Chair Yoga

Teaching Elders Yoga

Many graduates from the SOYA Teacher Training find themselves out in the community once teacher training is complete, receiving requests from all walks of life for yoga classes. In 2014, I was asked to teach yoga to Elders at the Prince George Native Friendship Centre.

After my first attempt to teach a conventional class to some of our Elders, one of them politely told me, “If you make me get down on the floor, I won’t be able to get back up again!” After a bit of trial and error we collaborated to create a class that is fun, accessible, and useful for seniors with a broad range of physical limitations and challenges. Here is an outline of things to consider when running a class for seniors.

Do create a welcoming environment! Your class may be a new and unfamiliar activity for your participants, and you will want them to feel safe.

Do consider providing water. It is easier for Elders to become dehydrated than it is for younger yogis.

Do consider reviewing the health survey with each Elder orally, rather than asking them to complete it in writing and hand it in. This is a great opportunity to get to know each participant better, to listen to their story of how they have come to participate in the class.

Do consider providing snacks or food. This is helpful for participants with blood sugar issues, and can provide valuable social connection for Elders who may be isolated, or living on modest incomes.

Do be open to questions and feedback during the class. Elders will be candid if they are not connecting with a pose or a cue, which is a great learning opportunity as a teacher to see if you can approach your description or demonstration in a different way.

Do be prepared for modifications! Elders with kyphosis / scoliosis, joint replacements, arthritis, or restrictions arising from injury or stroke may not be able to move readily into difficult hand mudras, backbends, etc.

Do be open to running classes that blend chair-based and non-chair based poses for Elders who may or may not be able to come down to the floor.

Do be ready to use props! Blocks and straps are helpful for modifying poses to allow for greater success. Blankets are a nice way for everyone to feel settled and grounded during a seated savasana.

Do be mindful of plans for coats, shoes, socks, etc. Elders who have not done yoga before may not know that it is traditionally done in bare feet, and will appreciate a “staging area” where they can store belongings. Be considerate that some participants, ie Elders with ulcer conditions in the feet due to diabetes, or heightened sensitivity to touch due to stroke complications, may find the bare foot expectation stressful, so make room for exceptions to the rules!

Do have fun and be real! Elders appreciate humor and levity in their classes.

Do move slowly in and out of poses, to allow tight and restricted joints and muscles to slowly release, and give Elders permission to stop in the pose at the point that feels best for them. Help them to learn about the first edge and deeper release points.

Do include simple hand mudras, pelvic floor engagement, breathing cues, resistance and release techniques, visualisations, pranayama, reading and meditations. Elders are very receptive to the “going within” aspects of yoga.

By Emma Faulkner, E-RYT500, SOYA Lead Trainer in Prince George. Emma will be co-leading the 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training in Prince George with Cindy Szekely this coming March. 

Empowered or Overpowered

I shouldn’t be writing this article, I don’t really want to, but I need to in case it will help someone – even just one person.

Over the 42 years I have been a certified yoga teacher, I have read about abuses of power from rock star yoga teachers, Swamis, and others leading yoga. We read about these in magazines and newspapers, on the internet and social media, but nothing seems to stop it. When I read these articles I feel sick to my stomach, thinking of these innocent people being taken advantage of in horrific ways.

Recently though, it all struck a much deeper cord. Several women who lived and worked for the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre (where I completed my initial yoga teacher training) have come forward about being sexually and emotionally abused by Swami Vishnudevananda, my teacher. An investigation is underway. Now I really feel sick to my stomach – it is so close to home.  (link to article is below)

(Notes: The Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre was created by Swami Vishnudevananda, and is not related to the Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh ashram in India. Swami Vishnudevananda died in 1993.)

In a discussion with a few people about this, my husband Bob decided to research a bit more about Swami Rama, the source of his teachings from the Himalayan Institute. There had been hints of abuse, but he didn’t know to what extent. Sure enough, horrific abuses from him too (link to article below). It left Bob feeling disturbed, with an extreme disappointment over the massive cover-up while the Swami continues to be praised.

I don’t need to tell you all the stories of abuse – at the end of this article there are links to several. Some are from long ago and some very recent. I encourage you to read at least a few and educate yourself. If you have been benefiting from the well-being and peaceful feelings yoga practice gives you, you will also know that the yoga world is not perfect.

