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Annie Carpenter: The Reverberating Voice of the Teacher

December 12, 2013

Republished from LA Yoga Magazine – December/January 2014 Issue

DECEMBER 5, 2013

By Julie Buckner

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On a Sunday morning in late September, Annie Carpenter approached me in class, “Julie, I notice your knees are moving into hyperextension. You need to lift the arch of your foot and work to press your calf forward, even in Virabhadrasana One.”  Now, every time I practice Warrior One, I hear Annie Carpenter.

Her voice resounds throughout the yoga community in Los Angeles; she’s a teacher’s teacher. “If you haven’t practiced or trained with Annie, your teacher, or your teacher’s teacher, has,” a well-known instructor quipped. “There are only two degrees of separation between Annie and everyone else doing yoga in LA.’”

Come January, after nearly two decades of teaching in LA, she’ll be moving to the Bay Area with her partner of ten years, Sam Lehmer, and teach at Yoga Tree. She promises to come back to visit often, and to continue offering her trademark 200- and 300-hour SmartFLOW teacher trainings here.

I sat down with Annie the day before her 56th birthday at her home in Venice, within walking distance (she doesn’t like to drive) from Exhale Center for Sacred Movement, where she’s taught for the past four years.

“Why do I hear your voice in my head?” I asked. Her answer, “You know, I still hear Martha Graham’s voice. Voice is one of the most vital tools a teacher has; it allows us to communicate who we honestly are.”

She continued, “I don’t like to make things too flowery. I use very simple, clear and direct language, in much the same way that a Sutra is short and memorable.”

annie2Annie has practiced yoga for almost 40 years. She started as a troubled teen; her Southern parents sent her to yoga to set her straight. When she was a Graham dancer and teacher in New York in her 20s, she studied Integral Yoga with Swami Satchidananda. Later working as a professor of modern dance at a small Midwestern university, Annie practiced Iyengar Yoga and also earned a Gestalt therapy degree. In her late 30s, she became disinterested in “grading people for art;” and yoga, rather than dance, became her dharma.

Leaving her job and marriage behind in 1995, she came to Santa Monica to study Ashtanga “at a time in her life when change was the right thing for her,” said former YogaWorks owner, Maty Ezraty, who was one of Annie’s first teachers in town.  In 1997, she completed teacher training with Ezraty and Lisa Walford.  “It was,” remembers Walford, “a stellar group of characters,” including Natasha Rizopolous, Russ Pfeiffer, and Karen Voight.

“Annie was a great student; one of my best,” Ezraty said in an interview from her home in Hawaii. “Yoga was in her skin. I knew she was going to teach.”

Asana and meditation are daily practices for Annie. For six years, Insight LA founderTrudy Goodman has been Annie’s meditation teacher. Annie brings, “the same level of dedication, integrity and open-heartedness” to meditation that she does with yoga – with “a beginners mind,” said Goodman.

“Because I practice and because my practice is always changing, I continue being creative and innovative in terms of how I arrive at the aims of classical yoga,” Annie explained.

This approach is the basis for Annie’s SmartFLOW system.  “People come to my training because they want to work hard. They want to understand the practice and themselves,” she says. Insisting she’s presenting “methodology instead of formula,” according to Annie, “method implies possibility, exploration, inquiry,” allowing “every student at any level at any time of their life to consider the same questions, pursue the same goals.”  Her method also gives teachers, “creativity while still staying true” to yoga.

SmartFLOW grew “organically” from Annie’s understanding that “bendy people, young people, old people, stiff people, or people in chairs,” need a practice that will last a lifetime. “I don’t care if they ever get their feet behind their head. My hope for my students is that they can pay attention and be present to whatever comes, with great acceptance and love.” Presence and attention are major themes in Annie’s work.

Best known for focusing on anatomical alignment, Annie’s teaching ensures safety. But alignment also helps practitioners build capacity for “presence.” “Why do we care about alignment?  It’s a way to learn about dharana, taking a single point of focus, then expanding your awareness to multiple points, leading to samadhi: All things present at one time.”

