John and his wife Stephanie are currently traveling around the world sharing TriYoga. They have taught in Russia (Moscow and Siberia), Ukraine, Taiwan, China, Israel, and England.
Q: How did TriYoga enter your life? Have you always been interested in yoga?
A When I was a child I read a story called “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” by Roald Dahl. It is about a man who practices meditation and then gains special powers. At first he is very selfish, but in the end his yoga practice changes him inwardly and he uses his powers to help others. This story was really attractive to me at the time and I have always remembered it.
During college I heard a Ravi Shankar album and something awakened in me. I was completely drawn into the ragas, and I listened to them constantly. I was totally transfixed. Through learning about music, I was exposed to more of Indian culture.
Five years later I was in the Navy and one day I had a strange thought: maybe there is a better way to eat. I remember sitting in my apartment, trying to force down a piece of lettuce. I was 23 years old and I had never eaten a salad in my life. Until that time, I primarily ate meat, dairy, and bread, and a few cooked vegetables that I liked. Over the next year, however, my diet changed and I became a vegetarian. Soon after that, I fell in love with a girl who was vegan, and I also became vegan. The girlfriend didn’t last, but the vegan diet has.
Q: Do you mean that you did it by yourself, without reading some inspiring book or meeting someone to direct you in this way?
A: By myself. At the time it seemed so random and unexpected, but somehow changing my diet just felt right. It was very strange, but now I realize the influence of past samskaras. What other explanation could there be (laughs)? I also believe that I was feeling Kaliji’s influence long before I actually met Kaliji.
Anyhow, at the same time that my diet was changing, I had another “random” thought that I should try yoga. I knew nothing about yoga, except for the meditation I had read about when I was a child. I couldn’t find a yoga teacher in Orlando, so I bought a book and started to try some postures. Just the “warm up” movements took over 30 minutes, so I never actually did that many postures. I could never stay interested long enough. So I was doing yoga out of the book every once in a while, but I thought I was doing really well!
Finally, at the end of 2000, the Navy moved me to Norfolk, Virgina. I still had never taken a yoga class, but I had intermittently tried to follow the crazy book. At work I heard a woman on the radio talking about her yoga studio. I wrote down the information, and attended my first Basics class with TriYoga Teacher Gabrielle Gerard in January 2001. Before class I told her that I was probably too advanced for Basics (laughs)! She said “why don’t you take the class and we’ll see how you do”…and I was totally humiliated. I was SO stiff, awkward, and uncomfortable. I knew that I wasn’t particularly flexible, but I had no idea how bad it really was!
Also, at this time I met Stephanie through friends in Norfolk, and we soon discovered that we were both taking TriYoga classes with Gabrielle Gerard. If we hadn’t met outside of yoga, we soon would have met in a TriYoga class. We have been together ever since, and married almost 5 years.
Q: What was in TriYoga that made you stay and never consider look for any other yoga class?
A: It has honestly never occurred to me to try any other style of yoga. TriYoga is a complete method and a lifestyle, not something that I could “outgrow”. My initial interest was in pranayama and meditation, and I found this in Gabrielle’s TriYoga classes. However, once I realized how tight my body was, I became interested very quickly in the asana practice! It was sort of like discovering a big mess behind the refrigerator: you have no idea how it got tere, but you just have to clean it!
Q: How did you meet Kaliji?
John: Stephanie and I studied with Gabrielle in Norfolk for two years, and we became consistent with our practice. We thought we were Level 2 students.
Finally I completed my Navy service, and Stephanie and I moved to my parents’ house in Southern California. The idea was that I would ride my bicycle around the world, and Stephanie would continue working as an actress.
We knew that Kaliji lived in Malibu, about 45 minutes from my parents, and we were looking forward to taking a class. I only knew Kaliji from her picture in Gabrielle’s studio. She had blond braided hair, a big smile, and lived in Malibu. So clearly, Kaliji was hippie, and I never gave her another thought. Mainly, I wanted to meet Kaliji so she would see what a good teacher Gabrielle was!
Stephanie and I were a little suspicious when we went for our first class. I called the TriYoga office to get the address, and I said to Stef “I think the class in Kali Ray’s house”. When we arrived, Katya greeted us and I thought “What is this little Russian person doing here?” I saw the pujas and thought “What are all those statues?” All I remember from that first class was leaving in a state of deep confusion.
