Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Interview: Les Leventhal Shares A Male Perspective on Yoga Fashion

One of my favorite yoga classes in San Francisco is led by the talented and inspiring Les Leventhal. His classes are filled with two of my favorite elements: fun music and sweaty arm balances that often cause me to fall face first into my slip-n-slide of a yoga mat. And when my readers (cough)Bob Weisenberg(cough) called me out for not including men in my posts about yoga fashion, Les was the first person that popped into my mind who I knew could offer a sound male point of view. After all, in this Yoga Journal article he admitted to having a bit of a shoe fetish a while back (a man after my own heart!). Be sure to learn more about Les and his amazing teachings at YogawithLes.com.

Tell me about your favorite yoga outfit. What do you love about it?
My favorite yoga outfit is a threefold answer. If I am teaching a morning class, there’s a 90% chance I am wearing Lululemon pants because they are thick and warm and sometimes the room is not as heated. They are also super comfortable. If I am teaching an afternoon/evening class where I know the room has been heated by classes before mine, then I am wearing Lululemon shorts. For me, they are stylish, comfortable and remind me of being at the beach which means I'm probably going to teach a very playful, ride the waves, class. I was fortunate to be a Lululemon ambassador a few years ago and have lots to choose from. Finally, if I am taking someone's class, I am wearing Prana pants, mostly because for me, they are the best to work with my sweaty self and arm balancing.

What are some of the challenges you face as a male yoga teacher when you go to pick out something to wear to one of your classes?
I don’t want to be a distraction to the students. So I am generally wearing dark blues, greens, browns ,and blacks and nothing too flashy and loud. In addition, this question begs the question of some clothing that might be too revealing. I take care to choose clothing that does not distract students in any way from the journey I want them to go on or invite an energy that might be misleading, unwelcome, or inappropriate in the sacred environment of a class.

I remember reading that you used to be addicted to shopping—particularly Kenneth Cole shoes. How did yoga help you overcome this?

Yoga continues to slow me down and requires me to take a look at what I am doing and why I am doing it, and I like to ask a few questions before I buy something. Is it useful? Is it necessary? And if I don't know its source in preparation or manufacturing, can I imagine how it got to the store and how much energy it took to get there. Most of the time, these days, I recognize that I have more than I need. Since I come from a banking background and was on the road in suits a lot, I prefer jeans and T-shirts and the shoeless lifestyle as much as possible. I realized while shopping back in the day, that I was just bored and filling time. Today I realize there are so many other ways I can pass time and help others, either through meditation, yoga practice, direct service or even taking my dogs for a run. I never go out to just shop anymore unless I need something.

How do you find the balance between healthy and unhealthy desire?

The only way to find balance in anything is to overstep those boundaries, whether I have placed those limitations on myself or have bought into something that society has told me that I should observe or ethically uphold. I have and continue to spend time in my own spiritual practice, unearthing my attachment to the teacher of desire. This can come in the form of clothing, food, and how I live in and around my relationships to other people. I at least feel good that I maintain my practice in this area when things go a little off the beam. When things are going well, I continue to practice letting go and share the abundance of good emotions or whatever the universe has sent my way.

Tell us what inspires you, so we can be inspired, too!

Bonfires on the beach at sunset with friends, yoga retreats, running with my dogs, sharing a home cooked meal with old friends and new ones when I'm on the road teaching. My relationship to my husband; after 10 years together he continues to teach and inspire me a lot. Watching people have one of those totally blissed out aha moments in yoga sends me over the edge of inspiration, which is what keeps me going back for more as a student and a teacher. And for this yogi, a source of inspiration is a deep, dark, rich and bold cup of coffee with half & half and honey (right now a strong flat white with honey in Melbourne is winning that race for me). Oh, and Chocolate Caramel Crackle ice cream from Mitchell's.

Fun facts: 

Favorite pose? Anything arm balancing, really — floating to Crow, floating to Astavakrasana, Tripod Headstand to Astavakrasana, and Tripod Headstand to Koundinyasana A. Favorite color? Blue. Favorite Book? Anything Caroline Myss. Most influential yoga teacher? There are three—Ana Forrest, Tias Little, and everyone that has ever been a part of my life in any way, even the guy at the train station begging for money or food.