The book is a (hopefully) hilarious and (hopefully) inspiring yoga memoir. I like to think of it as Eat, Pray, Love rewritten by Bill Cosby or maybe Louis CK.
It tells the story of how I found yoga, how yoga helped me get off medication and heal my colitis, and how yoga allowed me to grow and find my heart. There’s also a bit about a dog, an accidental visit to a prostitute (I thought she was a massage therapist), lots of yoga, and the story of how I met my wife.
Here’s a link to the book’s trailer. I’ve also pasted a short excerpt below.
The book is called Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi and is available wherever books are sold. I hope you’ll check it out. If you do, let me know what you think.
And soon I’ll get back to blogging about my two ridiculously cute boys.
An Adapted Excerpt From The Book Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi, By Brian Leaf
The Hoboken Harvest was an old-school health food store — the only kind of health food store in 1994 — the kind that existed before Whole Foods Market introduced Newman-O’s to mainstream Americans. Before Whole Foods propagated the concept of the whole foods supermarket, health food stores were small, purely organic, and dusty. They carried only organic produce, though the produce was kept in substandard conditions making it either half-frozen or wilted. The stores smelled of the unmistakable combination of patchouli and vitamins, and had small cafés operated by idealist vegans.
The café of the Hoboken Harvest was run by a fellow by the name of Guy. I had a real-life Abbot and Costello conversation when I asked someone at the store, “What’s the name of the guy who runs the café?”
“Yes, the guy who runs the café.”
This Guy was a character, a Vietnam War veteran turned vegan who, like every health food store café operator in 1994, was not shy about sharing his political opinions, espousing his conspiracy theory, or selling you a share in his blue-green algae distribution network. I miss those places. My aunt has been a vitamin-taking, patchouli-burning, macrobiotic-eating meditator since the 1970s, and her apartment somehow carries a hint of that original health food store smell and vibe. It makes my muscles melt and my heart open every time I smell it.
The yoga classes at Hoboken Harvest were held in the attic. The showroom of the Harvest was dusty, so you might expect the attic to be a nightmare, but local yoga teacher and longtime Hoboken resident Yolanthe Smit had co-opted this space and made it lovely. She cleaned it assiduously. She draped beautiful Indian scarves and tapestries, she burned incense (only before class so it would scent the room but not interfere with our yogic breathing exercises), she changed the lighting, and she created an altar. She even played CDs of bamboo flutes and birds chirping as we practiced. It was a sanctuary.
Yolanthe’s class captured my spirit in a way no other class had. I loved Oskar’s Sivananda yoga class at Georgetown. I loved Janice’s Iyengar yoga class at the gym in Jersey City, but Kripalu yoga gave me permission to be me. It invited the whole me to show up, and really, I’d say that was the first time that the whole me had been invited anywhere.
A typical class in the attic of the Harvest started with all of us sitting cross-legged in a circle and the following introduction, called a “centering,” by Yolanthe:
“Close your eyes and tune in to your body. (pause) Notice your buttocks on the ground. (pause) Notice your clothes resting on your body. (pause) Feel your belly rise and fall with each breath. (longer pause) Notice when your mind wanders away to think about lunch, work, or your to-do list, and bring it back to this room — to feeling your body, your belly rising and falling with each breath. (long pause) For today, for the next hour and fifteen minutes, give yourself permission to be fully here in this class with nothing else to do and nowhere else to be — nothing else to accomplish but paying attention to your body and hearing its messages, for the next hour and fifteen minutes. (long pause) Ahohhhmmmm. Ahohhhmmmm. Ahohhhmmmm.”
Sometimes I’d hear the whole intro. Mostly my mind wandered off, uncontrollably reviewing my morning or planning my afternoon, and I’d hear Yolanthe’s voice faintly in the background. But I loved the idea and the intention.
Occasionally, I actually succeeded in giving myself permission to be only there. Sometimes I could set aside planning and problem solving until after class. No one had ever asked me to do this before. And no one had ever asked me to listen to what my body was telling me.
At first I tackled this project with the same diligence and anxiety I had used throughout school. I was obsessed. “I’m listening to my body . . . I’m listening to my body . . . Oh, I think I feel the stirrings of a pee! Better go.” I’d get up, tiptoe around everyone in their frog postures, and head to the bathroom to pee. Three drops.
Later, I’d realize, “Oh, wait a minute, I think I might be cold! Better put on my sweater.”
I wanted an A in this assignment. Plus, I was asking my body, for the first time, what it wanted, and like a six-year-old who’s allowed to chew gum for the first time, my body wanted a mouthful.
And my body and I, as new acquaintances, needed some time to get to know each other. I had not had this type of consciousness before. In fact, I’d say, that this lack of body consciousness had contributed to my colitis. If I was stiff, I didn’t think to stretch. If I was stressed, I didn’t think to take a few deep breaths. I just ignored all that. And if my head hurt from studying or if my stomach hurt during a debate tournament, I didn’t think to take a break; I just popped some Tylenol or dosed some Pepto and kept going.
I became quite fond of Yogi Amrit Desai as he sat blissfully framed on the altar and in his poster demonstrating janu-shirshasana (head-to-knee forward bend). He had created Kripalu yoga, and to me he represented this new sanctuary I had found.
Then, one day in October 1994, after I had been taking her classes at the Harvest religiously for five months, Yolanthe came in and laid out the news. “Amrit Desai,” she said, “has been asked to leave Kripalu. He is accused of abusing his power and having affairs with several disciples.”
I was pretty crushed. Though I had never met him, Amrit had become my de-facto guru. I had even been planning to live at the ashram for a month long Kripalu yoga teacher training.
How could I follow a guru who had hurt so many people? If Amrit Desai had mastered yoga’s postures and practices yet still committed these transgressions, what could yoga offer me? And especially Amrit Desai’s yoga? Would his flawed fingerprint taint the very tenets of Kripalu yoga?
I decided to stop practicing yoga entirely….
About Brian Leaf
Brian Leaf is the author of Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi. He lives in Western Massachusetts where he is an avid meditator, yogi, dad, and husband. You can follow his parenting adventures and misadventures on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Misadventures.of.a.Yogi.