By Angeleigh Khoo
Previously based in San Francisco, vinyasa yoga teacher Les Leventhal followed his heart’s calling to move to Bali, and in no time became one of the island’s most well-loved yoga teachers. Singapore-based yogis are in luck this May, as Les will be flying in to lead a series of weekend workshops in the Orchard Central studio. We check in with him for a quick chat on yoga, life and this pose he calls warrior 4.
Leigh : Do you remember your first yoga class?
Les : It was January 1999, my gym around the corner from my home was closing and I had to go join a new one. A friend suggested that since we had lots of injuries from lifting lots of weights, we should go stretch out in a yoga class. I had a few thoughts about that, none good, but I went anyway. I was so confused and frustratedly lost (can I say that frustratedly?). When savasana came, I dropped down to lay down and had some emotions come up. That grabbed my attention and I had to go back and see what that was, because I had been looking for something like that my whole life.
Leigh : Why San Francisco to Bali?
Les: We moved from San Francisco (where I am sitting right now as I type this on a short teaching trip) on July 1, 2013. My husband wanted to move and The Yoga Barn in Bali invited me to come teach in Ubud. I really received the message from the universe that it was time to go, and it wasn’t even so much something I was desiring. It’s turned out to be more magical in so many ways, which I will share with everyone in Singapore soon. I hold poses longer and am very focused on the yamas and niyamas on the mat.
Leigh : What has living in Bali taught you about yoga off the mat?
Les : Kinda left over from the previous question, is that I am putting my practice of yamas and niyamas off the mat under a microscope, and to continue pursuing my dreams.
Leigh : You're well-loved for your creative and very challenging vinyasa sequences – what are you hoping to bring to your students?
Les : Yoga can still present itself with things that my initial thoughts tell me I can’t do. When those days happen, I get on the mat and practice. I warm up so that I can safely move towards variations that present themselves as challenging for me. It’s no longer important if I get into the pose. What I receive is the gift of facing challenges with courage, faith, trust and it helps continue to build self esteem for me – I give that back when I teach and it really helps me off the mat. I give that to people off the mat too, as their only experience of what they think is yoga might be time spent with me. So, I look at everyone as a student and everyone as a teacher, and I am both of those on and off the mat. I never want to forget that I found teaching yoga because I am a passionate student. I still go to classes as a student as often as I can.
Leigh : Tell us about ‘warrior 4’…
Les : Hmm - I heard someone say it years ago but cannot remember who or what they said. I’m actually working on transforming my awareness around that, as I’m a guy who moves through life at a fairly quick pace. Sometimes it takes courage to step back, pause and reconnect - to me that’s a warrior’s pose – so warrior four.
Leigh : What's your self-practice like?
Les : Fantastic, thanks to Ana Forrest. She told me once that if I feel bored in my teaching, imagine what my students must feel. I got that message one day early on in my teaching and I went right home and started practicing. To this day, 10 years of teaching later, I always practice before I teach and then I teach what I just practiced. That way, what I am teaching comes from my real experience and I can speak to those pieces of courage and commitment and maintain a level of equality and even show students how I have fallen out of poses and how that translates to my yoga off the mat.
Leigh : What's your current favourite pose?
Les : Here I will offer up some room to grow - I don’t actually know the pose name and need to look it up, but I can offer it up as this - half koundinyasana, half crow, or eka pada bakasana, eka pada koundinyasana - why - because I can’t quite straighten my koundinya leg yet and I want to softly, with breath, transition into crow and float back effortlessly to caturanga. Trust me - we will work on this in Singapore.
Leigh : Favourite mantra?
Les : So many: I love my second side. How’s your breath, how’s your life? If nothing ever changes, nothing ever changes. Watchasana.
Leigh : What can Hom students look forward to at your workshops?
Les : Calling their bosses on Monday morning and telling them they can’t come to work because they feel really good…… and a really safe environment to play on our edges and a sacred space to explore whatever it is that they are willing to open up to physically, emotionally, spiritually. We all have different gifts and challenges and sometimes it’s during practice that we find new gifts and even new challenges that we did not know were hidden treasures. Sweat and joy.
Les will be leading workshops in Singapore from 14 to 15 of May. Click here for more information.