Transformation Through Yoga Can Happen At Any Age!

When Janet walked into her yoga class at age 58 she had a litany of complaints: 3 broken ribs, Fibromyalgia, and scoliosis, amongst others. She was a size 12 at 133 lb. Within a few years yoga had made a dramatic transformation in her life. At age 66 she finally took yoga teacher training and became a yoga teacher. When this video was made, she was aged 67 a size 6 and weighed 114 lb. The video also includes her introduction to three of her 90 and above students that will make you believe that you are never too old for yoga.

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A Millionaire Yogi

John Oliver Black

Yogacharya John Oliver Black

John Oliver Black’s 96th Birthday had just passed a week before. He was in fine health and quite active. On Saturday, September 16 he would periodically sit up on his bed to meditate. The last time he did so, he held his body in the lotus posture and then his body gently fell backwards with his eyes upturned, his legs still folded, and he passed away. Later a doctor pronounced him dead of heart failure. This was a fitting end to a magnificent life. But who was John Oliver Black and what is his story?

John Oliver Black was born on September 1, 1893, in a small northwestern Ohio town called Grover Hill. This town is about 30 miles east of Fort Wayne, Indiana. It was here that he spent most of his youth. He later moved to Rockford Illinois not far from Chicago. And finally at the age of 27 he moved to Detroit where he spent the rest of his life.

John started his career working at a carriage works factory in Rockford, Illinois. Then he was drawn to the booming new industry of that time: Car Manufacturing. He worked with various auto plants and then finally moved to Detroit with his wife Ethel. Eventually he started his own small manufacturing plant in his garage with an investment of $500. The auto industry was booming at that time and he was very successful. Yet John felt emptiness in life and began searching for answers. He studied philosophy and eventually started teaching the subject. He also made it a point to meet all the eastern teachers and yogis who passed by Detroit. Though he himself was teaching yoga at this point his own progress in understanding its deeper meaning was haphazard at best. Then he met Yogananda at the age of 39 and his life changed. This how he describes how the meeting came about:

“Yogananda was going back from Washington DC to California. And the short way would have been through St. Columbus, Ohio. But when plans of the journey were made an inner voice told him to come to Detroit. Yet when he got to Detroit, he did not know what to do. So he went through a telephone book and started leafing the pages and running his finger down its pages. His finger eventually stopped on a name. So he looked at it and called that number up. This happened to be a number of a lady by the name of Mrs. Emerson. He introduced himself as a yogi who happened to be passing through Detroit. The lady then blurted out that she knew somebody who was teaching her yoga at her home. Yogananda immediately asked that he meet this person and a meeting was arranged.”

This person happened to be John and when he first saw Yogananda he immediately knew that he had found his teacher. Yogananda also immediately realized that John was the reason for his visit to Detroit and an exceptionally gifted spiritual person. He stayed back for an additional week and taught many things to John. When John was in his mid 70’s, this is how he describes how Yogananda changed his life:

“It was my guru Paramahamsa Yogananda who helped me put it altogether; he set me straight. When I first met him 35 years ago I was afraid to get half a mile away from a drug store. I was a regular hypochondriac. Took pills for laxatives, aspirins for headaches, and probably would have taken tranquilizers if they’d had them. In those days the automobile business was a fast track, and without realizing it I was digging my own grave.”

John made rapid spiritual progress, but he was reluctant to give up his business. Soon Yogananda was confiding privately to his friend that of all his many thousands of students worldwide, John Oliver Black was the second most advanced. (He considered James Lynn to be his most advanced student.) Yogananda even began dropping strong hints to John that if he would not voluntarily give up his business something unforeseen would happen and the business would be taken away from him.

That unforeseen circumstance came in the form of a hostile stock-market takeover of his business. All of a sudden, the work that he had built up from the smallest beginnings was no longer his. He came out of the transaction still a wealthy man, and he did continue on the board of the company for some time, but he got the message that he was being freed up to follow his guru’s instructions.

