San Francisco: Rainbow Shakti Church and Coffee and Drunken Bees

Coffee Love

How to decide which yoga class to take, or studio to visit, or even which hand-poured coffee to drink when visiting San Francisco? One Sunday morning in June I made the difficult choice (ha) of drinking both Blue Bottle and Ritual Roasters coffee in Hayes Valley before heading to Shakti Church with KK Ledford at Yoga Tree just around the corner.

KK has a devoted following she calls the Kosmic Kula, or KosKul for short. My friend Dave Atlas, an Anusara devotee, is one of them. Dave told me to meet him at the Ritual Roasters around the corner from Yoga Tree a half hour before class. I’d been to KK’s class a year before, so I knew I wanted to go back, just like I wanted to get another amazing coffee beforehand. Problem was, I went to the wrong amazing coffee kiosk. The last time I was in San Francisco, I’d stopped at Blue Bottle Coffee one street over from the studio, so I thought he must have been mistaken when he said to meet at Ritual Roasters, because Ritual in the Mission (or so I thought), not Hayes Valley. I haven’t lived in San Francisco in ten years, yet I went down the same old paths thinking things were the same or that I’d get the same results–something I find I keep doing in life: making assumptions that prove wrong, or following the same pattern expecting the same outcome, rather than approaching things with a beginner’s mind.

Comparing the rivalry between Blue Bottle and Ritual to that between Coke and Pepsi doesn’t really do the rivalry justice (their coffee is in an entirely different league!), but the two are competitive, and their fans are just as rabid. Ritual and Blue Bottle both take forever to pour the perfectly hot water through freshly ground beans using a glass funnel. Drinking the high octane drip over at Blue Bottle, waiting for Dave, I texted him and found that he really was at Ritual, in a new-ish pop-up kiosk (basically a coffee hut made out of a shipping container) just around the corner from Blue Bottle. Luckily the next stop was on the way to yoga, and how could I say no to a cappuccino? The coffee and the cappucino were both delicious, and I was absolutely buzzing when I arrived at Yoga Tree for Shakti Church.

KK walked in wearing a rainbow tunic, rainbow knee highs, neon eyeshadow and toenail polish, and feathers in her hair (which is wild long wavy blonde with blue tips). Yes, it was Gay Pride weekend, but this is also pure KK–rainbows and light. KK is like a cartoon character come to life. “I KICK ASS AND SPRINKLE GLITTER” is how she describes herself on Facebook.

She infuses her classes with astrology. When you are in a KK class, it’s impossible not to know what’s going on with the planets, and why, for example, you might be struggling, or in a dark phase, or just about to break through into the light.

KosKul regulars crowd into the front row of the crowded studio. It’s not an unspoken rule; she lets you know that. She’s fierce and bossy–and inspiring. And her cues are phenomenal. She doesn’t spout the expected Anusara cues. She goes deeper. Way deeper. She knows her anatomy. My hip flexors and hamstrings and quads were engaged and in new-found harmony after all the heart-opening lunges. And somehow the almost-all Lady Gaga soundtrack just fit.

Beyond all the colors, the feathers, the rainbows, and glitter, one phrase stayed with me from her talk and cues — “drunken bees.” I wrote to her later and asked her what the quote was from (the journalist in me wanted precision). She didn’t remember. She lives with a beekeeper, “so I have bees and honey on my brain always,” she wrote to me in response. It wasn’t until today that she gave me the exact quote from the Spandakarika, translated by Daniel Odier. “A speck of pollen is the cosmic beehive where the worshipper, like a bee, drunk on the beauty of the world, tastes the endless ambrosia that flows from all things,” she said. “I go back to Spandakarika every few months. I looked into the commentary of stanzas 28-29 and found this.” Drunken bees–the perfect analogy for this heavily-laden buzzing from pose to pose.

After the class, I bought some Shining Shakti tie-dyed radical pants in radiant blues and greens, like gaia. KK’s were pink and orange. Yes, I was under her spell. When I wear those pants, though, I feel my mojo rising and I’m ready to kick ass and sprinkle glitter.