Another hallmark is sequencing. She emphasizes practices that “express certain intentions and create specific effects.” She explains, “The key to my sequencing: Build awareness in a relaxed state and move more and more deeply in a singular vein. Disarm through relaxation and open through a steady build of awareness, then find power and freedom through more advanced asana. Finishing poses bring the body and mind back to quiet, peaceful stillness.”

“She’s sneaky,” said Jeanne Heilman. “She’ll tell you to ‘bend your knee, bend your knee more,’ and then you walk out of class and can barely get to your car.”

Walford said Annie’s most significant contribution to teaching yoga is showing that, “flow can be effectively taught, attending to safe alignment/good biomechanical principles, and stimulate the student emotionally and spiritually.”

With a reputation for being self-disciplined and demanding of students, what few people see is that Annie can also be “playful and silly,” said David Lynch. “She’s also a goof-ball with great jokes and perfect timing,” Heileman said. Ezraty: “She’s a ham.”

As with anyone who’s complex and subtle, there’s always more to the story. People say Annie is harsh, critical, and mean; she’s been known to make people cry. I asked her about it. “My job as a classical yoga teacher is to help people pay attention,” she said. “And while meanness doesn’t help that, being insistent and unrelenting does. Sometimes it feels mean to people because that process is so challenging. I do hope and believe though that they’ll recognize I have so much compassion, because I’m still in the middle of it, and always will be.”

“Annie can be hard and stern but it comes from a place of deep, abiding love of the practice and caring for her students,” said teacher David Lynch. He shared a story about a class years ago. Annie was teaching headstand. “I automatically went towards the wall. She asked ‘Where are you going, David?’ You’re done with the wall.’ She sent me to the middle of the room. Annie knew it was time for me to take the training wheels off,” he said. “She was right.”

“Annie pushes everyone to their edge, which is where we do our best work,” said Kasey Luber of Big Happy Day. Annie’s response, “I’m very comfortable with edges.”

Another student said with concern, “I’ve felt a cold distance, a separation.” But, said Annie, “If you want to be a certain kind of teacher, you don’t get to be friends with your students.”

“Someone recently told me, ‘You’re like the best kind of mean mom. Tough, clear, honest — but underneath, you’re loving,’” Annie recounts. She is a motherly figure for many yogis in LA. “Annie touches people deeply, sustained over a long period, like a parent,” remarked Clio Manuelian.

Anticipating Annie’s departure, there’s lots of discussion about her “softening” over the years, attributed to several things: re-establishing herself at Exhale after YogaWorks; her meditation practice; her relationship with Lehmer; and simply, time.  Heileman explained, “There was always a deep, sweet, vulnerable part of Annie that most people didn’t know. Time led her to step into her own voice, and that helped her soften in public.”

I asked Annie how she’s feeling about moving away, knowing she won’t be teaching as many weekly classes. “It’s producing a lot of personal anxiety for me. But, gosh, I need a break. I’ve been pushing really hard for a long time. I’m interested in creating space and trying to be open to whatever comes up.”  She continued, “I have a feeling that for the first six months, I’m going to practice like crazy and be sitting gobs. The message of my 50s is to come into better balance.”

With a quivering voice and teary eyes, Tiffany Russo captured the essence of Annie’s gift. “She teaches us everything that yoga’s about, all of it, in an hour and a half.” Annie Carpenter teaches the yoga of transformation.

Annie is beloved and revered by students and teachers, many of whom she’s guided for years. “She’s more than a teacher, she’s a mentor, and that’s why people continue to come back to her room, day after day, year after year,” Russo said.

“On the mat, Annie is the voice in my head. She directed me with a gentle force to teaching. I will miss her, but feel her work with me is deeply imbedded,” Patty Pierce said. The teacher always speaks from within.

Annie Carpenter can be found online at: anniecarpenter.com

Julie Buckner is a yogini, writer, mom, public affairs and marketing consultant, and owner and CEO of InYoga. She recently attended Annie Carpenter’s teacher training program: inyogacenter.com. 

Please Stay, Christine Day!

