The City Yogi and the Country Yogi

Part Two of the trip to LA for the yoga and scoliosis workshop with Elise Miller.

3 a.m.

The psychic force in me to write is stronger than my need for sleep. Already the scene from last Friday night, as Olivia and I entered the yoga room full of students with twisting, turning, curvy, bendy, zigzagging spines, is fading. I can’t resist working on the story while the world is still and dark, while cool night air wafts through the wide-open windows and the sound of crickets is like a balm. No writing workshop could provide a more perfect setting.

Just as I wrote that, Honey started whining, alerting me that there are intruders outside. I muffle her barking and listen intently. Sure enough, if I stop typing and hold still I can hear nocturnal creatures moving about through the bushes and branches, chewing, gnawing, and occasionally breaking a twig.

This awareness of nature right outside my door, after only three days in sealed buildings where the windows would barely open, where the whoosh of the freeway never stops, where garish billboards urge families to dine on pizza and coke, fills me with gratitude. Like the country mouse in Aesop’s fable, after visiting the city yogis I’m utterly content to be back in my humble home, living the life of a country yogi.

Before I go further, I should mention that, when our ride from Ojai dropped us off on La Cienega Boulevard, there was the dilemma of how to get back to the Marriott Courtyard when the evening session ended at 9 p.m. In my small-town brain I was optimistically assuming that I’d surely see someone I knew, or would ask around and find that someone driving in our direction would give us a lift back to the hotel—that’s the way it would happen in Ojai.

So there we were at the Iyengar Yoga Institute in L.A., sitting cross-legged on our mats, two folded blankets under our bottom. Scanning the room, I was happy to see that there were students of all ages, including several young men. I wanted Olivia to meet other people in her age range who were doing yoga for scoliosis.

For those of you who don’t know the workshop teacher, Elise Miller is a Senior Certified Iyengar Yoga teacher from Palo Alto who teaches yoga throughout the United States and internationally. She works with a wide range of health professionals, including surgeons, chiropractors, Rolfers, and other therapists. I first met Elise in the mid ’70s while attending the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco. She’s a world-renowned expert in the field of yoga and back care—professional and compassionate, plus totally fun and down to earth.

The word “scoliosis” is derived from the Greek word skol, which means twists and turns. The Friday session began with Elise running her fingers along each student’s spine, feeling the twists and turns to help everyone identify their particular scoliosis.

She gave us a handout with drawings of the four main curves. Here’s a link to an explanation of the curves:

Elise gave a PowerPoint presentation describing the anatomy of scoliosis, rib displacement, twists in the shoulders and hips, and how scoliosis shifts the body’s center of gravity. The most obvious symptoms of scoliosis are cosmetic, but pain and cardiopulmonary complications (due to compression of the heart and lungs) are also common. (This is the main reason why my niece Olivia was scheduled for surgery back in May.)

When the evening session ended, I began asking around as we made our way out of the yoga room to see if anyone was headed in the direction of the Marriott Courtyard. I soon realized what should have been obvious even to a country bumpkin like me: L.A. is not like Ojai, where almost anywhere you might live is only a few minutes out of someone’s way. One of the assisting teachers was kind enough to look at a map with us. But, as much as she wanted to help us out, our hotel was in the opposite direction from where she lived in Santa Monica.

So Olivia and I found ourselves outside near Babies R Us, which was still fully lit, with families shopping, even though it was getting close to 10 p.m. “Well,” I thought, “we have 24-hour fitness; why not 24-hour shopping?” The idea of the sun dictating one’s activities is passé.

Fortunately, as a backup plan our Ojai driver had arranged for something called Uber, which I later learned is a close cousin of the concept of car sharing, an alternative to taking a bus or taxi. I felt completely safe with savvy 18-year-old Olivia by my side. No need to freak out; with her iPhone the whole world was at our fingertips! After a brief conversation, she announced that our Uber driver would arrive in 10 minutes.

Our driver arrived promptly, as promised. It felt a little bit strange to get in a car with a stranger, but Olivia had her iPhone and our friend from Ojai had the name of the driver on his screen, too. The trip back to the hotel that earlier had taken almost an hour in peak traffic took only about fifteen minutes.

Soon we were safely inside the Marriott, where a Friday night wedding was merrily rolling along in full swing. I wanted to walk up the stairs to get an aerial view of the festivities below, but the plush carpeted stairs stopped on the second floor. So up we flew in the elevator, back to our room on the 7th floor.

Not having a TV at home, the giant flat screen next to our giant bed was a novelty. Olivia flicked on the cooking channel, and after a few minutes I begged her to find something else. Then we stumbled on the adventure channel, where we caught a rerun of the man who walked a tightrope across the Grand Canyon. He was praying to the Almighty to keep him from plummeting to his death. The camera zoomed in to the faces of his wife and children watching their beloved husband and father teetering on the brink of eternity. Olivia remarked, “If I were his wife or kid, I would be so angry at him for putting us through this!”

When I woke up early the next morning, I felt confident enough to venture out alone, without the still-sleeping Olivia. I took my cell phone and key card and headed for the elevator. Turning to where I thought the elevator doors would be, all I saw was the snack vending machines, signs for how to escape in case of fire, and some unfamiliar-looking doors that appeared to have a plastic shower curtain hanging over them.

So, eager for a cup of coffee and still half asleep, I decided to open the door that said “Stairs.” As I walked down, I began to feel like one of those characters in a scary movie. These were cold, barren concrete stairs that looked like no one had used them in years . . . I quickened my pace. When I saw a door that said “Fourth Floor,” I thought I had better open it and try again to find the elevator.

But that door opened to an empty room, and I didn’t want to risk getting lost. So I just kept speedwalking down the stairs until I hit the ground floor door, which led to a kitchen area that I quickly slunk through, and then I found myself deposited in the dining room. I sat down and tried to look normal while a friendly server brought me coffee. I called Olivia on my cell and told her I’d wait for her to come down for breakfast. When I told her the saga of how I couldn’t find the elevator, she thought that was the funniest thing she’d ever heard. I later learned that those doors that looked to my eyes to be covered by a plastic shower curtain had long since replaced the classic dark elevator doors. My old brain just hadn’t computed it!

Part Three and photos of the workshop to come.

Photo credit: Olivia Klein, “self portrait” of Olivia enjoying her yoga practice


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