PAIN IN THE ASS . CHURRO EATER . SPORTS JUNKIE. YOGI
Name: Les Leventhal
What city/country are you reppin’? hmmm good question – I’m officially a gypsy nomad – I’m American and taught in San Francisco for a decade and then Bali for 3+ years and now I’m teaching all over this amazing world from Australia to Europe to Beirut and places that have small communities and need the yoga as well as those crazy large fun festivals.
Facebook – Lesleventhalyoga
My book can be found on amazon – Two Lifestyles, One Lifetime
What is your story? My story – jeez louise – brevity ain’t my strong suit – that’s why I wrote a book – to share my story to help people and help save lives. I was an athlete, I did have an acting career (haha without clothes – might as well get that out early) and me a party boy – F Yes – I left no stone unturned – how am I alive – miracles are all around us and to think that that is just for me would perpetuate my neediness and selfishness – so I teach and give back.
What do most people think about your hometown/country? What are the stereotypes? What are you most proud of about your country? Interesting question during interesting times. I think we are living in a world where we are seeing just how separate we are and how much work we need to do to bring more communities together. Up until recently, I think the USA was looked upon as the land of the free and people are all forward thinkers but right now we are seeing such a great divide and fear and wonderings of where do we go now and who are these people that have not had their voices heard and we didn’t know there was such a large community of opposites. Who can I trust? I think the stereotype from living outside the states is a sense of privilege. What am I most proud of – that for some period of time, my marriage has been legal. Seems like that could change but I’ve had 3 marriage ceremonies now and if the government wants me to keep going on cake tastings, I will. Any chance I get to restate my vows and eat cake is a good day.
How would you describe yourself? Now – caring, giving, loving, kind until I get scared and then I can be selfish and human and react and respond inappropriately at times or hit send too fast on the text or email but I’m one of the lucky ones who gets off on emotional sobriety which means that I practice my yamas and niyamas and do my step work everyday and pray and meditate and ask for god’s help and guidance even when I tell him he’s wrong – yes I fight with my god – I get angry but I have these amazing tools to see where I violate those guidelines/directions and see how that affects others and clean it up – ha got all that out in one breath and no punctuation!
How would your mother describe you? Loaded question and tough – a relationship that’s been on and off through the years. I think she would talk more about me from the earlier years in my book and not the freedoms I enjoy now because I don’t think I’ve been able to spend that quality time with her where she can see who and what I am today. She would probably call me, what I used to call one my dogs, PITA (pain in the ass). I don’t teach to only bring you happiness – I teach and live so that I can feel free even in the midst of great struggle and challenge. Lots of that comes from that relationship which if you want to dig deep, is a desire for both of us to love and be loved with out conditions. Her and I are like laundry – sometimes u gotta add additional fabric softener.
What did you want to be growing up? A gold-medal, winning olympic swimmer because I was good at it and I was raised to believe that winning equals happiness. So, I have a competitive side. A lawyer cause I can gab on and win the argument. Liberated from challenges in my relationship to money and why this, to truly be rich and free.
What characteristic do you value most in others? The truth – it doesn’t waste anyone’s time. And folks that make an effort and folks that get back up after they fall down over and over and over again.
When did you last cry? Today in Placa Catalunya here in Barcelona. My husband and I have decided that living in not-gay friendly Indonesia is not right for us and we have come to Barcelona to see if it might be the place and after 3 weeks, we realize it’s not. I felt empty in a different kind of homeless way. I sat for a moment and looked around and I see homeless people here everywhere. Why do homeless people always have the cutest dogs? So, as promised, I’m going through my suitcase to see what I don’t need and gonna start handing out clothes. It gets pretty darn chilly here at night. I’m sad about the state of homelessness and hunger in this world. I’m watching people spend billions of dollars on elections and gifts and people are dying from hunger – it confuses the caca out of me. Selfishness, entitlement, denial or just a I’ve got my ass covered and ain’t got time to worry about others is my focus right now – not sure what I’m gonna do with that winning lottery jackpot of soup but it’s gonna feed lots of intentions into classes in 2017.
Is there anything you preach but don’t practice, or practice but don’t preach? I tell people to eat churros chocolate. I eat churros chocolate. I tell people to juice fast a couple of days, I juice fast – easy in Bali. It took me a long time to share about what god means to me in yoga classes. I used to be afraid of what other people would feel but that’s kind of the purpose of teaching – cast a wide net and let it go and let it land where people need it the most. So, in a way I’m telling people to practice selfishness – I practice selfishness – feels great. Then I have to see how that affects others (always).