November 20, 2013

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RePosted: 11/20/2013 5:11 pm from HuffPo

I have one of those “women’s bodies.” You know, the ones with thick thighs that rub together. But I do wear lulu. I’m a Wunder Under lover. ( My family even owns stock in the company!) I’ve lived in my lulus for a long time, despite my thighs. But that’s not the point of this piece.

Here’s the point: lululemon, please bring back Christine Day!

Ms. Day, 51, who announced in June that she’d be stepping down as soon as a successor was named, is still acting in her capacity as CEO. But she’s been rather quiet lately. And her silence has left a void of leadership, a void into which lulu Founder and Chairman of the Board Chip Wilson has stepped (back) in, to his own discredit, and to the detriment of lululemon.

I recognize that his foray into the limelight last week was not an official corporate initiative, but there is no denying that his name and image — his brand, which he calls “Whil” — is interchangeable with lululemon.

Wilson’s “sad”-puppy-faced apology (presumably to lulu employees, not the public) was pitiful and pathetic. Interestingly, no one from lulu — certainly not Christine Day — has commented on the record about this thunder thigh, foot-in-mouth fuck up on Bloomberg TV. Clearly, the company doesn’t want to go near that thing with a 10-foot bolt of Luon. They know it’s bad (Wilson’s been bad, very bad, before). He doesn’t take direction from anyone: he acted as lone ranger, consistent with his Ayn Rand-ian philosophy (“The man who lets a leader prescribe his course is a wreck being towed to the scrap heap”). He probably doesn’t take criticism from anyone either.

Since Day announced her resignation, Wilson has been acting spokes-thing for the company. He recently announced, “on behalf of the Board” that the company had hired Tara Poseley as Chief Product Officer after her predecessor took the fall and was fired for the too-sheer yoga pants crisis. In an Oct. 30 lulu press release, Wilson assures shareholders and the public that Poseley will “fit perfectly in the lululemon culture.”

It is widely assumed that Day, in “resigning,” has been in the hot seat for the same panty problem. And I guess it’s true. But, when I first I heard the news about her departure, it seemed really silly to me that CEO Day would go down (her own pants) for this — someone had already been blamed. And while stock prices did take an immediate dive, share prices have recovered. It doesn’t seem that profitability has been affected, nor has the proliferation of new store openings. After all, in the 5-plus years Day has led lulu, its annual revenue quintupled to $1.37 billion. In the quarter leading up to her resignation, gross profit increased 9%. Projected revenue for 2013 is in the range of $1,645 million to $1,665 million, with a per share price expected to be in the range of $1.96 to $2.0 for the year.

As she said in June, “Being a part of lululemon for the past five and a half years has been an incredible journey. I am proud of building a world class team that has produced one of the best growth, brand and profit stories in retail.” By almost every measure, the company is doing great — so what’s up? Why can’t Christine Day stay?

The answer seems to lie in the “lululemon culture” of which Wilson speaks. What is the lulu culture, anyway? And who else fits in (those pants)? Does Ms. Day? Apparently not. Because, as she said to the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail, “I am not the culture of lululemon.”

It’s been well documented that Wilson laid the foundation of the company upon the theosophy of Ayn Rand’s “objectivism” — promoting capitalism, reason, ego and individual rights, above all else. (Aptly, he exhibited all of those values during his Bloomberg appearance.) Less known, but also widely embraced within lulu’s corporate culture is the self-help doctrine of The Landmark Forum based on the 70’s cultclassics called est. lulu executives and employees at every level, as well as their store “ambassadors,” are exposed to the teachings of Landmark Forum, a “breakthrough methodology” intended to empower people to transform their careers, relationships, and communities of interest into greatness in three-day workshops.

Although the Board set a goal of naming Day’s successor this fall, one is yet to be appointed. She’s promised to stay through January to ensure a smooth transition. Apparently, several prospects have been identified; among them are people who don’t want to leave their current executive positions before the holidays, others (from the US, I guess) who don’t want to relocate to Canada and even others who “aren’t a good cultural fit,” as one lulu insider was quoted saying recently in the Wall Street Journal. In commenting on Day’s departure, Wilson praised her for being an “exceptional leader” and “successfully embracing the culture.” Twice again, reference to “culture.”