When students love yoga, they often want to share that with others, they get more involved in the center, and some get trained as a yoga teacher. That is exactly what I did. I was fortunate to have my teacher Dr. Hari Dickman, who was incredibly patient and kind, and not for one minute overpowering. I felt empowered by him and ready to share the incredible teachings he taught me. I continue to do that today. I only went to study at Swami Vishnudevananda’s ashram in the Bahamas to get the foundation and vocabulary in yoga so I could receive Hari’s teachings – otherwise I wouldn’t understand them. I am sure Hari would be horrified to learn of these abuses that occurred there, and would be grateful that I was not a victim to them.

In 1974 there was an article written about Swami Vishnu’s ashram in Maclean’s magazine (link below). Had I seen that article I would not have gone to the ashram. But I didn’t see it. As much as I was in my glory soaking up the studies in yoga at the ashram, it was not unusual to hear “Swami Vishnu” and staff yelling at each other. Orders were barked on and off throughout the day. Occasionally I was yelled at also, as were other students in the training. Of course there was also plenty of laughter, but still, I couldn’t help question how yogis could justify treating each other that way when the very substance of yoga is to be kind, to see the Divine in everyone, and to be at peace with oneself. These qualities are what had drawn me there in the first place. I was surprised the ashram was not the utopia I had expected.

After two months in the ashram and completing my advanced teacher training, I still didn’t feel confident about teaching, so I stayed with the organization for 3 more months to obtain more knowledge and practice. I was sent to the San Francisco center, the Hollywood center, and then to the Montreal center. While in Montreal we would go to the headquarters in Val Morin on weekends to help there. Staff often argued with each other at some of these centers too – it seemed to have become a way of communication among the staff.

I was fortunate in Montreal, because it was just me and the lovely young female Swami there. This female Swami was incredibly kind and never spoke with harsh words. We lived and worked closely for a month, teaching classes and cooking vegetarian meals for students. Unfortunately, she was one of the women who has come forward about being sexually abused by Swami Vishnu. I was living with her, never knowing. Sometimes it keeps me awake at night.

It was during these time when I worked at these centers that Hari invited me to study in person with him. That immediately became my priority so it was easy for me to leave Swami Vishnu’s organization. I was so ready to study in an atmosphere of kindness and respect.

Now, I need to point out the fact that celibacy is a requirement in many yoga lineages for people to become Swamis. It is equal to taking the vows of being a nun, priest or monk. It is supposed to be beneficial to reaching enlightenment. However, my teacher Hari was not celibate – he had been married up until the time his wife passed away in his 70’s. Nevertheless, Hari was regarded a very advanced yogi by many of the great yoga masters and Hari’s lack of celibacy was not a hindrance for his success in yoga. I wrote a chapter about celibacy in my book, Letters From The Yoga Masters, and how chastity is considered a sensible option for yogis as well.

The point is, I could trust the results of Hari’s hard work with yoga because he obtained a state of mastery using yoga techniques learned from the masters. He didn’t pretend he had lived a celibate life.  He empowered me to succeed, and my success took nothing away from his success or mastery. He never abused me or was unkind. He never lied to me.  I would have to say his tremendous ability to be humble, kind and ethical was much more effective in his mastery of yoga than any requirement to be celibate.

Which leads me to the teachings of Swami Vishnu. As much as I value everything taught to me by Swami Vishnu, how can I trust that his actual experience and knowledge is true? If he taught that we had to be celibate to succeed, while he himself wasn’t being celibate, or kind, or humble, then how can we trust his teachings? He didn’t follow the rules, and this applies to all who have fallen due to their inability to actually follow the teachings. It is a betrayal of our trust and it causes doubt when you realize your teacher wasn’t living the yamas and niyamas while implying they were. They were teaching from the ancient texts, implying they were experiencing the benefits of doing so.

Once you are living in an ashram or deeply involved in an organization it is often very difficult to get out. You have no money, no job, and often nowhere to go. You have dedicated yourself to the ashram or organization and then you find you have been betrayed. You feel powerless or trapped. I wish I could tell you every yoga ashram was honest and good like we want them to be, but they are not.

The ancient teachings of yoga in the classical texts are magnificent. The Yoga Sutras give us the tools to find our power. These sources teach us to be honest with ourselves and others. They teach us to give credit to the sources of your teachings – it keeps us humble and empowers them. They teach us to notice our thought waves, and if they are truth. The teach us to notice if we are making excuses for another’s inappropriate behaviour when they are in a position of power – this is delusion.

