It's a magnetic field
2011-09-18, Urska Bozic (Slovenia) | Rovat: Rólunk írták
Kevin Gardiner, Iyengar yoga teacher
It’s a magnetic field
Kevin Gardiner started practicing yoga in 1970: “It was a different generation then”, he says. At first, it was acting that took his interest. He studied in New York, at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. “At the time the theater fulfilled my yearnings, my restlessness,”.One of his teachers introduced him to yoga: “To make the body plastic and to work on different, deeper states of consciousness.” His practice started in his back yard, with a book. “My first Iyengar yoga training was with a friend of a friend in a theatre, and she was a yoga teacher and a student of BKS Iyengar and I studied with her for about two or three years. Soon it was less acting and more yoga. Untill: “I tried a little bit of this and a little bit of that kind of yoga, the ones that were around at the time. It just sparked my intent and my imagination and m … I was completely convinced that this is what I wanted to pursue.”
Kevin Gardiner was in Slovenia, teaching an intensive Iyengar yoga weekend workshop and his young Hungarian wife, Erika, came with him. Here is the love story.
Text: Urška Božič
Photo: Mateja Jordovič Potočnik and personal archive
Kevin, do you still, after 30 years, enjoy teaching yoga?
Yes. Yes, I love teaching. I have days, of course, when I'm not at my best.... days when I feel I don’t know enough, that I don’t know anything. Then I walk into the room, I open my mouth and - it’s happening trough me. It is work, but it gives me great energy. Life is happening trough me! So, you see, I don’t have to figure it out all the time. (Smile.) Teaching yoga is not a performance, but it is supported by your ability to communicate. To communicate with your body and mind, words, and also to demonstrate…
And a good voice helps? (Kevin has a fascinating voice, op.a.)
Yes. Good voice does help! Because it has the power and that power can often move what can’t be understood.
Have you tried other yoga styles?
I’ve had other meditation practices and sometimes I do my kung fu practice because it just gives my body a different avenue. But I’ve never been really interested in other yoga methodologies, no.
The western world concerns itself mostly with the asana practice. It’s almost like sports.
Is it sill yoga?
In the Bavagad Gita, I think it is said that one in a million is a yogi... it’s one in a million that really does yoga. (smile)
The west is full of its own neurosis and intentions, it has its own job to do. And yoga is also a big business. Multi billion dollar industry. Including designer mats, clothes and accessories, life style magazines... It’s more about the fashion industry. Other than that, yoga can become its opposite, if you’re only doing the asana, than the practice becomes lopsided. If you’re not moving into the subject, the eight limbs of Patanjali's yoga, guided by it's principles and refining the practice ie: pranayama, pratyahara, finding stillness etc.… If you’re not moving in that direction, than stagnation comes. You’re moving against yoga, in a way. As I see it, it’s the opposite of yoga.
Why do you think so many people are attracted to yoga nowadays?
Because it’s intelligent, insightful and can have a profound impact on the whole person. And it gives people a refuge and a way to culture the body and bring deep rest and stillness to the mind.
The absence of competitivness?
Yes. Well, of course it's not about competition but... We live in comparison. Some people find themselves competing as if they were running a race. Some get really inspired by watching others do. The yoga work is always there to do, the practice should cultivate restraint. But it has become very popular, populist, and the mind is lazy, it has powerful tendencies and motivations. It just goes for the easiest thing, the exciting thing, what gives pleasure. People go to yoga for all sorts of reasons, to feel good, to look good, to improve themselves. These by-products of practicing yoga are often more attractive than the actual practice of yoga which is to culture and restrain the tendencies and fluctuations of the mind and move away from identifying as the body.
Is it really important what gets one started, motivated?
That, of course, would be the other aspect of this: whatever gets you in the door..... (smile) And then you either take what you can use and leave the rest, or you become inspired and practice and you develop and you can contribute - to the community and to the evolution of the subject.
How did yoga help you?
Seeking is happening and Yoga has shaped, formed, focused, informed the very nature of seeking. The question it asks finally is "Who am I"? I am so fortunate and blessed to have been touched by this vast subject and come in contact with extraordinary teachers and teachings. It's been my life and it is happening through me. It is what I do. I don’t know and can't imagine what the opposite would be. Without yoga my life would be so very different, I'm sure ...
When you teach and you see that someone isn’t getting it – do you get annoyed?