Last month, CNN Money suggested that perhaps Day’s departure stems from a deeper dissatisfaction with lululemon’s direction (read “culture”). The news piece included audio clips from a Canadian radio interview. Day said, “I believe in bringing all of yourself to work, and if there’s a difference between who you are and your values, and how a company operates, you’re always holding something back.” Perhaps she and her values are inconsistent with Wilson’s “lululemon culture.” In the same interview, Day also says, “My values include discretion.” Wilson, Whil and lulu don’t do discretion. Despite the fact that she’s been running the company for more than 5 years, it’s clear that the culture continues to be inspired by Wilson’s values.

Another one of the company’s values. lululemon’s “Frequently Asked Questions” website page states that “Quality is one of our core values,” and that most of its product line is designed to “withstand five years of intended use.” So, for now, I’m gonna assume that Day (like the pants) could only withstand five years of use under the Culture of Wilson. Maybe Day never fully embraced the corporate culture. Maybe she felt the Wilson rub all along. Maybe it’s her. She’s one of those women, you know, whose” bodies just don’t work” for lulu yoga pants. I’ve never met Christine Day (although I consider her a heroine for leading lululemon), but I have seen pictures of her. I think she might be one of those women — you know, like me, like one of us — whose thighs rub together.

I have high hopes that Ms. Poseley will be one of us, too. I haven’t met her either, haven’t even seen a picture of her, but I know she comes from Kmart. With that background, I bet she understands a thing or two about thighs.

I hope Christine Day stays. I agree with Christine’s values. And I want her values in my yoga pants.

(And, yes, even size 4 thighs rub together, I promise you!).

Are You Intimidated by Yoga? Get Over It and Get Into the Practice

September 27, 2013

Republished from Huffington Post
09/27/2013 12:53 pm

As a yoga studio owner, teacher and devoted student, I meet people all over town — in line at Trader Joe’s, at the nail salon (yes, I’m a yogi and I get mani/pedis), during dismissal at my kids’ school — and they all want to talk about yoga. “How do I get started?” “Can I do it?” “I really should do it.” “I’ve been meaning to come.” “I drive by all the time.” “What is yoga, anyway?”

Yoga is the fastest growing “fitness” trend in America, and it’s big business too. According to a 2012 “Yoga in America” study by Yoga Journal, 20.4 million Americans report that they practice yoga; that number is up by 29 percent from the magazine’s previous study in 2008. Nearly 14 million Americans say a doctor or therapist has recommended yoga to themInc. com wrote that yoga is one of the best industries for starting a new business. (But let me set the record straight: This is not a business to make millions in.) CNN Money reported in 2011 that the yoga and Pilates studio scene is expected to hit $6.5 billion. Last week, Lululemon, the Vancouver-based yoga-wear line, projected more than $1.6 billion in revenue for 2013. Lulu’s “Wunder Under” pants retail for $92 (and if you’re reading this post, you probably have at least one pair of these Luon lovelies in your workout drawer right now).

All sorts of products and services, having nothing to do whatsoever with the practice of yoga (banks, cars, sodas, soaps, etc.), use images of people doing yoga in advertisements. Celebrities are routinely pictured by paparazzi coming out of classes, with yoga mats and almond milk lattes in hand. More star athletes are adding yoga to their training regimens (go Andre Ethier, go Dodgers!). Even the U.S. military is using yoga in boot camp (“om in the army”), so now we know it’s not just for sissies anymore. Today, we’re all about mindfulness, meditation and other ancient yogic practices.

And yet, while it appears that absolutely everyone is interested in trying yoga (Yoga Journalcalls these folks “aspirational” yogis), many of us are still wary of it. Whether the challenge is physical, psychological, emotional or spiritual, people are still intimidated by yoga. This intimidation comes in many forms: Sometimes people will volunteer statements such as, “I’m intimidated by yoga,” or “Yoga intimidates me,” and “Yoga is intimidating.” Sometimes the fear is more veiled: “What? I can’t even touch my toes” (this is the one I hear most often), “I’m afraid I’ll look stupid,” “I’m injured — I can’t do yoga” (we get this one a lot, too), or “I hate yoga. I can’t still my mind.” “Yoga agitates me — it stresses me out.” Yeah.