We’ve all done a few things we’re not proud of, care to share one? Show us you’re not perfect. So many in the book but the big one I had to make amends to a lot of people, was around AIDS. I had a partner who died of AIDS decades ago. His family seemed to love him so much. I was sick. It was the drugs. But at the time, I told everyone it was AIDS. Family and friends showered me with love in ways that I always wanted – 8 weeks later when the test results came in negative, I said nothing for a long time. That violated satya and asteya. Satya, truthfulness – I got to see how my lies affected people’s lives, before during and after. Not all those relationships came back into my life after cleaning up the lie. Asteya, non-stealing – people didn’t get to spend time with the real authentic Les – we all lost some time on that one.
Let’s play favourites? F’ing love games
Breakfast lunch or dinner? I don’t wake up hungry – so not breakfast unless I have that for dinner – lunch is usually my lighter meal – DINNER because I love the ones that last for hours of yakkin and laughter and then like 2-3 hours later more food comes out.
Favorite book? U mean besides my shameless plug here for Two Lifestyles One Lifetime – ok I have 2 – Caroline Myss, Anatomy of the Spirit and How Yoga Works. Oh and in case you did not know who wrote Two Lifestyles, One Lifetime – his name is Les Leventhal. – or back to my mama question Leslie.
Sport/activity to play? Yoga, Swimming and power people watching while sipping lattes anywhere in the world
Sport/activity to watch? So many – I’m a sports nut – baseball, football (American), Basketball (college – because they are in it for the win not the money and glory (yet)), swimming, tennis (Novak Djokovich), gymnastics (can we get Novak to do that too?)
Favourite place you’ve been too? Rome with my husband for our 10 year anniversary at xmas time – we went to St Pete’s Cathedral/Square and they rushed us through the Vatican and all cause it was xmas eve and I said I wanted to come back for the midnight mass. Joe’s like uh, you’re Jewish – haha. I got my way and went back – we stood in the rain with thousands of people and watched the pope on the jumbo tron deliver this amazing message about love – it had zero religion in the message – just love and there I was with the love of my life, tears streaming down my face, completely present. It was as if I knew my whole life I needed to be in that place at that time and then we walked to the trevi fountain in silence and just sat and watched and listened to people chat and laugh for hours.
Favourite drink? Ok I’ll do a before and after here – pre-sober days Kettle One Cosmo, Southern Comfort Manhattan straight up and when it got serious vodka no ice (who wants that watered down with ice anyway?). Now, Jamu (Tumeric with coconut water and honey), coffee with honey, honey with honey – fresh squeezed OJ and anyplace that recognizes Joe and I are on a date and he is gonna have a glass of wine and I’m going non-alcoholic and they create some spiffy specialty for me – people’s care and concern for this sometimes amazes me.
Favourite drink at the pub? – if I’m at a pub, it’s for a fundraiser or show – agua con gas
Tea or Coffee? Coffee but not after 2pm unless you wanna go cha cha with me – how do people take a coffee at 10-11 at night and go right to sleep?
Boxers or briefs? Naughty – sometimes neither but when I am – briefs and have you been underwear shopping in Sydney – some of those things could not be called boxer or briefs…….me likey.
Dad’s son or Momma’s boy? Joe says dad’s son – my sister even said once…”of course you do that, after all you are your father’s son”. To this day, I’m still not quite sure what she meant by that but I’m gonna call it love and supporting evidence to the answer to this question.
Heartbreaker or hopeless romantic? Used to definitely be the heartbreaker but am very comfortably hopeless romantic – candles in the bath, flowers, bons bons, low lighting, chill music, sunsets and a dog nearby – fire in the fireplace if you can arrange that for us and a movie at home, big ass screen with m&m’s poured over popcorn. Where’s the big snuggly black lab?
Favourite Song? Right now – almost anything Edo and Jo and now remembering George Michael everything.
Favourite Movie? My life story of course – Pretty Woman and hopefully someday – Two Lifestyles, One Lifetime.
Best dance Move? Getting off the floor
What does a male yogi look like? Like every man that walks this earth and every man that crawls this earth because he has no legs. That’s for me – but I think that guys don’t do yoga because they think it’s light and fairy femmy – not with me – we’re gonna dig or they can’t come until they can touch their toes or master single finger floating lotus handstand…..that’s what we come for, that practice to journey to those places. The funny thing is that we learn to let go of needing to get there in yoga.
What are the biggest stereotypes about guys who do yoga? That they’re only good if the man bun looks just right. Uh, hello baldy. But that’s the best part – this is all my cascading caca. I mean I lived in LA as a hooker. My self-esteem was attached to how many times my pager went off in a day (sounds familiar to social media and how many likes we get on a post – sort of a form of prostitution too, maybe and that’s probably for a different interview someday). Anyway, yoga relaxed all those external expectations about what I should look like or sound like as a man doing yoga. Oh yeah, and that they all wear those flairy pants or that people might think they’re gay (I hope so – could use a few more but I think the gay men tend to wear the tighty tights – gay stereotyping yeah – it’s everywhere and no one wants to admit we were taught these things about how to decide who to like and not like and how to fit in). We gotta start finding more time to spend with people face to face again.