I week later we returned to class at the ashrama for Level 2. During that class Kaliji said two things that changed my life. The first was during during Hanuman, when I was feeling so awkward and uncomfortable. All the students around me had their hips to the floor and looked blissful, and I kept thinking “Who are these people?” I had 5 bolsters and pile of blocks under my hips, and I was still shaking and thinking “God, get me out of this!” (laughs). So Kaliji stood up and put one foot in front of the other, as if she was walking, and said that for some this was their Hanuman. And suddenly this made so much sense to me. I realized that it simply didn’t matter how close my hips were to the ground. I can’t begin to explain how freeing this was! Also, in Earthtouch, Kaliji remarked that if yoga was about putting your hands on the ground, then every gymnast would be an enlightened master. Just these few words from Kaliji were able to penetrate the wall of pride and competition in my mind, and I knew that what Kaliji said was true. Of course, Kaliji had me figured out from the moment she saw me. She knew what was needed!
After that class the floodgates opened. Stephanie and I asked Kaliji questions for at least a couple of hours. From that time on, my life was changed. All my plans went out of the window. I could not wait to see Kaliji again. We stayed at my parents’ house, and every day possible we drove to the ashrama to see Kaliji. We went to all the classes and trainings, no matter which level.
Q: Since Kaliji has been in your life, what has changed in you?
A: Stephanie and I were just having this discussion. It’s difficult for me to be objective when evaluating myself, so it is very nice to have someone to help.
I feel that I have more balance in my life. I was very compulsive before meeting Kaliji: I literally couldn’t sit still. I was constantly planning the next grand adventure, always looking ahead. Now I’m a lot calmer, and I am much better at living in the present. I’m definitely more at ease with myself, and I don’t take myself “as” seriously as before. Recently Kaliji was laughing at something silly I had done, and I found myself honestly laughing–at myself–for the first time in my life! That is an incredible gift for me.
I especially feel that I am slowly learning to be more accepting of life and other people. I’ve always chosen to be “right” rather than happy, but over time I have learned to respect choices and beliefs that differ from my own. From traveling I have learned to trust more in the Flow and to remain patient, rather than immediately reacting to the tiniest change of plans.
I was also very introverted, but I’ve become more aware of and interested in other people. I’ve never made friends easily, but in TriYoga I’ve become a member of a large family and made friends that I truly love and cherish.
Most importantly, I think, is that I have developed some spiritual discipline and focus, which I previously lacked. I desired a spiritual life, but I was short on action. In TriYoga I have learned an invaluable spiritual practice that I will never outgrow, and I have kept with it.Â I am so happy to be focused on this path!
All of these changes I attribute to the TriYoga practice, and above all to Kaliji’s example of right living. There are so many different choices to make and paths to follow in life, and I am just so, so grateful that Kaliji is here to guide the way. I feel very, very blessed that I can observe Kaliji and learn directly from her example of love and kindness, grace and generosity, tolerance and acceptance, humility and selflessness. I observe Kaliji, and then observe myself, and it is pretty clear that Kaliji knows a few things that I don’t. So following Kaliji’s teachings as closely as I can certainly seems to be a prudent and reasonable thing to do!
Q: Now you see Kaliji as your Guru? Did you relate to her in this way from the very beginning?
A: It took me while to understand that Kaliji is a Guru. From the second class with Kaliji I felt incredibly drawn to her, and I wanted to learn as much as possible, but I didn’t know Kaliji yet. I didn’t understand where these feelings were coming from. I certainly had never thought “I want to find a Guru”.
Stephanie and I stayed as close as possible to Kaliji and TriYoga, and over time I realized that my life was getting better and I had a sense of purpose, direction, and focus. I had the strong feeling that I had found something for which I had been searching a long time, but I had never realized that this search was happening. I was overwhelmed with the feeling that my life had been designed in some unfathomable way to prepare me for TriYoga and Kaliji. About nine months after meeting Kaliji, with love, gratitude, and devotion I asked Kaliji to be my Guru.
Q: How did you decide that you want to teach TriYoga?
