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Samovar Shamans: Meet Les Leventhal, Yoga Flow Shaman

Many of you have seen Rowan at the Tea Lounges, or received insight into your life as he read your cards over a cup of tea. He’s Samovar’s tarot shaman, and he is writing a series on modern-day shamans. Here, he introduces us to Les Leventhal, Yoga Flow Shaman.

Rowan – What was your first experience with Yoga?

Les- My first experience with yoga was at the gym. I was a serious weightlifter. I would pass by the yoga room and always look in. I knew I should do more stretching, but it looked really boring so I never even tried. Then a friend said, “Come on, let’s go together.” That was back in 1999. So I went, I had no idea what I was doing. Nothing made sense. They were a lot of Sanskrit terms and a lot of flexi-bendy people. I couldn’t touch my toes. I couldn’t breathe through my nose. It was very intimidating! By the end of the class I was exhausted. But then we did that final resting pose, the child’s pose, and when I came out of that…I felt AMAZING. I didn’t expect it, but when that happened, it woke me up. I knew this was something to check out.

So I went back and went back and actually over time, I stopped lifting weights and was just doing yoga all the time. Now I was working a corporate job back then and I wasn’t happy but I didn’t know what to do about it. It took me a while but I finally quit. I had no idea what I was doing next. Yoga was really important to me, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it. So eventually I went to L.A. and did a teacher training with Ana Forrest. It changed my life, though it is not what I teach now. I’m someone who doesn’t do well with the differentiations. Vinyasa, Iyengar, and Restorative, it’s all yoga. For me, Yoga gave me this invitation where everything just came together. And this is one of the areas where I am a bit inflexible. I refuse to have yoga feel like a religion, like you are Christian or Jewish, or Methodist. I refuse to let yoga become that for me. Yoga helped me to become free and I don’t want to get boxed in.

Rowan – What was your first yoga teaching experience?

Les- I’ve been at Yoga Tree the whole time I’ve been teaching. I was coming back from teacher training and I called my friend who worked there and told her I wanted to teach. She said. “They are not going to let you teach, you need to be teaching for three to five years before you can teach here.” But I kept on her and said, “I want to teach.” So she told me that there was this one class where the teacher had quit and they couldn’t get a sub; it was very early in the morning. I said, “I’ll do it, I’m up early in the morning!” So they were willing to give me a try and let me teach a practice class. That was on a Thursday. They hired me for the next Monday. At first it was very slow, only one or two people showing up. No one knew who this new guy was. But I was teaching every day and slowly people started coming.

Rowan- How did you first discover Samovar Tea Lounge?

Les – I came here once for dinner and, its funny, I used to order a LOT of food because I was still lifting weights and had this huge appetite. And then I got back from my teacher training and having done the nutrition class I realized the size of my meals was way out of whack and I don’t need that much food. I understood that I was doing a lot of emotional eating. Slowly, I started to be able to order smaller amounts of food, you know, just a salad. And the food at Samovar is so delicious; I didn’t miss the enormous portions I used to eat.

I invited Jesse to come to my yoga class. He has a pretty good practice so I got feedback and took some tips from him. He actually helped me learn how to teach. Then he asked me if he could bring Erick, the manager, and I said, “sure”.  Erick was also a weightlifter and initially said he was not into yoga. But Jesse convinced him. Erick was great; the very first class, he did a full backbend, no problem! He found the class very challenging and he loved it. They asked if they could bring more Samovar people and I said, “sure”. As classes started to grow, we had a nice group of Samovar people coming in regularly. They asked if they could bring more staff, like the cooks and people who may not have ever been exposed to yoga and I said, “Of course!” because yoga was a gift and a freedom for me and I just want to give that back to other people. It’s a selfish and a selfless thing. I want to keep the gifts of yoga but I can’t keep them unless I give them away. It’s a constant recycling. The energy of Samovar staff in class is always amazing. They are a great part of our yoga community. There are Yoga Tree people who come to Samovar after class and Samovar people who come to yoga after work. When I come to Samovar I see so many people who I teach!

Rowan- What’s your favorite Samovar tea?

