Thursday, May 10, 2012

Eddie Stern visits Richmond City Jail

It's been great to become acquainted with Eddie Stern over the past nine months.  I wrote to Eddie last August asking if he would consider coming to the Richmond City Jail in September while in town for a workshop at Ashtanga Yoga Richmond, and the following day received his reply:

Dear Robbie,

Thank you very much for your email. It would be an honor to come with you to the Richmond City Jail to teach. I am scheduled to be in Richmond Friday thru Sunday. If Sunday afternoon is possible, after the workshop is finished, that would be ideal. However, I don't want you to go through any trouble to change your schedule, so alternatively I could come to Richmond a day early and come to the Thursday evening class. 

Thank you again for thinking of me and for the invitation.

Yours truly,

We began an earnest (and humorous) exchange of emails, and shortly upon discussing alternate times to visit the jail, Eddie offered to visit twice, for however long I wanted -- both before and after he was to conduct his workshop at AYR.  In fact, Eddie repeated in subsequent emails, and upon meeting at the train station, as well as at the end of the weekend when I returned him to the train station, that he was honored to be asked to come to the jail.  This is the essence of "namaste"(I bow to you) : feeling honored to help the needy.

And this was about as pure as Giving can be.  The subject of money never even arose (except when I took Eddie to Balliceaux where he insisted on buying me dinner).  He knew mine was a volunteer effort and was just so happy to help.

Good teachers thrive from sharing their knowledge, and passion for practice.  If one is driven by helping people, loves yoga and believes in its transformative effects, every visit to the city jail offers so much inspiration to the teacher, because there's a constant supply of inmates in great need who appreciate the instruction.

Eddie is a master of the Ashtanga Yoga practice, a master teacher, and a scholar of yoga.  In a NYT article  last fall, (a slightly funny "humor piece" about relatively nothing), Deb Schoeneman wrote that Eddie's name is always "uttered in hushed, reverent tones."  This did make me laugh -- because it's both true and funny, and I imagined Eddie would laugh when he read it (which he did, as evidenced by the Beavis and Butthead opening to his blogged response).

I have known of Eddie for almost the entire 11 years I've been practicing, initially through his contribution to Lino Miele's Astanga Yoga (1996).  Additionally, my first inspiring teacher, Valerie Jeremijenko, would practice at Eddie's studio whenever she was in New York visiting her sister, Natalie.  And Valerie did speak softly and earnestly about Eddie.  I knew he was or had been Madonna's teacher, and  Gwyneth Paltrow's -- and I had seen him in the film Ashtanga, NY (2004).  I also had several issues of Namarupa, the magazine Eddie co-publishes with Robert Moses; as well as his recent collaboration with Guy Donahhaye:  Guruji, A Portrait of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Through the Eyes of His Students (2010). So although I had never met Eddie, he had been an inspiring presence to me since the inception of my practice.

Picking up Eddie at the train station, I amusedly saw that he was also a cheerful, dapper, sartorial connoisseur; and super sharp, with easy, graceful humor.  His clarity, transparent honesty, cultured passion for teaching and telling stories, and scholarship are why people speak so respectfully of Eddie.  He has become known worldwide in Ashtanga circles and beyond, without advertising or seeking attention; his studio didn't even have a website until just over a year ago.  Every year for 18 years Eddie traveled to India to study with Pattabhi Jois, and he translated two of Jois's books into English.  Steeped in yoga practice and study, Eddie exudes intrinsic kindness, precision, and lack of pretension.  Michael Pepe, a student who has been practicing with Eddie for about a dozen years, and now lives partly in Richmond, and so practices at both studios, seemed so pleased when I told him of my impression of Eddie.  "And the wonderful thing, Robbie, that you'll find if you continue to know Eddie," Michael said, "is that he's always like that, very consistent."

Click here to see Richmond City Jail inmate Sean Hardy's letter to Eddie.

Click here for the article, "Pose Posse" (NYT, February 27, 2012), which includes an excellent video interview with Eddie and footage of students practicing at his Ashtanga Yoga New York studio.

Click here to see a nice clip of Eddie on Martha Stewart.

Thank you, Eddie!  Thank you for your immediate and continuing interest in sharing your instruction and understanding with the Richmond City Jail inmates, and your gifts of several copies of your books Yoga Mala (Stern translation, 2002), Suryanamaskara (Stern translation, 2005), and James Fox's Prison Yoga Project (2009).

It is heartening to become acquainted with a teacher who carries his extensive learning with such grace and humility, and I do hope our acquaintance will continue: it is beneficial to my practice, to my ability to teach, and to me as a human being.

1 comment:

  1. Had one of the most powerful experiences today, thanks to Robbie Norris and 14 inmates at the City Jail. Was invited to watch the group practice Ashtanga Yoga. To see the dedication and feel the energy in the room was a privilege. To see men who have made mistakes in their lives turn to the healing power and energy of yoga was inspiring. To see one man dedicated in helping others be better persons was motivating. To know that this could help reduce their return to jail is exciting. Now to find a benefactor or means of funding to carry this energy to the outside. So want to find a way to make this work and provide a safe place for these returning citizens to continue practice. Now to only find someone that believes in the power of change and has a bit of money to spare.....

    Amanda Bass, Deputy Chief
    Probation and Parole Officer