Buddha taught the Four Reliances:

  • Rely on the message of the teacher, not their personality
  • Rely on the meaning, not just the words
  • Rely on the real meaning, not on the provisional one
  • Rely on your wisdom mind, not on your ordinary, judgmental mind

Source: Rigpa Glimpse of the Day, Jan 23, 2020

No one in a human body is perfect, and it seems the more renowned they become, many abuse that power. Embrace the teachings, not the teacher. Study them and meditate on them to find their true meaning.

We are so fortunate to benefit from an abundance of access to yoga today, however, we must protect ourselves (and others if we can) from being misled or overpowered by a yoga teacher or organization, leaving us completely powerless. Please, let’s educate ourselves and investigate the school or the teacher we choose to learn from. There are many outstanding ones out there. Good ashrams too! It often only takes a few minutes to research. Make the time. We owe it to ourselves to invest in ourselves wisely. We deserve it.

In closing, I must thank three of my most influential teachers for being kind and joyful, never unkind, never flirtatious, and never abusive: Dr. Hari Dickman , Erich Schiffmann , and Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani

Thanks for listening.   Mugs McConnell

Below are some useful resources.

RAINN – an excellent resource on anti-sexual violence. RAINN  National Sexual Assault Hotline

Report any abuses to Yoga Alliance. They work closely with RAINN and can direct you to support systems. They are implementing a very strict Code of Ethics for all registered teachers. They have a Sexual Misconduct Policy, and a grievance department to do investigations.

Find Your Power. A helpful article to be empowered but to prevent ourselves from losing humility as we succeed at our teachings is to follow some of the wisdom in this article from The Greater Common Good.


Articles referred to and others reflecting numerous abuses in the Yoga World, both recent and past.

Matthew Remski interviews the women who have come forward stating they were abused by Swami Vishnudevananda.

MacLean’s Article on Swami Vishnudevananda, 1974

Julie Salter: one of the women who has come forward regarding abuse from Swami Vishnudevananda. She was his personal secretary

Pattabhi Jois: NYT

Bikram: watch the movie “Yogi, Guru, Predator” on Netflix. He has resumed teaching in Mexico and Spain, in spite of losing a massive lawsuit and did not pay the settlements to those he abused.

Bhagavan Shri Rashneesh/OSHO: Watch “Wild Wild Country” on Netflix

Swami Rama, Himalayan Institute:

Rodney Yee: He has since apologized for his behaviour, divorced and remarried.

Jonny Kest: Unwanted touch

Shambhala leader Sakyong Mipham:

John Friend of Anusara:

Swami Satyananda Saraswati and others of Bihar School of Yoga branch in Australia:

Meditating with The Radiance Sutras

Meditating with The Radiance Sutras: Sutra 18, The Rapture of Music by Dr Lorin Roche.

Used with permission from Dr. Lorin Roche, who will be leading our SOYA 25th Anniversary Retreat June 5-7, 2020. Article from

In a song, in the space of a few minutes, we can let go, lose ourselves, and then return, refreshed, with a deeper sense of self. Listening to music, we ride our passions into the vibrating core of energy from which they arise. Life is rhythm, and music invites us to surrender to the rhythm of life and love.

On the surface, one would think that rocking out and meditation are opposites. Totally incompatible. Fortunately we are yogis, and Yoga is the art of making harmony between opposites. Yoga is the action of yoking things together, developing union between body and soul, sound and silence, individuality and universality, passion and serenity.

The Vijnana Bhairava Tantra sings of the interplay of song and silence, calling attention to the musical qualities of the life force, pranashakti, flowing in our nerves.
This is Sutra 18, Verse 43:

Immerse yourself in the rapture of music,
You know what you love. Go there.

Tend to each note, each chord,
Rising up from silence and dissolving again.
Vibrating strings draw us
Into the spacious resonance of the heart.

The body becomes light as the sky
And you, one with the Great Musician,
Who is even now singing us
Into existence.

tantryādivādyaśabdeṣu dīrgheṣu kramasaṃsthiteḥ |
ananyacetāḥ pratyante paravyomavapur bhavet || 41 ||

Or, for those of us who do not enjoy diacritical marks and do enjoy spaces between words:

tantri aadi vaadya-shabdeshu deergheshu krama-sam-sthiteh
ananya–chetaah pra-tyante para–vyoma vapuh bhavet

Looking in the marvelous Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English dictionary we see:

tantri – musical stringed instruments, also the strings of the heart, or any tubular vessel of the body;
vadya – aloud, to be played or spoken aloud, also, music instrument or instrumental music;
shabda – sound, OM, the Eternal Word;
dirghesu – prolonged (continuous),
krama – series, order, method, arrangement, step-by-step;
samsthiteh – is established; ananya – single focus, without deviation;
chetah – awareness;
pratyante – in the end;
para vyoma – the transcendental sky, the spiritual sky, (associated in Tantra with parabrahman and Shiva);
vapuh – the body, having form or a beautiful form, embodied, wonderful, nature, essence;
bhavet – becomes.

