Last week I received an unexpected phone call from a woman who told me she would like to make a donation to Oxford Community Yoga. She informed me that she had "a lot" of blocks, mats, straps, bolsters, and more. I thought, "WOW! How often does this happen?!"
This generous donor told me that she taught yoga for many years in the Cincinnati area, but is officially retiring. I asked, "Are you sure? You're done?" She was firmly positive. She told me I could have everything if I was willing to make the trek out to her (soon to be sold) summer cottage near Brookville, Indiana to pick it up. In fact, she told me that if I took some, I must take it all! She would be moving to Colorado soon. I love an adventure, so I agreed to meet her there that Friday.
I decided to bring a friend along, since I didn't know this woman, so I asked fellow teacher and friend, Chi to ride along with me. We made a day out of it-- hitting the lunch buffet at Gulzar's Indian Cuisine in Richmond, enjoying the fall foliage, and getting lost when our cell phones no longer had reception. I'm sure we turned the car around at least 5 times trying to find our way!
We finally arrived and upon seeing the woman, to my surprise, Chi asked, "Are you Kathy Hunter?" Indeed she was! Chi had taken a workshop with her more than 20 years ago! There are no strangers in the world of yoga professionals, or so it seems. We are all connected. Perhaps this is because of yoga's long history as an oral tradition.
The Indian sage Patanjali collated this oral tradition in his classic work The Yoga Sutras, a 2000-year-old treatise on yogic philosophy. The text contains almost no actual instruction on how to practice yoga. The same can be said for other classical texts dating from 2000 BCE and earlier (the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.)
The majority of students learn the techniques of yoga directly from the mouths of their teachers. The practices are conveyed from teacher to student verbally, as the texts are often abbreviated, difficult to translate, or purposely vague. The oral tradition and the passing on of direct life and practice experience provide a true living link to yogic knowledge and practice.
Also an artist, Kathy invited us into her cottage to show us her paintings. To our delight, she told us both that we could each choose a painting to take home. Yee! Could this trip get any better?
We loaded my car with all of Kathy's gifts, and just as I was ready to close the car door, she said, "Wait!" I saw tears in her eyes, and I realized that this woman had given many, many hours of her time, thought, and heart to the teaching of yoga. She wanted to look at everything one last time before I closed the door on this chapter of her life. It was then that the power of her act of kindness hit me.
She was passing the torch, as they say.
When I got home, and unloaded the car, I found a single file folder mixed in with a bag of yoga blocks. It contained newspaper clippings, notes, drawings of posture sequences, and other memorabilia from Kathy's career as a yoga teacher. I learned that Kathy had traveled to the Soviet Union in the 1980's to teach yoga! I was deeply moved, and felt so much gratitude for her years of service.
I hung Kathy's painting in my home office, and framed one of her posture sequences to hang in the entry at the studio. Check it out the next time you come to practice! May it serve as a reminder of all the dedicated and loving teachers who have shared their experience and wisdom on this incredible path. Thank you, Kathy Hunter. Thank you to all teachers of this powerful tradition we call YOGA. Jai Bhagwan.