Guidance for Teachers -- Swami Veda Bharati and Diane Stevens
For teachers, teachers in training, AHYMSIN executives and BoD, initiators, Swami(ni)s, SRSG residents, and any initiates or non-initiates who would read our Newsletters and visit our websites.
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This message was written with love from , from La Verna, Italy (where St. Francis of Assisi received the stigmata) where we (svb, Swami Ritavan and Swami Nityamuktananda) were holding our annual European retreat (with 170 participants from 6 countries of Europe June 27-30).
Then I went off to Budapest where Swami Ritavan, Dr. Stoma Parker and Ashutosh worked hard also, with our annual Yoga-sutras class ( have reached sutra 2.27, with 250 students). Now waiting to catch a flight to Toronto from London.
June 30 2010.
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There are many in the Guru family who carry on the teachings under greatly adverse circumstances. These are our unsung heroes and heroines, silent, selfless, and examples for all others who teach or aspire to teach, or who just wish to be good disciples.
One of these unsung heroines is Diane Stevens. I have known her now for 30 or more years. She also spent a considerable time serving under Gurudeva and receiving guidance, wisdom, strength, forbearance.
She has been teaching for many decades. Wherever she is she teaches, not ‘classes’ but people. Not only a ‘course’ but life. She does so in spite of all her physical handicaps and pains; these facts are her teaching, a lesson to all of us.
Recently I wrote her asking how she is. She sent me the following letters. Do please read every word. For this you get no ‘certificates’(!) only a way of progressing in the art of life.
Thank you for so promptly responding and for asking about me. Even with many health issues, you have continued to be a beautiful open flute inspiring thousands with the sattvic celestial music of the sages. Your wave of peace even flows through the web!
This physical body continues to present health challenges.
The Acoustic Neuroma surgery in 1989 caused the left ear deafness, cranial nerve damage, less saliva, etc.
The Inclusion Body Myositis (diagnosed about ten years ago) continues to weaken the quads, extremities, swallowing. Because of the muscle weakness, there have been many falls in the last several years. It is a challenge to do the normal hand tasks such as buttoning, tying...even flossing. In September 2008, a fall caused a right hip fracture with subsequent emergency surgery. Unfortunately, the hip did not heal properly causing increased pain. The original surgeon referred me to a specialist. Bone scans, x-rays and MRIs indicate lower spine degeneration and possible loosening of the metal hip rod. An extensive revision surgery is advised, which may need to cut into the femur bone in order to remove the loosened cement, then a longer rod inserted further into new bone with clamps.
A move last June into a one level condo with a ramp into the garage and onto the deck has been a blessing. Last August, however, I fell again and fractured the right ankle and had to be in a cast without any weight on the foot for two months. The day before seeing the doctor to remove the cast, I fell again, hit the back of the head and dislocated the second left toe! Since then, I have been using a walker to ease the hip pain and prevent falling.
With the Guru's blessing, I have been able to continue teaching the accredited "Yoga 101/102" course at Washtenaw Community College, although now it is only one class-a-week instead of four. Except for the Fall semester of 2008, I managed to teach even with a cast and a walker when the ankle was fractured. When I could no longer get up and down from the floor, the college purchased a massage table for me to sit on and arranged a student assistant. A student has also been driving me to and from class and helping with class arrangements.
It is a little sad to know that this Spring course, which ends June 29, will probably be my last class at WCC. For the past ten years, it has been a steady source of fulfillment to observe the amazing student transformations as they learn to go deeper within to bathe in their own still waters. They are always surprised that they learn to "exercise" the mind and breath as well as the body, observing how the wisdom and peace ripples and overflows into all areas of their life.
This has been a process of teaching (sharing) less and less from the body....and more from the heart. As the illusion of separation is so painful, it is a way to submerge below the surface of all turbulence and merge into the Ocean of Oneness.
Thank you Dear Giant "Wave" of Light for ceaselessly showering us with the eternal wisdom and love,
With humble reverence and awe,
I asked her if I may share her letter as a source of inspiration for others and what else she can tell us that would impart wisdom to disciples, teachers and would-be teachers. Her second letter is below.