The text invites us to begin by listening to external music and then follow the impulses into the inner world. People who love music already know the truth of this sutra, and they are surprised and delighted to see it affirmed in a classic yoga text.

Any form through which we can hear music is wonderful, but live music is especially powerful for this dharana (concentration). Go to that concert, listen to that band. Find the music that strikes a chord in you, and immerse yourself in it. When a song ends, the silence throbs, and we can follow that throbbing into a silence louder than the music.

In the late 1960s and much of the 70s, I missed out on the full power of this dharana because I didn’t go to concerts. I was spending every penny on meditation teacher training, and one concert ticket was the same price as two days on retreat. Also, I didn’t do drugs or smoke anything, and in those days, the group would be deeply offended if you did not take a toke off the joint. Concerts started around the time I usually went to sleep, so I missed all those legendary performances. I did get the Dawn Patrol, though. I got up each day around 4 AM, practiced yoga, meditated, did my homework, then drove to the beach to be in the ocean by first light and catch a few waves before the day began. To do that, I had to be in bed by 9 PM.

One evening in 1976 I went to a great concert, and realized what I had been missing. Some friends called me up and said, “Come on Lorin, let’s go to the Hollywood Bowl and hear Leonard somebody conducting the something orchestra, playing the something concerto. We have tickets.” I was so utterly into all things Indian that I had not been paying attention to Western culture at all, except for science. I’d never heard of these people so I had no idea what was about to happen to me.

My friends were classy, so we had seats up front, and wine and crackers. The orchestra came out and got settled. Then after awhile the conductor and two guys with violins walked out and greeted everyone.

The conductor raised his arms and then the first notes hit the silence and sent a wave of thrill through the air. Emanating from the conductor, the two violinists, supported by the whole orchestra, was a waterfall of incandescent brilliance. Time stood still, and then danced.

In a moment, I was transported into deep meditation, similar to where I would get after maybe a month of a silent retreat, but this was combined with an awareness of the outer world. The woven texture of sound was so divinely intelligent and evocative that I was able to hear an ocean of silence and simultaneously witness each note arising, playing around and then dissolving.

After an hour, the thought came to me, “Oh, if this brilliance is happening, there must be a current of revelation, a tradition of wisdom in Western culture.” This was news to me. The conductor was Leonard Bernstein, the band was the New York Philharmonic, and Yehudi Menuhin and Itzhak Perlman were on lead violin. Clearly these were masters, and they were playing the Brandenburg Concertos. This was one of the great performances, and I remain permanently changed. The world is a larger and better place for me because of attending this event.

I am one of those people who require a Yoga practice to stay tuned enough to fully appreciate music and enter the rapture with every cell of my body. I need to approach music from both sides – from silence coming to music, and from outer music leading me toward silence. If I don’t meditate every day, engage in pranayama, and do asana, I slowly lose my “attunement” and after awhile music does not touch me so deeply. What a shame that would be.

What methods tune your body and nerves so that you are able to enter music with the mind of a yogi? What is the music you love so much you want to dissolve into it? What music is so ravishing that it leaves you in a stunned and pulsating silence, the “aesthetic arrest” James Joyce identified, in which your mind goes silent in awe of the presence of great beauty?

The Vijnana Bhairava Tantra describes 112 Yogas of wonder and delight for touching the divine in the midst of daily life. The teaching is framed as a conversation between lovers, Shakti and Shiva, the Goddess Who is the Creative Power of the Universe, and the God who is the Consciousness That Permeates Everywhere.

