In 1977, at the age of 33, I took my first yoga class, in San Francisco. Truthfully, I wasn’t all that thrilled by it. It was OK, it was alright, but not so mind-boggling really. But something I couldn’t figure out had gotten my attention, because I went back, and then I went back again, and I kept going back. I think it was the way that a certain mental quiet came to me in the midst of all the physical effort that intrigued me. Plus the intricacy of the poses had a kind of artistic, rhythmical, and coherent quality — a quality of wholeness and aliveness — that was very enticing.
BKS Iyengar had come to the Bay Area two years earlier, and there was a handful of newly minted Iyengar yoga teachers offering classes. I met Mr. Iyengar himself seven years later, in 1984, when he came to San Francisco for the first International Iyengar Yoga Convention. Three years after that, I went to India to study with him in Pune, and I’ve had the good fortune to study with him and his daughter Geeta several times since.
I taught my first yoga class in 1985, so I’ve been teaching for well over three decades so far, full-time.
People have always wanted to know the truth of what it means to be human, and how we each fit into the larger world of community — the other creatures, the plants and weather, all that. Plus what holds it all together, and how it can all be so beautiful and yet so difficult at the same time. People have always had these questions, and I think that yoga is one way, one practice, that people have invented to help themselves explore these mysteries. The impulse to question and to seek is age-old, and yoga is just one way, and there are many others. If yoga did not exist, still we would question.
The one thing that modern yoga offers which some other practices don’t — at least not so much — is how many different ways there are to use the practice. Some people do yoga just for the health benefits — to relieve their low-back pain, let’s say, or to get over a cold a little quicker. Other people enjoy the athletic beauty and artistry of the poses. Still other folks are drawn more to the inner, meditative aspects of yoga. Or yoga can be a kind of prayer, a devotional practice. Or you can practice with some combination of several of these intentions.
I think that a sincere practice of yoga can help us be a little kinder to ourselves, our family, our community, and all the other creatures that we share this planet Earth with. I believe that is the best use we can make of yoga, and of our human lives.