Los Angeles Edition • May 2005 • Issue 32 • By Martin Hughes
Encapsulating the life of Denise Kaufman within the confines of a magazine page is a task about as daunting as fitting the entire population of New York City into a phone booth. This petite and sprightly bundle of energy with frizzy hair, and a smile worthy of a fairy godmother is the type of woman many of us might have looked at as children and secretly wondered why we couldn't have had a cool mom like her. Listing her talents and accomplishments is a study in cultural iconography. Growing up in San Francisco placed Denise in the center of the cultural revolution of the 1960s. A musician since her teenage years, Denise's fingers are at home on the strings of a Hawaiian slack key guitar, electric bass, and blues harmonica. She was a member of The Ace of Cups, the first all-girl band in the 1960s, touring and opening for the likes of Jimmy Hendrix. She was one of Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters, and traveled around the country on "the bus" exploring and stretching the boundaries of her consciousness through the psychedelic adventure. On the walls of her home hang photographs of her surfing double overhead waves during the last El Nino that passed through the Pacific Ocean. These days, Denise divides her time between Venice and Kauai, HI where she can be found surfing her favorite breaks.
Denise's exploratory approach to life has also shaped her journey on the path of yoga. She was first introduced to yoga by her mother. She practiced with Yogi Bhajan in the late 60's, trained in Aikido with Robert Nadeau in the 70's, was one of Bikram's early teachers in the 80's and studied Ashtanga with Pattabhi Jois in India and Sanskrit with Vyaas Houston in the 90's. This summer she will be one of the first graduates of the Yoga Philosophy program at Loyola Marymount University. Over the last fifteen years Denise has embraced the deep and nurturing practice of Yin Yoga, to which she was introduced by Paul Grilley, with whom she continues to study and assist.. Having studied with many of the great masters of our era and having taught the likes of Madonna and Quincy Jones, the most striking thing about Denise is the fact that she isn't the least bit impressed by any of it. In her eyes, it is all part of her unique journey and all in a day's work.
As a yoga teacher, Denise exudes the type of nurturing tenderness that places beginners at ease and reminds accomplished yogis about the meaning of acceptance and surrender. For Denise, yin yoga is not a passive practice. It is nurturing and promotes recovery in the body and the spirit from the many strains and stresses we place upon them in our daily lives. Deep, stretching postures which leverage open the core joints are held for long periods of time, creating opening at the ligament level. Practitioners safely explore their bodily boundaries and release energy flow in deep areas where chi tends to stagnate. Experiencing Denise's Yin Yoga class at Sacred Movement is an exercise in letting go and coming together. In her words, "There is a time to work, to move things forward and be creative in the material world and a time for not going anywhere, for not being anyone and just releasing into the mystery. In class, we turn the lights down, put on good music and dissolve. It's more fun to do it together.”
The sense of community that Denise cultivates is evident in her class as practitioners squeeze together in the crowded room, graciously making room for everyone. Denise has all of her students introduce themselves during class "just to take the anonymity out of the practice.” It is not at all uncommon for her to take that practice out of the studio and invite students to walk back to her home after class for tea, music, laughs and an opportunity to connect. The comfort of her home echoes the inviting and accepting quality that characterizes her personality from the moment you meet her. You know instantly that this is a person who has been on a fantastic journey, yet is still able to see the minute beauty in everything and everyone around her.
Denise Kaufman teaches privately in Los Angeles, at her yoga studio on her organic farm in Kauai, Hawaii and at Sacred Movement.