Dr. Lorin Roche has been practicing and teaching these methods since 1968. He has a PhD from the University of California at Irvine, where his research focused on the language meditators generate to describe their inner experiences. The Radiance Sutras, a new version of the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, is available from Lorin’s website,

Feel free to email your comments and questions to


Dr. Lorin Roche

Meditating in the Body of Love

SOYA 25th Anniversary Retreat

Meditating in the Body of Love

With special guests Dr. Lorin Roche, Author of The Radiance Sutras, and Camille Maurine

Asana Sessions begin at 3:00pm and are themed around the Radiance Sutras which are led by our SOYA Teacher Training Faculty, a huge part of the success of SOYA Yoga Teacher Training
June 5-7, 2020 at Sorrento Centre, Sorrento BC.
Arrive Early and Take It All In!
Friday Noon: Registration Opens

For complete details and schedule, click on Meditating in the Body of Love – SOYA 25th Anniversary Retreat Agenda.


Lavender cookies

Lavender Lemon Shortbread Cookies

A few years ago when Bob and I lived in the Shuswap, we would visit a café in Armstrong that had great tea and excellent shortbread lavender cookies. They were a unique treat! I really like shortbread, but tend to avoid wheat, so have found a way to make these shortbread cookies with almond flour. Try them out and see what you think!

Dry Ingredients:
2 cups Almond Flour
1/3 cup stevia or sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tablespoons lavender flowers (I got mine at Bulk Barn)
Mix these all together with a whisk to be sure they are blended.

Wet Ingredients:
1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons butter, melted
1 tsp Vanilla
Juice of 1 lemon (about 5 tsps)
a bit of lemon zest
Mix all these wet ingredients together in a separate bowl.

Pour the wet ingredients into a well in the dry ingredients and mix well, so it forms a nice dough. Form the dough into an even roll on wax paper, wrap and put into the freezer for about 45 minutes (till good and firm).
Preheat the oven to 350F. Cut the dough into 24 pieces and place on a greased cookie sheet (I use silicone on a cookie sheet). Bake for 15 minutes. Enjoy the delicious aroma of lavender and lemon!


Cobra Pose Modified for Low Back Pain

Bhujangasana: Cobra Pose Modified for Low Back Pain.

Do you have difficulty with prone spinal extensions? Does your lower back tend to jam when you practice them?  If so, try out this pose out.

In this variation of Cobra utilizing a blanket and strap, it can help to strengthen your back and facilitate fuller use of the legs to provide space in your sacroiliac area.

CobraAsana Instruction:

Bind a strap to make a large loop out of it. Fold or roll a blanket and place it horizontally on mat ahead of you.  Kneel and place the looped strap to encircle your lower legs, keeping them hip width apart. Make sure to place the strap to the thickest part of your calves.

Lower to the mat (prone) resting the pubis below the folded or rolled blanket.  Lift one leg up an inch and pull it back.  Repeat other leg. This is to keep good length in your back. Roll the legs slightly outward so that the heels, thighs and pelvis widen in back.

Push out strongly enough to feel the resistance of the strap. Pull tailbone toward heels and floor. This is to stabilize your low back, so you can stretch forward strongly and maintain that outward rotation down the legs.

Inhale and lift up onto your forearms briefly to pull your upper body away from your legs. Exhale and rest back down. Place your hands to sides of chest and lift shoulders away from floor, with your head still touching floor. Keep the shoulders square across. Contract the upper back muscles and move the scapulae in toward the spine.

To come into the full cobra pose, inhale and curl-up slowly with the head and chest, keeping the shoulders back and down.  Press through the arms to lift more, but keep the arms bent with elbows beside the ribs as you lift into a comfortable range of movement for you. Continue pushing the thighs apart into the resistance of the strap. Breathe. Stay in the pose for several breaths, then soften and exhale as you release down to the mat.

Repeat if you like. When done, rest in childs pose.

Contraindications:  Fused ankylosing spondylitis, Chiari malformations, bridging spondylitis, cervical spinal stenosis.

CobraHelen Mikuska, E-RYT500, is a lead trainer for the SOYA 200 hr and 300 hr Advanced Yoga Teacher Trainings in Calgary, AB during each summer. She has been teaching yoga for 15 years, with an extensive background in Pilates, Nutrition Management, Ayurveda and Mantra. For more information on the upcoming 200 hour Foundation training and the 300 hour Professional training, go to yoga-teacher-training/200hr-immersion-calgary-alberta



Many Sanskrit terms are used in yoga classes, from the names of yoga poses to the standard “Namaste” greeting to mantras. If you are confused, here are a few breakdowns for you…

Asana means ‘seat of consciousness’ and as described in Patanjali’s sutras 2.46 sthira-sukham asanam (seat/posture should be stable and comfortable), but nowadays it is more often used to mean ‘pose’. Therefore, Triangle Pose = Trikonasana. So in yoga classes, we are practicing poses to become more stable and at ease in body and mind for meditation practice.