Here’s what I tell them: “So what if you can’t touch your toes? That’s what yoga’s for. It helps increase flexibility.” If students are injured, there’s always some sort of Gentle, Therapeutic or Restorative practice for them. Indeed, some systems of yoga are specifically designed for those with injuries; people can learn methods and modifications for adapting postures, providing support and healing with yoga. Can’t still your mind? Neither can I. Most of us can’t. It’s the mind’s job to keep us busy and distracted. Our job is to practice quieting and questioning our thoughts; that’s why it’s called a “practice.”

I hope this helps some of you get over it. But, for the greater skeptics, here’s more info and insight about what you can anticipate and expect from your yoga studio, your teachers and your fellow yogis.

The Studio

First, I always recommend that people start their practice in a studio — not at home, not a gym, not in the rec room at the local public park. Beyond my own business interest, as a long time student and now a teacher, I believe it is best to learn in a setting that’s safe and supportive. Plenty has been written about the “dangers of yoga,” but yoga is safe and beneficial if it’s taught and practiced carefully and correctly. DVDs and inexperienced teachers are no substitute for the real thing; you want someone to guide you, someone who knows what they’re doing.

A good studio provides its students with many choices and options: a wide variety of offerings, different types of classes (for different ages, levels and abilities), multiple methods of payment (class packages, memberships, single classes, community classes at reduced rates etc.) A good studio is open and accessible to as many people who want to practice yoga as possible.

It’s fair to expect your studio to be welcoming, well-run (professional personnel vs., in L.A. for example, “work trade” volunteers wired into their iPhones, who’d rather be auditioning to be an extra in a sitcom than greeting and checking you into yoga class) and clean (floors are swept between classes; blankets are laundered frequently; equipment and props stored neatly; washrooms with refilled toilet paper dispensers).

Yoga is a personal practice. Most people practice local; that is, they choose a studio near their home, in their neighborhood. A place that feels familiar, comfortable and safe. You know, personal. A “home” studio often feels warmer, more inviting than a slick corporate yoga setting, especially for students new to yoga. Find a studio that feels good to you.

The Teachers

Your teachers should be well-trained, experienced in their craft and mature human beings. But beyond education and years on the job, there’s something even more important to look for in your teachers. Are they kind, patient and compassionate? Are they challenging you enough — or pushing too much? Can you relate to and connect with them? Do they care about you?

Training and experience is foremost; but there’s also a magic about certain teachers. Yes, teachers should teach the poses — how to get in and out of them safely, with good alignment; how to be in the poses with both stability and ease; how to best benefit from your Savasana, final resting pose. But the magic comes in between those moments. Great teachers guide us towards seeing, knowing and accepting ourselves. If they don’t, please feel free get off the floor, roll up your mat and run out the door!

Try different teachers — we all have our own different influences, styles and personalities. Get to know your teachers. Find the one or two that you feel most comfortable with, whom you can trust as a leader.

Yoga teachers (while it’s appropriate to expect them to be kind, caring and compassionate) are not therapists, doctors or best friends. They can’t solve all of our personal problems, they can’t diagnose disease. It’s not fair to expect your yoga teacher to answer texts in the middle of the night or meet you for tea after every class.

Your Fellow Yogis

Know that you are not alone. Not everyone in the room can touch their toes or still their mind. Not everyone can rock those fancy party trick poses. You are among friends; you are allies, yoga warriors.

Your classmates will not judge you; they’re not here to watch or criticize your yoga practice. We’re here for ourselves. To touch our own toes, do our yoga party tricks. To feel better, to have a happy, healthy meaningful life.