Well if someone is not paying attention or resisting, or not honestly trying to do what is asked, I try to engage them, I turn up the heat. I can be challenging. The Asana work is intricate and we have to make sure that they are going in the right direction and protect them from injury which happens when you're not paying attention. After all it's really the depth and quality of attention that makes it Yoga and not sport, makes it sadanah, a spiritual practice, not just exercise. When you’re teaching yoga, you’re not just teaching technique, you are engaged ,you’re also sort of a psychiatrist, you have to take on more responsibility then just showing people how to turn their leg out. There are ethics involved.
If they are interested, they’ll come along and if they are not interested, I engage them in some way. I become a better teacher. I encourage them. The student also needs to borrow the will of the teacher to go forward sometimes. You never know, everyone is a bit different aren't they? At different levels. I may think someone's not attentive, then, they keep coming, then I detach a little and let them come and find their way. And they are learning. Guruji (BKS Iyengar, op.a.) once said: “I teach without the hope of anyone improving.” And he is an extraordinary teacher. Although, when he teaches, you would be convinced that life depends on wheather or not you lift your kneecaps, or on wheather or not you understand this movement, but it is really about the level of attention that cultivates the body, mind, breath, the embodiment and being in the moment.
And also, I have evolved as a teacher. I know what doesn’t work. I keep throwing out the mistakes. You make mistakes and you learn from them.
If only one in the couple is practicing yoga, do you think it’s possible for them to make it? To stay together?
Of course.... Anything is possible! I mean everything is possible. I think that the rules of relationships are changing. How they evolve, how they endure, how they continue. There were women that would come to my yoga classes and they became ardent students. They were in relationships, they were in transition. So when they begun practicing yoga, it instigated or accelerated this transition. Because intelligence rises, it evolves a certain kind of self confidence. Teaching yoga and practicing yoga can, like many other things, challenge a relationship, especially if a woman is practicing yoga. Because it is so private and individual, introverted in a sense, it can effect the relating part of a relationship. The paradigm shifts and the partner can feel left out. How to bring the practice back into the relationship is crucial and the relationship has to evolve. If she doesn’t have a family, then yoga becomes a family. And that’s part of what’s happened to yoga. The popularization of yoga is mostly due to more and more women practicing. All that feminine, family energy is going to yoga. I think woman make up 80 to 85 percent maybe more of yoga practitioners. Certainly in the West. That colours the picture differently. 50 years ago it was very different. It could be said that the ancient spiritual path for woman was the dancing, and the men took to yoga. The male psyche tends towards reservation, isolation, the aim is to withdraw. And the whole path of Patanjali’s yoga is a withdrawal. A withdrawal into the consciousness. Not into depression, and neurosis after all.
It is a vast field and open to much interpretation. Much Yoga is done to make connection, and building community, open the heart and make the world a better place. These are all wonderful qualities, but they have changed the nature of yoga from intense to the mild level. Patanjali classifies the levels of devotion to the path. We’re all pretty much in the mild level. The mild level means that we do yoga when we can, we do yoga to make ourselves happy, we do yoga when we have time and we squeeze yoga into our busy daily life. It gives us pleasure. That’s the very mildest form. The more middling form is that the practice is there, in spite of what your life is like, that you do your practice even if you have a job to do. It’s not defined or dependent on what pleasure you get out of it.
How did you meet your wife?
I met my wife in Ireland, the first time I laid eyes on her… It was in the intensive weekend workshop. In 1984.
Erika: Right! When I was 11!!!!! (lauhing)
Kevin: In 2004.
Were you teaching the workshop?
Yes. It was one of her first yoga workshops.
Erika: It was my second.
Kevin: And then you came to the second workshop. I wasn’t, of course, expecting anything, but we had a short conversation after and she thanked me for class. She was sweet. Now, here’s the thing - teaching is what I do. Where would I meet women? I’m not going to go to a bar and meet women. I don’t socialize much, I’m not a party person. So, there it was. I thought she was well very cute, she thought I was mad, and…
Erika: And nothing’s changed.
Kevin: And nothing’s changed. She wrote me afterwards, thanked for the workshop, said, that she had an extra room in her apartment if I needed a place to stay whenever I was teaching in Dublin... So I thought, wow, that’s interesting. (Smile.) I thought that was very nice. The offer, I mean.