OM is a mantra formed by combining the letters A, U, and M. When you chant OM or AUM – the whole mouth is used – the back of the throat, middle chamber and then the lips.

A – represents the physical plane, the waking state
U – represents the mental and the astral planes, and the dreaming state
M – represents the deep sleep state and all that is unknown and beyond the reach of the intellect.

So OM represents all. OM is the basis of your life, thought and intelligence, Existence Absolute, Knowledge Absolute, Bliss Absolute. OM gives peace and tranquility.

Shanti means peace. Peace of body, mind and spirit. When you chant Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti – it is an invocation of peace.

When you bring your hands together at the heart, bow your head and say Namaste, you have an opportunity to make this more meaningful than just marking the beginning or end of the class. Western yogis have adopted this Indian custom of respectful greeting. In yoga, on the surface it is a way for teacher and student to thank each other for practice together, and also a way to close the sacred container of the practice.

Namaste represents the idea that we are all One. This is a big idea! That despite our individual outer trappings that make us appear different from one another, we are all made of the same stuff. We affirm to identify with Universal Consciousness rather than ego. When you say Namaste to others and mean it, you are really saying that you see others for who they are. That we are one and the same. You affirm to honor That in them and in you which is the most authentic – the truest, and allow their limitations (and yours) to dissolve. Namaste can be a practice in itself – to know its meaning not just conceptually, but also deep within that this is truth.

Common translations of Namaste are –
• The divine light in me bows to the divine light within you.
• We are the same, we are one.
• I honor the place in you where the entire universe dwells.
• I bow to the place in you that is love, light, and joy.
• I honor the place in you that is the same as it is in me.
• My soul recognizes your soul.
Perhaps you might like to choose one of these meanings of this salutation or sacred greeting that speaks deeply to you. Plant that seed with each repetition and nourish it.


SanskritGail Thompson, E-RYT500, is a SOYA teacher trainer in Creston BC. She has been teaching yoga since 2003. Gail will be leading the SOYA 200 hour teacher training Feb-June 2020. To learn more about Gail and the upcoming training go to yoga-teacher-training/200hr-extended-creston-bc

SOYA Anniversary

SOYA 25th Anniversary

SOYA 25th Anniversary. Twenty-five Years of MemoriesDorothy Fizzell

Twenty-five years with S.O.Y.A., with Mugs and Bob McConnell, with this amazing yoga!!  And actually, the connection has been much longer for me.  After graduating from university, I moved back to Penticton wanting to find a yoga teacher, as I had purchased Richard Hittleman’s book, “Yoga: 28 Day Exercise Program” the year before.  So, in 1978, I found a class being taught by Mugs, who had recently graduated from the Sivananda Ashram.  But then she disappeared, and though I tried a couple other teachers, they didn’t feel right. I was thrilled when Mugs returned to Penticton in 1979, after studying with Dr. Hari Dickman, and I continued taking her classes until 1998.

In the mid-90s, Mugs and Bob took over the South Okanagan Yoga Association, changing it into the South Okanagan Yoga Academy, and Mugs and Dariel Vogel created a yoga teacher training program, based on the I.Y.T.A. program.  One day, Mugs asked me out to tea, and told me she wanted me to be one of the first students in the program.  Yikes!  I had never considered teaching yoga! But in September 1995, along with two other students, Meui and Rockne, we began.  It took two and a half years, meeting once a month, usually at Dariel’s home. (I remember having wine in the hot tub on occasion after a session!)  The three of us graduated in the Spring of 1998 with dinner and a celebration.   

SOYA AnniversaryMeui and myself, now yoga teachers! 

Below, Dariel, myself and Mugs

Though the teacher training program has evolved through many versions, the foundation, the philosophy, and the depth of yoga has remained the same. From that first training session, the program grew, and though held in Penticton initially, people from long distances away recognized the value and uniqueness. Many, many excellent teachers have graduated over the last 25 years from locations all over the world.  Some of the graduates took the training for their own personal growth, while many teachers went on to teach in the style of their choice, with the philosophical foundation and asana understanding from S.O.Y.A. to carry them forward.

