I was lucky enough to have spent several weeks in Thailand earlier this year immersing myself in Agama Yoga – here I share with you a story I wrote based on an interview with one of my most inspirational teachers, Laura Carrotti. Enjoy!
“I remember going home to my Brooklyn apartment, flopping down on my best friends bed and going ‘Fuck, now everything has to change,’” says Laura Carrotti, reminiscing about her first transcendental meditation experience, “And I think it was maybe a year after that that I sold everything that I owned and moved to Asia.”
Carrotti doesn’t do things by halves. Born and raised in Brooklyn, she spent her early adulthood tending bar, creating art, and generally raising hell. By her own admission, she was the very caricature of the fast-talking, chip-on-the-shoulder Manhattanite who shouts at careless passers-by, “Hey, I’m walking here!”
“In New York there is nothing mystical,” Carrotti says, her face shaded from the midday Thai sun by a palm frond, “there is no magic, there is nothing outside of myself and what I can see and what I can feel.”
As she says this, the self-exiled New Yorker shrugs her shoulders sadly and gestures at the jungle around her, the pristine beaches nearby, as if to refute the argument. At 35, Carrotti looks a decade younger. Her dark hair falls past her waist, she’s shoeless in fisherman pants and a tank top, and she radiates compassion. Lest I should assume too much, she assures me that this has not always been the case.
It was not an easy journey from the practical New Yorker she was to her current role as an Agama tantric yoga teacher on the Thai island of Kopanang. In one meditation workshop, she went from believing that charkas were “horse shit”, to grudgingly admitting that energetic bodies were real. It was not soon after that she gave up her life in New York and heading out into the world on a quest for truth.
Part of Carrotti’s appeal as a teacher is her ability to relate. She was not, like Yogananda, born virtuous and aching for enlightenment. Rather, she spent the majority of her life skeptical and unhappy. And not just, she admits, sort of unhappy, but profoundly so, the kind of unhappy that can result in an early ending, head in the oven.
Nothing about ‘the good life’ in the states – the striving for success, good shoes and good men, a future bright with children and a family home – seemed remotely valuable or desirable to Carrotti. She felt alienated, strange, and misunderstood. For a time, Carrotti lived in a small universe, caught up in a tempest in the teacup of her own existence.
“There was a piece of me that wanted to know that I was not the ultimate pinnacle of existence,” says Carrotti, “that was a pathetic and depressing reality, and I needed for there to be something else.”
A yoga practice did it at first, but she found herself wanting more. After the novelty wore off, she was back to square one, but this time in Vietnam, teaching in 107-degree heat and generally being miserable. So, she took a holiday. And on this holiday, she discovered Agama.
What she found, at first, was simply an extremely logical approach to yoga that she really appreciated. Stripped of any extra fluff, and organized so that the connections between things made sense, this brand of yoga appealed to her anti-“hippie-dippi”’ sensibility. It was smart. But then, upon returning to Vietnam and continuing to practice the Agama style, something slowly began to change.
There was a moment of realization, and as she tells the story, Carrotti can’t help but gesture wildly, excitedly, as though describing a skydiving trip or a walk on the moon:
“I remember it was my birthday in Vietnam, it was about 150,000 degrees, and filthy in Saigon. I had no one around me that I cared anything about besides my students, I had no support, no happy birthday, and I was walking down the street to go get bread and I realized that I was just smiling, and I realized upon further reflection that I was just happy, I was just kind of ok, in a way that was not at all contingent upon anything, nothing to do with anything material.”
And that was it. She’s been in Thailand ever since, teaching and learning. That is, until last month, when she arrived back in the states for a much-anticipated tantric workshop tour. She’ll be teaching in California in November, and hopefully (I’m crossing my fingers) returning to her birthplace on the opposite coast for a weekend workshop as well. She works hard, and moves faster than the stereotypical yogi, whirling like a dervish as she prepares for a class.
“Why do I work so hard?” Laura repeats back the question, a natural one to ask someone living on a small warm island in Asia, where a meal can be $1 and the best things – sunset swims, jungle hikes – are free.
“To go from being somebody that really had a very dodgy psychological life to the fact that I’m actually ok now – how do you repay that? How do you go ‘hey, thanks for my life back?’ That is why I work.”
About Laura Carrotti, from Agama’s website:
Laura’s Yoga initiation took place in the basement of a Brooklyn gym, where she begrudgingly took a class at the urgings of various friends, seeking respite from chronic back pain due to scoliosis. The heroine of our story, very practical and down-to-earth, neither seeking nor particularly interested in spirituality, began to sense that within this system were answers to questions she didn’t even know she wanted to ask. She tried to fight it, but to no avail. “Ugh! Next thing you know, I’m going to become a vegetarian and wear flowery clothes!” she exclaimed in disdain.
The reality of this path, with its potential to fill in the holes left by a lifetime of competing, striving, and amassing, compelled her to complete a teacher training course, despite being utterly convinced that she had nothing to teach. Her practice deepened but she was left feeling that she had learned all that she could from her present teachers and her attention was drawn toward the East.
In 2003, she gave up her home, sold everything she owned, packed a bag, and moved to Asia. She traveled in India, Thailand, and Vietnam, and in early 2005 she found Agama. Though impressed by Swami Vivekananda’s logical, practical, and un-New Agey approach to spirituality, she was reticent to plunge into the school headlong and took Swami’s advice to try the practice and let that speak for itself. She returned to Vietnam and did just that: practice. After a few months of heartfelt effort, she began to see changes in mind and spirit hitherto unimagined and she realized that she had found what she had been seeking.
In late 2005 she rejoined Agama and has been part of the school ever since. She began teaching in early 2007. There aren’t words to express her gratitude and devotion to the Yoga system, to Swami, and to God for what she has had the grace and privilege to learn at Agama. She is also humbled by the opportunity to share what she has learned with others.
Laura has been a vegetarian since 2003, but to date has no flowery clothes. Her favorite practices are Hatha Yoga and Tantra.