We started the conversation. At the time I was out of a previous relationship that finally, and painfully didn’t work out. And after that relationship I just thought: I’m done. I’m just done with relationships. Just let me practice. I wasn’t looking for anything, I was healing. My little heart was broken enough. I set my sights on an ashram, yet again. I thought I’ll go to the mountains, work on my practice and attaining immorality!! But that changed. (Smile.) Free will is really a misnomer. The Universe had other plans. We’re just programmed biological entities. (Smile.)
Are you happy?
Yes, I’m happy, on any given day I’m just as neurotic as anybody else. I’m not a great being, I’m not enlightened… I’m not unhappy. Nor am I not not happy. Nor am I not not unhappy. I am full of gratitude and I try to keep it simple.
Have you tried to learn Hungarian?
An honest, deliberate effort? No. It’s impenetrable to me. (laughing) I’ve studied Spanish and I could do Spanish. I studied Latin for many years. I could get any roman language. Even German, I might be able to get my tongue around German. But that little part of my brain that tried to get my voice to speak Hungarian, already has its pajamas on, it’s already ready for bed. (laughing)
When I first came to Hungary, someone said to: “Well , you can’t really learn Hungarian after the age of 7”. So I’m learning about the mind of the language and it’s very interesting,
However, I can do the shopping, buy the groceries and vegetables .... I have very acute pointing skills... and stay out of trouble. Enough people speak English that I can raise my hand in a crowd and get help. I’m spoiled.
Do you like your life?
Where do go on vacations?
We’ll go to Italy. My life is just... I’m 64, I met you (Kevin looks at his wife, Erika, who is sitting next to him) when I was 58, all of it just changed and I just said – okej, why not.
You left a studio in New York?
At that time I was asked to leave my apartment, because the building was to be removed, to build the skyscraper. And then I made this very good deal with my landlord and I thought, what am I gonna do? Rent another apartment in New York? Erika came to the States for a while, and it did’t work out for her. She needed to go home. So, finally, I said "I'm coming to Budapest", and what they paid me to leave my apartment in Manhattan, bought the apartment in Budapest and half the business. Honestly, I didn't do anything, Once that decision was made, It just came out of me, barely an intention. I just thought it was a great opportunity to experience life as full as it could be. And it has been that. Blissful and terrifying (laughing) at the same time. More then I ever imagined. Living away from New York, away from my family, away from my friends. And it’s also been this extraordinary sense of surrender and Love.
Was the wedding very romantic?
It was great. We were quite relaxed, actually, and we had fun. I bought a tuxedo and shoes. And she had a wonderful dress made, we got married in the Municipal center right next to the Gellert Hotel and the Danube. I bought my brother a plane ticket, my best friends came, it was great.
Erika: We had so little preparation that when we got there, we didn’t know who is going to walk first, where do we stand, who is leading who… It was like: “The music is on so we have to go!”
Kevin: It was almost improvisational but at the same time absolutely perfect.
The rings are very special.
It’s an irish linking pattern. At home I have this sculpture, I’ve had it for years. It’s a Irish slate carving. In gold, like this, this motif. I’ve had it in my apartment for years before I met Erika. We went to the jewelry store and it was the first thing I saw. We looked at a few things then I said: “This is it. Do you like this?” That was it. It was an irish jewelry store.
You didin’t have them made?
No, they were already there. And then, a year later, I looked up at my wall, and I saw that motif on that sculpture.. It was like “Oh my God”! That was just… You can sign the papers… But it’s really a magnetic field, all relationships are. And then what we do with it. How to deepen it. That’s a day to day thing. What is day to day intimacy, working on issues, being frank an open, or at least tolerant with each other.
There is a considerable age difference between you. Do you find people wondering, making comments?
I don’t notice. It so natural in a way. Some guy said to me once : “Wow, I like your girlfriend.” I say: “she is my wife”. He looked confused. Her parents didn’t blink. Her dad and I are the same age.
Erike: I think it’s really the opposite. Some of my friends ask: “Aren’t you afraid, don’t you worry about what will happen in 30 years time? I say, no, I do not worry about what will happen in 30 years time!
Kevin: But it is a discussion. As I get older, I can’t keep up her pace. I don’t think as fast, I don’t move as fast. My job is often to slow her down so she doesn’t explode. Looking at the realistic picture… I do consider it, what will happen in 10 years, 20 years.
Do you have an advice for the ones that want to live happily ever after?
Don’t try to live happily ever after, live in the moment!
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