What was the biggest challenge when you started the practice? I was smoking again. I didn’t like who I was, I was back out drinking and using when I found yoga. My body image and self-consciousness were raging negatively at an all time high. So, my biggest challenge was just to stay alive and not do further harm to myself. I’ve had some brushes with suicide and this was not a happy time in my life and the gift and the challenge was that there was no one hanging around for me to project responsibility or lay blame on. Joe was almost out the door by this time too.
Why do you keep coming back? Cause so much of that stuff has relaxed – like my perm. Ok really – because on a physical level at 48, with things changing in my body – I tend to actually feel worse on the days that I don’t practice – broken ankle in 1989, torn meniscus for 8 years (no surgery yet), premature disk degenerative disease (what age is it no longer premature?). Emotional, spiritual – for me – it’s the drug I’ve been looking for more my whole life – and there’s no consequences. Nobody coming to handcuff me after class cause that crazy car crash pose I just did. Do I lose track of that sometimes and take it for granted – of course, we all do. I’d hardly be human if I didn’t or I’d be lying.
What was the biggest challenge when you started teaching? People – my diseases of addiction are diseases of isolation. So, sometimes I’d walk in and see people and thought, now what. I’ll let you all in on a secret. If we chant for a long time at the beginning of class, I’m working through it. Once I feel connected to everyone and feel like I belong and deserve to be there just as much as everyone else, we move on. Also, I could not look you in the eye – so demonstrating was tough to have the focus on me. Sequencing for my emotions to release was challenging because I just wanted the release part but here’s my biggest gift that I get – yoga gives me the privilege to be in touch with that cascading caca I want to have taken out of my life and says here – have a relationship with it in your life – go ahead, even love it – when I do that – challenges become gifts.
What is your best advice for a guy who wants to try yoga for the first time? Stop friggin waiting. It could be the most amazing thing you’ve ever done in your entire life – who wants to miss that?
Tell us a story when your Yoga practice came into play off the mat? There’s so many but money stories are always good ones for me, especially when it comes to language like this deposit is non-refundable. We’re yogis and supposed to be flexible right? And then came swine flu in Mexico. It aligned perfectly with my retreat and folks wanted refunds and transfers and the retreat center said nah ah asana. Border open – no refunds. I didn’t actually figure it all out in those weeks – it took a couple of years and a further experience for a Hawaii retreat that had pretty strict deposit rules and all that. They kept some of my money and I refunded 50% of 2 folks’ deposits that cancelled and then the following year, they’re voices were in my head and I realized I had had a good year financially and the feeling of stealing came up. It wasn’t so much the stealing of money. It had more to do with power and control and shockingly, I did not enjoy what I was going through. I was paying more than what those deposits were. So, after 13 months, I refunded all the money and added interest. That was my yama/niyama work off the mat. My other work is everything I do for the homeless, the hungry and the recovery communities around the world. And now, I also have an assistant who handles all that and I never see or hear about it.
What challenges have you experienced being a guy who teaches yoga? My experience is that some men have a bad reputation for inappropriate adjustments. Honestly, I’ve not heard of one woman, in all my years in yoga since 1999, adjusting inappropriately. So, I make sure I adjust everyone, even when Joe comes to class. He gets the same love as everyone else, no more, no less. Certainly, these days, it’s about marketing and getting that great picture up and out there. Some folks aren’t good at marketing but are great teachers. Some folks are great marketers and I get asked questions about their teachings. I always say, if you have that question, which is a judgment really, better get to their class quickly – sounds like something to be learned is upon us.
What does the next 5 years of yoga look like for you? Hahaha – my life changes so fast every month but right now – the next year is tons of travel – lots of Australia, Asia, some states, lots of Europe, workshops, trainings, festivals, new videos coming out, new logo and website in the works – rebranding – the 4 years after that – who knows – we thought we were gonna be in Bali the rest of our lives and that changed after 3 years. How about a once a year check in on this??? Even though I’m already booking 2018. And, I want to broaden my teaching programs around yoga and recovery and go more in depth weaving in the steps and yamas and niyamas and the poses that are connected to each of these in relationship to building strength and courage as well as stretching to facilitate surrender and moving through self will.
