Les Leventhal: Seeing the Divine in a Short, Bald Guy
“You know what the miscarriage rate is for first time mothers? About 80-85%, reportedly. What does this have to do with forearm balance? Nothing, except that if you consider that statistic you might think about what a gift it is that you’ve been gifted with a life and that you’re here in Bali with the ability to practice arm balances and inversions”.
I must be some kind of masochist. Two arm balancing classes in a single day. This one, at first glance, looks like a proper celebrity yoga gig. Les Leventhal adjusts his microphone, surveys the assembled throng of devotees in the Main Pavilion … and immediately lays any such misconceptions to rest.
- Your friendly neighbourhood yoga teacher. (Photo credit: Ulrike Reinhold)
He’s personable, friendly, and grounded. If my milkman took up yoga teaching, I imagine his style would be similar to Les’s. Taking a class with him is like chatting with a lovable friend, who just happens to be constantly encouraging a room full of people to work harder than they’ve ever worked in their lives. I’m repeatedly struck by the fact that, while addressing an expectant audience of dozens of bright-eyed festival-goers, he seems as relaxed and genuine as if he were shooting the breeze with a couple of friends.
Throughout the class, he roams the room dispensing encouragement and humour.
At one point, he replaces the water bottle I accidentally knock over jumping back from Eka Pada Koundiyanasana II (pose dedicated to the sage Koundinya II). “Nice”, he says.
On another occasion, I click my back in Virabhadrasana I (warrior I). “I felt that”, he empathises from behind me.
We attempt a particularly challenging transition, just as You Can’t Always Get What You Want by The Rolling Stones kicks in over the PA system. “I love God”, he comments.
Before long, I notice his warmth and positivity permeating my own approach. He asks us to work with someone we don’t know to practice handstand, and I find myself partnering with a woman named Emily. “I can’t do handstand”, she declares. 30 seconds later, I’m holding her hips and supporting her as she balances. She returns to earth, her face glowing with pride and pleasure in her newfound accomplishment.
The concept of transcending ego is a familiar one in yoga circles. Sometimes, in my view, it becomes an egotistical game in itself. “I’m waaay more egoless than you”. Les seems truly comfortable making light of himself, however. “Those of you shorter than me … I think there are one or two of you in here”, he jokes as he demonstrates a way of supporting others in Pincha Mayurasana (feathered peacock pose). “I’m not sure. This started going 20 years before I found yoga”, he quips, in response to a question about whether hairstyle affects the position of the head in headstand.
For all the laughs and levity, however, I also experience a heartfelt sense of sincerity in Les’s class. His ease in the postures he demonstrates testify to his dedication, and his closing soliloquy places all our exertions into perspective.
“What I see in you is greatness. The greatness to attempt things you’re not sure that you can do, and to love them. You can take that attitude off your mat, to that special person in your life who offers you a beautiful challenge, and make the same kind of effort in loving them”.
You said it, Les.
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Written by : Robert Wolf Petersen