Les – There are too many to choose from! I love the Masala Chai, the Blood Orange Pu-erh and the Wuyi Oolong. But my favorite is the Lapsang Souchong. It’s got that smokey, you’ve-just-been-out-in-the-woods-at-a-bonfire kind of flavor.

Rowan – What’s your favorite Samovar food?

Les –The Salmon Maki Bowl. But I do it without rice and throw in extra veggies.

Rowan- As the Yoga Flow Shaman, what is a one-minute-meditation, that the folks at home can do to get a taste of your teaching?

Les – I’ll start people off the same way I start yoga class with a dedication.  Sit up tall in a comfortable seat, make sure you feel balanced and supported. Then close your eyes. If you need to fix you hair or adjust your shirt, go ahead and get out all the fidgets! Now, start focusing on the breath. If the mind wanders just come back to the breath. Close your eyes. If your eyes open just close them again. I don’t teach yoga where there is anything “good” or “bad”. We are just spending a minute with our breath and ourselves. If you can sit for more than minute, then sit. Just enjoy the stillness and the quiet. Now, for the dedication. I like to focus on someone who is struggling, if I am in the yoga class, I will focus on someone outside of the room so I can share and expand the yoga. So I am dedicating my practice to this other person. And even the benefits of just sitting for a minute with my eyes closed and breathing can be so helpful. The person you are dedicating this meditation to will feel it! And when I am done, the people I come in contact with, they are going to benefit from this too, and the people that they come into contact with, they are going to benefit as well.

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Les teaches classes at Yoga Tree in multiple locations around San Francisco. Learn more about his classes and special workshops at www.yogawithles.com.

Stay tuned for next month’s Samovar Shaman with Arch Deleon, founder of Hanuman Center for yoga, integral studies, and healing!

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Rowan Cutler is the “Tarot Shaman” for Samovar Tea Lounge. He is a sought after SF Psychic who has been in private practice for 15 years. He is a published author and wrote for an Emmy nominated TV show. Let him lay out the cards and read the story of your life! Join him at Samovar for an only-in-SF experience to compliment your contemplative teatime.

See Rowan’s scheduled readings at Samovar’s Tea Lounges at www.wowtarot.com. Drop in during Rowan’s hours for a reading, reserve a spot ahead of time – or purchase a Tea and Tarot Gift Certificate for a great gift, date, and out-of-the-ordinary adventure with friends!

Learn more about Rowan and his reflections on the synergy of Tea and Tarot

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Social Media Hour: Jesse Interviewed About Mindfulness in Business

Jesse Jacobs ( realritual.com), founder of Samovar, was interviewed by TechCocktail.com about mindfulness in business.

“[Samovar is a] triad of low-key, wi-fi free lounges in which a strange thing happens – people are looking each other in the eye and carrying on conversations. Jesse will share his take on technology and mindfulness in his business…”

Listen to the interview here

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Samovar Canadian Ambassador: Raffi

Raffi is our Canadian Ambassdor. Learn how tea complements his passion for tech., travel, and photography:


Why do you love tea?
Tea is something I actually discovered fairly recently, but instead of easing my way from bagged teas to loose leaf, I dove right into the deep end and went straight for the best loose leaf tea out there. For me, tea is really an art that I’m constantly trying to learn more about. There are so many different varieties, and each cup can taste so different simply depending on personal preference, meaning there are literally hundreds of thousands of teas to experience. During the work day it also provides me with a nice, steady flow of energy without a crash at the end like with coffee.

What is your favorite Samovar tea, and why?
My favorite Samovar tea is definitely Maiden’s Ecstasy. Coming from a coffee drinking past, pu-erh really hits the mark when I feel like drinking something dark, rich and full of complex flavors. It’s by far the most unique tea that I have tried, and is one of the few that I can honestly say has a learning curve. Once you get used to it though, it rewards you with countless steeps and enough energy to make it through the longest of work days.

What do you do in your free time?
On my free time, I enjoy sitting at my computer with a cup of tea and reading articles on the latest happenings in the technology industry. I tend to have too many hobbies at any given moment and so I mainly try to find time between web development, photography, and drumming, among other things like video editing, gaming, and just hanging out with friends.

