Who Is Leah?

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My yoga journey started as a result of being in a dance major program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, B.C. I remember the day well. I was in a ballet class where my lower back seized up on me and I could barely walk out of class. I feared that this was the end of my dance career. I was devastated as all I wanted to do was rehearse, choreograph, and perform dance.

I underwent x-rays, a chemo papin injection, massage, chiropractic care and I walked with a cane at age 19. I cried out in pain. A friend recommended an orthopedic surgeon who helped heal back injuries with Iyengar yoga instead of surgery. I made an appointment.

My first visit was memorable because it was excruciating. I was placed on a massage table by the doctor with my torso hanging over the table, basically in dandasana. It hurt like blazes. The pain from 1-10 was a 10!

I started attending Iyengar Yoga classes at a community center, also referred to me by my friend. The classes were a lot less painful and I remember doing a lot of utthita hasta padangusthasana standing on one leg with the other leg up on a table. We’d do it facing the leg, out to the side, and then twisting facing the leg up on the table. We also did a lot of triangle poses (utthita trikonasana) to the point where I was comfortable doing triangle pose on my own at home.

Triange pose became my friend because it was the only thing that kept my sciatic pain at bay. One day a couple of years later, I was walking on Broadway in the Kitsilano area in Vancouver. I stopped for a moment because something extraordinary had happened. It occurred to me that I was no longer in pain. I wasn’t exactly sure when the pain had stopped but I was so relieved to no longer be in pain. I realized then that Iyengar Yoga was healing and for me. In fact, when I didn’t do utthita trikonasana for a few days a dull pain would return so I decided this was a lifelong path I would follow.

When I moved to San Francisco in the 1980s I was fortunate to live close to the Iyengar Yoga Institute and attended class there with Donna Farhi and Arthur Kilmurray. Then I moved to Oakland and attended classes with Rodney Yee. When Rodney started travelling, he encouraged me to teach and so that’s when I started teaching yoga.

During this time, I also started practicing yoga at home either before or after my full time job. It helped to relieve stress and stiffness. I worked in San Francisco and again was fortunate to be close to two Iyengar yoga teachers, Octavia Morgan at Satori Yoga and Athena Pappas at the YMCA. After I stopped commuting to San Francisco, I continued my home practice and went to classes at the Yoga Room with Mary Lou Weprin.

About 3 years ago, a friend of mine asked if I was interested in attending a yoga class with her at Adeline Yoga, which is Iyengar-based. Of course, I said yes. I was instantly attracted by the excellent teaching and strong community. I currently take classes there with Heather Haxo Phillips and Michael Lucey. I learn so much from having different teachers as it helps me grow and heal my body, mind and spirit. Of course, my primary teacher/guru is Mr. Iyengar. I know he’s passed from this life but my appreciation for him continues to grow and thus my greatest inspiration comes from him.

Also, while in college I came upon a book that would change my life forever called Creative Visualization. I started to meditate and found that it helped me cope with the high level of stress in my life — with my family life, being a lesbian, and my aching back. A friend introduced me to Sri Chinmoy who taught meditation by concentrating on a beautiful object like a flower and I really enjoyed this practice and community of meditators. Since then, I’ve enjoyed leading guided meditations with a variety of groups and have received positive feedback for my voice, tone, and timing.

While visiting a local synagogue I saw a ballet class and urged my mother to enroll me. I started ballet when I was 5 years old. Dance is as natural to humans as walking. Children dance before they walk. I also studied modern dance, both in high school and then in college. I loved to dance at school and friends’ parties. I participated in Jewish folk dances at bar mitzvahs and weddings and even partook in some Greek folk dances.

Now I dance at Kirtan gatherings either solo or with friends and community. It’s my offering to – and a receiving from – the gods and goddesses. It’s an expression of gratitude and devotion for all of life. In Kirtan, we’re asked to surrender all of ourselves, including our challenges and pain. Dance helps me express myself fully and deeply and feel the oneness with my community and the divine cosmos.

Shiva or Nataraja is depicted as the lord of the dance, showing the perfect gracefulness, fearlessness and joyful rhythmic movement in the world that is creation, destruction and all things in between. I meld my dance aesthetics and my yoga teachings with these encouraging words from B.K.S. Iyengar in his book Light on Life, “Emotions are transformed and expressed in sentimental terms, gestures, and poses in the composition of Indian Classical dance.”

I am grateful that my journey has lead me back to yoga, dance, and meditation. I am currently working part-time managing Adeline Yoga by supporting the studio owner, students and teachers and as a yoga instructor.

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