MANDALA: The Great Circle
By Nikita Mehta
I sat on this article for a month. This article was supposed to be about the history of yoga in LA; how you could get out of SF and go down to LA for the weekend and create your own yoga festival. I wanted to tell you about the beach and the sunshine and the best fruit lady (she is on Inglewood and Culver Blvd on Sunday afternoons). But, I waited and bided my time because there was uncertainty about the future of MANDALA, the Santa Monica-based yoga studio. And in that waiting I had time. Time to think about history and linage; time to muse about what inspires me, time to think about what brings me back to my mat time and time again.
Three years ago, in December of 2015, I went back to Mumbai to study at The Yoga Institute. The Yoga Institute is the oldest organized yoga school in the world; it is in its centurion year right now. But I didn’t go because of its historical value in that sense. I went because it’s where my grandparents went to study and it’s where my father did his yoga teacher training before he came to America. I went in devotion to linage, to family, to my own history. I went because I had lost my grandmother a few years before, and I wanted to stand on steps that she had stood on, to sit in rooms that she had practiced in and to learn from the lips of those who had taught her. Vibration, breath, prana is store on that campus. I don’t have to work hard to understand bhakti here, the work has been done for me, by my family and by the thousands of people who have come and practiced and stood on their mats in devotion. They have done so much of the work, all I have to do is sink in.
And that’s what I did for those 30 days, returned to source again and again, being fed by the spring that could trace its origin back to the founding of yoga. On days when Sutra lessons seemed to go over my head or we were asked to do the same asana over and over and over again (talasana to be exact), I would go out into the courtyard and look up at the building and imagine my grandmother running her eyes over the same patch of uneven paint.
It’s important for us to all have places like this. Places that store and emanate the vibration and prana of those who have stood consciously in that space before. Places where people have come alive in their quest for moksha. MANDALA was one of those places for all of us. A place where the vibration was palpable and the linage was clear. This space had once belonged to Gurmukh and housed Golden Bridge. Hundreds of Kundalini practitioners had gathered in these walls and filled these rooms with presence and energy as they practiced. The red paint on the side of the building is the same paint that was there when these devotees filtered into this space. It is there to remind us of the devotion and vitality that permeates the walls. And before Golden Bridge this space had belonged to another yoga studio, and a dojo and on and on and on. The history of the building is important, at least it is important to me.
Of course, a building, even a blessed building, is nothing without a teacher, a direct link to source to guide you into unlocking the frequency. Back at The Yoga Institute, Smt. Hansaji J. Yogendra was our direct link to Manibhai Haribhai Desai or Shri Yogendraji. When she spoke, she tapped directly into that original spring, she nurtured us with water from the source.
MANDALA offered the same direct line to the seed of truth. Teachers like Mahankirn Kaur Khalsa, who was Yogi Bhajan’s assistant and personal healer, and Adam Schomer, who creates yogic pilgrimage documentaries with his guru Anand Mehrotra, taught here. And of course, there are the teachers who need no introduction; Saul David Raye (founder of MANDALA), Richard Wegman, Kia Miller, Seane Corn, and Shiva Rea. These are the teachers who not only are energetic and fun to take class from but also have put in the time, show devotion to their own lineage, and continue to return to their own source to be filled and revitalized, only to come and share with all of us. These are the teachers who we line up at festival for; who we wait months for workshops with; who we take pictures with and proudly display on social media. But the point is, we don’t have to wait for festival to be filled with their light. MANDALA was there for all of us. A physical space that was bright and alive with the vibration of all of those who gave and received in her four walls. These teachers were there for all of us, for us to regularly practice under and be fed by.
Today, May 27th, MANDALA will close its doors and something new will arise in this space. That is the way of life, birth and death, endings and beginnings. The circle of life. But maybe in this ending we find a greater calling in our yoga practice, one that draws us closer to those teachers who bring us closer to source. Maybe we remember that we don’t have to wait for festival to be fed by spaces and teachers who call out greater vibration in us. Maybe we actively seek out gurus that push us out of our comfort zone and onto the path of liberation. The physical space of MANDALA might be closing but its mission remains the same; to raise intention and create connection. “We are all connected and the path continues.” Where will this path lead you?