Full-Spectrum Yoga in LA

The International Day of Yoga on June 21 demonstrated at least two important things: 1) Yoga is universal. That events were held everywhere from Shanghai to Seychelles illustrates that the principles and practices of Yoga are analogous to the discoveries and applications of biology, physics and other scientific disciplines; they can be utilized by anyone, regardless of religion, culture or belief system. 2) Yoga is more than physical exercise. Predictably, the images in media reports tended to feature attractive people stretched and bent in the familiar asanas (postures), but happily, most organized commemorations tried to represent the full yogic spectrum of mental, physical and spiritual methods for holistic development.

This is a much-needed antidote to the troublesome tendency to reduce Yoga to the status of a fitness trend. It is much much more than that, and one hopes that those who appreciate India's great gift to the world will keep its deeper dimensions in the forefront of public awareness.

Los Angeles--arguably, the Yoga Capital of America--might serve as a role model in that regard. Here, the entirety of the Yoga tradition is well represented in centers, studios, temples and educational institutions all over town, and important large-scale events are on the upcoming calendar. One fine example takes place on July 11 and 12, when the LA Convention Center hosts the 4th annual Moksha Festival.

Arvind Chittumalla, the founder and producer of the festival, grew up in the South Indian city of Hyderabad, one of the hubs of the country's burgeoning IT industry. Growing up, he absorbed both the classical Yoga of ancient India and the tech-driven modernizing of the nation's present. Now 39, he moved to LA in 2004, established himself as business/technology consultant in the health and wellness industries, then added Yoga entrepreneur to his resume. He started Moksha Festival in 2011 as an antidote to what he saw as the trivialization of a profound heritage. "I started the festival to show people the full promise of Yoga and its sister disciplines, the Vedic sciences," he told me.

Why the title? "Moksha is the ultimate destination of a yogi," he says. "I chose this name so we do not lose sight of our destination." The Sanskrit word moksha is usually translated as "liberation," but "Self-realization" might be an easier way to understand the term, and why the festival carries the logline "a pilgrimage to your soul." Chittumalla describes the two-day event as "a celebration of wellness, spiritual expansion and conscious living through Yoga, Health, Ayurveda, Sacred Music and Spiritual Art."

The expected 2,000 visitors will find forty classes and workshops on the main yogic inventory--asana, pranayama (breathing exercises), meditation and philosophy--and a range of Yoga-related subjects from the vast repertoire that developed over the centuries since India's Vedic period: Ayurvedic medicine and nutrition; sacred geometry, music and dance; Jyotish (Vedic astrology) and Vaastu (Vedic architecture). Other healing modalities--Traditional Chinese Medicine, Massage Therapy, etc.--will also be represented, along with art exhibits and movie screenings. Based on previous festivals, a major attraction for LA yogis will be the music. Nine different bands will perform kirtan, the traditional call-and-response chanting of Sanskrit mantras. Something for everyone, plus the usual array of vendors offering Yoga accessories and food, drink and lifestyle alternatives to the toxins and additives on supermarket shelves.

Preview: In November, another two-day yogic fiesta will raise the vibe of downtown Los Angeles. Called Veda MeLA (mela means meeting or assembly, typically a sacred gathering) it will take place the weekend of November 7-8 at The REEF. Veda MeLA is the brainchild of another Indian-American dedicated to merging East and West, ancient and modern: Dr. Siva Mohan, a Cornell-trained MD and an Ayurvedic practitioner.

Bonus: Both Moksha Festival and Veda MeLA will feature a screening of Awake, the award-winning documentary about the life of Paramahansa Yogananda, the beloved yogi whose iconic autobiography introduced the fullness of Yoga to millions. See it twice.