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.
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!
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