What gets you up in the morning?
You mean, aside from caffeinated teas? Believe it or not, I’ve always been a bit of a morning person. When I was a kid, I would wake up every morning at 6:30am without an alarm (yes, even on weekends) and I would go downstairs and read online articles or play some games. Of course, these days I don’t wake up that early anymore without an alarm, but honestly I think what gets me going in the morning is the simple fact that I enjoy being productive. Sleeping in has never been my thing (it makes me feel sluggish for the rest of the day), and nothing feels better than getting a few things done before the clock strikes noon.

What is my favorite travel destination?
I haven’t traveled much so far, but I am hoping that some time in the near future I will be able to visit Europe and see many countries in the span of a few weeks to get a taste of the different cultures that exist across the Atlantic. But in the mean time, my favorite destination has to be the Caribbean islands. While I love visiting other cities across both Canada and the USA, my real idea of a vacation is still the islands. This may change by the time I come back from Europe, though. 😉

Who inspires you?
To be honest, I was never into the whole “role model” or inspiration concept, but if there has ever been any one influence on my life (outside of family, of course) it must be Sam Javanrouh of [daily dose of imagery]: http://wvs.topleftpixel.com/ . His photoblog inspired me to see the world from a perspective that most people do not take the time to experience; where the same old every day surroundings can be seen in a different light and made into something astonishing without any special effects or fake modifications. Essentially, it’s about taking the time to slow down and appreciate the world around you for what it is. And now in a similar fashion, I put my perspective of the world online for others to see and appreciate on my personal photoblog: http://shatteredabstracts.com .

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Samovar Experience: Pam

Pam is a long time customer at the Mission-Castro Samovar location. You’ll often see her working on her latest writing project or hanging out her two boys (pictured right). Below she shares one of her Samovarian experiences.

The other day I was having one of those days when everything is exhausting, overwhelming, crappy, and you are ready to let the less nice part of yourself dominate your actions— I thought if I can just make it to Samovar it will all be okay. Finally the babysitter arrived and I arrived. There I was greeted by two fabulous servers: Alex and Oscar, who greeted me with enthusiasm, warmth and humor. Then they both (separately) said “Don’t worry– I’ve got just the thing for you.” They loaded me up with magnificent, exotic teas and plied me with quinoa waffles and in a matter of minutes I felt spoiled, happy and able to be once again the nice person I like to think of myself as, most of the time.
Samovar does this people–it is a mini oasis in the midst of our busy lives–a place where I come to refuel, re-center, think deep and frivolous thoughts, work, and more more more. When my book gets published, the first people I will thank will be the entire staff of Samovar.
Pamela Alma Bass, writer/teacher www.pamelaalmabass.com
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Meet Samovar West Coast Ambassador Michael

Meet Michael, one of Samovar’s West Coast Ambassadors. In this photo, Michael shows off his Samovar Traveling Tea Thermos while hiking through Yosemite National Park!

Q: Why do you love tea?

A: I love the ritual of tea, and sharing that ritual with the people around me. Nothing is better then sitting down, brewing new teas and sharing them with the people around you, finding the complex flavors, and enjoying the smell all the while having a great conversation.

Q: What is your favorite Samovar tea, and why?

Honestly I don’t truly have a favorite tea, I enjoy many of them depending on what mood I’m in, or what I’m needing from the tea its self. But I do really enjoy the Masala Chai, Maiden’s Ecstasy, Jasmine Pearl and many more.

Q: Tell us about yourself. Where do you work/study/etc.? What do you do in your free time?

A: I’m currently working at Best Buy as a part time employee while attending Fresno City College as a full time student. I’m working for a bachelors in social science in hopes to one day be a history teacher. Other then that I love to spend time with family and friends!

Q: What are you reading right now?

A: The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Q: What are your dreams? What gets you up in the morning?

A: Well one of my dreams is to become a history teacher; I think it will be a great job. I also want to travel around the world an experience all sorts of cultures first hand. I even have a dream of maybe one day opening my own tea shop, I enjoy tea so much that I would love to be around it everyday.

Q: Why do you exist?

A: I exist to be a good example for others, to help as many people as I can along the way, and to enjoy all of life’s beauties.