When you walk into a new studio, take a look at the people around you. Introduce yourself, say hello — and don’t be surprised if someone reaches out and welcomes you. Are they people you know, are they neighbors, do they work nearby, do they have kids at the same school? Do they go to the same manicure place? It’s not necessary that you share all of this in common, but it does create a sense of camaraderie.

There are many different definitions and purposes of yoga. Some of us practice to learn about ourselves, to be in bliss, to discover the meaning of consciousness itself — or to get a yoga butt (and into those size four lulu pants!). Whether your journey is physical, philosophical or spiritual, once you’re practicing regularly (we always recommend at least 2-3 times a week), you’ll find like-minded folks, who share similar values and interests. You’ll find community, a sense of belonging and being together. That can be powerful, especially in our world where we tend to be so disconnected from each other — and ourselves.

So fear not, aspirational yogis. Be intimidated no more. Go for it. Get into it. You’ll be welcomed by others — and you’ll welcome yourself.

For more by Julie Buckner, click here.

For more on yoga, click here.

Confessions of a Yoga Studio Owner

September 24, 2013

Reposted from Elephant Journal

Via Julie Buckner
on Sep 23, 2013

Photo: Flickr/Eugenijus Barzdzius

A native of L.A. (I’m a Valley Girl,) I started my practice as a freshwoman at Barnard College in New York with Peentz Dubble, now an Intermediate Junior Iyengar teacher.

At the time, there wasn’t really a U.S. certification program, but in 1986 Peentz co-founded, with Judith Freedman, the Iyengar Yoga Center of New York. I had no idea what I was doing — I didn’t know the difference between Iyengar and any other system; I didn’t seek this teacher out as a guru.

A modern dance teacher noticed that I had flat feet, and recommended I address them, so I showed up at Peentz’s class, and spent the next two years working on the arches of my feet. And I’ve been at it ever since—for about 28 years.

Fast forward: I opened a yoga studio three and a half years ago. It’s radical and the best job I’ve ever had.

But, let me tell you, it’s wreaked havoc on my personal practice. Here are my confessions:

  1. I don’t have a daily yoga practice. At the studio, we preach the benefits of regular, consistent practice with all of our students. But me? Nope, I don’t have one I’m lucky if I get one or two classes in a week. I don’t have a teacher, either because I have 24 of them. And I love them all. But they are not my teacher
  2. When I do practice, I’ve got a nasty case of Citta Vrtti. Mind stuff. I call it “mind shit.” A “Dharana-don’t” but I can’t help it. I think about things like when is the the newsletter going out? Why doesn’t that teacher tell the man in the corner to stop snoring in Savasana? Is the toilet backed up again and did someone call a plumber?
  3. I can’t do handstand anymore (or, for that matter, Pincha Mayurasana). Just before the studio opened, I fell out of handstand and hit my the back of my head on hardwood laid directly on concrete. With a resulting rotator cuff and S.I. injury, I haven’t had handstand since. Who the fuck cares if I don’t have handstand? I do.
  4. I love studying yoga—everything about it, the philosophy, the mythology, anatomy and yes even the business of it—more than the physical practice these days.
  5. I love teaching yoga—everything about it, the students, their stories, their breakthroughs, their ah-ha moments—more than my own practice.
  6. I love training to be a (better) teacher. I seek out every yoga junket (workshops, conferences, festivals, trainings, pujas) in town and I live in a big yoga town. In the remainder of this year, I’ll hit the Ojai Yoga Crib,  Maty Ezraty and Annie Carpenter.
  7. I love teacher training. We completed our first one as a studio this summer and will go at it again next winter.
  8. I sit at a desk (staring into my laptop, as I’m doing now) most of the day, drinking tons of water and tea, and I have to pee all the time. Which really gets in the way of practicing, studying, teaching and running the business, by the way. I also have tight psoas muscles.
  9. I’m not vegan; I’m not even a vegetarian.
  10. I swear. A lot. When I blog(and even when I teach).

I don’t find the practice to be aspirational or transformational these days; I find it to be rather tedious, in fact. Indeed, it’s a downright drag.