In August of 1951, just a year before his passing, Yogananda conferred the title of Yogacharya on John Oliver Black at a special ceremony. John was 58 years old at that time. This title signified that he was an accomplished and learned yogi and was authorized to teach and initiate yoga students. For another 38 years John would continue to teach and inspire legions of followers. Lorne C. Dekun who became his biographer describes his first meeting with John:

“I WAS MAGNETIZED by his luminous face, his infectious laughter, his divine love and friendship. Shortly after I met him, as he came down the aisle, I saw him suddenly turn into dazzling light; at the same time, a strange force almost caused me to fall at his feet. Before it could actually happen, I saw him return to his normal appearance. But when I awakened from my shock — this being the first of many spiritual experiences which I was to undergo — I realized I was being given a message that this was a pure soul in the eyes of God and that I lacked humility and respect.

Later, he made known to me that he knew me better than I knew myself — my weaknesses and my strengths, the skeletons in my closet. Everything about me was known to him; there were no secrets. I felt very disconcerted. There was nowhere to hide, and I soon found out there was no fooling him, he knew my every thought.

One day, as we were all seated around him, and he was at the end of the table, I began to mull over these thoughts in my head: who was he? I felt he seemed to be omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent. I saw him answering people’s questions with great wisdom. Miraculous things would happen around him. I realized I could feel his presence in Chicago, where I lived, even though he was in Detroit. So I was thinking to myself, he must be God, for he seems to have the power of God. Just at this point, my reverie was abruptly broken by his voice. I looked up. His piercing eyes were focused on me as he stopped right in the middle of his conversation with the people next to him and said, “Well, I’ll tell you one thing. God isn’t a man.” He made it a natural part of his conversation, as he taught everyone around him.”

John had two children. A son who was killed while a pilot in WW II and a daughter who he outlived. His wife Ethel died in 1970 when he was 77 years old. Besides being a multi millionaire and successful businessman he was also a stalwart yogi. But this is not all he did. He operated a working farm, bred show dogs and horses, at one time he was the largest individual landowner in his state. He also was an avid inventor and held patents on several items including a three dimensional camera and a design for a vertical takeoff and landing plane. He studied painting and drawing, and he also created many innovations in furniture design. He also drilled for gas and oil. In fact a week before his passing, on his 96th birthday he was looking for investors for a drilling project.

John Oliver Black’s life is deeply inspiring for us. It shows us what can be accomplished in a single lifetime. It shows us that if one is willing to open our spiritual hearts and make serious effort to go beyond the ego, guidance in the form of a guru will appear and help take us further. He also shows us that as one makes spiritual progress, our life in the material world continues to progress effortlessly, there is no need to struggle and thrash about. So the question before all of us: Are we prepared to learn our lessons from this illustrious life?

Related:
A more detailed account of John Oliver Black’s life.
Video of his own account of his first meeting with Yogananda

Credits:This has been written by Raj Shah and edited by Ketna Shah. This has been distilled from a detailed account here.

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A Mysterious Guru

T Krishnamacharya

I was a young teenager on my summer vacation after my first year out of high school, when I was appointed by my father to accompany my invalid mother, who had suffered successive accidents that had rendered her virtually immobile and almost always in pain, to Chennai. There, Krishnamacharya, whom my father knew through a common friend, was going to use yoga to help her heal. For a young teen to be asked to spend her annual vacation in a city with no friends, and with nothing to do but to escort an infirm parent to some old healer every day, was not the most attractive deal. But my authoritarian father was not one to be questioned, and I resigned myself to my fate.