Later that afternoon, I had planned to drive up to Point Reyes to MC Yogi’s studio for a “playdate” with Janet Stone, another SF teacher I love (and hello, the promise of practicing with MC Yogi!), but another three hours of practice after Shakti Church would have been excessive, and though I do like excess at times (Blue Bottle AND Ritual before yoga?), KK’s class left me utterly blissed out and satisfied. And I was free to explore the city and see friends rather than succumb to my wanderlust and end up trying to fit too much in.

You can (and should) follow KK and her Wild Moon Wisdom page on Facebook. I adore her and can’t wait to reconnect when I’m back in San Francisco in January.

#249 Self portrait in ones and zeros


Back-story: My goal was to leave work in time for a 6 p.m. yoga class. I left at 7 and realized I hadn’t taken a single photograph all day. I’ve been saving this idea for a day like today when it seemed impossible to shift from work mode to life outside. So here’s my [blobby] reflection in a light fixture in the lobby at work.

Photo a day for a year project

Two hundred and fifty days ago, my friend Tyler told me he wanted to collaborate on a project.

The beginning

This message carried some weight. A proposition? A one year creative endeavor? I was intrigued because that seemed like a big commitment, and I was happy he wanted to do something with me for that long. We had been chanting together for months, starting with the Ganesh mantra, and inspiring each other to stay light, to stay positive, despite our complicated past. Because despite it all, there’s so much love there, and I have never been able to give it up. So perhaps there was more to it for me than just shooting photos and sharing them on Facebook.

He told me about the photo a day project that his friend Rai had started.  I love taking pictures, and as a writer, I have struggled with showing instead of telling. Photography is a way of communicating a moment in such rich language–in ways that words cannot.

So the day after that, we started it. I have initiated many practices this year. I joined in with my cybershala friends on the #365yoga project. I kept up with it for months, but ultimately faltered. Back then, I was practicing almost every day at Shiva Centre, where I was teaching, and also at Prana Yoga. Work amplified to the point where I could no longer escape at a reasonable hour to practice with the community. I made a point of practicing asana every day, until I couldn’t keep up.  I did keep chanting my mantras for months, moving from Ganesh to Kali to Durga chants, so even on the days I didn’t manage to do even a single handstand or headstand, I was still chanting. That chanting time was sacred. I’d hold my mala and repeat my mantra 108 times–sometimes at my altar, and sometimes in my car while driving. I was totally devoted. I had ayurvedic consultations, and vedic astrology readings, and even a vastu shastra consultation with a visiting yogi from Latvia. I moved things around in my home, hung ten different yantras in different spots in every room, and felt things shift in positive ways.

I taught my yoga class at Shiva Centre until August, when I accepted a job teaching at Salt Lake Community College. It was just one class, but added to everything else I’m doing–a full-time job that could take my entire life if I let it, tweeting for HuggerMugger, blogging for HuggerMugger, tweeting for Prana Yoga Trolley Square, tweeting for Shiva Centre … something had to give. I let go of my teaching to become a student again, and I let go of the tweeting for Shiva Centre. This did create room for something new.

In August, I got a studio at Poor Yorick, a dream come true. We had an open studio the next month. All I had to show so far was a bunch of terrariums. I intend to make prints and cards of my photos. By the time we have an open studio next Spring, I’ll be ready for that.

But now that it’s November, and I’m looking back, the only thing I have consistently done this year since I started it is the photo a day for a year project.

A couple of months ago Tyler made a film about the project. He interviewed me, Rai, Rebecca, Kristy, and Scot about what we were doing, how we’re doing it, and how it was changing the way we look at the world.

So I’m adding the photos to my blog. Tyler and I talked about making a book of the photos at the end of the year. I would like to go back through all the photos and tell more of the story of what was happening that day. The project has become my diary. I can’t take the time to write what’s going on, and often don’t want to. But the daily photo has become a marker.

I look at the world differently, always looking for something beautiful or notable to capture to tell a story. Or hint at one. I obsessively shoot photos, though almost never at work. Outside. In a yoga studio. While I’m walking my dog, Pooka. Out with friends. On special expeditions to monumental places like the salt flats. On bike rides. At concerts. In my car while driving. I love it. I have found a new language. And it feels good to have been consistent on something. This is my practice.