|The Beatles & Beginners Yoga
By Nico Issac
On one of those spring-like December afternoons that seem the beautiful, bastard child of freezing rain and a tropical warm front, I lay on the concrete ground of an enormous empty warehouse in the old Leathers Building listening to the Beatles Album “Rubber Soul” through my laptop.
Somewhere between crawling off to sleep in the bathtub and nowhere plans, I email the future tenant Cal Clements, as he completes his month-long Yoga teacher-training course over in Williamsburg, New York. Once he’s finished, he’ll return to Athens and officially open the doors to this space, this place, soon to be known as the Rubber Soul Yoga Revolution.
Below is our on-line interview:
Nico: Greetings and (SUN) salutations. Right off, I must complement this magnificent space you nabbed -- colossally high ceilings, exposed pipes, ginormous windows letting in beams of sunlight -- which tempts me to strap on a pair of roller-skates and twirl around singing Italian operas at top soprano. Word of advice: warn the railroad crew before you start teaching cuz the acoustics on the collective exhale is going to knock the wind right out of the train whistle. What specifically about this studio said, “If you build it, they will ‘aahhmmm’” to you?
Cal: “It is an awfully good-looking space, and that’s no small matter. But I have to say the biggest draw was location, location, location. I’m hoping that with Rubber Soul right near downtown, people will enjoy walking, skipping, roller-skating, biking, hiking to class -- a kind of pit stop for the spirit where they can refuel and re-embark on their day.”
Nico: In the past year, you’ve gone from living in the fast-paced, rat-raced city that never sleeps (NY), commuting by train each morning to teach English literature to private schoolchildren in the Hamptons -- TO -- living out of a vintage camper on your friend’s driveway in Athens, GA reading the Bhagavad-Gita and renting out a room in a renovated tanning factory for the purpose of teaching yoga. What inspired the dramatic turnaround and powerful commitment to the practice?
Cal: “Oddly, I began doing yoga right alongside living in that frantic city of workaholics, rodent-chasing sophisticates, and daring bohemians. Somehow, I grew calmer and healthier there, drinking shots of wheat grass chased with pints of juiced vegetables, infused by random rushes of happiness just as a consequence of being alive. That’s what yoga’s about -- it’s about pulling off all the layers, the crust of civilization, the heavy cooking mittens that we wear on our hands, to find the blissful core at the center.”
Nico: What sort of exercises did you have to master to receive your teaching certificate, for example: Catching flies with your bare hands, trimming a bonsai while blindfolded and balancing on a tight rope, checking your ego at the door?
Cal: “There is a lot of that thinking in yoga – that we must stand on our heads or levitate in a cross-legged position in order to be proficient. But the real feats of wonder and amazement are internal. Can you give away power? Can you befriend your enemy? Can you let go of who you think you are supposed to be and enjoy what is right in front of you? The most advanced practitioner is someone who is truly happy in life.”
Nico: Will you be teaching the method of yoga that involves turning up the heat and sweating out your past lives OR will it be the more breathing controlled, central air conditioner kind?
Cal: “I suppose your air-conditioner category is a nice match, as my style of yoga is all about breath – a very specific breathing technique called ujjayi pranayama (or ocean breathing). All the poses (downward dog, tree, levitating “6” off the mat) are merely Hatha containers for this breath. Essentially, we are going to turn our bodies into AC units, finding just the right temperature for a way of being comfortable on the inside.”
Nico: … So you DO levitate after all!
I read that Hatha Yoga aims to reconcile two opposing forces -- sun and moon, yin and yang, bling and blang, or even YOGA & REVOLUTION, as in the second half of your studio’s name. Admittedly, the phrase is quite Hatha-esque as the one term seems entirely contrary to the other in a deep breathing versus deep seething anger kind of way. Will the legendary “CHI” Guevara lead your students in a warrior pose quest toward spiritual enFIGHTenment? Seriously though, reconcile these two words for me and describe exactly what’s so darn “revolutionary” about your Yoga studio.
Cal: “The revolution we’re trying to enact in yoga is a shift from the world of power and consumer-oriented materialism to one of generosity, compassion, and celebration. That is, generosity even to the wealthy, compassion even for biting insects, and celebration even of our failures. That is the revolution and it starts with us on the mat.
Speaking of heavy opposition in a yoga studio’s name. I heard about this place in Brooklyn called ‘F**K Yoga.’ Talk about revolutionary.”
Nico: I wonder if they do some kind of tantric form of yoga there?
Anyway, the first half of your studio’s name -- “Rubber Soul” -- is equally compelling. Initially, I thought: buoyancy of the spirit engaged in the practice of yoga. After some research into Beatle history, though, I found out that the namesake for the band’s album originated among the black community in the 1950s where “rubber souls” stood for white musicians who “played soul”… but not for real. The idea of imitation is actually a running theme throughout the album, whereby “Norwegian Wood” is a euphemism for “cheap pine.” John Lennon used the phrase to describe his extra-marital affair with a woman who paneled her walls with the material to convey the experience of a cheap thrill, not the real deal.
There are many people who say the explosion of yoga in Western American culture consists of white Judeo-Christians adopting this ancient Hindu practice and incorporating it into their everyday lives… but not for real. (Fun Fact: “Norwegian Wood” is the first western pop song to include the use of an Indian musical instrument: the sitar) What is your response to such a claim?
Cal: “Hmm… well, basically your first instincts were right. We’re going for buoyancy of the spirit. As for inauthentically mimicking other cultures, I say GO FOR IT! Stretch as far as needed. Heaven knows there are too many cultural barriers. Should Elvis have never taken an interest in African-American music? Should the Rolling Stones have shunned the blues? Universal miscegenation is the answer to racism.”
Nico: Considering that the average yoga class costs an outstretched arm and extended leg, I’m almost afraid to ask how much you’re planning on charging for membership. But I will anyway:
Cal: “That’s perhaps the most unique thing about this yoga revolution. Class prices are completely by donation. We’re looking for $3-5 as a goal depending on one’s income and mood. If you don’t have money, you can bring vegetables from your garden or a handmade scarf.”
Nico: Amazing. It’s like the En-TAO-ment of Pooh.
If you had three wishes for the future of RSYR, what would they be?
Cal: “I’d like to see people practicing yoga as a lifestyle, and not simply a mode of enhancing strength and flexibility.
I’d like to see the schedule of classes open out with other teachers willing to volunteer their services to the community.
And, I wish someone would buy the space for us.”
Nico: What’s your mantra?
Cal: “Asato Ma Sat Gamaya. Which means: Lead me from the unreal to the real.”
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. Rubber Soul Yoga Revolution is located at 675 Pulaski Street. Leathers Building Studio #1100. Classes will begin around the third week of January.