Every day, once in the morning and again in the early evening, my mother and I would take a taxi from our hotel to Krishnamacharya’s home for an hour’s instruction. He always appeared remote, wrapped in some self-sufficient world that did not require communication with visitors beyond classroom instruction. His was not a severe face; indeed it was a handsome sharp-featured one, with large luminous eyes and an enigmatic smile that lit up his features, although the reason for its existence did not seem to be to enhance social interaction. I don’t remember him ever make small talk, or even show the slightest interest in us beyond addressing my mother’s ailments. But he gave us his undivided and intense attention while teaching, and taught my mother with great gentleness.

Within a couple of days of starting her instruction, he seemed to notice my presence, and commanded me to take my place on another mat. I complied wordlessly; his voice did not give me a choice. For the next two months, every morning and evening, he taught me yoga with the same attentiveness that he showed my mother, even though teaching me was not part of the original understanding with him. He also taught me how to assist my mother in performing her asanas. He demanded the slowest of breathing and movement, and his hawk eyes never left me for a minute, making sure that every movement was executed absolutely correctly. I learnt to be terrified of him, as he was as ferociously strict with me as he was gentle with my mother. But I could also sense his restrained pleasure in seeing me respond easily to the instruction, young as I was and unhampered by ailments; and the perfection that he expected from every movement, and his unrelenting supervision, motivated me to try harder to come up to his expectations. By the end of our time with him, he had even taught me the Sirasasana (head stand).

At the end of the two months, our relationship with Krishnamacharya terminated as abruptly as it had begun. My mother had improved vastly. And I had discovered that I had a naturally supple body. We went back to our lives in Bombay and in due course, I stopped doing my yoga practice and forgot all about the old man who looked, lived and behaved like an ascetic, and who had introduced me to what was potentially a whole new world, a significance that I did not grasp at the time. My father – the family’s yoga enthusiast – continued to do his asanas (for which, mercifully, he attended a yoga institute closeby); but he would do what looked to me ghastly tricks – called kriyas – at home, like swallowing yards of cotton tape and pulling them out of his mouth. I sometimes watched from afar with morbid fascination. I did not want to be part of that obsession. It was also comforting to go back to being the couch potato that I was naturally inclined towards.

In modernizing metropolitan India of the time, yoga had not yet come of age in the popular consciousness, and it was generally seen as a traditional, ‘old people’s’ thing. For me, Krishnamacharya…my father…exemplified this. Sadly, as with most other things in India, it was the discovery of yoga by the West and its triumphant return to India from the global stage, borne aloft on the shoulders of B.K.S. Iyengar, that prompted Iyengar’s countrymen to pay attention to this ‘new’ form of ‘exercise’ and, indeed, way of life.

When I awakened to the benefits of regular exercise, my first instinct was – like my peers – to take to popular fitness regimens…aerobics, gym, jogging, karate… It was some time – and quite a few injuries later, born of over-enthusiasm and lax supervision – before my early influences caught up with me. I enrolled myself in my father’s yoga institute on Bombay’s Marine Drive. I had declared myself a beginner on the enrolment form. But the ease with which I was able to learn astonished even the teachers. I had underestimated the strength of the foundations that Krishnamacharya had laid. I particularly found his teaching of how to synchronise my breathing with my asanas, the stress on the sequencing of asanas, and the importance of being conscious of the correct structural alignment in every asana, coming back to me.

On professional trips abroad, I would meet people who raved about a man called B.K.S. Iyengar, and sometimes these trips coincided with Iyengar’s visits to these cities, and I would hear about hundreds of people attending a Master class by the visiting yogi. My curiosity about Iyengar was aroused, but I was still unaware that I too was part of this yoga web… albeit as an insignificant and unworthy strand. It was a chance visit to the Iyengar Institute in Pune (near Mumbai) which brought the memories of the old teacher rushing back.