Yet, despite these confessions and through my experience of owning and operating a yoga studio, preaching, peeing and swearing, I’ve learned more about yoga (about being a student, about being a teacher, about creating a safe, sacred space for growth, and about building community) than I ever could’ve  learned in three and a half years on my mat.

So, I guess I have to admit that I do have a regular, consistent yoga practice, after all.

I may not be on my mat every morning, but I am practicing. And I know that I will return to regular, consistent (physical) practice some day… I always do. After 28 years.

Profiled in Ventura Blvd. Magazine!

September 16, 2013

Profiled in Ventura Blvd. Magazine!

Click to read magazine.

Dog Training is a Yogic Practice.

August 23, 2013

Reposted from Elephant Journal

Via Julie Buckner on Aug 17, 2013

puppy dog shoulder stand

No, this is not my dog in Shoulder Stand. And no, this isn’t a warm and fuzzy, furry piece about doga (dog yoga). I’m talkin’ about something serious: Dog obedience training.

Training a dog is not a metaphor for yoga practice; it’s not a simile, either. Dog training is yoga.

As a long-time yogi, I can find the yoga in everything. The teachings are everywhere, really (in traffic, at the market, washing dishes, at the manicure salon, etc. You don’t have to go to a self-realization fellowship to get enlightened).

Recently, I discovered yoga while training my dog.

Some background (and full disclosure). It had been a while since I’d had a dog, let alone trained a puppy. But, after three and a half years of persistent lobbying, my boyfriend and two kids finally persuaded me to get a dog. He arrived two months ago, in the form of a 5-month-old chocolate Labrador retriever puppy.

Here are the ancient teachings about Lab pups: They chew everything. They eat everything. They jump up on everything. They gulp their food so fast that their stomachs can become inverted (not a benefit of Sarvangasana for dogs). They stay a puppy for two years (longer than most breeds). Then they get fat, old and lazy.

Here’s the disclosure: I really didn’t want a dog. I didn’t need a dog.

I have two boys (ages 16 and 11); a partner/boyfriend; an ex-husband; a mother; a suburban three bedroom, two bath house with pool; two businesses (I own a yoga studio in L.A.—and have a “real job” too); I manage a staff of 30. I’m living my Yamas and Niyamas—and every once in a while I go to asana class and take a breath or two.

I really didn’t want to spend my “me” time picking up dog poo.

Which brings me back to dog obedience training. Despite my efforts to not be the sole caregiver to this new furry friend, I was quickly becoming “The One” (i.e. the only one).

But the universe is friendly. I happened to be chatting with a friend who works at the local Lululemon. She recommended that my puppy and I see her dog trainer, Julie Iles of Lockwood Canine Training Center. “Whether your dog needs obedience training, serious behavior modification or just boarding, we’ll teach you how to develop a mutually rewarding relationship with your dog.” Moksha. Sign me up!

In our first session with Julie, we were guided in her holistic approach. I immediately saw her wisdom. Her teachings were profound, like those of Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra, like Krishna’s in the Bhagavad Gita. What she was offering was a science, an art, a technology, a medicine, a way of being in the (dog) world.

On the most simplistic level, obedience training is yoga because it’s a practice. A practice that requires effort and consistency. It takes discipline. It’s a commitment. You have to show up and do it, every day.

How else is dog training a form of yoga? Well, I needed a teacher to get started. To guide me in the practice. Only then I could take the practice home with me and make it mine.

And, if you screw up, you just start over again. If you don’t practice for a week, don’t beat yourself up, just throw down your mat and start again. If your puppy pees in the house, don’t throw him out, just throw down super odor-absorbing paper towels and start over. Beginner’s mind.

The moment I really recognized my teacher’s wisdom is when she said this: “You need conflict in order to have obedience.” That’s pretty profound! But what does it mean?

Clearly, becoming enlightened was going to require more than a single class.

And it was gonna take more to get my puppy on his four-legged path. This required serious study—at doggy boot camp. So we sent pup straight there. Twenty-one day intensive, full immersion. A regular, consistent practice—with zeal, as Mr. Iyengar says.