S.O.Y.A. is about connection too, connections among teachers, and connections to community, with many of these connections continuing over the 25 years.  Even my son Thor, a teenager in the late 90s, was involved, as Mugs asked him to draw yoga asanas for our newsletter and for a couple of t-shirts. SOYA Anniversary

For 2001, a yoga calendar was created and sold, with S.O.Y.A. grads as models, along with lots of yoga philosophy.







Through S.O.Y.A. , many interesting activities and events have taken place. One I remember fondly was when Dariel and I facilitated a yoga/hike up at Cathedral Lakes. Our group took a vehicle to the park, we hiked up above the tree line and did yoga, meditated and learned about the flora and fauna of the area.  It was wonderful!!

And the S.O.Y.A. Annual Retreats have been amazing!  The first retreat, participants learned from the faculty of S.O.Y.A., and since then, Bob and Mugs have worked incredibly hard to bring in a wonderful variety of superb yogis from everywhere.  The organization, the hard work, and the quality of teaching skills year after year have been outstanding.

S.O.Y.A. has been extremely important in my life over the last 25 years!  My mother passed away the same month I started the teacher training, and the philosophy discussions helped me deal with my grief.  With other personal changes, S.O.Y.A., yoga teaching, and Mugs have always been there.  When I moved to Vancouver, hardly knowing anyone, I co-taught a two year 500 hour teacher training program and I started feeling connected.  When I hurt my back, it was asana, pranayama and meditation, along with teacher training that helped me become strong again. Even through dental surgery, focusing on slow dirga breath, plus chanting the Gayatri mantra to myself, helped me stay calm.

On a very personal note, it was Mugs who introduced me to my husband Del! He was taking the teacher training program in Fort MacMurray and she, along with Katherine LaBonte, the teacher trainer there at the time, thought we had lots in common so Mugs asked if she could share my email contact with Del.  We met a short time later, and have now been married 10 years!

I would be a completely different person if I had not met Mugs, had not taken the teacher training program, had not taught and practiced through the last 25 years.  And I know that S.O.Y.A, through Mugs and Bob, have influenced many, many people in similar yogic ways.  Connection, love, learning, moving, gratitude, sharing, Truth – that is S.O.Y.A.   Namaste, Om Shanti


Soul of Mantra

The Soul of Mantra: A meditation on yes from The Radiance Sutras by Dr. Lorin Roche.

Ask people, “What sounds do you make when you are feeling YES — when you taste or smell something utterly delicious, receive a perfect touch, or listen to music you love?” You’ll hear a chorus of sounds like “Mmmmmm,” “Aaaahhhh” and “Ooh.” These are the sounds of yes — Oh and MM and AHH and UUU — rising spontaneously in your heart. And this is where mantras come from.

The Chandogya Upanishad, which dates to perhaps 500 B.C., talks about OM as the sound of yes. The Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English dictionary describes OM as indicating “affirmation and assent, sometimes translated as Yes, verily, so be it. —OM consists of a, u, and m and is usually called pranava.” Pra = before, forward, + nava = sound, shout, exult.* Exult in turn is “to feel or show great happiness, lively and triumphant joy.” Modern equivalents to “Yes, verily,” would be OH YEAH!, YAY, and even, HELL YEAH! OM is a sound we can say, chant, and meditate on. If you’ve lost that OMMing feeling, return to your yes. What creates in you the spontaneous rising of pranava, your shout of exuberance?

The deeper OM, the real OM, is the sound of existence itself, joyously shouting, reverberating everywhere across the universe.

In the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, Shiva and Devi are discussing the relationship of outer practices, such as chanting mantras, and internal listening. Shiva sings to the Goddess:


When you enter into the Great Self
You realize all prayers are going on inside you
Spontaneously without cessation.

In reality all songs of exuberance
And ecstatic lovemaking are resonating in
Every particle of creation at every moment.
When you are established in this recitation,
You are listening, and you hear them.

bhūyo bhūyaḥ pare bhāve bhāvanā bhāvyate hi yā |
japaḥ so’tra svayaṁ nādo mantrātmā japya īdṛśaḥ || 145 ||

For some reason, I love the sound bhooyoh bhooyah. This whole verse sounds playful. There are layers and layers of meaning here, so understand, this glossary is just hints. A book could be written about each word.

