An 80-year old Man Has Improved My Prenatal Yoga Classes

Ben assists me in practicing chair-supported headstand.

Ben assists me in practicing chair-supported headstand.

Given Yoga’s 5,000 year history, Prenatal Yoga is a fairly new practice (only about 50 years old). Nevertheless, I am committed to preserving the basics of a classical yoga practice, and subtly weave these concepts into my classes. One of yoga’s traditions is passing knowledge down through a lineage of teachers. The last two weekends (and a few evenings in between), as part of the Dharma Path Advanced Studies (DPAS), I got the honor of practicing with one of my most influential and deeply admired teachers, Mr. Ben Thomas.

In the early 2000’s, in search of my first comprehensive teacher training, my friend and teacher Julianne Rice suggested I check out Ben’s class to see if the teacher training he was a part of would be a good fit.  It only took one class- I was hooked!  I spent that summer participating in his weekly classes and enrolled in the teacher training. Shortly thereafter, Ben left the area, and since then I have tried to take his workshops whenever he visits. His contribution to DPAS is one of the main reasons I made the huge commitment to this next level of study.  

Ben is a true master! He stumbled into the practice of yoga in his late thirties, supporting his wife who came to yoga for extreme health reasons, and within just a few years was practicing under the guidance of Mr. BKS Iyengar himself. Over the years, they made eleven trips to India to study with “Guruji” who encouraged them to pass on the teachings. Now, at nearly 80 years old, Ben can perform poses that I may not accomplish in this lifetime, not to mention his amazing ability to quiet his mind while doing them or in long seated meditation. But what is even more impressive and meaningful to me is that he built his yoga practice while raising six children and supporting them through a successful career in the tech industry. Ben found creative ways to bring yoga into his workday and practiced often with his children. As a working mother of three, I appreciate how difficult it is to make time to practice. And I frequently meet mothers who would like to practice, but just can’t seem to make it work with their huge commitments to work and family.  Ben is living proof that not only can a yoga practice happen in spite of modern “adulting,” it brings peace and connection to the entire experience. This is the inspiration for my DPAS practicum: creating a practice specifically for postpartum working moms that is not only beneficial and healing, but totally manageable in their chaotic lives.

In the last week, of course Ben helped us to break down a variety of poses, understand his 30-minute opening routine of chanting, pranayama, and meditation, and go over the Sutras of Patanjali- all things that improve my skills as a teacher. However, what impacted me even more was getting to know him on a personal level- the violent racism he overcame growing up in Alabama, the challenges of helping his parents run their little grocery stores once they moved to the Watts neighborhood of LA, the struggles he had in higher education and his early tech career due to the color of his skin. He tells amazing stories- some absolutely heart wrenching- and then lets out a warm little chuckle. I told Ben his life would make an Oscar-worthy film. He just humbly smiled. His teachings are so digestible because he acts like he’s just a regular guy- no ego, very calm, warm, and approachable. This is a man who is completely at peace with and appreciative of his life. Perhaps overcoming so much adversity helps a person to count their blessings.  Perhaps it’s the yoga practice. Likely, these two are intimately intertwined. I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to study with this man who is not just a Yoga Master, but a Life Master. Looking forward to Ben’s return later this year and hope some of my students will join me in one of his valuable workshops!

Do you have a teacher who made a huge impact in your life (yoga or otherwise)? Please share in the comments below!

Jeanna LurieComment