Mrs.Vidak introduced me to yoga when I was seven. The calm mother of four children who lived across the street, she did her yoga on a mat on her kitchen floor, and I was enchanted. A few years later Lilias Folan in black and white was invited into our family room every afternoon. I made my little sisters do head and shoulder stand against the couch, a early attempt at teaching. My father had been an avid ballroom dancer and taught many classes in New York City during the 1950’s, which should have indicated to me that my body was made to move. In the 1970’s we lived in Marin County, in Northern California, and I was preoccupied with other concerns.
When I was really little, the first man landed on the moon and the peace movement didn’t seem like a fad. Things were looking up. When I was ten, I learned about Watergate and found out as well that we could blow up the world a hundred times over with atomic bombs. It became obvious to me that adults didn’t know what they were doing. Some people learn visually, some through listening and some kinesthetically. As I belong in the last category, I needed to feel for myself what was true and what wasn’t and set about seeking my own answers through studying Asian philosophy, Jungian psychology and getting involved in personal growth workshops (as many were doing in the San Francisco Bay Area in that era). I also did a life-time supply of illicit substances within a relatively short period of time. This often resulted in my making less than wise decisions that caused my own and others’ suffering. Concurrently I learned through personal experience that the guidelines which the great religious traditions of the world had universally created for proper conduct (ten commandments, eight- fold noble path, for example) prevented undue personal suffering, and some wheels didn’t need to be reinvented.
One advantage of finding my own way through my teens and early twenties was that I learned (through lots of trial and error) to trust my ‘instinct.’ We were designed to listen to what is best for ourselves through cultivating a relationship with our inner life. In order to do that, we have to be able to know how to address emotions like anger, sadness, fear, desire and aversion. When we can sit with ourselves (asana means comfortable seat), we can “hear” ourselves. If we live ethically — and most cultures share a similar understanding of what that means — we can find that we are supplied with our own answers and are capable of great peace. This is the work of yoga. But back to the story:
In 1991 I responded to a long-standing invitation by my mother to attend a yoga class taught by Sherri Baptiste. By this time I had a bachelor’s degree in art with a specialization in sculpture (bronze and stone) from University of California at Santa Cruz, as well as a Master’s Degree in Art and Consciousness Studies from John F. Kennedy University. I was a professional artist, illustrating in such magazines as Psychology Today and, ironically, Yoga Journal (although I never read it at the time). Studying art and the motivation to create taught me a great deal about how to reach inside and pull something out that didn’t before exist, but I still had a mind that ran like a hamster on a wheel. The night after that class I sat on the living room floor and closed my eyes. It was as though I was looking out over a very still lake and I was the lake. I knew then that yoga would become a life-long practice.
For eight years I studied with Sherri (daughter of Walt Baptiste, who is credited with bringing yoga to San Francisco, and sister of power yoga’s Baron Baptiste), having no aspirations for my own practice except learning to be calm. Instead of finding transcendence through leaving the body as I had tried to do for much of my teenage and early adult life, I discovered that the more I was in my body, the more I was able to respond to whatever was occurring in and around me and the happier I became.
I didn’t do my first headstand until 1999. At this time I lived in San Jose, California, and was an Associate Professor at Cogswell College in Sunnyvale, teaching a variety of courses in Storytelling and Storyboarding, Design, Mythology, and Creativity and Content Development. I was a visiting Lecturer at La Salle College in Singapore, traveled throughout Asia and consulted in India, created one of the first websites that documented over 2000 religious holidays and celebrations and traveled to many countries with a video camera filming the ways in which people celebrate their own spiritual traditions.
During my years in academia, I had observed that higher education wasn’t delivering to students the qualities that they needed to become highly functioning human beings, becoming wise as well as being knowledgeable. At the same time my yoga practice began to consume my life. I cleared a space in my office to do handstand and bought an exercise ball to use as a chair at my computer. I began teaching students at the college how to do yoga. Soon every student was standing on their hands against the wall before tests.
In 2001, my father was diagnosed with cancer. One of my closest friends and very first mentors, he died in October 2002. In his last weeks, I found out (again kinesthetically) that everything that really mattered to me in life was encapsulated in attending him those final days, doing the best you can for another, that behind the circumstances and the stories, there is simply deep and endless love … and, we are here in our bodies for a very short time. While I had been teaching yoga part-time for several years, I left academia in 2003 to teach yoga full time, working with individual clients, instructing group classes and leading retreats.
I am thankful every day for the inspiration and guidance from my parents, Charles and Eleanor Prugh, Dharma Mittra and Rusty Wells, Joseph Campbell, Sherri Baptiste, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nature with a capital N, Alain and Nanci Desouches, Tias Little, the Rev. J Barton Sargeant, Kent Bond, Peter Gabriel, the New Mexico landscape, Rumi, Kofi Busia, Leigh Hyams, the hard stuff that happens in life, Buddha and those students that force me to grow so I can be of some use to them. I live with two of my most beloved teachers, my husband Will (who is the rock to my water) and our three year old son, Liam (who is the sky).