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Yoga Oasis

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Yoga Journal Review, April 2000, Issue 152, page 147.
"At one end of the spectrum, you'll find a vaction like that offered at the Yoga Oasis near Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii, a bed and breakfast which offers week-long yoga intensives with local teachers. If an intensive is more yoga than you want, you can participate in a yoga class for an hour each morning, enjoy an organic, vegan breakfast, and spend the rest of the day hiking, exploring the island, or endulging in whatever other vaction pleasures you discover."

Yoga Journal July/Aug 1986 – pg 23

Some of us are what we become, but how many of us can become what we see? What happens when the perceiver fuses with the perceived? Witness Sanjay, whom the French call "Le Nijinski du Mime." "Sanjay...has the agility and timing of a gymnast as he hangs suspended from the damnedest position positions. He also boasts the boneless qualities of a ballet dancer as he simulates the weightlessness of an astronaut and the lung crushing desperation of an underwater diver." (Los Angeles Daily News, August 7, 1981)

Visualization and pranayama techniques drawn from Tibetan Buddhism have been instrumental in catapulting Coleman to the top of his profession. "Marcel Marceau says that mime is like Buddhism: first you see the mountain, then you go to it with your head, then your chest, then your pelvis. Then you rise up rise up to your toes and become that mountain," Sanjay explains. "After that you come back and take on the mountain's stability and solidity. You become one with nature. "Mime yoga is like that," he continues. "I become a scorpion, or a cat, or a cobra, or a peacock; I take on its essence and go into an altered state. It gives me a glimpse of something greater than myself. I can look at something and understand it. I can look at a bird and fly, and take on the essence of freedom."

"Visualization and pranayama techniques have catapulted mime Sanjay to the top of his profession."

As "The Astronaut", Sanjay seems to defy gravity, levitating above the earth. "I imitate inanimate objects by becoming them and animate objects by taking on their essences," Sanjay says. How does he accomplish this transference of consciousness? "Through breathing," Sanjay claims, "breathing deeply and rhythmically." Of the four types of respiration, mimes use abdominal breathing to effect the stillness of a mannequin. "In order to keep your body so motionless that it doesn't even twitch, you have to be able to control your mind," Sanjay says. He tells of one mime who describes abdominal breathing as circular breathing, in which he not only breathes subtly into the abdomen but also takes in small amounts of air and rebreathes the old air." Another type of respiration is chest breathing, which mimes use to express emotions emanating from the heart, such as a lover's sigh. The weakest, shallowest form of breathing is clavicular breathing, in which the shoulders move up and down. Mimes use it to express laughing and crying. In Charlie Chaplin's "Dead Wife" routine, Chaplin is laughing as he mixes a drink, hears bad news as he turns away from the audience, and is crying as he turns to face the audience again — yet his shoulder movement remains exactly the same. The fourth type of respiration, complete breathing, combines the other three. Marcel Marceau developed what he calls the "poetic gesture" to bring about a transition from one idea to another. Specifically, the poetic gesture is a lyrical arm movement done in conjunction with the breath. An example would be to inhale and raise the arm in front of the body, then exhale and lower it. This give the impression of wiping an imaginary screen. According to Sanjay, anyone who uses the poetic gesture is using Marceau's style of mime.

Sanjay believes that mime, like t'ai chi chuan, is meditation in motion. A mime's basic tools are head, hands and chest. Corporal mime uses mainly the body and head, pantomime primarily the hands and face. "When you place your hands on any one of the chakras, you emphasize its qualities, "Sanjay says. Melodramatic theater, especially in the 1920s, used lots of hand gestures on the seven chakras as well as movements of those chakras without the use of the hands. "'Macho men tuck their thumbs into their pockets, hands dangling suggestively near their crotches. The liberated woman puts her hands on her hips, cock her hips, and claims, "I can type 100 word a minute, but I don't do coffee!" Superman bunches his fists at his solar plexus, which indicates strength. Hands placed flat on the small of the back suggest fatigue. Squeezing the sides of the waist with the inner part of the forearm expresses certain forms of intuitive thought and is often used by women to say, "Don't go. It doesn't feel right for you to go. I don't feel safe." A chest pushed out indicates courage. A rib cage lifted suggests a warrior ready for combat or an athlete ready for action. A chest pushed back indicated cowardice. A dropped chest shows sadness, fear, or ill health. Passing the hands over the heart chakra expresses feeling of love. For example, mimes breathe deeply and exhale, hands on heart, to represent a lover's sigh. The heart area pushed out indicates love and good health; rounded shoulders protecting the heart indicate someone who is crushed, fearful, or sad and is not letting anyone in. Girls cover their throats with their hands when they feel embarrassed or shy. Loosening a tie or a collar indicates freedom or relief. Grabbing the throat and holding the breath indicates surprise. The third eye, or pineal center, is the locus of creative thought. A finger pointing up, eyes lifted, shows an "aha," an idea, and inspiration. Looking down, as in Rodin's "The Thinker", indicates analytical thought; scratching the head indicated perplexity; and looking all the way up, as in prayer, illustrates the crown chakra, the center of God-realization.

