Three yoga stories
Local teachers on what their practice means to themLocal teachers on what their practice means to them
I asked three local yoga instructors to write short statements about the meaning and value of yoga to them. Here are their responses.
My first experience with yoga came from a book by Swami Satchidananda in the early ‘70s. This older guy with long flowing hair and beard was doing these amazing contortions, breathing exercises, meditation. It was captivating, and I began practicing what I learned from the book while living in the mountains being a ski bum.
Later, while in college, I took a yoga class through the Psychology Department at Sonoma State. I was hooked and have been practicing ever since.
I now have the good fortune to be teaching yoga at CSU Chico and witnessing students having much the same experience I had. They are experiencing the joy of feeling new strength, flexibility, balance and energy in their bodies via the physical postures (asanas) and a calming of their minds through the breathing practices (pranayama) and meditation (dhyana).
What I have always loved about yoga is that it is, as the renowned teacher Pattabhi Jois said, “1 percent theory, 99 percent practice.” Not a lot of dogma and philosophy, just do the practices, and there is a gradual awakening to who we are and how we are connected to everyone and everything else. Yoga is the integration of body, mind and spirit.
At 58 I still feel as healthy and energetic as ever. Yoga will be a life-long practice for me. It is the foundation of my life.
Yogic philosophy tells us that to be a complete human being we must learn to incorporate every aspect of ourselves, step by step. Yoga is a powerful means of self-transformation, providing the tools we need in order to affect change in every aspect of our lives. I have personally experienced this while practicing yoga for the past 10 years and teaching it for the last eight.
Looking back, I had any number of strange “brush-ups” with the power of yoga techniques—techniques that are known for guiding us toward a state of contentment, pure bliss, and the reduction of suffering. I recall a certain “yogic” experience one night during a particularly stressful week of finals as an undergrad. I found myself curled up on the floor of my studio, in child’s pose, doing some exceedingly slow and deep breathing. I don’t know how long it lasted, but I fell into a relaxed trance state for what seemed like a miniature eternity.
Curled inward like a shell, I listened to the sound of my breathing, as though it were ocean waves or wind in a cave. Suddenly every dimension of me seemed to relax into the moment, and into my body. My mind became very calm. I was wholly focused on the sound and feeling within, on the pure beingness of my existence in that moment, and I felt very peaceful.
I first “discovered” yoga about 41 years ago, when I was browsing through an old used-bookstore in Sacramento. A copy of Light On Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar fell out of the musty, disordered bookshelves right in front of me. I picked it up and realized that this was something that was a perfect expression of where I had been sensing I wanted my life to go.
I was still in my early 20s and had just returned home from serving with the Army as a medic in the Vietnam War, the violence and horror of the war still resonating deep inside me. Instead of turning my anger and frustration upon myself, I instinctively knew that this strange book on yoga held something powerful and long lasting that was the secret of getting me through this time and perhaps through the rest of my life.
I knew nothing, really, about yoga, but I was already beginning to just sit and meditate, or just be present and aware, in spite of turmoil all around me: I was taking part in anti-war activities that made it feel as though I was back in another war right here at home.
The first chapters of Iyengar’s Light On Yoga were so clear and beautiful—this was an ancient science to make us healthy, sane and aware of our inner divinity, which is present in everyone and everything. I began looking for yoga teachers, but they were few and far between back then. The most important thing, though, is that I started my own practice and to this day have been keeping that up.
I married a yoga teacher, and for 21 years we practiced our yoga of love and joy and acceptance and eventually started teaching together. When she died five years ago I faced the harshest test of my life. Caring for her as she was dying and then going on with life afterwards was and is the strongest testament to the power of yoga to heal, not only the body and mind, but probably most important, the heart.