Helen Kohl

Helen Kohl

I’m a 69-year-old retired Canadian woman. During my working years, I was a writer. I am blessed with good health (knock on wood!), a good marriage, two wonderful adult children, and a great circle of friends. We travelled frequently with our kids when they lived with us, and on our own once our kids left home to make their own lives.

Until the coronavirus hit, I was teaching yoga at community centres in Toronto part time, and commuting to our home on a lake near Parry Sound. In March, we decided to move to the country full time. It’s been a good decision. We Zoom a lot with family and friends, we kayak and/or hike just about every day, I practise or Zoom yoga classes most days, and I’ve taken up language studies (Spanish, German and Hebrew) to put my brain (since I can’t put my body) into other countries and cultures.

In the early 1970s, I went to England to visit an old university friend and travel. He told me that he’d taken up yoga–very new in England at that time–and suggested I join him. The classes were taught by what I now realize were the first Western students who had gone to India to study with B.K.S. Iyengar. One of those teachers came behind me in triangle pose and gently guided me to an alignment that lengthened my spine and released my shoulders. I can still recall my stunned recognition in that moment that this felt just right for my body. Even more significantly, after a couple of months of regular classes, the limp I had come to England with (from childhood polio) had gone.

I was hooked.

I came back to Toronto determined to find classes like the ones I’d had in England, but couldn’t find any yoga class that gave me the “exactly what my body needs” feeling I had experienced in England until I found Esther Myers. She had just returned to Toronto from England, and was teaching at Yoga Centre Toronto as well as in the office of a doctor pal at night. I knew I’d found my teacher.

Esther could “take the temperature” of a room full of students and give them exactly the class they needed that day. She could look at every person in a class and know what their body needed to deepen their experience within their pose. Plus, watching her demonstrate yoga poses was a learning experience in itself. You could see the energy moving through her body like the ripples that move away from a stone dropped in water. 

She was also a person driven to improve her teaching and to keep on learning.  There were no props in those days, so she had black carpet under padding cut into mats, brought real bricks in from a construction site to help us learn how to move our elbows together in head stand preparation, and brought in karate belts to use as belts. (She was studying karate so she would still be a student and not just a teacher; she eventually achieved her black belt.)

She went on regular retreats, always in search of ways to deepen her own practice and teaching. Eventually, she met Vanda Scaravelli, and moved toward a new way of practice and away from the rigidity of Iyengar yoga. 

I’m grateful that Esther shared her knowledge through her books and decided to start training teachers, because that meant others could share and build on her approach and knowledge.    

Initially I loved yoga because I felt physically better afterward. I enjoyed my increased flexibility and strength. But you can probably get that in the gym. I continued attending classes taught by Esther and her students, because the classes always took me inward, and the voyage is always interesting. In every class, I learn more about how to connect my breath, body and mind, more about staying in the moment, more about  how my body works and more about how to move more intelligently. I leave the mat feeling more comfortable in my body, calmer and quieter.

My yoga practice helps keep me calm, centred, and in my body. I’m sure it’s kept me healthier.

The basic approach comes from Vanda’s legacy: sink into the ground, lengthen your spine, and breathe. It’s simple, practical and inclusive. I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t benefit.

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