Tons of people can say yoga changed their lives; half as many can credit their yoga teacher. Some are good, some great, others extraordinary and gifted. Karin Stephan was the jewel of a teacher strewn in my path. A sapphire? A diamond? I found about her on my way to the post office. How lucky to have been out of stamps that day.
It was August. On Frost Street, I stopped to admire a garden filled with lovely black-eye susans, purple coneflowers, and blue hollyhocks. A man pulling out weeds there told me he also tended the garden across the street, the yard in front of the yoga teacher’s house. I looked over my shoulder.
Yoga teacher? So near to my own house. I had been practicing yoga for years, having begun as a 16 year old, by following instructions in a lovely blue hard-bound book written by Swami Vishnudevananda. Subsequent years in New York led me to the Sivinanda collective and then to David Life. In Boston I’d studied with Swami Chidananda Sevashram, and several students of Patricia Walden. I was always practicing, always looking for the right teacher, one I might bow to and possibly love? And not have to drive across the river to Boston to take classes!
Karin’s yard was long and narrow and nicely landscaped with flowering shrubs and short, wide crab apple trees. “Really?” I asked the man tending his garden. “Yes, really,” he answered.
So I started with Karin, a senior Iyengar teacher who, with Patricia Walden, had founded the Iyengar Center in Cambridge back in the 70s. In the 80s she put together her own studio, The Loft. That’s where I was headed. How exciting to be walking through the garden and up the steps to her airy studio.
Karin is small. Her head came up to my chest. Yes, she agreed she was tiny but said her size was deceptive. “I wear size large tops. My shoulders are broad,” she said.
She wore her blonde hair in a braid that dangled way down her back. Red lipstick. Clean. She always looked very clean and her scent was nothing, invisible, just air. Her eyes, startling blue–kept me magnetized. Blue eyes are family eyes for me.
I continued studying with Karin for a decade. Once a week. Twice a week. More. My body changed. It was easier to be with myself; my interior spirit expanded.
Karin’s eyes and her voice and instruction: precise, gentle and visual.
I remember her saying Brancusi’s sculptures depended on their base. The base was as important as the sculpture, contributed to form and beauty, and allowed Brancusi’s birds to fly. “Feet,” she said. “Your feet.”
She showed us photos of Buddhist sculpture; Hawaiian sculpture; Easter Island sculptures. “The faces. Look. All relaxed.”
In class Karin quoted Krishnamurti and Rumi. Always giving her teacher credit, she used Mr. Iyengar’s language: eyes of the groins, the second buttocks, the toes of the knees. “The first step is always the last step.” is one of her favorite sayings…and then “the middle of the forehead, the nose the lips.”
After five years of studying with Karin, she introduced me to macrobiotics. I’d dabbled in it back in my Pittsburgh days: brown rice, tofu, bancha tea. She said her macrobiotic food gave her energy, clearness and cleanness, balance, and grace. Karin had been following macrobiotic diet since the early 70s. I took the first step ( really the last step– Karin always says;”The first step is the last step.” ) My allergies, which I had suffered from since childhood, went away. My weight dropped. My flexibility took a leap. I felt wonderful.
So my yoga teacher’s ways made their way into my life. Slowly. Insidiously. Kindly. In 2005, she encouraged me to take yoga teacher. “You already know how to teach and you have a good eye,” she said.
I went to India. I got a yoga teaching certificate.
I began following the path of yoga teacher. I stopped teaching at Boston University, where I had been for 15 years. I began pursuing my calling in the visual arts utilizing my yoga practice and my training in classical form to develop a strong practice in sculpture. I taught yoga part time.
I’ve seen stiff backs become supple. Men, who never thought they could, touch their toes. Shoulders move away from ears. Hard backs soften. Postures improve.
Karin said ,”Teaching yoga is rewarding,isn’t it? It is a high calling. There’s no greater gift you can give a person than helping them understand and live with their bodies.”
Thanks to Karin and yoga my life transformed. I’m happy everyday, about what do: art and teach yoga.
Karin’s Macro-Yoga site: www.yogamacro.com