I was in Pune with my family on holiday, and we happened to drive past a signboard on a gate announcing the B.K.S. Iyengar School of Yoga. On impulse, I hopped off telling my family that I would meet them back at the hotel. It was an intriguing looking campus, with complex yoga postures sculpted along the walls of the compound. I had never been in quite such a place. It looked a bit weird. I saw some lights on the first level, and my excitement mounted as I took the curving flight of stairs going up. I couldn’t believe that I had actually found the ‘source’ of the global phenomenon that was Iyengar! All those people in all those distant foreign countries waiting for him to turn up for a Master class… And here he was, in my own home, so to say…

At the top of the stairs I stopped short in total astonishment. On the wall to my left was a larger than life black and white portrait of Krishnamacharya, hands folded in namaskar, his luminous face and enigmatic smile exactly as I remembered it. I hesitated for a moment, staring at it …after all these years… what was the old man doing here? I raced across the hall to the lone person sitting behind one of the many empty counters.

“Excuse me”. He looked up with the blank clerical face that you see behind every counter in every office.

“The office is closed. Come back later”. And he went back to whatever he was doing.

“I need to know…Who is the man in that photograph?”

No reply.

“Who is he? And what is his connection with this place?”

He looked momentarily startled by the urgency in my voice (and probably as much by my question). But his clerical instinct bounced back. “I told you, no? Office is closed. Come back in the evening”.

I stood my ground and repeated my question twice more before he could bring himself to answer what he clearly thought was a lunatic woman.

“Why do you want to know?”

“Because I know him.”

He looked at me unbelievingly.

“Please tell me… why is he here? “ I was almost pleading for a reply.

“He is our guru’s guru”, was all he said.

I felt faint as I turned to leave. Here I was, full of admiration for B.K.S. Iyengar. And of course, for all the right reasons. But, we had actually shared the same guru! How much more unworthy could I have gotten? That, in all those intervening years I had not recognized the value of the instruction that I had received, or the person who had taught me, dismissing him as a crochety old man who had been a friend of my father’s?

Related:
The Story Of Yoga
A Guru’s Burden
Krishnamacharya Timeline

Credits: This story has been extracted from the post we ran into here, the full post also contains a biographic sketch of T. Krishnamacharya and is worth reading. We love this post as it provides us a glimpse of the healing powers that T Krishnamacharya bought to bear through yoga. It also provides us a glimpse of the unappreciated and unheralded life that T Krishnamacharya patiently lived in a India that was all too willing to give up its roots in the rush to embrace all that was modern.

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Take Every Child As Your Own Daughter!

Life had reached a low point for Anuradha Koirala. She had just been divorced after suffering years of abuse. All she had was a $100 per month job as an English teacher to get by with. But instead of being cowed down she decided to use her life in the service of others with Mother Teresa as her inspiration.

In 1991 she came across a group of 8 women who were begging in the streets and started a small shop to give them employment and take them off the life of dependency on begging. Soon these women approached her with a different problem. They informed her of the problem of sexual exploitation of girls. Anuradha immediately responded by renting a small house and creating a safe house for about ten girls. It then became apparent to her that she would need funding and the first step to get this would be to have a registered organization. This is how Maiti Nepal was born in 1993. The name means “Mother’s home”. Its central mission is to stop human trafficking that sees the enslavement and sexual exploitation of hundreds of thousands of girls from Nepal. Maiti Nepal has single handedly rescued more than Twelve thousand girls. This is dangerous work, and Maiti Nepal’s main office in the capital has been destroyed twice.

Anuradha Koirala shows us the power of what can be accomplished when the goal of service to others is foremost in our heart. Anuradha Koirala’s work has helped transform thousands of lives, but by her example she is touching millions more. Watch and pass it on by sharing!

Related:
Maiti Nepal’s Web Page
Friends Of Maiti Nepal
Anuradha Koirala Facebook Page

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Let Sixty Percent Of Every Minute Be Yoga!

Ellen Emerson Yaghjian is an artist, sculptor, and yoga teacher. In this fluid and delicately made short video Ellen sketches her yoga journey beautifully. You will experience the quiet solace and beauty that Ellen experienced in her transformation through yoga.

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