Things seem to be changing, what does the future of yoga look like in the western world? Cray cray as it already is – booms for a while longer and then breaks off, splinters as humans do into their corners of judgments – how can u call that yoga – that’s not yoga – it’s just exercise. Can we do more asana? Can u teach more like so and so? NO – I teach from what I practice and am working on. I say this – if it gets people to feel something and become more mindful, that’s yoga. Let part of it be a hike or run or bike, on the mat, on the cushion. The more yoga grows, the more clinging and attachment people have to things needing to be and stay a certain way. Ain’t gonna happen – Live and let live. The folks that wanna sweat laugh cry love and dive into yoga and recovery will find me – I just want people doing something – if that’s head back to the gym – do it. I just found Zumba – crazy nuts about it.
Other than yoga, what else keeps you busy? Girls keep me busy when teaching and my amazing assistant – and the boys running around….. no more club nights for us. My travels take up a huge chunk of my time and the planning that goes into all that. I think sometimes folks don’t realize how much administration time and planning goes into being a full time traveling yoga teacher. Some days I just have to sit and look at a map and plan. Other days, I am doing interviews like this one and other days, I am doing expenses – YUCK. Don’t the governments already know – if they can track everything else from my computer – track my spending and if I owe send me a bill and if they owe, send my refund. My recovery tribes around the world keep me busy – I have to remember that I only get to have a life if I maintain my sobriety – I know if I go out again, I’ll be dead. And dogs.
In your own words, what is BOYS OF YOGA? For me, it’s like coming out again. When I started yoga in 1999, I think the percent of women doing yoga was 85 and men 15 and that was in the bigger cities. That’s shifted some but I want more men doing yoga. For me Boys of Yoga is taking a practice that reconnects men to their inner-selves and a sense of wellbeing with who they are and become more intimate in all of their relationships whether that’s with another woman or in my case, with another man and to begin to treat all beings equally, that there is no superior race or gender. There’s one race – human and there’s no race cause we all pass through the same finish line – why rush – I used to. It’s all about how we love.
And what does the project mean to you? For me, it’s this opportunity to join a group of men/boys who truly love to play and love empowering people to wake up and live their dreams and forget about stuff we can hold in our hands as happiness and embrace the people in front of us to experience true happiness. It goes beyond the hiding behind walls of who we think we should be as men so that society approves of who we are and who we are working towards becoming. It provides a connection to so many men that I’ve already met that love to laugh and play.
What does it mean in your city/country? Right now, today in the USA – I feel as if it is a bridge – the teachings I offer are that bridge and there’s 2 sides and then there’s those who know and those who don’t know and those who are yet to decide. I don’t really care what your choices are in life. Here’s what I care about – choose and choose it from a place of love and passion and compassion and altruism.
Why do you want to share your story? Because I want to help save lives from ending too soon and I want to lend a shoulder to lean on for those going through tragic, dark alleys and let them know that there is a way out. There is hope. Transformation is possible. I can’t just pray for god to do that for me. I have to put in the work. The self esteem that comes from that and the sense of well being and belonging is beyond anything I ever thought I would feel towards fixing from all the stuff I used to use and buy to force those feelings into my spirit.
If you could spend time with hanging out, practice and chillin’ with some of the other BOYS, who would it be, and why?
Jonni – I spent a bit of time with him in Taupo last year at Wanderlust – he’s a link – for me a direct link – I can tell there’s a lot for me to learn there. Just gotta find that time – I always do.
Chad – I can tell he’s been through it and owns his life
Albert for hair tips but also Rory – cause the dude owns his anger – where the F else in the world can we go and say we have a temper and anger and not get judged or ostracized for that kind of behaviour but that we can turn directly toward it and see it as part of who we are – it’s kinda like living inside the chant asato ma.
What is your go to yoga pose? Head to Ankle which some people refer to as car crash asana – why because it challenges my everything along the journey getting there – I need a whole huge hips and hammies and shoulder opening practice to get there and quad stretching too. Once I get there – it’s like the grand canyon and Niagara falls for me – I just relax and enjoy the view. When I come out of the pose – I still feel a little stoned – all the stuff I looked for in the drugs but my breath is huge and I feel clean and alive – awake.
What pose do you f*cking hate? Camel – just doesn’t feel good anymore – don’t know what happened – but I struggle in the pose. It’s a pose where I still look for more than what is being offered to me in the moment. Easy for me track that on and off the mat. Yet, it’s a great reminder of the work to be done in both places.
Yoga is everything – for me it’s either everything or nothing. I don’t just go to yoga and roll out the mat, practice and roll up the mat and done. It’s on and off the mat, living my yamas and niyamas and the other limbs too.
What is your favourite quote, or personal mantra?
It could be the most amazing thing of your entire life, who wants to miss that?
How’s your breath, how’s your life?
If nothing ever changes, nothing every changes
Ch ch ch ch ch caturanga
Interviewed: January, 2016
Photos by @michaeljameswong and property of BOYS OF YOGA LLC