A: I initially had zero interest in becoming a TriYoga teacher; however, I wanted to know everything about TriYoga. After meeting Kaliji, Stephanie and I began attending virtually every teacher training and workshop in Malibu and Santa Cruz. My love for Kaliji and TriYoga continued to grow, and I felt a lot of gratitude for all of the knowledge I was receiving. I began to feel that perhaps teaching was a way I could give back to Kaliji and TriYoga. At the end of 2003, Stephanie and I visited Sri Swamiji’s ashrama in Mysore, India. Kaliji had a student nearby in Bangalore, and asked if we could spend some time teaching him. I was very surprised, because I felt I knew nothing, but that first experience teaching settled the matter! When we returned to California Stephanie and I both joined the Basics internship. We certified Basics in 2004 and continued right away with Level 1. We also began teaching regular classes at the Santa Cruz TriYoga Center. As soon as we certified in a level we began assisting with that level during teacher trainings. Since March 2007 we have been certified through Level 3.
Truly, I have never thought of myself as a yoga teacher. Stephanie and I really just want to be as helpful to TriYoga as possible. It is such a joy to share Kaliji’s Flow with others. We are very blessed that at this time in our lives, we are in a position to be teaching TriYoga full time. It is an incredible opportunity, and we are very grateful!
Q: So you studied with all senior TriYoga teachers in Santa Cruz?
A: Yes, we attended classes and trainings with all of the teachers at the Center. We were primarily trained by Nandi, who has become a dear and cherished friend and a wonderful mentor. I was drawn toward Nandi because of her knowledge of the Flow and her commitment to the integrity of TriYoga. Nandi taught us how to teach, how to assist, and how to carry ourselves and represent TriYoga as well. From the very beginning, Nandi would stress that she was only teaching us what she had learned from Kaliji. Also, Nandi has always been so open with us about her personal experience with Kaliji and TriYoga. I know I can approach Nandi with anything. I treasure her so much!
Q: How do you feel now, teaching TriYoga all around the world?
A: Surprised! (laughs). I’m not quite sure how I ended up with this life! It is truly a joy to be able to share TriYoga with so many, and especially to train teachers in new places. We see the impact that Kaliji makes on people all over the world, and the excitement they have for TriYoga. We are so very grateful for the opportunity. I feel so honored and blessed, so honored that I am trusted to share this Flow around the world. I still cannot quite believe it (smiles). Our goal is to share the Flow lovingly and accurately and to represent Kaliji and TriYoga in the way that is not about us, but is about TriYoga.
Q: Do you learn from teaching and traveling?
A: Oh, yes! From a teaching standpoint it is incredible experience. We see so many different students from different backgrounds, and the students in each country are unique. We learn to be flexible and adaptable with our teaching. Also, we have improved our methods of communicating with students when verbal cues aren’t possible due to language differences. We learn a lot of practical skills from assisting with Kaliji’s programs. Our hands-on assistance has become a lot more quick and precise from assisting so many students.
Of course, while traveling we encounter various situations and some of them may not be so comfortable, but with Kaliji’s example we are learning to be patient and wait for the Flow. We watch Kaliji, how she acts towards people, how she is always patient with the Flow, so very patient and trusting in the Divine Flow. I tend to react to things right away, and waiting for the Flow wasn’t easy at first. However, after waiting patiently and watching the Flow develop a few times, I really have learned to trust and now it feels more natural. To me that is an incredible benefit of Kaliji’s example. Just by following her, just by following, I know the right way to live, I know the right way to act. No matter what my mind tells me, I have someone I can follow. I can choose right thinking and right action and then over time it becomes natural.
Q: You have a masters degree in physics and secondary teaching credentials in physics. Do you think this knowledge helps you in TriYoga in anyway?
A: I think my education and engineering experience has taught me logical thinking and attention to detail. This has definitely helped me in TriYoga, as I am “usually” good at noticing subtle details in the flow.
Also being practical and logical makes life a lot easier. (laughs) Of course, whenever I am around Kaliji it becomes very clear how little logic and discrimination I really have! (laughs).
Q: How does it feel to share relationship with someone on the same path?
A: I feel very, very lucky. Of course, Stef and I met and started TriYoga at the same time, so I have never known any different! The most important thing is that we share the same goal. We love and support each other on our TriYoga journey. When one of us is having a hard time or is struggling with something, the other has perspective, kind words, and understanding.
I don’t think either of us would be traveling and teaching TriYoga today if we weren’t together. We go to so many trainings, and stay up as late as possible with Kaliji, and try to arrive early and be the last ones to leave. We structure our lives around each other and TriYoga. Balancing family life and TriYoga life is easy because for us they are pretty much the same. We could never do this if one of us was not on the TriYoga path.
It is such a blessing to have my best friend and my wife to be my TriYoga partner!