The King’s music helped lead author/teacher to Eastern traditions
by Paul Grondahl
SAND LAKE, New York. September 7, 2005 (The Times Union)
Leonard Perlmutter is totally serious when he calls Elvis Presley “my guru.”
The 59-year-old yoga and meditation teacher, in fact, thanks the King in the acknowledgments to his new book, “The Heart and Science of Yoga.” Perlmutter began listening to Presley’s gospel recordings as a boy growing up in Albany. He was moved by Presley’s voice in a way he would not fully appreciate until much later, after decades of studying Eastern philosophy, world religions and mysticism.
“When I gave my attention to the music of Elvis, the rest of the world fell away,” said Perlmutter. “That was my earliest meditation.”
In his life and in his writing, Perlmutter has set out to demystify yoga and meditation, to make it seem as natural and essential as drawing breath.
“Meditation is nothing more than concentration of the mind,” he said. “You can be meditating when you’re golfing, playing poker, cooking, gardening or reading a book.”
Perlmutter and his wife, noted equine artist Jenness Cortez Perlmutter, explain the ways in which they’ve braided yoga and meditation into their everyday lives in the encyclopedic, 511-page tome they co-authored.
The book is an outgrowth of the American Meditation Institute for Yoga Science and Philosophy, which the couple began at their home in 1996. They draw a wide range of seekers to their renovated 19th-century farmhouse and bucolic five-acre grounds in Averill Park.
They paid $30,000 for the ramshackle spread and a tractor in 1975 during their back-to-the-land bohemian days. They bought it from a former tractor salesman who had a religious conversion in the house, quit his job and became a missionary for a fundamentalist church.
“Maybe it’s something in the water here,” Perlmutter said, a sly grin creasing his lips beneath a long, full beard that is mostly gray.
Perlmutter formed the institute after studying with the late Shri Swami Rama of the Himalayas. A dozen people are currently enrolled in his six-week meditation course.
“These are people who have pain in their lives from work stress, divorce, illness and other causes,” Perlmutter said. “Their goal is to live without pain.”
Perlmutter, who was raised as an Orthodox Jew, said he has no desire to develop disciples. He encourages students to continue attending their churches and synagogues.
“My job is to become a mirror and to redirect their attention back to themselves,” he said.
The couple practices what they preach. They rise at 5:30 a.m., offer prayers, stretch through various yoga positions and meditate. The take a long walk along their country road, followed by a light breakfast. He goes to his study to read and write, she to her painter’s studio. They break to cook a vegetarian meal for lunch, their main repast of the day, followed by afternoon work sessions and evening classes.
Perlmutter, shoeless, wears an Asana suit, an Eastern-styled, loose-fitting ensemble of white cotton slacks and collarless shirt. Encircling his wrist is a silver bracelet engraved with his mantra, Aum namaha shivaya – “Nothing is mine. Everything is thine.”
He wears a silver ring with an image of Ganesh, the Hindu elephant god. His necklace is a string of rudraksha seeds.
His car, a wood-paneled 1996 Buick Roadmaster station wagon, has a vanity license plate that reads, “Aum.”
The road to yogi was full of twists and turns for Perlmutter. His father, an Austrian Jew, emigrated from Austria to the United States in the 1920s. He ran movie theaters in Lake George and Glens Falls and later cafeterias.
His dream was for his son to become a lawyer.
Perlmutter, who has an older sister, did his best to oblige.
After graduating from Albany High School in 1964, he earned a degree in political science and international relations from American University. He dropped out of George Washington University School of Law after two years.
“I wasn’t satisfied trying to live my father’s dream,” he said.
After moving back in with his parents in the New Scotland Avenue neighborhood, he started an alternative newspaper, Washington Park Spirit, in 1971. He pulled together a talented bunch of young, idealistic people like himself. They worked for free at first, fueled by a desire to challenge the Albany Democratic machine and to foster grass-roots activism.
The Spirit’s illustrator was Jenness Cortez. Perlmutter was editor and publisher. The two discovered they were kindred spirits.
It was a heady time and the 20,000-circulation biweekly community paper, but Perlmutter closed it in 1975, after four years of publication.
“I had spent every waking hour on it and was exhausted,” Perlmutter said.
His chapter as newspaper publisher had ended and a new one, as student of yoga and philosophy, began on farmland in Averill Park.
The unusual arc of his career would make a good song – gospel perhaps. And sung by Elvis, his guru, of course.