Sweat Equity: Gurus in our midst

Press     April 6, 2012

By Debra Antwi

In some ways, these yogis are as different as chalk and cheese, as diverse as Lady Gaga and Gandhi. Stratus began her career in professional wrestling, loves fish and chips, and plays a bounty hunter on T.V. Baptiste studied at the feet of yogi parents as well as mentors like Desikachar and Swami Rama and has served on the coaching staff of a U.S. professional football team. Corn's a New Jersey native, while Park was born in rural Korea. Funk's Toronto studios are the result of two sisters' simple dream to start a family business, and Simmons' hip-hop-infused persona guides a multimillion dollar, multi-industry enterprise. Yet, for all their outward differences, they share some qualities that inspire, motivate and captivate that part of ourselves that has nothing to do with precise placement of our limbs in space or the specific brand of practices we call yoga.

First and foremost, they embody a sense of humility and compassion that can feel so rare in a world that glorifies celebrity and all its trappings, showing that notoriety and narcissism don't have to be inseparable bedfellows. They freely admit that they're not just teachers, but students of yoga as well; they never lose touch with the beginner's mind that allows them to make beginners feel welcome. Bruni's fond of saying, "You have to teach with kindness, because that's what people will remember." Given her long history in the Toronto yoga community, she's not only "remembered," but respected by devotees who now number in the thousands. Funk reminds us that "the more I learn, the more I can bring" to enrich others. Last summer, Corn bared her humble heart to our readers when she recounted her story of a misguided attempt to share her love of yoga with a group of disadvantaged girls; and Park, who tours the world teaching on a schedule that would rival any rock star's, admits that even if he never brought one original idea to his students but only shared what he has learned from his teachers, it would be enough to fill a lifetime.

These yoga stars also share a sense of open-mindedness and acceptance when it comes to defining yoga, preferring to err on the side of inclusion rather than exclusion. They recognize that there are many possible entry points to a practice (Simmons admits he was first drawn by the beautiful yoginis he saw in classes), and they demonstrate a willingness to meet people wherever they are in their yogic journey. So when Bruni guides her advanced students through a challenging Ashtanga flow on the beach, Funk provides a 3-minute sequence that yogis can do at their desks, Park gets on another plane to bring Prana Flow to Germany or Spain, and Stratus demonstrates using beanbagweighted gloves to enhance muscle work in asana practice, they never seem to forget that the yoga in each case—although outwardly very different—has the same spirit and purpose: to use the body as a means to access and understand our inner selves. By the very diversity of their teaching styles and perspectives, they unlock the beauty of yoga for a much wider variety of practitioners, bringing the practice to fruition in the 23 hours a day that we aren't on the mat. As Grand so eloquently puts it, "How I am as a parent to my three beautiful girls is my yoga. How I am when I vote is my yoga. How I am when I spend every single dollar that I spend in my life is my yoga. Contained within yoga practice is how we are every moment."

Our yoga mentors are all passionate about what they do, and their enthusiasm is contagious! Yet they model the equanimity that keeps passion from morphing into mania and imbalance. Baptiste makes time to share his gifts with African children through a non-profit yoga project in Nairobi. Corn's Off the Mat and Into the World program trains yogis to design and lead social activism projects. Stratus leverages her television celebrity status to contribute to a long list of charities. Grand's environmental initiatives are extensive as he looks for cutting-edge ways to reduce the carbon footprint. And by inventing ways to share his wealth with those in need, Simmons shows us that the phrase "millionaire yogi" doesn't have to be a contradiction in terms.

Swami Sivananda counseled that we should "convert every work into yoga with the magic wand of right attitude." Mentors like these prove that the magic is possible and that it has the power to change the world.

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