Bhuyo-bhuyah – again and again (bhuyas – becoming, becoming in a greater degree, mightier, abounding in, abundantly furnished with, more, once more, again, anew.)
Para – in the transcendence, transcendental, beyond.
bhavana – feeling, creative contemplation, meditation.
Bhavyate – contemplate
japa – recitation of the divine sounds
svayam – self
Svayam nado – about this phrase, Swami Lakshmanjoo comments, “the mantra emanating from the heart center with each inhalation and exhalation, which is the soul or source of all mantras.” **
mantratma – the soul of the mantra, soul of sound
japa – recitation (of the divine sounds)
idrishah – like this

In the verse just before this one, Bhairava was talking about external rituals and practices that focus the mind on the outer world. Outer practices, such as chanting the names of God, tune us and train us to notice the sacred. Here he is inviting us into internal practices — follow the inward current, the inward motion of attention into a continual contemplation of the divine. “The soul of all mantras is right here, Beloved, within you. Your heartbeat is a continuous, pulsating japa; your every breath, a chant and prayer of gratitude to eternity. The sacred is already here, always. Learn to dive into the vibrating silence after the mantras fade away.”

Initiation through hearing Sanskrit in song seems to be powerful and lasting. The Beatles included the phrase Jai guru deva OM in their song “Across the Universe,” released in 1969. The Beatles were one of the most successful acts in the history of popular music, and the song was broadcast all over the world on radio stations from 1969 onward. For many, it was the first time they had ever heard a word of Sanskrit. Beatles fans listened to their records over and over with rapt attention, relishing every word and chord change, and so apparently, millions of people received a kind of Shaktipat, a transmission of spiritual energy, through the song. I started teaching meditation around this time, and many people came for instruction because of having heard “Across the Universe.” It was clear they had already meditated, deeply, many times, while listening to the song. It was an honor to sit in their presence, and it was as if they had been initiated by the song and I was just giving them some coaching on how to meditate. Since then, all over the world, I’ve met many people who started meditating because of “Across the Universe” and are still at it. What amazing impact that song created.

The Beatles learned to meditate in 1967 and went to India for a retreat, so they were writing from intimate experience with the practice. The backstory for the song was that Lennon was lying in bed with his wife, who was “going on and on” about something that really irritated him. He got up and went downstairs, and the words she had been saying kept resonating in his head, like lyrics, and over time “it turned into sort of a cosmic song rather than an irritated song.” Lennon said that the four words of Sanskrit, Jai guru deva OM, just dropped into his mind as the bridge to the chorus, and he felt that “Across the Universe” contained perhaps the best lyrics he had ever written. The sound of the human voice, even a complaining human voice, merged in John’s awareness into the eternal song of OM. This is one of the secrets of mantra and meditation – the gift of peace and delight right here in the midst of it all. If you dive deeply into any sound, external or within, it will take you into the hum of the universe.

*this etymology of pranava is from Christopher Chapple, Doshi Professor of Indic and Comparative Theology at Loyola Marymount University, and can be found in his Yoga and the Luminous: Patañjali’s Spiritual Path to Freedom, State University of New York Press (2008).

** Vijnana Bhairava: The Manual for Self-Realization, revealed by Swami Lakshmanjoo, edited by John Hughes, Universal Shaiva Fellowship.

Lorin Roche began practicing with the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra in 1968 and it has been a love affair ever since. He is the author of The Radiance SutrasMeditation Made Easy (Harper 1998), and Meditation Secrets for Women (Harper 2001) (written with his wild Shakti wife Camille Maurine). He has a Ph.D. from the University of California at Irvine in Social Science, where he studied the language yogis and meditators develop to describe their inner experiences. The Soul of Mantra: A meditation on yes from The Radiance Sutras, by Dr. Lorin Roche has been reprinted with permission from

Cuba Yoga Adventure

Cuba Yoga Adventure

New Year & New Intention, Cultural Cuba Yoga Adventure

Looking for a sacred way to begin 2020, spending some time with pranayama, meditation, and asana? Setting a new intention in a sacred space? Here is an opportunity to visit a country you may never have visited before, making time for yoga while learning about organic farming, eating farm to table food, and exploring the arts as you delve into your own beautiful existence.

Our newest SOYA faculty member, Terri McDermott, is leading a 6 day  Cuba Yoga cultural trip to bring in the New Year, featuring the highlights of Havana, Cuba’s historic capital city and a day trip to Vinales, known for incredible views and beautiful organic farms. Daily yoga will be offered based in and around Havana’s historical sites!

Travel to and from exciting locations is with comfortable private transportation, lodging is in “Casas Particulares” or Cuban style B & B’s, and meals are made in private Cuban restaurants.

Interested in this cultural yoga experience? Learn more here!