So, I’m learning these Eight Limbs of Lockwood Canine Training Center:

1. Loose-leash walking past distractions: Yogas Citta Vriti Nirodhah, Sutra 1.2  The dog learns to walk past his Citta Vrittis—without a leash. Awesome.

2. Down-stay around distractions. There they are again, those Citta Vritis. Nope, not gonna get tricked by those.

3. Come away from a distraction: Abhyasa and Vairagya. The mind can reach a state of Yoga through practice and detachment.

4. Sit and wait to be invited through doorways. When the student is ready, the guru appears and invites him as his disciple.

5. Respect your house, your belongings and you! Ishvara Pranidhanam, especially when it comes toSaucha (my cleanliness mantra: “Go pee pee and poo poo outside”).

6. Have good manners around people and other dogs. Yep. The Yamas and Niyamas are all about ritual observances—how we treat ourselves and others.

7. Learn several creative ways to exercise mind and body every day. Throw in some Asana, Pranayama,PratyaharaDharana, Dhyana…and…

8. Ahhhhh, Samadhi. Absolute Awareness. Pure consciousness. Bliss.

No pee pee poo poo in the house. No chewing. No biting. No jumping up on people (or on the kitchen island). No gulping. No inverting. Don’t Asteya (steal) the kids’ shoes and socks, don’t steal my bras and run around the backyard with them. Sit. Stay. Heel. Down.

Down Dog.

Ultimately, what I’m learning, what I’m studying, is that dog obedience training isn’t really about training my dog, it’s about training me. It’s not the dog who needs training; I’m the one who needs my practice. The dog is doing just fine, thank you. Svadhyaya. Dog obedience training is about discovering who I am.

All is coming.

And the dog’s name? Bodhi. Bodhisattva. 

“Hey, Steve — What’s Up With Being Down on LA?”: A Valley Girl’s Perspective

September 22, 2011

by Julie Buckner
Owner and CEO, InYoga Center
Huffington Post Healthy Living

Who: Julie Buckner

Current Gig: Owner at InYoga Center

Neighborhood: Valley Village

If LA were a yoga position, what might she be? 
Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulder Stand)… We don’t have phones or mirrors in Valley yoga studios. We’re not shy about using “real” props, like bolsters, blankets and straps. We’re working on standing on our own two feet — okay, shoulders. Thank you for coining the phrase, Happy Boyfriend Pose… We use it over the hill here, too. So does everyone, even in Santa Cruz.

LA’s best spiritual centers or little known yoga recommendations?
The 101 Freeway @ the 405 — we can practice radical acceptance and non-attachment every day here.

If not at InYoga Center, where might someone find you?
At home in my kitchen, at my kids’ school, Trader Joe’s and the manicure salon — where I repeat my mantra, weekly.

What are some of your favorite dishes at LA restaurants? 
Real food, with real ingredients, served by real people.

Where would you take an out-of-town friend?
Steve, dude, why wouldn’t you take all of your friends to one place, whether you like them or not? What’s up with the duality thing? I take everyone to the same place — Menchies! — whether they’re a guru from India or a cousin from Indiana.

Do you have a meal that reminds you of Los Angeles?
Starbucks drive-thru.

How do you choose the music to play in your yoga classes?
Music should be as diverse, eclectic and inclusive as LA.

Do you have a song that reminds you of LA?
“Los Angeles” by X (circa 1980)

Favorite LA movie?
I have to give you this one here, my friend. True Blood is so LA. It’s so LA for me because, if I watch mindfully, I recognize familiar locations, even tho we’re supposed to pretend we’re in LA — Louisiana, that is. Oh, and my brother is a writer/producer for the show. So that counts as LA too.

Why do you love Los Angeles?
Gotta hand it to ya again, Steve. The weather is nice. I love LA because it’s just so, so LA. We’ve got it all going on here.

Why do you hate Los Angeles?
Steve, you practically invented yoga in this town (with due credit to some other LA luminaries — respect!). You helped put LA on the yoga mat — I mean, map. Take a look in the mirror, where’s the love?

Why LA?
Because the shit’s real — and it stinks!

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