Richard Rosen began his study of yoga in 1980, and has been teaching continuously since 1987. He’s the author of four books on yoga, the most recent Original Yoga: Rediscovering Traditional Practices of Hatha Yoga (Shambhala 2012). He’s also president of the board of the Yoga Dana Foundation, which makes grants to support yoga teachers working in underserved communities in the San Francisco Bay area. Richard lives in beautiful Berkeley, CA.
1. Please describe, or tell a story, about your first yoga class or experience.
I took my first yoga class in May, 1980, at the Yoga Room in Berkeley, which is still in existence today though in a different location. To be honest don’t really remember much about the class at all. I decided to attend because I read in a book that yoga was the best exercise ever invented. For years I thought the book was by Robert de Ropp, and titled The Master Game, but when I went through it after a decade or so, I couldn’t find the reference that sent me off to my first class. It will be an enduring mystery in my life, where did I read that "yoga is the best exercise" encomium? Anyway, the teacher’s name was Steve Caziarc, he was a big, burly, bearded fellow, very good natured, who would tell us stories about his teacher in India, a fellow by the name of Iyengar. Two years later I found myself enrolled in the teacher training program at the Iyengar Institute in San Francisco.
2. Describe or narrate your first time teaching yoga. What do you recall?
I was asked to substitute at the Iyengar Institute for one of the senior teachers, who I had been apprenticing with for about a year. I recall being terrified, but thankful I was familiar with most of the students in the very large class. I had my pose sequence written out on a small piece of paper that I had secreted in my pocket. I would refer to it when the class was in Down Dog and they presumably couldn’t see me with my crib notes. I remember having the class timed out to the nano-second, which of course was totally unrealistic, I managed to get through about half the list before the time ran out. Up to that point I don’t think I've ever felt so relieved that something was over and done.
3. Last time you took a yoga class or workshop, what were your impressions?
It’s been awhile since I’ve taken a class. I have a mild case of Parkinson’s disease and I need to practice a little more slowly nowadays than I did before the onset. The last class I took was at the Piedmont Yoga Studio in Oakland when I was its director, this was about 2009 or 2010. The teacher was my friend Francois Raoult, who I invited every year to come and do whatever unique and wonderful thing he was doing at the time. The last class of the weekend wasn’t an asana class at all, Francois was into drawing mandalas, so he passed out a bunch of colored pens and those adjustable compasses we had in grade school to make circles, and we created our masterpieces. I thought it was an enjoyable experience, certainly it was something "completely different," as Monty Python says, but I could tell not everyone agreed. A few of the students were expecting an asana class and were not quite so enthusiastic about the drawing.
4. Describe the last time you taught a class or workshop.
The last class I taught was this past Saturday, the first class I ever taught at Namaste Yoga in Berkeley. As I write this, the Piedmont Yoga Studio, which I helped to co-found in 1987, and where I’ve taught almost 7000 public classes since, is in its last month in its current incarnation. All of the teachers have needed to find new venues for their public classes. I was fortunate enough to get a slot at Namaste on Saturday at 9:00 am, where I can continue my intermediate class. I’m very appreciative to be given the time, but the experience was straight out of the Yoga Twilight Zone. Of course I’ve taught plenty of Saturday workshops in other out-of-town venues over the last 15 or so years, but never have I taught my regular class anywhere but PYS for nearly 28 years. A good 20 or so of my regulars followed me over to Namaste, and there was something very disorienting about all those familiar faces in completely new surroundings. I watched myself getting more and more nervous as 9:00 am approached, so I decided to come clean and tell everyone, Boy, am I freaked out, which not only alerted them to my mental state and made them all laugh, but dated me as well—I think the last time I said "freaked out" was about 1971. I guess the class went OK, but I’m used to an abundance of props, especially blankets, so we couldn’t do shoulder stand—my long-standing rule is that each student needs at least three for a shoulder support in shoulder stand—and since we couldn’t do sarvanga we also couldn’t do head stand, like the proverbial horse and carriage, we can’t have one without the other. Believe me, I heard about that after class from a couple of the regulars, who missed their daily inverted fix, and next week I’ll be adding to the blanket stock in the room before class begins. It’ll be interesting to see how long it takes me to get comfortable at Namaste, and then at the Yoga Room, where three of my other classes have landed beginning in February.