San Francisco: Rainbow Shakti Church and Coffee and Drunken Bees
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.