In gratitude, the former journalist explores yoga’s mysterious power—to engender love, happiness, and transformation—through interviews with such yoga world celebrities as Sharon Gannon and David Life, Alan Finger, Baron Baptiste, Seane Corn, Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, and Shiva Rea. She also travels to India (though we see her there mostly with American teachers). Skillfully produced, the film charts similar territory to Kate Churchill’s thornier 2008 film Enlighten Up! but with a much less critical eye. Still, this is a good documentary for newcomers unfamiliar with yoga’s higher purpose, showing without a doubt that yoga is more than a sweaty workout.

published in Yoga International, Fall 2011 issue

Yoga Woman

Yoga Woman: Never Underestimate the Power of Inner Peace a film written, produced and directed by Kate and Saraswati Clere

“Women have made yoga an international phenomenon and a multi-billion dollar industry,” observes Yoga Woman, a documentary from sisters Kate and Saraswati Clere. While yoga benefits both genders, Western women now dominate the practice, and they’re bringing issues such as body image, fertility, and family/work balance to the forefront. The film attempts to spotlight women of every age, race, situation, and nationality (though it remains U.S.-centered), and includes moving footage of pioneer teachers Patricia Walden and Angela Farmer, Seane Corn’s crew of yoginis building a birthing center in Uganda, and Indra Devi, “First Lady of Yoga,” who pestered paterfamilias T. Krishnamacharya until he accepted her as his student. In the end, Yoga Woman is a testimony to yoga’s transcendent power to calm, heal, challenge, and transform both individuals and societies.

published in Yoga International, Fall 2011 issue

Fierce Medicine

Fierce Medicine: Breakthrough Practices to Heal the Body and Ignite the Spirit, by Ana T. Forrest.

This generous and straight-talking book showcases Ana Forrest’s intelligence and creativity as a healer, while dipping into memoir to detail the extreme abuse she suffered as a child. Born crippled, Forrest (the creator of Forrest Yoga) was imprisoned, drugged, starved, and raped from the age of two, and started drinking alcohol at four. At six, she began working in a nearby stable to escape her sadistic family, and, at 17, while working as a horse trainer, she attempted suicide by jumping off a cliff. As remarkable as her recovery from these soul-crushing experiences is her perspective—rebellious, inquisitive, and clear-eyed.
Continue reading ‘Fierce Medicine’

Himalayan Masters Awaken New York – But to What?

How often does the New York Times offer critique-free write-ups of enlightened gurus from the Himalayas? In early January, their Cityroom blog ran a cute buzz piece on Mahayogi Pilot Baba and his teaching companion Yogmata Keiko Aikawa.

Wondering what was up, YogaCity NYC asked me to check them out. Were they for real? I am not a stranger to working with masters. I’ve been attending the Living Tantra series with Rajmani Tigumait, a Vedic scholar; received hugs from Amma, and had a daily meditation practice created for me by Gary Kraftsow, a senior teacher in Desikachar’s lineage.

Even so. . . Research told me that Pilot Baba was often a headlining saddhu at the Kumbh Mela, India’s enormous, once-every-three-years spiritual festival. As a pilot in the Indian Air Force, the story goes, he had been rescued from certain death by Continue reading ‘Himalayan Masters Awaken New York – But to What?’

War & Peace of Mind

The U.S. Military Embraces Holistic Healing

The U.S. Military’s ideas of fitness are changing, and in some surprising ways. In December 2009, the Department of Defense brought together over 70 experts to explore the possibility of a holistic approach to health that includes physical, psychological, and spiritual health. The results, published in the August 2010 edition of Military Medicine, outlined the radical new concept of “Total Force Fitness”—eight interconnected concepts for health, half of which focus on mind-body, spirit, community, and psychological wellness.

Ideas about holistic health are more often heard in yoga studios than in war rooms. But with thousands of service members coming home with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), brain injuries, chronic pain, and sleep disorders—and many thousands more expected as wards in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down—the military is looking for a broader range of effective long-term treatments. Continue reading ‘War & Peace of Mind’

Field Notes

Developing Educational Standards for Yoga Therapists

What is a yoga therapist versus a yoga teacher? Is yoga therapy clinical or relational or both? Should training standards start low (200 hours) to be more accessible, or start high (1,000 hours) so that they are rigorous and safe?

These are some of the hard questions that the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) has been debating since the fall of 2009 in an effort to establish minimum standards for yoga therapists-in-training.
Continue reading ‘Field Notes’

Tantra Weekend Getaway

The Scoop on this Misunderstood Tradition

“So how does that work,” asked a New York yogi friend after my weekend Tantra workshop at the Himalayan Institute. “You went up there with a partner or something?”

No such luck.

My weekend at the tranquil ashram in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, was the opposite of a hook up: 10 hours of lecture, 2 asana classes, simple vegetarian meals, and quiet grounds. My fellow attendees were yoga teachers, life coaches, construction workers, students and doctors, level-headed people who either knew Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, the spiritual head of the Institute, or had heard of him through friends and teachers. Unlike the last Tantra workshop Tigunait gave in the late 90s, no one in attendance seemed to expect an orgy.
Continue reading ‘Tantra Weekend Getaway’

Lulu Bandha’s LuluVu (media)

Lulu Bandha’s LuluVu, lulubhandas.com

At LuluVu—the online studio counterpart of California yoga community Lulu Bandha’s, helmed by Kira Ryder—simply signing in gets you several free classes. Monthly packages, workshops with visiting teachers (think Eric Schiffmann, Dana Flynn), and highlights from retreats are reasonably priced. And, the abundant offerings are frequently updated so there’s no shortage of inspiration.

published in Yoga International, Winter 2010-2011 issue

Yoga Anatomy Online Course

Yoga Anatomy Online Course by Leslie Kaminoff, yogaanatomy.net

With 25 years’ experience teaching anatomy, Leslie Kaminoff launched his popular Yoga Anatomy course in an online format this fall. The nine-month intensive covers three major areas—breathing, the spine, and the articular body—and inlcudes instructional videos, weekly online chats, and homework. Even better, it counts as 144 non-contact credit hours with Yoga Alliance.

published in Yoga International, Winter 2010-2011 issue

The Guru in You

The Guru in You: A Personalized Program for Rejuvenating Your Body and Soul by Yogi Cameron Alborzian

Former male supermodel Cameron Alborzian has written a compulsively readable book on yoga and ayurveda, littered with stories from his modeling career, personal life, and therapeutic work with clients. The Guru in Yoga aims to get people on the path of health and healing by helping them set clear intentions, work with breath and asanas, and apply ayurvedic techniques. For those who can’t afford Alborzian’s handsome services, this book is a helpful alternative.

published in Yoga International, Winter 2010-2011 issue Continue reading ‘The Guru in You’