Yes, of course, feel free to share whatever you feel would be helpful. I am most happy to share in any way that I can. What else can we do when such love has been bestowed upon us to overflowing. Both you and Swami Nijananda have been such pure and clear channels for the Guru's blessing. I never tire of re-reading the books and listening to the many old tapes with perennial wisdom and amazing shakti. The words, the voice, the intent once again sends a wave of peace and strength through one's entire being.
Swami Nijananda has counseled us in "Trustful Surrender" that "God brings only the good. Nothing can happen that He has not willed." I'm not saying that this human personality doesn't quiver in its boots with future "What if's" at times or the thought of another surgery; but the shakti somehow keeps putting one foot in front of the other....leading from "the unreal to the real, darkness to light, death to immortality."
Through patient phone conversations, Swami Nijananda reminds me that:
"It is in the hands of God. God determines the outcome. We don't know in what form the blessings come. It is a terrible experience to break one's tie to life. It is not beautiful or dramatic. It is not about going to lectures, or eating vegetarian food or standing on your head. Those are all good things; but the real Yoga is not accomplished until you go through the valley of death. Some talk about it a certain way; but that is not the way it is. That's why there are so few real Yogis. It is not fun to be broken; but it is the only way to cross the barrier. I will tell you something important: the spiritual path involves dying....losing life in a real sense. Be resigned. Accept. The Lord is giving what is needed to reach the final lesson. Have faith in the Lord. Trust in God. Give thanks for His mercy."
As for teaching the class, I just LOVE the students and enjoy watching them blossom. I take them "step by step" so that it becomes easy and fun and they begin to incorporate the (I call them "Yoga tools") into their daily life. It is meeting the students where they are and presenting the practical aspects of Yoga. Perhaps, they use "So Ham" while working on the assembly line or a single parent lights a candle with the children before bed or a student is happy about having their golf game improve with better focus and breathing. Maybe they excitedly say they quit drinking pop and now just drink chocolate milk for breakfast. Well, that calls for celebration - not hot lemon water yet, but a step in the "right" direction.
Emphasizing that Yoga is more than mere "nose-to-toes" or "body-beautiful," and helping each student to feel comfortable and respected, reminding them that "Asana" means "easy pose," the overweight student will feel so happy and say that they have found something that they want to do for the rest of their life. In Walking With a Himalayan Master, Swamiji told Justin that "You must arouse hope in the patient, otherwise the healing process is impeded. They must feel that love, then they can hope." Surely it is the same for a "student."
I give the students lots of interesting handouts, some to look at in the classroom in sheet protectors in a loose-leaf binder, others to take home. Also, I have interesting large charts, such as "The Gunas as Related to Food," the "Yamas & Niyamas," the "Koshas," "Breathing Patterns." Each session I introduce something new. In the Ayurveda session, the students enjoy taking two questionnaires to get an idea of their Dosha and how to balance it. Each session they take home a little card with one Yama and then the Niyamas that they can contemplate on that week. I also take in books, material from home - even ghee and the three healthy spices (Turmeric, Cumin & Coriander) so they can use them in the proportion of 1, 2, 3.
If I find articles or information relating to their questions or health issues, I pass them along. If they are absent three or more times, I email or call to find out if they are ill, over-working or over-whelmed, and then nudge them along with encouragement and hope and a way to get back on track. They become inspired and then follow-through because they have a step-by-step map. Students write papers of gratitude for improved sleep, diet, digestion, relationships, energy, health, etc. They lower their blood pressure and calm their nervous system. They become the "Quiet Observers" feeling once again empowered and happy to learn that "tapas" also means "self-care."
Instead of my body, I use my voice to soothe them and lead them in. A significant amount of time is devoted to Crocodile Pose, Sandbag breathing, Hand Techniques and breath awareness. I give them lots of space and pauses and silence and stillness during and between postures. One student recently wrote, "I like what we do in class. You make it very relaxing, then you guide us through the doorway into our minds. It is almost like meditation." When they leave class they say that they "feel as if they have been to a spa" or they were depressed and now they are not. They feel calm, clear, confident, and balanced.
I hope that this is somewhat helpful, Swamiji. Let me know if there is anything else that I can share.