As a child, Sanjay thought he would become a priest. In college he studied economics while living in a Berkeley, California, religious co-op called Unitas, whose purpose was to disseminate information about what it means to be human in contemporary America.
One of Unitas's requirements was that Sanjay give a lecture on suffering in the United States. "Our mental and physical suffering are different from those of the people of africa, Beirut, or Vietnam," Sanjay says, "I couldn't express it in words, so I did a skit called 'The Loser', about a baseball pitcher who loses the World Series by dropping a fly ball in the bottom of the ninth inning. It displayed the agony of losing a very, very important event." The skit won him accolades, and a mime was born. Sanjay went on to study with the Japanese mime Mamako at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater Group in Berkeley before leaving for Paris in the early 1970's to study with Marcel Marceau and Marceau's teacher, Etienne Decroux.

While strolling along the Seine, Sanjay prayed to have three wishes granted: to find the fountain of youth, to discover the secret of life, and to excel in his art. He found the fountain of youth in Paris when an Indian dancer and yoga teacher introduced him to Hatha Yoga, which taught him the correct ways to exercise, eat, breathe, and think. He uncovered the secret of life through meditation. And he began to excel in his art when his motivation changed. {Doing acts out of love and not from hope for reward opened new doors for me," he says. "I remember walking down the street and thinking, 'I'm going to try to see Christ in everybody, even that jerk over there!".

The death of his girlfriend was the pivotal event that motivated Sanjay to change his thinking habits. "A moment of crisis forces one to reevaluate one's life, he says. "I began to read spiritual books, particularly the Unitas publication The Atom Smashing Power of Mind by Charles Fillmore. Basically, it states that by changing your thoughts you change the events in your life. The right way of thinking is to see Christ in every human being. This may sound born-again," he laughs, "but it isn't! Born-again Christianity emphasizes the personality of Jesus; what I call Christian yoga sees Christ as a consciousness."
The New Testament, the Bhagavad Gita, and Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines by W. Y. Evans-Wentz form the foundation for Sanjay's approach. "I've recently begun to blend Eastern and Western religious philosophies into my life and, consequently, into my act," he says. "The New Testament guides me in social intercourse, and the Bhagavad Gita and Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines help me in the actual practice of mind control. I combine Eastern pranayama and sitting meditation with visualizations of Christian images."

In addition to giving solo performances, Sanjay has toured the world with Diana Ross, has appeared on FR3 (French television), and, most recently, has appeared in a Burger King commerical on American television.

How does it feel to be the first black mime? "I didn't think my skin color would matter", Sanjay say, "but it has hindered my career here in the States. I see my students get job offers that are closed to me. The Burger King commercial was a fluke. "Marceau popularized the white-face style of mime," Sanjay continues, "which is what most people identify as mime. It's frustrating for me, because no matter how much I try, I'm never going to look like Marceau! I use whit, black, and gold face — and no face, which is currently in vogue." Sanjay doesn't have the color problem outside the United States, or in Oregon, where his brother is an English professor at the University of Oregon. "He gets me jobs", Sanjay says with a laugh.

Partly to break through the color barrier, Sanjay decided to created a specialty, a field of mastery that would remove him from Marceau's shadow. "Being an Aries has its positive side," he explains. "I wanted to do something unique, and mime yoga was perfect. Yoga helps me get away from the egocentricity, the self-centeredness, that comes with being an Aries." Sanjay does one and one-half to two hours of Hatha Yoga each day, including mime yoga. Three times a week he does other physical activities, like jazz dancing, far at least an hour, and every other day he does two hours of acrobatic training. In all he averages three hours of physical training each day.
Since his return to the States several years ago, Sanjay has been working closely with Sol Cohen, the only living vaudeville comedy-acrobatic teacher, and he has formed the Sanjay-Stuart Vaudeville Comedy Acrobatic Act in an effort to reach a larger audience and to make a living from his art. "I don't regret the choice to become an artist rather than an economist," he says. "I want to give my life to an art form that I can perhaps raise to the level of religious art. But I would also like to make a living at it."

Sanjay often leads mime yoga workshops at the Sivananda International Yoga Institute in Los Angeles, including one entitled "The Healing Breath," in which he retrains participants to breathe correctly. In addition, he give individual therapeutic mime yoga sessions to people of all ages.

"There's no age limit in mime yoga,"Sanjay says. "I can do it my entire life. Marceau is in his late fifties. Had he been into yoga, he would be even greater than he is today. He would have been able to keep his body in good condition and his mind more humble, like a fruit tree that bends in humility from the weight of its fruit. That's my goal — to be like the fruit tree."

A former on-air production coordinator for a Los Angeles television station, Susan Woldenberg is now a freelance writer based in southern California.


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